Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Light for Lilly


This picture has been printed in various community newspapers in the past two years. It shows my precious daughter, Avery - second from the right - smiling with her sweet friends at a sleepover at Katie's house.

Too soon after this picture was taken, Avery passed away as the result of a car accident.

Too soon after Avery died, another little girl in this photo was called home to be with Jesus.

You guys. My heart.

Lilly, the precocious young lady on the far right on this photo with her arm around Avery, was full of so much life it is impossible to think she would ever leave this earth.

She cracked jokes and asked bold questions. She laughed out loud and made me shake my head at how insanely wise she was about things you wouldn't think a kid her age would be. She never made any excuses for herself and taught me a great many things about being bold. She played football with the boys. She played hard. She played good. She played real good.

And just like that. Gone. The most audacious child I have ever met is gone.

No warning. No explanation. Just - suddenly not here.

And her Mama was wailing. Wailing in her grief. Wailing in her missing. Wailing in her without.

And it dawned on me that I know her pit. I know that darkness.

I know the struggle to breathe and the way it suddenly hits you like a bat to the heart: how can this child just be gone? 

You guys. This story hits too close to home.

Not just to me... but to our entire community.

Extra psychologists and counselors are called in. Again.

Kids are suddenly made aware that it's not just our old grandmas and grandpas and the great uncle you have never met that die - it's your friend, the kid who sits next to you in Math class, the girl at the bus stop. Again.

I don't know why this happened but, yes, I still have faith in my God. Faith that He is good always. Faith that he will redeem all things and he will use this in the most magnificent, glorious way ever. Even when my heart feels like it's in a million pieces and I want to rage out and scream at God, "seriously?! From the same group of friends? What is wrong with you that you think this is a good idea?!" (Don't worry; my God knows I wrestle hard.)

I don't expect an answer right now. Or in the next couple days. But I know there is one. And I trust Him.

Friends, a whole family has been plunged into sudden darkness. We need to shine our light. We need to keep shining because there will be a moment between the tears that a small sliver of light will sneak through and give hope. If we don't shine, they won't see it.

Don't over think things: send the card. Drop off toilet paper. Deodorant. Dish soap. I don't care if you don't know the family. They don't care. Trust me when I say grieving Mamas aren't going to even remember who was around them... they just remember someone was. And people holding you up always feels better.

Don't forget Lilly's siblings. They're grieving, too. Many times, it's the kids that get overlooked. Not because their grief isn't real and huge and hard; it's just that Mama grief usually gets top billing. And it's just not fair to the kids.

Be sensitive. I know you're craving to know what happened - it's natural. (I think we do that so we can fake ourselves into thinking we'll be safe. I don't drive on the highway so I won't crash. I don't smoke so I won't get cancer. I don't go hunting so I'll never have to worry about a random bullet.) But, friends, please, please, PLEASE stop publicly posting, "how'd she die?" on Facebook pages. There is (1) a private message option you could use and (2) something called decorum. A simple "thinking of the family" or even just typing "so sad" sounds a whole lot better than "what happened?" That just makes you sound nosey. And insensitive. No grieving family needs that. Not know. They want messages that give them hope - not remind them that the crappiest thing in the world just happened to them and you're antsy to know the details.

Be kind. To everyone. Lilly was audacious! I just cannot think of another, better word to describe her. She was genuinely incredible. I think of all the light she herself spread in our world and cannot imagine that light ever being extinguished. I just know that YOU can spread light in her honor. Think of how awesome it would be if everyone who knew that spunky smile or was touched by this story decided to start shining their light a little brighter? Man, how this world would light up! #lightforLilly  Do it. Make this world a better place with your smile and genuine kindness. That's what she did.

And on a practical level, if you can, financially support this family. They'll never ask for it. Not in a hundred years. So, we'll ask for them.

Funerals are expensive. Did you know there's an extra charge for digging during the "frozen" months? Headstones. Funeral luncheons. Not to mention the hospital charges. The grief counseling the members of this family will need. They'll want to print every picture ever taken. There's a charge for that, too. No one budgets and saves for this. So, maybe you have an extra $20 you were going to spend this week at the movies. Rent one from RedBox instead and donate $19. You can do that here: GoFundMe: Lilly Perry

And pray. Lilly believed in God. Her family does. She's probably tossing the pigskin around with Jesus now. Or maybe she's just walking alongside him asking all the hard questions that she always wanted answers to. Whatever she's doing, I know she's there. And she'd want us all to pray for her Mama and her siblings. She'd want us to pray for all her friends who are grieving all over again. (Two deaths in two years is going to leave lasting effects on way too many children.) So pray. If nothing else, pray.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Not Through My Eyes

This afternoon I was driving through town and caught a glimpse of the sun in the sky. It's cold here in Wisconsin. Snow has fallen, but the sun came out, temperatures warmed and snow turned to water. The sky had been hazy. Foggy, almost. But there, in the middle of the sky, was the most perfect circle of light.

The sphere was so bright. The edges clean and crisp. Like someone had literally drawn a perfect circle and shaded it bright.

I pulled off to the side of the road to take a photo of it. I grabbed my phone, took off my sunglasses, and exited the car to find the perfect shot.

Except the sun circle was gone. Vanished.

In it's place was a bright haze of light among the fog and clouds but nothing like the amazing, perfectly shaped sphere in the sky.

Disappointed, I hopped back in my car. Pulled on my sunglasses and took one last glance out my window before putting the car in drive.

And there it was again!

It was my sunglasses that allowed me to see (forgive me, but this is the only way I can describe it) through the clouds and to the glorious sun that was hidden behind the fog and haze. With my own eyes it just looked like any old sun shining behind clouds. But with a little help, I was able to catch a glimpse of something spectacular. Something I would normally miss.

When I look at Avery's death with my own eyes all I see is grey fog and haze. Through my own eyes, the haze convinces me that losing my daughter is awful and horrible and tragic.

Yet, when God slips his Heavenly Sunglasses over my eyes, I can see past that grief to something so perfect. So beautiful. So bright. When I look at Avery's death through the lens of Christ I can see things I wouldn't normally be able to see.

I can see how Avery is doing exactly what she wanted to do: tell people about Jesus, lead people to Christ. And she is doing this in such amazingly huge ways that I never could have imagined. But God did.

I will not be able to see completely; my earthly eyes are not made for such things. But I trust my God. I know that His way is good and right and just. So, until I am reunited with my sweet daughter in heaven, I will continue to trust and be thankful for the glimpses I get.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Color of Heaven


I find the easiest way to learn about people is to listen to what they have to say. Everyone has something to say. It's just that sometimes, they stop talking out loud once they feel no one's listening.

When I go to Haiti {I've been three times now}, I find myself sitting quietly a lot. Just sitting. Sooner or later a kid or two will show up. Then another. And another.

Usually it's the boys.

Mostly they talk about silly things. Teasing each other about their hair and who is going to "grow it tall." Laughing about who was outwitted on the soccer field. They're all boy; hitting and nudging and pushing and bumping into each other.

But other times they grow silent. Quiet. Like they're thinking so hard about things but aren't sure how to talk about it. Like saying it out loud will somehow cause them to lose their train of thought.

And so we sit. Not saying anything at all. Side by side.

And then there are the times when they're full of questions. They want answers. They need answers. They're impatient and anxious, sometimes teetering on the edge of angry - but even they can't put into words why. It's just a feeling they have and they're trying their hardest to understand it.


"Bridget," he demands. As if my name is an order. He's looking at me hard. Eyes angry and defiant but he doesn't know why. He snaps his chin up; his way of telling me he's boss, daring me to look away.

"Your child die."

"Yes, my daughter died."  It's their favorite topic. Maybe because they all seem to know death in one form or another. They challenge me on it. Constantly.

He squints his eyes at me. "She in heaven?" 

All the boys turn to look at me now.

"Yes. She's in heaven. She believed in God and loved Jesus very much so when she died she got to go to Heaven."

He considers this. I keep my eyes on him. The boys look back and forth between us; they feel a battle approaching.

He looks away first. Off into the distance. He starts chewing on the inside of his lip. Contemplating something. 

I wonder what this beautiful child has experienced in his short life. I wonder what circumstances he lived through that brought him here, at this orphanage, in this village. 

He is so beautiful. So precious. So hard. 

He has a rock he's been fingering. Around and around I watch the rock as he flips it over and over. Suddenly, he throws it to the ground, snaps his head at me, eyes squinted in what looks like anger but is probably just confusion. 

"Bridget! When I die? I go to heaven, too? Then I turn white like you?!" 

He spits the words out. 

"What?" 

"Why I go to heaven and turn white like you?" He's mad. Angry. Scared.

It dawns on me: he has heard the stories. Stories of God and heaven. Stories about how, if you just believe, you will live eternally in heaven. How you will be made whole and perfect.

And he thinks, incorrectly, that this perfection comes in the color of white skin.  

"Oh, honey, no! You think that everyone in heaven is white?"

He nods his head yes.

"How do you know I won't go to heaven and turn dark like you?"

Some of the boys laugh. A slow smile comes to his face. But it's not enough. He wants more. I pray I can help him understand.

"Here's what I think," I start while leaning toward him. "I don't think God has a favorite color. That's why he made so many people with so many different colors. He made people with skin dark like the night because he thinks the night is beautiful. And he made people with skin light brown like the earth because he is so proud of His earth. And he made people with skin light like mine because the light makes him happy. And he made people with skin and hair as white as snow because he loves everything pure.

I think that in heaven we will see all our different skin colors and just know that each person is as beautiful and perfect as God sees us as. When we are in heaven I will have my white skin and you will have your beautiful dark skin - but we won't care. We will only be happy to see each other's hearts."

He turns again, looking out into the distance. And he sits quiet for a long, long time. 

All the boys do. 

No one moves or says anything as the sky starts shutting down for the day. 

I lean my head back and close my eyes, enjoying the last few moments of the day's sun. 

"Bridget," he speaks slow and quiet. "That heaven sounds real good."

Eyes still closed, I smile. Yes, I think to myself. Heaven sounds really good indeed. 




Sunday, November 9, 2014

One More for the Road

I have a friend who struggles with drinking. Not the consumption part; but, rather with the stopping part. Now, to be fair, it's not an every day occurrence. They are able to hold down a really nice job, they own their own home and are actually quite respected in the community amongst their peers. It's just those times when they start drinking - they can't seem to stop.

We were introduced a thousand years ago (or perhaps less) when I, too, was still in my let's get dressed up and dance until closing time stage. I loved dancing. And I didn't need to drink in order to do it. Although I did. Fruity drinks. Southern and Cokes. The random shot encouraged by a friend with a camera: Let's all do one! Hold on - let's get the bartender to take our picture! Because bartenders love doing that.

Eventually, I moved past that stage. I met a guy. Fell in love. Wanted to settle down and start a real family (not the single mom thing I had been doing).

I wanted to get married and spend future summers at our cabin up north so I traded drinking for researching properties for sale online.

I wanted a nice home so I crossed off bar money on my budget and renamed it bathroom remodel.

I had a baby so I traded late Saturday nights for early morning Sunday school.

I envisioned what I wanted and, well, quite frankly, going to the bars drinking every weekend wasn't going to get me there. I said good bye to that stage in my life without ever really giving it much thought. For me, it was a natural next step in my maturing life. That's not to say I didn't order a fruity drink when out for dinner with friends, or enjoy a glass or two of wine out on the boat or during book club. It just wasn't part of my weekly habits anymore.

And I found I didn't miss that scene.

I didn't miss the drunk grabby guys or the girls full of drama, crying over the bathroom sink because of something their drunk crappy friend said. I didn't miss the bus load of girls in their too tall heels and too short dresses screaming their way through the bar with their giant inflatable props. And I certainly didn't miss the I got so hammered last night I puked all over the living room floor stories.

But all of that still is very important to my friend - although they'll tell you it isn't.

I can see through the you never want to go out anymore and life is too short to not enjoy it and you used to be fun, what happened? What happened was, if we go out now I become the mother. Because the truth is, when we go out my drinking is at a slow idle and their's is full throttle. I spend our time together counting drinks because I want to strategically leave before their drunk alter ego shows up. I worry constantly about how guilty I would feel if at the end of the night their story stops at swerved over the center line and hit a mother of four.

I can see through my friend at their truth: that when they start they just can't stop. That they're constantly explaining to me how three drinks to them is like one to a normal person (as if, somehow, alcohol doesn't enter their bloodstream). That I've never once seen them not finish a drink, or two, even after they said they were done and going home. That somehow, in the justification of their mind, because they were able to drive home wasted and not get a DUI, it means they have some sort of super power that allows them to "handle" their alcohol. That, in all honesty, I enjoy them sober way more than who they become after they cross that line of no return. That the sweet, sensitive, caring person I know suddenly erupts into this paranoid, screw everybody, I hate you jerk that no one wants to be around. That in all my years of knowing this person, they've never been able to go more than 3 or 4 months without getting completely, ridiculously, irresponsibly drunk. I can see through all their excuses and explanations and narratives and see one thing: even though they're not the dirty, homeless, missing teeth drunk of the movies, they have a problem with alcohol.

I no longer see the need to get buzzed to the point getting in a vehicle and driving is a dangerous and costly idea. I no longer see the need to get so drunk at a Thanksgiving celebration they have to ask their over 60-year old father to drive them back home. I no longer see the need to believe flimsy excuses of hidden bottles of alcohol that roll out from under the seat of their vehicle. I no longer feel the need to sit through another rant about how they have no money and life isn't fair because they work so hard when I know they easily just spent another $80 on booze. And I no longer see the need to feel like I'm the one that has somehow lost in life because I've moved into a different stage and I feel good about that.

And yet....

I can't help but feel so sad. Discouraged. Disappointed.

This is someone I had shared so many good laughs with. Pictures of our past life together are full of smiles and hugs and, well, yes, drinks. But they're also full of hopes and expectations and dreams and wants and plans - things that we both deserve to see brought into fruition. And I can't help but notice their drinking hasn't helped them realize any of the dreams they talked about so long ago.

I wonder, where did their spark go? When did that fire for life die out and get replaced with just one more and I didn't plan to get drunk; it just happened? What causes a person to trade the dreams they had for their life for all the lies they have to tell to cover up the fact last night was just another night of bad decisions that didn't allow them to make it home?

Maybe it's completely Pollyanna of me, but I want to see everyone on this planet realize their dreams. I don't believe there's a person on this planet that doesn't have a passion or a gift or an interest that tugs at their heartstrings. I wish, somehow, every single person stayed sober enough to feel those heartstrings and know how happy their souls would be if they would follow where their heart is pulling them.

I wish my friend could fight for their dreams and not for just another drunken Saturday night.

Ellie Goulding: Guns and Horses


****


If you believe you may have a problem with alcohol, please, please know that you are worth getting help. Your dreams are worth it. Confide in a friend. Your doctor. A family member you trust. Seek out a counselor or find your closest Alcoholics Anonymous location.

For more information on the differences and warning signs of Social Drinkers, Problem Drinkers and High Functioning Alcoholics, (because most people who struggle with alcohol are not laying in a ditch), follow this link: The High Functioning Alcoholic

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Starting the Walk

I haven't written in a while because I haven't known how. Let me be honest, Year 2 is harder than Year 1. It means I'm starting Year 3 and, well, I don't really look forward to another year without.

On the first anniversary of Avery's death we released balloons. Hundreds of balloons. 




And it was good!

This year, I wanted to do something not so public. So, I went to Haiti and celebrated life with my sponsor son.



And it was good!

And then I came home and my world was thrown upside down - and it was awful. And then came that slow realization that it had been upside down the entire time; I had simply been trying to force it upright for the past seven years. 

And my soul was exhausted. 

And my heart wouldn't hurt anymore.

And even disappointment didn't affect me. 

I sat in a daze for a good long while before realizing I could sit and stare at walls until I could scream in hurt before staring at walls again until the end of my days... but that wouldn't change a thing. You can't force things to fit where they don't. A square peg simply can't fit in an oval soul.

I could sit in hurt or move forward in hurt. 
The choice was entirely up to me.

And so, after much feeling sorry for myself, I started thinking - really thinking - about what I want out of life.

I want to be a mom. I love kids and I want lots of them. Maybe I adopt. Maybe I will be one of those 45-year old women who gives birth to triplets. Maybe I follow in Avery's footsteps and work in an orphanage in some third world country. Maybe I go back to school to become a teacher. Maybe I teach writing to teens! I don't know what it looks like exactly, but I know God gave me a mother's heart and a mama's love for a reason. Kids need to be part of my life in a big way.

I want to continue Avery's legacy. Keeping on that path of loving kids, I want to realize the dream of building The Avery House - a transitional home for girls in Haiti who have aged out of the orphanage but still have school to finish up. I need to raise a LOT of money. It's not impossible - it's just hard. I can do hard.

I want to write a book. Specifically, I want to write Avery's story. Because even though I shared a lot on this blog, it still doesn't tell the whole story and the whole story is beautiful and amazing and too incredible to not share with the world.


After I identified those things I quickly realized I didn't just want to do them but rather actually feel called to do them. I realized these were all things I've been anxious to do for the past couple years and I had to face some hard truths as to why none of these were happening and what I needed to do to start walking in their direction. So...


I got a new job! It's only part time - and I really do need something full time, but it's a start. And, well, to tell you the truth, by the time I pay daycare for Brody, I'm bringing home about $4.00 an hour. That's awesome. But the thing is - I've done it before and I can do it again. I got pregnant with my oldest when I was 20 and making $6.75 an hour. I ate generic egg noodles and generic soup every day for 2 years. I went without so she could go with. Mama's sacrifice for their babies. I know how to go without.

I got a new house! Okay. Not really. It's an old house. Really, really old. And small. Really, really small. And I'm not technically living in it yet because I need to find an electrician. And a plumber. And then I need to be able to pay for them. So, it'll be awhile (possibly years) before I can actually realize my dream of living in a dilapidated 465-square foot converted garage. But, hey, micro-housing is all the rage and this house boasts a 7'x4' kitchen. And think of everything I can accomplish if I live below my means?! (Assuming, I'll get to a point where I actually have a means.)

I got  to talk about Haiti! And Avery! I spoke last night at a youth group. I'm telling you right now, nothing feels better than talking about Avery and how her love for Christ and her love for Haiti has transformed my heart. And as I was showing picture after picture of how people live in Haiti, I kept hearing this voice in my head whispering these people live with so little and look at how happy they are! Twelve people would live in a house smaller than the converted garage you're headed to - and it still wouldn't be stable or weatherproof. Bridget, you have it so good! You are so incredibly blessed!

The truth is, I AM incredibly blessed. Things don't always work out the way you want them to. Relationships fail. Children die. Jobs are hard to come by. And people disappoint. But that doesn't mean the blessings aren't there. Sometimes we just have to start looking at things from a different angle in order to find them.

I remember when Avery told me she was going to have one hundred kids. I told her that was impossible. Then I met Amber, the missionary who truly was the mother 100 children looked up to. I had only looked at it from my singular perspective. I never considered a different view.

It's like that movie Under the Tuscan Sun, where the main character dreams of having a new romantic relationship, a wedding and a family -- and all of these things do happen to her, just not in any of the ways, times or places she had imagined.

And so, my new journey begins. All I can do is take a deep breath, pick up my bags, and start walking.



"Unthinkably good things can happen...even late in the game."