Missing Chris

Forty years ago today, July 7th, I went to work at UPS in Cody Wyoming. Jeneen was starting labor pains so I told the guys at work I needed to leave early. The supervisor and the fellow drivers took some of my load so I could get done delivering packages earlier in the day. I was done by two or three in the afternoon. I quickly went to Powell where our doctor was because Cody did not have a baby doctor at the time. Jeneen was getting checked in as the pains were starting to come more frequent. Through much trial and difficulty, Chris was born that evening. I remember seeing him in the nursery, wide awake, ready to take on the world around him and he did.

Chris did so much in the time he had on earth before he went to be with the Lord in October of 2015. He has left a hole in the heart of the lives he touched which will never go away or be filled. That is the way of things. Those who have lost a child know the feeling.

As I reflect this morning, my mind wanders through all the precious memories he brought to Jeneen and me. The relationship he had with his brothers was amazing. The people who knew him well saw his love for the Lord and for His creation. He was a good pastor, loving and sacrificing for the people God put into his life. He wrote fine words, spoke wonderful messages, took beautiful pictures, and painted from his heart. We still have much of what he left.

The greatest thing Chris did was to bring into our lives a wonderful, beautiful girl named Michelle. They were married for over 15 years before Chris left this world. Together Chris and Michelle gave us three precious children to love. Michelle and our grandchildren continue to bring joy into our lives. We love them dearly and we thank God for them.

Yes, we still miss Chris on what would have been his 40th birthday. But I am so thankful for how he touched our lives and all he brought into them. Chris, I thank my God on every remembrance of you.IMG_0523

Painting by Christopher Leavell

One Year Since…

We want to thank you for your care and prayers for us as we continue in ministry.  The Lord brings comfort and grace enabling us to serve in the churches.  It is good to be busy about the Master’s business.

Today marks one year since we lost the presence of our son Chris on the earth.  Our family never imagined something like this would happen.  It is not normal for parents to bury their child.  While each of us has grieved in our own way, we have all felt God’s comfort.  Chris had it right when he said that he felt sorry for us because we would be the ones dealing with the loss.  He would be absent from the body and present with the Lord.  That was good for him.  He understood what we would be going through.  That is an example of the thoughtfulness Chris had for others.

I want to share thoughts from the journey I never imagined taking.  I hurt more that day one year ago than I had ever hurt before or since.  It was the deepest of pain.  I was thankful for family and friends that were there.  Many people around the world were praying.  Thank you all for your care.

Thoughts –

Today is the one year mark of Chris being in the presence of the Lord.  Our loss has been his gain.  As I think of this, I know each of us will face death if the Lord does not catch us away first.  It will be a gain.  Meanwhile, we groan for that day.

  • I have learned that there are depths of pain I had never experienced.  As a Christian, we can feel from the depths of our souls.  It is ok to experience emotion because God made us emotional beings.
  • I have felt the comfort that only comes from God holding you in your sorrow.  His arm holds me up when I am the weakest.
  • I have examined life and eternity in ways I never did before this.  This life is short.  Eternity is forever.
  • Death is the beginning of great things.  As good as this life can be; heaven is better for the Christian.  As N. D. Wilson compares death to the carnival rides in his book, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, “Death is that black strip above my head on the measuring board.  When I’ve reached it, well, then I can go on the gnarly rides.”  Chris is on the gnarly rides.  There is comfort in that.
  • I have had many people express love and concern for me in this journey.  Many encouraged me to take the time to grieve.  I have felt the grief and embraced the emotions it brings.  I have not wallowed in self-pity or nor allowed my emotions to control me.  I have acknowledge the feelings and worked through them.  Even now, I am sad, glad, comforted, and joyful all at the same time.
  • After our loss, God has put many others who have experience deep loss or pain into our lives.  There are many who have suffered greater loss than we have.  Our hearts go out to them.
  • I am thankful and challenged by the testimony of Chris.  He lived life and experienced so much in the time God gave him.  His testimony will remain and will never change.  In this, my heart goes out to parents who are broken because of a child who is not walking with the Lord.  Broken relationships continue to hurt hearts.
  • There are some things I will never resolve in this life.  I cannot resolve the whys.  Nothing satisfies my understanding.  This is where I have to trust the Lord in that He knows all things and somehow, someway, there is a reason.
  • Many people have unresolvable issues in their lives.  These are things we live with as a part of our earthly existence.  My brother had cerebral palsy.  It is a part of his life he cannot change nor will ever change this side of heaven.  Others carry things from their pasts that cannot be changed.  These will never be resolved to total satisfaction in this lifetime.  I will always have an unresolvable event in my life.  I have a son who has died.  I cannot change that fact.  There is nothing that can take it away.  For the rest of my life I must live in the reality that my son has died.
  • Understanding unresolvable issues has helped me to reach out to others who are hurting from things they cannot resolve or change.  To understand that fact is to start to heal.

I could write much more about each point.  These are some of the thoughts rolling around in my mind.  Those who know me well know that I could go on and on….but I won’t.

Thank you so much for your prayers for our family.  Michelle feels the loss of her husband very deeply.  She and the children have a house not too far from us.  They are active in their church.  The children are busy with school and music lessons.  Michelle is becoming a very good speaker for women.  She recently spoke at a well-attended women’s retreat.  She is open to speaking as the Lord gives her opportunity.

Chris’s brothers and their families are working through many emotions.  The boys were very close and have deeply felt Chris not being there.  Peter is still writing books and Joe is still a Biblical counselor.

For those on Facebook, you can see pictures of our family that have been posted.  There have been many expressions of love and care from our friends and family.

Our son is with the SON

October 18, 2015

Dear Friends and Family,

Thank you for praying for our family during this very difficult and emotional time. Our son, Chris went home to be with the Lord in the late evening of October 15. The melanoma cancer was too aggressive for the immunotherapy to get ahead of it. So after two months and ten days from the diagnosis of the melanoma, he entered into the presence of the Lord. God has given some of the most precious times during these last days. Chris was constantly telling people to love Jesus. He wanted people to know that he was not afraid of death because of his personal relationship with Christ. The last message he shared was the Christian’s view of life and ministry. I would encourage everyone to watch it. This is reality in its purest form. This is the address of that message – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4erm3CXH5U

Arrangements have been made for Chris’s funeral. It will be 10am on Wednesday, October 21st at Fellowship Baptist Church in Meridian ID. Information can be found on Caring Bridge at –  http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/christopherleavell/journal/view/id/56211fdfaf3d79110483b4b3

Chris has been quoted many times because of the depth of understanding God gave him. I want to give again the reaction he had after receiving the news of stage 4 melanoma cancer.

“God is good and merciful to those that trust in Him. This news today has brought much tears and sorrow to family and friends. But all this sorrow is temporary. The reality is God has already had the last word on this cancer long before I was born. When Jesus rose from the dead and became the first fruits of the resurrection this cancer was defeated. It torments us for just a short time but soon will be swallowed up by eternal life. Even though it is a time of sorrow, our family is enveloped in peace that only comes to those whose faith and trust rests in the Lord.”

Chris lived in that faith and evidenced that peace through all his last days. Yes, there is sorrow and lots of emotion but we rest in the Lord. We know there is more to life than what we have on this earth. I like what C.S. Lewis said, that man was created for greater things than what we experience here. Chris knew there is much more ahead. He lived in anticipation of it. His greatest sorrow was for Michelle and his children and the rest of family, and all we would have to deal with through this time. He knew the reality of loss that death brings. Chris knew the sorrow we would experience, the tears we would shed. He knew we would find comfort in the Lord and was constantly pointing us to the goodness of God.

Friends, this is the hardest letter that I have ever had to write. But I find comfort in the truth of what Chris has said and lived. God is good and His will is good. There is so much more to life than what we see. Our light affliction on this earth is only temporary. This mortality will be swallowed up of life. This has happened for Chris.

In closing, thank you for your prayers and support. We are still on this earth. Chris has left a huge whole in the lives of many which will never be filled. But as we live, God has a reason for us to still be here. We find comfort in His will, even as Chris did. “May God’s will always be done for it is always good.” Jeneen and I will continue to walk with the Lord and do His will as He works in and through us for as many days as God gives us on this earth. We know one day our mortality will be swallowed up with eternal life. We pray that our lives bring glory to our God in all that we say and do. For each of us; walk in His will and we will bring glory to God.

Please pray for Michelle and Josie, Scott, and Colette. There are difficult days ahead for them and all of our family. Pray we will be aware and see the goodness of God as we move ahead in what God has for each of us. Thank you again for your prayers and support. We love you all.

Monte & Jeneen Leavell

Chris’s Results

August 20, 2015

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your prayers for our family. Today, we received the news that we were dreading to hear. Chris and Michelle came home from the oncologist with the results. I will let you read what Chris has posted on CaringBridge.

“This morning we met with our oncologist to get the results of the MRI and PET scan. The MRI of my head came back with no issues. The PET scan on the other hand showed lots of issues. The scan showed the main tumor under my left armpit but also showed that the cancer has spread to bone in my right shoulder, bone in my upper spine, several spots on my ribs, a spot on my left lung, two spots on my liver and bone in my pelvis. There may be several other spots that I missed mentioning. It is advanced stage 4.

Obviously anyone familiar with cancer, especially melanoma cancer, knows that from a medical standpoint this is about the worst news possible. To be concise, the Dr. wanted us to know that this is not curable at this point. They are not going to do surgery.

The goal from this point is to prolong physical life as long as possible. Thankfully, there are some new melanoma cancer treatments that are recently available as of last December. They have shown much success at slowing or even causing the cancer to retreat for a time. Next Wednesday I will get a port placed and Thursday I will start (if the health insurance company approves it) a combination of Nivolumab and Ipilimumad.

Those are the “facts” but here is the reality. God is good and merciful to those that trust in Him. This news today has brought much tears and sorrow to family and friends. But all this sorrow is temporary. The reality is God has already had the last word on this cancer long before I was born. When Jesus rose from the dead and became the first fruits of the resurrection this cancer was defeated. It torments us for just a short time but soon will be swallowed up by eternal life. Even though it is a time of sorrow, our family is enveloped in peace that only comes to those whose faith and trust rests in the Lord.

Also, people ask how they can pray. It is our upmost desire that God would be glorified in this. Please pray that God would continue to give me and our family an unfeigned faith in Him.”

Needless to say, we shed many tears as they shared the news with us and their family this morning. We do not know how God is going to work in this and through this in the days ahead. It will not be easy but we know God will give grace and comfort and peace. It has already been evident.

I leave early tomorrow for Jeffers MN where I will begin a conference on “Experiencing the goodness of God.” As Chris said in his first post after finding out he had melanoma, “May God’s will always be done for it is always good.” Please keep us in your prayers. May God work in this conference. I pray souls are saved and Christians encouraged. I really believe in what is said in Psalm 107:8, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!

Your Friends in Christ,

Monte & Jeneen Leavell

August Update – 2015 Important

August 8, 2015

Dear Friends,

Some of you may have noticed the complete date in the title. I usually put the month and year. With the rapid changing events in the past two months, one day makes a difference in direction and planning. Things are moving quickly. The greatest changes are in family.

Family – Our son Chris resigned from the pastorate at Grace Baptist Church in Tempe AZ. The Lord led them back to Idaho. In July, they moved into our home on a temporary basis. In June, Chris noticed a growth under his arm. He started to get it checked in AZ but they recommended he make his move then get it checked. As of now, he has been through several steps which have resulted in a biopsy. The results came in Wednesday the 5th.

Here are Chris’s words –

“Today we received the results from the biopsy. The results were not what we had expected nor what we had hoped. The lump under my arm is melanoma cancer that has spread from somewhere else. They are not sure where it is coming from since I have no outward lesions or unusual moles. The next step is to find what stage is the cancer.

We are so thankful for all the prayers and outpouring of support and concern. We are not in despair or in any way losing heart. It is difficult to express how God has shown his graciousness to us over the last month and a half. We find our hearts are overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving to God.

I think today is the first time I can barely begin to grasp Jesus’s words: “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” May God’s will always be done for it is always good.”

The results were a shock to all of us. We know it is not unexpected to our God and that He will work. We have already seen several things happen in light of the news. Chris told the church where he was a candidate to be their pastor that he has a new ministry. His doctor, who is a Christian, said his ministry now is to himself and his family as he battles the cancer. This is very serious.

I was in WY on a men’s camp when I received the news. I came home the next morning. We are praying and supporting each other through this time. There are many questions and steps to be taken in the days ahead. Please pray for Chris and Michelle. They have many logistical steps to take along with the medical cares.

On top of all this, this Friday, the nephew of the young man who was backpacking with me, passed away. He was one year old. Please pray for the Lavorante and Meuser families. We pray for God’s comfort and grace to be seen through all these things.

Ministry – We have been in several churches and two weeks of camps in the past couple of months. We also had been through two weeks of the backpacking camps. Because of the family situations, I am unable to go to the Red Cliff summit trails camp next week. Jeneen and I are hoping to be able to go to Jeffers MN later this month for meetings there. We have a meeting in Dillon MT in September. We trust the Lord to plan our days and trips. Of course, those plans can change in a moment’s notice.

Prayer – Please be in prayer for us. We do not know what is ahead. The Lord does and we trust Him to guide us through each day. Please pray for Chris and his family. This has hit us all quite hard as he just turned 37 in July. Please pray for the Meuser family in their time of loss also.

Information – We will try to keep everyone updated on the events of our lives. We are on Facebook and try to keep up dates there. Please friend us if you would like. Michelle and Chris are also setting up a Care Bridge page for updates.

God is working. Yesterday I was able to give the Gospel to a man and he listened intently. I pray the Lord will give more contact with him and we will see him come to Christ. May God be glorified in and through all our lives.

Thank you – We want to thank you for your prayers and for your support of what God is doing in and through us. May God work greatly. Thank you.