Last week, I had the privilege of sitting down with Mattie Jackson Selecman on the WTG podcast and I could not be more excited to share that conversation with you today! As many of you might know, Mattie is the daughter of Alan Jackson. She wrote the book “Lemons on Friday” and it is an incredible story of the way God has moved in her life. A few questions the book answers are “how did I get here?”, “will this always hurt?”, “who am I now?” and “how do I move forward?” and some of you may be asking similar questions in your life right now. So, let’s dive into the conversation with Mattie. I truly believe it’s going to meet you where you’re at.
We kicked off this episode with the question of the podcast: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Mattie said, the piece of advice that has stuck with her most through the years came to her when she graduated college. She studied creative writing at the University of Tennessee and had always wanted to be a writer. Her dad wrote songs and her mom was an author herself. So, naturally, Mattie gravitated toward writing. Once she graduated, her dad said to her, “Sugar, I think you have this gift, but you need to live your life and you’ll end up writing about your life itself.” At that point, she didn’t understand what he meant. She also felt like all the jobs she had been working in her twenties were just wasting her time. “Lemons on Friday” is not the story Mattie hoped to be her first to write about. But she remembers thinking back on her dad’s advice and how he was right. There’s so much in his advice that anyone can learn from, especially people early in life or transitioning into a new season.
Mattie is such a goal oriented and to-do list person, and the advice that her dad offered gave her permission to not know exactly what lies ahead. It encouraged her to follow the way God was leading her heart and work hard where she is knowing that God will weave the pieces together. She realized that not having a plan is sometimes okay.
I love that mentality. So many people have the mindset of believing God will eventually do something, so they sit back and don’t do anything in the waiting process. But we need to get up and work while we wait. Because normally it’s what you’re working on while you wait that’s preparing you for what’s to come. That’s exactly what was happening in Mattie’s story. It’s really cool to note that Mattie was passionate about and extremely gifted in writing. A lot of people end up having these crazy experiences they end up writing about in a book, and the writing might not be just amazing, but it’s a great story. But Mattie’s is unique because her story is very powerful and her writing is incredibly powerful. That’s why I think this book is a great read.
With that being said, I asked Mattie a bit about her life and the journey to where she’s at now. She began by mentioning that she grew up in Nashville in the country music environment, as her dad was heavily involved in it. Looking back at how her dad managed his career put a little seed in Mattie’s heart that she wanted to do something different. She always had a dream of being creative, which doesn’t always offer a ton of job opportunities after college. Even though she had a writing degree, she still needed a job that would pay the bills. So, at 22 years old, she started working in restaurants. Well, by way of that experience, she got a lot of exposure to wine and fell in love with it. Her parents didn’t really drink wine growing up, but Mattie loved that the world of wine wrapped up all things food, culture, and so forth. Her twenties were spent in the food and wine industry. She studied and got certifications in it, worked for an importer, and began doing all the things that she was passionate about.
As a result, she ended up moving back to Nashville and opening a restaurant there. In the process of getting her restaurant up and running, she met her husband, Ben, and fell in love quickly. They eventually got married and a couple weeks prior to their first anniversary, something tragic happened.
Mattie began to share about that time in her life and how it resulted in Mattie writing “Lemons on Friday.” The Labor Day weekend of the year following their wedding, they’d taken a trip to Florida with some friends. When getting on the boat, Ben slipped and hit his head on the concrete dock. Mattie rushed over to make sure everything was okay, but wasn’t too worried at that point. She figured at the most, he might have had a concussion. Thankfully, some EMTs were nearby and after checking him out, told Mattie to take Ben to the emergency room. Ben was in the hospital for 12 days, having multiple brain surgeries, all while being in a medically induced coma. The 12th day, Mattie received a phone call informing her that Ben’s heart was failing, and that she’d need to say her goodbye to him. This was three weeks before their first anniversary.
I’m so thankful that Mattie chose to share her story, because I know there are plenty of people who can relate. Many of you reading this now can probably relate. I asked Mattie how she got through all the “why” questions and coped with the fact that sometimes life plays out differently than how we’d like it to. She responded with some timely wisdom. She began by reminding us that although life is not guaranteed, when instances like death do occur, it’s common for us to have huge questions of faith. This is what “Lemons on Friday” is all about. Mattie said she’d never experienced a tragedy prior to Ben’s death. She had no idea how to manage grief or even what it would feel like. All she knew to do at that point was be honest about the questions she had for God. So, she wrote them down in a journal.
Her biggest question was, “How do I accept that God is good and sovereign, but He didn’t choose to intervene for me?” Mattie had to come to the realization that God didn’t cause Ben’s death to happen. He didn’t long for Mattie to suffer. But if she believed in a God who is good and sovereign, she had to accept that He allowed it.
Mattie said that after all her questions, she felt God ask her, “If I gave you all the answers, what would it change?” She realized that it wouldn’t change her circumstances. At that point, she had to choose trust over understanding.
I love how Mattie took the time to actually wrestle with God. I think so many people are a bit falsely naïve to things and don’t want to talk about the bad. But you also have to understand and acknowledge that bad things do happen, all while seeing God even in the midst of the bad.
Mattie began to dive into everything she dealt with after the funeral. The last thing Mattie wanted to do was put a scripture band-aid on something that is a gaping wound. She believes that the only way to get through tragedy and grief is to hold onto God’s promises in one hand and in the other hand be honest about how broken you are. If you look at people in scripture, they don’t sugarcoat their circumstances. We cheapen our faith when we don’t invite God in the really hard parts. He wants to be our joy. She encourages us to rest in the fact that difficult seasons strengthen our faith often more than easy seasons do. She reminds us that our doubt doesn’t necessarily undermine our faith. Often, it enriches it.
I asked Mattie to share about hers and Ben’s first anniversary. She said that one of the biggest things she learned throughout this process is that God is so personal. As she was approaching their anniversary, she was flooded with anxiety and grief. Even though she knew it would be brutal, she knew that Ben would want her to be celebrating. So, she planned a small get together with his and her family, but woke up the day of and had no desire to celebrate. As she sat at home that morning, she opened a gift from Ben which he’d planned months in advance for their anniversary. The gift was a bouquet of paper roses made of hymnal pages. Mattie was so comforted in that moment by the fact that God knew she would need Ben’s gift. She saw this as reassurance that God is in the midst of difficult moments.
This reminds me of a verse in Isaiah:
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
Most people get real flowers on their anniversary, but God in his kindness gave Mattie flowers that would last forever.
I then asked Mattie to share her thoughts on how to love people well in their heartbreak. I remember when my great grandfather died, I started avoiding my great grandmother because I didn’t know what to say or how to act. But all she wanted was for me to show up. Mattie began to share how her community comforted her during her time of grief. She reminded us that different people need different things. For her, she never wanted to be alone. She said in that time, the words didn’t even matter, just their presence. There were moments she wanted to get lost in listening to someone else’s life because that felt like a bit of normalcy. There were also moments where she just wanted to cry about Ben or tell a funny story and laugh. Her friends were very understanding of this and accommodating.
I loved this advice that Mattie gave. “Just ask.” So many times, we think we need to have all the answers. But a lot of times, asking a question is the best way to go.
Next, I was extremely excited to ask Mattie about a God dream she had during this season. Mattie said that after Ben’s death, many people would call her and tell her about a dream they’d had about Ben. The message of each dream was always that Ben was at home with the Lord. So, she began to pray and ask God for one of these dreams herself. Three months after Ben died, she woke up, threw on a flannel, and immediately wrote down the dream she’d just had. The dream was basically a trip to Heaven. In the dream, Ben was standing near a bunch of shops while talking to friends. Then Ben’s dad ran up and gave him a hug while making conversation. Once Ben saw Mattie, he ran over and brought her shopping with him. He picked out a flannel just like one he had in real life and put it on. Mattie and Ben kept walking and saw a pack of little yellow labs, just like the one they’d gotten a few months before. It’s like Ben was showing Mattie where their life together on Earth and Ben’s life in heaven were intersecting.
In the dream, Ben told Mattie, “I have to go, but you will be okay.” And as he walked away, Mattie saw lots of lashes on his back. She immediately asked him what had happened, and he responded with, “Mattie, it is the coolest story, but you already know it.” In the hospital, Mattie had seen holes all in Ben’s hands from the IVs, markings on his feet, and it looked like he had a crown of thorns on his head because he’d had staples. She remembered looking down and feeling like that was how God saw him, with every scar. He was covered by Christ. Mattie felt as if her dream was confirmation from God that what she saw was true. She realized that the only part of Ben she didn’t see in the hospital was his back. So, when he walked away in the dream, she knew that he had those scars too. It gave her permission to let him go. I love everything about Mattie’s dream. God literally gave her an image of Christ when Ben was laying in the hospital bed.
Mattie then directly encouraged the people who are currently walking through grief. She reminded us that if we ever feel like God is silent, know that He never is. She also encourages us to keep asking for what our heart needs. He wants to give us good things.
Everything was a trigger for Mattie at the beginning. If you’re experiencing grief currently, you may feel the same way. Mattie’s encouragement is to write these things down and try to figure out how to feel the sadness and let it out. With time and faith, these wounds won’t cut as deeply as they might now. When you take the time to respect how painful these things are, they will actually help in your healing. I heard a sermon recently that talked about how Jesus fully felt every emotion and still remained in relationship with the Father. This is confirmation that it’s okay to feel emotions, even if those emotions are sadness and anger. These emotions don’t make you weak, they’re actually a part of making you strong.
Mattie’s book, “Lemons on Friday” is so inspiring and I highly encourage you to give it a read!