The Year of the Eagle

Lenya Lion

“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.


There’s no such thing as a wireless anchor

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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 …”


A time to cast away stones

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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;”


A question I don’t need answered

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.


The pain of searing loss

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.”


Living in a mansion

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We recently took a tour of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It is the largest home in North America. A mansion in every sense of the word. There are 250 rooms filling up 178,000 square feet. It was built by a man named George Vanderbilt and he spared no expense. The architect he used also designed the base of the Statue of Liberty and the man he had design the gardens on the property is the same person who planned out Central Park in New York City. Astoundingly, it wasn’t even Vanderbilt’s primary home but a vacation property he called his “little mountain escape.”

It is an amazing place. From the gargoyles and the huge lions at the entrance to the indoor swimming pool, elevator, and bowling alley, it is impressive. Especially considering it was built at the end of the 1800’s. Vanderbilt’s personal bedroom has wallpaper made out of real gold and a light in his closet that turned on when he walked in. Even the servant’s quarters were cool. We felt like we were in the castle from Beauty and the Beast. Minus the talking candlesticks…

As we walked around we talked about how Jesus said that in His Father’s house there are many mansions and that when He went away He was going to prepare a place for us. When you put your faith in Jesus you have the promise that to die is to leave this old decaying tent and move into that perfect place. We were getting to see the largest mansion on the earth, but our little princess Lenya has been living with the King in a far greater mansion.

As of today, she has been there for 70 days. I don’t know how heaven’s time works. Perhaps for her it has just been a few moments and by the time we get there it will have seemed like we were never apart. What is for certain is that life in that place is much better than anything this world has to offer because, even if for no other reason than this, it is eternal.

On the tour they told us that not too long after construction was finished George Vaderbilt died unexpectedly from an appendectomy gone wrong. His wife and daughter suddenly found themselves in a big, cold house separated from the one who built it. That is so like life. Not even one of the richest men in America could keep himself from death’s icy grip. The good news is that if we have received the free gift of everlasting life offered through the gospel, death will bring us to Immanuel’s land where there is no night. And the mansion that Jesus has prepared for you will blow the Biltmore out of the water.

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Arrows

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I love that the Bible describes children as arrows in the hand of a warrior. They are weapons to be launched out as bright lights in a dark world. As parents we are archers and our job is to do all we can to help them hit the target.

The honor of being a mom or a dad is that you are entrusted with one of God’s special little arrows. He wants you to fit each one to your bowstring, aim carefully, pull with all your might and then whenever He calls you to, you must let it fly. Our number one concern should be that while we had them in our hand we did everything we could to help them reach heaven at the end of their mission.

Jennie and I have been blessed by the Lord with four little arrows. Three are still in our quiver and one is now in the target. Lenya flew straight and true. Though her flight on this earth was far shorter than we thought or would have liked, she struck the dead center of the bullseye with great eternal impact.

We are not going to take a second we have with Alivia, Daisy or Clover for granted for we aren’t guaranteed how long we will have with them either. As long as God sees fit to trust them to our care they will be planted in the house of the Lord all their earthly days, and our absolute highest prayer for their lives is that, like Lenya is now, they would dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, matters more than this.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. (Psalms 127:4 NKJV)


A distant shore

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Her pink bike is in the garage with her helmet hung by its strap from one of the handlebars. It has white-walled tires. Just like mine. Every time I walk by it I take a deep breath in and let it out slowly as I think about how spring will come and the snow will melt and we will go on family bike rides in the evenings, but her bike will stay parked in that spot. Her helmet will stay there too, dangling from the handlebars. Lenya will not ride that bike again. Eventually Daisy will use it and then Clover, but not Lenya. Not ever.

She isn’t going to play with her toys anymore. Neither will she wear any of her dresses or other clothes that are hanging in her closet and folded in her drawers. She used to transform all the pieces from this wardrobe into three or four wild and wonderful outfits, and as many messy piles on the floor by lunchtime each day. Her room is far too clean and tidy now. Everything stays as we put it. Her Jesus jar is empty because she brought her tithe to church the weekend before she left us, but the money she saved up in her “spend” jar will not be spent by her.

I know this all to be true because my daughter has gone to heaven. She is on a distant shore. Though we can’t see her she is near. Heaven can’t be that far away because when you leave this earth you are able to be instantly with the Lord. At most it is a day’s journey away because Jesus promised the thief on the cross that, “today you will be with Me in paradise,” and when He said that they had already been on the cross for hours. Maybe it’s extremely close, just unseen to us presently. Doesn’t that seem to be how Stephen makes it sound, in the book of Acts, when, in his final moments, he gave us a description of of glory that seemed to appear before his eyes right before he died? I wonder, and long to find out. Perhaps if we knew how close Heaven was we would be more motivated by it and live to fill it more ardently than we do.

In Lenya’s final moments on earth her mother’s voice was in her ears and she was held by her father’s hands. Those were frantic, desperate and frightening minutes to us as we sought to keep her here through CPR. God chose instead to bring her to His country. A place without sin or pain or fear. No, she can’t ride her pink bike on the cracked pavement of this tired world any longer, but I don’t suspect that brings her much concern as she swims with dolphins or rides down the beach on a horse with a tropical wind whipping her hair up behind her. Or maybe it’s a unicorn. If she has the option I guarantee you she is picking the unicorn.

It is true that Lenya died. It is also true that she is more alive today than she has ever been. More alive than me. I take great joy in thinking about the fact that she is in a place without death. We had to attend her funeral but she did not. She never attended one in her life and she never will. She is in the land of the living.

What anchors us in this storm of our separation from her is the promise that she is with Him and He is in us. The more we are filled with His Spirit the greater our connection to her grows. I would lose heart if I did not believe that I will see the Lord. But I do. Someday soon my ship will set sail for the distant shores of that perfect place, where Lenya lives and laughs and plays, and I will finally be Home.


The Vanishing Point

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While on a recent trip to the coast Alivia snapped this polaroid of Jennie and I staring out into the mysterious and gloomy sea on a foggy day. When she showed it to me it seemed to perfectly encapsulate life for us right now. Our eyes are straining to see something that we can’t. The sun is hiding behind clouds and refusing to shine. Life is unfolding in muted colors and in a minor-key.

It has been six weeks since Lenya left this world. She is not gone, just out of our sight. In his book Heaven Randy Alcorn compared it to standing on a dock watching a ship sail away and head to the horizon. Though it seems like it is gone, when it finally disappears from sight, it is not. The ship hasn’t actually vanished, it has just gone somewhere else. To those at the port the vessel is heading to, it is just the opposite. The ship appears where you lost sight of it and grows as it draws near.

That is how we see this through the lens of faith. Our daughter set sail for Heaven 42 days ago. Though we can’t see her, we know that she is with the Lord. Her departure was also an arrival–a Homecoming.

Our eyes are teary and red, standing on the dock where we last saw her, struggling in vain to see even a small speck of her on the horizon. It feels like each day she is drifting further and further away and I hate the passing of time for it. I dread the thought that tomorrow it will have been 43 days since we snuggled and laughed and it seems she will slip away. In one sense that’s true, time is taking us away from our past together with her. But in another more real sense it is doing just the opposite. The day is quickly approaching when we will embark on the same voyage that she did and set sail for Heaven ourselves. As the hours and minutes pass we are getting closer and closer to our future together. Time is our friend, not our foe.

So even though it feels like “goodbye,” it’s actually, “see you soon.” And that brings great comfort to our melancholy hearts.


30 days in Heaven

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It has been 30 days now since my second born child Lenya stepped into eternity. Her last breath, which she took in my arms, was immediately followed by her first breath in the arms of her Savior and Creator Jesus Christ. Scripture promises nothing less than an instant transition to Heaven for the believer–to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. In her final moment on the earth, like Stephen, she saw Jesus, at the right hand of the Father, standing to greet her as angels brought her into God’s presence. Her consciousness which was lost to us on the earth was transferred seamlessly into a place Jesus made specifically for her in His Father’s house where she is safe from harm and waiting for us to join her.

I believe every single letter and every single word of the paragraph I just wrote. Tears streamed down my face as I typed them out and I had to walk away from the computer before I could continue because I started to hyperventilate–I am trying to write about the single most traumatic and painful moments of my thirty years of life after-all. But I believe what I said with all my heart. Thirty days ago, for Lenya, life was upgraded. She was brought to a place that is FAR better than the one she left. The last thirty days for her have been the best of her life. No doubt each day has been better than the one that came before it. She is in Paradise.

Our life, on the other hand, was downgraded. Life on this earth, which groans for redemption, is even more bitter without her. I have never longed for heaven more in my life. She is experiencing fullness of joy and pleasures evermore but we are being hard-pressed by grief and horrified by the prospect of living without her. Death is ugly. But it has been defeated. It’s still got a nasty bite but it’s venom has been removed, therefore we do not lose heart. We choose to look at all this not through just what we can see but what we know to be true. Not just by sight but by faith. I don’t have the strength to go through another thirty days of this, or thirty minutes for that matter. But God does. Lenya is with Him and He is with us, supplying us with strength we need and leading us in triumph. I choose to look at all of this and trust not what is temporary but what is eternal. Not what is in front of my eyes, but what is written in God’s Word.

I wish I could have heard her beautiful voice squeal for joy at the sight of that Land or watched the light of God’s glory illuminate her face for the first time. I wonder what it was like for her to taste a blackberry in that Country. Did she laugh that she ever could have thought one here was sweet? I will have to wait to find out. But she will be there waiting for us and leaping to greet me as I arrive at the distant shore she has already sailed to.