To Those Who’ve Lost a Loved One to Suicide

May 13th is the day I dread.  But May 12th is the day that haunts me.

It’s the last day I saw my son alive. The last day I talked to him, and he to me.

When I speak in schools on suicide awareness & intervention I close my talk with the following question because, based on emails I have from school counselors, I know for certain there is at least one student there listening who has considered taking their own life. I say to them:

“If today were May 12th, 2013, and my son was sitting next to you in this assembly, what would I want the speaker to have said?”

O God, if only I could go back to May 12th….

If only I had stayed with him. If only I had somehow gotten him to tell me how he was really feeling. If only I had walked into his room a few minutes before…

If only…, if only…, if only…

This “if only” mental incarceration kept me in a state of shock for eight months after Jordan’s death. It was psychologically exhausting, I could barely make it through an entire day without having to lie down due to the “in the danger-red-zone rpm’s” at which my mind was speeding, trying futilely to un-do my son’s death. For the first time in my life I discovered how a person can go insane.

Finally, after eight months, utterly broken and in despair, I realized I was unable to bring my son back.

Psychologists rightly call grief associated with suicide “complicated grief.”

I could write a book on this topic alone (and I think Michelle and I are finally getting to a place where we can seriously consider doing so), but I will make this post brief. (We all know what it means when a preacher says “let me make this brief: we’re all in for another 30 minutes. 🙂 But I promise.)

I once heard a speaker on this topic say, “Suicide is 100% preventable.” I strongly and respectfully disagree. It’s impossible to protect someone from themselves. Not only is this statement, in my opinion, false, it shackles people like me with crippling guilt and shame. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide never buy into that line. Because it’s simply not true.

As I’ve written in previous blogs, when a person takes their own life they are, at that moment, unable to connect with the logical part of their brain. In short, their brain is broken. To be clear, what I mean by “broken” is that their brain is suffering from a severe and debilitating chemical imbalance. Synapse and neurons are misfiring. They are, in the literal meaning of the phrase, no longer “in their right mind.” ( I’m sure there are exceptions, but based on my study, this is the rule.)

People ask sometimes, “Why didn’t Jordan say something? What was he thinking?” My response: “He wasn’t thinking. His brain was broken.”

99% of people who attempt to take their own life don’t want to die – they just want the pain to stop.

They’re plan plays out like a twisted and convoluted movie script. I am asked, “Why don’t they just say something??” I reply, “Their brain being in the process of breaking, they don’t know how to talk about it. Moreover, believing they’re doing what’s best, they don’t want us to get in the way of their developing plan to end their pain – and remove, once and for all, what they’ve, over time, convinced themselves is a back-breaking burden to us.  “They will no longer have to worry about me,” they think to themselves.

On May 13, 2013, my son was in so much pain he just wanted to go to sleep. His brain being broken, he was unable to connect his shattered logic with the life-changing devastation this would have on his family and friends.

In early May, when Jordan told me, “Dad, I feel like I’m slipping” (our code phrase for when he and I felt like our medicine was not working), we immediately got him to the doctor and into counseling.

He told us it was helping. Had he communicated anything differently we would have never left his side and taken more drastic measures. But, better days seemed to lie ahead. On May 10th he talked about how excited he was about his and his friends’ upcoming wacky camping trip.

I share this today, in part, because writing is therapeutic for me. (As I write I, in essence, am counseling myself). But also to remind those who’ve walked this painful path you were an amazing parent/child/sibling/friend.

Your loved one’s suicide had absolutely nothing to do with your inability to prevent it.

Regardless of what satan may be whispering in your ear, it wasn’t your fault.

Here is the biblical truth:

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb your/my loved one is more alive than they ever were on this fallen planet. Further, they would never want to return for, being in the very presence of Jesus, they are this very moment experiencing a level of joy that lies far beyond mere human comprehension.

And – according to the Bible, a reunion is coming.

Love to you all, Nick

A Psalm of Nick Watts

Reading through the Psalms you commonly see the following subheadings: a psalm of David, or a psalm of Asaph,…

I’ll never forget what I once heard one of my professors say:

“A psalm is simply a person’s response to God’s activity in their life.”

That’s why, in the Psalms, we see the full gamut of human emotion – everything from rage and despair to joy and praise. And everything in between. It’s my favorite book in the Bible.

So today, on this May 13th, I offer this psalm…

O Lord, please hear my cry.

I was once told that the loss of a child will change a parent forever.  And, having discovered my 19 year old son’s body five years ago today, I am finding that to be quite true.

I’ve read the loss of a child being compared to an amputation. For a man who’s lost an arm feels as though his arm is still there. But it isn’t. And he’s reminded of that fact every single day.

The memory of that hellish moment when I found my son is burnt indelibly into my brain.  The memory of what happened in the next few seconds is, at the same time, a blur and crystal clear.

O God, help me; a part of me has never recovered.

You know, Lord, the stubborn darkness with which I wrestle. And having become, myself, suicidal in the summer of 2015, I spent 10 days in the Psychiatric Ward at Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock. (Michelle still has one of my art projects I had made on “craft day.” 🙂) We laugh about it now.)  God, I thank you for those physicians and nurses.  They were kind and compassionate.

But, O Lord, I still suffer nightmarish, high-definition flashbacks.  Unexpected television scenes of hangings have plunged me into immediate madness.

Your word comforts me.  And helps restore and renew my mind.

Often, O God, when I walk through Jordan’s bedroom, I quote Jesus’ laser-like, compassionate words to a grieving Martha:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”

I am reminded, Lord, of the lyrics you gave to the song-writer:

“When you’re up against a struggle that shatters all your dreams,
And your hopes have been cruelly crushed by Satan’s manifested schemes,
And you feel the urge within you to submit to earthly fears,
Don’t let the faith you’re standing in seem to disappear,

Praise the Lord, He can work through those who praise Him,
Praise the Lord, for our God inhabits praise,
Praise the Lord, for the chains that seems to bind you
Serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you
When you praise Him.”

Lord, I don’t praise you for my pain today. But I do praise you in it.

You know, Lord, I found Jordan in the corner of his bedroom that afternoon.

During months of counseling, you prompted my counselor to suggest I place crosses in that corner. Through that counselor, you – our Wonderful Counselor -lovingly said, “The mighty cross of Christ, even in your worst conceivable pain, will provide for you hope and peace by helping remind you of what is true.”

You are wise, O Lord. For it has been true: those crosses remind me that Jordan’s pain is gone, he’s more alive and joyful than he’s ever been – and that a reunion is coming.

Father, you prompted me to snap this photo (below) last night to post with this note. Before I took the photo i thought to myself, “The light from that lamp is going ruin the photo.” But when I looked at it my heart constricted and leapt. I couldn’t help but imagine the light from the lamp representing the angel you dispatched to Jordan’s bedroom to embrace him and carry him into Paradise. Where he is now safely in your arms.

O Lord, i don’t understand fully how prayer works. But would you please tell my son today how much I love him? And that his mom, sisters and I are making it? Please, O Prince of Peace, fill my family’s minds with your peace today? And would you help us to help others who are hurting to rediscover hope and truth again?

I humbly ask this in the mighty name of Christ, and on the authority of his shed blood. Amen

I love you, Jordan.

I love you all, Nick

For Narnia

When Jesus Worked at McDonald’s

This past week, on a Tuesday morning, I swung through the drive-though at a local McDonald’s for a warm, robust beverage on my way to work.

After placing my order I promptly pulled up to the first window to pay for said beverage where I was warmly greeted by a woman at the window who said, “Hello darlin’.”

I almost began weeping (while, at the same time, strangely thinking of Roy Orbison).

A little context…

My family is hurting deeply. The weight of the approaching anniversary of when I walked into my son’s room and temporarily went insane is, at times, so heavy we simply can’t bear it.

My daughter, Kelsie, flew in the previous weekend to go with us to watch our youngest daughter, Macy, in “9 to 5” where she attends college. It is always awesome when we’re all together.

But that joy is always closely accompanied by a dark, suffocating shadow. For it’s when we’re all together that we’re all acutely aware of who’s missing – the gaping, painful hole left by Jordan’s  death on May 13, 2013.

After Macy’s performance we all embraced and wept.

The Monday before my visit to McDonald’s I was numb. I couldn ‘t focus or concentrate. I felt nothing. I had nothing to say. I was empty and bone-dry.

Back to Tuesday morning at McDonald’s…

I was in such a fragile state emotionally, the McDonald’s employee’s kindness caught me off guard. I could hear the sound of a key unlocking my psychological prison door. I could, all of a sudden, hear Jesus whispering to me, “I’ve got this. I’ve got Jordan. Trust me.”

I came very close to asking her seriously, “Are you an angel?”

But the story doesn’t end there.

Then came today (Wednesday)…

I again found myself in the very same McDonald’s drive-through to grab a sandwich for lunch (clearly, I have no concern for my health )

Guess who was at the same window? She looked at me, recognizing me from the day before, and said, “Hello sweetheart!”

This time, I did something I’ve never done in my entire life.

I asked this angelic stranger, “Ma’am, do you pray?”

She looked back at me intently, smiled, and said softly, “Every day.”

I said, “Almost 5 years ago my 19 year old son took his life. My family is suffering. Would you pray for us?”

She said, “I will pray for you every day.”

I began to tear up and said, “My name is Nick.”

I paid her for my sandwich and began to drive to the second pick-up window when I heard her say, “I will pray for you, Nick!”

The New Testament records that Jesus prayed for people often. I know he’s interceding for the Watts family.

He told me so today at McDonald’s.

Nick

The Bible: Gospel, Guide or Garbage?

Linked for you here is a dialogue between New Testament scholar and theologian, NT Wright, and Harvard philosopher, Sean Kelly, as they discuss one of history’s most influential books – the Bible.

It’s an audio link only (no video) and is over an hour in length.  Whether you listen in “small bites” or “swallow the entire dialogue whole”, please consider listening and thinking deeply about what is said.

I have in my library Wright’s 700 page classic, The Resurrection of the Son of God. It is heady, but a rewarding read.

The audio clip is just below the photo at the top of the linked page.

You can access the link here.

Enjoy, nick

Teaching Christians to be Thinkers, and Thinkers to be Christians

The title of this blog has been championed by HBU professor, Dr. Jeremiah Johnston. It’s something I believe in deeply.

Presently, I am in the process of assuming the leadership of the Biblical Learning & Literacy ministry of our church, the above axiom will be heavily employed as we create responsible and devoted “young theologians” who, as Paul commanded, learn how to “rightly handle the word of God.”

The biblical illiteracy of North American church culture is at an alarming and embarrassing level. However,…

It’s never too late to read, learn how to understand, and apply your Bible.   The Bible is a virtual treasure trove of truth, wisdom and hope.

It’s God’s love letter to mankind.

Further, someone wisely once said, “The easiest lessons to learn are from the mistakes of others.” The Bible is full of “failures.” Significantly, “failures” are who God chose to use – and that should make people like me feel pretty darn good. 🙂  So, the Bible gives us a storehouse of life-lessons from which to learn.

There’s a reason skeptics/atheists describe Christianity as a backwoods, uneducated mode of thinking: most believers don’t know how to think critically about hard biblical questions and, in turn, can’t dialogue intelligently where Christianity is concerned.

Michael Sherrard offers this stinging paragraph in his editorial, “How the Church’s Anti-Intellectualism Will Be Her Jailer“:

“The pursuit of the knowledge of God is replaced in many with a pursuit of something that merely works. And by works, often what is pursued is a version of Christianity that brings forth the American dream rather than the Kingdom of God.

This prosperity and selfish attitude has caused a slumber, a slumber in the proverbial classroom, and the church is now awakening to an exam for which it is not prepared.

There was a time in American history…when clergy were thought to have answers. And it was not just because people didn’t know any better back then. It was because many men and women of faith were intellectuals.

They knew their bible and their history. They could speak about theology and [science].

Now many believers are ill equipped to speak about anything that does not have a mascot…

And in that regard, society should place us at the kids table.”

Ouch.

Former atheist, Lee Strobel, was the legal editor for the Chicago Tribune and a Yale Law School grad.  Clearly, he’s no intellectual slouch.  The first time I heard him speak in person he said quite boldly and confidently, “Christianity is an intelligent faith.

Jesus commanded his followers to “love the Lord your God with all of your….mind.”

Paul told the Thessalonian believers to “test everything,” to see if it’s true.

Solomon wrote, “Search for [truth and wisdom] like a prospector panning for gold, like an adventurer on a treasure hunt, Believe me, before you know it…you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.”

Join me – and let’s “pan for gold” together,

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Rise & Fall of a Nation

Solid (and prophetic quote):

These provocative thoughts were set down by Professor Alexander Tyler around 1770 – seven years before the birth of the United States.

May we, as a nation, be careful not to repeat this pattern of history:

“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.  These nations have progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;

From spiritual faith to great courage;

From courage to liberty;

From liberty to abundance;

From abundance to selfishness;

From selfishness to complacency;

From complacency to apathy;

From apathy to dependence;

From dependence back into bondage.”

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,…” (Psalm 33:12)

Regardless of one’s political leanings, we must pray for our nation.

Prayer-Meeting

Nick

I Can Only Imagine (movie): Review

I encourage you to go see it for the following reasons, followed by a word of caution:

Unlike some Christian-themed films, this one is in no way manipulative, coercive or sensationalized.

Not once will you feel “preached to.”

The director has done a masterful job of making this a film simply about the story of one boy’s painful childhood – and how God can use the pain and dysfunction in our lives on this messed up planet to create something extraordinary and, dare I say – joyful.

It’s not mentioned in the movie, but several times I reflected upon Joseph’s words to his brothers, “What you intended for evil against me, God intended for good.” (God transformed Joseph’s crippling pain into purpose and joy.)

In my opinion, Christianity wasn’t even the primary theme of the movie. Again, the director did a superb job of telling a story, allowing the audience to absorb the story at their own pace, and then, only if they want to, consider the spiritual implications.

What was the primary theme of the movie?

Forgiveness.

Bart Millard suffered deeply at the hands of his dad while growing up. When Bart was grown, his soul beaten and bruised, he had a choice to make – (1) live the rest of his life out suffering psychological bondage, driven by his hate for his dad, or (2) forgive his dad, regardless of how much pain he had endured.

And the director never once portrays forgiveness as easy. It’s a war in your mind and soul. The director gives complete respect to this truth.

All of that said, i offer this one caution:

If, like me, you suffered years of abuse as a child at the hands of a physically violent and verbally abusive father, the movie will most certainly be triggering. You will find yourself, like I did, weeping, gripping your chest and, at times, experiencing very real and traumatic flashbacks. You will want to have someone you love – and who loves you deeply (scars and all) – next to you.  My wife, Michelle, held my arm the entire movie.

As I left the theater (emotionally exhausted), I told Michelle, “I’m so glad I forgave my dad.”  (Read me story here.)

I can only imagine what my dad is doing now in heaven. Free from addiction. Free from anger. Free from his own pain.

And, because I’ve forgiven him, I’m free too.

“What (the stuff of life) intended for evil against me, God intended for good.” Christ wins.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick