April 1st, 2017

As the days inched closer to April 1st, I had this weight in my chest reminding me that it was supposed to be an exciting day. April 1st was the day that Matt had decided to leave on his cross country trip.

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In November 2016 Matt shared with us his plans to travel the country for a year. He was excited to get out and explore the country while rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, and kayaking. He also wanted to make those experiences more meaningful than a journey of outdoor adventure. He said, “I am going to likely have a lot of down time in my travels, and I want to spend my down time making a direct impact on real people’s lives.” He was interested in meeting people from all over and, in classic Matt fashion, learning about them by asking random personal questions. He also wanted to take action to leave people better than he found them. In order to let our family and others learn and share in  his experiences, he planned on having a video blog or ‘vlog.’

He told us all about the professional camper van conversion the he would going to make his new home for the next year or so.  Judy, a saleswoman, was his new best friend at the Mercedes-Benz dealership and he had the plans all drawn up. In the entrepreneurial spirit, he began creating a PowerPoint meant for Judy and executives at the Mercedes-Benz dealership in order to get them on board with his trip. Matt was really hoping that he would get a sponsorship or reduction in van price in exchange for Mercedes-Benz being part of his trip and vlog.

Honestly, it was incredibly easy for us to get behind his trip. Would we miss him? Oh yeah. Especially all the kids. He was adamant that we would only be short goodbyes as he would make sure and drop by for visits periodically to let us share in the experience. His excitement about the possibilities this would bring to his life was infectious for all of us.

Standing in my kitchen and looking at my calendar, I couldn’t help but wonder where’d he be traveling to first on his adventure if he hadn’t died.

That heavy feeling kept nagging me and finally on March 31st I randomly decided to call this famous Judy at the Mercedes-Benz dealership that Matt had talked so much about. As the phone was ringing to her desk I realized I hadn’t thought through what I was even going to say to this stranger. Ultimately, I asked her if she was available during the day and I just went to the dealership and met her. After a brief explanation from me, she kindly talked about what she remembered about Matt and showed me all handwritten notes  and drawings made by him, and the van conversion plans they’d discussed. It was bittersweet and simultaneously healing. I felt acutely aware that I didn’t want to forget the mixture of what I was feeling. I apologetically asked Judy for a cheap keychain. She warmly smiled and graciously gave me all the keychains she had in the top drawer of her desk. Back in my car, through my tears, I counted just enough keychains to give to my family and Matt’s very close friends.

I decided to include a note with the keychain where I shared a little about meeting Judy. “I really hope this keychain helps me remember to do good when I’m out on the road. While I’m not sure this will have the same significance for the rest of you, I figured I’d share it anyway in case it does.” Finally, I included Matt’s own words from his PowerPoint, “I already have some BIG ideas on how I can make an impact on my travels and I would love to share them with you. Please just ask. I believe in this idea with all my heart. I know this is my calling. All I am asking is that you take a NO RISK leap of faith with me. I do not need anyone’s help to do this, but luckily for me my friends and family are AMAZING and are behind me 100%…but help would be nice. What do you have to lose?"

It’s a funny thought. Matt thought the audience for the Powerpoint was for Judy and Mercedes-Benz. Really it had the most significance for those of us he left at home.

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As I gave this note and keychain to my family and Matt’s close friends it filled me with hope. I’d like to think it joined us together in a day that would have otherwise been sad and reflective for us each individually. Everyone found their own way to reach out to someone and serve in honor of Matt. There are stories that came from April 1st that may be shared on this blog in the future. (We love stories so that’s what you’ll get!) Check out Asha’s story from April 1st.

As we’ve been creating a version of Matt’s vlog through LiveRad, it’s given me the courage to share about our own adventures. The experiences have come through loss instead of exciting outdoor adventures, but they still have been AMAZING nonetheless. I hope that through sharing our journey we can bring good out of our great loss and encourage others to live more fully too.

-Kelly Otteson

Kelly Otteson