My Role Model Committed Suicide

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(This photo belongs to Jay Tilston and can be found here.)

She wasn’t exactly my role model, but Mindy Mccready’s suicide yesterday got me thinking about an actual role model of mine who did recently kill himself. I’ve thought about writing about him many times since I heard the news in December, but until now, the pain was too fresh to face.

Mindy’s death came quickly and tragically for me, too; but it’s easier to write about her because I only remember her as a marginal figure in my youth. After her hit “Guys Do It All the Time,” which played on the radio during our school bus route in 1996, she kinda dropped off the radar for me. Aside from admiring her twangy statement against male chauvinism, I never counted her among my personal heroes.

Not like Leo Schreven.

A motivational speaker and evangelist, Leo was much lesser known than Mindy. At least in the secular world. But in both the secular and religious worlds, I’d have to say his impact was far greater than hers. That’s because Leo’s work was not just to entertain, but to inspire, even to save souls by leading them to Christ.

What I Learned from Leo Schreven

In 2009, a complex of factors brought me to my knees in search of divine intervention. Our family was in a state of crisis, I was beginning my second year of teaching, and I knew I couldn’t get through the stress of this time alone. As a result, I was open to God in a way I had never been open before. And He delivered.

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(This photo can be found here.)

Among the many ways God provided for my spiritual growth that year, He placed recordings of one of Leo’s Bible seminars within earshot. It was a twenty-plus-part seminar on Bible prophecy that also touched on how Christians should live in a secular world. The material moved me deeply, to the point that I changed a number of personal habits I’d had for years. Christianity was not about the weekly church visit, I learned that year, it is about the daily walk—and Leo had a huge hand in teaching me that.

In 2010, I was floored to learn that Leo would be coming to my church to present one of his newer seminars, this one called “All Power.” Unlike his previously Bible-based presentations, these were more secular, dealing with self-improvement in five areas of life (religion and spirituality being relegated to one-fifth of the seminar). Even though these presentations weren’t as “godly” as what I formerly remembered, I found this material helpful, too, so much so that I used it to build a series of lessons for my public school seniors the next fall.

Too Good to Be True?

As you can imagine, when I found out that Leo had committed suicide in December of 2012, I felt devastated. I also couldn’t help feeling a little betrayed. What had happened to his promise of finding “all power” in all the major areas of life? I didn’t want to be bitter, but I did feel bitter, especially because I felt Leo had let down not only me, but also my students.

More than feeling sorry for myself, though, I felt sorry for Leo’s wife and daughter. This was sure to sink the ministry, I thought, and it did. All Power Ministries folded just this month, with Leo’s poor widow announcing that it was just too much to maintain. The irony of the situation (motivational speaker commits suicide) was too obvious, or shameful, to receive comment.

As I thought back to Leo’s weekend-long seminar at my church, I remembered watching his energetic gait and mile-a-minute speech and thinking that his success seemed too good to be true…I remember hearing him rave about his vegan diet and how he only needed four hours of sleep per night…how he traveled for over two-thirds of the year to bring these life-giving principles to others…and the pace of his life seemed insupportable.

After his early days of evangelism in the nineties (which produced the audio recordings that partially led me back to God), He told us he, with his wife, had decided to place other priorities above family—just for a few years, so he could build up his ministry and his wealth (which he used for much good, I must say). And that was one of his recommendations in the All Power seminar: that you sacrifice some things now in order to set yourself up for success later. From what I understood, his plan was to build up his career and ministry first, then come back to his family life later.

But he never got the chance.

Leo died with millions of dollars, a thriving ministry, and what must have been thousands of followers (including yours truly). But, as it came out later, his wife had left him prior to the suicide, taking their daughter with them. His personal life was a shambles.

They had tried to work it out, his wife explained, but unbeknownst to the public, he had been suffering with a debilitating mental illness for many years, and finally, it got to be too much to bear. They urged Leo to get help, she said, but he would not.

Making Sense of Tragedy

What do you say when things like this happen? My husband and I mulled it over in shock for days. Leo seemed so happy, so healthy, when we’d last seen him. He seemed so in control and confident. He almost seemed larger than life.

But maybe that was the problem. I hate to speculate, but I can only imagine that the pressure of having to maintain an “all powerful” life must have been crushing. He must have felt the pressure that many Christians feel—although to a much greater extent—when others look to you to fill shoes you were never meant to fill—when you become a “God” figure for others.

I won’t fully understand what happened until I get to ask God in heaven, but in trying to understand my role model’s suicide, I have come to resolution in several ways.

  • Leo’s death reminds me that we should never put anyone in the place of God. We are all only humans—even the “best” of us—and we must remember that no accomplishments come from our own strength.
  • Though immediately I felt bitter that Leo had let me down, I eventually came to feel thankful for how the Lord had used him to bring me back to my true role model, Jesus Christ. Though it’s sad Leo won’t be able to convert any more hearts, I am thankful for the thousands of hearts that he did convert.
  • In the end, I just have to trust God’s wisdom and leading. He knows things we don’t, and although I don’t believe God caused this suicide, or Mindy Mccready’s, or anyone one else’s, I have to trust that He allowed it to happen. Though it won’t make it any easier for the survivors, I know that God works miracles through tragedies. Perhaps Leo’s death will be a call to other public figures, role models, and ministers to remember that only by the grace of God can they be successful, or remain that way.
  • Both Leo’s and Mindy’s deaths should spur the humility in us all. No matter how secure we seem, or even feel, we cannot be too confident in our own abilities. It is because of God that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) and for no other reason. Once we forget that, becoming too prideful to admit we have problems or to seek the help we need, we are on Satan’s playground—and he will stop at nothing to destroy us (John 10:10).
  • Life is short and fleeting. What is your life? It is but a mist that appears for awhile and then disappears (James 4:14). Leo’s life and death reminds me that no matter how much good I intend to do (even in the name of the Lord), I can’t get so busy that I neglect my health or my family. I’ll take success more slowly if it means I get to keep my life, my health, and my family.
  • God has already used Leo’s death to teach me.

Though there is no easy way to end this post, I would like to close by offering my sincerest condolences to Leo’s family, to Mindy’s family, and to all families of suicide victims. I pray that the “God of all comfort” with become very real to you in these inscrutable times, smoothing over the unanswered questions until that day when He will make all things plain, letting us judge for ourselves the tragedies of this life (1 Cor. 6:3; Rev: 20:12).

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14 thoughts on “My Role Model Committed Suicide

  1. Kyle Tumberg February 20, 2013 / 2:59 pm

    Great blog Lindsey, I have had similar thoughts in relation to Leo’s tragedy. This really should be a wake up call to us all.

    • lindseygendke February 20, 2013 / 3:45 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Kyle. It truly reminds us that we are so small and helpless (and clueless) in relation to God and His plans.

  2. David Wells April 11, 2013 / 11:30 am

    An interesting article. I have only recently discovered Leo through his Prophecy series and I loved every minute of it. Such a wonderful speaker and he makes everything make perfect Biblical sense. So I too was saddened and disappointed when I found out he had died in such horrific circumstances. I have still yet to work it out, but I do believe that his ministry will continue on and many more (like myself) will come to know the Word through his online videos etc. Many more hearts will be converted thanks to his seminars.

    • lindseygendke April 11, 2013 / 11:43 am

      Hi David, thanks for responding. I do hope his ministry will continue to reach many hearts. He was such a powerful worker for the Lord, and we just can’t know what this all means or what will come of it, but the Lord does. I praise Him for how both our hearts were touched by Leo–we can certainly be thankful for that, even amidst the horror of the circumstances.

      • David Wells April 12, 2013 / 11:18 am

        My main problem with it, is if someone was to watch his seminars now, with the knowledge of his death, it might make some people wary of everything he says. Like his All Power message. Once you find God, you have All Power. Some will dispute that now they know more about him.
        But Biblically he couldn’t be touched. So hopefully that Bible message will still come through.

      • lindseygendke April 12, 2013 / 5:10 pm

        You are right; the knowledge of his death seems to undermine his “All Power” message. However, we just have to hope that people will look past the messenger to the actual message, and test that against truth.

  3. JoanaJ April 13, 2013 / 6:28 pm

    Thanks for your commentary Lindsey. It was very well written. I only heard Leo speak once. He came to our church one weekend last year. He was trying to walk across the United States before he tuned 50 and he stopped to do seminars at different churches along the way. I was really impressed with him but I was concerned for him at the same time. Seemed like he was bound to burn himself out at the rate he was going. When I found out that he took his own life, it was extremely disappointing to me. I didn’t even know Leo but I grieved for him, his wife and little girl. I was surprised that there really wasn’t any discussion of his death at church the next Sabbath, or ever for that matter. I truly hope that something good can come out of his death. There are people with mental health issues in every church and we need to recognize that. Mental illness is not something that goes away just because you ignore it.

    • lindseygendke April 14, 2013 / 1:57 pm

      Joana, I appreciate your thoughts. He did give off an air of trying to do too much, I think. I didn’t know how it was possible for a person to live at such a high speed, but I never imagined it would end like it did. You are right about the need for discussions about mental health. As a church, I don’t think we’ve done a very good job at addressing this, and it is enormously sad. The ministry I am working with now, Straight 2 the Heart, is about the first ministry I’ve ever seen that delves into the dark and dirty problems of our lives as it seeks to enlighten others about Jesus. It revolves around how Jesus’ suffering can heal ours (that he did not just die for our sin, but our suffering, too)–a crucial point that Christians need to grasp when ministering to a very wounded world.

  4. Angely July 5, 2013 / 6:36 pm

    Its hard to believe that he die this way. I could not hardly believe this. I ‘am crying when I know this shocking news, cause Leo touch also my life. But I should not loss hope or despair cause God Jesus Christ only knows everything. We should only look on Jesus Christ despite of this traggic circumstance, we should not loss hope or discourage. Leo’s life is a blessing to all, God bless the family of Leo.

  5. Barney August 7, 2013 / 7:52 am

    I do not know if there is a god but I did follow Leo’s work.
    I was shocked to learn what we had done. I’m of the conclusion that maybe completing the walk was the last thing on his ‘bucket’ list. He had already spoken about taking some time off for a while the following year. I suggest that he already had decided to end his life months before the event. He had already started winding things down. I believe mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder are caused by society and the tremendous conflict they create in one’s mind. One must live up to the ridiculous expectations of others and when you don’t you are discarded by society. To try and reason that out is tiring and will ultimately create permanent changes in the brain chemistry of the constant thought processes that goes on in one’s head. I am sure privately Leo would have been living a constant ‘hell’ and unable to reason his way out by the standards that the people expected of him. Next time you meet a depressed person listen to their words, then look to society and know that we all contribute to their illness.

    • lindseygendke August 7, 2013 / 10:49 am

      Barney, this is a wonderfully thoughtful comment addressing the implications of how society contributes to mental illness. I agree that Leo must have been living in a personal “hell” before he died–not sure how long it went on, but it seems clear he suffered from mental illness for some time. I suffered quite severe depression for a period of years, and I know that the expectations not only from society, but also from ourselves can sometimes seem insurmountable. For people with such an illness, I think their perceptions of what society expects gets distorted to epic, unreal proportions. However, not being famous like Leo, I can’t be sure of how much worse it is for someone in the public eye versus someone who is not.

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