I have been writing for the Matsu Greatlander a year now; I enjoy it, and hope readers have found spiritual encouragement in each article. June’ 2014’s theme was ‘Going Coastal,’ I was on the path of researching some of Alaska’s coastal cities. Alaska has some of the most varied and beautiful coastline in the world, ranging from the rain forest dampness in Ketchikan, located at the bottom of the Panhandle, to Kotzebue, just above the Arctic Circle and surrounded by frozen tundra. However, as I read about these Gateways at either end of our state, one the first port of call in Alaska, the other the first coastal city above the Arctic Circle, my thoughts kept returning to the Gateway to Heaven because of a tragic loss my family just suffered, on Mother’s Day. Subsequently, this led me on a path from a theme of land and water, to that of mortality and eternity.
Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Because our lives are a composite of things calm and stormy, beautiful and dreadful, uplifting and devastating, faith is critical for responding to life’s challenges with resiliency and coming away with lessons learned for improving our future. God gives us individual strengths, yet allows individual weaknesses for reasons we may never understand while here on earth. Though I have strong faith in the Lord, such is the nature of not understanding the tragic loss of my nephew, who succumbed to the darkness of mental illness after a decade of fierce struggling.
Though his childhood had challenges, this young man was a sweet little toddler, a typical boyish dirt magnet, and a handsome teenager. He loved to play the guitar; he and a couple friends formed a small band and actually had some ‘gigs,’ so exciting for him. But by then the hidden illness had manifest itself, changing his life forever. His family witnessed firsthand that paranoid schizophrenia causes a person to have delusions that others are plotting to harm them, and the majority of the afflicted also have auditory hallucinations. Unfortunately, the paranoia can also result in contrary behaviors born out of frantic fear, impaired impulse control, or delusions of grandeur, including behaviors that break the law. Though it is possible for someone with this disease to live a successful, productive life, it requires a lot of resources from family, medical providers, and the community.
His mother garnered as many resources as she could. She talked to him virtually every day, trying to keep him on the best possible mental health path his illness allowed. As many others, he did not accept the diagnosis; he would feel better on medications, then stop taking them thinking he was cured. But inevitably he would flounder until convinced by his mother or authorities that continually taking them was necessary. And the cycle began again. Despite this deadly rollercoaster, he was energetic, well liked, friendly to everyone, a genuinely nice young man. Sadly though, he was basically homeless and jobless, as many others with his condition are, dependent on friends and family for basic needs because he could not take care of himself.
He depended on God as well, having accepted Christ as Savior. A chaplain who frequently visited inmates knew him said that he repeated the Sinner’s Prayer several times, just to be sure. I did the same thing as a child. And my nephew was still a child, though in a man’s body. There are those who believe a person who takes their own life cannot go to heaven. While it is a sin, Acts 16:31 says ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ Salvation is anchored in belief, repentance and mercy, not sinlessness (see Romans 3:23). My nephew had his Bible with him in those last weeks, and I believe he sought the Lord for relief from the crippling paranoid fears. However, left all alone in an isolation jail cell without proper medical and mental health interventions, his psychosis-induced demons finally chased him from this world. Why God did not deliver him, I cannot explain, except that we live in a world that has pain and sorrow. I take comfort in a verse of Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace rendition ‘My chains are gone, I’ve been set free, My God, my Savior has ransomed me;’ my nephew has been set free. In John 11:25-26 ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”’ My nephew believed; therefore, I am comforted that he is eternally safe, with a new body and new mind.