Crossing Myself: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth

Overview

Greg Garrett journeyed through intense depression and even a suicide attempt into the grace that brought him a life of service to others.

This spiritual autobiography can be appreciated by men, women, or teens in its literary style and personal insights of redemptive faith.

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Overview

Greg Garrett journeyed through intense depression and even a suicide attempt into the grace that brought him a life of service to others.

This spiritual autobiography can be appreciated by men, women, or teens in its literary style and personal insights of redemptive faith.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781576838563
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Greg Garrett is the author of the novels Free Bird and Cycling (and the forthcoming Sanctuary). His non-fiction works include Holy Superheroes! and The Gospel Reloaded (coauthored with Chris Seay). A winner of the William Faulkner Prize for Fiction, he has published works in journals ranging from from Christianity Today to Utne to Poets and Writers. An award-winning professor at Baylor University, Greg is also a student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt

crossing myself

A STORY OF SPIRITUAL REBIRTH
By Greg Garrett

NAVPRESS

Copyright © 2006 Greg Garrett
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57683-856-3


Chapter One

UNCTION

last rites

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Merciful Savior, Deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death. Book of Common Prayer

Five years ago, in the summer of 2000, after I'd had another gut-wrenching argument with my wife, I found myself standing on a traffic island at the intersection of St. Francis and West Manhattan in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was looking away to the north, because St. Francis is also the route of US 285 through Santa Fe, and I was hoping a heavily-loaded semi might come into town and hit the lights just exactly right.

Here's what I meant that afternoon by "exactly right": A truck that managed to miss all the red lights coming into town might be going a good 45 or 50 mph when it reached me, and if I stepped into the road in front of it, there was a pretty good chance I would get squashed like a bug.

In the summer of 2004, the man I am now drove to that intersection, turned left down Manhattan toward the house where my family and I lived that awful summer, and I saw that there is an adobe-walled church, Westminster Presbyterian, right there at the corner where I almost took my life.

When I saw it, I remembered how I had passed the church on that afternoon, weeping so hardthat I was weaving like a drunk down the middle of the street.

And seeing the church also reminded me that I had stopped there when I saw a large sign that said "Peace," which is what I lacked more than anything, and that I laughed, hard, although it was not a sound you would have wanted to hear.

Then I stood in the street and spoke a challenge for God as I prepared to move past it on that dark afternoon: "You can't help me. And you can't stop me."

I was so confident in my own ability to decide at least this much of my fate, so secure in my lack of faith, that it was only very recently that I understood the truth: that God had both stopped me-and saved me.

How that happened, how I was transformed into a person who not only can't imagine trying to step in front of a speeding vehicle but has become someone who wants to try to save other people-well, that is the story I have to tell, and although, like many stories, it could go back to my birth-or before it-I want to start it five years ago, in that dreadful year of 2000.

It was in 2000 that I first started thinking seriously about killing myself.

By "thinking," I don't mean the idle sort of speculation we do sometimes when we are feeling sorry for ourselves in a maudlin moment: Oh, woe is me, better that I had never been born. And I don't mean the adolescent vision of weeping mourners who would see how much they missed me: Oh, don't they wish they'd treated me nicer when I was around.

No, what I mean is that in the winter and spring of 2000, I started thinking seriously about just exactly how I could cause myself to die.

I had suffered from chronic serious depression for many years, since long before I knew what it was called, in fact. Since my adolescence I had accustomed myself to the idea that the ways of this life were stale, weary, and unprofitable. Even though I had two sons I loved beyond reason, even though I had tenure at a fine university and that summer I finished what would be my first published novel, I couldn't see much of a point to life.

Actually, for a good fifteen years I hadn't much cared if I lived or died. There was, in fact, a certain freedom to that, to seeing that when the plane started to buck like a bronco I was the only one who didn't freak, to knowing I could gladly run into a burning house to try to save someone because I didn't care about the consequences. So I had been perfectly content to die, if it happened. But it was in 2000 that my serotonin-starved brain, my nightly insomnia, my dissolving marriage, my overwhelming guilt, and my feeble faith sat down, took a meeting, and came to this conclusion:

It would be better to be dead, maybe even right now, than to go on living like this.

You have probably heard that suicide is a cry for help, and maybe, sometimes, with some people, that might be true. It's more true with fumbling attempts, of course-the person who expects to be caught, the person who leaves clues or doors open. I'll grant that those people are dramatically announcing something to somebody. But people who have actually decided to step off are doing something else entirely, something that people who have never suffered from Big D Depression can scarcely fathom. They've reached one or more of the same decisions that I reached that year: that life was too painful, that I was unworthy to live, that there was no hope.

As I walked down the street in Santa Fe that afternoon, you may be sure I wasn't crying for help. I was crying because I believed that death was my best option, and you may also be sure that this is a pretty horrible thing to feel.

Ah, but what kind of death? Suicide is a tricky thing, especially if you're genetically encoded to be a responsible person. I knew that I would have to die in such a way that my wife, Tinamarie, and my boys, Jake and Chandler, would still get my life insurance, and I looked over my policy carefully before I discovered the good news. After a lengthy break-in period-to discourage those opportunistic suiciders, I guess-I could kill myself pretty much any old way and my family could still live happily ever after.

That was also good news because, frankly, a lot of the less obvious ways I had been thinking about seemed less than foolproof. For example, earlier in 2000, after one particularly virulent early-morning argument with Tinamarie in front of our horrified son Chandler-all of our arguments were in front of Chandler when we were married, and most after-I had taken the car out onto Interstate 35, which is the major north-south artery in Texas, gotten up to about 85, and scoped out the bridge abutment I'd rammed some characters into in one of my novels.

In Cycling I killed them dead as dead, but in real life, I thought there were too many variables. Sure, I could be going fast, it was unyielding concrete, but what if I lived? Then I'd be disabled and depressed, and probably unable to ever control my own fate again. What if, as a result of the crash, I lost those few things that made life tolerable and couldn't do anything about it? Now that would be hell.

No, the best solution was a handgun. They're expressly designed to kill people, and on the afternoon that Tinamarie and I had argued in Santa Fe, I had actually gone down to the basement and torn through the closets of the house we were sitting, hoping to discover the heavy cold steel of a Smith & Wesson in some box way up high.

If I'd found one, I would have shot myself. Right then. Right there. I was ready to die at that moment, and the fact that the people who owned the house were pacifist granola people like ourselves was the first gift God provided. In those first moments when I was so emotionally overwhelmed that I would definitely have stepped into any abyss, there was no conveniently located one to be found.

That's what sent me out the door and down the street, what had me talking to God as I approached the intersection. You might be wondering why I had taken the time to talk to God on my way to death; we don't traditionally associate belief in God with such despair. And let's get this straight: I did believe in God. I was raised in the church. I had had a so-called conversion experience when I was a kid. Immediately before we had come to Santa Fe, I had even taught Sunday school, assisted with baptism, and occasionally sung in the choir of a church whose members loved me and cared about me.

So I had some sense at the back of my raging brain that what I wanted to do was not okay with the universe. But I had also had some bad experiences with God-or rather, let's say, with God's posse-and although it's true that I had been a guest in God's house from time to time, we were not exactly close. I still received the occasional e-mail-a burst of sunlight through dark clouds, or the kind of revelation of grace through literature, music, or movies that Walker Percy described as "a message in a bottle." But we were like e-mail pals who never do a face-to-face, or, rather, I was like one of those people who sits at the receiving end of a one-sided correspondence, glances at the message, and never responds. Eventually the other person seems to stop sending, and if you are as dense as I am, you may even wonder why.

But more likely, if you're like me, you get so caught up in the white noise of life that you never even notice the silence.

That I stopped and talked to God for a moment on my way to death is not, then, unaccountable. People have always wanted to make their peace, get something off their chests, or state their case. In Catholic traditions, there is a ceremony commonly called "last rites," or sometimes "extreme unction." For Catholics, it's a sacramental sending off, one last chance to make things right with God before you step off into the unknown. For me, that moment of stopping in the middle of Manhattan was my last remembrance that there was a God-and my final rejection of any comfort that God had to offer.

It seemed to me that God hadn't been much help to me in my unhappy life, off at some distant workstation. And so my final message to God might have been one of rejection, me talking back to a computer screen. I can't help but shake my head in rueful amusement when I realize that I might have died without ever knowing that if I'd so much as put the tips of my fingers to the keyboard to e-mail God back, I would have found a message from God saying, let's go have coffee.

You know that I'm writing these words, so obviously I didn't die that day in Santa Fe. And I didn't die after Tinamarie left me, when I counted up my sleeping pills and thought about taking them all, and I didn't die the following fall when I called up my best friend, Chris, after I'd caused a drunken scene at Tinamarie's birthday party and told him I felt like I was about to do something bad to myself.

I didn't die any of those times. But I came very close, and especially so on that afternoon.

I can't tell you how long I stood out there on the median on that day-it could have been a minute, it could have been ten. The thoughts and images were flashing through my brain like it was a Cray superprocessor. And I can't tell you what I must have looked like to people driving by, although I can imagine-a grown man, weeping so hard that he's bent almost double, watching the road to the north with a desperate expression on his face.

But I can tell you now why I didn't do it, and it doesn't have to do with any of the rational reasons that flashed through my head. I didn't care that it would leave my sons bereft and desolate; I thought they were better off without a father like me. I didn't care what my parents would think-even though they had just left earlier that day after an extended visit-or what my colleagues would think, or what kind of message this would be to the students who loved me. When you're in agony, none of that matters.

I didn't do it because in that last moment the power of empathy God gave me to write with put me in the heads of the two people who would be most directly affected by my wish to die. I imagined how Tinamarie would feel when she got the news, how she would blame herself, how it would break her. And crazy as I might have been, cruel as I might have been, I was never petty, and I never stopped loving her. I couldn't do that.

And I also imagined the poor truck driver, his trailer heavy with tall pine trees from the Sangre de Cristos, so heavy that he'd have no chance at all to stop if some complete idiot stepped off the curb in front of him. I could imagine the brakes squealing. I could hear the thump. I could imagine what it would feel like to know that I had rolled over somebody, run him down without meaning to, certainly, but all the same he would be dead as yesterday's news, and I would remember that every time I climbed up into the cab to do my job.

I stood there for a long time.

I was ready and willing to die.

But I didn't want to hurt anybody else in the doing of it.

And so, finally, after two minutes, or ten, however long it was, I walked back across St. Francis and down Manhattan, in the direction of my house. I was still sobbing, and this may be the saddest thing of all: I was bereft because I really wanted to die and saw now that I could not. At that moment, as paradoxical as it seems, it seemed like my only hope was passing out of my hands.

That I didn't die that day was a blessing, for me, perhaps for others. That, at least, is my hope. And the reasons I didn't step off may have seemed purely personal, but I can see now that they were also spiritual. Although I tried to make God sit this dance out, clearly, as Jules says in Pulp Fiction, "God got involved." Although I didn't yet understand it, I had been saved for something.

In the summer of 2001, I began attending a multicultural Episcopal church in Austin, Texas, which is where Tinamarie, Chandler, and I landed after we left Santa Fe in August of 2000. Tinamarie and I split up shortly after we arrived in Austin, and the first two years there were the worst of my life. Much of my understanding about how and why I survived has come from my contact with the people of St. James parish, with the rector, Greg Rickel, and with the Anglican way of seeing the world as charged with the glory of God. This sacramental vision is at the heart of all I believe now; it has finally helped me make some sense out of those unaccountable e-mails from God, helped me see how God might make something straight out of all the crooked paths I've trudged.

We believe that the sacraments are signs of God's grace moving in the world, what the Book of Common Prayer calls "outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace." Protestants and Catholics disagree on exactly what the sacraments are or how many-most low-church traditions (I grew up a Southern Baptist, and my family has Assembly of God and Methodist roots, so low church is my heritage) say there are only two, baptism and marriage; Catholic, Orthodox, and the Anglican/Episcopalian traditions typically say there are seven formal sacraments (baptism, confirmation, confession, communion, marriage, ordination, and unction). But however many there are, and whether they are formal or informal, sacraments are things of the greatest power.

I can tell you from experience-they can save your life.

Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, explained the power of sacraments in this way:

In Hebrew, "word" carries with it notions of occurrence as well as speech. Words therefore happen; they take place. The sacraments and sacramental rites are therefore enacted words whose force and power once again derive from the risen One. "You have revealed yourself to me, O Christ, face to face. I have met you in your sacraments." These bold words of St. Ambrose underscore the formative and developmental effect of our sacramental participation in season and out of season, and at the different turnings of our lives.

In season and out of season, in joy and in weeping, sacraments can give us a tangible connection to God, can create pathways for God to speak to us, can help us believe that God is really there.

I know all this because the sacraments are how God convinced me that there was a life worth living. It was through the sacraments that God at last turned my grief and despair into joy, at last brought me into communion with him and with other people seeking him. If I had only understood then the sacrament we Episcopalians call "unction," which involves a priest's anointing the afflicted with oil, I would have understood that I wasn't alone, that, in fact, I was never-and will never be-alone.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from crossing myself by Greg Garrett Copyright © 2006 by Greg Garrett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2006

    Our reader's club reviews...

    I have read everything Greg Garrett has had published. For those who would be interested in reading Greg¿s other works, I would recommend his first novel Free Bird, and especially his novel Cycling. But far and away the best thing I have ever read from him is this book. He gives voice to the two things that Christians typically WILL NOT speak about -- depression and doubt. In a painfully honest and poignant way, Greg shares how he navigated the path that leads through the valley of the shadow of death back into the light and life of living. In so doing, he appears to hold nothing back (another refreshing viewpoint from a Christian). I believe that ANYONE who desires to live a spiritual life will be heavily influenced by Greg¿s gripping testimony. I mean, who can¿t learn from a guy that teaches at a conservative Baptist university but is also studying to be an Episcopal priest? -- Ryan G. As a person who has suffered from depression Greg Garrett¿s pure honesty in this book is comforting. I loved hearing how God spoke to him even in his deepest darkest moments. I believe God saved Greg in his deep pit of depression to speak to those like me who have felt the same way. Greg is candid about the ups and downs and struggles in his Walk with Christ and that is being Real, a trait greatly needed in American Christianity today. -- Anne S. One of the best books of honest Christianity since Blue Like Jazz. Greg Garrett's testimony encourages and re- energizes the struggling and downtrodden spiritual soul. -- Joshua J. As someone who is also pursuing the goal of becoming an Episcopal Priest as I emigrate from evangelical Christianity, Greg¿s is a voice crying out to me in the wilderness. As someone who also struggles with depression, there are large sections of this book that echo the very situations of my own life. I can¿t recommend this book enough! -- Brian P.

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