Lenya Lion Category
For the last year I have been dreading the end of fall because I knew that it would signal the start of the Christmas season. Christmas is always a force to be reckoned with. On a normal year it approaches with the subtlety and restraint of a runaway locomotive. We began planning for Christmas at Fresh Life this summer and even then, when it still seemed far away, it was difficult to think about facing the world wrapped in lights, silver bells and and holly. Last week I walked into a Starbucks in New Mexico and saw eggnog lattes were on the menu and they had a big display of Advent calendars near the counter. Ready or not, here it comes.
The truth is, every holiday has been difficult this year. Mother’s day was really hard. My birthday was too. As was Alivia’s birthday, the Fourth of July, Father’s Day, and Easter. These days are when the pain of Lenya’s absence is exaggerated. We miss her every day, but on days when you would always be together or have special traditions the ache just gets a little bit louder. The hardest, by far, this year was Lenya’s birthday. Not being able to be with her on a day that is all about her was unspeakably difficult. We know that Christmas will be very hard. She went to Heaven on December 20th, and we celebrated her life and had her funeral on December 26th.
Back to the runaway train. As I was falling asleep on Halloween I was thinking about how Thanksgiving is all that separates us from Christmas now. Once December begins everything in our society is built into making the ramp up for Christmas as loud and as visible as possible. Twelve days of Christmas. Little numbered doors hiding chocolate. These days and numbers all bring painful memories and traumatizing associations with them. Lenya’s favorite Christmas carol was “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town” by Justin Bieber, but truth be told I wouldn’t really mind it if old St. Nick got lost instead. I realize that I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, and I am ok with that. Naming your fear is a part of getting through it and I am scared of Christmas.
Fortunately, I know that God isn’t scared of what scares me. Jesus is going to be with us, just as He was last year and just as Lenya is with Him now. I don’t have to pretend like I am not frightened either. I trust Him. He will walk with us through the flashbacks and the associations and the sleepless nights and the tears and the lack of tears. We will celebrate the birth of the One who came to destroy death and bring light and immortality to light through the Gospel. We will sing until our voice won’t let us. We will preach and celebrate seeing people come to know Jesus just like we did days after Lenya died in my arms. We will party if we can muster the courage, cry when we miss her and collapse if we have to. Even though He slays us we will bless His name. We always have a choice and I choose to rejoice.
It has been 291 days since my Lenya Lion breathed her final breath here on earth and then shed her body like a cloak as she stepped into Heaven. Two hundred and ninety times I have had to wake up in a world I like a little less for her absence from it. The only thing worse than waking to that painful realization, yet again, is trying to go to sleep with it lying on my chest like a weight.
The crack of light under the door seeping into my room often bothers me as I lay in bed unable to sleep. I know that light is coming from a hallway in which is her bedroom. I know that she is not there tucked in her bed. I cannot go and check on her, kiss her forehead, pull her blankets up tight around her or watch her chest rise and fall as she dreams.
Fortunately, I know that she is not in the grave where we buried her body either. She is in Paradise, in the presence of God. By whatever measure of time that is used in Heaven, these 291 days has been as glorious for her as they have been bitter here. She has the knowledge that we only have in part down below. She is basking fully in the glory of God that we can only handle a hint of while we are in these frail, fallen bodies. She is safe and will never experience pain or suffer ever again. Lenya has arrived.
She also knows and understands how God is using the pain we have endured and are carrying to make us more like Jesus, the King of Kings, who she gets to walk with and speak to. When I call that to mind, the exceeding weight of glory that is being produced in us, this present affliction is put in it’s proper place — it morphs from an insurmountable mountain of grief and sorrow into a temporary, light affliction.
As a dad it is unspeakably difficult to be be separated from my little girl and absolutely unable to get to her. It’s scary enough to put your kid on a bus to go to school where they are out of your supervision for eight hours. It’s a whole different thing to see your kindergartener move to Heaven with out you, and to have had no time to prepare or chance to say goodbye either.
In the most difficult moments what I must do is intentionally remember the fact that I am moving towards her not away from her. Every day that passes brings me closer to my day of arrival in eternity. There are two hundred and ninety one less days until we are reunited. And while I can’t get to her, until that day I CAN do things that register excitement in Heaven and bring joy to her heart and the heart of God. I can focus on Jesus and live for His glory — the same glory that illuminates Heaven like the sun and lights up her face. I can focus on lost people being found and seek to fill that Land with new citizens.
I’ve always thought she had the coolest birthday. September 8, 2007. When you just use numbers it becomes 9-8-7. How rad is that? I don’t know anyone whose date of birth is a countdown. It was always so easy to remember when filling out forms or booking airplane tickets. 9-8-7. I told her once that no matter how many kids we had or how challenging it became to remember all the different date of births I would never be able to forget hers.
Today is 9-8-13. That means Lenya would turn six years old today, if she were still in our space and time. I don’t know how old she is in heaven, or how old she will appear to be when I get there. I have heard some suggest that since Jesus went to Heaven at 33 we will all be that age. If thats true then since I am 31 Lenya would be older than me! She would get a kick out of that. Of course, we have no way of knowing.
What I do know is that I miss her so much today. My reservoir of tears which ran dry several months ago is once again full and flowing. Waves of sorrow have been hitting me in the weeks leading up to this day when I instinctively would feel the need to begin purchasing gifts for her, help Jennie with party planning or consult the birthday girl as to what the menu for her breakfast in bed was going to be.
It is such a difficult and clumsy thing to face this day without the guest of honor here. I want to tell her happy birthday. To wake her up with the whole family singing loudly in her bedroom and watching her sleepy little face beam to see everyone in on it as we march around her room with a plate of her favorite breakfast foods topped with birthday candles. I want to ooh and aah as she comes downstairs dressed to the nines in her birthday outfit. To celebrate her all day long, speaking words to honor and bless her at every turn. Watching her open presents and envelopes with checks from relatives far away. To listen to her laugh and play with her friends at her party, taking pictures of all the fun.
I love being a dad. I love being Lenya’s dad. As hard as it is to be separated from her today, it gives me great comfort to remember that Jesus is in me and she is with Him. She is experiencing fullness of joy and pleasures evermore in His presence, and I am filled with the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead — so there is a connection. She is in heavenly places, but I am seated there. I think that means my name is sitting on a space at the table. I can’t wait to join her. I have a backlog of hugs and snuggles I fully intend to deliver and I’m counting down the days. Until then, Happy Birthday Lenya!
The first time I ever held Lenya, six years ago today.
Celebrating her fifth birthday.
We are in the middle of an annual event at Fresh Life called Rock This City. It all started when we studied the book of Nehemiah and saw his heart to build up the glorious ruins of Jerusalem. God filled us with a desire to do the same in the state of Montana. During this 10 day period we are in a full-on blitz to unleash Christ’s love right where we live. This is now the fourth summer in a row we have done this and it is one of the most special things on our calendar. We have enjoyed it so much that we have opened it up to other churches and it has been awesome to see different churches working together.
Though the “ask” from each person is small — six hours in the course of 10 days — the end result is massive. It is amazing to think that through community service, collaboration with the Parks and Rec departments and partnerships with non-profits we are able to donate thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of work. In some cases getting projects done that a city didn’t have the time or resources to take on. Everyone who serves gets a shirt and so as you drive around town or cruise around Instagram you are seeing #rockthiscity in action.
This year we have ramped up the focus on families serving together. Children have always been allowed to participate but this year we have made it a point to foster and encourage their involvement like never before. Seeing kids in tiny little Rock This City shirts are definitely adorable, but I love the fact that the kids of Fresh Life are learning to love and serve their community while spending quality time with their parents.
I’ll admit that there is a sadness mixed in with the excitement of all of this. Today marks exactly eight months since Lenya’s departure. Approaching Rock This City for the first time without her has been hard. Doing events together as a family is always a blast and it was very challenging to “suit up” and head to our events without her by our side. The first activity we picked was cleaning up a neighborhood park that had been severely neglected. There were so many weeds coming through the gravel all around the playground equipment that you couldn’t tell there were even rocks under it all. As we were getting ready to go and brought out our gardening equipment from the garage there were her little princess gloves sitting there. Deep breath in.
I couldn’t help but think of last summer. Our final event we did was a “choose your own adventure” meaning that it wasn’t planned but one we came up with as a family. We decided to bake cookies and bring them to City Hall, the Fire-station and to local paramedics. The girls spent a long time in the kitchen baking and then we made our rounds handing out boxes with notes saying thanking them for serving us. Even Clover, then a baby, was wearing a custom-made RTC shirt.
A few of the firefighters were super kind. They gave the girls a tour and showed them where the ambulances and firetrucks were parked. None of us could know then that one of those same vehicles would carry her to the hospital in four months. I love that Lenya got to show Jesus’ love to the same people that would heroically try to save her life. I was told by one of the paramedics later on that two of the EMT’s came to Fresh Life on Christmas eve in her honor and responded to the invitation. God works all things together for good. Nothing is wasted.
Earlier this week I posted about the way a marriage transitions from honeymoon to real life. The emotional high of getting married inevitably fades with time as it becomes normal. Everything is awesome at first because it all feels so amazing, but feelings aren’t enough in the longterm. You must fight to honor God and your spouse even when you don’t feel it anymore.
It got me thinking. Grief is the same way. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Very much like the first few months after a wedding, when you are grieving, there are overwhelmingly intense emotions that seem like they will last forever. They don’t. Facing the death of someone you love is also like getting married in that maybe the hardest part is what happens when things start to quiet down.
In the initial aftermath of grief everything is on fire. There is such wild, extreme, blinding pain that at times you can’t believe it’s possible to feel so bad and it’s hard to imagine you will ever feel good again. This slowly subsides. This is where it gets truly challenging though. Shock and surprise act like an emotional anesthesia, and as they wear off you feel everything.