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“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8
My faith was strong. I spent long periods of time in prayer nearly every day. I communicated with god daily as well as spent much time reading my bible each day. I say this because the following blog posts will show how one might lose their faith and I get tired of hearing people say, “You didn’t lose your faith, you never had real faith.” If all that I did during my ministry can’t be called real faith, then no one actually has faith. There isn’t a single person on earth who could be considered faithful if my own journey is negated as fake faith. I preached the gospel for years and not a single person would have questioned my faith then, yet now it is one of the major arguments that I hear almost daily.
Thanksgiving Day, 2013, began like any other Thanksgiving has, I awoke ready to eat Turkey and stuffing. This year was going to be a bit special because not only was I going to be at my grandmothers house, as I am every year, but my grandmother had invited her two living sisters and all of their family. Normally I don’t do well with crowds but the idea of having that many of my family all together was a joyous celebration. Not too many years before there had been a huge wedge between my grandmother and her sisters due to the circumstances surrounding my great grandmother’s death. One sister had basically been left everything in the will and this had caused a major split in the family.
Luckily though, over the last couple years, that gap had been filled and we were enjoying being one big happy family again. I arrived at my grandmother’s house and was filled with the warm and delicious smells of home cooked thanksgiving dinner. There were three turkeys, two huge bowls of mashed potatoes, a humongous tray of stuffing and all the rest of the fixings for an amazing meal. We sat around chatting and waiting for the eventual time that dinner would be ready and we could all stuff ourselves sick.
We were getting ready to eat when my great aunt realized that one of her grandsons was not in attendance. She called him on the phone and he told her that he wasn’t feeling well and that he hoped we all had a great time. She told him that we all hoped that he felt better and if he did he was more than welcome to show up late and grab a plate of food, if he didn’t she promised to make him a plate and take it to him later that night.
“…he wasn’t feeling well and that he hoped we all had a great time.”
My cousin had recently begun coming to the church that I ministered at and the Sunday prior to that Thanksgiving he had been saved during one of my services. It was an absolutely joyous event because this was my closest cousin, only a month younger than me, and we had lived fairly parallel lives. Both raised in the Pentecostal church, both fell away during our teens, both of us struggled with early marriages that fell apart, and both of us had also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in our early twenties, my cousin though had only broken that spell a few short weeks before Thanksgiving, at least that is what we had all thought. I cannot count the amount of times my great aunt had requested prayer for god to touch his life like he had mine, and bring him back to the church like I had done. So his getting saved was a miraculous event in our family.
“I went home that night thinking how blessed we all were to be together again and how nothing could possibly ruin the memory of that day.”
The dinner went off without a hitch, everything was fantastic. I had two huge plates of food and later that day returned for another huge plate of food. There was so much that we all took home enough food that no one would need to cook for the next couple of days. The day was perfect, it was one of those rare occasions in life that I could truly say that I was blissful. I went home that night thinking how blessed we all were to be together again and how nothing could possibly ruin the memory of that day. As I laid down to go to sleep, happiness filled my heart, and I couldn’t wait to get to church the next Sunday to tell everyone what an amazing day it had been. As soon as I started to drift off to sleep, the phone rang.
The voice on the other end of the phone was my father, I could instantly tell that something was wrong. My father almost never cries and I could hear the quiver in his voice as he began to talk. “This is your dad, “*your cousin” took a shotgun and shot himself tonight, he’s been rushed to the hospital but he isn’t going to make it.” I don’t know if I finished the call or not, all I remember was being on my knees begging god to save my cousins life. How on earth could this be happening? Hadn’t god just saved him? Shouldn’t he be filled with the light of god and incapable of such an act?
How on earth could this be happening? Hadn’t god just saved him? Shouldn’t he be filled with the light of god and incapable of such an act?
I fell asleep that night on my knees. Awakening in a lot of pain I realized that as the minister and family member of a large portion of my church, it was my job to call and inform everyone on what had happened. First though I made the trip to my great aunts house to check in on her. She was in shambles, my cousin had a daughter who was just around 7 or 8 at the time and all she kept saying was, “my daddy shot himself last night.” I tried my best to comfort my aunt before heading back home and picking up the phone. Every call was excruciating and between each call I would bawl profusely. A minister must be strong in a time like this but I was destroyed. Finally all the calls had been made and I let myself completely release all the grief that I felt. I went to bed that night with a horrible headache and all the questions I had asked myself still unanswered.
Sunday was coming up and it was my turn to preach. I knew my message had to be one of comfort to my family, who would all be hurting as well as uplifting to everyone affected by my cousins suicide. I prepared a sermon that was in reality, one part sermon, and one part eulogy. It wasn’t a very good message but all that I could come up with in my current state.
I remember sitting outside the church, in my car, for much longer than normal. I didn’t want to go inside, I didn’t want to be the one that people looked towards for comfort and stability. I knew it was going to be the hardest sermon I had ever delivered and I was not ready to give it. Finally, I got out of my vehicle and I walked inside.
When a tragedy occurs in a church it is often the thing on everyone’s lips the next Sunday and this tragedy was no different. People were coming up to me and offering condolences which I greatly appreciated. I comforted some family as best as I could but something took everything out of me. An older woman in the church came up to me and said how sorry she was after hearing that my cousin has committed suicide, she then went on to say how sad it was that he was now in hell for having committed the act. I began to hear others speaking the same thing throughout the church and my mind began to swim in grief and anger. In reality the comment shouldn’t have affected me as much as it did, it was well known that suicide was considered a sin that instantly sent the person to hell. They took their life and destroyed the temple that god had given them, it was unpardonable and I had even spoken on the subject in years past. This time though something snapped in my brain and as I took my seat all thoughts of the sermon I had prepared went out the window.
I don’t remember the songs that were sang, I don’t remember the prayers that were requested, I don’t remember walking to the stage but I do remember the first words that came out of my mouth.
“If god sends tortured souls like my cousin to hell, then he isn’t a good god and he isn’t a god that I could worship.”
The rest of my sermon is a complete blur. I’m told I gave a touching message on how the bible does not teach that suicide is unpardonable and that even a suicide can receive redemption and salvation. It is as if my body went into autopilot and my mind continued to swirl around the question, “Is god good?”
This was the very beginning of my doubts, but it definitely would not be the end of them.
To continue on to part 22, click here.