Listen: Jennie Lusko talks to Laura Bennett
Losing a child causes a unique kind of grief. Not only is there the loss of your beautiful baby far too soon, but the loss of all that could’ve been, and the dreams you’d imagined for their life.
In 2012, the unthinkable happened to Jennie Lusko and her husband Levi when their five-year-old daughter Lenya died in the week before Christmas.
The pastors of Fresh Life Church in Montana were preparing for the season ahead, when they got the call from Jennie’s Mum that Lenya was having a severe asthma attack, and they needed to come home quickly.
“[Lenya] was with us one moment and then literally in heaven the next,” said Jennie. “We were just getting ready for Christmas and gearing up for ‘family day’ with such anticipation… and then she was just gone.”
As parents to three other children at the time (now four), it was an understandably harrowing ordeal. Jennie’s husband Levi touched on it in his book, Through the Eyes of a Lion, and now Jennie has chosen to open up about it in her first book, The Fight to Flourish.
“I believe [flourishing] is the kind of life that Jesus died for us to have,” said Jennie. “In John 10 Jesus said, ‘… I have come that may have life, and have it more abundantly.’
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“It’s that overflowing, over-the-top, mind blowing, ‘Oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-believe-we-get-to-do-this’ kind of life that Jesus saved us for – and not just in heaven where we’ll have the perfectly flourishing life… but right here and right now in this world that is full of pain and heartache and grief.”
A New Understanding of Heaven and God
It might be hard to imagine that ‘flourishing’ could be found in the midst of the pain Jennie and Levi have experienced, but Jennie says the grief’s given her family a new understanding of heaven and the purposes of God.
“One of the things that was comforting in the midst of [Lenya’s death] being so horrifying,” said Jennie, “was knowing that our worst day was Lenya’s best day; the cold night that launched us into grief… was her best and brightest day because she got to see Jesus face-to-face. There’s so much hope in that, and so much strength in knowing that it wasn’t goodbye forever, but ‘I’ll see you later’.”
Jennie also takes comfort in knowing that the allergies and asthma Lenya had been plagued with for much of her young life, are now symptoms she no longer suffers through.
“…Now [Lenya] doesn’t struggle with any of that,” Jennie said. “… The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, so we know she’s with Jesus. But she was just wonderful, and sweet. And I’m thankful I got to be her Mum for five years.”
When a Whole Family is Grieving
In the aftermath of Lenya’s death, helping her other children process grief was top of mind for Jennie, as well as making sure her relationship to Levi remained strong. Everyone moves through grief at their own pace – which Jennie was mindful of when relating to her husband and his own ups and downs in contrast to hers.
Going through grief as a couple, “has involved a lot of learning and a lot of grace, and a lot of growing in selflessness,” Jennie said. “For the most part we were on the same page but there were moments where he’d be really at a low moment and I wouldn’t be… and so for me it [was learning to] prefer him, and extend grace and just sigh with him. A lot of those early days were just [sighing out] that deep kind of soul ache.”
“Sometimes in your own grief… you can forget to look up and see that God is looking at you with such loving eyes – and he knows your pain even better than you do… and that there are people you have to ‘show up’ for.”
Jennie also held concerns about how her marriage would hold up after the loss of Lenya.
“That was a real big fear, because we had seen a few friends walk through the death of a child and they got divorced later on,” said Jennie. “I remember making mental notes about how it would not only be horrible to lose a child, but then to grow apart from your best friend; that was always a back-of-mind fear.
“There have been low, low moments of both of us in our own grief and pain, but one thing I’m so thankful for is that we fought hard to extend that grace to each other – and it was a fight. Because I think sometimes in your own grief… you can forget to look up and see that God is looking at you with such loving eyes – and he knows your pain even better than you do… and that there are people you have to ‘show up’ for.”
Your Life Still Has Purpose Amid the Pain
For those that read the book Jennie says her hope “is that they would find comfort in the midst of their pain… but that they would know they have a call on their lives right now [in the middle of it].”
Thinking on how little Lenya would feel about how her mum and dad have handled the loss, Jennie said, “Lenya would be so proud… I just imagine her seeing everything and almost cheering us on to keep going and not lose heart; because she was such a cheerleader.
“She would always tell her Dad, ‘Preach the word Dad!’ and give him knuckles, and so I just see that. Definitely.”
Jennie Lusko’s book, The Fight to Flourish is out now. Hear her full interview with Laura Bennett above.