Friday, May 5, 2017

Oak Savanna Souls



We grew up with 40 acres of woods as our playground. A cool, magical escape from the lazy humid days of stifling heat. We'd walk the lane to the wooded edge and step boldly inside.

There were trees to climb and trails forged by animals to follow. One particular favorite tree had a low lying branch that slung out like a porch swing. I'd sit on that tree limb, the soft breeze slowly lifting my hair, as I sung and made up complicated stories of fairies I was certain held home in these woods.

The woods were exciting and full of things like moss and strangely shaped rocks and vines that held berries I knew I could eat. But the woods also held secrets. Acres you couldn't reach because the brambles and thorns were too thick, refusing you entry even at the exchange of blood.

I realized then that I would never truly know these woods for the simple fact they wouldn't let me all the way in.




The first step to restoring an Oak Savanna is to remove everything that doesn't belong. The thicket, the thorns, the overgrowth that chokes others out; it's all removed. Invasive weeds and quick growing nuisance trees that shoot up too fast and too tall, hoarding all the sun and leaving Oak saplings weak in the shadows are cut down and hauled away. The bad and the ugly removed to give the mighty Oaks a better chance to grow strong.

But there are also decent trees holding court among the Oaks. Trees that, on any other given day, would be considered a pretty decent addition to a yard or field. They aren't invasive species. They aren't harboring illnesses or disease. They have full limbs covered in bright green leaves, waving a gentle welcome in the wind.

They are good trees.

But they don't belong.

Sometimes, something good can stand in the way of something else becoming great.




Sometimes, something good can stand in our way of becoming great.


It's easy to look at our lives and see the thorns and thickets that are stopping us from standing tall and mighty. We remove things like immature behavior, arguing with clerks, screaming at the driver who is going too slow. We chuck out the irresponsible friend who can't seem to have a good time without getting drunk and disorderly. We cut out the drugs and the booze and the casual sex to make room for the relationships that last and the children who will bring grandchildren who will bring great grandchildren and so on.

But it's harder to get real about the decent things; the seemingly good things that, standing alone would be wonderful, but for whatever reason they're soaking up too much of your sun.

It's so much harder to take inventory of our lives and admit that hard truth that this, while good on its own, is not good for the growth of me. 

It's easy to get overwhelmed and frozen in fear as the reality of eliminating something good from your life is something you need to take action on in order to reach your mighty potential. Too many book clubs and recreation athletic leagues are slowly crowding out the necessary communication needed to make a relationship work. Too many community fundraisers are standing in the way of paying that past due bill. Too many friends are paying for the dinner and giving the good gifts at Christmas but gossip too much while peppering toxic ideas in their commentary.

We know better.

We know what we need to do.

And those of us that do the hard work of getting rid of the good are rewarded with the great.

But others will not want to look at their life at all. Content with the brambles and thorns piled high, vines so thick it's impossible to see through. Acres of a soul unreachable. They would rather remain unknown than to start the hard clearing required to enable them to reach their greatest potential, They would rather keep the comfort of their disorder and chaos than remove the bad and ugly required to give them a better chance to grow tall and strong.

Are you mighty?

Are you living tall and majestic?

If not, what is standing in your way of becoming great?

And why are you letting it?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Greatest Challenge of My Week

Last night at our weekly Bible Study, we were presented with a challenge: this next week, really look into a hard truth within ourselves and answer the question, "how do I treat other Christians?"

On the surface it seems like a no-brainer. I love Christ and I love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ! One of my most favorite things in the world is to talk about God -- not in the hammering of theological rhetoric but rather of the awe and amazement I feel with God working in my life.

You want to sing together? Pray together? Talk about how awesome God is together? I'm there with you!

I love other Christians and I shower them with my love!

Well....

I mean....

just the ones I like.

Because the hard truth is that lady at my church who is socially awkward and trying to follow her in a conversation makes my head hurt? I avoid her. I don't make it obvious, of course. No one would know that was what I was doing. But the hard truth is, I do it. And I watch out of the corner of my eye (always being careful not to make direct eye contact) how she works the room trying hard to find someone to talk to. And I can see it -- I can see how her heart longs to be welcomed in. And I actually pray that someone decides to make the first move and walk straight up to her and say hello, ask how her week was. Not me, of course. I don't think I'm the person who should do it. But it's good for me to pray that someone else does it, right?

And that guy who loves the Lord with all his heart but always (and I mean always) manages to somehow talk about a hot topic item I'd rather stay away from? Please, oh, please, Lord don't let me get stuck serving with him. I don't want to be perceived as having the same exact view as him and I am not going to debate him. So, it's just easier to avoid him. Which is good, right? Because that way I'm tampering down potential drama. Right? I mean, this isn't the time or the place for that conversation so it's better I just serve by someone else.

Then there's that family. You know the one. They have more money than they know what to do with. Here I am scraping by while trying to raise awareness about worldwide poverty but what are they doing? I see they posted about another vacation they took. Must be nice. Try living in a third world. They have no idea what going without looks like. Obviously their heart isn't in the right place. Sure, they might come to church each week but what sort of difference are they really making in the world? I mean, I don't really know them. I've never actually had any sort of conversation that one would consider in depth or personal. I don't actually know their story, like how they met or how they came to live in this town or, well, anything about them really. But I know their type, you know?

And that one. Oh, man. I still remember the things she said when Avery died under the guise of Christian love and truth telling but all she did was further destroy my shattered Mama heart. Others have told me that she really does have a good heart, that she's well intentioned but sometimes her passion gets in the way and she doesn't think when she says things. She didn't mean to hurt me. She meant, in her own way, to show me love but it came out all wrong. I'm not mean to her, I just pretend she doesn't exist. You know, to protect my heart.

How do I treat other Christians?

I think this is going to be a rough week of reality for me. I'm being asked to pray a prayer I don't want the answer to. I'm being challenged to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal in me the people I have incorrectly labeled as not worth my time. To show me those I see as simply 'the least'.

If, when we receive Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, we each one receive the Holy Spirit in our hearts, understanding the knowledge that the power of God Himself is within us, then why do I fail to see Christ residing in my fellow brothers and sisters? Why am I so quick to ignore or avoid or walk away from my same Christ who resides within them? Because the hard truth is it is easy to justify the way we truly treat other Christians.

There is a responsibility to open my eyes, Lord. One that I will not be able to ignore once my eyes are open. So, I guess the next prayer would be show me how to love like you , Lord. 

I just hope I'm up for the challenge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why I'm Frustrated with the #22 kill Push Up Challenge for Veterans

The 22 kill push up challenge is to raise awareness to the fact that 22 Veterans commit suicide everyday. If you choose to accept this challenge, add a video everyday for 22 days, doing your 22 push ups and calling out someone new everyday to do the same.


The rules are simple: do 22 push ups, every single day, for 22 days. Each day, record yourself and, when you post your video, tag a friend and ask them to also participate in the challenge.

And the challenges - at least according to my news feed - have been readily accepted.

Except I've noticed something else: as quickly as they are initially accepted, they are completely forgotten.

What happened to day 7? Or 12, or 19? Shoot, what happened to day 2?

With every lack of daily post, the message of just give up, it's easier is whispered. And here's the thing: this challenge is to bring awareness to the fact that TWENTY TWO VETERANS SUCCEED IN COMMITTING SUICIDE EVERY DAY. The message through this challenge should scream don't give up! We know it's hard but I know you can keep pressing through!  Not, well, gee, this sucks, let's just stop and give up.

I am 100% certain that I could not athletically whip out twenty two push ups if someone asked me. I would consider it a futile attempt at best. In fact, I wouldn't even want to try because I wouldn't see the point. And I certainly wouldn't want someone video taping my pathetic attempt and failure to be broadcast on social media for all the world to see.

Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that getting out of bed isn't worth it. Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that punching in that phone number isn't going to make a difference. Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that talking to someone is just going to end in humiliation and more failure. 

But my healthy mind tells me that while it seems insurmountable in this moment --- and in fact, it kind of is, right? --- that if I just take that first step to try and then take another first step and try again tomorrow and then take another first step and try again the third day - eventually, I'll be able to get through twenty two push ups. Eventually, as long as I keep showing up and keep trying to give whatever little I've got, I will make it through. 

It won't be easy. And I'll want to quit and I'll hurt. I'll hurt everywhere. And those studs ripping off their twenty two and forgetting about it, they won't understand the hurt and the ache and how hard it was just for me to show up. But I'll know. But there is bound to be another person in the same boat as me who will understand the hard, too. 

Twenty two days is a big commitment. But I'm tired of people accepting the #22 kill push up challenge and not following through. Because military folk, their commitment is much, much longer than a mere twenty two days. You sign up for four years, you will give them four years. You re-up for another two? You're there for two. You don't get to change your mind, or stop mid stream. You don't get to stay in bed on the days you don't feel good. There is no dropping a class a few weeks into it because you feel your work load is too heavy. You do not get to pack up your things and go home when you want to. You have no choice. You made a commitment and you will honor it.

Your veterans, they missed birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, high school reunions. They missed sitting in the hospital holding their daddy's hand before he went in for surgery. They missed taking their sister to her cancer treatments. They missed picnics and concerts and water parks. The missed curling up on the couch with their wife. 

Instead, they were up all night on patrol, ensuring the perimeter was secure. They hiked for miles on end with a 40-pound rucksack on their back. They learned how to decontaminate themselves after a chemical attack, how to throw a grenade, and how to disarm the enemy in hand-to-hand combat drills. Oh, and just for the record, the number of push ups completed by those in the military every single day well exceeds twenty two. 

But, yeah, twenty two days in a row of twenty two push ups - part of me wonders if, when you realize how hard a 22-day commitment is, you're overcome with an overwhelming realization of the true meaning of military commitment and you start realizing, with awe, just how much these veterans have been through.

One day, while cleaning our barracks, a girl using a mechanical floor buffer quickly unplugged the machine, wrapped the cord around her neck and jumped out the third story window. 

During night training, the guy next to me died. Just stopped moving and died. We were shuffling through mud on our backs, our weapons across our chests, barbed wire inches from our faces, gunshots, explosions, chaos and yelling surrounding us -- and he just stopped. Stopped in a puddle of mud under the barbed wire. I got to the end and out of the chaos and watched as two soldiers went in and dragged him out. 

This all happened during training. I never went to war. I never felt that all encompassing fear, never witnessed that nightmare. And still, coming back and trying to fit into a world that I hadn't been in was difficult. Friends had moved on, family had inside jokes I didn't understand, I rolled my socks funny out of habit. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to come back after war. How does one even begin to try to find a new normal? 

There is a stereotype of military personnel. They're tough. Hard. They can handle anything. Besides, they willingly signed up, right? They knew what they were getting into. It's not like they were drafted.

Except there are still a whole lot of men walking among us who were drafted. The last draft was in the early 70's. For many, they didn't have a choice. 

And for a lot of young men and women, the military is a chance to rise up. Put your time in and get that education, that VA loan, that medical care. It might not be ideal but it's better than the projects they grew up in, or the abusive home they couldn't wait to escape, and it's something when you've got nothing. For a lot of veterans, the military was a way to exist, a way to live, a way to get food and shelter --- no one could foresee the effects of 9/11 or the years of military combat that followed.

22 push ups.
For 22 days.
Post the video and tag someone new each day.

Why?

To raise awareness. 

Twenty two veterans kill themselves every single day. 

That's too many. 

So, yes - accept the challenge! But then actually do the challenge. Fight through the hard days and complete the task. Because giving up is sending the wrong message. Because posting a video of yourself looking good doing push ups is self-serving --- instead, with each push up you do each day, think about how the military has affected you. Think about your time in service. Think about what you would do if you signed up. Could you? What do you think would be easy? What do you think would be hard?

Every day you hit record and drop to the floor, think about how you actively support those who have seen horrors you only watch through a cinema screen. Do you support them? Or do you just say you do?

Every time you bust out your twenty two, think about every military person you actually know. Have you reached out to them? Have you taken them to coffee? Do you know if they're struggling? What would the impact be if they killed themselves? Who would they leave behind? Are you okay with attending their funeral knowing you chose to not keep trying to keep the lines of communication open?

Look, I'm a big fan of armchair slacktivism - when done correctly. Throwing it out there once isn't enough. In a world full of shouting you have to keep putting the information out there. Put in your 22 days. Tag 22 different people to help get the word out. But PLEASE, ADD THIS NUMBER to each post you share: 1-800-273-8255. It belongs to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The lives of our veterans matter. Their hearts and their souls matter. They shouldn't be suffering alone and they shouldn't be left to figure it out on their own. Twenty two of our veterans succeed in committing suicide each and every day --- and that number is way too high. Our mission as a country, as decent human beings, should be to settle for nothing less than zero. And to do anything and everything we can until we reach zero.  


U.S. Army Sgt. Alexander Cerney, left, an infantryman with the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to do push-ups while Master Sgt. Theodore Cook, also with the 101st Airborne Division, watches during a Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter competition at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan, July 14, 2013.


** Visit the 22 Kill website to learn more about this awareness initiative; and to see exactly what the original challenge entailed. How has it changed through the "phone game" of social media?


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The One in Which a Hurting Mama Tries to Help a Hurting Son

I wanted to get out of bed today. I did. It had been my plan all along. But when the time came, I couldn't lift my head. It was too heavy. Thoughts, maybe, or just the anchor of sorrow. Sometimes that happens... everything will be lovely... and then everything stops for no reason. An anchor dropping, the boat trying to continue just gives up.

Tomorrow will be hard. I planned on that. It will be the 4th year of Avery's death. I took the day off of work. It's hard to sit there and pretend to be normal when you're not. It's hard to commiserate with someone bemoaning the fact they can't remodel their guest house when your thoughts focus on an appropriate headstone. (I just can't seem to let go of her wooden cross. I think after her graduating year. The other moms will be shopping for dorm room decor and I'll pick out a rock with her name etched in it.)

Anyway, I planned for tomorrow to be utterly difficult so today threw me for a loop.

It started last night, really.

Matt had left to watch horror movies with his buddies. I tucked Brody into bed then made myself comfortable on the couch to watch another documentary, a lovely gardenia candle burning and a prayer shawl given to me after Avery passed away on my lap. Thirty minutes into the documentary, Brody stumbles into the room with a look on his face I can't decipher. Earlier in the day he had complained that his stomach hurt, and his tooth. I thought maybe he had gotten ill.

He threw his long lanky body into me, arms trying to get tight around me, and just started sobbing.

"Buddy! Buddy, hey! Hey, what's wrong? Talk to me?"

Tears streamed down his cheeks in spite of the fact his eyes were squeezed shut. He was trying everything in his power to stop them from forming. His shoulders started shaking. There was nothing to do except hold him until he could speak.

"I just want a brother or a sister! I don't know why God gave me a sister and then made it so I can't ever see her."

I am tired.

My soul exhausted.

I do not have the answers for this child.

I do not have the healing balm for his broken heart.

And that breaks mine even more.

He cried and I listened. He spoke and I held his hands. He looked up at me and I placed my hand on his cheek and told him the truth: I wish I knew why it was this way, too. And then we prayed.

We thanked God for the new brother or sister God would bring into Brody's life and we asked for patience while we waited and we prayed for acceptance for what that new brother or sister would look like. Maybe it would be a baby that would be placed in our arms tomorrow - a friend of a friend who knows of someone's neighbor's niece - but maybe it would look much different. A new friend met on the playground in 4th grade that would do life like a brother. Maybe it would be college, we said, or as a grown up dad himself, when he would meet the person who would feel like they were meant to do life together. Please, Lord, we pleaded, help us see joy and feel happiness while we wait, no matter how long it takes. 

And that seemed to help. So we both took deep breaths and decided maybe it was a special night, what with daddy being gone, that we could cuddle up in the big bed and watch a movie together!

That seemed like a lovely idea.

I watched his little boy body with the life-tired eyes scroll through Netflix movies and settle on The Little Prince.

Friends, as a warning, that is such a hard, hard movie for children who know what death tastes like. Who knows the depth of hurt death causes.

The movie was paused and more tears fell and I tried to comfort him but I thought what do I know of comfort? I am so lost myself?

And then his questions came: how did you know Avery died? Where was I? Did you tell me Avery died? Did I cry? Did you cry?

It soon dawned on me.... he was three when Avery died. He spent weeks asking when she was going to come home from gymnastics. He couldn't grasp the concept of death... he couldn't feel the weight of what that meant because he was too young. But he would grow older. Understand things. Understand how life is meant to be and how cruelly it can turn out for some.

He was grieving hard... just like I was four years ago.

It was my time then. It was his time now.

I spent a long time holding him. It was as if he had just been told for the first time that his sister had died.

Eventually, the movie started to play again and we made it through to the end.

"Mom," he asked quietly. "Can we just forget about earlier in the movie? It turned out good in the end. It's still a good movie even though it's really sad in the middle." 

"Yeah," I answered. "We can do that. That's kind of how life is, you know. There are parts in the middle that might really make us sad, but it always ends up turning out good."

"Hey!" I sat up, remembering. "I have that book downstairs!"

We ran through the house and down the stairs straight to the never ending titles. "Look for a skinny book!" I told him. "It'll be blue, right?" he asked.

Book after book we went through and I had just about gotten to the point where I was seriously considering how to save this moment when we found it! The Little Prince.

And next to it was another book - one about dragons, actually, but it had both Jadrian and Avery's name written in their childish script on the inside cover. "Mom? Can I have this one? Just for me? And do you think I could have a pen and write my name next to my sisters?"

Absolutely, buddy. You can have the world if I can get it for you.

We climbed the stairs which felt like mountains. My legs heavy, my soul parched.

It is so hard to do this sometimes; be the Mama to the child in heaven while also being the Mama to child who is living.

We crawled into bed together, this lanky 1st grader and his Mama who aged overnight and never was able to get back to where she once was, turning through the pages of a book that reminded him of loved ones dying.

"Mom?" he whispered. "Can we do a celebration for Avery on the day she died? I want to give her flowers and a scarf."


“What makes the desert beautiful,' said the little prince, 
'is that somewhere it hides a well...” 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


I meant to get out of bed this morning. I had every intention. But I couldn't. My head was so heavy. I don't know if I'm answering the hard questions correctly. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing.

Matt believes that one ought to simply focus on the positive and stop dwelling on the negative. If something causes you pain or discomfort, simply avoid it.

But tomorrow, after school, right or wrong, I'll pick Brody up and we'll buy flowers and a scarf for his sister and we'll have a celebration.

Because maybe the positive is a brother being able to at least leave a gift for his sister at her grave... and maybe the negative is pretending there is no reason to hurt.




Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Taking Out the Rocks

When I was young, I remember hearing about this guy who lived every day of his life with a small pebble purposely put in his shoe. I remember thinking that was a pretty idiotic thing to do because everyone else on the planet who ended up with a pebble in their shoe stopped and took it out. No one I knew would want to walk around with a rock pressing uncomfortably into the bottom of their foot with each step. At least, not intentionally.

But this guy went on to say it was to remind him about how Jesus died for our sins. He didn't want to forget the pain and suffering that Jesus went through to forgive him for his sins; the anguish that was leveraged for eternal salvation. The least he could do was be mildly uncomfortable. As if taking on pain could somehow make the pain Jesus endured dying slowly on a cross make sense.

I understood why this guy wanted to remember such a tragic event, but why remember, with each passing step of the life we are given, only pain and anguish?

Why remember, all day every day, the despair, the fear, the torture and how there was nothing, absolutely nothing, anyone could do to stop the inevitable?

Why move through life focused solely on the single incident that took someone so beautiful, so perfect, so inspiring, away?

If I am to believe the words written in the Bible (which I personally do), Jesus was a man of great love, great compassion, great happiness, even. Jesus opened his arms and welcomed people in. He spread a message of hope and love. He encouraged people to give up the selfishness of their ways and focus instead on helping others. He taught us that love was everything.

He wanted his life to live on much longer than the day he died. He wanted his life to serve as an example to others... he wanted us to be influenced by him and choose live in the way he did. He wanted us to teach others what we had been taught.

I'm not so totally convinced that Jesus wanted us to spend every day on earth mourning his death, but rather he wanted us to spread joy and love and live with this awesome expectation that one day we'll be living eternally in heaven with him.

I don't mean to minimize the crucifixion. (If you know me at all, when Easter comes around, I spend a lot of days solemn, thinking about what it really would have been like to live during that time, to see the awfulness, to feel the devastation and despair of that fateful day when the world turned dark.) What I mean to say is, I think not only are we to remember and deeply respect Jesus dying - but in addition to honoring his death - we are to honor his life by living in a way that would make God proud.

Which gets me back to the rock in the shoe guy. What part about bruising the bottom of your foot honors the life lived?

******

October is a hard month for me. It's a hard month for a lot of people.

It was one of Avery's favorite times of year. She loved dressing up in costumes and she loved sharing candy. She was not having any part of the blood and gore and horror - rather she had this exceptional way of taking the good out of any situation, focusing on it and magnifying it. Living, instead, in a land of make believe and laughter.

She loved fall, the changing colors of the leaves, riding bikes, pulling out the blankets and cuddling on the couch. And she especially loved her birthday. Bringing in treats for friends and, even though the day was supposed to be about her, it was always more about the people she loved.

October is so beautiful with its hues of golds and reds; the way the sun wraps its arms tight right before the evening sky erupts in brilliant shades of pinks and purples, oranges and yellows like you've never seen.

Then comes the reminder of the day my world turned dark: October 24th.

And I can go through the steps of that day in powerful detail ---

--- waking up, getting ready for school. The shirt she chose (a light sweater of Jadrian's), the way she asked me to comb her hair. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, the way the brush slipped through her light brown hair. I swear I could see exactly what she would look like as a teenager. It was a quick glimpse but it was there.

I hear the music turned loud in the car as we belted out Jamie Grace's God Girl on the radio. The way she smiled as she sang - like she couldn't fit more happiness inside her if she tried! She was so beautiful.... she looked like an angel.

I can see the spot in the curb where I pulled over to drop her off at school.

I watch her hand as she opened the passenger door, her lankiness as she grabbed her back pack, and started toward the school.

How she turned back and looked at me, really, really looked at me... and said, "you know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."

The way she smiled through to my soul. I could feel her smile kiss my soul.

And then she turned and skipped into school - yes, skipped! So light and full of life! And I smiled, watching her until she disappeared through the school doors, so oblivious that I would never, ever cast my eyes upon her again.

******

On my drive into work that morning I continued to let the Jamie Grace CD play. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot the CD started over. At its very start there is a sixty second, barely there, haunting prelude: there's a feather in my hair and a wing around my neck, I'm ready to fly away.

I remember thinking, these are the words of a child going home to Jesus; these are the words of a baby dying.  The thought so heavy on my heart I had to shake it away.

That song was played at Avery's funeral. Right before the men in dark suits wheeled my daughter in her casket away.


******

There are 19 days on the calendar that sit between the date of her birth and the date of her death. Nineteen days that must pass... building in sorrow until the night when I fall apart. And I always do. The clock taunting me the entire day....

8:17am.... you just dropped her off.

It's 3:40pm now... school would have been over.... she'd be in the car to Whitewater... 

She's on the mats now, laughing and talking during gymnastics.... 

6pm.... gymnastics is over.... 

6:08pm... she died. 

But you don't know that yet. 

6:20pm - where are they?

6:30pm - maybe she was dropped off at youth group....

6:40pm - all your calls have gone unanswered... drive to church and check for yourself....

She isn't there. 

She will never be there again.

But you still don't know that yet either....

... and you won't know that for more than another hour....  

The worry and rising panic of those hours intensifies today the exact same way it did on October 24, 2012. Branded and seared into my soul against my will. And I know that each year it will always hold me captive. I think, in a way, it's supposed to. Not everyday --- but just on this one day of each year. This day of bittersweet remembrance.

So, what do you do when you know you're about to walk into something overflowing with sorrow?

What do you do with the nineteen days that sit between the celebration of one of the greatest days of your life and the absolute worst?

******

There is a painful beauty when recalling my daughter's death. The worry, the fear, the pacing, standing face to face with that uniformed police officer.... my soul shattering into a million shards...but it's the life that came before, the love she shared that makes her death a tragedy, that makes remembering beautiful. Without the faith she exuded, the love she poured out, the compassion she gave, the service she felt called to --- her life would have amounted to just a few lines in an old newspaper, folded and soon forgotten, regardless of her years lived on earth.

The way she lived her life, the examples she gave, the God she talked so passionately about - these are what I crave to remember. These I desire to hold at the very front of my memory.

What good would it be for me to walk around with a pebble in my shoe? Remembering with each step I take only the dark? Using my time gifted on this earth to remember the awful moments of the most horrible day - the ring of the doorbell, the hand on my shoulder, the feeling that I was surely about to suffocate under the weight of my own heart... as if some continual daily hurt I could feel would somehow justify her sudden and tragic death? 

Maybe that's why I needed to take the hard month back. Make October about Avery's life instead of just her death.

******

We started The 19 Days for the kids. That first year, I just couldn't imagine their grief stricken faces. They were too young. Too innocent. I didn't want them hurting any more than they had to.

Each day for nineteen days, I said, do something nice for someone else. Take your mind off things. Focus on the good in our world. Spread kindness. Create happiness. Be the joy that comes each morning. Then, after The 19 Days, sure we'll remember that darkness but we'll also know that the darkness doesn't stay. We'll remember that the light does pierce through. We'll have proof. We will be the proof.

But, maybe these daily acts of kindnesses are more for me now.  Because every day I look online and see another post using the hashtag #the19days -- every time someone sends me a text, every time I'm invited in to witness another act of kindness I am able to bend over and take a pebble out of my shoe.

And a person walks lighter without rocks in their shoes. It almost makes you want to skip.


The last photo Avery took on her iPod.