NASHVILLE — For Mattie Jackson Selecman, September 2018 will be a month forever etched in her memory.
It was a beautiful day in Florida, and Selecman and her husband of less than a year, Ben, had gathered with family and friends to celebrate Labor Day. What started as a fun-filled holiday turned tragic when Ben slipped and fell on a dock, suffering traumatic head injuries.
“He spent 12 days in the ICU, and it was a really chaotic couple of weeks, wondering what was going to happen while Ben went through brain swelling and multiple surgeries,” Selecman recalled in an interview with The Christian Post.
Just three weeks before their first anniversary, Ben died at age 28.
“To say that it was a shock feels like a massive understatement,” Selecman, now 31, said. “My marriage was taken so unexpectedly and suddenly. I was so young, just 28. To be honest, it was very clear to me very soon after his passing that this was not something that I was going to have the strength to handle by myself in a healthy way.”
The daughter of legendary country music star Alan Jackson and his wife, New York Times bestselling author Denise Jackson, Selecman grew up in the Church and attended Christian schools as a child, embracing a relationship with Jesus at a young age.
“I never didn’t believe," she shared. "I always knew Christ my Savior; my faith impacted my whole world and worldview, and I’m incredibly grateful for that."
"But," she added, "it’s easy to have faith until you face something like this. What happens when everything is out of your control and there’s nothing you can do? You have to choose — will I trust God in this, or will I not?”
“When something this severe happens, when tragedy happens, you really can't stay lukewarm,” Selecman emphasized. “People, I think, are either so angry with God that they turn away, whether permanently or temporarily, or they just dive all in.”
Trying to make sense of her pain, Selecman dove all in: “I don't know how else to describe it, but especially in the beginning, I just craved God’s presence. I craved the Word of God. I craved praise music," she recalled. "I just wanted assurance that He was truly with me, every moment, and that the future that was so uncertain was in His hands. The scariest thing to think about was that my healing and my future were in my own hands because that was totally impossible.”
For the next several months, Selecman spent time journaling, in counseling and immersing herself in God’s Word — and felt His presence like never before.
“He is so tender and so personal. He would send me tiny assurances that Ben was OK; that he was joyful and in Heaven, and in such a place of elation,” she said. “He was so incredibly tender; I started to feel like I was truly learning His heart. We became the kind of friends I think Jesus always wanted me to be with Him. It took being so desperate to find Him in all those tiny, tender places.”
About a year-and-a-half after her husband’s death, Selecman felt God calling her back to her journals, written from a place of what she describes as “just raw emotion," adding: "There was no motivation besides survival and trying to understand what was a very, very chaotic sort of traumatic feeling.”
While reading her journals, she felt God calling her to turn them into a book — something that could bring healing and hope to others going through grief and pain.
“God kept opening door after door, and it became clear that He wanted me to share this,” she said. “I started to look at, how can we get this into a format that's really honest about my story and honest about who God is, and hopefully serve as an inspiration to others and give some practical and spiritual takeaways for people who've experienced loss and just let them see a little hope in my story as I found it.”
Now, Selecmam is documenting her journey of grief, healing and God’s faithfulness in her new book,Lemons on Friday: Trusting God Through My Greatest Heartbreak. She tackles questions relevant to anyone struggling with loss, including: How did I get here? Will this always hurt? Who am I now? How do I move forward?
“How do you grieve something like this?” she said. “If you’re mad at Him, be honest with Him, express that. If you don’t, you aren’t going to heal. I had plenty of angry moments, and I had to be honest about them and it was so freeing. But, what is being angry with Him going to get you in the end? It's just going to turn you bitter toward Him. And man, that's a dangerous place to be.”
“God hates death; this isn't the way He designed it,” Selecman added. “I just always say if you're mad at God, look at the Jesus part of the Trinity, because Jesus wept at His friend's death. He could have stopped it in the same way God could’ve stopped Ben’s. Just because He allows something doesn't mean He likes it for us.”
Throughout the grieving process, Selecman said two verses gave her tremendous hope: Lamentations 3:22-23 — “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” — and Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
But knowing that Ben is in Heaven — and that she will one day see him again — is what allows her to have unfaltering faith and hope amid her grief.
“I sat in the front row of my husband's funeral and burial knowing that Jesus is the only thing that matters, knowing that Ben is with Him, knowing that Ben is elated for eternity in a way that I can't understand,” she said. “On my darkest days, the most powerful truth remind myself of is that the man I love more than anything got to go early. He won the lottery. That has helped me deal with all of the sorrow and all the aftermath that it leaves for me. I know where I’m headed, and I know Ben is already there.”
Though dealing with a tough subject, Selecman wants her story to be one of hope; one that will bring comfort to others dealing with grief. She shared how already, she’s had the opportunity to bring encouragement to those grieving through her nonprofit NaSHEville, which helps orphans, human trafficking victims and widows.
Ben, she said, was an “abundant and joyful” person who celebrated every moment — and she hopes to carry on his legacy by living a life of service to those around her.
“It doesn’t take a miraculous or remarkable life on paper to really love your life and love the people in it,” she reflected. "Ben did that so well. And it’s truthfully turned my focus more toward my relationships than what I want to accomplish because that's what life is all about.”
“I hope that when people sit where I sat three years ago, no matter what they’re facing, no matter what question marks are ahead, there is always light. You are never fully going to stay in the darkness,” Selecman added. “God doesn't ask much of us. He asked us to take small steps. And He asks us to ask Him what we need. He is faithful; there’s nothing that you can't survive with Jesus there.”
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org