The hymnist Fanny Crosby wrote these words: "Chords that were broken will vibrate once more." I included her words in the first chapter of my upcoming book, Victory Song. Below is an excerpt describing my up-close encounter with suicide and the remnants it left behind.
I was 17 the night it happened: the single, tragic event that would shape my journey and life's purpose from that point forward.
It happened in Hong Kong, February of 1974, five months before I would leave for America to attend Mississippi University for Women on a long sought-after scholarship. It happened just before dawn, in the dim hours when the world still wears the blanket of night. In the bedroom that I shared with my older sister, I woke up suddenly, hearing a wailing cry. I can still hear that haunting voice of my father. He was shouting my sister's name. As I shook my sister awake, I had a foreboding sense that something dreadful had happened and life would never be the same. I followed timidly behind as my sister made her way through the living room into the kitchen. I was afraid to follow any further and stood silently in the living room, hoping for some indication that this was just a false alarm and life would resume to normal, if there was such a thing as normal. Then I heard my father's voice say in a panting way, "Quick! Get a knife! Cut her down!"
In that instant, I knew my mother had hung herself from the rafters. My father was holding up her body to keep the rope from choking her further.
Time stood frozen as I tried to wrap my mind around what had happened. America had been my mother's dream. Making it to America had been all she had ever hoped for, the sole devotion of her scarred and broken life. We were almost there: my sister and I had been accepted into college already, and we felt certain that we'd be able to help our parents make the crossing. After all those years of courageous dreaming and painful sacrifices, why had she given up now?
When the paramedics came to take my mother away, I still held on to a glimmer of hope that they would find a way to resuscitate her. My father left with the paramedics…About an hour later, when the phone rang, I stared vacantly at the phone as it continued to ring. When I finally picked it up, I heard my father say, "She's gone. We lost your mother." I'm not sure what happened after that. It was as if someone pulled down the curtain on our lives. Would there be an Act Two, or was this the end?
Her choice was the final, most terrible bomb; my mother had detonated her own lost hopes and shattered my world into a thousand pieces. Death washed over me in all its impenetrability and permanence. I fell to the floor, asking myself questions that would consume me, night after night, for decades to come.
My journey to healing began when I stumbled into Beth Moore's Sunday school class when I was 35. I never imagined that I would end up serving in her class for seven years. During that time, I was soaking in God's Word, not realizing that God's Word had the power to heal me.
Today, I am the founder and president of Inspire Women, a ministry that walks as a friend with thousands of women to help them find their spark and live at their potential to change the world. I never set out to be the founder of any ministry. I simply walked through the doors God opened with a heart that said, "God, send me where you need me."
I never imagined he would give me the freedom to shape programs and offer year-round leadership training to thousands of women so they could finish God's mission. From the mother I could not save, I now have the opportunity to help women finish God's plans for their lives. God, in his mercy, made all things beautiful in their time.
Below are some of the life lessons God taught me:
1. God has a purpose for my life. Even my suffering is part of his bigger purpose: It was my own suffering that gave me the compassion for women who are displaced and are looking for a place to belong. My ministry was birthed from a place of suffering. I have learned that the passion that drives me comes from a source of pain in my past.
2. One tragic event does not define a life. I spent many years remembering one act, one wrong choice my mother made. But she was so much more than one event. God led me to view my mother as a woman just like myself, on the journey of life. She fought many battles, some of which she won and some she lost. She did not deserve my judgment. She needed my compassion. To appreciate her for the woman she was, I had to forgive where she hurt me while bringing the strengths of her life with me into the rest of my life.
3. When you run from your suffering, you miss your calling. For many years, I dealt with my mother's suicide by throwing myself into my work and trying to forget my past. I thought I could just turn the page and move on. But there are some relationships in our lives that will always be part of us, and we must find a way to settle in our hearts how those relationships fit in our lives. In finding the courage to return to the past and explore the details of my mother's life, I learned about the battles she won and gained an appreciation for her as a woman. I learned that her strengths reside in me and continue in me. Instead of running from the past, embracing my mother gave me a greater sense of my own identity.
4. All God's stories end beautifully, and as his child, I must trust in his pattern of beautiful endings. Knowing that I am made in the image of God and that the best way to reflect God is to follow his divine pattern, I was inspired to know that my best way to honor God was to write a beautiful ending to an otherwise broken story. In this I found a foundation that fueled a continuing passion for my ministry. Pitted against the mother I could not save are the thousands of lives I have had the privilege to invest in, to empower them to live at their potential. I am in awe of a God who led me to transform a dirge filled with laments into his beautiful ending and victory song.
Today I live as a walking testimony to what David expressed in the Psalms when he said, "He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:2-3).
Anita Carman is the founder and President of Inspire Women, a ministry that reaches thousands of women every year through citywide conferences, leadership programs and mentorship focused on awakening God's purpose in their lives and helping them find their spark. She is also a popular speaker and author of multiple books, including Making Sense of Your Life and Transforming for a Purpose. Learn more at www.inspirewomen.org.
Editor's note: Watch for the upcoming profile of Anita Carman in the July/August digital edition of Today's Christian Woman. Subscribe today so you don't miss it!