*This story was originally published in the spring 2016 issue of Shattered magazine.
When Jay Lowder pointed the gun at his temple, he had two main concerns:
1. What if this gun isn’t powerful enough to kill me, and I end up as a vegetable?
2. Where do I go after I pull the trigger and die?
He was 21 years old.
At 21 years of age, most young adults are finding their way in the world. They are graduating from college, figuring out how to parlay their minimum wage jobs into careers, falling in love, considering the military or just generally becoming aware of the imminent future and their place in it.
Jay Lowder was watching those people, his friends and peers, make their way in life as he was silently sliding deeper into a pit of depression and substance abuse.
Train Up Your Child
Lowder’s description of his childhood sounds like it would fit perfectly in a Christian parenting how-to manual. He was raised in a godly home, with parents who instilled biblical values in their kids. He attended church regularly and even prayed a prayer of salvation in elementary school. He was baptized soon after and managed to avoid the pitfalls of early adolescence thanks to a strong support system at home.
Looking back, Lowder realizes that his was no more than a superficial faith at the time.
“I knew about the dangers of hell and the glories of heaven, but I had no real understanding of being rescued from sin. God was Sunday to me—just a routine,” he remembers.
It was in high school that his sandy foundation of faith began to crumble when a series of cataclysmic events struck.
Lowder was a popular athlete and had begun to enjoy the partying that came along with the popular athlete lifestyle, even while he continued going to church. He dated a cheerleader and describes having the kind of high school life most kids yearn to have. But when their relationship ended and the cheerleader attempted suicide, Lowder’s fairytale began to unravel.
That same year, Lowder’s sister admitted to being a homosexual, which, at the time, was received much more dramatically in the community than it would be now. The following year, a teammate of his was killed in a car accident. The whole family was shaken, and Lowder’s already feeble connection to God crumbled until it was nearly nonexistent.
A short stint in college was cut short when Lowder’s heavy drinking landed him on academic probation. After moving home, having his car taken away, and losing his then girlfriend, he found himself at the mercy of his spiraling depression, alcohol addiction and suicidal thoughts.
“No one knew the emotional hole I was in,so at first I thought about just shooting myself in the leg to garner sympathy. It would have been my cry for help, and I was too embarrassed to reach out any other way,” he admits.
He contemplated this for weeks, but soon found the thoughts escalating into something much more sinister. Following a night out at a seedy bar, Lowder awoke to a vicious hangover. Splashing cold water on his face, he stared at the man in the mirror with disdain. He no longer recognized himself, and with fierce anguish, he punched the glass over and over again, shattering it and staining his hands with blood.
It was mere minutes later that Lowder sat on the couch in his living room with a loaded gun pointed at his head and his finger on the trigger.
In the moments that followed, he entertained those subconscious voices that made pulling the trigger sound like the reasonable thing to do, as well as the ones that prevented him from going through with it.
Suddenly, breaking through all of the noise, came the sound of tires crunching in the driveway as his roommate came home early for the first time ever since they had lived together. Lowder quickly hid the gun.
“I was plagued for weeks with this thought that there was a God who was trying to save my life,” Lowder remembers. “It didn’t stop my suicidal thoughts, just derailed them temporarily.”
Soon after, Lowder’s mom invited him to hear a speaker who was in town sharing a series of messages centering on his own suicide attempt. She didn’t know her son was suicidal or that he didn’t have any real intention of going.
As so often happens, Jay Lowder had plans that fell through on one of the nights the speaker would be presenting. He felt compelled to attend, and when he did, he was surprised to hear that the story wasn’t this man’s testimony at all.
He was talking about the crucifixion of Jesus.
The presenter spoke in great depth about how up on the cross, Jesus’ followers had abandoned Him, how even His Father had abandoned Him. He spoke of His very real, very raw suffering. Then he quoted a verse that would hit Jay Lowder like a bolt of lightning: “He who believes in the Son has life, and he who doesn’t have the Son will not see life” (John 3:36).
“At that moment, I knew: I didn’t have life. I was existing, but I didn’t have life.”
The speaker closed by acknowledging there were likely many people in the audience who had grown up in church but had never really known Jesus. He challenged them, saying if they walked out tonight without beginning a real relationship with Him, they might not have another chance.
“I thought: This might be the last opportunity I will have to know Christ. I believed that if I pushed God out of my life that night, the door of forgiveness would be closed to me. He would give me up to my own rejection,” Lowder explains.
As Lowder’s knees hit the floor, and he finally yielded to God, he knew something was happening inside him.
“God took the weapon that was pointed at me with my suicidal thoughts, and let me turn it around on forces of darkness.”
Taking On Darkness
Jay Lowder’s encounter with God resulted in a total shift in his perspective of life. His despair was replaced with hope, and his depression dissipated. He ravenously studied the Bible and attended every church service he could find. He chased God as hungrily as his depression had once chased him.
He wasn’t just renovated; he was completely new.
He has since started a flourishing organization, Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries, and hosts outreach events to largely unchurched audiences in a contemporary and non-threatening way. His incredibly diverse testimony provides him with expertise in a variety of areas including building bridges with loved ones in the LGBT community, dealing with loss as a result of natural disaster, suicide and depression, marriage recovery and a plethora of issues teens face.
At 21, Jay Lowder thought his life was over. Today he knows it was actually just beginning.
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