Lenya Lusko would be SEVEN today


On this day seven years ago at 11:04 am Lenya Avery Lusko was born into this world. It was such a wild and exciting time for us as we suddenly became a family of four. We were 8 months into our church plant, still very much getting used to life in Montana and we couldn’t possibly have been more excited to have this native of the Treasure state coming into our home. A cute little Lenya Lion cub had joined our pride.

After five wonderfully thrilling years with her in our lives she was summoned by the King to join Him in Paradise. Like an arrow loosed from the string she flew to the Target and struck the mark. Bullseye. There is a void in our quiver, but even more determination in our hearts to live for what matters most–an abundant entrance into Heaven and an effective life for Jesus along the way.

As we now come to September 8 for the second time without her on earth we do so with broken hearts. What would the Lenya Lion look like as a seven year old? How different would the chemistry and dynamic of our home be if her spunky personality were still an everyday factor and not just memory and a future hope? These questions have no answers here on earth but there will come a day when I will see clearly and I will be able to give the endless birthday hugs and kisses my heart aches for.

I am very excited to finally announce a secret that I have saved for this day. It is a birthday present for our beauty girl. For the last year I have been writing a book in Lenya’s honor! It has been a difficult journey that has tested my faith and more than once felt like it was more than I could bear, but it has also been an enormous privilege. I am thrilled to announce that Thomas Nelson will be publishing this project. Sometime in 2015 it will be released. I’ll leave it at that for now, but I can’t wait to see what God will do with it. Happy Birthday Len Len! I love you with my whole heart and God is going to make the devil pay.


Then and Now


This weekend we visited our newest fresh life campus in Bozeman, Montana. It is amazing to see what Jesus is doing in that city. We have had a packed house and a growing church since day one, and people are coming to know Christ each week. The city is also very near to our hearts as a family because a month before Lenya went to heaven we traveled there for a skull church event in the city. It was the last time we went on a ministry trip together as a family of six.

Whenever we return to the city there are Lenya memories everywhere. Naturally there is some sadness, but overwhelmingly it is a very happy place for me. It was sixteen months ago that we were there with her but standing in the candy store where she had picked up a giant lollipop or the restaurant where she got a temporary tattoo of a bacon-and-egg skull and cross bones brings memories of her flooding back like they were yesterday.

It is crazy how much Lenya’s sisters have grown. Clover was just a baby back then. Daisy was the age Clover is now. And Alivia is shooting up like she’s made of bamboo. The empty space where Lenya would be in the “now” photo makes me wonder what she would look like today at six and-a-half. How tall she would be? Would she be gaining on Liv? And then I wonder what she is like in Heaven. The Bible says, “It is not yet revealed what we will be,” but this I do know for sure,“when we see Him we will be like Him.” (1 John 3:2) So I will have to keep using my imagination until that day.

As I look at these two pictures, from then and now, it occurs to me that when you take a photo you never know what life will look like a year later. That is why it is so important to not take anything for granted. Savor the little things. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life must be intentionally cherished as it races by. You won’t find time for what matters most. You must make time.

My top ten blog posts of 2013

I enjoy writing. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as speaking but once I force myself to begin it usually flows with minimal psychological trauma. Especially in this past year it has proved to be a cathartic experience as most of my writing has been focused on Lenya and Heaven and grief. Journaling and blogging has long been a discipline I have tried to maintain, if only to have a record of things I have been learning or musing on, even if it all doesn’t end up getting posted.

Looking back on the blog posts from this past year was challenging as there are some very strong emotions and memories that they triggered but they also contain some very powerful lessons that God taught me in difficult times. I picked out ten of them that are some of my favorites and they are presented here.

Thank you for reading this blog and for sharing my posts with other people! Knowing that God has used something I have written to give hope or encouragement blesses me greatly. I hope and pray that God, who crowns the new year with goodness, would shine His face upon you in 2014 like never before.

10. A question I don’t need answered
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…

9. The honeymoon is over
When you first get married there is a newness to it that causes everything to glow. It is surreal, like living in a dream. No more saying goodbye at the end of the night. No more falling asleep with your mobile phone because after you dropped her off you still wanted to talk as you drove home and got ready for bed, brushed your teeth and drifted off together. (Thanks Verizon.) Now you get to brush your teeth together! …

8. Pastor Chuck Smith: A Life Well-Lived
Early this morning I received a text that made me pause and breathe deeply. It said, “Pastor Chuck just passed into glory a little while ago.”

7. Good Grief
At various points in the last three months I have wanted to find out whoever came up with the phrase “good grief” and do physical harm to them. Too honest? Sorry. I suppose these are the sorts of thoughts you have when you are grieving. For the record there’s nothing good about it from where I am sitting…

6. A Distant Shore
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…

5. 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…

4.The Vanishing Point
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…

3. Meeting Billy Graham
Last week Jennie and I were given the opportunity to meet Billy Graham. We traveled to his mountainside home in North Carolina and were honored to sit down in his kitchen and spend some time with him…

2. There’s no such thing as a wireless anchor
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…

1. 30 Days in Heaven
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…

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.

I am scared of Christmas.


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.

two hundred and ninety one

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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.

Happy Birthday Lenya


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.

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Celebrating her fifth birthday.

Rock This City


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.

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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.

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More than a wedding, more than a funeral


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.
Continue reading…

Pain is personal

We can’t help but evaluate the difficult things that we go through and assign to them a value for how bad they are. Like the pain assessment chart hanging on the wall at the doctor’s office where you choose a level ranging from the yellow smiley face to a red face with x’s for eyes, we are constantly ranking the emotional trauma we experience in real time. The problem is we don’t stop with judging our own trials, at times we do this for other people as well.

I’ve had people say things to me like, “I know just what you are going through, my grandmother died last year.” A statement like that assigns a level to their experience and mine. Benign as it might be they are effectively saying our pain is the same — which can make you bristle a little bit on the inside. How can they compare losing a daughter to a grandmother? Old people die. That’s what happens. Not kindergarteners. That’s not the same. Intentional or not it belittles what I have gone through by forcing an unnecessary comparison.

Another person recently told me, “We have had to face the loss of my dad this year, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ve gone through.” Although this certainly didn’t hurt my feelings as they said it, I still found myself disagreeing with them. It was kind of them to acknowledge how unnatural it is for a parent to lose a child, but that doesn’t mean losing a parent is nothing. In this instance they minimized their own pain. What they have walked through isn’t any less difficult for them because of what I am facing. The fundamental problem is that this is still thinking based on comparison.

What I have discovered is that pain is extremely personal. It is impossible to feel anything except for what you are going through. If you have a finger chopped off it doesn’t matter if having your whole hand cut off hurts more — it is going to hurt like crazy for you right then. It’s the same way with all suffering. All we can know at any given moment is what we are experiencing. Until you go through something worse, the most difficult thing you have ever faced is the most difficult thing you have ever faced. At each new level of suffering it can be easy to think nothing could ever hurt more because it is the most you have ever hurt. Or to look at those facing “smaller trials” as though they are less painful than what you have gone through. As a result it is easy to inadvertently make people feel worse about what they are going through when you are really just trying to help.

Jesus is the only who fully understands anyone’s pain. As His agents of compassion our hearts desire should be to give people grace and room to hurt in their own way and pace. Making sure a person in trial knows you have felt just what they are feeling (and you haven’t, even if you have gone through nearly the exact same thing) isn’t as important as just being there for them. Sharing lessons you learned in pain are fine, but insisting that you know exactly which face on the chart they are at isn’t helpful. Attempts to empathize can backfire and come across as patronizing. We should try as much as possible to strip our words and our thinking of language that tries to force trials into bins and levels. Pain is personal.

Hebrews 4:15–16 “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”