My soul yearns for adventure
and places unseen
I know they are out there
waiting for me
Perhaps a star filled night
painting streaks of light
Inviting me to join them
’til they fall out of sight
Canyons colored like the foliage
of a crisp October morn
Spanning the length of the horizon
where true freedom is born
Prairies whispering sweet music
as they dance in the wind
I’ll throw them my burdens
I’ll stand tall again
Maybe I’ll make my way
to the northern lights
Soak it all in
until I can shine that bright
Or shiver in the fresh snow
atop a mountains peak
Closer to God
finding the answers I seek
Maybe I will laugh until I cry
as I find new love
Wrap her hand in mine
and give thanks above
My soul yearns for adventure
and places unseen
I know they are out there
waiting for me
At any given moment, our lives can be forever altered. For some people, life seems to unleash its fury at birth. For others, catastrophe seems to find them unexpectedly like an unforeseen rock smashing against your windshield. Either way, it feels the same. For me, it seemed to hit almost instantaneously.
My mother was only fifteen years old when I was conceived. Her pregnancy was a difficult one, though I never knew just how difficult it had been until I got older. I came into this world on July 1, 1982, weighing only three pounds, four ounces with a collapsed lung and a slim chance of survival. My mother said it felt like a nightmare. She remembers the hospital staff telling her that she needed to see me before they took me away to an awaiting helicopter because she may never see me alive again. I was delivered in a small hospital in the southeastern corner of Oklahoma. That hospital, which sat on the outskirt of town proudly welcoming anyone who dared cross the Texas line into that God forsaken town, did not have adequate resources to keep me alive, so they transferred me to Oklahoma City. She said she screamed in agony as she heard the helicopter lift from the helipad taking me away. All the while my father stayed right by her side. He was barely a man himself at just eighteen years old.
I was released from a neonatal intensive care unit in Oklahoma City when I was two months old. My parents worked diligently to try and prepare for my arrival while occasionally borrowing a ride into the city so they could see me. By the time I was strong enough to come home they had managed to get an apartment and jobs. My mother quit school and began working for Tyson’s Food and my father got a job working for a local tire shop. I still wonder how they did it, they were two babies raising a baby and even though it was evident that they were crazy about one another, I imagine the added stress took a toll on their relationship.
They were only married a short time but remained friends and did the best they could to raise me. I spent the first few years of my life going back and forth between their two homes. Though this wasn’t an ideal situation, I always felt so safe and loved when I was with him. They both dated other people in the years that followed. Some of those people I liked and still keep in touch with today and some I wish I could forget. My mom remarried when I was seven years old and a few days later another giant, jagged, stealth like rock slammed against our windshield and shattered everything within reach.
On the morning of May 9, 1990, our lives took an abrupt and devastating turn. Life as we knew it was forever changed. I woke to my mother screaming and crying hysterically. She was on the phone, and whatever was said was not good. I walked into her room and saw my step-dad wrestling my mother trying desperately to console her. When he noticed me, he looked at me with sheer panic. They sat me on the couch and began to tell me words that branded themselves into my heart and mind forever. My father was gone. Though I did not know the details for some time, he had taken his life a few hours earlier.
My mother told me that I didn’t have to go to school that day, she said I could stay at home with them. I asked her to please take me to school. I could not process it all. I was seven years old and in the second grade. The world seemed to be spinning too fast around me, and I just wanted to wake up from the nightmare. Perhaps I thought going on with my regular routine would bring back some normalcy or that he would return. I remember sitting at my desk in Mrs. Hannah’s class when it began to sink in. I could not focus on anything going on around me, but knew I had to let it out. I walked up to Mrs. Hannah’s desk twice. The first time she hastily told me to “go have a seat.” The second time I found the courage to utter the words, “My dad died last night.” I had never seen the soft side of Mrs. Hannah before, but she scooped me up in her arms and cried like a baby right there with me in the middle of class. She took me and my class to our first track meet that afternoon and I ran as fast as I could around that dirt track. I ran so fast that it hurt.
The next few days weren’t much better. Mom placed me in a pretty dress and took me to the funeral home. I was too short to reach the book, so she picked me up so I could sign my name. I remember blurs of conversation of them trying to prepare me “Babe, he will not look the same . . . shell . . . heaven . . . not him.” They were right. He didn’t look the same. It was evident that someone had tried to reconstruct his beautiful face and that they worked hard to give us as much ease as possible by trying to recreate his signature grin, but nothing was funny about this. Nothing.
His funeral was held in a little white church just down the road from the house where he lived; the same little house that carried such sweet memories. One of my favorite memories is of him and I lying in bed one morning, I was startled awake by a rather obnoxious crow outside of the window. I said “Dad, why is that rooster doing that!?” He said, “Baby, when the sun comes up, they think the rest of us should be up too!” I still think of that conversation every time I hear a rooster crow. The little white church was also the same church in which my mother and father were married. So many people came to his funeral to pay their respects, that it was a standing service only with people lined up outside waiting for their opportunity to come inside.
After the funeral, my Grandmother took my hand in hers and walked with me down the gravel road that led to the cemetery behind the church. The road seemed so long back then, but when looking at it today, it really is not. I can still remember the sound the gravel made as it crunched under my feet, and how the rain felt as it began to fall lightly upon my face. At the graveside, the tiny hand my grandmother had been holding was replaced with a single long stem red rose, and I was told to release it into the grave. I did as I was told and let it go; I watched it fall into the ground and land on the casket where my father lay. That day changed the lives of all who knew him. It has taken many years for me to process his loss, but even now I find myself asking the same questions over and over again; the biggest question: Why?
Suicide is a death unlike any other, and the ripple effects that it has on those left behind are devastating. I spent several years searching for answers; I did not want to believe it and neither did my family. To this day there are people who say that it was an accident, or that he was murdered, and I still want to believe them. When I was older, a police officer from that small town asked me if I wanted to see my father’s file. He knew I needed closure. Everything in the report stated that my father had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The officer told me that he hesitated for a long time before asking me if I wanted to see it because he knew it would be a double edged sword either way. He was the father of my best friend, and it pained him to disclose that information to me, but he knew I needed to know the truth.
I found myself in a very dark place as well several years later and can understand what it feels like to be suicidal. I left home at seventeen and traveled all over the United States before settling down in Los Angeles. I lived in Los Angeles for about four years and had some wonderful times out there. My life had transformed and so had I. Amazing opportunities began to present themselves and I learned a lot about who I was as an individual. I found myself standing on legendary sound stages (Warner Bros. Studios, Sunset Gower Studios, Paramount, etc.) surrounded by famous faces, getting to step back in time and dance as an American Bandstand dancer on a television show set in the 1960’s. It was so surreal. For once I felt like I belonged somewhere. It was absolutely incredible . . . until it wasn’t.
I struggled tremendously with my sexual identity through those years and was terrified of coming out to my family. I was afraid that they would disown me or that I would disappoint them, but no matter how hard I tried to change or hide it, I couldn’t. Many of my friends had faced criticism from their loved ones after coming out and it devastated them. Sadly many within the LGBTQ community resort to suicide because they feel so alone and I too thought that ending my life would be the best option for everyone. After an unfortunate situation one night I transformed into a person I never thought I would become. My life began to spiral out of control and I didn’t know how to get out of it. Instead of asking for help or letting someone know that I was struggling, I too created a mask.
On the outside I seemed to have it together aside from the occasional comments made by friends concerned that I may be drinking too much, but on the inside I was dying. I continued to self-destruct in many ways. I still carry scars on my body from the torment I felt. Addiction took over. I tried to numb my pain and when the alcohol was no longer enough, I turned to drugs. My moral compass diminished right along with my dignity and self-respect. I no longer knew how to function without some sort of self-medication, and sleep was a rare occurrence because I knew the nightmares would await me. I lost it. I just wanted to disappear, and I didn’t want to live anymore.
By the grace of God, I somehow survived my attempts. I can still remember feeling the cold bathroom floor on my face after another heavy day/night of drinking, I screamed at God begging for a reason to live. I hadn’t talked to him in quite some time but I certainly made up for it that night and not in a pleasant way. I was angry and everything I had been holding onto came rushing out. “It isn’t fair, where the hell have you been!?” I am so grateful now that I survived because I found out shortly after that I was pregnant with my beautiful son. He apparently heard me and answered my prayer in the most unexpected way. I don’t have words adequate enough to describe how grateful I am . . . Life is beautiful today.
Suicide is something most people do not feel comfortable talking about. My father never told anyone of the pain that he was in, nor ever gave any direct indication that he was contemplating taking his own life, if he did we sure didn’t know then what we know now. Those who knew my father only recall his bright smile, his contagious laugh, and his kind soul throughout his last days on this earth. That is what made the situation so incredibly difficult to believe.
In October 2013, I got involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and became an advocate for this cause. It took that long for me to try to find something positive to do with all of that. I was blown away by the overwhelming number of lives that had been impacted by suicide, just on the TCC SE Campus alone, where I was a student. I wore my Community Walk t-shirt to class shortly after my first walk and had three different students from ONE CLASS approach me wanting to know what my connection was to suicide prevention, then they each disclosed their own personal stories of loss to suicide.
After that I went home and began to research http://www.afsp.org and saw where the foundation hosts campus walks in the spring and felt led to try to make that happen at TCC. After many meetings with TCC faculty and student organizations, we were able to bring the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to Tarrant County College in the spring of 2014 and were able to successfully do so through the Gay-Straight Alliance Student Organization on the SE Campus. Together we organized an “Out of the Darkness” Suicide Awareness Campus Walk and held the event on April 19, 2014, on the track behind the campus. Two hundred sixteen people were in attendance; among them were several faculty members who took the stage to speak openly about their own personal losses. In total, $6,429 in donations were raised for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A large portion of those proceeds were disbursed to Texas to benefit our state. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the leader in the fight against suicide. The foundation funds scientific research, creates educational programs, advocates for public policy, and supports survivors of suicide loss.
I now have the incredible privilege of serving on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s North Texas Chapter Board of Directors, something I never imagined I would be capable of or worthy enough of doing. I have learned that even through life’s devastating blows, no matter what they may be, that there is a way to use those experiences to make a difference in the lives of others. Even if you are scared, have doubts, or feel that you can’t possibly make a difference… take a step, you might be surprised to find where it may lead you.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER
If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. Help is available.
“As long as we live, you live. As long as we live, you will be remembered. As long as we live, you will be loved.”
Over the past two years I’ve found myself on a journey that I never dreamed I would be a part of by joining an army of volunteers for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. To be quite honest I can say that about the last five years in particular.
I have been thanking God a lot lately as I approach the anniversary of my last sobriety date. I realize that there are risks in sharing that openly but the rewards of speaking truthfully and the freedom I have found in doing so are far greater than the criticism. Even when I doubt myself the most, someone will unexpectedly and bravely approach me and say “me too.”
Those experiences let me know that it is worth the risk and that God has a purpose for everything no matter how shameful and painful it may be.
I will be traveling to San Francisco this May for my second Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk, I will be walking for all of the lives lost too soon, for all those who still suffer and for those left behind. I will be walking in memory of my father, my friend Joani, for Hannah Brewton Brown’s son Samuel T Simmons, for Mindi Wheat and her son Taylor, for Sarah Hope’s sister and Professor Shepp Hope’s daughter Chappell, and all of the beautiful people I have met along the way, the list is endless.
I am asking for your help in reaching my fundraising goal for this event. If you aren’t able to donate please do not worry. You can help by clicking on the link and sharing it with others, my story is included on my personal fundraising page.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is full of helpful information and you will also find many ways you can get involved in this incredible movement if interested. Together we CAN and WILL make a difference. Love and be kind to one another.
If you or someone you know needs help please call or visit:
I am fighting a battle on the most tranquil ground
cautious of the mines as I lead you around
How could I ever begin to help you see
the path of destruction that lies underneath?
It is difficult to describe this faceless villain
no pathology to indict for these unwieldy feelings
Perhaps I’d find comfort if that weren’t so
These scars wouldn’t be as shameful with something to show
So I smile through the ache of another day
and fight like hell to simply stay
It isn’t that I can’t find beauty all around
I see it in little things like leaves on the ground
It shines bright in the embrace of weathered hands
that have longed for a simple touch through life’s demands
I hear it in the voice of innocent children
their spirits full of wonder and magical visions
Beauty is everywhere to be felt and to be seen
It is only on the inside that I feel so unclean
If only this villain would just let me be
I can fool everyone else, why can’t I fool me?
December 2, 2015
Inspired by a conversation that I had with a beautiful woman that I admire very much. It is no secret that there are many stigmas associated with mental illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, “only 25% of people with mental health issues feel that other people are compassionate and/or sympathetic toward them.” It is a shameful statistic when one in four people have been touched by some form of mental illness.
In an effort to re-frame the conversation, artist Robot Hugs created a comic that displays what it would be like if we discussed physical illnesses in the same way we do mental illnesses. Take a look at the graphic below.
When I walk through deep waters I know that one of two things can happen. The current will knock me off balance and sweep me away into uncertainty, the fury will rage and cause me to fear, and the safe harbor will distance itself from my reach until it vanishes into the darkness. Or I will remember her, that beautiful determined lotus flower.
She rests underneath the raging waters, beneath the murky soil, waiting for her chance to enter into the atmosphere. I wonder if she realizes the struggle that lies ahead of her; does she enter this world as we all do, innocent, pure, with love and untainted trust, and a spirit determined to thrive? What were her thoughts as she eagerly emerged through the earth’s crust only to find herself alone in murky waters? Did she see a glimmer of sunlight somewhere up above? Did she consider wilting under the weight of it all, or did she feel the ground shake with an even greater fury as God declared his promises over her life? I will remember her, that beautiful determined lotus flower.
Her roots are strong and her faith is undisturbed by the turmoil around her. No matter how minuscule the progress may be as she struggles against the pressure, she continues to rise. The sunlight awaits her; she is sure of it. Every once in a while she will catch a glimpse of it offering rays of hope and promise on the surface above her; it reveals itself by day and comforts her fears by night. Her foundation grows thick and her stem even stronger. I will remember her, that beautiful determined lotus flower.
The light shines bright ready to embrace its emerging child. The beauty is unlike any she has ever seen and for a moment she considers recoil. She halts beneath the surface afraid to move any further. She is dirty having risen from the mud and knows her appearance will tarnish this majestic place.
The ground shakes again causing the dirt to swirl around her. A familiar darkness returns as the serenity is disturbed, and the murk surrounds her once again. It brings a level of relief and comfort as she feels less exposed, however, that was not the intention. This was only the beginning. I will remember her, that beautiful determined lotus flower.
She couldn’t see what was in front of her but she could feel the powerful current. It took her a moment to realize what was happening as the sediment began to fall beneath her. The current seemed to be sweeping around and through her taking all of the filth with it. She was clean and pure in this new birth, regardless of where she came. She heard a voice arise from a place unknown “trust this journey my precious lotus.” She took one last moment before revealing herself. She embraced those words and burst through the surface into the unknown. The sun met her with a warm embrace, and encouraged her to blossom into all she was meant to be. One by one her petals began to open and dance on the water with a freedom only God could give. She continues to blossom by day and close by night. She isn’t afraid of what the darkness may bring, she just knows she doesn’t belong there anymore. I will remember her, that beautiful determined lotus flower.
Jessica Caudle – 05/22/15
Aside from having my son this was the most moving experience of my life. I never thought it was possible to find anything good in something so tragic and painful.
To each and every one of you, old friends and new, I hope you had a safe journey home and feel the love and strength that is within you. Your loved ones will live on because of you, and so will someone else’s because of your determination to fight suicide. Keep marching on!
Local people, we will walk again this Saturday at Tarrant County College Southeast Campus, check-in is at 8:00 am. Please come if you are able.
Also, feel free to share or tag yourself in this video.
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The anticipation as you entered this world. Watching, waiting, with eager eyes.
We were tense and our ears longed for your cry. With what seemed like forever, at last your beautiful sound silenced the room. Tears fell, I couldn’t contain them and joy consumed me. At first glance 10 little finger, 10 little toes, all too familiar… they were just like mine. In that moment our lives forever changed. The heart within that was once so carefully guarded now rested in your tiny little hand. You were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Your bright eyes and untamed spirit fascinated me and completed me.
You continue to surprise me every day as you grow! You are full of such love, light, and independence! From day one you held your head up with strength consuming your surroundings. By six months you were crawling wherever you felt like going. At ten months you were taking steps, waiving bye-bye, playing peek-a-boo, saying momma and dadda, laughing, and being very expressive. We managed to tackle potty training, skinned knees, band-aids, even a few stitches, and “all better” sugars.
April 8, 2008 – You are three years old this year. I bought you your first bicycle, Lord I don’t think training wheels were made to roll that fast!
April 8, 2009 – You are four years old. I love reading you bedtime stories and watching your face light up as you begin to recognize the letters on the pages. I love when you pick up a crayon and write your own name, and when you run to get your folder to show us your happy faces from school. I loved the excitement in your eyes as you ran around the bases at your first t-ball game, and again when Chacey and I took you to see the Texas Rangers play. Our Rangers were in there first World Series last year!
April 8, 2010 – You are five years old. We adopted your first companion and added on to our little family. You named her Sunny dog. Oh my, what fun it is to watch you both play, and touching when we go to wake you up in the mornings and find her curled up next to you. You are so smart Jace, and so loving!
April 8, 2011 – 6 years old??? It is hard to believe. You are growing up so fast! We accomplished so many things during this past year. We finally have our very own home complete with a backyard and plenty of room for you and Sunny dog to play. You started a new school this year and though I know it was scary for you, you faced it with such courage and have adjusted so well. Just this morning, you played your very first soccer game with the Wildcats. The score was 2-1 with five minutes left in the game; you found your way to the ball and carried it all the way to the goal to tie the game! I hope you always remember the sound of your family cheering you on as we will always do!
April 8, 2012 – Here we go again son. Your birthday falls on Easter this year, you will be 7 years old soon. My heart is full, as we celebrate God, we will also celebrate you! He knew exactly what he was doing when he placed you into my life, and for that I am forever grateful.
April 8, 2013 – You are sleeping sweetly tonight. I just finished homework and am smiling as I remember where I was eight years ago. I was in labor getting closer and closer to meeting you. It has been another amazing year son. Chacey and I took you to Washington DC on Thanksgiving day, you were such a big boy on your first plane ride, not scared a bit though that no longer surprises me! You read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” the whole flight and finished a second book while we were there. You finally got to see the White House and your hero “Abraham Lincoln’s” memorial, and the place where he spent his last moments on this earth. You simply amaze me, I am so happy that you are interested in History. It is important to know where we come from and to remember those who fought so hard for the privileges that you enjoy today. As Maya Angelou says, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” I have no doubt you will be successful in carving your own piece of history one day. You are a natural born leader.
You are in your second year with the Red Sox and Preston is playing with you this year. You boys are so funny, and I am so grateful you have one another! By the way, you also have another dog you brought home from your dad’s named Roxie, and a cat named CC. This place is turning into a small zoo… did I mention the two ninja turtles?
April 8, 2014 – You are 9 years old today Jace, I can hardly believe it. I don’t even want to think about hitting double digits next year! What a year this has been. Life happened, and you faced a very difficult time with losing two precious uncles this year (Uncle Robert & Uncle Ricky) . Your Dad, Chacey, and I sat down with you and had those difficult conversations about death, heaven, and many other things. We wiped your tears and held you tight, and we always will. Though we have all been through it before, it hurt us deeply to watch you go through it as well. No matter what, always keep them in your heart and thank God for the precious moments that you got to spend with them. They live on through you. As long as you live, they live. As long as you live, they will be remembered. As long as you live, they will be loved.
Chacey and I took you to see the ocean for the first time this year as well. We took you to Clearwater Beach, Florida. You got to see Winter the Dolphin with a prosthetic tail, pet sting rays, and ride jet skis in the ocean. Once while out on the water we saw a huge sea turtle surface in front of us. Your brilliant mother (me) also flooded the jet ski which floated us out beyond the suggested sea barrier. You screamed for your life! But, we made it back safely and even had several dolphins jumping in our wake on the way back. We told you the ocean wasn’t that scary once you got in it, and you certainly found your sea legs! We love you so very much young man, I suppose I can start calling you that now since you aren’t so little any more.
P.S. We have another cat which you rescued from the Children’s Courtyard. We aren’t certain if it is a male or a female. It looks like Garfield and is the mostly lovable cat I have ever seen. It sleeps with you too.
April 08, 2015
I can’t believe you will be 10 years old in just a few short hours. Wow! The double digits have arrived. You are not just getting older, you have managed to outgrow every pair of clothing/shoes you had at the beginning of this school year. You have increased 3 shoe sizes and 2 shirt/pant sizes as well. I joke with you often about getting a job so I can afford to keep you.
This is also your last year of elementary school. Chacey and I took a tour of Asa Low Intermediate School a few weeks ago (where you will start a new journey as you venture into fifth grade next year). It is huge compared to Roberta Tipps. You will have a rotating schedule, lockers, gym classes, and endless opportunities to pursue whatever extracurricular activity you decide to choose.
You played football for the first time this year. You and Preston played for the Mansfield Longhorns and your dad drove down to be by your side for every game. You loved that. Once again, even being the smallest kid on the team, you faced it without hesitation and put your whole heart in it. You made us proud. You kept telling Chacey that the coaches put you on “defensive line,” and with her knowledge of football she kept saying “there is no way!” I was clueless, football is not my thing, and tried to explain to her what I observed from the practice field sideline (insert laymen’s terms). Well, after attending your game and picking her jaw up off of the ground she apologized to you. You were in fact playing “defensive line” as the littlest man on the team. One day I hope to be as awesome as you.
We also had another devastating loss this year. Our amazing Grandpa, Tim Conatser passed on February 15. I am grateful we were able to spend valuable time with him and made sure he knew how loved and special he was to us. He instilled a deep love of music in me which I have shared with you. I recently heard you singing every word to a Creedence Clearwater Revival song and smiled knowing that it came from a place much deeper than that, it is another precious memory of him living on through you. I have no doubt that made Grandpa smile as well.
Son, I hope your 10th birthday is just as incredible as you are. As you face changes over the next year, continue to embrace them with the same eager spirit you have always had and know that we will always have your back. Don’t forget to pray, give thanks, help others as often as you can, and love like there is no tomorrow. I love you as big as the sky and more.
You make me so proud… You make me a better me.
Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.
A Journal of Christian Thought and Expression. Godinterest Ecumenical, Inter-Denominational Christian Publication is where readers find dynamic thinking, and where expert and undiscovered voices can share their faith, culture and life experiences.
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