“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.
The Bible tells us that we have hope as an anchor of the soul. It is both sure and steadfast. Translation: It is unmovable. A permanent anchor that will never budge. We can know this is true because it is Jesus who is our anchor. He is our hope. He has entered God’s presence and has promised to bring us to be where He is. Our hope is not dead either, it is a living hope, because He lives forever.
There is endless comfort to be enjoyed from these truths and the symbolism God employed to help us understand them. Simply seeing an anchor reassures me when I feel shaky. In the last five months since Lenya’s departure I have felt gale-force winds of sadness and tsunami waves of grief crash down on me and yet my anchor holds within the veil.
The great thing about anchors is that they are never cordless. There is always a connection. A rope or a chain. That cord is every bit as vital as the anchor itself. It doesn’t matter how securely that big hunk of metal is wedged into the ocean floor if you’re not tied to it anymore. The leash matters greatly.
Our anchor of the soul is no different, it comes equipped with a mighty chain. The Holy Spirit. Before entering God’s presence Jesus promised to send His Spirit to be our Helper. He is our great rope that cannot be frayed. The one who has lashed our hearts to Heaven. Through the Spirit we have an everlasting guarantee that we are slowly but surely being winched into our true Country. He is the one who groans in us and keeps us from getting too comfortable here on this earth. He is the proof that there is more to come and that death is not the end.
In moments of overwhelming sorrow I not only am strengthened by my anchor, I am given courage because of the chain. Because Lenya is with Jesus and, through His Spirit, Jesus is in me, there is a direct connection. I have mumbled these words to myself in moments of sadness, “She is with Him and He is in me.” And through them, as a family, we have been revived again and again. In a very real sense we are holding hands with the One who is holding her.
This also means that through choosing to be filled with the Holy Spirit we can feel the cord grow taut. Walking in the flesh and choosing to sin puts slack in the line, but honoring Jesus and walking in the light reels it in. The more room we give the Spirit to come upon us and control our lives the more receptive we are to Heaven’s signal, it’s guidance, and the greater peace we will enjoy.
Hebrews 6:19 “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil …”
We recently came across a pile of stones that Lenya had gathered. All of our girls love rocks. They have real toys too — Barbies, Littlest Pet Shop characters, Disney princesses, and animals of every sort imaginable — yet they enjoy playing with rocks as much as anything you can buy at Target. Especially Lenya, she has loved them ever since she was very young. Whenever we go on a walk or a bike ride they love to collect them to be transferred to their purses, or other treasure boxes when we get home.
When winter loosed it’s grip and spring finally brought us back out to our backyard we made a discovery. On a patio table there was a handful of rocks that had been there since last fall. Alivia and Jennie remembered that Lenya had picked them from our yard and had been playing with them on a sunny day. When I heard this I stared at the rocks and could picture her standing there selecting them. I wonder what they were in her imagination. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds? Pirate coins? Dinosaur bones? Why did she pick these out of all others? What was going on in her wonderful little head that day as she whimsically played?
On that table they sat during the cold months waiting to be discovered as a different kind of treasure. A note tucked in a bottle. Once the snow melted there they were. They delivered both cherished memories and a clear message. Time is short. Precious. Fleeting. You never know when it will run out. There is nothing certain about our life on this earth except that it will end. We must savor the moments. Drink in the small things. Strain to find God’s joy in common occurrences as a tiny stone seen with creativity through the eyes of a little child.
Life rushes by and it waits for no one. You will never find time for the most important things, you must choose to make time. If you aren’t careful the tyranny of the urgent will rob your life of true significance. Jesus and people. These are all that will seem weighty in the final analysis. It is tremendously difficult, especially in this crazy, fast-paced world we live in, but you have to fight to be present and focused for what matters most.
I can’t wait to once again enjoy Lenya’s company in Heaven. I groan for it deep in my soul. I am looking forward to spending time with her collecting beautiful rocks on the new earth. Unlike these ones, they will never need to be cast away.
Ecclesiastes 3:4-5 “A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;”
In this whole process of responding to Lenya’s departure to heaven there has been one question I haven’t asked. That question is, “why?” I have never found my heart bubbling up with that. Even in my darkest moments of unfiltered pain and confusion: “Why did this happen?” or “Why did God let my daughter die?” wasn’t what gushed out. To be honest my lack of thirst for those answers has shocked me a little bit.
I am not saying I have faith made out of steel. I don’t. There have been times of deep, deep doubt. Moments where I have come close to despair. There have been anxiety attacks that verged on total meltdown.
The closest thing I can compare these moments to is having one of your kids get separated from you in the grocery store and that sick feeling of panic when you are running up the aisles looking for them. Only there is no resolution. It doesn’t end, on this side of eternity, you have to learn to live with it. Once I was on an airplane and felt myself slipping. I got so stressed that I thought to myself, “if you don’t get this under control you are going to get arrested trying to open the door or something.” I had to breathe slowly with my head down to stop myself from hyperventilating.
Even in these times of intense doubt I haven’t been plagued by “why?” though. It’s not because I already know the answer. I have no clue. Beyond generally, that all death is the result of sin, I don’t know why my daughter’s life on earth was cut short. Today is my birthday and I don’t know why I won’t get to spend it with her. I believe God could have overridden and kept her here. He wasn’t surprised by any of this. I also believe He could have answered our prayers and brought her back even after she left this world. He’s done it before.
One day I will know even as I am known, but not yet. Right now I look at all this through a dark glass. Not knowing doesn’t change anything for me though. I trust Him. I trust His plan. He knows what He is doing. He does all things well. I don’t have to know all the answers because I know Him. So my heart’s cry isn’t, “give me facts,” but “give me faith,” because even if I did have the information there isn’t much I could do with it. Even the tiniest measure of faith, on the other hand, can move mountains.
In the movie The Avengers there is a scene where Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are having a conversation. Bruce feels as though being the Hulk is nothing but a curse, a nightmare. He feels exposed, like a nerve, and sees no good in it. Tony, on the other hand, views being Iron Man as a responsibility.
He puts it this way, “You know, I’ve got a cluster of shrapnel, trying every second to crawl its way into my heart. [he points to his chest] This stops it. This little circle of light. It’s part of me now, not just armor. It’s a … terrible privilege.”
The point he is making is one that reverberates through the pages of scripture. Things that come close to crushing you completely can become an integral part of your calling. God has a way of weaving together even the most destructive things we go through to bring about His eternal plans and save the lives of many. He never wastes a trial. He has a plan for your pain.
I think of this scene often. I’m no Iron Man, but the pain of having my little Lenya go to Heaven so young feels at times like a chunk of metal seeking to tear my heart apart. If I had been given a choice between the two I would choose the shrapnel. In a heartbeat. Though it has been over four months now, the sorrow is still very severe. It can vary from a blinding and jolting intensity to a dull, cold, throbbing, like an ache deep in your bones.
I have found that there is nothing you can do with this pain except live with it and keep moving forward. I trust God and pray and read scripture every day. It still hurts. I feel myself getting stronger, but the pain never goes away.
The one thing that brings the most relief, that I look forward to more than anything, is church. Specifically singing. Like Tony Stark’s glowing arc-reactor, I find that when I am surrounded by a throng of God’s people and we are all lifting high the name of Jesus in a worship experience, the pressure inside my chest is alleviated and the sharp barb gets temporarily pulled from my heart.
These are also the moments when I feel nearest to her. Much more so than when I stand at her grave. That plot of earth merely houses her tent, she is in the presence of the Lord. With my eyes closed and my hands raised and the music swirling around me, there are glimpses of God’s glory that transcend all else. In those fleeting moments I feel locked in to the frequency of Heaven and everything else just fades to gray.
2 Corinthians 4:6 “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”