I Survived My Suicide - Part 2
At age 17, Kristen Jane Anderson survived a suicide attempt. Today, more than ten years later, she has a powerful message for those who find themselves in despair.
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Life in Spite of Me
Day 2 of 3
Guest: Kristen Jane Anderson
From the Series: A Flicker of Hope
Bob: When she was 17 years old, Kristen Jane Anderson sought to end her life by lying across a railroad track as the train was approaching. Miraculously, she survived; although her legs were severed. She was soon to realize that God had a purpose for her life.
Kristen: Three months after I lost my legs, I was out of the hospital. We went back to church that Sunday. A woman came up to me who had heard about what happened to me. She told me that I would have gone to hell if I died. It was very difficult at the time, but I am very grateful that she was that bold at the time because it helped me see my need for Him. It helped me think about where I would have gone eternally. “If I had died, where would I go?” I had never thought about it more than at that time in my life.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Kristen Jane Anderson joins us today to share a story of beauty from ashes and redemption from tragedy.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us. I have read the statistics about teenage suicide, about teens who overdose on a handful of pills from the medicine cabinet or who do violence to themselves in some way to take their own lives.
Bob: I don’t know that I have ever heard a story like the one we are hearing this week.
Dennis: Yes. We have a guest with us this week who is willing to tell a profound story, quite a drama. Kristen Jane Anderson joins us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Kristen: Thank you.
Dennis: Kristen, you have written a book called Life, In Spite of Me. As our listeners heard earlier, that really is an understatement. A lot of things had taken place in your life that had left you hopeless, right?
Kristen: Yes. A lot of things happened.
Dennis: Yes. Your father was struggling from depression as you grew up as a little girl and as a teenager. You had three friends, as a teenager, who lost their lives—one to suicide. You had a couple of guys stalking you—one who raped you. You were hopeless and no one knew it.
Kristen: No. My family especially knew something was wrong with me because it wasn’t in my character to not come home when I was supposed to. I had started drinking and smoking and things like that. That wasn’t anything I had done before. I also stopped playing soccer. That was something that I loved to do, and so they knew something was wrong with me. They just didn’t know how much was wrong inside and how I was feeling.
Bob: You say they knew something was wrong. If you were to look back and say, “There had been something going back in my heart and soul for a month...three months...six months.” What?
Kristen: I think that it was a lot going on that whole period of time, but I think the last six months before my attempt were the worst. I think I just kind of died inside. I didn’t care about my life or anything anymore. I drove around hoping somebody would hit me. I wanted my life to end. I didn’t want to take it, though.
People would ask me how I was doing. I would say, “I’m here.’ Kind of like, “Isn’t that good enough?” I had just a much more negative and a little bit of a bitter attitude. That wasn’t my normal demeanor, but at the same time I still had a smile on my face. So people really were confused.
Bob: Here it is the second day of the New Millennium, January 2, 2000. It is a cold day. You left the house, sitting in a park, just thinking about life. The impulse—really—it was an impulse hits you.
Dennis: Yes. I want to make a comment about that because I have read this before that a number of suicides that occur among young people are done, not in a sense of really thinking it through, but just deciding at the spur of the moment.
Kristen: Right. For me, it was. I could never have made that as a rational decision. If I was going to do it, it would have had to be impulsive. I think that most people would think that way. I think most kids, especially. They know that suicide is wrong. They can never rationalize it enough to think it is okay or it is right.
Bob: You didn’t think about writing a note saying, “It’s all over.” You didn’t have time.
Kristen: No. I didn’t have time and I wasn’t worried about other people. I was in a very selfish place.
Bob: So you went and laid across the railroad tracks with a train coming. Did the conductor see you dive across the tracks?
Kristen: Yes. The police report says that the conductor said to the engineer, “Did you see that yellow flash?” The engineer said to the conductor, “Yes. I think we just hit someone.” The yellow flash that they saw was this yellow jacket that I had on—my winter coat.
Dennis: It was a new coat that you had just gotten for Christmas was it, or was that the jeans you had gotten?
Kristen: Right. The coat was new; the shoes were new. All of it was new actually.
Bob: So you dove across the tracks. The conductor, the engineer said, “I think we just hit somebody.” They put on the brakes, brought the train to a stop?
Kristen: Yes. Then they called 911.
Bob: And came back finding you lying on the tracks, legs severed—one below the knee and the other...
Kristen: They didn’t come to find me, but the paramedics found me.
Kristen: Yes, but with my legs severed.
Bob: You have already shared with us this week that you were in record-time taken to the nearest hospital in your area—wheeled into surgery.
Dennis: Still wanting to die.
Bob: And still thinking that was probably where you were headed. What is the next thing that you remember?
Kristen: The next thing I remember was waking up in Intensive Care. I was in surgery all night long. The next thing I remember was waking up—opening my eyes, trying to figure out where I was. I saw my mother, my dad, my brother, my sister, and my brother-in-law all in the room, their arms crossed and their faces looking down at the floor. I couldn’t understand where I was or why everyone looked so unhappy.
Then my mom ran to the side of my bed. She said, “Honey, we are so glad you are okay.” I remembered what had happened the night before. I said, “Mom, they cut my clothes and they cut my coat.” She said, “Oh, honey. It’s okay. We are just glad you are here. We can get you new ones. Don’t worry about that.” She couldn’t believe that I said that.
I also wasn’t thinking about the fact that I had lost my legs. In that moment I hadn’t really understood the reality of it yet.
Dennis: Were you angry at that point that you were alive?
Kristen: It was interesting because at this point everyone was so happy to see me, and they were so happy I was alive. I had mixed emotions. I was beginning to be a little bit grateful that I lived, but I was still hoping that I would maybe slip away.
Bob: Even in that moment, your desire to die—the thing that had propelled you onto the tracks—the thing that was still with you when the paramedics found you—now you are recovered; your family is there. They are saying, “We are just so glad you are here;” and you are still thinking, “I just want to go. I just want to be done with this.”
Kristen: One of the things they have told me since then is that they were worried. If I didn’t want to live my life with my legs, how was I going to want to live my life without my legs? That is kind of the place I was in. I didn’t want to live my life with all my other problems and now I didn’t have my legs! How was I going to do that? I didn’t think I could do that.
Bob: So the despair that had kind of come upon you impulsively was now gripping you in terms of just wanting it all to be over and life to end. There was still no sense of any kind of hope for the future for you.
Kristen: It was small. It was very small. I didn’t know what the future held, and because I was on a lot of medication—my emotions were very numb, which was good and bad at the time. It caused me not to think a lot—not to feel a lot; but I had hope, more than anything, in people.
My hope was because people told me, “There is a reason you are here. God kept you here for a reason. There is something you are supposed to do here.” That was really encouraging to me. I didn’t know why He kept me here or what I was supposed to do here; but I kind of held on to that because I realized that because of how much blood I lost and because of how many cars had run over me as fast as they did—all the scientific details—I knew I should have died; but I was alive. That did speak some volume to me about God and His faithfulness and His goodness and His love for me. I had a small hope that was growing.
Dennis: There is one more emotion that you undoubtedly had to experience because you mentioned earlier that what kind of propelled you onto the tracks was you were really thinking about yourself. You didn’t write a letter to your family members say, “Goodbye.”
Kristen: No. I thought about them on the tracks. I thought, “They will get over me,” or things like that. I was worried how they would feel, but I was more consumed with my own pain.
Dennis: When you finally kind of came to, and the drugs began to wear off, undoubtedly you began to experience some shame.
Dennis: And some embarrassment at what you tried to accomplish but didn’t. I mean, you were alive!
Dennis: And even though God was at work in your soul, how did you handle that?
Kristen: It was a really hard for thing for me. I actually didn’t remember laying on the tracks for a long time. People told me that the police report said it was an attempted suicide and everyone assumed it was, but I didn’t remember doing it. I had a really hard time accepting that for a long time, but I began having flashbacks.
Eventually I had a full flashback where I remembered laying on the tracks. That was devastating for me because I did not want to believe that I would do something like that; but it brought me closer to God because I started crying out for Him.
I knew—I just felt so broken—I was so full of shame—I was so embarrassed. I was so overwhelmed, but I had started to work through some of the stuff that had happened before my attempted suicide in counseling so now I started to work through my actual attempted suicide.
Bob: You said that you grew up in a home that was a church-going home and that you had been in church but you had not really heard about a personal relationship with Christ. In these times of despair and dealing with the circumstances you lived with, what were the influences that were drawing you in the direction of God?
Kristen: Three months after I lost my legs, I was out of the hospital on a weekend visit before my next surgery. We went back to church that Sunday. A woman came up to me, who I didn’t know, who had heard what had happened to me; and she told me I would have gone to hell if I had died. I had never thought about that before.
Dennis: Wait. Wait a second. You are talking about somebody at church came up to you and said you would go to hell?
Dennis: How did that hit you?
Kristen: It was very hard for me because I had never thought about whether or not I would have gone to hell if I had died. I thought about it a little bit, but not really, because everyone around me told me, “Kristen, you would have gone to heaven. Don’t worry about it.” They assured me of that, but I began to worry when she told me that there was a chance I could have gone to hell.
I didn’t just want to accept the “feel good” answer or think naively about it. I wanted to know if I would have died, where I would have been. If I would have been in hell right then, I wanted to know it. So, that is when I really started asking God where I would have gone.
Very shortly after that, a couple, who were friends with my sister, came over to have dinner with my parents and me just to encourage us after everything that had happened. I found out that the man was studying in seminary to be a pastor. I took that as my opportunity to ask someone if he thought I would have gone to hell if I had died.
He told me that every single one of us are created to be in a personal and intimate relationship with God, but because of our sin, because of the wrong things we have done, we are separated from Him eternally. But that is why Jesus died for us—to pay the penalty for our sins—to reunite us with God.
Growing up in church, I had heard—I believed in God. I believed Jesus was the Son of God and I knew that He died for my sins, but I never knew that there was a choice I needed to make or that I was created to be in a personal, intimate relationship with Him. When this man told me this, I knew what he was telling me was truer than anything I had ever heard in my life, but I didn’t want to just take his word for it.
I asked him to show me in the Bible. He showed me a lot of different passages, but the verse that stood out to me the most was John 14:6. That is where Jesus says, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” I just knew that was exactly what I needed to know.
I knew that the Father was in heaven—I knew that is where I wanted to go, but I knew that I had never made a personal decision to accept Jesus into my heart or my life or become a Christian. I didn’t have a relationship with Him; so that night, sitting on the floor of my parents’ dining room, I accepted Him into my heart and into my life.
From that moment forward, I know that God was with me and the Holy Spirit was inside of me, working in many ways. He brought all these different people into my life. I ended up having a Christian counselor when I wasn’t even seeking a Christian counselor. She spoke a lot of truth into my life.
I went to a community college at the time. I met this woman who just shined with more love and light and joy than anyone I had ever met in my life. I remember going back from meeting her one day and saying, “God, I want to know You the way that lady knows You.”
What I felt Him telling me was, “Kristen, you have to let me be your best friend. You have to start going to Me for everything.” I was still going to my friends and my doctors and my parents before Him; but He was the One who created me. He was the One who knew me. He was the One who made me. He knew my problems more than I did or anyone else did, and He knew the answers more than anyone else did.
So I started going to Him before everyone else. I started centering my life around Him, putting Him first. I got involved in a really good Christian church where I started to grow spiritually. The closer I got with Him, the more I began to experience the joy and peace and contentment—just a love for life—like I never had before.
Bob: What is the timeframe from what we are talking about—it was January when you attempted suicide.
Kristen: Then it was March when I became a Christian—March of 2000. I still struggled with suicidal thoughts and depression for about three years. It was March 2003 when I started going to that church. So my relationship with Him was very immature, but I was growing in that time.
I think one of the biggest reasons I struggled in those three years with depression after my attempt is because I didn’t know how important it was to be part of a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church—be a part of the body of Christ. I didn’t know how much having Christian friends would help me.
I also didn’t know how real Satan was and that it was his desire to destroy me and mess with my life. I didn’t realize how important it was for me to read the Bible every single day. I wasn’t practicing a lot of things that I know would have been helpful for me in growing in my relationship with God.
Dennis: I find it interesting that God would use a woman who came up to you and who told you that you were going to hell. Looking back on that, as offensive as that sounds here in this studio today, what are your thoughts about what that woman did and how God used that in your life?
Kristen: It was very difficult at the time, but I am very grateful that she was that bold at the time because it helped me see my need for Him. It helped me think about where I would have gone eternally. If I died, I never thought about it more than at that time in my life.
Dennis: Was she loving as she said it, or was she condemning as she said it?
Kristen: She was just very frank.
Bob: You think of saying that to somebody who is three months’ out of the hospital in a wheelchair, no legs; and just walking up and saying, “You know, it is a good thing you lived; because if had died, you would have gone to hell.” It is bold. Some people would say it is insensitive to say that; but you are sitting here going, “No. It was sensitive to the real needs in my life.”
Kristen: I needed to hear it. She could have said those words in a nicer way, but it was what I needed to hear—regardless.
Bob: Kristen, the three years from when you trusted Christ in your parents’ living room. I have to ask you about that. Were your parents sitting there as this seminary student is unveiling the gospel for you?
Bob: What are they thinking?
Kristen: I have no idea what they were thinking. I think they were all just focused on me. They weren’t thinking for themselves; they were just thinking...
Bob: ...maybe this will help Kristen.
Kristen: Right. Exactly.
Bob: In their presence, did you pray that night?
Kristen: It was after the couple left and after my parents were doing their own thing. They didn’t know that I was accepting Christ as I sat on the floor that night.
Bob: Did you say the next day, “Mom, Dad, I prayed last night to become a Christian”?
Kristen: I didn’t tell them, but I told my best friend.
Dennis: But you did tell somebody.
Bob: The next three years you continued to battle, primarily because you didn’t get plugged in. Is that right?
Kristen: Yes; definitely. I actually tried going to a number of churches, but they weren’t wheel-chair accessible. I never felt like I fit in there for one reason or another, but I visited this church that I ended up going to once before I ended up going back. I knew that God wanted me to go there. It was a whole year in between when I went back. I knew that is where He wanted me to be finally.
Dennis: Kristen, in listening to your story—the older I get, the more aware I am of how many people are hurting. You have already said how many people have read your book and written you and have given it to other people because there are a lot of hopeless people—a lot of people who need to have hope born in their hearts, like He was born in your heart.
I think what I would like you to do is just to speak directly to that person who is listening who is pretty hopeless, who needs Christ. Maybe he or she has been going to church; maybe they haven’t. Maybe they stumbled onto this broadcast, but they need to find the One who can redeem them from hell and from their sins and have hope born in their lives.
Kristen: If you are struggling with pain in your life, or with suicidal thoughts, or with depression, I want you to know that there is a reason you are here. God created you for a purpose. No matter what you are going through, it is temporary. You are not alone.
He has tremendous plans for you. There is hope in Christ that surpasses anything in this world. He has so much hope for us. He has so many plans for us—every single one of us. Nobody is an accident, including you. There is a reason you are here. I just want to encourage you to, “Hold on. Seek God with all of your heart.” I know you will find Him. He will bring you out of the depths of despair like He has me.
Dennis: I just want to re-read that passage that was shared with you by that young man who was going through seminary, John14:6: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”
Jesus Christ is the person at the center of Christianity. He is the One who makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God. He will meet you at your point of despair. There is nothing you are facing, nothing you are going through, that is bigger than the God Who loves you.
My encouragement to that listener is to cry out to God in prayer—a simple prayer. “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. I want to know Jesus Christ as my Lord, Master, and Savior.” If you do that, I have it on the authority of this book, the Bible, that He will meet you there; and He will save you from your disappointments, your sin—how you have offended God—and bring you into a right relationship with God.
Bob: There are probably some things you need to do—some next steps you need to take, as Kristen has talked about here today, so that you don’t find yourself spiritually stagnant. Many of those steps are outlined in a book we would like to send you at no cost—a book called Pursuing God. This is a book we send out to those who are considering what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Whether you have been in church throughout your life or not, if the spiritual lights are just starting to come on in your life, call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and let us send you a copy of the book Pursuing God by Jim Elliff. It is our gift to you; and it is our hope that God will use this book in a powerful way to bring you into a relationship with Jesus and to help you walk in that relationship as His child, as you put your trust in Him. You can request a copy of the book by calling 1-800-FLTODAY; that is 1-800-358-6329.
Let me also encourage you to go to our website FamilyLifeToday.com. You can get information there about Kristen Anderson’s book Life in Spite of Me—extraordinary hope after a fatal choice. There are also other books we have listed on the website that talk about the issue of depression and suicide. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the resources we have available. You can order online if you would like; or again, you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request the resources you have heard us talk about today.
Let me also mention that today and tomorrow are the last two days you have an opportunity to sign up and join us on the FamilyLife Love Like You Mean It cruise which we are going to be taking in February of 2011, actually Valentine’s week, February 14-18. Dennis and Barbara Rainey are going to be on the cruise, along with Crawford and Karen Loritts, Kirk Cameron is going to be there, Shaunti Feldhahn is going to be there. We are going to have music from Selah and Point of Grace and Big Daddy Weave.
It is going to be a great week for couples. The FamilyLife Love Like You Mean It cruise. The ship is almost full. We have a limited number of cabins still available. If you sign up by tomorrow, you can save 50 percent on your stateroom. It is a buy one; get one free arrangement for the cruise. All you have to do to take advantage of the special for FamilyLife Today listeners is type my name—type “BOB”—in the promo code box on the online registration form. We hope you will get more information by going on FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the Love Like You Mean It cruise link, and we hope you will sign up and join us. We look forward to seeing you as we set sail next February on Valentine’s Day.
Let me also encourage you to be back here tomorrow. Kristen Anderson is going to join us again, and we are going to talk more about her life following her attempted suicide and about the hope that she has found. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock Arkansas
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