A Wynter Memorial
Wynter was the wife of Jonathan Pitts. Today, he reflects on their love story, their last work together as a couple, and the ways that God showed him love after her passing.
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Wynter was the wife of Jonathan Pitts. Today, he reflects on their love story, their last work together as a couple, and the ways that God showed him love after her passing.
A Wynter Memorial
Dave: If you could pick any movie to go to, what genre/what kind of movie would you go to?
Ann: Okay, this is going to sound crazy—I think you already know this—but either a movie about war and warriors, which is weird for a woman; or who can pass up a great love story?
Dave: Yes; I mean it is strange—I guess not strange—but you love guy movies, where there’s a conflict.
Ann: Well, there’s a great leader and the people will follow.
Dave: That’s because you’re married to one.
Ann: That’s it!
Dave: Is that what it is? [Laughter]
Ann: That’s it; yes!
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I love a love story as much as anything I’d ever go to. Today, we’re going to enter into a love story.
Ann: Yes, a great love story. Great love stories usually have some sort of angst in them; we’re going to discover that today as well.
Dave: Yes, we have Jonathan Pitts with us today. Welcome to FamilyLife Today, Jonathan.
Jonathan: It’s good to be back with you guys.
Ann: —“back with us,” I know. You’ve been with us before.
Dave: Was it two years ago?
Jonathan: Yes, a little more than two years; it would have been February of ’19.
Dave: It was, I think, our first month or so of doing/hosting with Bob Lepine for FamilyLife Today; we were brand new. Your love story was/it’s remarkable. Now, you have a book about it called My Wynter Season. We’ll explain what Wynter means—it’s spelled a little different than you would think for the season—Seeing God’s Faithfulness in the Shadow of Grief.
I know you’re in Nashville. You’re with Church of the City there—you’ve been executive pastor there—I know you’re in a different role there now. But how many daughters; four?
Jonathan: Four girls, yes: seventeen, fourteen, twins that are eleven right now.
Dave: You’re a busy, busy guy.
Jonathan: Busy world; all-girl home—lots of estrogen—lots of fun. [Laughter]
Ann: —which is interesting/little tidbit—I know a lot of you have watched The War Room. The daughter in that movie, to Priscilla Shire, was your oldest daughter.
Jonathan: Yes, Alena Pitts played Danielle Jordan—I think her name was—
Jonathan: —if I remember correctly, yes.
Ann: She was great in that movie.
Ann: And Priscilla, your cousin—
Ann: —was incredible in it, as well.
Jonathan: Feels like a whole season ago/whole life ago.
Ann: Yes, I bet.
Jonathan: But it was an awesome time; yes.
Dave: Yes, talk about that; because we’re not here really to talk about The War Room—although we just gave it a nice plug—but My Wynter Season is spelled W-Y-N-T-E-R.
Dave: Tell us the story, because some of our listeners do not know.
Jonathan: I’ll just start by saying, in September of 2001, my Wynter season began. I met a young lady named Wynter Danielle Evans, who I’d fallen in love with in college. I remember—I’ll never forget being at a party; it was right after 9-11 happened—that was this party on my college campus just to kind of give everybody a little life back.
I would meet her on the porch at this party that neither of us had any business of being at, but we were there. I would get her number, and I’d never call her. Eventually, she’d walk up to me on campus—she’s a spunky girl—and she said, “Why haven’t you called me yet?” [Laughter] I was like, “I don’t know.” A couple of days later, I called her.
On our first date, which was Monsters, Inc., a movie—
Dave: —Monsters, Inc.; great movie!
Jonathan: —Monsters, Inc., yes—anyway, that was our first date. We’d get engaged after seven months. We’d be engaged for a year and got married two weeks after we graduated from college.
We would have our first daughter, Alena, who you were just talking about, and then our life would take us to Texas. We went to visit Wynter’s uncle, who happened to be a pastor of a church—a guy named Tony Evans, who a lot of your listeners will know—I had no idea who Tony Evans was.
Dave: You really didn’t.
Jonathan: No, I had no idea. My mom had heard him on radio before, but I didn’t know. I didn’t really realize he ran like a small village in Texas in Dallas. [Laughter]
Ann: Jonathan, talk about your faith back then. Where were you, spiritually, and Wynter too.
Jonathan: Wynter and I met each other at a place and time, where actually God would use us to grow each other up. We both grew up in Christian homes, believed in God deeply, and were just walking in a, I guess I’d say, kind of a lukewarm place. God would use each of us to draw each other back to Him and challenge each other, which we would do for the rest of our lives together.
We went to Dallas on vacation and would never come back. Wynter was a great writer; and Dr. Evans was looking for a great writer. I was in pharmaceutical sales; my company down-sized, which gave me an opportunity to think about: “What’s next?” We would move to Dallas, on a whim and a prayer, against our family’s better wishes/the rest of our family. We would end up being in Dallas for 14 years. She worked as a great writer for a couple of years there. Then she would start a ministry called For Girls Like You, a magazine for tween girls; there’s a whole long story for that.
I would end up being in ministry with the Evanses: I would be Anthony Evans’ manager for seven years; I’d run Dr. Tony Evans’ national ministry for seven years; and would spend fourteen years in the Evans’ brand of ministry, I’d call it.
Wynter was growing her ministry. We were starting to do stuff together/write together. God would just give us ministry—really our last five years of marriage; kind of giving away a little bit of the story—but our last five years of marriage would be spent doing ministry together: we’d write a parenting book together; we’d write a marriage book together.
Really, early on in 2018, it felt like God was calling us into a new season. I had an opportunity to go pastor in Nashville at Church of the City; so together, we would accept that role. Together, we would buy our home in Franklin, Tennessee, in July 10 of 2018. Then got our girls enrolled in school, and we’d go back to Dallas. It was back in Dallas for our last week there—my last week of work—that Wynter would—in her cousin, Priscilla Shire’s ministry space/guest space, where we were staying—she would breathe her last breath. She’d have a heart dysrhythmia.
This woman, who I had literally been married to, at that point, 15 years and 27 days—we were 27 days past our 15-year anniversary—would pass away in my arms as I desperately tried to save her life; the most traumatic experience of my life. Hopefully, it will always be that; and traumatic for my girls, as well.
Trying to tell the story in a preview kind of way here; but ultimately, we would continue on. We would bury Wynter in Dallas, and we would move on to Nashville. For the last three years, I will have been single dad, raising my girls, trying to get them through their grief/getting myself through mine.
I would say, at this point, we’re as healed as we’ll ever be. There’s always going to be a part of us that lived that experience: I’ve lost my first wife and my girls have lost their mom. The thing I’ve realized about grief is it never fully goes away. With each new life thing, there’s always some implication, based on where you’ve been.
Ann: I would especially think that’s true, based on your girls, as they’re getting older and they’re hitting milestones; like, “Wynter would have loved to have seen this.”
Jonathan: Yes, my oldest girl just turned 17—
Jonathan: —big milestone—probably the hardest thing about that for her is her mom not being there for that.
Ann: Take us back to that time; because when we had you a couple of years ago, you had just finished a book, with Wynter, about marriage.
Jonathan: Yes, I was actually with you guys six months after she passed away. What’s crazy is—
Dave: It was that soon?
Jonathan: Yes, the day that she passed away, it was a Tuesday of my last week of work at the Urban Alternative with Dr. Evans. The last thing I did before leaving that office was sign the final edited manuscript of our marriage book and would email that on. I forged her signature and emailed it on to our publisher. I would go home from there; she would pass away in my arms.
What I would realize is that book would actually become kind of a time capsule of our life together/our marriage together. We actually published the book six months after she passed away. For me, just a time capsule and a reminder of how good God is just to give us good things. You think about Job and “The Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord [Job 1:21].” I really have tried to have that heart posture all of this time. Turning that book in was just a reminder to me of: “God is good. He’s got plans. You don’t know what His plans are going to look like, but He’s always good.”
Ann: I love hearing that from you, because how old was Wynter?
Ann: She’s 38 with 4 young girls. I’m sure that there was a part of you that thought, “Lord, what are You doing?” Did you have that at all? How did you get through that?
Jonathan: I really didn’t have a lot of that, not because I didn’t wonder what God is doing, but I’m telling you—from the very beginning, and I don’t think He does this for everybody, but for me—that’s why the subtitle of the book is Seeing God’s Faithfulness in the Shadow of Grief—God was literally opening my eyes to things that He was doing that were just so big and so immense, in terms of His goodness, even in the middle of the hardest time of my life.
Me, even turning that book in, there was no coincidence in my mind that the day that she died I signed the final edited manuscript of that book and turned it in.
Jonathan: There was no coincidence that we were just moved out of our home/sold our home—left, literally, this life we had built together/this life that we had—to go to a new place. God was like, “I’m putting you on a new journey; it’s going to be different.” The book is really packed with story after story of me seeing how good and kind God was in the middle of the hardest season of my life.
Ann: Share some of those stories.
Jonathan: Yes, I’ll never forget the day before Wynter’s funeral—it was a Friday—and I was in/we were staying in my brother-in-law’s house. I just couldn’t go back to the house that she passed away in, so we were at my brother-in-law’s house/her brother’s house. He had just moved—even this—he had just moved to Dallas, from Baltimore, where they grew up together, two-and-a-half years before she passed and felt like the Holy Spirit told them to move to Dallas. He didn’t have a job.
Jonathan: He, literally, quits his job; and the day he goes in to quit his job, he gets told that he’s being let go and gets a severance package. [Laughter]
Jonathan: It’s like God’s drawing them to Dallas; so we get to spend a little over two years with my brother-in-law/my sister-in-law, who really was like a father to her—because her dad was a drug addict—and he was five years older. He became like a father figure to her in a way; one of my best friends and a brother to me now.
Trying to remember the story I was just telling. [Laughter] I’m at his house, and I’m just overwhelmed. All these people are in the home. It’s a hot Texas day, and I’m just feeling like I’m suffocating; so I go out of the house. Sadly, it’s 107 degrees outside; because it’s July in Texas. I get outside, and I can’t find any shade. There’s not a lot of trees in his property; so I kneel down beside a fence, just trying to get some peace.
I turn on my Spotify and the first thing playing is this little music piece called Moving On; it’s Steven Furtick talking about Jacob. It says: “Jacob buried Rachel. He set a memorial and then he moved on.”
Dave: That’s what you listened to.
Jonathan: That’s what I listened to. It’s the day before I’m going to bury Wynter. He’s basically talking about this idea of: Jacob buried Rachel, this woman he loved. He set a memorial—he didn’t forget; he marked her tomb; he marked that spot, never to forget—and then he moved on. But he moved on because he had a place to go—he had a place to get his sons—like God had a plan. He moved on, because there was purpose in his next steps.
I’m telling you, in that moment, the Holy Spirit was telling me: “You’re going to do the same thing. I’ve got a plan for you. These girls have a place to get to. You don’t know why I took Wynter. He [Jacob] didn’t know why I took Rachel. But ultimately, I’ve got a good plan, and you’re going to go to that place.”
It was like this moment of just being like—God just gave me this massive—I mean, how many stories are there like that in the Bible? And how many preachers are there that preaches on this story?
Ann: And it just happens to be on your Spotify.
Jonathan: —happens to be on my Spotify.
I would play that thing over and over again, over the next several months, and just know that God had a plan. Sadly, that plan for me started with, just like anybody else, a bunch of grief and a bunch of unknown/a bunch of darkness—all the things you walk through when you lose a loved one—especially a loved one that close.
Really, for me, it wasn’t a lot of anger; I didn’t really ever have a lot of anger. But I was gripped with fear; it was hard for me to sleep at night. Even thinking about, as a husband, you lose your wife—it’s a woman that you are protecting—and all of a sudden, you leave the hospital; you leave her body, and it’s going to go to the morgue. It’s just really/it can be really dark; that was really dark for me.
Ann: At the same time, you have four daughters.
Jonathan: —four girls, yes.
Dave: So you’ve got to take care of and like you can’t sit too long.
I do want to say this, as I hear that moment with that message: many times, when we go through really, really hard things, here’s the questions I think we have: “God, do You see? Do You know? Are You here? Do You care?” Again, for a listener that’s listening right now, who’s going through some dark valley, it’s a reminder: “Yes, He does see. He does know. He is with you. He is there.”
Jonathan: Yes, it’s almost like—instead of asking, “God, do You see?”—we should be asking ourselves, “Do we see?”
I think about Philippians 4—it’s been really impactful in my life recently—but
Philippians 4:8, Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is excellent, think about these things.” Before that, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice [Philippians 4:4”; and then he goes on to say that.
Paul’s in prison, writing to a persecuted church, telling them to see what’s true, and right, and pure, and honorable, and lovely, and excellent. He’s saying that, because he knows those things are there. He’s basically asking them to question: “Do you see what is actually there?”
Jonathan: I feel like, if nothing else, my story’s been one of God somehow helping me to see a bunch of big things. They’re actually so big I’d be an idiot not to see them, but maybe so somebody else can actually even be encouraged to look for those things; because they were really evident in my life. God’s always moving—for His children, He’s always moving; He’s always encouraging—there’s always a reality behind the reality. Dr. Evans always says, “If all you see is what you see, you’ll never see all there is to be seen,”—
Ann: That’s good.
Jonathan: —like, “How do you see beyond what you see?”
For me, God’s made it really clear and really evident, even in my loss. That’s Paul’s encouragement to us: “See what’s actually true.” The truth is Wynter passed away, which was really hard for me; but the hardest day of my life was actually the most glorious day of hers. If the only truth I see is that I lost my loved one, I’m not going to see the full truth—
Jonathan: —when in reality—“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8],”—that’s what Paul says. If that’s actually part of the reality, there’s a lot more beauty in that day than I could see if I didn’t actually see the full picture.
I’m not trying to make light of loss—because it was the hardest day of my life, hardest year of my life, hardest month of my life, hardest moment of my life, hardest parenting journey I’ve gone through so far—I’m not making light of it. I’m just saying that God is actually there in the middle of it.
Dave: Yes, it’s a passage: “We grieve but we don’t grieve without hope
[1 Thessalonians 4:13].”
Dave: As others grieve without hope, you still have hope.
What about your daughters? Were they able to see any of the kind of things you’re talking about?
Jonathan: You know, it’s funny. They’re all different; they all experience grief different from me. I think the hardest thing for me to do in my grief—as this type A, driven, Enneagram 3 pastor—is allow my girls just to be themselves.
I found out probably eight months in—I’ll tell this story, because she’s told it before/my oldest daughter—eight months in to our grieving journey; eight/nine months in—I’m walking up the stairs of my house. She’s in her bedroom. She’s a quiet girl; she’s laying on her bed. I said, “Is everything okay?” She said, “Yes.” She didn’t want to talk, so I just walked in her bedroom. I’m like, “What’s going on?”
She’s like, “I don’t really want to talk.” I just kept pressing it; kept pressing it. Eventually, she just opens up; and she says/really vulnerably, she says, “Dad, I’m having a hard time believing that God is real; and if He’s real, I’m having a hard time believing that He’s good.”
You would have thought the way that I reacted that she was trying to make a personal indictment of me; because what I did is took what she said and made that about “How good of a dad am I being that my daughter can question God’s goodness and God’s reality?” It was actually the first moment, where I realized—I didn’t really have this terminology until probably a month before, because I was in counselling, just with the grief—is I had kind of a codependent relationship with my girls, where if they’re happy, I’m happy; if they’re sad, I’m sad. I couldn’t let them be who they are, because that would impact how I feel about myself.
Dave: Right; yes.
Jonathan: I couldn’t just lead them without having to manage how they feel. As a dad, the thing I’ve had to do is just let my girls be my girls, trust that God’s got them, pray for them deeply, but also allow them to process. They’ve all processed differently.
My oldest daughter—and she’s said this as well; we’ve done a lot of interviews together, so she’s the one I feel safe talking about—but she dealt with a lot of anger/like anger I never had. She was really angry; she lost her mom, who was really kind of her best friend. Wynter was on The War Room set with her and did hair for her and Priscilla. They spent a lot of time—they wrote three books together—they traveled and toured together after all that.
Ann: She lost one of her best friends.
Jonathan: Yes; in fact, the weekend before Wynter died, they were doing a mom/daughter conference together.
Jonathan: She had a lot of anger. But what’s really beautiful for me is, a couple of weeks ago, we were doing an interview. I talk a lot about worship; like all I had was worship. In the hardest times, I just worshiped God.
The person interviewing asked, “Alena, did you worship like your dad?” She was like, “No, I couldn’t,”—but she said—“Because he did, and I watched him, I now can,” which was a massive—like I didn’t realize the impact—because in those moments—
Dave: You didn’t know in those moments.
Jonathan: No; I was afraid that I was going to lose my daughter/that my daughter was going to hate God for the rest of her life, and all these different fears that we can have, as parents.
Ultimately—there’s this quote by a psychologist; his name’s Curt Thompson—Curt says, “To the degree that a parent makes sense of their own story will be to the degree that a child can feel secure in theirs.”
In that moment—the worshipful moments I had—I worshiped; I sang. [Singing excerpt from Great Are You Lord]
Dave: I can grab a guitar.
Jonathan: [Continuing to sing Great Are You Lord] I can’t sing.
Ann: No, that’s really good.
Jonathan and Dave: [Continuing to sing Great Are You Lord]
Jonathan: I sang that in her [Wynter’s] ear—
Dave: —as she’s—
Jonathan: —yes, in the emergency room. They basically said, “We had a pulse; we don’t have it. You should come say, ‘Good-bye.’” I sang that in her ear.
We sang Good, Good Father as I told my girls about the fact that their mom went home to be with Jesus. That night, at my brother-in-law’s house, we sang a bunch of songs. I didn’t know what to say, so we just worshiped. That’s, literally, all I’ve had. In the hardest moments of my life, I’ve had worship.
For me—finding out later that me owning my story–what that looked like was me just worshiping God when I didn’t understand. That’s what Job did.
Jonathan: I’m not comparing myself to Job; but the reality is: “God gives; God takes away [Job 1:21].” We don’t understand when He gives; we don’t understand when He takes away—but we better worship Him in both—because He’s the author of both of those things.
We’ve worshiped. I’m just really grateful that—I didn’t know it then—but that did make a difference in my daughter’s life. She can worship now in the joy that she’s finding—that even, at times, she feels guilty for finding—as a daughter, who’s having to move into a new season of life.
But they’ve all grieved really differently; they all grieve differently still. Even on, whether it be birthdays or holidays, you just don’t know what to expect. What I’ve decided now is: “Whatever it is, I’m just going to sit in it with them.” That’s really compassion—you just sit with somebody else in their pain—and they’ve sat with me in mine.
Dave: It is interesting—isn’t it?—to think about what you just shared. I think we can miss this. If somebody is struggling—maybe it’s your daughter or somebody—and they’re struggling with the goodness of God, we often think, “I need to teach theology. I need to show them Scripture. I need to make a case that He is still good; here it is…”
Yet, what hit your daughter was her dad worshiping the God she wasn’t sure was good. Again, I can talk about the power of worship. There’s something beyond the spoken word—it’s emotive; it’s the feelings are involved; maybe the body’s—I mean, I know that when Ann’s sister died, we talked about this recently, we would just worship at church and just bawl. You feel!
That’s amazing that your daughter’s watching that—and that’s what she points to—to say, “This is what brought me back, watching Dad worship.”
Ann: Yet, Dave, I was thinking, so often, especially as our kids get older, we want to have all the right words; we want to have all the right theology; we want to have all the bright discussions. Sometimes all it takes is us living it—
Ann: —and them watching us love God, love others, and worship. I asked one of our kids one time, “Do you remember anything I taught you biblically?”
He goes, “Not really,” which was so depressing to me. [Laughter] But he goes, “But what I do remember is I remember watching you cry and have your hands lifted up in worship. I remember watching you on your knees, on the deck, worshiping.” He goes, “Those are the things I remember.” He said, “I remember”—it makes me cry; he said—“I remember thinking, ‘Whatever she has, I want that.’”
Jonathan: Wow; wow; yes.
Ann: That’s what I’m imagining with your girls: “Whatever you have, Dad, it’s getting you through. We want that.”
Jonathan: It’s, literally, all I had; it’s all we ever have.
Ann: It’s all we ever have.
Jonathan: It’s/you know, worship—I heard Dr. Evans/I was listening to him last night—define worship as basically just acknowledging and celebrating who God is—
Jonathan: —even when we don’t understand.
Dave: It isn’t always even singing. But I would just say to the listener, who’s struggling right now, “Worship God.”
Dave: If you can’t even sing out the words, or speak them, listen to it. Just shut out the world, put on a worship tape—whatever—and just say, “God, I’m going to worship You, even when it’s really hard,” because it changes something in us. It might be the greatest action step.
Ann: It allowed Jonathan, as you were saying earlier, to look for God. You saw Him.
Ann: We can really be looking for God, even in our hardest moments.
Bob: I think about the response of Job in the middle of his trials and his tragedies. He was the one who turned and said ultimately, “Blessed be the name of the Lord
[Job 1:21].” Even in the midst of the grief and the sorrow, he did what Dave Wilson was talking about there; he praised God.
We’ve been hearing today from Jonathan Pitts describing the season that God has brought him through, and is still bringing him through, the season after the loss of his wife, Wynter. In fact, Jonathan calls this his Wynter season; and it’s a reflection on going through a season of loss and of grief.
We’ve got Jonathan’s book available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You may know someone, who is in a similar season. Jonathan’s book would be a help/would be an encouragement. You may want to get it and give it as a gift/share it with them. We’ve got copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Order it from us online on FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, the book by Jonathan Pitts is called My Wynter Season. You can order it from us at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329 to order; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
I know it would not be surprising for many of you to know that a program, like the one we’ve listened to today, God uses these programs in remarkable ways in people’s lives. We often hear from people, who will write to us and say, “That’s just what I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it.”
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In fact, if you’re a regular listener, and you’ve not made a donation in a while or maybe you’ve never donated to support FamilyLife Today, when you make a donation today, we’d like to send you a couple of books that we talked about already this week. Matt and Lisa Jacobson have written books on ways that we can express love to our children: 100 Ways to Love Our Sons and 100 Ways to Love Our Daughters. We’ll send you their books as our way of saying, “Thank you for your partnership with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.” You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. We look forward to hearing from you.
We also hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear, among other things, how Jonathan Pitts’ church came around him and helped him during his—what he calls his Wynter season—when his wife passed away. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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