Gary Watson: Restoration
On Sunday 3rd of March 2019 my Facebook status read ‘Morning all! :) Yesterday was the most significant, powerful and life changing day with major implications on my present and my future. Basically a miracle of a day. So excited. :D’
And it was! And I still am! Obviously this sparked quite a bit of reaction and I was just bursting to tell people about the incredibly amazing things that God crammed into that one day. One friend, not a Christian, commented, “What did God do?” to which I replied, “Basically, healed my body, set me free from five years of regret and doubt and has given me a new vision for the future. So… not much.” He then asked, “And how did he achieve that if you don’t mind me asking?” Fair question, and one that I’m going to answer as I unpack this profound day.
In order to understand my emotional, spiritual and physical state on that Saturday we need to backtrack to 2014 – probably the worst year of my life. To cut a long story short, up until September of that year I had got myself caught up in a sinful affair with a young woman in my church. At the time I was Youth and Community leader within the fellowship I attended in Beccles and was often ‘up-front’: preaching, being part of the worship team and leading outreach events. While I would have claimed to love Jesus deeply, my heart was compromised – torn between two worlds. I knew I was living a double life that could never work but Satan had his claws in me and didn’t want to let go. I thought I was strong enough – thought I would eventually have the strength to call the relationship to an end. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. So, one evening in September I was caught out. I don’t believe now that you can ever play this kind of game with sin – you will always lose.
“My heart was compromised.”
This nearly destroyed my marriage and my family (I have three young daughters). I had to step down from my position in the church. I had no job. I felt shipwrecked. As the ripples went out from this event, I just felt worse… the scores and scores of people that were affected by my selfish actions, the amount of people I had to tell. Don’t get me wrong: no-one at any point was judgemental towards me! No-one abandoned me, or even snubbed me. All I received from friends and family was grace and forgiveness. And God forgave me – I know that, when I turned from my sin, His arms were wide open to receive me. I don’t doubt that now. It took a while, I must admit but I know it to be truth. At the time, I just couldn’t forgive myself.
A few years before, Keith Hazel had visited our church. He had spoken over our family which such accuracy it was like Jesus Himself was speaking. Keith’s first words to me were, “Brother, you are gifted. Brother, you are called.” I’ll never forget it. They were words of affirmation and encouragement. And now I’d completely blown it. I’d wanted to live for the Gospel, I’d wanted to be part of God’s great plan and purposes but now what? I had become the sort of person I despised. I had wrecked people’s lives. My future only looked black. And what’s more – I deserved it. Even if God had forgiven me, why would He use me again?
I entered a dark place.
I looked for a job and was granted one as a Higher Level Teaching Assistant in a Lowestoft Primary School. In the first couple of months I almost fell apart. I was so emotionally fragile. I had regular nose bleeds from stress and cried in the Headteacher’s office on more than one occasion. I was forced to step down and become a regular TA. Through the kindness of the staff and the joy of the children I worked with I grew to enjoy the job – but teaching assistants are paid very little and I really had to support my family.
It was during this time that Helen (my amazing wife) and I started attending King’s in Norwich. Although the people at the fellowship in Beccles were lovely, it was just too awkward to remain there. King’s was (and still is) a life saver. The leaders knew our situation but very few other people did, so we could take relationships at our own pace and reveal what we wanted when we wanted. We started to make some very dear friends and found the support and understanding we needed.
Despite this, I was still utterly insecure and suffering from mild depression. You probably wouldn’t have known to look at me because, being a flamboyant, dramatic person, I came across as very confident. You wouldn’t know that, after the Sunday service was over, sometimes I just wanted to run away. I struggled with social situations, thinking I wasn’t worth having as a friend and thinking I didn’t have anything important to say. I never shared anything upfront and was ‘happy’ being part of the wallpaper. The only times I appeared on the platform was to sing (and once on a film as a ‘wise man’). My singing and my acting were the only two gifts I felt I had left.
“I needed to get away from my past.”
As time went on it became clear that it was right to move to Norwich. Away from Beccles to make a new start. I needed to get away from my past. In March last year I applied for, and got, a job at a specialist school for boys as a Care Officer. Man, what a tough job! Those boys had been so damaged through life’s circumstances and were in desperate need of guidance and love but they really struggled to receive it. It was a hard-enough job for a person feeling emotionally strong and confident – let alone how I felt. Again, the staff were superb and the support from colleagues priceless, but it was too much for me. I handed in my notice and planned to leave at Christmas but had nothing to which to go. The Headteacher very kindly offered me a temporary TA post until I found something else.
Which brings us to February this year. On the 9th I fell ill. Initially with just a bad cold until, on the following Friday I started shaking at work and took myself home. Then my head started throbbing and my temperature skyrocketed. My chest filled up with phlegm which started a deep, hacking cough. It’s fair to say, I’ve never felt so ill in my life. I feel as though, in that time, I was brought to nothing. Absolutely nothing. Useless, worthless nothing. After two weeks off work, two trips to the doctors and two rounds of antibiotics, I started to feel slightly human again and, fortunately, the headaches went. My chest was still infected though. I couldn’t get through a sentence without coughing and sometimes I was physically sick.
There was a ray of light in this darkness though. Just before I was ill, we’d found a lovely little house just outside Norwich and our offer was accepted. So, although I felt rubbish, I was excited about the move.
So now, finally, we come to Saturday 2nd March. Several things happened that day that, I believe, were totally ordained by God and very well timed.
The morning started with me in our study, trying to get rid of as much clutter as I could… after all, our new cottage is half the size of our present house! I cleared out two thirds of my computer games – that was easy enough, but then I came to the other shelves above the PC. Youth Work resources – loads of them, and study notes and note books filled with planning. It was a strange thing: on the one hand I felt like I was throwing very valuable things from my past in the bin and on the other I smiled as I realised how much I enjoyed those times and how inspired I had felt. It was a bitter-sweet experience.
In the afternoon my daughter (Hope) and her boyfriend (Jacob) came to visit. We hadn’t seen them for a few weeks, so it was good to catch up. Over a brew we chatted about life and work. I explained to them how ill I had felt and how difficult I was finding my job. They were very sympathetic. Then Helen, who was sitting next to me, simply said, “You can stop you know.” It wasn’t the first time she had suggested it, but I think, because I’d been so ill, it was the first time I had really heard it. “Your job is obviously causing you emotional and physical harm. You can stop. We can survive on my wage for a while until you find something you really want to do. What about photography? What about gardening?” If I hadn’t been so ill, I don’t think I would have listened, but time away from the workplace had given me a new perspective. So, sitting there with a cup of tea in my hand, I decided what to do. “If you think so then, yes I will.” And my heart was washed with the sweetest relief. It seemed like a dream still – was it really possible? I started to feel hopeful about the future for the first time in years.
Later on that Saturday, after tea, we were all invited round Helen’s sister’s house. Now, usually I rarely accepted this invitation because I found my insecurities kicking in and I’d prefer to spend the evening on my own. But that time was different. Due to my illness I had missed the human company so much that wanted to go. So, even though I still did not feel 100%, I went. I sat, coughing and spluttering but manage to be social and have a good time.
A little way through the evening I suddenly remembered a Facebook post that Jacob might find interesting. It involved a discussion about Darwinism between me, my favourite author, and another Christian friend. Jacob has a huge thirst for knowledge and faith. Although not a believer in Jesus (yet) he is on an incredible spiritual journey and is not far from the Truth. What followed was THE best conversation I’ve ever had the privilege to have. Lasting two hours, we must have tackled most subjects in the Bible. Although I was still coughing every other sentence, I felt as if the Holy Spirit was reminding me of all the things I had learnt and cancelling out the negative emotions I had felt that morning getting rid of stuff from my study. It seemed that God was telling me – “Even in your absolute weakness and failure, I can still use you.”
“Even in your absolute weakness and failure, [God] can still use you.”
I came home buzzing! Helen, the wise woman that she is, suggested we pray about the day before we went to sleep. So, we lay in bed and did just that. We thanked Jesus for decisions made, we prayed for Jacob and Hope and then Helen simply said, “And please Lord, help Gary to feel better soon. Amen” I lay there, thinking about the amazingness of the day and after a few minutes it dawned on me – I wasn’t coughing! I took a deep breath – I could take a deep breath! My chest was amazingly clear! I said, “Helen, you know what. I think I’ve been healed of my chest infection.”
Amazing as that healing was in itself, I believe God used it as confirmation of everything else that had happened that day: I wasn’t chucking the good stuff of my past away. It was the right decision to stop work – He would make sure we were ok. And what’s more I am still gifted and I am still called.
Romans 8:28 says: ‘And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.’ (emphasis mine).
Not only did I get healed of a chest infection that Saturday, I was healed of depression, self-doubt, insecurity and fear. I no longer feel I am running away from a bad past. I know I am running towards a bright future.