'God Will Use My Grief': Author Jonathan Pitts Shares Lessons of His Wynter Season
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Jonathan Pitts and his wife of 15 years, Wynter, had been close to finishing a book about marriage when he suddenly found himself a widower with four grieving daughters. Wynter died unexpectedly at the young age of 38.
They were a team in life and in ministry. As active participants in the national ministry of her uncle, Dr. Tony Evans, in Dallas, Texas Jonathan and Wynter determined to impact the world. Wynter was a successful author and magazine publisher, and possessed a passion to “empower and equip their girls to be who God has created them to be” through For Girls Like You, the ministry she and Jonathan founded together. Only two weeks after they followed God’s calling to Franklin, Tennessee, Wynter would be gone.
The season of grief would continue after Wynter’s passing. The Pitts family lost six family members in a period of two years, but from this time of darkness has sprung hope and new life, as Jonathan and his family are thriving, surrounded by a loving community and growing through their grief.
I spoke with Jonathan about Wynter’s passing, his new book My Wynter Season, and how he and his family have been blessed in their new season.
It's unbelievable. And there's such a strong community of believers here (in Franklin, Tennessee). A lot of them that work within some level of Christian ministry but yeah, it's a Christian Mecca. It's a very safe place and encouraging place, beautiful, vibrant place. Really it's one of God's greatest gifts to me – before Wynter died – was moving us here and knowing that we were going to walk through it. It's unbelievable.
As far as family support after Wynter passed away, it sounds like you were pretty well surrounded?
Yeah. You know, what's funny is I feel like ‘What would have happened in Dallas?’ This is just me conjecturing, but we would have been surrounded by a lot of family, but all of those family members, the Evans family, they're super busy in ministry at the same time. They were all walking through different levels of loss. Dr. Evans had just lost his brother. There's so many losses. Between the loss they were already experiencing and the loss they would have experienced for the next year and a half after that, losing his sister, his sister's husband, his dad his wife, I just don't even think they would be in a place to actually really minister to me and I wouldn’t have been able to minister to them.
So what's cool is God lifted me, brought me here, put me with a new church family. They wanted nothing more than to pour into my life. And so we meet a new kingdom family that would take care of us. What's beautiful about that is when Dr. Evans did lose his wife and his dad, I could actually be a whole man that could actually be there to really just minister to their family. I remember being at Dr. Evan’s dad's funeral in Baltimore, which was also Wynter’s grandfather, and being able to comfort those with the same comfort I've received in our family. When Lois died, I remember being with Anthony at their house and with Dr. Evans for four or five days, and just really being able to pour into them and feeling whole enough and healed enough where I could do that. It was really beautiful – one of the greatest honors of my life was walking with the family through the loss of Arthur Evans.
Experiencing my own family’s loss created a compassion in me for others that I didn't know existed until I walked that path. What losses have you experienced in the past that may have prepared you for this time? And how has the loss of Wynter changed you and your compassion towards others?
Just last night in our neighborhood, there's a young boy named Noah who is battling brain cancer and they already have hospice at his house. And so my family, me, my girls, my sister who lives with me, walked over to his house. I read the verse in James chapter five, it says that Elijah was a man just as you and I are. But he had this fervent prayer and this earnest prayer about him that they just sent miracles. So we're at his house last night outside, nobody's there. And nobody knows where they're outside praying. And I have tears streaming down my face for a kid I've never met before and for a family I've never met before, trusting God for a miracle. And even if God doesn't do a miracle of healing him here on earth, He's going to heal him ultimately.
Regardless of how painful things are, how hard things are, I know the truth of what's actually happening. So when Wynter died, as hard as it was as dark as it was, I knew the truth of what was happening – that once her soul was leaving her body, she was going to be with the Lord. We were going to get a lot of pain, but she was better than she's ever been before. And so I think more than anything, just having that perspective on death – that it's not the end, that it's not final. It's been really an honor to walk with different people. It's changed my perspective on how to comfort others.
Tell me about your kids. How old were they when Wynter passed?
At the time they were 14, 11 and nine. And you know, it's been a journey for them as well. They've all grieved very differently.
Did you even have the brain capacity to kind of tailor your approach to their grief? How did that play out?
Well, another gift from God. I'm an achiever – Enneagram three. Anything I walk through, I think I can do. I'm naive enough to think that. So I actually moved here thinking I was going to be a single dad and the pastor and I'm going to be okay. My sister Carmen and I went to the funeral that day, and at the dinner afterwards she said, ‘Jon, the Lord told me if you need then I'm supposed to come.’ And I was like, ‘I'm good, Carmen. I appreciate that offer. But I'm good.’ Well, two weeks later I burned a chicken. My girls are laughing at me. I hadn't even started work yet. I go to my room in tears and I call my sister to ask if that offer was still on the table.
So two weeks after that Labor Day, weekend of 2018, my sister sold her car, broke her lease, got rid of most of her stuff, and she moved with three suitcases to Franklin, Tennessee from New Jersey where she was living. She never had kids, never been married, has always prayed for family and God was making her a surrogate. So for the last two and a half years, she's been here with me and she has a master's degree in counseling, so she came in and has been assisting me. I've jokingly called her my help mate, because she has been a helper to me. She's been a mother to the motherless and it's been really beautiful to watch her come alongside of me when I've been at my worst to encourage me when my girls had been at their worst and to encourage them.
My wife Wynter had done a podcast for raising girls, and one of the interviews she did was with a child therapist here in Nashville, named Sissy Goff, who’s a well-renowned child therapist and author. She found out about my girls and offered to counsel my girls. And so she's been counseling my girls for the last two and a half years. It's just been really beautiful how God has provided support to me. You know, the verse that I would say has been the key verse that has marked my life is, which is ‘the angel of the Lord and camps around those who fear Him and He rescues them.’
So, what would you say to someone who doesn't have a strong community and feeling just completely alone in their grief?
I mean, I would say find one. Ultimately you do have community in the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, which is where I start and where I end. And ultimately my relationship with Jesus is number one. I've had seasons where I have felt a little more alone in my life. And even in this grieving, oftentimes even though my girls were taken care of, I felt alone at times. More than anything, pressing into your relationship with the Lord. And then more than anything after that press into relationship with others. It's never too late to find a friend. It's never too late to find community. It's never too late to be a part of a vibrant church.
Let’s talk about My Wynter Season. When did you know that there was an entire book inside of you that needed to be written about Wynter and the time after she passed?
It's funny because the only reason I was writing is because Wynter was writing. She started a magazine for girls. She always wanted to write. And so I started editing her magazines back in 2011 and helping her with that. Through that, and through her publishing devotionals and trade books, I would help edit those. When our publisher asked us to write a parenting book and then a marriage book, we did those two together, I had built the habit of writing over the last seven years prior to her passing. I never thought I'd author, but I always loved writing. But when she passed away, I had this innate desire to want to write down the stories of God's provision.
The stories of God's kindness, the stories of the ways that God showed up in my life that were just blowing my mind. I started writing them down immediately. In addition to writing them down, I also shared. I wanted to keep people updated with where we were. Instagram was my main way of doing that. In addition to writing about what God was doing and thanking people for prayers, I also started sharing deeply about my grief and how I felt, which was therapeutic for me.
I wouldn't think it was a book. But my publisher asked me what I consider taking some of those stories that I'd already written out and some others that I hadn't written and consider sharing it with the world. So I'm just vulnerable enough and already out there enough to say ‘okay, yeah, if God will use my grief and somebody else's, then that'll be worth it.’ Now two and a half years later, I trusted that God could use my story and that He could redeem it. And now He's just doing other beautiful things that give me a lot of joy that aren't just about being used, but God just actually being kind to me.
It wasn't a goal and just somehow God keeps kind of moving things around to allow things like this to happen. So I'm really excited to share it.
How has your family received My Wynter Season?
People have really been encouraging and my family's been encouraging. My girls have been encouraging. I did get a little bit scared because just recently I picked up the books, I was having to do something for YouVersion Bible app and I read what I wrote in a specific section and it's really personal, and so I got a little bit afraid because ultimately it's really vulnerable and I'm trusting that God uses that. With grief, most people are very private in their grief and I was not private. The thing I've said is as much as I celebrated Wynter in her life, when we got married, I feel like her passing that day was just as solemn and just as Holy and so I want to share it.
I mean, it's obviously we think about death as being horrific and horrible and the Bible says ‘precious is the death of the saints in the sight of the Lord.’ So somehow some way, it's beautiful to God. When you die, it's precious to God. And so it's, holy, it's set apart. And I guess I just wanted to set apart Wynter’s life, her ministry, and honor her. And share how beauty can come from ashes.
God is continually teaching me more. Even this process, I've never once referenced that scripture – precious is the death of the saints in the sight of the Lord.’ Like I've never referenced that. And I've thought about that day being solemn – C.S. Lewis asked this question in one of his writings, ‘Why are dark moment holy moments?’ Some of the darkest moments are Holy moments and that, that actually really lines up well with that scripture. I'm learning even as I continue this journey, God's teaching me, opening my mind, and encouraging my heart where his word is tucked deep down inside of me. I'm really grateful for that.
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