Dawnchere: I'm so grateful to have our friend Kayla Stoecklein here. Can we put our hands together one more time for Kayla? Thank you for taking the time to be with us. Thank you for being open to sharing your story. What you're walking through today. You have such a beautiful story of redemption and hope, even in the midst of walking through tragedy. And your story -- I'm always amazed any time you post, any time you share, because there's so much hope and it's real. It's not just words. You're walking in such an authentic, open way. And I'm grateful for that. But tonight, we're just going to have a conversation, a conversation [where] Kayla's going to share her story. I think it's going to speak to your heart. And I think that really for us, we just want to get to know you tonight and to hear your story. Tell us a little bit. Let's go back to the beginning. Tell us a little bit about you meeting Andrew, about your relationship, falling in love, meeting, getting married, starting a family. Tell us a little bit about that. Kayla: So Drew and I met at Vanguard University in Southern California, where we're from. It was my sophomore year of college. His senior year. We fell in love -- [cuts out] Is it OK? Yeah. Can you guys hear me OK? This happened last time. So we fell in love super fast. We were kissing in the rain after a Coldplay concert by the third day, like we knew it was "ring by spring," like it was done. So we dated for a year, got engaged, engaged for a year, got married. And it was fantastic. He reached out through Facebook. You guys remember Facebook? That used to be a thing. Now it's Instagram. Dawnchere: I was all about it. Kayla: He was super hot. He was on a fixed gear bike, flexing its muscles, tattoos. He was a good looking guy. He was special. Dawnchere: It happened. This is the second time, guys. We can hear you. That's all that matters. Two mics, if that's what it takes. Kayla: Every [time] I do an interview, it's going to be two mics. It's just gonna be a thing. Gotta roll with it. Dawnchere: You were saying super hot? Like we were right there. Kayla: OK, this one's on. You guys good? OK, anyway, we found love really fast. He was really special. I was super proud to be his wife. We got married in 2010 and it kind of just ran hard and fast from there. There's so many things I could share about Andrew. I could sit here for hours and talk about the beautiful way that he impacted my life. He was one of my greatest teachers. I learned so much just being married to him for almost eight years. There's a few things that I do want to share. The first thing that I always remember about Drew was his drive. Andrew was super driven and it was super hot. He was so driven; it was really attractive. He was only 19 years old when he started out as a junior high pastor at his parents church and his responsibilities just grew fast from there. He had a huge heart and passion for the local church. He grew up in the church. His parents started it when he was three years old. So it was really built into him and he was excited and passionate and full of ideas and vision. And in 2011, Andrew's leadership responsibilities grew even more when his dad was diagnosed with Leukemia. His dad was the lead pastor of our church at the time. So it was devastating for our church and for our family. And Andrew stepped up even more. He was sitting next to his dad in the hospital. We have pictures of them next to each other in the hospital with their computers open planning message series, and planning the weekend, and scheduling guest speakers. And he was speaking often and he was only 23. So he just really hit the ground running with ministry By 26, his dad was getting worse. So we felt like it was time to pass the baton. So we had a really special service. We wheeled his dad out in a wheelchair and they had a baton that was engraved and his dad literally handed Andrew a baton, and it was really, really special. And so instead of taking a break, his dad ended up passing away a few months later. And we were devastated. And Andrew's heart was always for the church. And so instead of taking a break, he went right back to work. He wanted to lead the church through their pain. He cared more about their pain than his. So he came back after two weeks and gave a series on heaven to lead our church through and to look up to heaven and to have hope. He was amazing, invincible, even. It felt like nothing could stop him. The second thing I'll always remember about Drew was his deep love for his family. Andrew loved his people really well. He was a very private person, with only a handful of close friends. But his family meant everything to him. His brother, Austin, was his best friend, and he was such a good brother to his sister, Paige. He would have done anything for either of them. And as a husband, he honestly made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the room, on the stage and off the stage. He would say the typical pastor things that I'm sure Pastor Rich says to you, like my "smokin' hot wife," you know, super fun. But he was also just as amazing off the stage. And we had a really special relationship. Andrew also loved and honored his parents really well. He worked super closely with his mom up until his death, and they had a really special bond, unlike anything I've seen and a mother son relationship and something that I look forward to having with my boys one day when they're older. He also adored our sons. He was a really good dad, I think we had. Was there a picture? I have a picture of me, of the boys, may pop up there. Yeah, those are my boys. So Brave is the little one. He's three now. And then Jethro looks kind of angry to the right. He's four, and then Smith is six. So he was a really great dad. All the boys have big blue eyes like him. He adored them. And when I would get frustrated and kind of hit my wall as a mom -- I was a stay at home mom, you know. So we all have those moments. He would come and he would scoop 'em up and he would tell them, mom is the queen of the house and we need to treat her like royalty. And it was like the best thing ever. My heart and all of this is broken the most for my boys. I hate that they aren't going to have their dad as they grow up. They were really proud of him. And we are and we're very, very proud of him. One thing I think is really important to say about Andrew is that he was just like you. He was a normal guy. He loved the Lakers -- very passionate about the Lakers. He had tattoos. He had a giant sweet tooth. He would eat candy in the middle of the night. It was kind of a problem. I would hear him pouring M&M's onto the bed. And sometimes I'd roll over and there would be M&M's like, melted into the covers of her bed. And in the morning there would be a giant pile of wrappers on his side of the bed. It was so funny. And to this day, it's like one of the things that the boys remember about him and talk about. My three year old brave little reminds me Daddy loved sugar. It's a funny memory. I love that Andrew never wanted to be in the spotlight. He was content with what he had and where he was going and what he was building with the church. He was a really good man. Dawnchere: Such an incredible man, incredible son, incredible husband, father. Your boys are extraordinary. Spending time with them. It's a joy. And each one of them is so unique, so special. And when you hear the story of how you guys met and you dove straight to ministry and the move of God that you're watching all around you. and even walking through the loss of his father, the real question that I think everyone is asking is: what happened? What happened over the last few years with his mental health that led him to a place to lose his life?


Kayla: So in the fall of twenty seventeen, Andrew began to experience panic attacks. And if you've ever had a panic attack or witnessed a panic attack, you know, it's like a full body experience. It would start in his chest with, like, deep chest pain, almost like a heart attack. And it would move all the way down to his feet and all the way up to his eyes. I could see it in his eyes when he was having a panic attack. It's like his eyes were full of fear. And he started having them. And at first they weren't as bad, just more surprising, like what's going on. And they continue like three or four times a week. He would have these debilitating panic attacks usually at night when he was trying to fall asleep, and they would keep him up. And it was super frustrating and there was nothing I could do to help. He would pace around the bedroom. He'd curl up in the fetal position on the floor, shaking, crying, praying, like anything to get his body to snap out of it. So those kept happening. And the whole time we thought it was his thyroid. He had had issues with his thyroid before. And if you Google hypothyroid, he met all the criteria for hypothyroid. So we did some thorough testing on his thyroid and it turned out that it wasn't his thyroid. And the panic attacks, instead of getting better, kept getting worse. They got so bad that a security guard found him on the bathroom floor just minutes before he was supposed to be on stage to give the very first Easter service in April of last year. So the next week, he ended up in the hospital and we all said enough is enough. We're sick of living like this. We got to get to the bottom of this. He can't live like this anymore. This is torture. So we put him on a sabbatical. Our lead team got in front of the church and told them, you know, really, honestly, like he's having panic attacks and he has anxiety and he's tired. He never took a break. So they were very, very gracious and they didn't put a time limit on it. They said, you know what, take as much time as you need and we want you to get better. So right away, he started seeing a psychiatrist and he was diagnosed with depression. I remember sitting in the psychiatrist's office when we found out and I'll never forget it, the psychiatrist looked me straight in the eye and said, "your husband has depression." And I don't know why, but I was shocked like I was sitting in a psychiatrist's office, so you would think I would know, you know, what to expect. But I was so shocked. I was stunned like a deer in the headlights that I didn't say a word. We walked silently to the car, and as soon as we got in the car, I just started bawling. And I remember saying out loud to Andrew, "how did we end up here? Like, how did this happen to you, this guy that's like Superman, like leading our church and our family through everything, like, how did this happen to you?" But the doctor was super helpful. They said he was on the low end of the spectrum. He's going to bounce right back, like we're confident. He just needs to get some rest, like no big deal. And so I was kind of resting in what the doctor said. So from April to July, Andrew rested and wrestled with depression and anxiety. He spent most of his days back in the bedroom. And when he would come out of the bedroom, I don't really know what to expect. Some days he'd be angry, some days he'd be sad. He'd walk out crying. Some days he'd be happy and want to go to the beach. You know, it's like every single day it was different. And I kind of just tried to give him his space and let him do whatever he needed to do to get better. He was experiencing some really thick spiritual warfare, too, that just kept adding fuel to the flame that was already blazing inside of him. Andrew, though, was running to God. I mean, he was running to God. I can close my eyes and like, vividly remember walking into the bedroom and he has, like, his big headphones on and he's laying in the bed. And I can hear the worship music through his headphones, like that's how loud he's playing it. And he was trying so hard to beat this thing. And he was confident, you know, that he would. We were doing everything to get him better. We were seeing a psychiatrist every other week. We were seeing a counselor together for two hours every week. He was going on solo trips by himself. He went and sat with the mentor for a week. We went on a trip, just the two of us, which is a really big deal. When you have a houseful of kids. Like anybody that's married with young kids, take a trip without the kids. Like, I am so glad we did that. That's like such a special memory that I hold close to my heart forever. So at the end of July, the doctors actually thought that it would be better for Andrew to go back to work. They were seeing progress. I wasn't really sure, but they thought too much time away would actually not be good for Andrew, so they thought going back would be the next right thing. So he came back on August 1st, less than a year ago, and he gave two powerful messages on mental illness. He called the serious hot mess. And you can actually go online and watch the messages. And in it, he was super honest. He was talking about depression. He was talking about anxiety. He gave out the suicide hotline number. He gave out information from the NAMI website like he knew, you know, he knew where to go if you were struggling. He knew the statistics. He had all the right answers. But unfortunately, on August 23rd, just a few weeks later, he was gearing up for his third installment of the Hot Mass series, and he had a really bad day in the office. There was a trigger and kind of spiraled out of control. And unfortunately, the next morning is when he attempted suicide. And we were shocked, stunned, like never saw it coming. Not him, like, rattled. He ended up in the hospital. We had him on life support. And I remember, you know, hospital beds are pretty small. And I remember laying like as far as I could, you know, kind of close to him on the hospital bed and holding him and crying and begging God like, "God, please. Like, this is not happening like God, we need a miracle." I was playing the same songs he was playing in the bedroom. There's one song in particular by Mosaic. I heard they're going to be here next week. They're amazing. There's one song called Miracle that we were playing over and over and over and over again in that hospital room, and we were begging God for a miracle. And unfortunately, that's why I'm sitting up here. We didn't get the miracle we were looking for. And on the 25th, he went to be with Jesus way too soon. A man with so much potential, only 30 years old. And I was absolutely and still am absolutely devastated. Dawnchere: Even as you say that, I think for all of us listening, you say it so bravely. And with so much strength. I think, for all of us in this room, it's. It's impossible to even take in the weight or the gravity of what you're speaking out right now, what you've lived through. I think for all of us, it brings up a litany of different questions, of feelings, of emotions. How have you processed your own emotions and feelings towards Andrew during this time? Kayla: Yeah, that's tough with suicide. I mean, there's such a stigma surrounding suicide and it's been a process the last 10 months for me and processing those feelings towards Andrew. And it can change from day to day. There are some days where I just miss him, and then there's some days where I'm like talking to him at the cemetery, like, you know, like frustrated. But the most important thing I want to stress is that this was not Andrew's fault. There are days where I walk around my house and I literally shake my head and say out loud, "Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, you did not want to die." Like that's the most frustrating part about suicide, is that they didn't want to die. You know, he did not want to die. He had so much to live for. And I truly believe to my core that the suicide was not a choice. It was not a decision. And that's why we say the phrase died by suicide instead of saying chose to take his own life or committed suicide. It's not a choice. So we say died by suicide. Andrew loved his life. Andrew loved his family. Andrew was in his dream job. We were living in our dream home. He had everything he could ever want. This wasn't supposed to happen to him. But I do know it wasn't a selfish act. That's also a misconception with suicide is people think it's selfish. I was getting my nails done a few months ago and I just came up with the lady that was doing my nails. I'm very open -- probably too open -- sometimes with my story. And I just told her, you know, my husband died by suicide. I'm a widow. And she, like, without skipping a beat, looked at me and said, "that is so selfish." And I was kind of taken aback. And I had a friend sitting next to me and she was like, I could tell, like, ready to pounce this lady, you know, like she was shocked that she was saying it to. And I looked her straight in the eye and I said "it was not a choice, and it was not selfish, and he was sick, and it was ultimately the illness that took his life. And I will stand by that until I get to see him again." Dawnchere: I think we can all say that we look forward to meeting Andrew one day on the other side of eternity. A great man and he loved well. He loved Jesus well. He loved you well. He loved his sons well. And I heard you say a couple of times, the word spiritual warfare. And there is a huge difference between spiritual health and mental health. Can you talk for a minute just about your experience with both and the difference between the two? Kayla: Yeah, I would say in Andrew's case, he was suffering like immensely from both. And they're both real. Spiritual warfare is very real. There's a real enemy who wants to kill, steal and destroy. And Andrew is experiencing that like in a very real way. I think he had a gift to where, you know, he could sense things and see things and feel things differently than most of us do. And it was very intense for him, very real for him. And mental illness is real, too. And so I think the best thing we can do is address both separately. They're not the same thing. We can't treat them the same way. There are real tools we can use to fight against the spiritual realm, like prayer and community and fasting and spending time in the Word. And there are real, tangible things that we can do to help battle our mental health, like doctors and medication and therapy. They are two completely separate things. I believe in miracles and I believe God can heal anyone at any time. So I'm not trying to limit God when I say this. But I will say that I think it would be ignorant to think we could simply pray someone's mental illness away. Mental illness is not a byproduct of not being spiritual enough or spending enough time with God. We have to do a better job of loving on people that are suffering. It's a real illness. Yeah. Another thing that I want to say is that we need to become better learners instead of critics. We jump to criticism so quickly and instead we need to seek to understand. There's four little words that my mother in law shared with their church a few months ago. And the words are: I have no idea. I have no idea. These four words have the power to change the way we approach people. They have the power to change us and stop us from saying something critical of others. So the next time we're headed towards criticism, we can change our heart. When we stop and say, "I have no idea about their story or their history, I have no idea what burdens they're carrying. I have no idea what it's like to live with what they're living with. I have no idea what's going on inside their mind. I have no idea that's the truth." We have no idea what it's like to walk in anyone else's shoes but our own.


Dawnchere: That's the truth. We have no idea. I think that that's something that we all need to take to heart, and that we need to use in our everyday language and conversations. What have you learned about supporting those that you love who are walking through mental health issues, whether it's a spouse, whether it's a coworker, a friend or family member? What have you learned about the best ways to support? Kayla: Hindsight's really 20/20. I have a very, very long list of regrets. Huge list of regrets, I wish so badly I could go back and save him. And with suicide, the first like three, six months are spent doing that in your mind. You go back and you think about all the different things you could have done to save him. One way I've been helping people and reaching out to people and sharing my stories through our family blog called God's Got This. It's godsgotthis.com. We started the blog when Andrew's dad was diagnosed with cancer and we made these little wristbands. I have one on and they say God's Got This on them and we've sent them all around the world. It's been a really cool phrase, a powerful phrase for our family. And it means so much to ask. It reminds us that we are not alone, that God has a redemption plan more beautiful than we could ever fathom, and that he's with us no matter what we're up against. So when Andrew died, I went to the blog and started sharing my heart right away. Our story really went viral and spread fast. And there was all this speculation going on about him and people trying to define who he was. And so I felt in my heart, you know, I want to honor him and protect him. So I wrote a letter to him, and I wanted his life to be defined by the way he lived, not the way that he died. So I've kind of just been blogging since -- its turn kind of turned into this living, breathing journal for our family. And there's one blog post in particular going back to your question about how to help people. There's one blog post in particular that I share really often. I have people reach out to me every single day, every single week asking what they can do to help. It's one in four. One in four people suffer from mental illness. So the chances of you knowing somebody that's walking through it, or the chances of you knowing somebody that's loving somebody that's walking through it is pretty high. So I wrote this one blog called Uncharted Territory, and in it I share three things that I wish I would have done. The first thing is to take it seriously. I'll never forget the one and only time that Andrew vaguely mentioned suicide. And it was so vague that I missed it. He kind of shrugged it off as a passing thought. I asked him if he Googled it. He said no. I asked him if he would do it. He said no Like, we have this shame around suicide. So I was like, OK, cool. He said, "no, I don't want to ever talk about it again." You know, I kind of put it away and never brought it up and didn't tell anybody that he said it. I kind of acted like it never happened. And if I could do it all over again, I would have called the suicide hotline number right then and there and just asked what to do. It's a resource. It's not a number that you call when someone's in the act. It's a number that you call any time. I mean, I could have called and just been like, "hey, my husband said this. What should I do?" The number is: 1-800-273-8255. You can look it up online if you ever need it, but I wish I would have taken it seriously. And that's one of my biggest regrets. Another piece of advice that I have is to treat it as a team. I was so busy chasing after three boys that I wasn't able to make it to every doctor's appointment. I went to the counseling appointments with him, but I probably only went to like three psychiatrist appointments. And that's a huge regret that I have. So if you're walking alongside somebody, the best thing you can do is treat it as a team. Try to have somebody else with them at every single appointment to be able to share the truth about what's going on at home, because that person, it's not their fault they're sick. So they can't really articulate how they're feeling. And you just get to help. It's a team. So treating it as a team is important. And I wish I would have moved mountains to be at every single appointment. My third piece of advice is to read the books. Mental illness invaded my life in so many ways, but I refuse to let it invade my quiet time. So I was reading books about marriage and parenting and, you know, other things. I didn't want to read about mental illness. I didn't want to talk about it or think about it anymore. But that's a huge regret that I have now. I wish that I would have grabbed any and every book I could have got my hands on about what we were walking through. Although my list of regrets is never ending. At the end of the day, I gently and confidently reassure myself this is not my fault. Ultimately, the mental illness caused the suicide. I grieve because I loved him so much. There is this beautiful quote that says "human love takes us into dark places where we are taught the hardest things. Those we love suffer. And as we love them, we suffer with them. Ultimately, we lose them. The hard work of love is to see each other through in sickness and in health and often into death. We can't mourn what we haven't loved. Those who mourn are those who love. The cost of love is great. Jesus knew that all too well. It cost Him everything. The beautiful thing is that we know our grief won't last forever. This is just the first inch of life. We were created for a person and a place. And the person is Jesus and the place is heaven". Yeah. We're going to have trials in this life, but we serve a God who will never let us down, no matter how great the pain, no matter how deep the loss, no matter how high the mountain God, will heal is, God will hold us, God will guide us. And God's always got this." Dawnchere: I love it, that's the name of your site and what you've really held on to as the declaration as you walk through sorrow and grief. I think that the practicality that you just laid out so clearly could change the trajectory of relationships and all of our lives if we would really take it to heart. You so beautifully described how we can support. But now, if you don't mind, can you share with us the things that haven't helped me on your journey? Because I think some of us, our deepest desire is to help. And when people that we love dearly are going through the toughest times in their life, sometimes we don't know what to say and sometimes the things that we say hurt even more than the things if we weren't to say anything at all. And I think that all of us in this room, we want to learn how to support by what to do and what not to do. Tell us some things that haven't helped along the road. Kayla: Yeah, we all walk through pain. No one is exempt from pain. We're all going to walk through a season of pain in our life. There's one phrase that I hate, that I despise. It's "I know exactly how you feel." No one knows exactly how you feel. It's like that phrase, I have no idea. You know, no one knows exactly how you feel. Don't compare pain or loss. That's another thing, you know, people try to do just to try to relate. It's not out of bad intentions. It's just trying to relate. But the truth is, you can't relate because everybody's pain and grief and loss is different. Grief can be really awkward and uncomfortable. But the best thing you can do, I mean, the worst thing you could do is to not show up for your friends. So the best thing you can do is to keep showing up. Don't be the friend that stops showing up six months in a year and two years in. Be the friend that keeps being there for them. Their life will never be the same. Even though your life has moved on and your life has kept going and it hasn't dramatically affected your life, their life has changed forever and they need friends. The best question you can ask somebody that's walking through pain is how can I serve you? Dawnchere: So good. How can I serve you? I think all of us can think of people in our life that tonight we could ask that question, that we could reach out and pose that question and really desire to meet the need. You know, as you look across this room today, how would you want to encourage the people in this room to be proactive in caring for their own mental health? Kayla: I think a lot of us would say we're not very good at this. It's easy to encourage others to care for their mental health. It's easy to tell a friend "you should work out, or you should see a counselor, or you should rest, or you should eat better." And we don't do the best job of actually modeling that and doing that ourselves. So we can all do better at that. I wanted to say something quickly about pastors specifically, and that is pastors are people, too. Pastors aren't superhuman. They're human. They're not invincible. We're all just broken vessels giving it our best shot to be alive in a really dark and desperate world. The best thing you can do to support the mental health of your pastors is to pray for your pastors. From my experience as a lead pastor's wife, I know how hard and lonely it can be at the top. Lead Pastors these days are under so much pressure to perform, it's easy to see the lead pastor in the position that they hold and think they don't need prayer. But the truth is that they do. Leading a church is a really heavy burden to carry, one that is very costly. So we can pray for them as a staff. You can create a staff culture that's unified, and we can encourage our pastors to also take care of their mental health. The key to being a bright light for anybody, no matter what your vocation is, is to be intentional about our mental health. We have to do a better job at caring for ourselves so that we can keep caring for others. We must give ourselves permission and margin to heal and rest. And here's a couple of ways we can do that. The first is to take a Sabbath. I would encourage all of us to take like one day a week off, completely off, and to fill with things that you enjoy, things that fill your tank. Maybe it's going for a walk at the beach. Maybe it's grabbing coffee with a friend. Maybe it's laying on your couch all day and not moving at all. You know, whatever you need to do for me, it's paddleboarding. I love paddleboarding. I love being out on the water. I feel connected to God. I feel connected to Andrew. I feel like the pull of heaven, like that's my spot. Find what you want to do on your Sabbath and do it. Whatever it is, just make it relaxing and fun. The other thing is to celebrate often. I know you guys are good at this; at Vous it's one of your values here. Celebrate often. You guys are already doing a good job of that. But have people over for dinner, make life fun, make everything a celebration, even the little things. And the other thing is a personal retreat day. And this is different than a Sabbath. This is like a once a month day to go and have solitude, time with God. Solitude's different than Sabbath. Solitude is intentional. Solitude is sitting with God and praying to God and journaling and reading the Bible and just soaking in God's vision, catching God's vision for your life. It's not scrolling through Instagram. It's not binging Netflix. It's not a "laying on your couch" day. It's a day where you sit by yourself and figure out where you're headed with God. And the last piece of advice that I have is just counseling, I mean, counseling is like the best thing you can do for anybody any time in your life. Like I've been in counseling in the last year and I'm going to be in counseling for a really long time. But it's been incredible for me. And it's a tool. It's a resource. It's work. You know, like I kind of dread going because it's work. It's like working out where you like to dread going and you're like, "no, I don't want to go." But then after you feel so good, you feel relieved. And that's one of the best things you can do. And you can share everything with your therapist. Maybe you don't have people in your life you can trust that you can share things with. And that's what a therapist is for, for you to be able to sit and share everything without worrying about losing your job, without worrying about losing your friends. Like there's things that come up during the week that would not be good to tell your friends. You know, you can, like, pocket those and save those for counseling. So counseling has been great. The last thing I want to say is if you're struggling, tell somebody. Don't let your secrets be your downfall. Find one to two safe people in your life and tell them everything. And maybe it's the counselor if you don't have those people in your life. The enemy wants you to feel isolated. The enemy wants you to feel unloved and worthless. But I'm here to tell you that your life matters, your story matters, and you are loved and you are valued more than you could ever imagine. And God has a great plan for your life. No matter who you are, no matter your past, no matter your mistakes, no matter your mental health, God's got you. God's got this. And God can do impossible things.


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