Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AVERYday: God Girl Extraordinaire - Part 3

"There's been an accident... Avery didn't make it."

People say a heart can break into a million pieces... mine was shattered into dust.

No....not Avery...... I covered my face with my hands and sobbed.

My beautiful, quirky, full of energy, sweet, sweet girl! She just turned 11. She was supposed to get her braces off in a couple weeks. She made up dance routines and forced Brody to learn them. She went with her older sister on "dates" to Starbucks and WalMart and was always so excited when Jadrian did her hair. She went for bike rides and sledding and swimming with Matt and hated his macaroni. She would still hold my hand in public and curl up in my lap to watch tv.

Tears from so far deep within me streamed down my cheeks. My beautiful, beautiful baby girl.

So, I'm the type who covers their face and sobs, I thought. I've often wondered that: in the face of tragedy would I scream out? Would I faint? Throw things? Kick? Call you a liar? But I am the type who covers their face and sobs.

And then: something warm washed over me... like someone was pouring hot water all over my insides, except it didn't feel like water; just warm. I looked up at the officer, his hand still on my shoulder: "I know you didn't know her, but if you did, you'd know that she loves Jesus."

Avery was so many, many things. She was a kid who was all kid. She had emotions and feelings and ideas and plans. And she hated cleaning her room. And she loved going to the library. And she struggled with math. And she would never put her clothes away properly. But above all these things she loved Jesus.

"She just gave me her Christmas List," I told the two unknown men sitting with me in my living room. "She wanted a bible and horseback riding lessons."

I smiled at the memory. Avery was so gentle. So sweet. So loving.

"Oh my god! Jadrian! How is Jadrian? What happened?" What kind of mother forgets their child? They told me then that it had been a single car accident. It appeared Jadrian had gone over and got the tire stuck in the gravel on the side of the road, she then overcorrected and they had hit a utility pole. Avery died instantly. Jadrian's dear, dear friend C was stuck in the car and they had to use the Jaws of Life to get her out. They couldn't tell me anything about her condition, other than she had be flight lifted to a nearby hospital.

My prayers for that young girl's life began in that moment and have not stopped. Right now, before you read another word - I need you to stop and pray for physical and emotional healing for C. She is a beautiful, amazing girl with a sweet quiet side, a fantastic smile and an uproarious laugh. Once those girls started laughing they wouldn't quit. Anything could be funny to Jadrian and C. Anything. Pray. Pray now.

They told me that Jadrian was transported to our local hospital with cuts and bruises to her head. That she wasn't alone, there with an officer with her. "I need to call my sister!"

With shaking hands I dialed Shannon's number.


"They were in an accident.... Avery didn't make it -"  "WHAT?!"  "Avery didn't make it - but Jadrian is at the hospital. You need to go to the hospital! You need to tell her I don't blame her. You need to tell her this isn't her fault. You need to go to her now! This is going to kill her - Shannon! You need to go to her!"

How do I explain my absolute fear? How do I put into words how fragile Jadrian is? It's not my story to tell; it's hers... but hers is intertwined with mine and too often I am reminded how my immature, selfish choices of my story negatively affected hers:  born to a too young mother and a father in jail, horrible custody disputes, being forced to eat food from the garbage, mind games, so many, many stories.... and then.... the day she sat down for lunch and every single girl got up from the table and moved. Every single one. And still she sat there; her head held high, frozen in an I-am-so-wounded-but-I-won't-let-you-see-it expression. The next day when a classmate asked, "raise your hand if you don't want Jadrian to be here" and every person around her except one raised their hand.

Her childhood groomed her to be a victim. To take the insults without complaint. She was such an easy target. Her story includes a Mom who didn't know how to help her. Who didn't know how to protect her feelings of self-worth because I wasn't sure of mine. I only knew how to turn my back and hide. So I did what I thought was best and moved her to a different school. A new school. A new start.

Except it was worse there. Horrible even. And I didn't know what to do and I still didn't do things right... and to this day I have no idea how she walked down those halls listening to those words. I don't know how she walked back into that school feeling so alone and knowing at any moment another punch would be thrown, another shove would knock her down. How did she walk back into that day after day? And yet she tried to act like everything was okay. Only it wasn't. And on Thanksgiving weekend two years ago...I promised her she would never, ever have to go back.

And we've been working so hard at showing her how beautiful and worthy and important and good she is. That it doesn't matter what mean girls say. And she wants to go to college and she feels good and she's so much better and she laughs real laughs now and she is so absolutely perfect...

No. This cannot happen to her. Not to Jadrian. She has been through too much. Her sister was her refuse. Jadrian was safe with Avery. She was important. She was liked. She was looked up to. She took Avery under her wing and took care of her. They giggled together and made silly videos making fun of news reporters and they spoke with accents. They cuddled together on the overstuffed chair with way too many blankets for two tiny girls. They did make-up and hair and gave each other pedicures. They made plans for Avery to visit Jadrian at college. They loved each other like only sisters can. Avery would tell everyone she had the best sister in the world....

No. I will not lose this daughter, too. Not to this tragedy. I will not. I refuse.

"Shannon! You have to tell her I love her!" I yelled into the phone. "Tell her I don't blame her! TELL HER!!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

AVERYday: God Girl Extraordinaire - Part 2

By now you may have heard that Avery was referred to as a God Girl. [See also Delavan Enterprise article: God Girl goes home.) Once we heard the full Jamie Grace CD we were like "yep. That's Avery! She's a God Girl!"

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:

“Dear Alphonsine,

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,

Psalm 121:
“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

Sunday, November 4, 2012

AVERYday: God Girl Extraordinaire - Part 1

A couple weeks ago Avery (my 11-year old, Dotter) was invited to a sleepover. It was late but they were like a second family... "Go get what you need," I told her. I stood talking to Avery's friend and her mother while Avery grabbed her sleepover necessities: she came back holding just a toothbrush and a bible. That's the kind of girl she was. She didn't worry about clothes or pajamas... she just needed her bible.

I called her quirky. Different. But she was just Avery. I didn't write about Avery as often as I wrote about my other children... or my fiance, Matt (aka: Big V), not because I didn't want to; but because I didn't know how. Avery was special and I failed at finding the words to do her justice.

Avery wasn't late for anything. Ever. She was strict about her schedule. In fact, she was strict about everyone's schedule: she knew who needed to go where when and what they needed to bring. We joked that the perfect job for her would be secretary to the President of the United States. She was that detailed.

But on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, Avery was late.

Her older sister, whom she adored completely, had picked her up from school to drive her to gymnastics. Jadrian (aka Teen Bean) had done this every week for the past couple months. Avery loved going with her sister; hanging out with the big kids. Listening to the music loud and singing at the top of her lungs. (As her mother I had somehow stopped singing at the top of my lungs; having children and mortgages and laundry sometimes does this to a person.)

Avery had youth group at her church later Wednesday night, after gymnastics. She wouldn't have missed youth group. She just wouldn't.

And so I waited at home for their return so I could drive Avery to youth group.

Only they didn't come.

They were 10 minutes late, which happens.

And then twenty.

And I called but no one answered.

And I called again.

And I sent a text to my sister who said "that's scary; it's not like them to be late" and I got mad and told her that she wasn't supposed to say that because she's supposed to be the logical, level-headed one an I'm supposed to be the anxiety-ridden, overdramatic one.

So I called the Sheriff's Department. The non-emergency number. And I explained that I knew I sounded crazy, but really, my girls wouldn't be late. Avery wouldn't be late. Avery wouldn't miss youth group. And they would have been coming home from Whitewater and there are only two routes they would take so could they just tell me if there had been any accidents? And they took down my name and number and told me an officer would contact me.

So I called Jadrian's Dad. He had given her an iPhone and so then he could just look at the GPS and tell me where they were. Jadrian had brought a friend with her since Avery's gymnastics was 2 hours long. They are beautiful, beautiful girls: what if someone took them? And Avery was all alone at the gym? I don't know if she would ask for help from a stranger. She didn't like talking to people. She was afraid of people she didn't know. But Jadrian's Dad said the GPS was an app and it hadn't been installed.

So I called the Whitewater Police. "Can you just check to see if the car is still in the parking lot?" But they just took my name and number.

And I called Matt (Big V). He was working and hadn't heard from them. "They should have been home an hour ago," I told him. "Do you want me to go to Whitewater and try to find them?"

And then I called my sister again. She told me to go to the church and check to see if maybe Jadrian had just dropped her off there instead of bringing her home first. But I knew while I was driving there that she wouldn't be there. 

I called 911. 


"Look. You don't know my daughter; she would NOT have missed youth group. Something is the matter." And they asked for my name and number again. An officer would contact me. "Would you at least ask me the make and model of the car?!" I snapped.

But see, the thing is, they already knew the make and model of the car. They already knew who I was. They already knew who I was worrying over, who I was pacing the floor for, who I was sending out prayers for. They knew it the first time I called.

But there are policies and procedures and the girls didn't have IDs on them and they needed to know for certain who was sitting where in the car. 

I called my Mom: "... I can't find the girls..." I choked out. She tried to reassure me: "... they were driving your car. It's registered in your name. If there was an accident they would notify you."

And at just that second the doorbell rang. "Mom, I gotta let you go." 

I opened the door and saw the police officer standing there. Thank God, they're finally taking me seriously. A second officer followed him in. Then a nice looking man wearing a polo shirt. He was carrying something: a pad of paper? a clipboard? Why did they send a sketch artist? I have pictures of my children.

"Are you Bridget McCarthy?"

"Yes... please, come in."

"Are you alone?"

"Uh, yes. Well, I mean, Brody (aka Cletus) is here." I pointed to the little boy half-dressed for bed, hanging on my left leg. Gosh, he's cute.

"Is there someone you can call?" The officer looked down at Brody. Oh! I thought, they don't want to be bothered by a toddler when they ask me all these questions about the girls. 

"Brody, honey... why don't you go in your bedroom and read a book. Mama will be right there, okay?"

The second officer followed him down the hall and into his room, "I can stay with him. C'mon, buddy...."

The first officer turned to me. "You have two daughters?"

"Yes, Jadrian and Avery... they were supposed to be back at 6:30..."

He looked at me. There was so much compassion in his eyes. So much.... love. "There's been an accident...."

.... and in that second I knew. I just knew....  
" --- which one?" I asked.

He put his hand on my shoulder and looked straight in my eyes...

"Avery didn't make it."