It takes an incredibly strong person to take a heartbreaking tragedy and use it as a vehicle to help others, but that’s just what Mattie Jackson Selecman is doing with her powerful new book Lemons on Friday. Her husband Ben was only 28 years old when he died in a tragic accident just three weeks before their first wedding anniversary.
“It’s not just about loss or death,” Alan and Denise Jackson’s eldest daughter says of first book, published by Thomas Nelson. “It’s truly just about a life where struggle happens and especially if you are a person of faith, how do you be honest about how hard this life is and also hold tight to the God who can carry you through it?”
It’s a brisk fall afternoon and Selecman is seated in a spacious building on her parents’ property that houses some of Alan’s favorite cars, including two Carroll Shelby Mustangs, signed by the legendary driver/entrepreneur, and the 1955 white Thunderbird that Alan sold for a down payment on their first house which Denise later tracked down and bought back for him. This afternoon there’s a press reception to introduce the book, followed by a family and friends party to celebrate Selecman’s debut as an author. The pretty 31-year-old brunette is incredibly thoughtful and eloquent, possessing a wisdom beyond her years.
Her proud parents wrote the foreword for Lemons on Friday, which has already topped several best-seller lists. “They just kept encouraging me to make sure it was the story I wanted to tell,” she says of the advice she received from her dad and her mom, who is also a best-selling author. “They encouraged me to stay honest to who I am and who God is and what the story is. That’s what dad has done his whole career. That’s why people connect with it.”
In addition to the book, Selecman also shares her story in a song she co-wrote a song with her dad titled “Racing the Dark.” “I’m really surprised how well she was able to handle all that. I know I couldn’t have done what she’s done,” Jackson said in a statement. “One day she came to me with this piece of paper and said, ‘I wrote this song…the lyrics,’ and asked me to put it to music. So, I wrote the melody for it, and it turned out to be a very sweet song. . .And it’s well-written, lyrically. She told a little more of her story in it…so I’m anxious for my fans to get to hear this.”
Selecman’s husband Ben died in September 2018 during a trip to Palm Beach, FL. The young district attorney had been helping a woman onto Jackson’s boat when he fell from the wet steps and suffered a traumatic head injury. After 12 days in the hospital, during which time he suffered multiple strokes, he passed away. Lemons on Friday chronicles his young wife’s grief in the wake of the tragedy and how Mattie has again found identity and purpose.
“My biggest worry going into it is that I wanted to be as authentic as I could about how the hard days looked and be truthful about the things that I didn’t do right or well, but also not lose the bottom line which is that my faith is what saved me,” Selecman candidly tells SLN. “It’s what sustained me. It’s why I can sit here. It’s why I can share. It’s why I can hope.
“I was concerned about what is the balance of being completely forthcoming [and sharing] ‘Jesus is the reason I’m okay,’ but also not painting a falsely pretty picture of how I grieve because nothing about it was,” she continues. “It’s just striking that balance of honesty and hope. I was very diligent about that as much as I could be and the editors were fabulous in helping me navigate that. I think we struck a good balance. I hope people can see their bad days and their good days in it.”
In a particularly vulnerable chapter, Selecman shares how her identity changed in the wake of her husband’s death. She wasn’t comfortable with the label “widow,” yet the roles of wife and mother were ripped away from her. (They didn’t have children, but she was looking forward to that role in her future). Suddenly she was trying to come to terms with a new identity. “That was the hardest chapter of the book to write because it was the most painful. Besides Ben actually not being in my life anymore, those were the most painful things I dealt with, and I still deal with them,” she admits. “I still want a family. I still want to be a mom and people around me are still doing all those things, but you know today I feel like I have, even in just this season, I’ve been a light for [God’s] Kingdom in the best way that I could. I feel like there’s nothing more stable to root your identity than that. I mean it doesn’t look good all the time, but that’s something I can rest in, and I love that that is at the core of who I feel I’ve become through these last few years.”
Ben and Mattie were married October 7, 2017, and she admits milestones are still hard times. “Definitely they are. With each passing, they become a little more sweet and a little less sorrowful,” she says. “So, I can only hope and imagine that with each coming year that continues. There will always be a scar on all of those days, but I think that sadness becomes a little more of a sweet memory with each one that has passed. That’s how healing works.”
Jackson Selecman says the title Lemons on Friday, started with her journals. “When I started working on the book, I went back to my journals that I kept to process everything and somewhere in there the thought ‘make lemonade out of lemons’ came into my head,” she says. “I remember thinking that isn’t possible with this. There’s no way I can take something this bitter and sour and unwanted and make some good out of it and that is when my whole mantra of surrender started because I knew I couldn’t. It was like if anything good is going to come from this, I have to surrender it to God. He’s the only one who can bring good out of this, but how do I be honest about how sour and bitter and awful this is and also be honest about the promises that I believe are true for me because you have to hold both.
“And I thought, ‘This is probably how the disciples felt on crucifixion Friday.’ They knew Jesus. They knew the promises there. They were like, ‘There has to be something good that comes because he said it would, but we’re standing here at the cross and how can that be true?’ That’s just the whole life we live is broken things happen. Painful things happen and God will redeem them, but while we’re standing in the middle, how do we hold the hope and the hurt?”
When asked what message she hopes readers will take away from her book, Selecman responds, “Be totally honest about your pain, whatever that looks like on whatever day and do the hard thing that you want so desperately to avoid. Lean into that because that’s where the real healing happens. . . Ask God into the worst moments. He heals in the deepest places, so don’t be afraid to feel those pains, the full impact.
“And then I would also say just be honest with your people around you and tell them what you need. I felt like for a long time it was a burden on people. It was such a heavy story. I didn’t want them to have to carry it and that’s not at all how they felt. They were dying to be there for me, so finally when I said, ‘I’m not a burden. They are wanting to love me, and me loving them is telling them what I need and loving them back.’ So be honest. Be honest with yourself through God, through people and do it 24 hours at a time. That’s what I keep telling people. I want it to be fixed as quickly as possible and it just doesn’t happen. It’s day by day and then one day you wake up and it’s three years later and it’s a book.”
In addition to her career as an author and speaker, Selecman is also co-founder of NaSHEville, a philanthropic merchandise brand she started with her business partner Brooke Tometich to help women and children in need, specifically orphans, widows, and trafficked women. A graduate of the University of Tennessee with a degree in creative writing, Selecman is also a certified sommelier and previously owned a wine bar in Nashville. In the book’s foreword, Selecman’s mom shares that Mattie had always wanted to be a writer, but the young author/entrepreneur admits this is not how she would have chosen to begin her career. “I hope that this opens the door to what I really feel I’ve been called to do,” she says. “I do hate that this is my first story to tell the world, but I also am proud to tell it because it is about love, and it is about hope and it is about endurance. And that’s what life is, so to come out with such an unwanted, but profound messages is powerful and I’m grateful to be entrusted with it. I hope there’s more down the road. I’ve got ideas.”