A plea to students, parents, teachers and school faculty

There was a recent tragedy involving a young female student here at Watertown High School. I won’t go into details out of respect for her family. The whole sad scenario causes me to flash back to my high school days.

I have tried and tried but I can not figure out why I was so miserable and lonely in high school. It’s true, I was a fairly shy kid and it did not help that my high school in Phoenix at the time had about 4500 students. I was one of those kids who just got lost in the crowd. It led me to absolutely hate school. One of my clearest memories is the way I dealt with lunch time at school. The idea of going into the cafeteria was overwhelming to me because I had no one to sit by or to talk to. No one. So, for about two years, every lunch period, I would simply hide in different bathrooms until the bell rang. Many years have passed since high school and these memories still make me emotional.

I recall all the school assemblies felt the same way. One time there was some kind of pep rally at the football field during the day. Of course, I knew that I would be sitting by myself and that felt like more than I could bear. On this particular occasion I was caught for not being at the rally. I was taken to the principal’s office and was given some kind of punishment. The principal never asked me why I was off on my own. Maybe he was too busy. Maybe he forgot why he wanted to work with students in the first place. I do know that he looked right past me.

You may wonder, I know I do, why didn’t I ever tell anyone? Why didn’t I open up to anyone? My best guess is that I was embarrassed. Who wants to be the kid that is hiding in bathrooms while everyone else is carrying on with life? It was not until many years had passed that I felt the freedom to share some of these memories with others.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because during these years I was not a bad kid. I was shy. I was scared. I did not fit in with the crowd (or with anyone for that matter). You know what would have made all the difference to me during high school? If someone, student, teacher, faculty, had reached out to me and asked me how I was doing. Someone who would look beyond my aloof behavior and try to connect with me on a relational level. I honestly believe that if I had one good friend during high school that it would have made all the difference.

My encouragement to students, parents and school faculty is to look for those who are on the fringe. Look for those who don’t seem to have many friends. Don’t be quick to judge. You don’t know how tough their family life is. You don’t know the personal demons they are dealing with. You don’t know their fears, worries or concerns. Once you start looking I believe you will see them all around you. Then, take some small steps to reach out to them. Start asking them how they are doing. Share a meal with them. You never know when you are going to step into the life of a student who desperately needs someone that cares about them and will be a friend to them.

What I’m Learning From NF

NF (Nathan Feuerstein) is a rapper and as of late he has definitely caught my attention. His music is catchy and I enjoy it, but the part that I find fascinating is that NF is writing about the intense pain that he deals with on a regular basis. I have always been drawn to artists who share their personal experiences when it comes to the difficulties that they have been through. Nearly every song I have heard from NF sounds like he had to go to a very dark place to reconnect with old memories and put it into a rhyme. After doing a little reading I realized that NF comes from a divorced home, his mom died of an overdose, and he was physically abused. It’s pretty easy to understand why his music is filled with pain, confusion and a desperate attempt to make sense of it all.

Here are some of the comments that I have found from random people on YouTube based on the song, “How Could You Leave”:

Emma Kennedy
2 weeks ago
Nate, your not alone. I have a mom that had me at 15 did drugs, and I got taken away from her..She lost all her 5 kids and I dont get to see 2 of my siblings at all. I have no bond or relationship with my mom or siblings…I have really bad anxiety, I can get anxiety attacks too. She was never there for anything, not for my graduations..or anything. I feel like im alone, and its nice to have you, Nate. To go home from school with my earbuds on listening too you, cuz you have helped me through everything. I still get to see her, she still does drugs, but im afraid those drugs are gonna take her..and listening to you is My THERAPY SESSION

wolfnation 091617
3 weeks ago
I love this song it hits hard it makes me thinks alot it puts u in so much feelings and I can rap this whole song.

TTV Raid Venom
2 weeks ago (edited)
Ive been through this I’m only 16 and my mom has been in jail my whole life she’s only been out for 3 years i barely know her she’s not dead but she’s no longer there it’s scaring to see your mom overdose because she popped your dead dogs pills. She always used to say she was coming to pick me and my brother up from my dads but never showed she had the swat i. Our house trying to get her this song really hits me thank you nf for being here for everyone your music helps so many people

These comments on YouTube are heart breaking because they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the pain that is occurring behind closed doors. Have you seen the statistics?  NPR reported this recently, “Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent.” We live in a country where we have so much yet we see a growing sense of hopelessness. Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, are just a couple of well known celebrities who decided to end their life in the past few weeks.

Some of you might be wondering if an artist like NF has anything to truly offer besides venting his negative emotions. I am a parent myself, so I get your concern! I am not saying that his music is for everyone (listen with discernment), but I can say that I have found a redemptive message within his music.

In his song “Statement” he goes out of his way to point out that there are plenty of artists out there (he specifically names Eminem) who deal with their pain in inappropriate ways.

I grew up on Eminem, now look where the game’s at
Lame raps, Hollywood fame acts, I’m sick of the same trash

At times NF does get quite specific regarding the source of our true hope in life. In his song “All I Have” he writes these lines:

I don’t live for the world
I live for the King, I live for the King, focus

What you’re hearing now is me whether I’m in front or behind that curtain
I stand behind these words I’m a Christian but I’m not perfect

So what am I learning from all of this? I am learning that the church has to do a better job of being open and transparent regarding the difficulties of life. To quote Michael Stipe (and to date myself), “Everyone hurts sometimes.” Since this is true, how do we help people when we try to hide it? The truth is that when we hide the hard stuff we are (unintentionally) keeping people away from the church at a time when they desperately need to know that hope is alive. I try to be open about some of my struggles from the pulpit. I have heard on a number of occasions from people that it helps them to know that they are not the only person that has their fair share of ups and downs. We have also created a Care Ministry at our church. The Care Ministry is made up of men and women who are available to meet with anyone in the church, or our city, who needs someone to listen to them and encourage them.

I’ll end with one of my favorite NF songs, “Wake Up.” This is a powerful song that is challenging the assumptions that material possessions, or the stuff of life, can ever make us happy.

Anthony Bourdain and the Pursuit of Happiness

Here is what Wikipedia tells us about Anthony Bourdain:

Anthony Michael Bourdain (June 25, 1956 – June 8, 2018) was an American celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian, and television personality who starred in programs focusing on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition. He was considered one of the most influential chefs in the world by many commentators.

Just this past week Bourdain committed suicide while shooting an episode for his show, “Parts Unknown.”  I had heard of Bourdain before his death but I did not know much about him. Even though I did not follow his career closely it still makes me incredibly sad anytime I hear that someone has committed suicide. One of the things that prompted me to write about his death is that I read on social media people asking questions like this, “Bourdain seemed to have it all. He had wealth, fame, and was able to travel all over the world. Why would someone with so much going for him commit suicide?”

I won’t pretend to know the reasons that led Bourdain to end his life, but what I do know is this, the stuff of this world is not enough to satisfy the human heart. One man who had everything he ever desired came to this sobering conclusion:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. -Ecclesiastes 2:1

Three thoughts I want to communicate. First, if you are struggling with depression, or if you are contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone. A trusted friend. A pastor. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. I don’t have all the answers but I would be happy to listen to you and encourage you. You can reach me at (856)-904-7092. Or, michaelw@newlifeefree.org.  I have gone through seasons of depression my self and I know it is a bad place to be.

Second, talking to a friend is a great idea, but it is not the final solution. Our souls have been designed to find satisfaction in God alone. An old friend, or an excellent counselor, is not going to be able to heal the pain that you feel in the core of your being. You need to know that God knows all about you and loves you. Not only does he love you he desires to be in a relationship with you. Knowing God will not remove all pain and suffering from your life, but genuine comfort is found when we realize that God is there with us through all of the ups and downs of life.

Third, we need to keep our eyes open all around us for people who are struggling. Be proactive! If someone close to you seems to be down invite them out for a cup of coffee. Ask them how they are doing. Take chances. It’s OK to get in their business because you are doing it out of genuine concern.