Founded in 2013, the Savannah Classic Golf Tournament was created in loving memory of Savannah Lila Vopinek with the goal of raising money yearly to help medically fragile kids who have been abandoned and are in need of food, shelter, medicine, and love. Read Jonathon and Tatiana Vopinek’s message from sweet Savannah’s memorial:
“About a year ago we decided to try and have a second baby. Tatiana prayed hard for the little girl she always dreamed of having. Our dream was always a boy first and then 2 years later a little girl. And as with most of the rest of our life up to this time everything fell right into place just like we wanted it to. There was zero debate about the name, we both loved Savannah and knew that was the perfect name for our soon to be born little girl. Tatiana designed a gorgeous room for her and the entire family was excited to meet our little girl. On Jan 24th Tatiana had a smooth delivery and our healthy baby girl was born. I held Savannah up to my face the day she was born and knew she was absolutely perfect. She was showered with gifts and love. Our family was complete, everything we ever wanted. Two beautiful and healthy kids. Tatiana scheduled a procedure for May 30th to remove our ability to have kids as we had exactly the family we wanted. We must have said a dozen times could our life be any more perfect?
On the night of Tuesday May 7th we gave our sweet Savannah dozens of kisses good night like we did every night. I can still picture holding and squeezing her cute little body before we put her in bed. She gave us her signature big smile as she looked at us peacefully and happily. We had no idea that it would be the last time we would hold and kiss our little girl. The baby monitor was on all night, picture & volume, we were steps away. As we looked in the monitor that morning she looked like she was just calmly asleep. I can still hear Tatiana’s scream when she walked in the room to wake Savannah up and picked her lifeless body up instead. I can still feel Savannah’s little lips on mine as I hopelessly rushed into the room and tried to give her mouth to mouth. I screamed at God to somehow bring her back to life; telling him that he couldn’t have really let my little girl die. Pleading with him to make this just a dream. But Savannah was really gone; she had passed away silently and completely unexpectedly in the night.
2 weeks prior to this fateful night Tatiana asked Levi to sing Happy Birthday to Savannah because she had just turned 3 months old. Levi loved to sing happy birthday and he especially loved to sing to his little sister. When Savannah would cry or start to get fussy he would often run to her and sing to her as it made her smile. She loved it when her brother sang to her. For some reason that day on her 3 month birthday, when Tatiana asked Levi to sing happy birthday to Savannah he insisted on a different song first. I want to share with you a video that I will always treasure, watch her face when Levi first says what song he wants to sing:
God knew that this is the message we needed to get deep into our hearts. Deep into our minds. He knew that this video of our precious baby would be watched over and over by us and many others who loved her. He knew that our hearts would be breaking. He knew that we would want to be angry, He knew that we would want to become bitter, he knew that we would be tempted to feel guilt for not finding some way to protect our little baby, he knew we would struggle to make sense of it all. He knew that Tatiana and I would be lying on the floor in her bedroom this week on the soft rug Savannah loved to lay on looking at all of her beautiful clothes people gave her that she will never wear and we would watch this video on our phones in that moment of complete brokenness. He knew that there was one message that we had to hear. That we had to hold on to, that he so badly wanted all of us to know and cling to when the waves of depression and doubt hit:
JESUS LOVES ME, This I know, For the Bible Tells me so, LITTLE ONES to him BELONG, They are WEAK but He is STRONG, Jesus Loves Me This I Know for the Bible Tells me so.
How grateful am I to our God for this message. For this truth and for allowing us to capture this moment. Savannah was so little and weak, but he is strong and he has her in his arms now. She belongs to him. He loves us and our pain is not bigger than that love.
When the storms of life come it is too late to build. Jesus says that “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it DID NOT FALL because it had its foundation on the rock.”
We are so grateful for the people that have helped us build our lives on the solid rock of God over the years. Many of you have asked if there is anything you can do to help, and many of you have done so much to help make this memorial happen. But in reality the help we needed the most and are so grateful we received was the help you gave us to build our lives on the solid rock of the truth of God and his love. As we have mourned and had sleepless and painful nights God has been with us. We have never felt closer to God or more loved by Him even though the pain has been so bad. The apostle Paul who understood pain and suffering more than most of us wrote the following words:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God OF ALL COMFORT, who comforts us in ALL our troubles, SO THAT we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have RECEIVED from God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
THIS verse is one of the main reasons I am up here sharing today. There have been a few things that God has given us that have really helped and I think he wants me to share them as I know many of you deeply loved Savannah as well and our really hurt by this loss. I hope they will bring you comfort as they have us.
Two days after Savannah passed away I was lying on the floor praying, feeling unable to even stand, and God brought a thought to my head that gave me some peace. He helped me realize that Savannah was HIS before he let us be with her. That he loved her BEFORE she was born. That he always knew that the night of May 7th would be her last one on this earth and HE STILL WANTED HER TO BE BORN. That he knew she would never go to the elementary school down the street that we picked for her. He knew that all of the dreams and hopes we had for her would never come to be; but he still wanted her brought into this world. As a Father that has lost a son he felt our pain. WE WERE SHOCKED, HE WAS NOT. He knew the pain we would feel. He knew that Tatiana and I would be parents that would lose our daughter when we went on our first date 12 years ago. He knew this pain that would come into our life and he had PREPARED US to stand against this storm of life and not be completely crushed. This comprehension that the God that loves us and has taken care of us our entire life is STILL BIGGER than what has happened to us gives us some peace.
As I lay in bed the night after Savannah passed away (the most painful night of my life) a thought came into my mind. And suddenly I felt a peace and calmness come over me as I woke up to this thought: God brought to memory how we went to Cancun for a celebration work event and her Abuela, Tatiana’s mom, begged us to let her keep Savannah for the few days we were gone. We agreed and let my family know that she would not be sharing her with them those few days to their disappointment. She was loved by so many! Tatiana’s mom was going to overwhelm our precious little girl with love every minute of every day she had her. She wanted for nothing and was treated like a princess. Savannah was going on VACATION too.
While we were on the trip Tatiana and I never worried about our sweet girl because we knew she was being looked over by someone that loved her dearly and would take great care of her. We missed her while on the trip and would talk about how much we loved our little girl when there with other people with children. We even looked at pictures of her on our phones at night and wished we could give her a kiss good night. But WE NEVER WORRIED ABOUT HER; We knew she was good. We never felt guilt for not being with her because we knew she was with people that loved her. We never felt depressed about her not being there because we knew WE WOULD EVENTUALLY SEE HER AGAIN. And it hit me, that this is a VERY SIMILAR SITUATION. Savannah is with someone that loves her so dearly, God. I know that she is having a great time in Heaven, better than we are here. That the pain of missing her is real, but that WE WILL SEE HER AGAIN and she is NOT IN PAIN. That we will get to hold our precious girl and get to know her and her unique personality for all of Eternity. It’s as if Savannah is on vacation right now and one day we will get to join her. We miss her and we long to hold her, but we should be able to have happy memories of her and tell others about how much we love her as we did on our trip. We will see our precious girl again.
In Philippians 1:23-24 the Apostle Paul explains that for the person that goes to Heaven they are better off, SAVANNAH WOULDN’T WANT TO COME BACK TO EARTH NOW even if given the choice: “I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would BE FAR BETTER FOR ME. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”
This is clearly more painful for us that are left behind but we look forward to the promise of the future that awaits us: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain” Revelation 21:4. One day all the crying ends and we will get to be with our little girl and never be separated from her again.
God continued to give us a perspective and comfort as he brought to mind something he had taught Tatiana and me years ago. Over the past decade we have helped out with a ministry in Mexico that helps orphans called Genesis. A place that accepts kids that are abandoned and rejected and in some cases left for dead. About 5 years ago we helped put on a camp for a group of 30 orphaned little boys and girls. It was one of the best weeks of their painful lives. When the week was over and it was time to go back to their orphanage we all gathered around in a giant circle and prayed. As we wrapped up and it was time for the kids to go many of them started crying and saying they didn’t want to go; that they wanted to stay longer. And my heart broke for them. Tatiana started talking me into hiding a couple of the kids in our car for the drive home. Then Greg the leader of the Genesis Organization got everyone’s attention and he explained to all of the kids that LIFE HAS DIFFERENT SEASONS. That some seasons are filled with happiness and joy and others with sorrow; but that GOD CAN USE THEM ALL to make us better people. And that we should never look back on a season of happiness and joy (like that camp) with disappointment or sadness that it was over but INSTEAD SHOULD REMEMBER THE GREAT TIMES we had together forever and BE THANKFUL FOR THAT SEASON. I remember being so impressed with how the kids really listened and took what he had to say. Little did I know that God was teaching Tatiana and me a lesson that day that we would need so badly this week. We are not to look back on the incredibly happy season of our life with Savannah as something to be sad about or to kick and scream that it is over. Instead, we should use that energy to remember the good times and be filled with the happiness and joy we had together. We should be thankful for the time we got to spend together and thank God for those precious days. Knowing everything we know today, including this heartbreaking pain, if given the choice we still would choose to have our little girl for those 9 months of pregnancy and 3 ½ months of life. SHE IS WORTH THE PAIN. A heart of thanksgiving makes the tough times ahead much more bearable than a saddened and bitter heart.
The last way I will share that God has comforted us is how Levi has handled the loss of his little sister. At bed time I have started trying to explain to him that Savannah has died and gone on to Heaven. As we read his Children’s Bible there was a picture of a beautiful angel. I told him that an angel like that took Savannah to Heaven to play and that she lives in Heaven with Jesus now. He looked at me and I could tell he was trying to process what exactly that meant. And he asked “does Jesus have cars for her?” I laughed and tears welled up and said yes buddy I am sure he does. He kept processing and then he asked “IS SHE TALLER NOW?” I thought wow, what a profound thought by my 2 ½ year old and started thinking through the theology of heaven I had studied over the years and told him yes, I think she probably is taller now. He said good, smiled, and then was ready to finish the Bible story.
After kissing him good night and closing his door I shared this conversation with Tatiana. When I told her Levi asked if his sister was taller now Tatiana laughed for the first time since Savannah passed away. She went on to explain to me why that brought such a big smile to her face. Levi regularly asked if Savannah could play cars with him and Tatiana would tell him she could when she could walk. So then Levi started asking her if Savannah could walk yet. Tatiana then started telling him that Savannah was too little to walk but would be able to when she got taller. So he constantly started asking her each day if she was getting taller! Levi couldn’t wait for his sister to be able to play and have fun. When I told him she didn’t live here anymore his first thought was “Does Jesus have cars for her to play with in her new home?” and then it was, “Is she tall enough now to be able to play with them?” He just wanted to make sure his little sister was having fun, and once he knew that she was he was at peace.
The very next day was Mother’s day and we went to Church with both of our families. As we were leaving, Levi and 2 of his cousins were in front of us holding hands and walking. Nicholas who is 3 years old stopped and looked at Levi who was 2 and said “Savannah isn’t at your house anymore, she isn’t at your house anymore, she is in the sky” Bella, who was 5 and wanting to protect the emotions of her little cousin started to tell Nicholas that Levi knows that and he doesn’t need to say that anymore. While she was talking Levi responded to Nicholas and simply said “I know… the Angel took her to heaven” And they all smiled and then went on walking and having fun with each other.
It was a beautiful picture of childlike faith; just the night before I told Levi that Savannah was in Heaven now, having fun and Levi TRUSTED ME completely and fully. Tatiana and I want to trust our heavenly father in that same way. God says Savannah is with him and is having a blast. He says that he will be by our side and get us through this deep valley and that eventually we will be reunited with her. So LIKE A CHILD THAT TRUSTS THEIR LOVING FATHER we trust him even though our minds don’t fully understand the how. He has proven worth trusting in the past so the logical thing to do is to continue to trust him now.”