(The following three articles will be appearing on a website devoted to the “Celebration of Life” service for Layla Grace Marsh. Layla is a local 2 year old who died from neuroblastoma on Mar. 9, 2010. She has literally touched the world, and this is our opportunity to give thanks to God for her, and to ponder what we are to learn from her all too short life here on earth)
Layla Grace Marsh grabbed the attention of the world in her two short years of life. Because of her, many of us hold our children a little bit longer and a little bit tighter each night. Because of her, we’ve re-evaluated our priorities to focus on the things that truly matter. Because of her, we have been forever changed. The “ripple effect” of this little girl has been nothing short of amazing.
For a LOT of people, the life and story of Layla Grace has brought about a profound spiritual stirring as well. People who never pray, are praying. Others have told about how something happened in their past that caused them to put God on a shelf years ago, and because of Layla they have found the courage to bring God back into the picture as they work through whatever it is they need to work through. Still others admit they have never thought much about God and faith, but seeing how faith has made such a difference in how Ryan and Shanna handled this whole situation, they have been compelled to look into who this God might be. Maybe you are one of those.
As Layla’s pastor, I believe that God has given me the responsibility of helping to frame the spiritual conversation that is taking place because of Layla. There are a LOT of questions, a LOT of hurts, and a LOT of good that is coming from all this, and God has his hand all over this entire thing. If you are reading this, I believe that part of God’s plan includes you, and I would encourage you to take the time and effort to pursue the faith implications of why God drew you into the life and story of this precious girl. I’m humbly honored to at least get the conversation started.
Let me begin with a simple overview of the Christian faith that gives us the hope that Layla is in heaven with God. At the heart of our faith is a belief that there is a God behind this world and our lives. We were a very intentional creation of an artistic, awesome and loving God. Every breathtaking sunrise, every intricate detail of our mysterious universe, every miracle of a new baby being born – all these things testify to a powerful and wonderful God who has a purpose and a reason for our existence. Part of his design included little Layla Grace.
Everything that God made was beautiful and good, but it didn’t stay that way. One of the things that God built into the fiber of our existence as people was the ability to choose right and wrong. Satan (the devil) was at work since the beginning to get people to disobey God and destroy the beauty of all that God created. When people first sinned against God, all the beauty that God had created turned instantly ugly. Thorns and thistles began to grow, sinful attitudes and desires took over, our relationship with God was ripped apart…and sickness and death entered into the world. And God wept.
God, though, wasn’t done with us. The Bible outlines the story of God’s plan to save the world from this mess that we had brought upon ourselves. The Bible is basically a love story of God pursuing us in order to bring us back into relationship with him. It’s the story of how Jesus (who is God), left the perfection of heaven to come down into our sin-racked world. He lived here among us, suffered alongside us, and ultimately gave up his perfect life to pay for the sins of the entire world. It was basically an eternal exchange made by God and given to all those who believe in Jesus – all of our sins were placed on Jesus who suffered the consequences of sin, and the perfection and purity of Jesus’ sinless life is given to us. Through faith in Jesus we stand before our God forgiven, perfect and pure…the way God intended us to be.
We believe that this message is more than just “another religion” to throw into the mix of all the different religious ideas and thoughts that are out there. It is THE very plan of the God who made us. It’s his plan for making things right again. It’s his way of showing his wonderful crazy love for us. You may have heard these words many times before, but can I ask you to read the words of John 3:16 with brand new eyes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.” That gift from God is for you.
Layla’s faith and hope were built on Jesus Christ. She was only two, so there wasn’t a great deal of intellectual understanding to her faith. She wasn’t old enough to “make a decision for Jesus Christ” or profess a belief in him. But she did know her heavenly Father’s voice, and God most certainly knew her. While there is an intellectual side to faith for those of us who are able to understand, faith is first and foremost a matter of the soul. In one place in the Bible, Jesus even picked up a little child (the Greek word literally means “infant”) and told the adults standing there that unless they had faith like that little child, they wouldn’t enter into heaven. Having faith in Jesus means trusting him with your life, here and eternally. Probably more than anyone else I know, Layla knew what it meant to put her life in somebody else’s hands. Isn’t that what faith is – “God I can’t save myself, so I’m trusting you to do it for me”? I have absolute confidence that Layla had this type of relationship with God. Her time here was short, but while she was here she heard the message of Jesus and his love for her. God showed his love for her through Ryan and Shanna who prayed for her and held her endlessly. And, just a few weeks before she died, Layla was baptized. All of these are the “things of God.” God does his work through these things, and we take our confidence in the fact that we have a good and gracious God who desires to save. If God loved Layla enough to send Jesus to die on the cross for her, and she was around the very things that God has given to save us, I have every confidence that our sweet Layla…His sweet Layla…is at home with Jesus – dancing with the angels.
Layla has taught us so much about life and love, and how to cherish every day knowing that it could be your last. Many people have been forever changed and have shared that they will live differently from now on. Lots of lives have been changed forever here on earth, but I believe that God wants to do something even more important. He doesn’t simply want to make you a better person here on earth. He wants to make sure that you are ready for eternity. If there’s one thing that Layla has taught us, it’s to live each day knowing that there may not be a tomorrow. And so, if you haven’t already worked through the most important question of your life, today is the day. Are you ready?