The Passing of Wynter
About the Guest
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Jonathan Pitts was married to his wife, Wynter, for many years, as they served in ministry together. Today he remembers her unexpected passing, his love for her, and how God has continually ministered to him and his family.
The Passing of Wynter
Dave: If I could pick up a book to read—you’ll never guess this—it would be what kind of book?
Ann: The Bible. [Laughter]
Dave: Of course, I’d have to say the Bible; but another book.
Ann: I don’t know.
Dave: I’d pick up a romance love story—
Dave: —not like a woman’s love story—
Ann: You usually do like a thriller.
Dave: I like to go to thriller movies; but when I read, I want to read something tender and beautiful.
Ann: Yes; you’re getting soft in your old age.
Dave: I am, and I’ll cry and cry—
Ann: You will cry.
Dave: —when I read, but not when I tell the story. [Laughter]
Ann: 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: We talked earlier about this amazing love story with Jonathan Pitts and his wife, Wynter; and we’re going to continue that journey.
Dave: It’s a beautiful, beautiful love story.
Ann: It is. Jonathan, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Jonathan: It’s good to be with you guys.
Ann: Welcome back. We’ve loved hearing the beginning of this story.
Dave: Yes; Jonathan’s been in Nashville for a few years; in fact, it’s sort of interesting—our son sort of interviewed with you—
Dave: —Cody, a few years back, at Church of the City in Nashville. You’ve done all kinds of things there; you were in Dallas before that.
And you’ve written how many books now?
Jonathan: This is my third. I coauthored two books with Wynter: one on parenting and one on marriage. This is my first solo book, I guess you could say.
Dave: We’ve already talked about, so we don’t need to go back all the way through it, an amazing story of you and Wynter falling in love and then the sudden death of her after 15 years of marriage. You’ve got four daughters; you walked us through that a little bit previously. Take us back to—you mentioned her sudden death—but some of us are like, “How…”
Dave: She died in your arms; what happened?
Ann: Was she healthy before this?
Jonathan: Yes; Wynter was reasonably healthy. She had what’s called mitral valve prolapse. She had a heart murmur that she knew about. We would go to a cardiologist every year to check on this murmur; and they would say, “Yes, your heart doesn’t look like it’s growing—it’s the same size—you’re fine. Eventually, you’ll probably need replacement or repair; but right now, you’re fine.”
We’d gone to the cardiologist less than a year before, and they said the same thing. She also had a blood clotting disorder called Factor V, which was basically she had thicker blood than most people. Anyway, she was healthy; and we were in the middle of a big move to Nashville from Dallas.
Ann: You said she wasn’t feeling well that day—
Jonathan: Yes, she texted me that day probably. I was finishing up my last week of work; and I was just busy, running around, getting things done. She texted me: “I feel” and sent me the sick emoji. I just replied and said, “What’s going on?” and she never responded.
I turned in the final edited manuscript of Emptied, our marriage book. I headed home, and stopped at Costco® on the way and got some ribs and Caesar salad, which I’ll never get those things from Costco again; you can imagine why. Got back to the house we were staying at; and she was sitting in the living room of that house, with my sister-in-law/her brother’s wife; and then my three youngest girls and her two girls were there; and they were all doing each other’s hair, like different girls doing each other’s hair. And they were playing some game—I still to this day don’t know what it is—they’d say: “You can be an elephant, but you can’t be a this,” or “You can be a that…”
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Jonathan: I don’t even know what that game is.
Jonathan: I don’t even remember if we talked much. We kind of walked by each other; and she said, “I’m going to lay down for a little bit”. She went and laid down, and I just prepared/prepared, a strong word for getting ribs and salad ready from Costco. [Laughter]Got plates ready, and went and knocked on the door, and said, “Hey, babe, do you want to eat dinner?” And she said, “No; I think I’m just going to lay here for a little while.” I said, “Okay.”
I went back; I just ate with the girls—my oldest daughter was not there—she was at a water park. Anyway, I went into the bedroom after I was finished eating. The girls were still sitting down, finishing up. Went to floss my teeth, so I went through the master into the bathroom and flossed my teeth. As I kind of looked out, Wynter had sat up. She was facing away from me; and then she just kind of slumped over in a way almost like—you know that feeling—when you want to lay down; you don’t feel like getting out of bed—she just like fell back over.
Bottom line: she had a cardiac reaction. To me, it looked like a seizure; so I just started doing all the things. I’m an Eagle Scout; so I’m checking her pulse and sweeping her throat, trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I ended up doing CPR on this tiny-framed 5’-nothing, 100-nothing lb. woman, who was my wife. It was just one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Called the paramedics. We were out in the middle of nowhere; so it took probably, at least 15 minutes; it felt like a half hour for them to get there.
So by the time they got there, I’m thinking, as an Eagle Scout that’s been trained, you can only go so long without oxygen getting to your brain. I’m praying for a miracle on one side of my mind; and on the other side, I’m just preparing for: “What do I do if I lose my wife?” The whole time, I’m telling Wynter, like, “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave. Stay with me. Stay with me.”
We followed the ambulance to the emergency room. I’m still praying; texting my mom/texting a couple of people, asking them to pray.
Ann: Were you scared, at that point, that you might lose her?
Jonathan: I don’t even know if fear is the right word. I was aware that I might lose her. And whatever state I was in, it was heightened; but I wouldn’t call it fear. I wouldn’t call it peace. Whatever it was—
Ann: Probably shock.
Jonathan: —yes, maybe shock. It was heightened awareness that I’m either going to lose her or God’s going to perform a crazy miracle. Either way, there is going to be some massive story here. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I just was being really practical, which made me feel lacking in faith; and then trying to press into my faith and feeling shame for doubt. It was like both things happening at the same time. And what’s really beautiful is seeing God’s faithfulness in the shadow of grief.
One of the families I texted—really beautiful family—Greg and Val Gorman. [Emotion in voice] Val is a General Surgeon at the hospital they took us to. Really beautiful friends of ours—good friends at that point—still good friends of mine. Anyway, I texted Greg and Val and said, “Wynter’s not breathing.” Greg actually said Val was either there or on her way, so I wouldn’t see her when I got there; but Greg would literally come and just embrace me and just tell me that God’s got me.
And then Val—I would find this out later through a post that Alena posted on Instagram®—that Val would walk up to her, and grab her by her face, and say, “You serve a big God—a big, big God—don’t you ever forget it.” Here is the General Surgeon of the hospital, walking up to my daughter, who she knows intimately, reminding her of the faithfulness of God. How do I not see God’s faithfulness in that, you know?
A few minutes later—I don’t know if it was a doctor or some kind of attendant, still to this day—walked out, said, “Hey,”—probably a doctor—“We had a pulse, but we don’t have a pulse any longer. You may want to come say goodbye to your wife.”
Dave: So it was just you alone.
Jonathan: Yes; I knelt down beside her and I just said, “I want you to know I’m going to take care of the girls. You don’t have to worry about our girls. I’ll take care of them.” And then I just began to sing that song. It’s actually funny; I thought, “I, now, know him.”
Dave: Great Are You Lord; right?
Jonathan: —yes, David Leonard, who wrote that song, is now a friend of mine; lives in Franklin, and has a studio less than a mile from my house—just singing that to Wynter in the hospital.
I think what I was doing in that moment was reminding her of where she was going; I was reminding myself of the truth. I’ll always believed that: “My breath is God’s; her breath is God’s. He gives it; He takes it. We can trust Him in it.”
What’s hard for me is that it was really traumatic; but what’s beautiful is that, for Wynter, it was probably the most peaceful entrance into the kingdom of God that you could really experience. She really passed away in her sleep; it wasn’t painful.
Dave: Yes; it’s amazing. As we mentioned, we’re talking to Jonathan Pitts, about this book, My Wynter Season: Seeing God’s Faithfulness in the Shadow of Grief. All we’ve heard so far is: “God’s faithfulness,” “God’s faithfulness,” “God’s faithfulness in the middle of this darkness.” So many times, when we go through darkness, we don’t see that. It isn’t that He isn’t faithful; it’s that we don’t have eyes to see. And He kept, over and over, revealing Himself to you in the middle of this thing.
I remember reading the story of the devotional you picked up that morning; and then it hit you, later, about having an exit strategy—another one—right?
Jonathan: Yes; I woke up that morning, and I went to the bathroom before taking a run. I was just trying to wake myself up. What we often do is pull our phones out to kind of wake ourselves up; and there was a subject line that said: “Do you have an exit strategy?”
I thought it was about leadership transitions—I’m in non-profit leadership and dealing with pastors—in my mind, it was an article about that; so I just left it on my phone and went about my day. That evening after—I’ll never forget going into the lobby of the hospital and not knowing what to do with myself—I’m in the waiting room. I think we’re waiting for the funeral home that we had selected to show up, and maybe the county person responsible for marking death. I’m waiting for all that stuff to happen, and so I just sat down with my phone.
I had other people, who had my girls at that point—other aunts—there were so many women in my girls’ lives at that point, which was her cousin Priscilla; her cousin Chrystal; her cousin-in-law Koneke, Jonathan Evans’ wife; and then my sister-in-law Andrea—all these women surrounding my girls, who have surrounded my girls since then—which in moments, where I didn’t know what to do, have been able to relieve me of my responsibility, even if just for a moment.
I sat down to scroll through my phone, and I pull up what I think is an article. I open it up; it’s literally Randy Frazee, who is a pastor; and it’s actually Bible Gateway devotional. Randy is telling the story of going water skiing for the first time. He says he’s younger, and he finally figures out how to get up on his skis on this lake. He realizes, once he starts getting tired, “I don’t know how to get down.” His friends are yelling in the back of the boat, “Just let go of the rope,” “Just let go of the rope.” And he’s afraid, because he thinks he’s going to crash—
Jonathan: —and break into a million pieces. And finally, he works up the courage to let go of the rope. He just basically/for anybody who’s gone water skiing, they know that you just slowly glide under the water: skis first, then your feet, and then your legs slowly glide under.
He used that as an illustration for the believer in Jesus of what it’s like to die and what it’s like to enter eternity. And I’m telling you—like that day, in my inbox, God dropped a devotional for what it looks like for someone to enter eternity, who loves Jesus—I got to thank him, and that story is in the book as well. It’s a reminder to me that God’s timing is perfect. He knew that I would need that message. I ended up reading that devotional to all of our family at my brother-in-law’s house around 1 in the morning that night, saying, “This is what God’s given me. I think He wants everyone to hear it”; and I read it.
Ann: Talk about your girls, too, of how you saw God’s faithfulness caring for them and watching over them.
Jonathan: It’s funny; because I was this Type A pastor, who is like, “I’m going on to Nashville. I’m going to pastor. We’re going to be okay.”
Ann: Are you kind of a planning, control guy?
Jonathan: I was going to call myself an idiot, but planning/control would be good too. [Laughter]
Dave: That sounds better. [Laughter]
Jonathan: So we get to Nashville, and my church surrounded us really beautifully. I mean, even the fact that we were—I’ll just tell you this really quick—I also got a call from my, now, boss, Darren Whitehead. Darren said, “If you guys decide to stay in Dallas, we’ll pack your house up; we’ll sell your house; we’ll figure it out.” But he said, “But if you come, you’ll find a family ready to adopt you.” And Church of the City has adopted us.
Dave: Did you think, “Let’s not go”? I mean, did that come into your mind?
Jonathan: I thought, “I need to be a good leader. I need to do what is best for my girls. I can keep my job with Tony Evans.” I wasn’t leaving because I had to.
Jonathan: All of our family is there; like, “Why would I leave this?” Ultimately now, I can look back at it and know: “I don’t think I’d know who I am in my own identity had we not left”; because I’d become like an Evans in a way. I still am; they are a beautiful family. They are my best friends; Dr. Evans is my spiritual dad. I see them all the time.
But I think God wanted me to find myself again and to allow my family to have our identity. I think, if we were in Dallas, it would have been hard to do that. I’m sure it would happen, but it would have been hard to do that. We entered this church, where these people just want to love on us. In Nashville, everybody and their mother was doing everything for us. I couldn’t take credit for it, nor could I ever pay it back, by the way.
Anyway, we found ourselves there with a lot of support. I’m thinking, “I’m going to make this. I can do this.” School hadn’t started yet. Wynter died on July 24; we buried her on 29th I think. And then school started on the 14th. So these couple weeks, where I’m in Nashville by myself; but I’m not working yet, and they are not in school.
One night, I’m cooking a chicken and I just burned this chicken that I’m roasting. And I’m not a bad cook, but I burned this chicken; and I was just frustrated. I remember going upstairs; and I called my sister, Carmen. The reason I called Carmen is because, the day of Wynter’s funeral, Carmen had come to me at the end, at the dinner after the funeral, and said, “Hey, the Lord told me, if you need me, I’m supposed to come to Nashville; so do you want me to come?” I was like, “We’re good, Carmen; don’t worry about it. I’m okay. We’re going to make it. We’re fine.”
Ann: But that burnt chicken—[Laughter]
Jonathan: Yes; I called Carmen, in tears, and was like, “Is that offer still on the table?” Labor Day weekend, Carmen came to Nashville with three suitcases, had sold her car, and moved in with me. She was single—never been married—praying for family.
Ann: You described her as Mary Poppins. [Laughter]
Jonathan: Yes; Mary Poppins; she is an amazing Mary Poppins. She came in—and the woman that my girls used to call Aunt Cee Cee—they now, affectionately, call Cee Cee. And she became a part of our family—a surrogate mom to the girls—and has been/seeing God’s faithfulness in the shadow of grief. Carmen has a Master’s degree in counseling. All she’s ever done is work in the mental health space; that’s what she’s done!
And I needed the mental health space stuff more than my girls did. She’s just walked with me and walked with my girls and been a beautiful part of our family—a godsend—a new definition of what it looks like to be in singles’ ministry: selfless and caring.
Dave: And she is still there.
Jonathan: Yes, she’s with us now; she’s with my girls. I’ve got one girl, here in the studio with me; and—
Dave: And she’s back there, watching right now; she’s waving.
Jonathan: Yes, she’s back there. I can’t see her; she’s behind me.
It’s been a really beautiful season of recovery for us, and mission for her/for my sister. My prayer is that my sister gets married/she makes a beeline from me to whoever God gives her. Ultimately, she’s been with us—and she’s been a faithful friend/a faithful sister—and a faithful sister in Christ to me and my girls.
Dave: That’s just beautiful.
Ann: I just want to cry; I am crying!
Jonathan: I try not to.
Dave: I want to talk about the future, because your sister is not going to be living with you in the near future.
Dave: What is on the horizon?
Jonathan: My 40th birthday was in March of 2020. I had this Pebble Beach trip planned to go play golf in Pebble Beach. I had another trip to Florida to play golf. I’m like, “I’m celebrating! I’ve gone through a lot; I’m celebrating.” And COVID cancelled my birthday. Interestingly enough, it was beautiful. That night, my girls made me a red velvet cake and a key lime pie—but the pictures—I look so depressed. I just lost Pebble Beach, you know. [Laughter]
But I had a friend of mine—a guy I’d recently met about a year before then—reach out to me and say, “Hey, are you dating again?” I’m like, “No; not really. I’m kind of dating golf. I’m loving my singlehood; maybe I’ll just do this the rest of my life.” [Laughter]
Dave: Golf is not a good date unless you’re good; you know? [Laughter]
Jonathan: Well, I was getting better at that point.
Dave: Okay; good. [Laughter]
Jonathan: Anyway, he asked me that. I said, “You know, if God has something for me, then great; but I’m not out searching. I’m just taking care of my girls.” And he said, “Well, I’ve got a friend; she is 40. She’s single; she loves Jesus. Then he showed me a picture of her. I’m like, “What would that 40-year-old, single, beautiful, Jesus-lover want with a widowed dad of four/pastor in Nashville?”
And he said, “What you think is a liability is an asset,” and kind of rebuked me. Long story short: 41 days after my 40th birthday, I did a Zoom call with this girl. My story is big; her story is big—both big Jesus stories—and we just connected over our stories. Basically, God stopped the world so I could meet—her name is Peta—meet Peta.
Ann: That’s what happened?
Dave: Is that why God did this? Is the pandemic/it’s all about you; huh? [Laughter]
Jonathan: Sorry, guys; sorry for the rest of you!
I don’t mean to make light of/obviously, of the loss and all of that; but in a way, she was without work based on COVID, and God allowed us to spend crazy amounts of time together through a bunch of other stories, including one of her best friends, who had randomly moved to Nashville, inviting her to come watch their girls for a couple of weeks. It ended up being a seven-week period, where she lived .9 miles from me. That’s how close her friends, who’d moved from LA, were to my house: .9 miles. It’s been about a year now of just a beautiful change in my life.
I’m a guy—when I met Wynter—I just knew in my gut that she was my girl. It’s the same thing with where I’m at right now. I just know, in my gut, that this is the woman that God has for me.
Dave: Did you ever wonder: “Can I love again?”
Jonathan: I did. What’s funny is that I knew I would get married again; but the real pigheaded arrogant guy that I am, was thinking, “Whoever I have next will be…” “They’ll support me,” “They’ll support me in my ministry,” “They’ll support me with my girls.” I was thinking more like a helper.
Ann: “It won’t be the same,” you thought.
Jonathan: What’s crazy is our first real in-person date, which was in San Luis Obispo, during the beginning of COVID. My Pebble Beach trip was cancelled; but my flights were still going out there. She lived in LA; so we, literally, met up in the middle—three hours and fifteen minutes from where my sister lived, where we were at—and where she lived in LA. We met in San Luis Obispo and ended up having an opportunity to pray for my friends, who I was staying with, whose daughter was struggling with her emotional health in a real serious way.
And she and I partnered in prayer on our first date. I thought to myself, for the first time, “What if God could give me a life partner again?”—like you guys—like my ministry was with my wife: we wrote together; we did ministry together; we spoke together.
Jonathan: And it was really beautiful.
In my mind, that couldn’t happen again. And here we are, finding ourselves praying for this family in a really deep, dark place for them. I go, “What if God could do that?” Now, the Scripture that comes to mind for me, and has come to light in multiple places is: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind can conceive what God has planned for those who love Him.”
It’s a big/look, the journey I’m about to start on is a different journey than the one I’ve been on. It’s all together different. It’s all together requiring as much faith as that one in a different kind of way. I’m really excited for what God has. We’ll get married this fall, and I’m really excited about that.
Dave: How do the girls feel about it?
Jonathan: It’s a hard journey to walk; because again, every part of newness for you means a reminder of what you’ve lost. There’s a grief process in that/a pretty heavy one. It’s been a difficult journey, and a beautiful one; because honestly, anything worth having is going to be difficult. It’s actually really beautiful now.
I was talking to her, as I was driving over from Nashville; and she was on a call with my oldest girl, just having like a beautiful talk. They’ve all built different relationships. It’s a whole/you know, I’ve done family one way; and now, I’m entering into—she doesn’t have children—but somewhat of a blended family. I’m going to have to trust God with that, and learn a whole new different role that I’ve never known before; and so is she, and so are my girls. It’s a whole new journey.
Ann: “I’ve seen God faithfulness.”
Jonathan: “I’ve seen God’s faithfulness.”
Ann: We’re all inspired by hearing how God has been there in the midst of your pain and suffering. Like it’s obvious He’s there. But talk to the listener, [who] feels like, “I haven’t seen that. How do I see God’s faithfulness in the midst of my pain?”
Jonathan: I mean, I would start by saying, “You have to be looking for it, which is work. Maybe God will show you miraculously, and you won’t have to work at all; but I have to work in my life. God gave me some really beautiful things to see really clearly; but most of the time, it’s work to see His faithfulness. That’s why it’s called faith.”
There’s a book I read by Leighton Ford called The Attentive Life. It’s basically on the discipline of paying attention to what God is doing. It’s a really beautiful book. I read that, actually, at the beginning of COVID. It really was explaining what I was experiencing of just paying attention.
That’s really what Paul is saying; I can’t help but go back to Philippians 4—one of the hardest times in the history of the church, probably the hardest time, where persecution is running rampant—any identification with Jesus Christ could mean death, or imprisonment, or torture. And Paul is saying, “Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable, whatever is lovely, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things,” “Whatever you’ve seen from me, put in practice; and God will be with you.” He’s in prison writing this; his circumstances are terrible.
Dave: “The God of peace will be with you.”
Jonathan: “The God of peace”; yes.
His circumstances are terrible; he’s talking to a group of people, whose circumstances are terrible. But the one common thing they have is peace in Jesus. He’s reminding them, in that peace, to actually see what’s really happening. “If all you see is what you see;”—Tony Evans says—“you never see all there is to be seen.” Be attentive; open your eyes. God is always working, and He is always good.
Dave: You said, earlier, it’s a discipline to think on these things; especially, when everything around you is not those things. You have to discipline your mind to say, “I’m going to look for the faithfulness of God in the shadow of grief.”
Jonathan: Yes; and if you think that you can’t—you say, “I can’t do that,”—I would remind you that you have the mind of Christ. If you have Jesus, you have the mind of Christ. So his very mind is working in your mind, through the Holy Spirit, to help you think about those things.
Jonathan: Just submit to the Holy Spirit.
Dave: Very good word.
Ann: That is good; this has been good. Thanks for being with us today, Jonathan. It’s been inspiring.
Jonathan: It’s good; it’s always like a great reminder; because I’m really grateful for the fact that God showed me what He showed me the way He did in that season, because I need it even for where I’m going now.
Bob: The verse from Scripture that comes to mind to me, in listening to Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Jonathan Pitts today, is Colossians, Chapter 3, that says: “Set your mind on things that are above.” We need a mindset change in the midst of our grief. We need to remember that God is good, that He’s in control, that He loves us, and that He will accomplish His purposes that will ultimately be for our good.
Jonathan talks about how God has brought this home for him in the book he’s written called My Wynter Season. We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order your copy online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, Jonathan’s book is called My Wynter Season. Order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329 to order; that’s “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together with your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to talk about how we raise sons and daughters, who are spiritually resilient in the midst of all that is coming at our kids these days: “How do we help them stand strong?” We’re going to talk with Valerie Bell, Matt Markins, and Mike Handler about that. I hope you can join us for that.
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