Jennie Lusko is the wife of Pastor Levi Lusko of Fresh Life Church in Montana. They have four beautiful daughters — Alivia, Daisy, Clover, and Lenya, who is in heaven — and are expecting their first boy. One of the greatest joys and callings in their life is to share the hope found in Jesus, that those stranded in sin would find life and liberty in Christ. You can find Jennie on her blog and on Instagram.
It’s been four years, and I miss her every day. It’s been four Mother’s Days without getting to snuggle her and hold her and wipe her hair from her face, and although the pain seems to lessen over time, the ache and yearning remains.
Lenya Avery is our second-born daughter of five children, who left us suddenly five days before Christmas in 2012, with no warning, no goodbyes, just a sudden departure to Heaven as a result of what seemed like a severe asthma attack.
Our worst nightmare had come true that snowy Montana night, but not for our 5-year-old Lenya; she got to see Jesus’ face. We were shoved into the corridor of darkness and grief, but not Lenya; she was chauffeured into God’s presence, because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Celebrating Mother’s Day (or any day) without one of your children is like a knife piercing your spirit. And that’s exactly how it was described for Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Luke 2, Simeon, who had been waiting to see his Savior, saw Jesus and worshipped God. He then turned to Mary, and told her that “a sword [of deep sorrow] will pierce through your own soul — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
And isn’t that what it feels like? A sword piercing the deepest parts of us? It’s an unnatural experience. Death wasn’t in God’s plan originally. When Adam and Eve chose to sin in the garden, death became a part of life, and they even experienced the death of their child, Abel. But parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.
We don’t always experience life the way we think we should, or the way we expect it should. We often walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and we feel overwhelmed by it, smothered by it, and sometimes we feel that there is no way out of the sorrow that has pierced our souls. But I have found such comfort and joy in the midst of pain. I realize that we are all, as mothers, in various places and seasons in our lives. And if you are in a dark season of grief, this might be hard to understand or even see right now, but God has shown my husband and me that there can be joy and even purpose in our pain.
I love how my husband says that pain is a passport that takes us to places we wouldn’t normally have permission to go. God didn’t cause the pain we experience, but He certainly has a plan for us as we journey through it. He hates that we have to experience death and heartache and disappointment, but He is there with us. I love the verse in the Bible that comforts us with the fact that, “the Lord is near to the heartbroken and He saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Looking back at these four years apart from our Lenya Lion, doing life without her, watching her sisters grow up without knowing and loving and fighting with their sister, remembering her life only through videos and pictures, there are low moments. There are gut-wrenching, soul-piercing moments. But there is joy in it, there is peace in it, there is a calm in the storm that can only be explained because of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. I look back at pictures the day after Lenya left this world, and there are some with us smiling and videos with us laughing. I look back now and wonder how it was even possible to smile at such a time. Then I see how it was and is truly the peace of God that surpasses understanding, and now, four years later, I am in awe of God’s strength and power in the midst of such darkness.
At the beginning, when Lenya first went to Heaven, my husband and I tried to explain to the girls (and to ourselves) how Lenya really wasn’t as far as she seemed.
Heaven is near and the Bible tells us that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It’s right there, we just can’t see it with our natural eyes. But when we choose to see with the eyes of faith, we remember that if we believe in Jesus, He is in our hearts. And when we look through the tragedy and the pain, we remember that Lenya isn’t in the grave — yes, her body is, but her spirit isn’t — she is with Jesus. And there’s a beautiful connection, because she is with Him, and He is in us.
We acted this out with the girls and it helped me so much to have this visual. We had our oldest, Alivia, pretend to be Lenya and had her stand around the corner of a room in our house where we couldn’t see her. Then Daisy (who was 2 years old at the time) stood with me around the other side of the corner. Levi faced the corner and held Alivia’s hand (who we couldn’t see) and then held our hands. We told the girls that we can’t see Lenya, but Jesus is holding her hand, and Jesus is with us, holding our hands, and even though we can’t see her, we’re connected in Jesus.
My husband would soon preach a series at our church called “Breaking Camp” that walked us through what happens when we leave this tent of our bodies and go home. He then wrote a book, Through the Eyes of a Lion, where he wrote down our field notes walking through grief and the hope we held on to, hoping to help people walk through their different roads of pain. We have heard people all over the world tell us that this book gave them words to their grief that they had never had before, and that amazes us.
God is good in the shadows. He is good in the sunshine. He is good. And as you walk through the darkest days, He is with you. He loves you. If you are a dear mother who has experienced the sword of deep sorrow piercing your own soul, hold on to Jesus. Cling tightly to His Word, and let it set the pace for your life. Run to the One who created you, made you, and called you. Gather with the church and surround yourself with people who will speak life over you and encourage you to keep walking, to keep loving, to keep giving, and to not lose heart.
On this Mother’s Day, if you’re hurting because your child is not with you, it’s OK to hurt, because hurting with hope still hurts. I want to encourage you to love those in your life who are still with you. Love your children who you can still hold, love your grandchildren, do something kind for your husband, for someone who is in your life. I have found that it helps to not only look up, but to look out. And I believe there will come beautiful little moments where you see God opening up opportunities for you to be used by Him in special ways to bring hope and life to the people around you. I pray that God will overwhelm you with His love this Mother’s Day season, and every day. That you would see how near He is to you.