The Old Rugged Cross

NOTE: I wrote this four months after finding my 19 year old son after he’d taken his own life…

The-Old-Rugged-Cross-By-MidoriEyes-On-DeviantArt

There have been moments these past months that I’ve wanted to give up on God.

I’m simply being honest.

As one who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home, I witnessed more violence as a child than I care to remember.

As a full-time pastor now for 30+ years, I’ve had, on occasion, the unfortunate opportunity to see the very ugly side of what some have otherwise called “Christianity.”

But those pale in comparison to the events of May 13th, 2013, when my world caved in around me.

In light of the pain we suffer on planet earth, what proof is there that there is a God? More than that, what proof is there that that God really loves me?

From their outstanding work, “Name Above All Names,” Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson write,

It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us – not the circumstances of our lives.

We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that if things are going well with us, Then we can be sure of God’s love. For life can often seem dark and painful. Things do not always go well for us.

Rather, we look to the sacrifice of the cross and the proof God gave there of His love. ‘God [demonstrated proof of] His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

This is the proof I need. This is the truth I need to hear. This dispels the lies of the enemy.”

This is the unstoppable, indefensible, indisputable love of God in Christ Jesus.

I love you, 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 Joy of Helping the Hurting

Relief-Slider-2

The most familiar biblical image is most likely from Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

Helping the hurting.

I cannot begin to estimate the number of people my wife, Michelle, and I have counseled since the suicide of our son, Jordan. Countless people who have, themselves, suffered the loss of a loved one due to suicide.

The first one to contact us happened within the first week after Jordan’s death.

Recently, I was counseling yet another precious individual who is suffering from what psychologist refer to as “complicated grief” (grief associated with suicide).

And I am, dare I say, grateful that I can.

My friends, Jesus didn’t pull any punches when, on the night before he would be crucified, told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble (complicated grief, unspeakable suffering, depression, pain, etc.); but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  (emphasis mine)

Michelle and I have, over time, found that, after Jordan’s death, we had a choice to make: (1) live in despair, crawling up in a ball of pain and simply count time until we die, or (2) dump every last ounce of our pain on Christ, allowing him to take our pain and use it to give others hope which, in turn, gives purpose to our pain.

We chose “option 2.”

Every one of your reading this has experienced tremendous pain in your life. Never ever underestimate the power of your story to give hope to those who come behind you.

Paul encouraged the hurting Corinthian believers, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, there is hope.

As Billy Graham once said,

“I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right.”

The psalmist wrote, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Love to you all, Nick

After Suicide: What We Needed; What They Need

My name is Nick Watts.  On May 13, 2013, my son, Jordan, took his own life.  He was 19.

watts fam - 2012

NOTE: Should you be unfamiliar with my family’s history with suicide you can click here.

My public school presentation on Suicide Intervention lasts approximately 45 minutes and includes, among other points, everything from “becoming aware of the epidemic” and “myths about suicide” to clinical depression (the mental condition most associated with suicide) and general & specific steps to take when intervening with a suicidal person.  More information than I could share in a simple blog post.

That said, after speaking I am often asked by students and parents a number of  questions I don’t have time to address in my presentation.  I thought I would offer brief answers to two of those questions here:

  1. What do families need following the suicide of a loved one? (What do they not need?)
  2. What has most helped you and your family?

 

What Do Families Need After the Suicide of a Loved One?  What Do They Not Need?

I could write enough in response to this question to fill a book.  (My wife, Michelle, and I are planning on writing a book one day.)  But, let me offer just a few thoughts here.

 

1. No Pain Compares to the Loss of a Child

I asked a woman once which was worse – the loss of a spouse or a child.  She had lost both.  I didn’t even finish my question before she said, “Oh, there’s no comparison.  Nothing compares to the pain of losing a child.”

I recently visited with a grieving parent who had lost their child to suicide. They said they felt like they were losing their mind.  (I know this to be true – I came very close to losing mine, ultimately having to be hospitalized.)  They continued, “My emotions are all over the place.”  I quoted to them the following statement Michelle had shared with me from one of the many resources she had since studied:

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

In short, grief associated with suicide is “all over the place.” It’s reckless.  Volatile. Unpredictable.  Explosive.  And exhausting.

There is a relentless search for answers that never come.  The endless, maddening, guilt-ridden, “If only I had (fill in the blank),” consumes you.

I read the following once and, from personal experience, testify that it is most certainly true:

“The death of a child is like losing your breath and never catching it again.  It’s a forever panic attack – feeling your heart dying as your soul is screaming for them.  No matter what you try to do you continue to lose your mind.”

Those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide don’t need cliches and trite comments i.e. “They’re in a better place,” or “God needed another angel,” etc.  What they need is someone to help them bear the back-breaking pain that’s, at the moment, crushing their heart, soul and mind. 

Don’t attempt to “fix” things.  There is no “fixing” it.  Don’t give in to the common temptation to provide “answers”.  They don’t exist.

 

2. The Ministry of Presence

Early on, a grieving family or individual doesn’t need advice.  Just your presence will do.

There is a type of love and compassion aptly called “the ministry of presence.”  A person who’s just lost a loved one to suicide may need to talk.  They may not.  Like Job’s three friends, (Job had just buried ten children) sitting quietly and sharing the person’s pain is often quite enough during those first days and weeks.  Interestingly, it was only when Job’s friends began talking that things went downhill quickly as they tried to “fix” Job’s pain.

 

3. Help Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

It’s the simple things that helped us breathe again.

The default during that first year (at least for me) was to shut down, isolate myself, try to go to sleep and never wake up.

My family was paralyzed by grief. 

Routine tasks such as cleaning, taking out the trash, yard work, etc., became monumental chores we simply didn’t have the strength to begin, much less accomplish.

What happened next was unexpected and extraordinary.

Friends show up “out of the proverbial blue” to help and rescue us.  They did our laundry.  They cleaned our house.  They brought us meals.  They mowed our lawn.  One person just showed up and cleaned every single window in our house.  For years, we’d been intending to take down the wallpaper in our kitchen and paint it.  Knowing that we would be unable to function for who knows how long, friends waited until we were gone one weekend, came over and completed the entire job.  Our first Christmas following Jordan’s death, friends came to our house and set up our tree for us and helped us decorate – something we could have never done on our own.

 

4. There’s No Time Limit for this Level of Grief

The family must be given as much time as necessary to process their grief.  We are all unique.  Hence, we all grieve uniquely, differently.  Some require more time than others.

Never should someone say – or even think – “You know, you should be over this by now.”  Only if you’ve walked in our shoes do you know how ignorant and arrogant a statement that is.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler once wrote,

“The reality is that you will grieve forever.  You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.  You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.  You will be whole again but, you will never be the same.  Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to be.”

I spent eight months, alone, in shock.  I know this because I remember finally waking up one morning feeling somewhat different.  Somewhat less tormented.  A small piece of the burden had been lifted. I tried and tried to figure out what was different.  Then it hit me – this was the first morning I had awoken without trying to un-do Jordan’s death.  That  insanity had consumed my every waking moment for eight months.  It was exhausting.  It was maddening.  But, finally, my psychological bondage was loosening. Slowly.

A professional counselor told me, “As you probably know, the first year will be horrible.  But I must tell you – the second year will not be much better.”  I can’t thank that counselor enough.  Because he was exactly right.  For the first two years, we cried at least once every single day.  Moreover, it took my family 4 years to complete a full summer without at least one of us having a total emotional meltdown.  It took 5 years before we could, on our own, decorate our Christmas tree.  Some may be able to take these steps sooner, some later.  We all grieve at unique paces.

 

5. Help Them Focus on What Is True

NOTE: I have a biblical worldview, meaning everything in life is filtered through the Bible, the Word of God.  Others, possessing other worldviews, will find truth elsewhere.  For me, my peace comes from the truth of scripture.

When Jordan was 9, during a very dark and painful period of our lives, with tears streaming down his cheeks, he came out of his room and said, “Dad, God told me to paint this for you.”  I just held him and wept.  After Jordan died, friends had it professionally framed with a small plaque at the bottom that reads, “When we hurt, God hurts.”  It has been displayed in our entrance hall ever since.

Every time I had a meltdown and felt like I was going to lose my mind I would begin quoting the 23rd Psalm.  Sometimes, my grief was so acute I was unable to mutter anything beyond the first few words: “The Lord is my shepherd.”  And that is one of the reasons I have that very phrase, in Hebrew, tattooed on my left forearm.


Here is truth:  because of Christ’s death and resurrection, our loved ones, in Christ, are more alive than we are – more alive than they’ve ever been.  Their suffering is not merely gone, it’s not even a memory.  Further, they are, at this moment, experiencing a level of joy and peace that is beyond mere human intellect, reason and logic.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

A reunion is coming.

For Jordan.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

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

 

Grief is a Part of Life – for Now

“Weeping may last for the night, but Joy comes in the morning.” (Ps 30:5)

In Sep., 2015, shortly after completing  nine days in the Psychiatric Ward of our local hospital (I ended up there due to a cluster of triggers associated with my 19 year old son’s suicide), I sat in my counselor’s office and listened intently as he shared with me how to learn to “live” again. Completely broken, and possessing zero self-esteem, he lovingly said to me, “Part of running the race (of life) is encouraging your fellow runners.”

In other words, you will rediscover joy in helping others rediscover theirs.

Allow me that privilege now.

One of the most influential Christian minds of the 20th century was CS Lewis. The following two paragraphs are taken from his book, “A Grief Observed,” written after the loss of his wife:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid…”

“At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be [around] me. I dread the moments when the house is empty…”

After burying ten children, Job uttered, “My eyes have grown dim with grief; my whole frame is but a shadow.”

David, in Psalm 6, cried, “My eyes waste away because of my grief;…”

Bottom line: Grief is a part of life (for now).

But there is a passage in Isaiah that we, as believers, have heard so many times we may begin to miss its significance. About Jesus, Isaiah prophesied, “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief...” (emphasis mine)

It’s this passage from Isaiah that changes everything.

Where is God when we are grieving? He is in our grief, whispering to us, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the believers at Thessalonica, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers (your loved ones) who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”

Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, our loved ones who have passed on before us are more alive than we are. Alive! Joyful. Free of sickness and disease. In the very presence of Jesus Christ. The Lamb who is our Shepherd. The Alpha and Omega. The Almighty.

On the cross, Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.” On the throne in Revelation, he proclaims, “It is done.” We live in the “in between.” But, because of the blood Christ shed at Calvary, we have hope not only for the future, but for the present as well. Blessed be his name!

And, until that day we meet him either through death, or when the cosmos peels back for his return, he is whispering to us, “I’ve got this. Trust me.”

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace,” Jesus told his closest friends the night before he would die for us. “In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33; Amplified)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick