At the top of the highest open air stairwell at Fresno state you stand six stories up, you can see the lights from Tower and Downtown. You can see the entirety of campus, and the skylines of Fresno, Clovis, and Sanger. We watch Fourth of July fireworks, storm clouds, and city lights up here. Many go for a quiet place to reflect, a private place to break down, or a good place to talk. On nights and weekends, it is always empty, and always provides a high enough place to feel wind on your face.
Last night, the storm of the decade rolled in and I watched it, felt it on my face, and tried to use the barometric pressure to calm down all the pressure I was feeling. I’ve stood on this balcony countless times in my college career, a place of reflection, of grief, of prayer, a place of retreat. However tonight I stayed longer than usual hoping to find whatever it was that God had called me up there for as the anxiety spiked. I stood for a while, myself, the rain, an air control tower flashing in the distance, and some graffiti.
Suicide has been described in many different ways, but as the overwhelming anxiety continued to attack despite my set of coping skills and defenses, I remembered reading a recent definition: Suicidal thoughts are most likely to occur when the struggles start to outweigh and overwhelm the coping mechanisms. It reminded me that even though someone can know in their head that it’s not the answer and have several defenses in place, there are still moments in which we can be overwhelmed and those thoughts come back. That is not a sign of weakness or failure, we will be overwhelmed in life. Our choice is how we choose to respond to those moments. Yet, there is such a stigma to ever admitting to it or talking about it that most of us who have encountered it never do. If we do its impact is minimized, glossed over, and a source of embarrassment. Many of the things that put significant stumbling blocks in our walks with Jesus are the things that we talk the least about.
Because the Fresno State community is aware that this is the highest place that a person can climb to, many students have taken the liberty of tagging the “No Smoking” signs with a ton of messages against suicide. Seven or eight different kinds of Sharpies, different handwriting, different levels of weather fading have compiled a little list of messages. “You’re worth something to me,” “Someday life will get tired of upsetting you,” and my personal favorite, “I know it feels like you’re in the middle of a storm right now, but it never storms long in Fresno anyway,”
In that moment, it was if each of those authors stood on the balcony with me in a gentle solidarity. We have all come to this place in our moments of grief, our moments of anxiety, and we have all taken the stairs back down, calmer then we climbed them. There were folks fighting the same battle as I was and they were making it. They had come to the edge of the world and survived. In this I found deep encouragement. However, it was because in the rawness of their experience they had found the inspiration to leave a message for the next person, who left one for the next person: “We can beat this. We have beaten this, you will too.”
In Revelations 12 the chapter talks about Satan being cast down. Verse 11 however holds specific interest: “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
There is power in testimony, there is power in sharing our stories. If Satan is a liar, exposing those lies to the air will blow them away. Sharing those moments of victory, being honest in those moment of crisis, sharing those journeys provides the network that claims victory over isolation. The individuals who stood on that balcony before me gave me strength in a moment of deep anxiety, because each of them stood as a reminder of God’s victory and the importance of continuing to fight for freedom. However, had nobody chosen to tag the sign, that valuable solidarity would have been missed.
As I looked out over the railing there was an air traffic control tower that had a light swinging gently every few seconds in a solid rhythm, much the way a lighthouse does. God reminded me “If you can see the lighthouse it means the shore is close, hold on,” My lighthouse was probably the airport, but it reminded me that no matter how overwhelming the waves seem, looking down into the deep will never help you reach the shore. Instead, find the lights on the shore, the reminders that we don’t stand alone, that these storms will calm, that these wars have been won even if we’re still in the midst of the battle. I spent the better part of an hour watching the light continue to flash in the dark, reflecting on the encouragement written in rain smudged sharpie a few feet away from me. The storm often clouds our perception, clouds our ability to see the truth of a situation, but our testimonies stand as lighthouses.
So, I invite you, join me in the Testimony project, an effort to start to tell our stories, to network with each other, to stand in [unity] against the things that isolate us and make us feel like we can’t find that freedom. I’d like all of us to proverbially tag the sign, so that when the next person stands on the same balcony, they look down and find the power of your testimony.