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Turning Off the Dark

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
June 1, 2021 2:00 am

Turning Off the Dark

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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June 1, 2021 2:00 am

In the midst of Christmas preparations for church and wrapping presents, Levi and Jennie Lusko tragically lost their five-year-old daughter. They share with Dave and Ann Wilson how God graciously lit their path to healing.

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All right, I want to find out if you ever listened to my sermons. Of course I did. Thirty years of sermons. Yes.

There's one I used- Call the law memorized. Okay, let's see if you can finish this line. Okay. Trials can make you- Better or bitter. Oh, there you go. There's another part to it. Oh.

Trials can make you better or bitter. See, look at that. You got half of it. Okay. The choice is yours.

The choice is yours. That's it. You've made it through the whole of my life.

Well, look at that. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Anne Wilson.

I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So yeah, when pain or adversity, you know, enters your life, you have a choice. And all of us will have pain and adversity.

Yeah. And being the Detroit Lions chaplain for 33 seasons, I knew a lot about pain and loss. Anyway, we've got a couple with us today. Levi and Jenny Lusko, who've written a book, I mean, your pastors, yeah, several books, but pastors of Fresh Life Church in Montana and Utah and Wyoming and who knows, there's probably other states. I probably only got half of them because God has really blessed this thing. But you wrote a book about a painful, excruciating moment in your life as you were starting Fresh Life Church. I guess you were about four or five years old in the church.

Through the eyes of a lion. Welcome back to Family Life Today. Thank you guys. Oh, thank you so much for having us.

Thank you so much. And my family grew up in Detroit, actually, both my mom and my dad are from Lansing. Really?

Yeah. So he moved to Colorado later on in life, which is where I was born. And he told me my whole life, I'm raising you as a Broncos fan, because I don't want you to have the pain and agony that I did cheering for the Detroit Lions.

So I relate to that. That's a smart man. But he still did cheer on Isaiah Thomas as the Pistons. There you go.

So definitely got some Detroit love there. Yeah, that's good. Well, take us back to 2012, you're leading Fresh Life Church, and it's December. And the church is growing. You have four kids. Things are going really well.

Yeah. What we'd like to say is it was the best and the worst of times at the same time. Because that year was a year of growth for our church. We were multiplying, and people were getting saved. And we were taking our ministry on the road with tours, evangelistic tours around the country.

And even in our own lives, too, I remember specifically just in my own life, my own soul, I felt like God was just growing me and growing us in our marriage. And it was just a year of growth. How old were your kids then? Olivia was? Seven. Seven. Lydia was five. And then Daisy was two and a half. And then Clover was one. Almost one. Almost one.

They were bunched in right there at the bottom. And yeah, beautiful. I mean, lots of fun. We have always had a real fun family life. Not to shout out your show, but beyond just church, like we always family days. And I've always loved being a daddy to little girls, and daddy-daughter date nights, and fun family days, and all that. The girls, as they got older, you would take them on trips, preaching trips.

Yeah, I had just taken my second-born daughter, Lynia, on her first daddy-daughter trip. And we went to Disneyland. And then we started our tradition that we've still continued every year, except for 2020. And that is, we would always take our family vacation on Easter Sunday. So we'd finish preaching our last service, and then get on a plane and go somewhere, and turn off my phone, and not email, and not work the whole trip, and so all that. So it was like the best.

We were establishing these great rhythms. And then on Christmas 2012, Lynia, who is our second-born, had had an asthma attack. It was five days before Christmas.

Five days before Christmas. And she just stopped breathing. And it was inexplicable, out of the normal. She'd had a lot of asthma attacks, but normally takes medicine, breathes better, and it's fine. Levi has asthma, and our oldest has asthma, too. So we're used to asthma.

So it's kind of a normal part of our life. And she just stops breathing, and starts turning blue. I did CPR. Jenny called 911.

We were praying, obviously. And in just a matter of moments, she went from being here to not being here. Pause right there for a second. This is the most traumatic thing and the greatest fear every parent has, and you're living it. And as she's turning blue, like, Jenny, are you just, are you so fearful? Do you think that this, like, she could die? Are you thinking that? Or are you thinking, oh, it'll be okay?

Well, I thought she would be okay. So we had just finished a date night. Our date nights were on Thursdays. That was kind of our rhythm. And then family days were on Fridays. And so we just finished our date night.

We came to my mom's house, pulled up. And literally in that moment, we were just saying how we're so excited for family day. We had been, you know, the week before Christmas for church is just crazy.

For anyone, it's crazy. But we just had our schedules packed that week. So all week we were like, okay, you guys, it's crazy now, but we're going to have Friday family day, and we're going to go ice skating, and we're going to have a fancy family dinner. And Levi was going to take Lenya to go Christmas shopping for her sisters. And so we went into date night just like, okay, we just need this.

We need time together, and then we're going to be with our kids. And so we rolled up to my mom's house, literally Levi was like, I just feel so relaxed right now. And that's how we felt. Well, I finished my sermon that day. Yeah. So we were ready for Fresh Life Christmas. We were ready for Christmas as a family, and we were going to, our plan, one of the girls' Christmas presents was taking them to Disneyland, so we were getting ready for that right after Christmas. We were supposed to leave the day after Christmas, which is the day we ended up having her funeral.

Yeah. So I walk in, and my mom's trying to give Lenya her treatment, but she wasn't taking it. She's sitting on the counter, and she looks at me, and then I'm trying to give it to her because she's obviously not taking it or not, she's not doing very well. And then she just passes out on the kitchen counter. And Levi had parked the car, and he ran in. He immediately started doing CPR, and she had allergies. So did she eat anything?

Like is this an allergic reaction? And so he just starts with CPR. We call the paramedics, and that whole time, in that moment, I'm just praying, and I'm crying out to God, and I'm saying, Lenya, it's okay, Lenya, it's okay, it's going to be okay.

Meanwhile, Olivia is seven at the time, and then the little ones, they're all in the other room. But the paramedics come in, and Levi goes with her, they take her away, and then I'm with the other girls in the other room, and I'm just holding them. And I literally, I'm not thinking that she has died. I'm not thinking that I just said goodbye to her.

Like I'm not thinking those things. I'm literally thinking, it's going to be okay, it's going to be okay, has to be okay. And then my brother drives me to the hospital, where Levi and I are sitting in that little waiting room, and the doctor comes in. I mean, literally, it's just so shocking, because we were just planning for Christmas.

He just worked so hard on his Christmas message. We were just preparing for family day. Like we were, like the joy of that was like, oh, we're going to just get a moment to breathe. And then all of a sudden, we're hearing what no parent wants to hear, but no one wants to hear, or is in their nightmares.

And he says, I'm so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Lusko, there's nothing more that we can do. And then literally, it's like, do you want us to keep working on her while you walk in? And we're like, what? Like we're just in shock. And so they bring us in, and it's just the hardest thing. It's terrible.

Ever. And so we walk in, and she's laying there, and I mean, our automatic response, obviously, we were just in shock and crying, and our automatic response, though, was Levi was on the other side of her, and I'm just looking at her, and we each hold one of her hands. And it was almost immediate, and I don't even think we knew what we were doing, but we just raised our other hands, and we were just saying, God, you gave us Lenya, and we give her back to you. And there was just that moment of worshiping in the weeping and acknowledging God in the heartache and the heartbreak and the shock and the terror and the horrors. And I mean, even just looking back, it's like, I don't even know. I don't even know how we did it, I don't know, but God was there with us in our deepest pain. Yeah, I mean, that image of you with your arms up is not what you would expect a parent to be able to do in that darkness.

Like you just said, how in the world was that your response? A lot of what came to my mind in that moment was Linda's baby dedication. We had dedicated her to God as parents early on. And in our church, we bring parents up, and they stand on the stage, and they hold the baby.

And with the pastor there, they say, we're going to recognize God in this child's life as long as they're here. And that babies are on loan, they're gifts from God, we're here to be stewards, not owners. And I think that's what's so freeing about tithing. You're saying we're stewards of this money, not owners. We want to honor God in how we use this money.

So you have a light touch on money because the tithe helps to pry your fingers open. Well, the baby dedication is similar because you're essentially saying, this isn't my child. This is God's child, and I want to raise this child to know Jesus. And when I remember seeing her in the hospital, that was one of the first images that popped into my head. And I remember when we were praying, we said, God, we dedicated her to you when you gave her to us, and now we give her back to you as you've taken her home. I don't want to make it sound like we were in a movie. We weren't like super human in our faith. We were broken and we were devastated and we were suffering and we were in agony. But I can also say that God gave us peace, the past understanding, and we, in the midst of that agony, felt a true sense of it's going to be okay, and God, I'm here with you through this.

So how do you walk out to your car? The worst. Yeah, it was hard. We looked at the empty car seat. We looked at, you know, and it was all, the timing of it was also capricious. I mean, it's just no good day to lose a child, but to have gifts under the Christmas tree with her name on them, her stocking was on the fireplace. There's a million things about it that were just so cruel. To have a child die is like having memories taken from you that you've already thought about and enjoyed, so you've almost feel like they're already yours, but then having them snatched from you, you know, because you fantasize about your child's high school graduation, walking them down the aisle, you know, there's so many benchmarks. You know, to this day in our pantry, all of our kids have little tick marks with the date by them and lineas stop.

It's right there. You look at all, everyone's getting older but her. And so all of that's in your mind when you look in the rear view mirror and you see an empty car seat. And so we looked at that and we just thought, this is not happening, but at the same time, again, it's like a split screen because then Jenny reminded me that we should go back and invite the people in the hospital to church. Yeah, Jenny, how does that happen? This is right outside the hospital? Yeah, this is, you walk outside, you had just left the hospital and Jenny said, Levi, you have to go back in.

Well, I already shifted to reverse. Really? And Jenny goes, hold on, you need to go back and invite those people to church. And it was just natural.

It's just part of our rhythms. You don't build a church by telling people to invite their friends. You build a church by inviting everybody that you meet to come to church. It's not weird or icky evangelism. It's just like natural overflow of we've seen Jesus and we want to tell people about Jesus. And so we always had little cards or invites we could use to invite people now.

It's a website or Instagram, right? But we would say, hey, come to church on Sunday. Well, and even both Livvy and Lenya had little purses that they would always put little treasures in. And after she went to heaven, we found Lenya's purse and she had her little mini Bible and she had invitations to Fresh Life Christmas and bracelets. That was who we were as a family. Like even Lenya, we would be at the grocery store and she would be like, Mom, you didn't invite her to church. Like she was always inviting people and that was kind of who she was, but it was who we were as a family too.

And so I don't know exactly what came over me. All I know, I mean, we had spent, I don't even know how long we were in the room with Lenya, but I know that it was the hardest thing to leave because we're walking out and we should have been carrying her with us. We should have been like she was supposed to come with us. And so leaving the room and leaving the hospital and our daughters were, I mean, they were all asleep. They were in the car, but just looking back and seeing Lenya's is empty.

I don't know. I had invitations in the car because even going through the drive through, whatever, we would just always, so I was like, those people just were there for us on our worst day. Like we just need to invite them to come to church. And so leave, I went in and invited them. Well, I was crying and I was a hot mess, but I said, thank you for everything. And I said, we're having Christmas services and we'd love to invite you to come. And I said, I spent all day working on my message and this all happened. But if you'll come, I'm still going to be there.

If you guys would come in my daughter's honor, I would love to have you. And several of them did end up coming, which is beautiful. And even we heard afterwards, some of them made faith decisions, which is just fantastic. It's just how God does. God takes the hard things we go through and he uses them for good, right? If you don't get bitter, if you get better and you know, none of us get to choose what we face, but we all get to choose how we're going to respond to it.

Yeah. Well, as I listened to you guys, what I think is, oh, those things happen because it was a natural overflow of how God had already filled you, like you were filled with him. You're filled with his spirit. And so even though you're in the most devastating experience that you could ever walk through, you're still filled with him. And so Jesus always has his eyes on his people and he's always loving them. And even your response of worship in the midst of suffering and pain is just, you know who your father is and you trust him.

That says a lot about your walk with God and your perspective of how much he loves you and he loves your girls. That was almost a supernatural experience and it reminds me of hearing Tony Evans years ago when I was in my twenties, I think, and he talked about building our foundation and you'd say something like this in your book, but he says, you don't see people pouring the foundation in the middle of the storm. They're building the foundation when the skies are clear because when the storm comes later, the foundation will last. Well, you know, you got to train for the trial you're not yet in. Yes. That's the thing. I love how you said that. But I don't think you ever know when you're, when you're in that season, when you're, you know, potentially doing what's foolish or wise, but Jesus said, when the storms come, you find out if it's sand or rock.

And so we're all right now determining how we're going to respond to our darkest day. Right. So, you know, I'm a dad, I'm a pastor. I'm not sure I could preach after that, that Christmas. You know, I think it'd be very easy to say, Hey, I'm going to take this year off.

And people would understand. So talk about that. Did you, how were you able to preach and did you write, did you write a new message or was it the message you already wrote? Well, you'll recall I spent that day writing that sermon and, and I, you know, I always say this, like, I want to be really careful because I don't think there's any value in playing hurt or faking fine. As my friend Esther Allen likes to say, she wrote that book, no more faking fine. So there's definitely nothing noble about, I pulled my hamstring, but I'm going to keep playing.

You can do severe injury if you do that. So that's a disclaimer. And I did take time off. I took a month off preaching after that weekend, but I felt like, A, it was adrenaline and instinct.

I didn't know any other way through it than that. It was, I had wrote the sermon. It was my way to honor her.

I promised those people in the hospital. So there was really never any question that I was going to, I tweaked the ending of the message and worked, of course, the conquering of death into the story, which is the point of Christmas and getting up and doing that, I think was my gift. I mean, you know, most kids have the obligation of stewarding their parents' legacy.

God gave us the backwards responsibility of honoring and stewarding our daughter's legacy. And so we just have kind of from the beginning intended to not miss a moment in that journey. Well, I know the title, I don't know the contents of your message, but I think it was turn off the dark.

That's right. What did that mean? Jesus in John chapter one is the light of the world. And I had always thought about you turn on a light. So if you turn on light, you're turning off dark and the action of turning off the dark, which was inspired by the Spiderman Broadway play, was it this epiphany that when Jesus came to Christmas, it was God's attempt to turn off darkness. And so that was what I had spent the whole day kind of writing.

And you know how it is when you get a good idea and it kind of works, it's that eureka moment of, you know, Archimedes in the bathtub where you're almost ready to run through the streets naked. You're just so excited about your sermon, you know, you wrote and it doesn't always happen, but when it does come in that bolt of inspiration, it's wonderful. And that was how that sermon was given to me. And so it was all kind of full circle.

There wasn't 3000 people in the church at that point, but I think 6000 people came to that Christmas Eve service and you know, it was amazing to get to honor Jesus and my daughter in that moment. Finally, I'd love to know your perspective on, uh, you know, we said at the beginning trials can make you better or bitter and in some ways it sounds so trite in this situation because yeah, when you have a flat tire or the meeting gets canceled, yeah, they can come in, but when you're going through the devastation that you have, talk about that. There's families listening that have lost, you know, a loved one, maybe a son or a daughter or a spouse. How is it that God can meet you in that moment?

How does he do that? Cause you've experienced it. Well, we always want to be really careful to not just, you know, come in with our experience and you know, people hearing this could just, you could feel so insensitive to say, you know what, you're, you're going to be fine. It's God's making you better.

And like you said, you know, give some sort of like pat answer. Our experience though, is that everything Jesus said in Matthew chapter five has been proved in the, in the fire. Blessed are the broken hearted, blessed are the, you know, those who mourn. Blessed are those who hunger.

They will be filled. They will be comforted. There's the kingdom of heaven. There is a reward in suffering and that reward is God does come near.

He's near to the broken hearted. And in a unique way, I really believe if you don't harden your heart, if you open up your heart to God being there, there is a unique treasure that's available to you in the midst of suffering that is honestly an honor. And I don't know how to say this any other way than this.

So I'll just say it. If I could have what God has given to us in this suffering without going through, I would still want it. I would want every good thing that he's given to us in this because it is so good. And there is such a nearness of his spirit and a depth that you can't get outside of being put into a crucible. That's why Paul said to the Philippians, to you, it's been entrusted with the grace of not only believing in Jesus, but to suffer for his name. And that could sound so cruel, man, you guys have been given the great gift of suffering, but they would say, you're right, Paul, it is a gift to suffer for Jesus.

Yeah. And it's hard though, because we wish that she was still with us. And I think that we don't want to say like, oh, people gave their lives to Christ. And since Lenny went to heaven, all these people know God's love. And yes, that is true.

And that's amazing. And but we miss her and it's hurt so much. And it has been, I mean, even in those, especially in those early days and then kind of randomly and sporadically after, but where it's just that weight heavy on your chest where it's hard to breathe and you almost have to like just trust God for the next breath. And yes, we believe that God has entrusted us with this pain, but reciprocating it, it's us trusting him in the little moments and trusting him when it hurts so much and trusting him that he's at work. He himself said, my ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts.

My ways are higher than yours. And so trusting him that he is good and that he loves us. And then even just at his word when the Bible says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. So our worst day was actually Lenya's glory, glorious day. And so the tension even with that of like the suffering and the pain that we have experienced, but not for her. And that tension of knowing of that hope that we have in Christ, that one day Lenya will not come back to us and we won't get to experience her as a 13-year-old and as a senior in high school. And our daughters are growing up with the void of their sister. However, we have our hope in Christ and we have the hope that because we've placed our faith in Christ and because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

And there's going to be a day where all of this, we won't even remember it because of the joy that we'll have when we're with Jesus together face to face. So there's just always that tension of the heartache and the pain and the anger, but also the joy and the privilege and the honor to get to serve God in this way and to love God in this way and to steward this. Anyone who has experienced the kind of pain and suffering that Levi and Jennie talked about today with David and Wilson knows that's a wound that takes time to heal.

And apart from God's grace, that wound can become infected. Levi has written about the loss of their daughter in a book called Through the Eyes of a Lion, Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power. We've got that book in our Family Life Today Resource Center. You can order it from us online at or you can call to order 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number.

Again, the title of the book is Through the Eyes of a Lion, Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power. Order online at or call 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. We want to take a minute today to say a great big thank you to so many of you who over the last month have gotten in touch with us either online or by phone and made a generous donation to help support the ongoing ministry of family life today. As many of you know, there was a matching gift opportunity made available to us during the month of May and so many of you responded.

We are so grateful for that. We are still tabulating everything, still have some donations coming in through the mail, so I don't have the final results on that at this point, but we do want to say thank you. Your support is what makes not only family life today possible, but it makes all that we do here at Family Life possible, the events, the resources, our website, the global outreach of this ministry.

Your donations fuel the work of effectively developing godly marriages and families. So thank you for your support during the month of May. Thank you to our legacy partners who support us month in and month out and make this daily radio program possible for all of us. And please continue to pray for the ministry of family life going forward. We appreciate your support and we appreciate you joining us for this program each day. And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. Dave and Ann Wilson will continue a conversation with Levi and Jenny Lusko, talking about how God met them in the midst of the pain they were experiencing when their daughter died unexpectedly. I hope you can tune in for that. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Bob Lapine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-11 13:33:36 / 2023-11-11 13:46:27 / 13

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