“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” — Deut. 30:19 (NIV)
I remember it being colder and foggier, and certainly much darker. The wind was furious as ever, though, and the sheer drop to the Pacific Ocean looked just as terrifying.
My mind was so overcome by the remembering in a recent visit to the Golden Gate Bridge, where new life began on the day I chose not to let life end.
This is where I drove to in June 1994, a broken 21-year-old college kid desperate to end my miserable life.
I went to plunge into a watery grave. I wound up crumbling into the arms of a loving God.
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Porterville is a city big enough to house 56,000 people and three high schools, yet small enough to always see someone you know at Target or Food 4 Less. Last year, two girls barely in their teens committed suicide in the same month. I lead the youth group at the church I pastor there, and most of our teenagers went to school with one of the two precious girls who died. The devastation was unreal.
I wish I had known those girls, and could show them what can happen when you don’t let it end that way. Maybe this will come in time to stop others.
I can still remember the pain that drove me to that suicidal place. My then-girlfriend cheated on me and left me for another man. It all seems so ridiculous now, but it was as if my world had come to an end. All I wanted was to make the hurting stop, and take the relentless nausea away from the pit of my stomach. Suicide was the only way, I kept telling myself, it had to be.
I tried to use my brother’s shotgun, but couldn’t pull the trigger and let my mom find me like that in the bedroom closet. I wanted to jump off a three-story convalescent home, but my best friend talked me down.
Plan C was to drive 200 miles to jump off the most beautiful and haunting bridge I’d ever seen. This will make the pain stop. This will show everyone who hurt, bullied and rejected me that they went too far this time, even as I doubted anyone other than my mom and a few cousins would even care that I was dead.
I walked to mid-span and stood at the rail for over an hour. Strangers walked by as I wept and begged God to tell me it was OK to let go. Except, He wouldn’t.
I had to choose, just as God told Israel to choose, between life and death in the scripture quoted up top.
Everything in me screamed “Jump” but I just couldn’t let go. I chose life, not knowing how wonderful life would soon become.
Three months later, The Fresno Bee called and gave me a part-time sportswriting job – the start of my dream career. Come the next school semester, I met my future wife, Maria Luna, the popular homecoming queen from the next town over. She became my girlfriend, took me to the Traver Church of God and I found the saving love and forgiveness of Jesus.
God called me to ministry, all while advancing my journalism career. I won local and national writing awards, covered my beloved Giants in the playoffs, and went to a Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl. After seven years of marriage with no children, God gave us three kids in four years.
The San Francisco Chronicle hired me, a college dropout, to cover the NFL for them. I was on ESPN and NFL Network. I co-hosted a 49ers pregame show for a season. I covered a Super Bowl in Miami, a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, a 49ers game at Wembley Stadium. I even got to write for the New York Times after becoming a pastor two years ago.
None of this ever happens if I jump. No career, no wife, no adoring and huggable kids.
I had no clue what my life would become when I backed away from the cold rail of the bridge that night. God didn’t tell me the best was yet to come. All He really showed me was that killing myself was no way to enter into eternity.
Maybe you’re faced with the same choice as you read this. The pain is overwhelming. The hurt is crippling. You just want to make it all end. There doesn’t seem to be any other way out.
I know how it feels. I stood in that dark and shivering place in the prime of my youth. Please know that suicide doesn’t make things better. All it does is make sure things never get better, not for you or anyone you love.
Walk away from the ledge. Let God put your broken heart back together. Do what I did, and choose life, because you won’t believe what life still has in store for you.
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(To get help now, call a national suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE OR 1-800-273-TALK)