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God's Light Amidst Grief's Shadow

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
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October 13, 2022 6:00 am

God's Light Amidst Grief's Shadow

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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October 13, 2022 6:00 am

One of the hardest things about life on this side of eternity is the unexpected. Accidents or unforeseen circumstances can shake our faith and bring up the question of why bad things happen when we serve a good God. In this broadcast, Jonathan Pitts, shares that struggle.

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The whole time I'm walking through the loss of winter and all the family members walk with my girls, I never lost my joy. I lost weight. I went through everything else that anybody else grieving would walk through, but I never lost my joy.

I never lost gratitude. I never lost perspective of the fact that... Because even when I think about it, it's hard to say because I think for anybody it's easy to feel like... I think the fear is that you'd be judged, but the reality is I was grateful for what God has given me. God has given me in the season I have with winter. And somehow, some way, I knew instinctually that if I was still here, God had a plan for me.

Others are major, and they turn your life in an entirely different direction. And we can be blindsided by a terrible accident or unforeseen circumstances, and that can sometimes shake our faith. Often, it makes you question, okay, Lord, are you there with me? What's happened here? And it certainly brings up that big question about why would a bad thing happen to me? I'm a good person.

I'm seeking the Lord and trying to do the best I can. Our guest, Jonathan Pitts, he knows the struggle firsthand for just over 15 years. He was married to his wife, Winter, who was the niece of our good friend, Pastor Dr. Tony Evans, and they visited with us in May of 2018 to talk about raising their four beautiful daughters and those challenges of the teen years. And in July, Winter quite suddenly passed away. I remember hearing the news, and I was shocked because the person that young does not pass away.

What happened? She was an author, a speaker, and really that up-and-comer. Christian woman leader, and you can imagine that her death really rocked the Christian community. But through that loss and the trials surrounding it, the unexplainable circumstances and heart-rending grief, Jonathan found hope and healing.

And that's precisely why we want to talk to him today, because he's going to share what it's like to go through that valley and get back to the mountaintop. Jonathan Pitts is born in Franklin, Tennessee. He's the current president of Four Girls Like You Ministries. That was Winter's ministry to tween girls and their parents, and now he's shepherding that along. He is the father of four girls, as you mentioned, and he's really beautifully captured the time he and his wife had together in the book, My Winter Season, Seeing God's Faithfulness in the Shadow of Grief. And we do have copies of that book here at the ministry.

Check the episode notes for the details. Jonathan, welcome back to Focus on the Family. It's good to be with you guys. And I know it's difficult, perhaps. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it's probably hard because time has passed. Some things have happened that you're going to tell us about in a little while. But going back to that season of your life where you and Winter met and how your relationship grew, and I know there's an entirely different direction now. We'll get to that. So I appreciate the fact that you're willing to take us back there. Many people won't know the story.

So let's go there. Paint a picture of who Winter was and how you met. Yeah, I mean, I met Winter as just a girl that was in college with me, didn't know Tony Evans or any of the Evans family.

I was just in college. And she's Tony's niece. She's Tony's niece, yeah.

Her dad is brothers with Dr. Evans, and so didn't know him, didn't know Dr. Evans, didn't know any of that. And literally met in school. She had been coming back from a study abroad and just met her at a party. And really what happened is I was kind of minding my business, doing what I felt like God was calling me to do.

She was doing the same, and God would bring us together. And we'd get married like literally two weeks after we graduated from college. That was like seven months after you met. I thought Gene and I had 13 months was pretty quick, but you did seven months and beat us by half.

Yeah, it was a fast-moving process. I mean, I was certain of God's plan for my life and really got married pretty quickly after we graduated and would have Alina, my oldest girl, who's now almost 18 years old. Does that shake you? It does shake me.

I was shook a couple weeks ago for the first time. I was like, I don't have a gift for her for her 18th birthday. What are we going to do? She's graduated. It was all those things at the same time. But we'd have Alina 11 months after we got married. And so we like really quickly went into family building and would have three more girls. And we were living in New Jersey after we graduated where I'm from. And Winter was a grant writer, and she was basically having babies trying to figure out her life while I was in pharmaceutical sales and trying to make as much money as I could. That's what I thought I was doing. Four daughters, you had to.

Yeah, exactly, exactly. But we'd go to Texas for vacation, visit with Dr. Evans, and God would really change our lives there. I would actually fall into ministry. I'd end up managing Anthony Evans Jr. for seven years.

He became one of my best friends. And she would actually, Winter would end up working for Dr. Evans. So this grant writer became kind of like a grant writer for a church nonprofit organization and ultimately would begin film called to come home just to be with the girls. She would end up doing creative writing to try to inspire her girls, entertain them, educate them, disciple them. She stumbled upon creating this magazine called For Girls Like You.

And that was the question I was going to ask you, that happening. I mean, you're the dad of the four girls, Winter's the mom of the four girls, and you decided something needed to be said through this magazine. So what was the great goal there?

Yeah, well, there was no great goal. I actually was trying to convince her to do hair because she could make a couple hundred bucks every client. And she wanted to do the magazine.

I was like, well, we'd make more money if you just did hair. And anyway, she was really good at saying no to the things that she wasn't called to do. And when she finally said yes to the thing that she was called to do, God would just kind of put his wind on it. And what was then like 20 little girls that we had. And it wasn't even a magazine yet. It was like this just this little resource was like 20 girls.

And it's like more than 6000 girls now to get the magazine even past. It's grown past her life, which is kind of cool when you think about legacy things we invest our lives in. So anyway, she ended up doing that and really was doing that the day that she passed away really suddenly. In that context, and we'll get to that story, obviously, but you and Winter started I think in 2018 thinking about leaving the Urban Alternative, moving to Nashville, you becoming a pastor there. And that was all about that time that she passed away.

Describe what was happening and then what your decision was after she passed away. Yeah, it was a couple things happening. Like one, I felt like I had grown as much as I could grow kind of within this Evans brand of ministry and that God had different things for me.

And that was obviously a real challenge to leave because I love the Evans family, still do, still my family, you know. But I was in a sense going to what I felt like was a higher calling, different calling. And at the same time, you know, Franklin, Tennessee, Nashville, that whole area when you think about Christian publishing, I thought what God was doing with Winter was kind of giving her this new space to breathe and grow and become what he was calling her to become.

So in every sense, we were really expecting about what the future looked like and a little bit nervous, but really felt like God was kind of leading the way. And I actually had, so I guess say July 10th, we had bought our home in Franklin, July 14th. We moved in July like 11th and we were there for just like three days and we left for a vacation in Iowa with my family.

We'd go back to Dallas for my last week of work. And that's where she had actually passed away, in Dallas. So she never really lived in Nashville?

No, never did. We were there. What's really beautiful is I think she kind of set the path for us in terms of like, she was really passionate about getting the girls into a specific school and setting them up for their future. And then when I look back on it, I'm like, wow, how kind of God to allow her to kind of see kind of where, you know, where we're going, where her girls are going and then just like trust them with the Lord as she went into eternity. Let's go to that day.

There's got to be a lot of emotion. And again, we talked about, you know, things, positive things that have happened since then. But we need to talk about that day that she did pass away, July 24th, 2018, kind of the normal day. And again, what makes it so difficult, how old was she? 38.

38. You just, I mean, that's got to come out of the blue. It's not an expected thing. So describe the day, what happened, the phone call, however you were informed.

Yeah, I mean, honestly, there was nothing normal at that point. We kind of were homeless. We had bought a house in Franklin that we hadn't lived in.

We went to Iowa for vacation. We come back to Dallas. I'm finishing up my last week of work for the Urban Alternative.

But we have no home in Dallas. So we're staying actually at kind of a ministry property that Priscilla had and her cousin. And I just remember going to work and I was just saying goodbye to like co-workers I had done real ministry with, loved, was really sad about that. I was also doing, you know, standard operating procedures, like all the things you do when you leave an organization. And I'll never forget, she texted me and she just said, I was actually on my way home and she said, I feel and then she sent me the sick emoji. And I just asked, what's going on? And she never responded.

So I'd stop at Costco and get like Caesar salad from Costco and ribs. And I remember driving home and getting home and my sister in law, Andrea, was there with her two girls. Winter was there with our three youngest girls.

My oldest, thank God, was at a water park with her cousin, her oldest cousin, boy cousin. And they were all just kind of sitting on the couch, just hanging out, laughing and doing each other's hair. And I remember them playing this game.

It's like, somebody would say, you can be a fish, but you can't be an elephant or you can be, I don't even know the game to the status. I remember hearing it, like, what's that game? And I had taken a run early that morning, so I was pretty tired.

So I went and I laid down and took like a 15 minute power nap. And Winter actually had the last book that she would write, ironically, would be called I Am Yours. I Am Yours, I'm forgetting the subtitle right now, but it's basically a book on identity.

And there are these 60 different devotionals that describe your identity in Christ in different ways. So she had a deadline, which she was never good at meeting. And as I walked out of the bedroom to get dinner ready, I just knew I was going to be on because she had to finish this book, which was already a couple weeks late. And all I remember is passing each other kind of as I walked out of the bedroom and she was walking in. And, you know, just doing the thing you do, like, I'm just going to get dinner ready, she's going to take this nap and then she's going to get to work.

And that was just like I had learned that process and I'd go back out or I'd go out, I'd fix the ribs and Costco Caesar salad. And then I just would knock on the door and ask her if she wanted to eat. She's like, no, I'm fine.

I think it's the rest longer. And so she just went back to resting. I finished dinner with the girls and I just went into the bedroom and into the bathroom to floss my teeth because the ribs are stuck in my teeth. So I remember walking around flossing my teeth and I just kind of looked out of the bathroom into the bedroom and she was sitting up facing away from me, like looking out of the windows. And she just kind of, you know, like when you're kind of tired and lazy in the bed and just kind of like slump over, like you don't want to get up. She kind of made a move like that.

But I guess I just noticed something unnatural about it because I just said, why are you playing like that? And bottom line is the next 30 minutes would be the probably most 30 traumatic minutes of my life because what I'd realized, I thought she was having a seizure, but really what had happened is that her heart, she had a heart murmur, her heart got off rhythm. And what was really chaotic for me as I did all the things, CPR and all that trying to see if she's choking on something, she just basically lost consciousness. And I say, you know, kind of slowly glided into the, into heaven and it was super traumatic. My three youngest girls were there. And so just imagine having three girls running around, like wondering what's going on as, you know, their mom's like, it's a lot of chaos.

Yeah. So I, you know, I called Priscilla actually, and I'll never forget this, but it actually happens to be her, her wedding anniversary. And I would call my sister-in-law and they both came back to the house and got the girls and we'd make our way to the hospital after a long time because that house is out in the country.

And so they didn't, the paramedics didn't get there for a long time. And for me, I just knew I'm an Eagle Scout trained kind of in CPR and all that. And so I knew without a miracle, you know, I wouldn't speak to her again. You just knew it.

Yeah. Without a miracle. My prayer was just like, I remember just saying like, God, no, I would say, Winter, don't, don't leave me or something like that.

Don't leave me. And then I was just praying to God for a miracle. And in one side of my brain, knowing that God can do miracles and the other, I'm such a practical guy. I'm just practically thinking like about all the different ways this could go in terms of, you know, just you think about all the things.

And so it was locked down on my mind. I can't imagine. And I'm sure she's not too responsive at that point.

Not responsive at all. She was gone. The minute I basically looked at her, she was, I believe, already gone. This is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And we're talking today with Jonathan Pitts, who has captured his compelling story in this book, My Winter Season, Seeing God's Faithfulness in the Shadow of Grief.

Get in touch for your copy. And if we can be of any help to you in any way, just please give us a call. Focus is here to help.

Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family. And we've got further details in the show notes. Jonathan, I can go back in my own life when I was nine and my mom died and it fell on my brother to tell us all, my most oldest brother who is 10 years older than me. And I can just remember each one of us going into the room and him telling us individually. And I was the last one to be told. I just saw my siblings going in the room and each one coming out crying. And then he asked me to come in there and I'm thinking, I don't want to go in that room.

Something bad is happening. Which leads me to that question. How did you tell the girls? I mean, obviously they were aware something was not right. Was there that moment you gathered them together where you could make a definitive statement about what's happened, what's going on?

And talk about the future as hard as that might be at that moment. Yeah. You know, there's a lot going through my head. And then the thing that I knew instinctually I needed to do was just lead my girls as well as I could. It wasn't about me. That's kind of how I felt in the moment. It wasn't about me.

It's about them. There were several families that showed up. And I remember, I never remember feeling as loved as I felt in that moment. I walked out into kind of the waiting room and I just saw family and pastors and just people in our lives. It just kind of like just stopped everything and came.

And Dr. Evans was one of those people. And so somehow some way he had found his way back to like this little family chapel kind of prayer room, I guess. And I just knew I was going in that room to meet my girls and share with them what happened.

Up until that point, they knew that something was going on with their mom, but they weren't exactly sure. And so, you know, as I'm going in, I'm thinking to myself, there are lots of things I can say. What do I say? And I don't even know how at this point.

Like, it's not me. I feel like God just kind of gave me the words. But the way I think about it now is there were lots of things that were true in that moment, like lots of things that were true that I could say, that I could share. But the only thing I knew to share that was true and hopeful was the fact that their mommy went home to be with Jesus.

And so that's literally what I said. I just said, your mommy went home to be with Jesus. And obviously at that point, you know, there were no words that were necessary because there was just so much emotion in the room. But Dr. Evans was there and I felt like, it's just really beautiful, this man who had literally discipled me as an adult, like the only man outside of my own dad who spent that much time with me pouring into me, being there by my side was just real comfort.

But we sang an old hymn and just like pushed into the goodness of God, like a devastating moment, not because emotionally we're there, because that's what we need to do. And really that was, I think, the first family devastation that Dr. Evans experienced. That next year, year and a half, he would see more of the family, the extended family die. Describe that and what the Evans family and extended family experienced.

Yeah, I mean, we all would. So that was, you know, Winter died first and then there were six family members within, I think, 20 months that passed away, including, so Winter, Aunt Lois, as we called her, Dr. Evans' wife, his dad, which is two daddy to Winter, who was two daddy to me. It was all family and then Aunt Beverly and Uncle James and all these different people that went home to be with the Lord, some of them really suddenly and then others like his dad, who was one of the most godly men I'd ever known. Anyway, it was massive loss and I feel like what we did was just press into the only hope that we have, you know, the scripture says. I knew the scripture before and I used it as a pastor and as a guy who walked with people through death that, you know, we don't grieve as those who have no hope. But that scripture that I kind of talked about, you know, doing death from a little bit more of a distance actually lived, like not grieving as those who have no hope, became a part of our lives, a part of our family story, I guess. Well, I can't imagine because I had to go through it as well, but when you're on the one side as a pastor talking to people going through death through grief, it's one thing to know the right passages to express it, but when you have to live through it, it's different. Now you know at a very heart level what it means and what it feels like. That's different.

Yeah. And it's also, for me, it was very, what's the word, relieving or even like inspiring because what it actually means in that scripture says we don't grieve as those who have no hope. We actually don't grieve without joy. Like the whole time I'm walking through like the loss of winter and all the family members and walk with my girls, like I never lost my joy. I lost weight. I went through everything else that anybody else grieving would walk through, but I never lost my joy. I never lost gratitude.

I never lost perspective of the fact that, because even when I think about it, it's hard to say because I think for anybody it's easy to feel like, I think the fear is that you'd be judged, but the reality is I was grateful for what God had given me in the season I had with winter. Right. And somehow, some way, I knew instinctually that if I was still here, God had a plan for me. Now part of that is obviously raising my girls and being here for them and all that. But I knew that I knew that I knew that God had more. Right. And so it didn't have to be this looking back on always wanting something I had before.

I could actually know without a shadow of a doubt that God had a plan for my life. Well, and in that context, you know, millions of people are listening or watching on YouTube, whatever it might be. What about the person that that is just the next heavy brick and they do lose their joy? How do you speak to that person experientially when they're saying, how did you do that, Jonathan? I couldn't do that.

And they're desperate. I mean, I've talked to people like that and they're going, how do you get that kind of joy because I have not experienced that. Well, I mean, that's a tricky question because I would say I didn't do anything. I feel like that's what was really neat about it is that is probably the most confirming thing about knowing that I believed what I believed when winter passed away, that I still had that. And so I would say for anyone just pressing the Lord, like he himself is our peace.

He is our joy. Like press into the Lord because he's the only one that can give it to you. Like nobody gave it to me. I didn't give it to myself.

Like the Lord literally gave it to me. And that doesn't mean I didn't walk through hard times. Didn't mean I wasn't angry. Didn't mean I wasn't sad. Didn't mean I wasn't like really depressed. Like I, you know, I had a great love for football. The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl that year, and I remember being so excited.

And then I remember a couple months later, winter passing away, and I've not really ever watched a football game since then. Like I lost joy in some of the things that I really cared about before, but I never lost joy in the Lord. So it's a different kind of joy that I feel like is God-given. Well, what I'm hearing you say there too is it's okay to press into God, to be angry, to shake your fist.

God's big enough to take it and not to hold back in that area. Yeah, I would say, now I think everybody has a different experience. So I never had that level of anger. Like I never felt like I was ever actually angry. And then I remember being annoyed about things and I'd have this phrase, I'd say, I didn't ask for this. And a lot of that came later when I started to make different life choices and think about my future and all that. I'd say I didn't ask for this because a lot of times as someone who's walked out of a season like that, you feel like a lot of people around you, they feel responsible to keep you kind of where you are. They feel responsible to help you not make bad decisions.

So I'd say I didn't ask for this. That's when I would experience anger. So we all have different experiences and I can't say my experience summarizes everybody else's, but I would say press into the Lord because it's literally the only joy, the only peace, the only real foundation that we have. And I think when you get that, that's where that natural spring of joy comes from. It's not contrived.

It's not fake. It's, you know what, I can deal with the setbacks in life because my strength's in Christ. Yeah. And guess what? I'm still having to do it. They're still coming, you know.

But it's different. You're not overcome by your circumstances. Yeah. Jonathan, at the end here, the thing that caught my attention out of the book is you stuck with the plans to move to Tennessee and keep that momentum going forward. And, you know, I guess one of the questions is why, what made you committed to that move even just after your wife had died and was it the right thing?

Yeah, I'll start with the end. I think it was the right thing and God knows me. I'm a loyalist and, you know, I was, I would say in this Evans brand of ministry for almost 15 years of my life and that was the first stepping outside of that. And I feel like if I wouldn't have walked out of that, I probably would have never found myself fully again because I would have just committed myself to the thing I knew. And I think God knew that and he wanted me kind of not out of that because it's a bad thing, but just out of that because he knew he'd have to make me a new man. Like he's constantly making us new.

He's constantly changing us. And I think I would have been just in that and I would have just committed my life to a beautiful ministry, but ultimately probably would have like not gone where God wanted me to go. And so, you know, I was, winter passes, we ended up burying her in Dallas and I'll never forget the day before her funeral, two things happened.

One is my now boss, Darren Whitehead, senior pastor of Church of the City, he called and he just said, hey, if you guys don't want to come, just know this. We'll sell your house. We'll get your stuff back. We'll take care of things.

Don't worry about it. If this is what you want to do, if you want to stay in Dallas, then know that we'll support you in that. And then he said, if you come, you'll find a family ready to adopt you. And he meant every word of that. And that same day, I was walking on the sidewalk in front of my sister-in-law's house on that phone call with him. One place for peace for me that week was on that sidewalk, walking back and forth.

That happened. And then I can't remember if it was before that or after that, but in that same day, I'm walking with my daughter, Alina. And she's just asking me, because the girls had asked me a couple of times, dad, are we, you know, are we going to go to Nashville? What are we going to do? But Alina just, we're walking and she just goes, she's at this point, she's 14. And she says, dad, are we going to Nashville still? And I said, well, we need to be maybe in a good leader, right? Well, we need to pray about it and take our time. And she goes, well, I think we should go. Like, Mommy was more excited than any of us to go. I think we're supposed to go. Wow. And it was like the Holy Spirit just used that to kind of take me over the edge out of like probably at that point, fear of leaving everything I knew for something I didn't know, which was a big step of faith.

And so those two things happen. It was just enough like light over there to just say, okay, just keep walking. And I would say what happened next would be really three, almost three years of being in what I would call an incubator of healing from grief in this beautiful little town. Have you ever been to Franklin, Tennessee?

If you haven't, you need to go. It's like this beautiful little quaint town where it's just it's just a gorgeous town and the church wrapped their arms around us, the community wrapped their arms around us. And I was a new pastor coming into this church.

And you would have thought these people knew me for years the way that they just like. I mean, I came back to a house that wasn't unpacked and our home was unpacked. And it looked like we had lived there for five years, you know, like pictures on the walls and all the things. And they really just took care of us.

And it was God's kindness. In addition to that, my oldest sister, who had never been married, her name is Carmen. She moved in with me and lived with me for the like for, I guess, almost three years.

Kind of kept things moving. Yeah, and really she's got a master's degree in counseling and came in to be an in-house counselor in our home. What a blessing. And let's let's end there, because the good news is the Lord has brought a new wife into your life. And that's fantastic.

And a mom for the daughters. Yeah, a beautiful woman who she would say, Peter would say, and we'd say together that I'm her redemption. She's my redemption and we're the girl's redemption.

And that's really what we've, even as we've walked through even really hard times and blend a family and all that, like I didn't know how difficult that part of it would be. But we're just trusting as we walk that God's just redeeming all things, because that's what he does. He is a redeemer. The great redeemer. And that's what you're getting at, John.

And I so appreciate it. If you don't know the Lord, get a hold of us. I mean, why live a life without God?

I mean, I still, it puzzles me that people that reject God, why? Someone who loves you, cares about you, wants the best for you. It's the best transaction you'll ever have, eternal life. But Jonathan, thank you for sharing. Thank you for your openness and talking about what grief looks like and how to stay connected to God through that and his abundance, which comes right out of John 10. And it's wonderful to hear that story. I'll end with just saying this. Dr. Evans has this saying, If all you see is what you see, you'll never see all there is to be seen. And it's just one of those things I've tried to live by, to see beyond what I can see with my natural eyes.

Yeah, and it's so good for all of us to remember that. And so get a hold of us. I'd love to put a copy of this book into your hands my winter season.

If you can make a gift of focus for any amount, we'll send it as our way of saying thank you. If you can join us on a monthly basis, that's great. If you can't afford it, get a hold of us. It's a wonderful story.

It's a God story. And we'll get it into your hands and trust others. We'll cover the cost of that. But Jonathan, thank you so much for being here.

Thanks for having me, guys. And let me add that we have caring Christian counselors here on staff at Focus on the Family. And it'd be a privilege to have a consultation arranged for you. Get in touch.

Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family to set up one of those free consultations and to get a copy of this book, My Winter Season, by Jonathan Pitts. Details are in the show notes as well. We'll plan to join us again tomorrow as we hear from Cynthia Tobias. She'll have insights into how to get along with strong-willed adults in your life. At our best, when we're strong-willed, we're willing to tackle what those others say can't be done. We're resourceful. We're undaunted by circumstances.

And we're good at creatively energizing people around us. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ. We'll see you next time on Focus on the Family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-06 23:50:35 / 2022-12-07 00:03:28 / 13

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