Recently I was at my local gas station with a liter of Diet Coke, a roll of Fruit Mentos and a Sports Illustrated magazine. I carefully chose the line with the cute assistant manager so I could make small talk and tell myself how awesome I was for talking to a cute girl when I left. When I get to the counter the guy in front of me cleverly buys five scratch off tickets and decides to scratch them off in front of me to see if he won anything. When he scratched off a $10 winner, he jumped emphatically in the air. Annoyed at this point, I begin sarcastic rebuttals in my head of things I wish I could say (as any mature and patient person does). With his $10 he buys five more scratch off’s and a pack of Marlboro 27’s. And, with this purchase I was triggered into a hopeful place:
A year ago, almost literally to this day I had fallen into the darkest place I had ever experienced. Like most men before me, I had become the victim of chronically suppressing my emotions. The previous two months before this I began a daily prayer of asking God to take my life because this life was too much to bare. The very least of my pain was with the deaths and incarcerations of several of my friends, all the lies of spiritual abuses by former pastors, teachers and friends and a murder that I witnessed when I was 10, which was being resurfaced.
I found myself alone my friend’s house over the weekend, while he went to visit his parents over the weekend. The following day after he left I went to the gas station and bought muscle mass bars and diet coke. In a spur of the moment, I bought a pack of Marlboro 27’s (I had never smoked cigarettes before this and I never did after this either) and I went back to his house and chain smoked for the next three hours. With each puff, I felt each ounce of my being falling deeper and deeper into a pitfall of anger, sadness drawing me further and further into depression. I felt memories resurfacing of betrayal, of hatred and abandonment. Ambivalence was running through my veins. Psychology books were showing me how I got so damaged and developed so many of my bad habits. Anger was running through because of this. Grief consumed me. I stared blankly at the wooden wall in the basement, wondering why life was so empty, meaningless and hopeless. Hours of staring at that wall, drove me into the bottom of what seemed a bottomless pit.
In absolute despair, I walked back to that gas station. On the way there a puppy was caught in the middle of the highway. Anyone who really knows me, knows that I have an absolute love for dogs (and the very sighting of a cat reminds me of how fallen our world is). I ran into the middle of this busy highway to pick up this dog. In the first moment of clarity that I had in months, God spoke kindly to me about how he provided protection and care for this little dog, how much more was he wanting to give that to me. While the rest of the weekend, I sat alone in non-air conditioned house and lay in the very bottoms of my being, I realized that I was dying to myself. I was carrying the cross I was given. The crucified Christ was no longer a story that I knew in my head, but, a person I know in the very the depths of my soul.
When I look on that weekend, when I was all alone and dying inside, God was opening the tomb. When I hit bottom, with every puff of each of those cigarettes (Ironically), with the helping of the dog, he was revealing to me that death does not have the last word. That there was more to life than the death which was pushing my head into the ground. My hope is for all of us is that we have a symbol of hope, one that looks like an empty tomb, even if it’s in the appearance of a cigarette box.
*I do not endorse smoking cigarettes*