Hey, everybody. I so often wish you could meet the stellar women I get to serve alongside at Living Proof, especially because they serve this blog community every workday in one way or another. They are such incredible women of God and slack-jawing graces to this former pit-dweller. I want you to meet one of them today and hear her very moving story. If you’ve ever mailed a letter to Living Proof, in all likelihood, you have been touched by her. Nancy Mattingly is one of the best friends I have in this world. We have known one another for thirty years, our paths crossing often then ultimately converging in ministry. When we were very young moms, she’d come to my home once a month for a prayer breakfast with other women just like us and we’d sit cross-legged on that den floor, our Bibles wide-open, and seek Jesus with everything we had. We are both fitness junkies. She bikes and runs. I wear out an elliptical and hike. We’re both teachers by trade and by calling. We love music and we love it loud.
Nancy heads up correspondence at Living Proof Ministries. She heads it up because I hand-chose her. And I did so because she is wise and warm and wonderful and witty and compassionate and strong and loving. You cannot know her and miss being touched by her. The gift she has been to me is beyond estimation. My heart fell into my feet in ministry when I realized that the letters and needs filling up our LPM mailbox were more than one person could manage. I wanted to respond personally to the women who wrote in. I wanted them to know I’d heard their stories. I wanted to pray for them in response letters and give them verses that might resonate with their circumstances and challenges. I came to a point that I flat-out could not keep up with the correspondence and still write and teach Bible studies. I needed someone I could trust to the bone to head up that crucial position here at LPM.
And that was Nancy. She has cried with you, laughed with you, written you, prayed for you, pored over every word you’ve mailed to this address, and shared many of your stories with me and with our staff. I love her so much. And you would love her, too. We have been through so much together as a ministry staff. We rejoice together and weep together, laugh till our sides split together and bawl our eyes out together. We have each had several turns being the one who needed rallying around the most. We’ve stood by one another through such a variety of things that I wouldn’t know where to stop a list of categories. But we, as a staff of very close friends, have never been through anything harder than the story you are about to hear. I can hardly type these words to you without crying. I knew that one day – and sooner than later – Nancy would share this story because I know the woman of God she is. I knew God would be outrageously glorified. I knew that this would turn back on the devil and make him sorry he messed with her and her family. And so it begins.
Please meet one of the dearest people on earth to me and to all of us here at Living Proof. This is our friend, Nancy. She has a story to tell you because we at this ministry have not had the luxury of naiveté. We have hurt. And we know that you have hurt. And, because of Jesus, we have hope. And we want you to have hope. We believe that our stories and journeys have been entrusted to us so that we can do what we’ve been called to do: serve women. Serve you. So, today, this is how we will do it.
Late in 2013, I was compelled to find a particular sign I’d seen a while back. I really didn’t understand why, but just knew I wanted it for our family. I needed it. It simply said “it is well with my soul”. I bought the very last one the store had, brought it home, placed it on the hearth, and announced to my people, “this is our word for 2014.”
Little did I know how much I would need that reminder.
January 28th, 2014 was a day that we will never forget, getting the news that our beloved firstborn son had taken his own life. And just like that, he was gone. And we had so many questions that will not be answered this side of heaven.
I can’t even put into words what shock we were in. Disbelief. Pain. My husband and I were at home that day, while all of Houston was shut down for an “ice storm” that never really came to fruition. Our Living Proof Tuesday night Bible study was cancelled for that evening. Otherwise, I would have been right there serving with my coworkers. Looking back on it, the cancellation was such a personal gift from Jesus because it put me home with my man where we received the news together. We had just finished some chicken and wild rice soup, and were watching a movie.
The doorbell rings, and I go to answer it.
Two policemen were at our door asking for my husband. (You would typically think something terrible immediately, seeing police at your door, however I didn’t, as we had been dealing with the police in the last month over a stolen bicycle. So, for some reason, I thought it had to do with the bike, and cheerily welcomed them in.) It was then that they told us the devastating news of Kyle.
“If Your revelation hadn’t delighted me so, I would have given up when the hard times came.” Psalm 119:92, The Message
Shock can begin immediately and with a vengeance. And it did. We both had such severe issues, but tried to listen to all the police were telling us. Once they left, I remember that we sat on the couch, held hands, and my very strong husband prayed. Oh, how we needed Jesus! In that moment, and in the days to come….
And He was there.
He supernaturally held us through the longest of days and nights.
Through the terrible phone calls to our other children, all living out of town.
Through arranging international travel to get our daughter home from Hong Kong where she had moved just 2 weeks earlier to nanny some children of special missionary friends.
Through the pacing and the arranging and the decisions and the deep desire to go to bed. Then we’d finally get there only to lay there, unable to sleep.
But God Was There.
Whatever kind of believer you are before tragedy happens, you get to decide again after the tragedy: do I believe? And the answer for me was absolutely yes. I had nowhere else to go but my Jesus.
“This I know: God is for me.” Psalm 56:9
People are interesting, especially in the ways they process crises. Some trickled into our home as the news spread. Even in the midst of the first few hours of our new reality, we were able to find humor. And since humor is best shared, I had a dear, beloved life-long friend with whom to share it. We got bent-over tickled over one specific incident, and I realized even then that it was just another grace gift from the Lord. It was a brief respite from the overwhelming grief.
And it set the tone of the year, where we would dance: between the waves of deepest grief, and the pockets of joy.
I also found that, throughout my grief, I had to balance my sadness and loss, my overwhelming sense of failure as a mother, and my fear and anxiety for my family
the obvious care and tending the Lord was doing, the gratitude I had in all that He had given us through our children, and especially through Kyle himself.
I thanked Him for the gift of 32 years with my son. I was grateful, so grateful, for the outlandish gifts my other children were to me. I marveled at this man I had been married to for 34 years and at his ability to articulate all that we were going through. And, I was actually able to see that my son, my beautiful son, was free from what had tormented him.
I could certainly praise my Jesus for that.
Oh, but the loss! And the sheer gut-wrenching longing that he would have received the help so eagerly offered him instead of deciding to be finished…
“I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and will worship the Lord.” Psalm 116:17
Can I tell you a bit about my son?
He was a delight from his first moments of breath on this planet. He was full of energy, and when I say “full”, I mean over-the-top action all the time. He took me out of my comfort zone in those first years with his outgoing personality and zest for life. He’d talk to every person we passed during our days of doing life together while I would tend to be quieter and shyer. Oh, but not Kyle. He ran hard after everything that delighted him. And made some noise doing it. He had such a generous heart and an impish grin that really did let you know trouble was coming. School became a mix of many victories and many areas to work on. Though he was definitely high maintenance, he was also highly entertaining. And the joy, oh mercy, the joy! We knew a full measure of joy with this son of ours, and at the same time, we knew our desperate need of Jesus, too.
That truly became our story later in his adult years. While, on the one hand, we watched God give him such beautiful opportunities to share his love of the outdoors with others, we also saw such a need for Jesus to rescue him from his depression and sadness in his last several years. Kyle was a mountain man… a very successful mountain guide, ice climber, avalanche educator, and, in the slower months and on the side, he did rope-access work on those huge windmills. He was well-respected in every capacity.
Gosh, even today, the loss can overwhelm me…
“For He Himself is our peace.” Ephesians 2:14
Early on in the loss of Kyle, I made a deliberate decision not to hide. To be honest, I truly wanted to hide but even more so I wanted to see God glorified through some measure of this grief. So, I would post a picture or two on various social medias and share some words. I would do anything to keep some other mother from this kind of devastation but I don’t begin to know how. What I can do, however, is just trust God to work through my willingness to share. He alone can make anything good out of this story. I realized early on in our loss, that as hard as my husband and I worked to help Kyle – to encourage him and guide him and certainly to love him – that he was an adult and made his own decisions.
While I never, ever would have chosen this story for my precious family, I do get to choose what I do with it. And I get to praise my Jesus. I get to believe Him, even if I’m overwhelmingly sad, grieving, or undone. Bless His holy name.
Thank you for understanding that many aspects of our experience, we simply think are too sacred, too private for sharing or discussing. But what I can say is this: if someone you love is isolating himself/herself, do everything in your power to reach out to the person and pull him/her back into a safe circle of loved ones. I have seen the damage done by the enemy when he draws people in crisis away from their safe place, their safe people. Of course, we did do everything we knew to do in our own circumstance. Just looking back, I so wish I could have changed this outcome.
*May I just enter a note here to those of you who are personally dealing with deep depression, mental illness, chaos in your home or a lack of hope for any reason? Please seek help. And continue to get it. Don’t isolate yourself. Believe those who love you when they tell you how valuable and wonderful you are and how much you have to offer. Listen to them and not just to your own thoughts. Trust Jesus. Make plans for tomorrow. Dare to hope.
Do. Not. Do. This. Devastation.To. Your. People.
God has a plan. For you. And it’s good.
“I say: the Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:24
I really cannot tell my story without the obvious truth that without God, Jesus, and His Word, I would have been a literal mess. (Of course many days I was, and am, still a mess, even with Him.) And I can’t talk about my faith walk without telling you that Beth and I have been friends for 30 years, and truly, no one on this planet has helped me in my faith journey more than she has. She truly has taught me how to do life as a Christ-follower. By watching her, studying with her, living my life around her life, I have gleaned such treasures of the kingdom. And I am so grateful. (Understatement of the year) Her hard pursuit of Christ, and her lavish love of her Savior have encouraged me, and strengthened me, and I am quite sure compelled me to want the same. My love of Jesus, and people, is spurred on by hers. And if I said thank you every day for the rest of my life, it would not be enough. (I know many of you feel the same way about her and what she has meant to your faith life.) Beth, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you! My heart beats even stronger for Jesus because of you, and I cannot imagine my life without Him, or you. Thank you for caring so deeply for our loss, and hurt. And thank you so much for letting me tell a bit of our story here. What a grace gift. We do not want this to be our story, but since it is, we want the Lord to receive all the glory for what He’s done. For Who He is. Thank you for the space to do just that.
If I may, and with Beth’s complete support and agreement, I just want to address a thought or misconception I have heard from time to time: that, if you are in ministry like Beth is, or work with someone as wonderful as my coworkers, you have no problems. Or, at least, that is what some people have suggested throughout the years. Often people ask how wonderful it is to work here. Don’t get me wrong, it truly is. These people at Living Proof Ministries are my family and I dearly love each and every one. We have had so many blasts together. However, being in full-time ministry certainly does not negate any troubles coming your way. All of us here at Living Proof have them. We have heartbreaks and disappointments and burdens just like you do. Ministry does not add a bonus protective-coating on you and your family. It does not mean that you or your loved ones won’t go through the pit of deep despair. I wish it meant that you won’t ever live out your worst nightmare, but it doesn’t. P R A Y for your Bible teachers, your church leaders, your pastors, your ministry teams, worship leaders! Honestly, when you think of them, pray for them! I know it would mean so much to them. You have no idea what they may be suffering privately.
“On the day I called, You answered me; You increased strength within me.” Psalm 138:3
I still have so many questions, so few answers…..yet, I can rest in what I do know, what I am sure of:
*God is faithful. He has been in the past, and He will be in the future. So that must mean He is faithful today as well. With Him, I can do today.
*God has been so very near to us. (And I pray the same for you and your family, no matter what you are going through, that His presence with you will be palpable.) And, at times, when I do not feel Him near? I know without a doubt that He’s still here with me.
*God’s Word still remains. And is for us in every circumstance. Not one Scripture fell off the page. It stands secure.
*God has never left us nor forsaken us. And I have found that, no matter what, I get to trust Him.
“Give the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” Psalm 29:2
Looking back, I can’t really believe we have survived. Truthfully, I’m not sure how we did, except Jesus. (Side note here: the Body of Christ – and community – is a beautiful thing, especially in times of loss and devastation. Our people came from far and wide to help us, support us, and just grieve with us. Our deepest thanks to each and every person who supported us and prayed for us in these challenging times, sent cards, brought food, texted, emailed, phoned…)
We still miss our son every day. Every Single Day. Some days the pain is too deep for words. But our perspective now is more eternal than ever before. In our ordinary lives, we have this glimpse of eternity, with our son waiting on the other side, and we long for that. And we long for Him: our Jesus. And He is the Only One to satisfy that longing. Let Him do that for you today.
“for You are their magnificent strength…” Psalm 89:17
Thank you for listening. We at LPM care so very much for each of you and truly want to see you find full freedom and victory in Jesus. No matter what comes your way, choose Him. He is so very faithful.