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Seeing Suffering Through God's Eyes (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
March 9, 2022 5:00 am

Seeing Suffering Through God's Eyes (Part 1 of 2)

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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March 9, 2022 5:00 am

Levi & Jennie Lusko share the tragic story of the unexpected death of their 5-year-old daughter, Lenya, and how God worked through their family in the aftermath. The Luskos maintained their ministry obligations, sharing the Gospel at their church after Lenya’s death, which led many to the Lord. (Part 1 of 2)

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Someone observed, The hardest thing I have ever had to hear was that my child died.

The hardest thing I've ever done is to live every day since that moment. Today on Focus on the Family, you'll be hearing about one couple's journey through that long, dark valley of loss and how they discovered God's light and His grace in the midst of their pain and sorrow. Thanks for joining us today. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.

John, today we have Levi and Jenny Lesko with us and I'm looking forward to the program. I think when you have experienced pain, you know the benefit of pain. And that's why I'm excited. Not that pain is good to go through, but man it has so many good benefits for us. For example, it humbles your spirit.

That's a good thing. And you know the scripture tells us that suffering produces good things in us. And it's not something you hear much about in the church today. Yet it's core to the gospel and what Jesus was trying to tell us. So I think, although it may be rough, this isn't what puts people back in the church seats, right? Suffering being good.

This will be one you're going to want to kick back and soak it in. And Levi and Jenny Lesko are the founders and lead pastors of Fresh Life Church. It's a multi-site ministry based in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah. They've each written a book and we're going to be talking about both of them along the way here. Jenny's is the fight to flourish, engaging in the struggle to cultivate the life you were born to live. And Levi's book is Through the Eyes of a Lion, Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power.

Stop by the episode notes and you'll find the links about these great resources. Levi and Jenny, thank you again for your willingness to come and open up. I mean, it's one of the most difficult things to always repeat one of the most difficult episodes of your life. But I know you do it with the heart to help others. I'm already tearing up. This isn't good, but I just really appreciate you being here. Thank you. Thank you so much for having us. Thanks for having us.

It's a privilege. So let me take you to a moment in your marriage. I think it was fairly early on when you had this crisis of vocation, maybe if I could call it that.

The vocation of location. You're a successful pastor. Dr. Seuss over here. Yeah, Dr. Seuss.

I've read a few of those, but then they were stripped away. Too soon, too soon. But you're a pastor in California. You're thriving there. You're very successful. And you bump into somebody who says, hey, you might want to think about coming to Montana or Idaho.

What was it? Montana, yeah. Yeah, we felt like California made sense for us, you know, all our lives. I actually grew up in Colorado, raised in New Mexico, Jenny from California. We ended up in Orange County, and we were just a mile away from the beach. You know, a couple thousand people in the church we were teaching at. It felt like all roads had led to that moment.

Season passes to Disneyland. It's where God wanted you. It felt right, honestly.

And at that point, there came this incredible, ridiculous idea. Go to Montana, start a church. We're not ranchers. I don't look like Kevin Costner. It didn't make sense to us.

And yet, when you know God's speaking to you, and it almost irritates you because you just know he is, and you almost wish you could pretend you didn't hear him, we felt like we needed to move to Montana and start a church, which didn't make sense. Let me ask you, Jenny, because I think every mom is going to lean in on this. You know, at this point, you're busy as could be. You've got four daughters, six are younger. And so I think on behalf of the moms, how did you do that? I mean, you had everything juggling. You had four daughters, six are younger.

What was that like? Yeah, that's crazy. And I think you just do what you need to do to survive and be awake and just do it.

I think sometimes we, I don't know, it's hard. But when we planted Fresh Life, we had one, our oldest daughter, Olivia, and she was one and a half. And after we had moved in January, which we didn't know was the coldest month in Montana, we literally moved from 74 degrees. It's not New Orange County anymore, baby.

Get this, Jenny's going to tell it. Yes, we moved from 74 degrees in South Orange County to 14 degrees. Yeah, 14 below zero, I think.

On a good day. And then that week that we moved to Montana, I found out I was pregnant with our second daughter, Lenya. And so that was crazy. But I think just having a lot of kids in a small period of time when you're, I mean, we were planning on waiting five years to have kids after we got married.

And I got pregnant within, I think, the first eight months. And so... Man plans his way. God's ways are different. God directs the steps.

But I will say, if you are taking birth control, you do have to take it at the same time every day for it to be effective. Anyway. And I will say it was a part of our church growth strategy.

In Montana, every person counts. We're doing our part to grow to the kingdom. Yes.

No, that is so good. I want to get into that because your second daughter is the core of the story. And tell us about her and what Lenya was like. Well, she was born the year that Fresh Life was born.

So every year was kind of the milestones of where she was at and where our church was at, the toddler age. And she was born with a full head of hair. We were just so surprised because Olivia was born like a bald old man.

Sorry, Olivia, if you're listening. Face only a mother could love. But Lenya was born with just this wild mane of hair. And we named her Lenya after Levi's godmother.

But we didn't know that it means lion in Russian. And that just perfectly described her personality, her wildness, her rebelliousness, her naughtiness. She is wonderful. Very spirited.

Yes. Little girl it sounds like. Describe for us then, I think it was five days before Christmas in 2012 when tragedy struck your family. What were the details? What was happening?

What took place? So five days before Christmas is always wild and crazy probably for anybody. But we were getting ready for our church Christmas Eve services.

Levi was studying for his message. We were just wrapping presents, the girls had a birthday party they were going to. So we went to a movie. And so that whole day was just kind of a normal December 20th.

Getting ready for Christmas. A whirlwind. A whirlwind. So at that time Olivia was seven and then our youngest Clover wasn't even one yet. So it was just crazy. All that chaos. She was two.

Yeah. And Lenya was five. And so that night we had a date night. And Thursday nights generally throughout our marriage have been date nights where it's just him and I. And so that night we had a stay at home date night and my mom was watching the kids. And I was wrapping presents and Levi was watching Home Alone.

That's what it is. We were both watching but I was wrapping gifts. She's better at wrapping presents.

The multi-tasker. I love wrapping gifts. That's the love language of mine. Oh man. But so we went. We left to go pick up the kids from my mom's house. And literally as we drove up Levi took my hand and was just like I just feel so relaxed right now.

And that's a big thing for Levi. My sermon was finished though. I had finished my message that day which is once the message is done you can kind of relax. Right. I understand that.

Yes. And we were going into what we called Friday Family Day which every Friday we would take as a family. We would just have a day. We were planning a special dinner and ice skating. We had a reservation at a fancy restaurant with cloth napkins and ice skating.

No we had billed it as our big family Christmas day. Right. And for Levi to say I'm so relaxed right now is a big deal because his mind is always going. Always thinking of the next thing. But for him to say okay now I'm ready to just relax because my message is done and now we can enjoy family day with our kids. And this is in the driveway.

In the driveway of my mom's house. So now you walk in. So my brother runs out and says Lenya needs you. And so I run in and my mom, Lenya had asthma. Olivia, our oldest, has asthma. Levi has asthma.

It's kind of a normal thing in our life to have inhalers and albuterol and nebulizer and everything. But she wasn't taking her medicine that night. And my mom, I walk in and Lenya's sitting on the counter and my mom's trying to give her the nebulizer but she just wasn't taking it. And so she turns pale and just passes out on the kitchen counter.

Levi runs in because he had just parked the car. He runs in and just immediately, he's so good in these situations, just starts like doing what he had learned of CPR and mouth to mouth. And I'm just like all of a sudden realizing okay this is a bad situation. I'm praying and saying Lenya it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay. And we call 911 and it's winter in Montana.

It's December 20th so the roads are icy and it's snowing outside. So the paramedics finally come and come in and take them to the hospital. And I just felt this cold feeling of like this is not happening and this is not going to end well.

I could just feel the grimness in their faces I think when they were working. And I had asked them while they were working on her, I said does she have a heartbeat? Does she have a heartbeat?

And they said not right now. And so she was coded nonresponsive in the house. That's when from like science she was gone to be with Jesus. And so we get to the hospital. They take her to the room and they're working on her, working on her. We're in the waiting room now. And they come in, the doctor comes in into the waiting room and there's people behind him and he comes to get us. And we're like waiting for news like she's fine.

Can we go see her? And he says I'm so sorry. We're like I'm so sorry. And he says there's nothing more we can do.

Do you want to come in and be in there when we turn the machines off? And so we just kind of push past him and we go in there and you know she's all hooked up but looks so peaceful. And we just begin praying that you know the God who made the son stand still, who gave Jairus his daughter back, who raised Lazarus from the dead, the God who brought Jesus out of the grave, that he would give her life back and give us more time with her.

And you know God didn't answer that prayer. And so we both take her hands, each of us. And the first thing that came to my mind was her baby dedication. You know we had stood on the stage of our church and dedicated her to God saying she's not ours, she's yours. And so the only words that kind of came back to me were it was we said she was yours when you gave her to us.

And so now as you've taken her to be with you, we give her back to you. And we used Job's words and we said blessed be the name of the Lord there. And a supernatural sense of God's presence was in that room that night. And we just felt like there was a sense in which she was with Jesus and he was there with us and in us.

And so as awful as this all was, it was going to be okay. You know my mind is just rolling here because of trying to put myself in your place. We haven't gone through this experience. My brother and his wife have, with the loss of my nephew. And it's hard to really understand what that would be like.

I mean it does make me teary just to think about it. But the what ifs, I could have, I should have. How did you manage that in the hours afterward, the days afterward?

Did the Lord's peace cover that territory too? Well that's definitely something that happened. I mean I think as parents you just think I should have known or I should, what if. And I think even just when my mom described what was happening that night with her. And she said Lenya just started kind of running around the room. And it seemed like there might have been like a heart issue that maybe we didn't know about.

I know Levi's mom and sister both had like a heart issue when they were younger, like five. So part of me is like, I don't think it was just an asthma attack. I feel like there was more. And I think those kind of questions of like, what if we had found out what was wrong? Could we have, you know, all these things. And ultimately it comes to the point where you just have to give those things to the Lord. Because I mean we're not going to know those things until heaven. And quite honestly once we're in heaven all those questions are probably just going to melt away. Because we'll be in the presence of our Savior and we'll be in heaven. So sometimes I'm like, oh I just want to know.

I want to know the answers. And I think to come to a place where we don't know the answers and it's okay. And I think that's the big point.

Because people are going to be listening and watching. Their story is going to be maybe a little different but they may have suffered loss like this. And they may still be back there in that guilt feeling. And it may have been something that they may have been able to avoid.

They may have been able to save their child's life and it just didn't come out that way. And I think it's the theology of that. I love the construct of we're all going to go. Nobody escapes it. And eternity is what it's about.

It's just your daughter got there earlier. But theologically, Levi, you've got to get to that place where you can let that guilt go. That's exactly what Jesus died for.

A hundred percent. Yeah, it's a journey though. And I would just encourage everyone listening to know that it's a process and it's not instant. We had moments of surrender. We had moments of peace. We had moments of God's presence. And we had moments of rage. Moments of guttural, guttural anger. Anger at God? Not anger at God per se. I began to realize I wasn't angry at him.

How could I be? He's the one who saved me. The one who knit her together in Jenny's womb.

The one who even now is holding her. I thought at times I might be angry with God. But when I began to really pick down on it, I realized I was angry with God.

And that's a big distinction. Because in John 11, Jesus is the only instance in the Bible where we actually get to watch Jesus at a funeral. Lazarus, his friend, has died. He loved Lazarus, loved Mary Martha, and Lazarus is in the grave. And the Bible says, watching the grief of the sisters, he groaned with rage inside of him.

That's literally the best definition of that Greek word. It's like the bellowing or snorting of an angry horse. It shows how mad Jesus was at death, at sin, and that's why he told Adam and Eve not to take from the tree. So what I realized was I wasn't angry at God. I was angry with God because he's angry too.

And he's angry enough to do something about it. Meaning he sent Jesus to overcome the grave. And to, in the end of the world, when Jesus returns, to call us out of the grave. Let me ask you, Jenny, because I know in the book you disclose how difficult it was to even get up in the morning. And part of the processing here, you feel like, I'm sure, you're moving at different paces.

You know, maybe Levi, you're getting through some of it in a different way from you, Jenny. But for the mom's heart to struggle getting up out of bed, you've got three other kids. Yeah. And they're looking to mom. Totally.

Describe that. Well, I'm actually very thankful that we had three to take care of. I mean, we had a seven-year-old, two-and-a-half-year-old, and not even a one-year-old. And I honestly am so grateful that I didn't have a choice. I had to get up. I had to feed Clover. I had to hug Olivia. I had to still be mom. And so I think that that was actually such a gift. Because, I mean, if Lenya was our only daughter, I can only imagine, like, what would I do?

I mean, I was joking with Levi the other night. Like, I just love my bed. I probably would have just stayed in it. But I think that there's just that, I have to get up. I have to take the next step. I have to keep moving forward, obviously for my family's sake, but also for my own sake and for what God wants to do in my heart and in my life and the healing that he wants to do. And I think that sometimes the practical things don't seem as significant, but that's a really big deal to just show up for your family.

Oh, yeah. And I can only imagine, again, some women are listening that they're still in that block, like in the blocks ready for the race, but they can't get out of the blocks. What if there was something that really helped you or what would you say to that person? I know every circumstance is different. It's a hard, hard question to ask you.

But for that person that's going, I can't get up, what would you say? I would say that God has something for each and every one of us in the midst of the pain that we're going through. And I think that, I mean, my book, I called it The Fight to Flourish because God wants us to flourish and live an abundant life. There seems to be such a disconnect between that idea versus the pain and the struggle that we're going through. How do we connect the struggle and the heartache and the grief to this flourishing, abundant life that God wants us to live?

But I think both can happen at the same time if we see that the struggle that we're going through is actually part of the flourishing and a part of the abundant life that we're called to live. And I think that sometimes we just have to embrace that daily. I mean, I think just that daily grind can just feel like, what does this even signify? Like, what is this purpose that I have when I'm just in this daily moment right now? And I think for so many of us, I'm sure for so many women especially listening, that there's just that daily, the diapers that you have to change, the babies that you have to feed. Like, it just feels so monotonous, but there's such joy. There can be such joy in the midst of it if you see that there's purpose in the daily. And that just like the seed that goes into the ground and is meant to become a tree or is meant to become a flower, is meant to become whatever it is, there's a fight that happens the moment that seed goes in the ground because the initial little sprout coming out and then the fight that it takes to grow through the dirt and the roots going down deep, that's a big deal.

And that's a lot of work that happens in order for the beauty to come out. So I think that there is a possibility that as we walk with Jesus and abide in him, one of my favorite passages in the Bible is John 15, where Jesus said, abide in me and I in you and you will bear much fruit. And I think there's just that daily abiding in Jesus and just running to him and looking to him and that there's a fruit that can happen in the midst of the pain. And don't let the immensity of the journey overwhelm you. I would say, you know, you don't have to worry about next Thursday. Just get out of it today. And Jenny in her book, Fight to Flourish, quotes the Creed movie with Michael B. Jordan.

It's a boxing movie where his coach, Rocky Balboa, is saying to him, it's one punch at a time, it's one round at a time, it's one fight at a time. You know, so you're grieving today and you're like, I don't know how I can get out of bed. How can I do this next month or two more years?

How can I grieve like this for five years? Just get up and make a coffee. Just get up and open your Bible.

Just go to work today. One punch, one round, one fight. You know, Levi, I thank you, Jenny, for being the mom here and talking about that. For us as men, Levi, and as fathers and husbands, we can pull back because we can't fix it. And we just get overwhelmed or we feel inadequate, whatever that might be. How did you process that as a man?

And I'm sure speaking to men listening, how do you stay engaged in the fight and not give up and go to the cave? No, it was hard. You know, I memorized the car seat manual to install the latch clips correctly. I made sure she had a helmet on when she rode her bicycle. You know, it's my job to take care of these girls.

I was a minority and a sorority for all those years until God gave us a son. And so, I mean, I did everything I could. I was at her well checks. So to feel like I failed her, that's how I took it for a long time. And so a part of my expending of energy for a season was trying to understand medically what went wrong and how I could have seen it.

And I met with her doctor again, and I said, explain this to me. But then I kind of realized I was just spinning my wheels because it wasn't going to bring her back even if I fully understood it. And so then there was a hard, you know, season of not taking this personally. And I think God, I just had to let God heal me in that and to continue, you know, like Jenny said, to still show up. Her funeral was the day after Christmas, you know, so we still had to have a Christmas day for her sisters and open those presents.

And yes, we had to jut out for a minute to pick the cemetery plot, but it was like still continuing to do those things. And I would just say layer after layer, God's grace, when I didn't retreat, like you said, but put it out there because it's like an irritant in an oyster. It can turn into a pearl or an abscess. And if you let God coat it with a layer of grace a day, eventually it becomes a pearl of great price.

So good. Yeah. And I think the thing is those are statements that sound lofty, but they're the right thing to aim for and not to be discouraged in the journey to get there where you could see the pearl. But it's tough. It's tough when you hear that news.

We're right at the end here. I do want to have you come back next time, but I want to ask this question because it was so poignant. Uh, the night that your daughter passed away and you're leaving the hospital and that feeling of leaving her behind, that was just, ah, describe it.

One of the worst things ever. I mean, we get in the car and it was, I don't know, 11 at night. Our kids, other kids were in the car sleeping and we look back and Lenya's car seats empty and um, we're just gutted sitting there.

One like do, how do we drive away? And I mean, our house is actually very close to the hospital. So, um, that's a whole other thing of passing by the hospital every day. Um, saying driving away, I don't even know how we did that, but um, I think one thing that was helpful was there was already a sign of like purpose in it because we got in the car and I saw our little fresh life Christmas invitations that we would carry everywhere. And Lenya was always like, mom, you got to invite them to church. You got to invite that lady who works at the grocery store to church. So we were always inviting people to church. And I saw this plan for the Christmas service in Whitefish and Kalispell and Billings and we were all, we'd all been gearing up for it. And, and so I saw those invitations in the car and I was like, Levi, we should invite the people who were, who were just helping us and who were there for us. We should invite them to church.

And so he takes some invitations and goes in and um, invites them. I just went up, I was crying in a mess and it was Jenny's idea. I have to give her all the credit, but I walked in and just said, Hey, my daughter just, you know, went to be with Jesus in heaven.

Her body's still here. We just, as a family would like to invite you to church. And I said, um, if you'll be willing to come, I'll preach.

I wrote a message today and I made a promise that I'd preach and they didn't know what to do. Uh, yes, thank you. I mean, they received the invitations, but we found out later that two of the EMTs and um, one of the, uh, respiratory therapists that had been there that day, both came to the service and raised their hands at the invitation, giving their lives to Jesus. And that's just one little moment of redemption that came, came out of this. I don't think that's little, that's big. It was huge. That's really big. And man, that's the purpose right there. Right?

So that you think about God's ways, not being our ways and three people coming to Christ through that experience. Wow. That's unbelievable. We're out of time. This is a terrible time to stop.

Um, thank you for the vulnerability. Let's come back, continue the story and the things that you've learned. And I know people are being helped, um, just how to grieve in Christ. And you know, you don't get away from it in this life. You know, so many people I think have the misunderstanding that you become a Christian and the Lord paves the road in front of you, maybe even in gold.

That's not it folks. It doesn't mean materially things are going to be different necessarily. Blessings are there. But what you're hearing is the heart of a couple that lost their daughter and found a deeper relationship with Christ in the process.

That's the gold. And we would encourage you to reach out to a trusted Christian friend or a pastor if you're dealing with this kind of a weight, a grief, a trouble in your life or a loss. We have caring Christian counselors here. They're made possible by generous donors and we'd be happy to set up a phone consultation to talk through things, to listen to you, to pray with you. And again, that's a free consultation. Let us know that you need help when you call 800 the letter A in the word family.

That's 800-232-6459 or check the link in the episode notes for more. And when you get in touch, be sure to ask for a copy of either one of these great books, The Fight to Flourish by Jenny Lesko or Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lesko. And also, John, let me just say, and we say it often, you know, get in touch with us. If you can't afford it, we will give this resource to you so that it will help you.

That's what it's about. If you want to participate in ministry with us, that's great. Make a donation of any amount like John said and we'll send you one of the two books as our way of saying thank you. But most importantly, I want to encourage you to get a hold of us. If you're hurting, get in touch with us. Let us be a part of helping you on that journey to restoration and healing. And again, our number 800-A-family or the links are in the episode notes. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we continue the conversation with the Leskos and once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-25 09:04:29 / 2023-05-25 09:16:39 / 12

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