Hope on the Rock(s)

My spirit is crushed,….Where then is my hope?” Job 17:1, 15

“My spirit is crushed,….Where then is my hope?”  Honest statement.  Honest question.

It’s one of the reasons I love reading the Bible.  It’s unsanitized, unedited, raw, and brutally honest. When Job made his statement, and asked his question, he had recently buried all ten of his children.   With ten fresh graves most likely within sight, Job was “at the end of his rope.”

I was beginning my sophomore year in high school when my parents divorced.   In the months that followed, my dad, on occasion, would take me with him to bars.  I was only 15 years old at the time, but I can remember watching my dad, and folks around us.  Some laughed with friends, while others sat with blank stares on their faces like… well, like my dad.

Country music superstar, Toby Keith, offers spot-on insight from his hit, Hope on the Rocks:

Where do they go? They come here – to drown in their sorrow and cry in their beer.  They’re in need of a mindbender – I’m a bartender. At the end of the day, I’m all they’ve got.  Hope on the rocks.

 This blog isn’t about getting drunk.  It’s about what (Who) we reach for when we’ve lost hope.

Some revert to eating, or shopping, or busy-ness, or (fill in the blank.) But here’s what satan doesn’t tell you in the scripted music videos: The stories you hear in hit songs rarely, if ever, end up with a happy ending with a pretty bow on top.  (The home in which I grew up is a testimony to this.) Furthermore, after one’s mind “un-bends” from the alcohol and they find none of their circumstances have changed, what’s next?  Another mindbender?  The emotional & physical effort to forget, over time, simply becomes a mental treadmill that leads nowhere.

“Where, then, is my hope!”, (cries Job…and us)

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” says the old hymn.  Job may have lived in antiquity, but he was a human being just like you and me.  When hopelessness visited his house he had a choice to make.  Against the advice of friends and family he made his choice:  I will hope in [God];…For I know that my Redeemer lives, (13:15; 19:25)

 And there it is – the pivotal truth that sets biblical Hope apart from all others.

I like bartenders.  They’re kind and compassionate people.  (And I like Toby Keith, by the way.  A lot.)  A bartender can pour your favorite drink and help you forget about your problems.  But (1) when we sober up our problems haven’t gone anywhere, and (2) most importantly, a bartender can’t die our our sins.  Only one Person could – and did – do that.  Driven by unfathomable love for us, Christ died on a bloody cross, and then conquered hopelessness by rising from the dead three days later.

Scholars believe the book of Job may be the oldest book in our Bible.  Yet God gave Job the supernatural ability to see millennia ahead to the cross of Christ and testify to the words yet to be written by Paul:  We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

For Narnia.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” is not merely Dark, it’s Dangerous

“Welcome to your tape.”

If you’ve had the opportunity to view Netflix’s white-hot series, 13 Reasons Why, you’ll have no problem understanding the quote cited above.  If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s a 13 part Netflix original fictional series about teenage bullying and suicide.  The series, based on the 2007 book by Jay Asher, concludes with the main character, Hannah Baker, taking her life in a very graphic portrayal.  I won’t include a synopsis of the story here.  (You can read about the plot here.)  But I will say this: the series is as controversial as it is popular.

NOTE:  Since I posted this blog, two local news stations have aired stories on it.  You can view those stories here, and here.

Before I continue, please allow me to make one thing clear:  I’m not a professional counselor.  But I do have intimate experience with this topic.  

  • First, I have worked with teenagers most of my vocational life. 
  • Second, and far more importantly, my 19 year old son took his life in 2013 So I write from the perspective not of a Hollywood script, but real life.

I was made aware of the series recently by a public school counselor who wrote that she had seen an increase in students coming to see her due to watching this series.  She wrote,

I had a crisis appointment this morning and a patient taken to the hospital due to extreme suicidal thoughts after watching this series. As I called the crisis line to activate the crisis protocol, the crisis worker on the phone told me they have had several incidents the past 2 weeks since the show aired of having to activate crisis protocol after people had watched the show and began acting out suicidal plans.

Although I didn’t need Hollywood to inform me of the horror of a teenage child’s suicide, I decided to watch the series because (1) it’s extremely popular with teens, and (2) I thought watching it would help me be more informed since I frequently speak to teens in public schools and churches about suicide & suicide intervention/prevention.

I was unprepared for what I was about to watch. 

Given my family history, watching the series was, for me, brutal.  Having found my son that day in 2013, when I watched Hannah’s parents discover their girl’s lifeless body, I screamed and wept.  Immediately, I knew I needed to make parents aware of 13 Reasons Why as soon as I possibly could.  But, frankly, I was so messed up following the final episode, it took me a number of days to compose myself and be able to articulate my conviction about the series in, hopefully, a clear and intelligent manner.

For those who may read into this blog, “You’re overreacting since your child took his life,” allow me to direct your attention to a letter sent to parents from the administration at Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland Park, KS, via their Facebook page warning all parents about the series.  You can access the letter here. (A simple Google search will reveal numerous school districts issuing warnings about the series.  Here’s one article.  Here’s another.) Additionally, a public school counselor from Maine shares her strong concerns here.  Finally – and this should bring clarity as to how traumatizing the series is –  People Magazine was one of several news outlets reporting that therapy dogs were brought onto the set to comfort the actors.

Parents should know that, in an attempt to appear like they’re portraying “reality”, the producers and writers not only pushed the limit but, in my opinion (and others: see below), carelessly crossed the line.

NBC News ran a story entitled, Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’ Carries Danger of Glorifying Suicide, Experts Say.  (Read the entire article here.)  The article states, in part,

Critics have lauded the show, which has earned stellar ratings, including a 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also been the most tweeted about program so far this year, Variety reported. But some mental health professionals feel it is a dangerous fantasy that romanticizes suicide

“Sequences of terrible things happen to Hannah, and we don’t get a feel for her internalization until she kills herself,” Dr. Victor Schwartz, medical director of the JED Foundation, told NBC News. “None of that stuff is made clear because it’s focused on the horrible things people have done to her. The whole thing is an extended revenge fantasy.”

Phyllis Alongi, clinical director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, said…, “Netflix isn’t going to pull it and kids are watching it, and they’re binge watching it without anyone helping them process it.  We feel it was done irresponsibly and we don’t agree with many portrayals including of Hannah’s death, memorialization, and placing blame on others.”

Alongi said suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 and that the number is increasing.

Dan Reidenberg, a psychologist and Executive Director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), warns,

“One of the ways [the series] really failed is they never talked about treatment options; they never gave a viable alternative for [Hannah]… We just want people to understand that it’s fiction, not fact. It’s about helping people understand the reality of suicide.”  [However], “The show does not address mental illness or present viable alternatives to suicide.”

Significantly, Reidenberg, shares,

“…he was contacted by Netflix and asked to provide guidance… He said he told Netflix that they shouldn’t go ahead with the project.” (See entire article here.)

SAVE offers a “Tips for Watching 13 Reasons Why” here.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article entitled, ’13 Reasons Why’ Offers Wrong Solution to Teen Struggles.  The author, Jack VanNoord, wrote,

“Netflix, I love you. I really do. But on this one you not only got it wrong, you got it dangerously wrong.”

Sure, you will find many complimentary reviews online of the series.  But almost all are directed at the “nuts & bolts” of the production i.e. directing, acting, etc.   The romanticizing of suicide and the total absence of intervention i.e. medical attention, professional counseling, etc., is what makes the series both dark and dangerous for those who are depressed,  suicidal or have considered suicide as an option at some point in their life.

Yahoo News posted,

“In a public statement, the National Association of School Psychologists issued a warning against viewing the series to parents of “vulnerable youth.”

Alexa Curtis, writing for Rolling Stone, agrees:

For teens who are battling mental health issues, witnessing the end of a life as easily as the show portrayed it could help desensitize kids to this very serious matter.

She continues,

Before the suicide, Hannah admits to a counselor that she is feeling lost and empty – clear signals of depression. As she talks about her sadness and anger, instead of being admitted to a clinic, the distracted employee simply gives her a box of tissues to heal her wounds. Had 13 Reasons Why showcased other forms of outreach, like therapy, teens watching it might realize that there is always an option that doesn’t include self-harm.

And, Sezín Koehler, writing for the Huffington Post, and accusing the series of romanticizing suicide, holds nothing back:

You don’t get any more romantic than a charming dead girl speaking from beyond the grave — on cassette tapes, no less — about everyone who wronged her, as if she’s merely hosting a podcast. Whenever suicide is presented as the only option,…we are in dangerous territory. And that’s exactly what “13 Reasons Why” does.

Granted, fans of 13 Reasons Why argue that the series “encourages conversations” about bullying and suicide.  That is true. After all, you and I are having a “conversation” about it here.  However – and this is my sole contention – a person who is severely depressed and/or suicidal is not in a healthy place psychologically.  And, if they should watch this series alone they are entering a world that is both dark and dangerous.  Dark because the series is virtually void of hope.  And dangerous because of what the series can prompt in the mind of someone who is already suffering from mental illness i.e. clinical depression, bipolar disorder, etc.

Lastly, allow me to offer three strong recommendations:

  1. Parents – I strongly caution all teens who choose to view the series. There are healthier ways (read: less triggering ways) to have needed dialogue about bullying and suicide. However,…. if your child insists on watching the series – watch it with themBe aware:  the show is full of profanity, obscenity, two graphic rape scenes, and, of course, included in its final episode is the graphic scene of Hannah Baker taking her life.  But, if your child insists on watching it, watch it anyway – with them.  Talk about each episode immediately after that episode ends.  If your child has already watched it, visit with them immediately about it and consider watching a few episodes yourself.  If your child gets offended that you’re “poking your nose into their business” tell them, “I have that right. I’m your parent.  No one on this planet loves you more than I do.”  Always, as a parent, err on the side of caution.
  2. Teens – (even if you’re not a teen) If you’ve viewed the series – many of you will be affected emotionally (how can you not be?)   If you suffer from bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts – I beg you – talk to somebody immediately  (a parent, sibling, grandparent, teacher, friend, youth pastor, coach, counselor).  The devastation from losing you is unfathomable to the human mind.  I know this from personal experience. It may sound trite, but “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  I know you may not be able to (and, most likely, can’t) see the light of hope at the moment – but that’s what we are here for: to carry you, to share your load, and help you see the light againThere is a God – and He loves you.  You are awesome.  You are beautiful.  You matter. You are not alone. You are so very loved.  You cannot be replaced.  And help is available in abundance Many people have gone to school for many years for the sole purpose of being equipped to help you through your dark time of crisis.  Do not do anything to harm yourself.  I repeat, do not do anything to harm yourself.  Your death is irreversible and will leave a gaping wound in the lives of your family and friends.
  3. Friends – If you are a friend of someone you suspect of being bullied, suffering from depression, or having suicidal thoughts, talk to them immediately.  Ask them if they’ve watched 13 Reasons Why.  Get them talking – whatever it takes.  As I recommended to parents, always err on the side of caution.  If the friend you suspected of suicidal thoughts is genuinely ok, everyone is good.  But, if you’re right – you may have well saved a life.

Bottom Line:  While some will disagree with what I’ve written here, please understand I write from the perspective of a parent who’s lost a teenage child to suicide.  Like me, my son, Jordan, suffered from crippling depression.  May 13, 2013, was the worst day of my, and my family’s, life. My effort here is, by making parents aware of the series, to simply try and prevent this tragedy from happening to anyone else on planet earth.  While 13 Reasons Why will not serve as a trigger to every viewer, it clearly will (and has) to many.  If the series has not yet prompted dialogue in your home, perhaps this blog will.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-8255

For Jordan Watts

For Narnia

I love you all, Nick

“In this world you will have trouble (bullying, depression, pain), but take heart – I have overcome the world.”  Jesus Christ  (John 16:33)

The Day I Forgave My Dad

Next to my profession of faith in Christ, no decision has so changed my life than when I forgave my dad.

My younger sisters and I grew up in an extremely violent alcoholic home. We saw and experienced things I’d prefer not to share here.

When sober, my dad was amazing. But, when he was drunk he became a monster. And he was drunk a lot.

Over time – especially into my adult years – i developed a seething hatred for my dad for what he had done to my mom, and to my sisters and myself. That part of my life – those memories – had drifted into the shadow.

But, in 1997 – after my youngest sister overdosed on heroin – I unraveled. I was 34 years old. Having been forced to get counseling (I thought counseling was for wimps), I quickly discovered what hate for my dad had done to my life. Eventually, in a moment I can remember as though it was yesterday,…. I forgave my dad. Completely.

I learned that forgiveness wasn’t about changing my dad – it was about changing me.

A little over a year later, on 11/22/98, I had the joy of sharing this with my dad. The photo here is significant not only because of the grace and forgiveness it represents – but for the fact that this was the first time my dad had ever seen my children.

It was an awesome day.

My dad died of alcoholism two years later, 11/10/2000. He was 57.

One day, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, I’ll see my dad and son again – completely whole. No more alcoholism. No more depression.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

forgiving dad

Whiskey Lullaby

DISCLAIMER: This is not a blog about drinking. You will not find anything in Scripture restricting the consumption of alcohol. This is a blog about the ever-present danger of addiction & drunkenness (you will find plenty in Scripture forbidding that) and the inevitable devastation that follows. nw

“Who are the people who are always crying the blues? Who do you know who reeks of self-pity?….Whose eyes are bleary and bloodshot? It’s those who spend the night with a bottle, for whom drinking is serious business. Don’t judge wine by its label,…or its full-bodied flavor. Judge it rather by the hangover it leaves you with – the splitting headache, the queasy stomach… When I’m sober enough to manage it, bring me another drink!” (Proverbs 23:29-35, The Message)

I’m looking at a picture. My dad is holding my daughter, Macy. I’m standing next to him, and Jordan & Kelsie are in front of me. Michelle’s taking the picture. We were attending my granddad’s funeral (my dad’s dad.) But so much more was going on that November, 1998, day than a funeral service. That was the day my dad met my children for the very first time. Macy was 2, Jordan was 5, and Kelsie was 7. Alcohol addiction had cost my dad his marriage, a relationship with his children, a relationship with his grandchildren, and his career. Homeless and nomadic, I had not seen dad in 10 years.

Now, I’m looking at another picture. It sits next to the one described above. This one, two years later, is of me and my two sisters. We’re, again, attending a funeral. This time it’s my dad’s. The alcoholism that controlled him finally killed him. He was 57.

My dad was an amazing man – when he was sober. When he drank he became something else. Something terrifying. In a healthy state of mind, we have God-given “filters” in our brains that prevent us from doing horrible things we would not normally do. Alcohol, however, is a drug. It’s the drug of choice in North America. And, being a drug, it alters our our mind removes those “filters.”

Years ago, I was interviewed on NewsTalk 790 here in Lubbock regarding a vote to allow packaged alcohol sales in nearby Wolfforth. (I was the Youth Pastor at FBC, Wolfforth, at the time.) I told my story. Then the gentlemen giving the interview stated a sound observation. He respectfully said, “Nick, people in favor of this law will say that just because your dad succumbed to alcoholism it doesn’t mean everyone else will.” I replied, “I couldn’t agree more – but some will. And all we’ll be doing is making that possibility easier.”

No one plans on developing an addiction. It happens – without our permission.

When I lived in Dallas, one of my favorite columnists to read in the Dallas Morning News was Steve Blow. I’ll never forget one of his editorials about being contacted “out-of-the-blue” by an old friend of his. Blow wrote: “Mike called and said, ‘I don’t know if you knew this, but I’m an alcoholic.’ He had my attention. Mike’s story is a common one: Started drinking in high school because it was cool. Kept drinking in college. Faced real life and found he couldn’t stop drinking.”

I had not even begun 1st grade when my dad began giving me an occasional sip of his beer. By the time I was in 7th grade I was allowed to drink all I wanted. (I guess no one thought about that being against the law.)

When I heard Brad Paisley’s & Alison Krauss’ 2003 “Whiskey Lullaby” for the very first time I became so overcome with emotion I had to pull my car over. I have no doubt that almost everyone reading this knows someone whose life has been altered by the affects of alcoholism – quite possibly someone related to you.

In 1997, my youngest sister almost died due to a heroin overdose. After over forty days of not knowing whether she was going to live or die, she finally improved. Before she left the hospital I asked her if I could interview her and use her experience to warn teenagers about the lure of alcohol and drugs. She gladly gave me permission. The last question I asked her was, “Did you ever in a million years think this would happen to you?” Without hesitation she said, “No.”

No one ever does.

NOTE: Only moments prior to the first picture being taken, God ordained a divine appointment allowing me to explain to my dad that I’d forgiven him for the years of physical, verbal & emotional abuse my mom, my sisters and I were forced to endure for so many years. Dementia had since stolen away his mind – this former City Councilman and news anchor for KRBC TV in Abilene, TX. But, that November day in 1998, God had graced me with the ability to speak clearly and compassionately, and my dad with the ability to understand. It was an unbelievable display of the supernatural power and grace of Jesus. Next to my profession of faith in Jesus Christ, no single decision has so liberated my life than forgiving my dad. My story of how I made that decision is included for you below.

nick

How I Forgave my Dad