Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, said that while her "worst nightmare came true" the day her 27-year-old son took his own life, God has used her family's pain and suffering to save the lives of thousands struggling with mental illness.
"Matthew was one of the funniest guys I know," Warren said in a recent video posted on LightWorkers.com. "He just had this weird and wacky sense of humor and nobody could make me laugh like Matthew. He was both amazing and someone who was pretty tortured most of his life. He was complicated, I think, because of that."
Matthew was was diagnosed with clinical depression at age 7, and later with ADHD and panic attacks. At age 12, he began having suicidal thoughts.
"So, he just lived his life with serious mental illness, and his chronic suicidality began to build and build and build," Warren said. "I never knew from day to day if he was going to be alive. I really didn't know, 'Is this the day he's gonna die?'"
On April 5, 2013, Matthew Warren died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"I lived for years with the fear and the dread that he'd take his life. That he actually took his life was my worst nightmare come true," Warren said.
While that day was the "worst" of her life, Warren said she and her husband still held to the "knowledge that God had not left us, that we would somehow survive, and that somehow, someday, we would choose joy."
"I think that's what I remember so clearly," she recalled. "A lot of it's a blur, I just know I hit the ground and laid on the ground for hours, sobbing."
Today, Warren said her joy doesn't have anything to with what's happening externally. Rather, it's all about what's ahead and the fact that the story isn't over.
"Matthew's story didn't end on April 5, 2013," she said. "I am absolutely, 100% convinced that Matthew is in Heaven, that he is in God's arms, that he is safe, he is secure, that I will see him again someday. So, joy for me now, and hope for me is not about what happens here, it's about what's going to happen."
The best-selling author said the "long and painful journey" her family has endured will last until death.
"I will never get over losing my son, I will never stop missing him," she said.
However, Warren said she has clearly seen God at work in what she considers the "ruins" of her life.
"What I've seen in these years since [Matthew] died is, slowly, God does what God does best. He rebuilds and restores what's been broken, and in our lives, as we are slowly learning what it's like to live again, to thrive again, to say life is good again, circumstances may appear to wreck our lives, but God is not helpless in our ruins."
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens ages 13-18 live with a serious mental illness. The Warrens, who co-founded Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California in 1980, have since pushed to bring mental health to the forefront of Saddleback's ministries. Today, it is a major part of the church's care initiative.
Warren also travels across the country to speak about her experience and advocate for early treatment and intervention.
When she shares Matthew's story today and explains the devastation of those that are left behind, Warren said she "can't even count the number" of people who have come up to her and said, "You know what, my story is Matthew's story, but hearing what you've said tonight, I want you to know that I'm taking suicide off the table. I've seen the devastation that comes, and I don't want to do that to my family."
"When I hear things like that, I grab people, I hug them, we cry together, cry for their pain and suffering, and I cry with relief that there's one more family that might not have to go through what we've gone through," she said.
Warren concluded: "I absolutely believe in God's ability to bring good out of evil. His suffering was so painful and so hard, but there will be people's lives who will be saved because of Matthew."