Ten years ago today Jennie and I were married! It is exciting to have reached this milestone and have spent a decade together. I really can’t believe she married me in the first place, and the spell hasn’t worn off a bit. In fact, my love for her has only grown as I have watched her become more and more the woman Jesus wants her to be.
In the book of Genesis there is a man named Jacob who had to wait and work for seven years before he could marry Rachel, the woman of his dreams, but he didn’t mind. The seven years seemed as only a few days to him because of the love he had for her. When you love someone the things you do for them are a joy not a sacrifice. I can’t help but relate as I think back on these ten years. Time has passed quickly, difficult things have been diluted and joy has been enhanced by her presence in my life.
Not that it’s been easy. Uprooting from the city and pioneering a multi-site church in rural America, a demanding schedule of outreach events, an allergy to complacency and having four kids along the way has kept our calendar packed and our life wild. Friction and conflict are frequent realities. Jennie and I have a great marriage today, but it’s not by accident and it didn’t happen on it’s own. We have worked hard and fought for it. We have invested in our friendship, cultivated it and as a result we get to enjoy the fruit.
On the one year anniversary of Lenya going to Heaven Jennie and I were standing in the cemetery holding each other and Alivia took a photo of the two of us. When I looked at it later it hit me that this is not what anyone has in mind when they dream about marriage. You usually think about all your plans for the future coming to pass. Thats why looks, chemistry, money, and things you have in common, are ranked so highly.
There’s nothing wrong with any of those things of course, but how will they be when life goes worse instead of better? I know that back when we were dating I never pictured us shedding tears over the grave of a child together. I pictured us kissing on the top of the Empire State Building and preaching the gospel ’til our last breath, our kids beside us like little arrows.
The highest praise I can give to Jennie is that it has been an honor to suffer with her. It’s not the good times that show what is really inside, it takes pain filled moments to reveal character, and she has suffered magnificently. As it turns out our dreams and nightmares have come to pass together. We have kissed 102 floors above the twinkling lights of Manhattan, done ministry across the country together AND cried until we ran out of tears when one of our little arrows flew unexpectedly to heaven. In it all it has been a privilege to do so as the husband of Mrs. Jennie Lusko. There is no one I would want to hurt with, laugh with, scheme with, cry with, trail-blaze with, hold onto hope with or get old with more than her.
We are endlessly thankful for Jesus who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! Merry Christmas from our home to yours.
“I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19:4
The other night at bed time we were tucking Alivia and Daisy in. We were talking about how we were close to the one year mark of Lenya being in Heaven. Alivia said, “Wait, how many days will that be?” “Three hundred and sixty five days,” I said. She looked surprised and sighed deeply. I asked, “How many days does it feel like it’s been to you?” She thought about it for a moment and then said, “Sometimes it feels like it’s only been two days and sometimes it feels like it’s been a thousand.”
She is exactly right. In some ways time has stood still. It seems like it was just a moment ago that we were clutching Lenya’s hands crying out to Jesus to send her back to us. The adrenaline, panic, hope and peace of that night seared all of that so deeply into my memory I can go there, whether I want to or not, very easily. In other ways it feels like we have lived a lifetime of grief and sadness, faith and worship in the last year and it is difficult to remember ever not having this thorn in the flesh.
As of today, Lenya has been in Heaven for exactly one year. She broke camp on December 20, 2012. Her earthly house, this tent, dissolved and she got to go Home. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. By earthly time, she has been there in Paradise for 12 months. The Bible says that to the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day so whether it has seemed as a moment to her, or an eternity, I don’t know. Perhaps like in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” she has experienced more in this year than could fill 100 books, or maybe we will enter into eternity just moments after her.
There have been moments of unbelievable, incomprehensible pain in the last year. Having to walk into the waiting room and tell Alivia that her little sister and best friend is with Jesus. Standing in a snowy cemetery on the day after Christmas, watching as an all-too-small box is lowered into the earth. Coming across her favorite pair of boots, scuffed and beautiful. Seeing the notch marks on the pantry door where we measure the girls height continue to shoot up for her sisters while Lenya’s stays still, frozen in time at December 15, the last time she put her back to the door and giggled (and tried to get away with standing tiptoed) while we drew a line. I get sick to my stomach and nearly hyperventilate whenever I see someone giving CPR in a movie. Ambulance sirens make me lightheaded too.
But there has been breathtaking beauty too. God’s presence has been palpable. I have never known Him so closely or sensed His Spirit so strong as in this season of sorrow. If it weren’t for this pain I would not understand His strength the same way. I have screamed in the night and sunk to my knees in despair only to rise to my feet with supernatural strength that was not my own. We have felt Him hold us and breathe life into us while our hands were shaking and our hearts were aching. The name of the Lord has been a tower to run to, a shield to hide behind, a song to sing and a banner over us. The Spirit of Jesus has wet cracked lips, dried wet eyes, and defanged our fears.
Added to that is the way we have seen the Lord use our story and Lenya’s life. Our pain has been a microphone. The more it hurts the louder it gets. We have not only been able to minister to many other hurting and suffering people who are facing similar waters, but the Lord has broken us in ways that has allowed us to speak to people who might not have ever listened otherwise. We believe that nothing is wasted. Jesus has put to use what He has put us through and we know He will continue to.
The ramp-up for Christmas has been very hard because all around us are reminders of painful moments, but they are also reminders of God’s goodness and His faithfulness. Yes, when I see a lit-up tree or hear a Christmas carol it makes me remember what we lost one year ago today, the fact that we set up decorations with Lenya for a Christmas that we never got to experience. But I also remember the way He sustained us, anchored us and gave us peace. Besides, the reason there ever was a Christmas in the first place is because of death. That’s why Jesus came — to defeat the grave. I choose to remember that because of Christmas, our life with Lenya is not over, it is just on hold for now. Until we see her again she is with the Prince of Peace, urging us on in this race of faith, reminding us to cue the eagle whenever we grow weak and reminding us to make it count.
If you didn’t have the chance to meet Lenya, the celebration of her life is available to watch online here. Through it you can really get a sense of the amazing person she is and what an impact she has had on so many people.
Because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ there is so much to be thankful for. Life, salvation, hope, freedom, family, the promise of Heaven and so much more. I am even thankful for thankfulness itself. It’s powerful stuff. When there is a spirit of thanksgiving in your soul it alters the atmosphere in your life. Grateful hearts have no room for tantrums or pity-parties. It’s impossible to complain while you are busy saying, “thanks!” You can focus on what you don’t have and what you didn’t get, or you can thank God for all you have received and have been blessed with, but you can’t do both at the same time.
It has been a very hard year in our home, but we have never in our life experienced God more: Through His presence and His peace that surpasses understanding, through the outpouring of love and prayer from Christians all over the world. (those of you who have left blog comments and sent encouraging notes in the mail have blessed us greatly) Through the church that we are planted in that we call home. Our anchor has held within the veil and we are so thankful for Jesus!
2 Corinthians 2:14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.
About once a month we take a day to fast and pray as a church. This is one practical way we live out one of our core-values and that is: “3. We bow before the battle.” On these very special days we get together in the evening, across the state, and pray and worship together. Nothing flashy or fancy, just an old-school Holy Ghost prayer meeting. It’s awesome.
The format changes, but I often have different campus pastors give devotional thoughts. Sometimes we take communion. I love these nights so much. No webcast or time crunch. They are some of the most extraordinary and powerful worship experiences. I often will share something about our vision or something the Lord puts on my heart right then in the moment. Last night we also heard something very special from a daughter of the house, my oldest daughter, Miss Alivia Sky Lusko. Check it out: