Running to the Roar
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Levi and Jennie LuskoLevi and Jennie Lusko pioneered Fresh Life Church in 2007. Under their leadership it has grown to include locations in Montana, Utah, Oregon, and Wyoming. Through television and online streaming the ministry reaches around the world. Levi and Jennie have one son: Lennox, and four daughters: Alivia, Daisy, Clover, and Lenya, who is in heaven. Levi is also the author of the bestselling books Through the Eyes of a Lion, Swipe Right and I Declare War.
It’s easy to want to run away from things that we face in our grief, but Levi and Jennie Lusko contend that, with God’s help, walking into what seems so scary can produce the greatest healing.
Running to the Roar
Ann: Okay, Dave; so you and your mom had an interesting ritual every Sunday. Tell us about it.
Dave: We would go to church; we’d drive to the cemetery; we’d look at my brother’s grave.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: As much as I can remember every Sunday.
Ann: How old were you the first time?
Dave: You know, 10/11; I was 7 when he died.
Ann: —and he was five.
Dave: Then my mom and dad were divorced. I can see myself standing right there, right now, looking down at his grave. It was a weird feeling; because you’re like, “He’s not there.” My mom’s crying. I’m sort of in denial—but feeling pain, as a young, young boy—I didn’t understand it. I just thought God had avoided or left our family.
Today, we get to talk to a couple of parents, who have lost a daughter, and wrote a book called Through the Eyes of a Lion—Levi and Jennie Lusko.
Ann: Welcome back, you guys.
Jennie: Thank you.
Levi: Thank you for having us.
Dave: It’s been great walking through this journey with you. Your book’s been a powerful resource. You’re pastors at Fresh Life Church out in Montana and authors of all kinds of books. We’re not going to get into all the other books right now; we could have you back and talk about all kinds of stuff.
Let’s talk a little bit; you know, we spent the last couple of times talking about your journey to be pastors, start Fresh Life, and then the death of your daughter when she was five years old. But talk about where God is in those moments; because as you just heard a little bit of my story—I’m seven years old; I lose my little brother and then/actually, my parents got divorced, and then I lost my brother—just all about in a six-month period.
Levi: Aw, man!
Dave: He got leukemia, and within six/eight weeks was just gone, and we had just moved. My mom is now a single mom; I’m a little boy, and I pretty much turn away from God, thinking, “If that’s who God is,”—mom and dad divorce; brother dies—"He must not care; He must not be here.” Obviously, years later, I have a totally different perspective on that; but that’s where I was at the moment.
Dave: I watched my mom struggle for years; but at the same time, she never lost her faith. She really held onto a strong faith in God.
Ann: I think she got stronger, actually,—
Ann: —in the midst of it; because she was desperate for God. She needed Him.
Dave: Yes—and yet, you know, for me, as a brother—but for my mom and dad, as parents, oh man, you’re supposed to die before your kids. It’s just sort of the way it’s supposed to go, and that didn’t happen. You’ve been there; you are there.
Talk about your perspective or help people to understand God didn’t leave—God’s right there—but it’s dark, and it’s a devastating loss. How do you have a theology of suffering and growing in suffering when bad things like this happen?
Levi: We’ve always had a very big robust God in our theology—and a big God, who is sovereign, and knows the end from the beginning, and speaks and stars are created, and is triumphant and is resurrected—He’s defeated death. Our understanding of life [is] formed by God and not vice versa. We don’t look at life, and pain, and challenge, and then determine our theology. We start with who God is—and then, as A. W. Tozer says—“What a man thinks of when he thinks of God is the most important thing about him.”
So that big God then, we then look through that lens to this life. I think it’s really important, because it will allow you to believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts. He’s God; He’s King. And like Peter said to him in John 6, “You alone have eternal life. Who else are we going to go to? Who else offers what you have?”
That doesn’t make it easy to hurt; that doesn’t make it easy to suffer; but what it does do is it changes the conclusions you come to. You see the same data; you see the same reality, but you just know that’s not the end of the story. You know that there’s also glory. There’s—like Paul said—this great weight of suffering/it becomes like a small and insignificant thing when I compare it to the weight of glory. I think that’s kind of what is factored into us looking at these things a little bit differently than maybe we would have if there wasn’t a big God in our story.
Dave: One of the powerful concepts in the book that I’ve stolen, Levi—as a preacher and plagiarized and taught your concept—
Ann: No, you always gave him credit.
Dave: —I always did. [Laughter] I always said—I’d just come straight out—
Levi: —like the first time. Then the next time, you say, “Someone once said…”; and then the third time, you say, “As I always say…” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, exactly; [Laughter] but I want to hear you talk about it. I read what you wrote about—I call it: “Run to the roar”; but that whole concept—explain that, because that—and you just talked about it; you do it in your home—so explain what that means. I don’t know if I’m using the right phrase: “Run to the roar,” but—
Levi: Yes; the idea is the way lions hunt; they scare prey into a trap. Male lions don’t actually do much for hunting; it was all the lionesses. It’s like, in real life, the women do all the significant things. [Laughter] The male lion will roar and scare the gazelle away from him. The gazelle, of course, wants to get away from the roar; so it goes the opposite direction. But then the lionesses are hunting in the grass below; and so when he runs, he’s actually running towards danger, not away from it.
It would be counterintuitive—but the best thing to do would be to run towards the roar/to run towards his fear—and not into a trap. The point I make in the book is that—when we let our fears control us, and we do what we were/we run away from the scary things—we’re, actually, moving towards danger and not away from it.
The point is: in grief, sometimes, you tend to—for us, I know it would have been very tempting to box up all of her stuff, and never go there, never talk about it; just put it out of sight and just never really bring it up—but we kind of said: “Hey, we’re just not going to live with all these mementos that are going to be scary for us and things that are going to trigger. We’re going to go through it; we’re going to feel it.”
I understand people, who maybe would easily turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain of grief. It would be very tempting to go get a prescription and you just not feel any of this. But we just had a conviction that: “Hey, we’re going to feel this; we’re going to feel it all. We’re going to plunge into this; and if it kills us, then fine; but at least, we’re not going to have to live a life of fear.
What we found was that, by triggering all the mine fields, there eventually weren’t too many more mine fields to blow up. We did it together; we ran through it together. We had good counsel—people from our church and our community—and if something was scary to us, we just ran headlong into it.
Obviously, there’s still things/surprising griefs that pop up; but they’re more few and far between. What I say in the book is that I felt God calling me, not to write a manual for grieving, but a manifesto for a different kind of living. I guess Eyes of the Lion was the grief book that I couldn’t find on the shelf, and so I wrote it. It was the book I wanted to read to tell me—not just “Here’s how you’re going to get through it,” and offer me Kleenex®—but to say “Hey, you can kick over some apple carts and watch God do something great in the midst of your greatest fears.”
Ann: One of the examples that you say in the book was when Lenya’s clothes were brought to you from the hospital. You had, at first, a tendency: “Let’s not look at those.” What happened?
Jennie: It was kind of like Levi mentioned—one of those landmines, where it’s like, “Okay; this is going to hurt, and this going to be hard. Do we even want to go there?”—I think that kind of became a: “Yes, we’re going to go there; because we’re going to allow ourselves to feel it. We’re going to let the grief just kind of punch us in the chest; we’re going to let it knock the air out of us, and then we’re going to get up, and we’re going to keep walking.”
That was so horrible, because we just received all the things—the clothes she was wearing that night: the pants that were cut off of her, the socks that she wore—we were weeping, but we let it hit us. We let it do its damage—and the heartache, and the ache, and everything—we just went through it. We saved the things we needed to, and then we moved on. It was just like we felt it; we felt everything. It hurt so much, but then we were able to take the next step. I don’t know—it really wasn’t a formula—as much now, looking back, it was like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense; because now we feel so that God’s healed us.”
Levi: And the cool thing is hearing from people, who are going through unrelated griefs, and telling us how it became an anthem for them in chemotherapy or whatever. Like that “Run toward the roar,” became—
Jennie: —doing the hard things.
Levi: It’s become something that has surprised us in how God’s used it.
Dave: It is so healthy; because I’m sitting here, thinking, “My family did the opposite. We never talked about Craig/just didn’t bring it up, because it was painful.” I don’t remember a conversation, and then never even talked about the divorce with my mom and dad. Again, I’m a little boy; I’m going through this trauma, but—
Ann: It’s also that alcohol is prevalent and so—
Dave: —so they went into—
Ann: —just covered it all up.
Levi: Covered it up, yes.
Dave: They denied it.
I’ll never forget when Ann and I—in our first year of marriage—my dad comes to visit us in Nebraska. I was the chaplain for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. We’re out there, starting our ministry/first year married. My dad was an airline pilot; I saw him maybe two or three times a year. We didn’t have a very close relationship. We sit down after dinner—I’ll never forget this—he sits down. Ann’s right beside me on the couch; and she goes, “Hey, so Dave”—that’s my dad’s name—"Dave, tell me your perspective on the divorce. I want to hear your side.” I’m literally like grabbing her, like, “We don’t talk about this! This is not allowed in our family.”
Ann: I said, “I’ve known Dave’s mom/known Janice for years. I’ve heard her story, but I’m sure there’s a side to your story. I’d love to know who you are and what happened.”
Jennie: Yes; wow.
Ann: He couldn’t stop talking.
Levi: He had permission.
Dave: Yes; he looked at us, like, “I’m allowed to talk?”
Ann: He said, “You’re the first person that has ever asked for my side.” It was so interesting, because it was the first time Dave really got to know your dad.
Levi: He probably didn’t have the tools to handle the things; because he was probably not given them, by his parents, either; so how amazing it is you gave that to him.
Jennie: Oh, that’s beautiful; that’s beautiful.
Ann: Well, the other thing I thought had to be so difficult was when the hospital called you and asked if you would be willing to have Lenya’s organs donated.
Levi: Yes; it was hard, obviously. They were all hard moments.
Jennie: It came like ten minutes after we had gotten home.
Levi: I mean, we had just got home; and the phone rang. She’s still hooked up to the machines and all of that. There’s a window where they can harvest and all of that, and so they called us. When I saw North Valley Hospital on the caller ID, I thought she must have sat up—that was my first thought—and so to be given that surge of hope and then have it dashed when the person—and all the hospital people were doing such a great job—but they said, “I’m so sorry. There’s no easy way to say this, but can we harvest her for organ donation?” It was really hard to hear that, and it buckled my knees; but we both felt like this is a way she can be used to help somebody else out/give someone else hope.
Obviously, as the metaphor of the book suggests, her eyes were able to be used for someone else. Lenya is actually a name in Russian that means lion, so her nickname was Lenya Lion. It became super poetic. Her corneas went to two blind people. We got word later that they got to see through her eyes. So there’s two people, somewhere in the world today, that can see through our daughter’s eyes, which is amazing.
Jennie: We’ve heard story after story of people who’ve named—there are a lot of little Lenyas around in the world—even just this past week, I’ve received two letters of families, who knew our story, and had a baby and named them Lenya. It’s really, really precious and so beautiful that, even through the eyes of a lion, a Lenya Lion—like knowing there’s a little generation of these little Lenya Lions that are being sent out into the world, which is just so precious.
Dave: That’s great.
Ann: You said that you are hearing from all these people that are using this. Even a chemo patient is saying that they’re “Running toward the roar.” How do we do that? What’s that look like?
Levi: Jennie just said it a moment ago, and I think it’s an anthem. We do the hard things. Sadly, I think it’s easy to run away from friction and adversity. In so doing, we often short circuit our own development; because we neglect the reality that most of the best things in life are introduced through seasons of difficulty, and when we run away from that—when we take the short circuit/when we take the easy way out, whether that’s alcohol, or quitting your church, or moving off, whatever—like there’s so many things in life that are the chances to get offended. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are not offended on behalf of Me.” I think one of the greatest, easiest ways to get offended is to get mad at God when something is hard.
Levi: God might be handing you the opportunity of a lifetime. How easy would it have been for Joseph to get offended when his fiancé was pregnant? But God was giving him the opportunity—and so many people—David gets anointed as king; and then immediately, Saul starts throwing spears at him. The question is: “Are you going to throw the spears back, or you going to keep playing your harp?” I think a lot of us miss chances to develop, and to grow, and to be used by God in significant ways; because we don’t run toward the roar. We give up; we throw in the towel the moment anything is challenging.
Dave: Is that part of another theme you have in the book?—is: “Pain is a microphone.” Is that what you’re trying to get at? Explain that a little bit.
Levi: “The pain is a microphone,” comes from the idea that, when God called Paul, who was Saul—who hated the church and tore it down with his bare hands—when God sent Ananias to go pray for him, He said, “Go tell him he’s going to preach to kings, and to Gentiles, and the nation of Israel, and see how many things he must suffer for My namesake.”
Now those weren’t two separate things. If you look at the book of Acts, Paul did do every single thing. Paul preached to kings, Gentiles, and the nation of Israel; but along the way, he suffered many things: shipwrecks, stoning, beatings, betrayals, abandonment, blah-blah-blah. But if you took away the misery, you also would take away the ministry. It was when he got bit by a snake, shipwrecked, beaten, lied about, that he got to do all the things he did from chains, in the jail cell, with stripes on his back.
What I’m trying to say is: “All of us would love to have a life without pain, but that would be a life without power; because God brings power into our life oftentimes smuggled inside of pain,” like the proverbial fork or file in a cake. Pain is a microphone; the more it hurts, the louder you become. When God allows you to be tried by many trials, just know this: “That suffering is not an obstacle to you being used by God.
Ann: That’s so good.
Levi: “It’s an opportunity to be used like never before.”
Ann: I’m thinking about when Dave and I went to seminary. One of our classes was we’re taking classes on how to help counsel people; and so whenever you do that, what do you do?—you bring up all your old junk.
Dave: It became a counseling class for the Wilsons.
Ann: Yes! [Laughter]
Levi: Oh yes, therapy.
Ann: Exactly. I have sexual abuse in my past, and I had told Dave about it. I thought, “You know, it’s in the past. It’s all done. Jesus has healed me,” and all of that.
Well, I go to that class; and I have never dealt with any of the emotion, any of the trauma, any of the pain; and so I start going through this grieving process and this anger. I’m sobbing every night. It’s like I took this—I had this wound—and I took the bandage off, and I was just bleeding out.
Levi and Jennie: Yes.
Ann: My sister came to visit me in California when we were going to school out there. I had never told her; I had never told anyone in my family. I told my sister, “I’m going through this.” She’s my best friend; she led me to Jesus. I said, “I’m going through this abuse stuff”; and she goes, “What?!” I said, “I know I’ve never told you. You’re my best friend, but I was sexually abused.” She’s like, “So was I!”
So we both go through this healing process, where it’s exactly that. I would think that “Oh, I’ve healed! I’m done; I’m good. I’m not grieving anymore.” But then something would happen that would just trigger that feeling. It’s almost like another Band-Aid® came off, and there was another wound exposed. I’m like, “Lord, really? I have to do this more and more?”
Yet, I think what happened is—instead of running away, as you said, from the pain—I started taking it before Jesus, and saying, “Lord, here’s where I am. This hurts. I thought this was over, but I see that there’s more.” In the process, He’s healing my soul; He’s bringing me back to life.
My sister and I both later got together, because we both had started really dealing with it and letting God heal it. I started talking about it; I started sharing what God was doing in the healing process. What happens: it allows so many people to share their own story of pain and abuse.
Jennie: Right; right.
Ann: My sister and I got together; and I said, “I would go through it again in order to help all these women, who have been hiding and living in shame.”
That’s exactly what you’re saying: “Let God into it; let Him heal you; and let others share your pain and let them into it, because God is all about taking our suffering just as He did. We can bring glory to God in it; because as we’re on this earth, it’s not easy. We’re all going to suffer; but if we can suffer and point each other back to Jesus, it’s amazing what He can do.”
Levi: That’s it; no one gets to not suffer. The Bible says, “The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked.” It’s like: “Believe in Jesus, you suffer,” “Don’t believe in Jesus, you suffer,” “But when you believe in Jesus and suffer, you get to suffer in hope.”
Levi: I’d rather do that. I’m no smart man, but I’d rather do that.
Ann: Me, too.
Dave: I would have never thought, growing up in a broken home, divorced parents—and then, when Ann and I got married, in year ten, she told me, “I’m done,”—and God showed up. It’s a whole other story—we wrote a book about it—but I would have never thought those experiences in my life would point me to God’s purpose for us.
The pain in our life pointed us to His purpose and the people that need the hope from that story. Just as you’ve been connected to people you’ve probably never met, I would have never connected those dots. It’s like this pain is sort of isolated; nope! God’s like: “I’m in it. I met you in it, and now I want to use it to show you why you’re on this planet. That darkness is going to bring light to other people.”
Ann: Your pain can become your platform.
Dave: Yes; so thank you for, not only writing the book, but letting people in; because as you know, you are literally saving and helping millions.
Ann: And I would love it if you guys would pray for those that are just suffering. They’re in it; they’re really struggling. Will you pray for them?
Levi: Absolutely. Thanks for having us on, you guys.
Jennie: Thank you.
Jesus, we love You. We’re grateful to stand on the Cornerstone that our faith is built on, and that’s Jesus. We thank You that You’re an anchor for us, both sure and steadfast. I pray for every listener/every person, who is suffering/hurting, that Your Spirit even now would touch their hearts, convince them of Your grace. We know that Your loving kindness leads us to repentance, and we pray for people to even just, right where they are, to sense You speaking to them, through their headphones or through the speakers in their car, and just the reality that they’re not alone. They’re seen; they’re loved by You; and that You have a plan to work everything that’s hard, and challenging, and painful into something that’s going to bring You glory and bring us joy. We’re confident in that.
We’re grateful to be a part of this thing called the church, people who have been called out of the world to know You/to be marked by Your name. We’re not marked by the brand on our purse, or our shoes, or our jeans. We’re marked by the name of Jesus that we get to carry; and when we leave this world, we’re going to open our eyes in eternity and see You and know You, even as we’re known. We’ll have answers to all the questions that puzzle us now. But between now and then, in the already but not yet, we lean into that tension; and we just say that: “Jesus You are enough for us.” We love You and thank You for this time. In Jesus name. Amen.
Bob: Someone has said, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know the One who holds the future”; and that is where we find our rest and our comfort.
Dave and Ann Wilson talking, today, with Levi and Jennie Lusko. Levi has written the story we’ve heard about today in a book called Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power. We’ve got that book available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the title of the book is Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power by Levi Lusko. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, many of you know that, during the month of May, we had a matching-gift challenge that was made available to us, here, at FamilyLife. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with us to talk about that. David, the gifts that we received as a ministry from our listeners, during the month of May, these are going to make a huge difference for us, as a ministry, going forward.
David: Yes, that’s right. I’m so encouraged by the ability to minister to more families. I heard from Susan in an email this month; and she said, “I am struggling to stay afloat in the most challenging waters in my life. I’m in a 34-year marriage, and it’s been an unhealthy marriage with all that’s going on in the world. However, there are glimmers of hope for the first time in forever. Thanks for being a lifeline of hope.”
I just want to say your kind and generous contributions in May, that were matched, enables FamilyLife to keep bringing the lifeline of hope found in the gospel and in the timeless truths of God’s Word to a growing number of families. I really am sincerely so grateful.
Bob: As are we all. Thank you, David, for that.
I want to thank our listeners for being with us today. Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to talk about how important it is for us to measure our words/our communication with one another in marriage. Our words can either build up or tear down, and we’ll hear more about that tomorrow.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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