I was contacted by the publicist in Nashville, Tennessee, for the pastor and author Levi Lusko, to review a copy of his first book, Through the eyes of a lion.
The press release said:
‘On December 20, 2012, five-year-old Lenya Lusko went to heaven while in her parents’ arms after a massive, unexpected asthma attack. With a ferocious personality and hair that had been wild and mane-like since birth, they called her ‘Lenya Lion’. But a few days before Christmas, Levi and Jennie Lusko had to leave the hospital without their vibrant daughter.
After Lenya’s death, Levi had to make a choice – one that anyone going through dramatic events has to make – to give up or to live. In Through the eyes of a lion, Levi explains why he chose to live, and not just survive – but live with the fire and passion that comes from acknowledging that there is more in this life than what can be seen with the naked eye.’
One afternoon, I had a few hours to myself so I decided to start the book. I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I got a highlighter out and highlighted sections that reached out to me most. I read the book in two sittings, which is pretty impressive as reading for ‘pleasure’ for any length of time has been hard for me since Abi died. I have only managed an hour at most. It even inspired this post which I shared about my faith.
There was much about the story which resonated with me. From the way Lenya died so suddenly. That her parents were with her when she passed. That she was one of four children. And that Levi encourages us to see life with fresh eyes – to see what has been invisible to us until now.
I have found my ‘new vision’ since Abi died both liberating and frightening, because once you see everything your mind soaks it all up and you no longer can live in a carefree way or worry about the mundane. But the way Levi explains how this new vision is fundamental to enable us to live on after our child’s death helped me to understand what was happening, and why.
I was glad that Levi didn’t try to sugar-coat his grief. As a pastor, his faith is seeped in Jesus and the promise of heaven, but this didn’t make the loss any less painful or traumatic for him. I have found religious platitudes difficult to hear – God only takes the best, God has a plan etc – but Levi’s perspective was so refreshing and immensely comforting. I have been having my own struggles with coping with my grief and feeling disconnected from my faith to a degree, but Levi writes with such clarity and belief that it felt as though my heart had been soothed.
His loss was perhaps even more challenging as, just days before Christmas, his ‘busiest’ time of year when he would be celebrating the birth of Christ, he was planning his daughter’s funeral. Yet he continued to preach through Christmas and beyond and – while it wasn’t easy – he was faced with making some key decisions about how he would deal with his loss. Decisions we’ve all had to face – do we hide under the covers or do we push ourselves to do what feels unbelievably painful?
His use of ‘Saturday’ as the time we are in now, was a revelation to me. That we are all in this stop gap of life until Sunday comes.
“Part of the reason I wanted to write this book was so you could have my field notes as you navigate through the rugged and uncertain terrain that is Saturday,” says Lusko. “We’re in this together – the space between promise and fulfilment. Living with your heart set on heaven but your feet still on earth is not easy. The trouble with Saturday is that we have no clue when it will end. Jesus specifically told us that no one but his Father knows the hour or the date of his return, and non of us knows for certain when our day will come to die, so we have to just trust that Sunday is on the way.”
If you would like to read more of my review, I have provided more detail below:
The book opens with an introduction from Levi recalling the moment that defined his decision to walk through his grief with God. Broken and confused after the sudden death of Lenya, Levi used his faith to almost step outside of his situation and view the bigger picture, something that’s incredibly hard to do when you’re so traumatised. His ending words from the Introduction are what drew my attention, so much so that I couldn’t put the book down:
‘For every person who has been destroyed by suffering, there are probably ten who have been wrecked by success. Trust me when I say this: the issue isn’t whether your life is going well or falling apart; the question is, what makes you so sure you can tell difference? Things are seldom as they appear.’
This was eye-opening for me. It is indeed true that sometimes what appears to be the best times turn out to be the worst, and sometimes when we feel as though our lives are falling apart we achieve things we never thought possible – in thought, and word and deed.
The book continues with Levi giving examples from his life or the Bible. Example of how we can start looking deeper into our world, opening our eyes to see what it is we truly have.
He explains how he came to faith and how he found his vocation as an evangelical pastor, establishing churches and a way of preaching that spoke to thousands of people and converted many more to Christianity.
I was initially nervous of this book. I find it hard to read stories of other children’s deaths other than in short blog posts. But this book isn’t about his child’s death as such, nor is it about religion. It’s about how a father turned his trauma into something that enhances his life and enables him to see life and death as the journey we are all on. He admits even in the opening section that it was not till the event that he could fully understand the reasons why people lose their minds to self-harm, drugs or alcohol after such a trauma. His empathy went off the scale!
Levi discusses the typical emotions of grief and how they changed day by day, never following a set pattern. I related to his anger:
‘I wasn’t mad at God, and I never found myself asking or caring why it happened. I was just very angry that it happened.’
It was a comfort for me, too, when Levi described his fears that he was a failure – which I have only recently blogged about myself.
‘I failed as Lenya’s father when she needed me most. I failed at CPR. If only I had gotten there sooner…’
It was interesting that he mentioned how watching any related TV programme – showing CPR or dramatic medical procedures – is hard for him now, as I had done in my post ‘How TV alienates the grieving’.
He also makes it okay to question your faith and to feel these complex emotions, which is something I have felt over the past two years.
‘There will be times, even as a believer, when you are pushed to your limits and beyond.’
He is very clear that the grieving parent should not stop going to church, which is an unsurprising approach seeing as he is a pastor. However, I think this is a difficult area if you don’t feel supported by your church. Though I understand that by not going to church the distance between you and God can grow wider.
Levi ends the book by encouraging us all to face our fears, to push ourselves towards that which we don’t want to face. To find the strength of a lion. To look at the photos. To talk about your child. To push though the temptation to close the door to the world and hide away. Because otherwise you will surely allow grief to consume you, and you won’t be living, merely surviving.
I particularly liked the fact that thoughout the book Levi makes it clear that while there is hope, it doesn’t make the pain any easier. That yes, having faith in God will strengthen and guide you to live the full life that you have been created for, but it doesn’t mean you won’t feel the pain of your sorrow
The book in general is easy to read thanks to Levi’s engaging conversational style, and I feel would comfort and enthuse readers, like it did me. While the book is based on faith in Jesus, there is much to inspire the non-believer; so if you are unsure what you believe, I would certainly recommend this book (and would be fairly certain that you would take something positive from it).
#eyesofalion on twitter.