Avery carried her bible with her always. And she read it everywhere. This summer she was a Mother's Helper and took her bible with to read from when the kids were napping or there was just some downtime to be had. She was not ashamed of her love for Jesus. (You see, Avery had WAY more faith than her mother. I have always had faith - but questioning, sometimes doubting and confused faith. Mine is the kind that I must work at. Avery's has always been an absolute, oozing from her pores, kind of faith.)
And Avery's faith extended far beyond the written pages of a book.
Avery had compassion. She felt compelled to help people. All people. She wanted to save the world through the knowledge of Jesus. "Mom," she began one afternoon when we were driving in the car. "I feel bad for people who don't know about Jesus. If they knew about Him they would know He loved them and they would never feel lonely or afraid."
She wanted to go on mission trips and preach God's Word. She wanted to help children in orphanages. She wanted to spread kindness and hope. She figured that if people knew Jesus there would be no more meanness, no more bullying, no more children sitting alone at lunch.
On October 12, 2012, Avery and I were invited to a tobyMac concert in Madison. Jamie Grace opened for tobyMac (whom Avery also adores!) and we were both thrilled! Jamie Grace is one of Avery's favorite Christian artists. Between artists, a preacher took to the stage and talked to the audience. He talked about how we often look at the people "ahead" of us in line and wonder why we can't have what they have, why we don't have it as good as them, why we have to be "way back here." But then he said that if we turned around and look at who was standing in line "behind" us, we would see scores of people who have no electricity. No schooling. No food. Children who were starving. God wants us to turn to those "behind" us in line and extend a hand to lift them up.
In the lobby were envelopes with the faces of children from various third world countries. Avery would NOT let me leave without first agreeing to sponsor a child. In fact, I tried to leave without sponsoring anyone. My cynical, doubting mind was telling me that no one really benefits from these types of organizations. You send in $30 a month and they might get sixteen cents. They spend their money on fancy paper and pictures of children who probably are models living in Ohio.
But Avery was adamant. And when Avery was adamant there was no letting go until what needed to get done got done.
And so, I dumped the rest of my cash in the envelope of the child she picked and filled out my address. I nodded, annoyed that I got suckered in to putting two twenty dollar bills into an envelope, as the kid behind the table explained that in a couple weeks we'd be receiving an informational packet that would tell us how to write to our new Sponsored Child, Alphonsine, from Rwanda.
Two days later Avery handed me a sealed envelope. "You need to mail this, Mom." It was addressed to Alphonsine. I tried to explain that we should first wait to get the informational packet. "But it's important, Mom." I smiled weakly and slipped the envelope into my purse. "I'll try to mail it tomorrow."
I never mailed it. For the last ten days of Avery's life she asked me about mailing that letter. She grew frustrated with my excuses. I didn't have time to get to the Post Office. I didn't have money for postage but I'd do it for sure tomorrow, I promised.
See, I was trying to protect her. I didn't want her to send something that wasn't right and then have to watch her heart break when it was returned. I didn't know if we had the right address. What if the letter never got to its intended recipient and Avery would spend months waiting for a reply? Also, I wasn't quite sure what she had written. This is a 15-year old girl who lives in a war torn country... Avery would have to be careful and sensitive to what she would write. It was something we should do together; something that I should help her with so she would do it right.
A week after Avery died I found myself alone, sobbing in my car, in the parking lot of Shopko. I had fled my house because I just couldn't take it anymore. I didn't know how to comfort everyone. I didn't know how to be strong for everyone.
I had a fiancé that spent every day of the last almost 6 years with Avery: sledding and swimming and playing catch and laughing and trying to convince me to go to McDonald's for dinner. He felt on the fringe of everything and not recognized for the love he had for Avery. I was trying to hold him up.
I had a daughter who felt imaginable grief and responsibility - who had little faith; who was angry; "If Avery loved God so much why would He do this to her? Why would He want her dead? Why would He take her away from everyone she loved so much? If God loves me why would he take my only sister away from me? I loved her!!!" I tried, but I couldn't answer her questions. I tried to console her and be strong for her but the whole time I just wanted to crawl under my blankets and disappear.
I had a toddler who was reverting back to baby talk and "only Mama do it." I tried to have patience ... he was so very, very close to Avery. He would run to her before he ran to me.
I felt defeated.
And so I sat in my car and wept. I cried out, "Oh, Avery! I am failing you! I don't know what to do! I'm trying to be strong for everyone but I don't know how! Help me, Avery! Please help me and tell me what to do!"
And then I looked in my purse and saw the envelope that had rested there for far too many days.
And I opened it.
Inside were two pencils, a pen, and a purple marker, along with a simple stationary card that had the letter "A" stamped on the front. I read my daughter's words:
My name is Avery! I am a girl! I live in Wisconsin, I’m 11 years old and in the 5th grade!
I am here with you always. I will always write to you! I will never forget about you. I will keep you in my heart forever!
Do you know Jesus!? Because I do and if you don’t know him I will share his word with you! I just want to share this verse to you and then I have to go to bed,
“I lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
Maker of Heaven and earth!”
Your Sponsorer (sic),
... and here I had been worried that she wouldn't say the right thing....
THIS is just one of many examples I have of my God Girl. I believe that she had a purpose: to share the Word of Jesus. To bring people closer to God. To encourage people to be kind to one another. To be honest, I don't know where she got that from. Sure, I talked about being kind to others. And while I believe in God and go to church (sometimes) and to Bible Study (occasionally) -- it isn't a topic of conversation in our home. I can only say that God Himself made this child with that unwavering, absolute faith. That His plan for her is huge and beyond my feeble understanding. And I believe that her purpose and legacy will continue -- it is up to us, all of us, to share the story of Avery and her love for Jesus Christ.
Jamie Grace (feat. tobyMac): Hold Me