Friday, November 16, 2012

AVERYday: How Blessed am I? - Part 6

I was so mad that Avery didn't have her phone that day.

That day. October 24, 2012.

Avery would have answered her phone. Jadrian, probably not. Jadrian was driving. Avery was a passenger in the back seat. Avery always answered her phone. In fact, on the days that her older sister drove her to and from gymnastics, Avery would spend much of the ride texting me.

What are we going to eat for dinner?

I'm hungry.

Can't we just get McDonald's?

I got my back hip circle with a spot!

Except not on October 24th. On that day, when I tried frantically to get a hold of someone - anyone - who could tell me where my babies were, Avery's phone was sitting on the chair in my bedroom.

For a long time I was angry. Why didn't she have her phone with her? I could have talked to her one more time! I always texted back that I loved her! Why did she leave it at home?! I could have heard her voice one more time....

I felt, I don't know, cheated, somehow. I could have had one more moment with her... but her phone was still at home.

And now I know why God ensured the phone was not with Avery on that beautiful, awful night:

That morning, Avery got dressed like she did every morning. Except this morning she looked more beautiful then she ever had. She wore her sister's black and white striped sweater with dark jeans. She asked if she could wear her sister's earrings. I told her she could. And she asked me if I would do her hair.

We were running late. We should have left. I should have shoo'd her off to the car. And yet... she was just so beautiful in that moment. So, I put my purse down on the counter and walked into the bathroom to brush my baby's hair. I remember brushing it and thinking how gorgeous the color was when you looked closely. People spent so much money on all the different colors for their hair and here she was, blessed with golds and browns.

I was standing behind her, both of us facing the large bathroom mirror... and my heart just swelled. Such a beautiful girl who didn't even care about looks. She placed no value on the outside of a person. She only saw their hearts.

We smiled at each other, happy with the hair pinned up, and the earrings in... and we walked out to the car.

She turned the volume up... Jamie Grace's "God Girl" rang through the car... and we SANG!

We sang loud and proud and just as we pulled into the school the song ended.

I switched off the radio and turned to watch Avery as she hopped out of the car and swung her backpack over her shoulder. As she picked up her gymnastics bag she looked at me and smiled: "You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."

I smiled as I watched her walk confidently into school. Man, that girl has my heart! So graceful. So beautiful. So full of God's love. So much more than I ever was or am.

That was the last time I saw my daughter. The last words I heard my precious daughter speak to me: "You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."

Right there: Do you see that? God gave me that gift. If she had her phone with her there is a very real possibility that her last words to me would have been I'm hungry or What's for dinner? or something equally inconsequential. And yet, here they are - "... I really am a God Girl..." a declaration of who she was to the core of her soul. A reminder to me of where her heart was. Preparing my heart for her return to God's loving arms.

How blessed am I?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

AVERYday: Jesus Wept - Part 5

The cry is what I'll always remember. Animalistic. Primal. Filled with more pain than any one person should ever have to feel.


My beautiful, precious daughter's hands flew to cover her face. I didn't want to take another step. I wanted to run away. Turn around and leave this emergency room, run from the hospital and never, ever look back. I can't do this. Do you hear me, God? I cannot do this.

And yet my legs kept walking purposefully to that bed.


I grabbed her hands and and pulled them down so I could see her face. Her eyes were squeezed shut, tears streaked her cheeks. I could tell her eye was swollen and shut. There was bruising. There was a large bump on the side of her head.

"Look at me. You look at me!" She kept her eyes shut. God help me. "Look at me. I love you. Do you hear me? I LOVE YOU! And I DO NOT blame you! I DO. NOT. BLAME. YOU. Look at me!"

Her arms were trembling. I held on tighter.

"Look at me!" Her eyes barely opened but I could see all her pain. It almost knocked me over.  "You can feel grief. And you can feel sorrow, And you can feel angry. But you are NOT allowed to feel responsible, do you hear me? You are NOT allowed to blame yourself! You are a child and you did NOT want this to happen and I DO NOT BLAME YOU!"

She opened her eyes. "SHE'S MY SISTER AND SHE'S GONE!!!!"

"Honey, look at me. You knew your sister and you knew her love for Jesus. You know right now she is sitting with God praying for you. For YOU."

I honestly don't know what else I said. I know the words didn't come from me... I would never have been able to choose the right ones, say them the right way; and yet somehow, it was exactly what she needed to hear.

After a while a nurse came in to review what tests were done, what the results were, what the treatment plan was.... all I could think of was somewhere in this building lays the body of my other daughter. I had two daughters and now I have one.

A nurse came up to me and asked me for my insurance card. I hadn't thought to bring it. I told her what company my insurance was; she told me this hospital didn't accept that coverage. I didn't care. Charge me a million dollars; I used to have two daughters and now I have just one, and she is broken. Broken to the core of her soul. As she stood and talked insurance I prayed to God to give me the strength to take another breath.

Last year, Avery's Sunday School teacher would hand out a candy bar to those kids who came with a memorized bible verse. One week, Avery was not prepared. She had completely forgotten and didn't want to go to class because she was embarrassed that she would have to admit to having nothing memorized. And yet, after class, there she was, walking towards me with a Hershey's Bar. "How'd you get that?" I asked. "For my memory verse." "Which one did you do?" "John 11 verse 35," she smirked, "Jesus wept."

Jesus wept.

That's the shortest verse in the bible. I laughed and shook my head. Oh, Avery! Anything for chocolate.

The story goes that Jesus was friends with a guy named Lazarus, who got sick and died. Jesus showed up four days later and saw how upset everyone was. He wept, and then brought Lazarus back from the dead.

I grew up believing that the reason Jesus wept was because he was mourning the loss of his friend. If Jesus was that upset, how on earth would us mere mortals ever be able to handle the death of someone we loved?

This morning I went to my friend Josh's funeral. His grandfather was the officiant of the service. He talked about this same verse... but maybe, he said, maybe Jesus wept because he knew Lazarus was in heaven; glorious and good and surrounded by love and all things perfect and right... and bringing him back would mean taking him from that glorious, beautiful, perfect heaven and making him live in an imperfect, sorrow filled world.

I had two daughters; one is in heaven, and the other is broken. But together we'll try to find our way through this imperfect, sorrow-filled world, into the arms of Jesus.

Monday, November 12, 2012

AVERYday: Holding Each Other Up - Part 4

There were hundreds of people that stood in line for over an hour to give me a hug. People streamed through the school gymnasium where Avery's visitation was being held from 3:45pm until after 9:00 at night. People I was related to. People who I have known all my life. People I worked with. People I had only known for a short time. And people I had never met.

I remember meeting a man who was holding the most precious little girl. She reached her arms out to me and climbed into my arms. "What's your name?" she asked, squeezing my cheeks, pulling back my cheeks, morphing my face and smile into silly expressions. "Bridget. What's yours?" "Chelsie. You're pretty." 

Perhaps it sounds bizarre, and maybe if you ever go through something like this, you'll understand what I'm about to say: I needed her. At that moment in time, I needed this innocent child to squeeze my cheeks and tell me I was pretty. 

Her father had never met me. He had heard about Avery's death and felt compelled to stand in line to hug a complete stranger. 

It was these moments of complete goodness that helped pull me through. Made me remember that life was good. Made me think that if goodness surrounded me, nothing bad could ever happen.

Except that's not how real life works. 

You would think by now I know how real life works. 

This past Friday a friend of mine passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was a couple years younger than me, laughed louder than me, lived louder than me, and loved life louder than me. He's a daddy and a brother and a pumpkin grower and a steer shower. He's a practical joker and the most amazing photographer I've ever met. He would capture quiet country moments in a way that would rock your emotions. Did I really tear up when I saw that picture of the round hay bale? Yes. Yes, I did.

He and his family were just standing in my line, giving me their hugs and support. They were just holding me up. Now it is our turn to hold them up.

In the past few weeks our community has been rocked to the core. We have had a Mother and a Father pass away, reminding us that our parents could suddenly be called home. We have been reminded that our children can die without warning. And we have now been shown that we, ourselves, are not immune to our own mortality. 

And that can be very, very scary.

Throughout all my hurt and confusion and feelings of loss, I go back to God. 

Have you ever gone to summer camp? You meet people and go swimming and have fun and create memories and inside jokes and think the food sucks but the friends are great, even though that the one girl in the next cabin is kind of mean but overall everyone else is cool. You think summer camp is an awesome experience and you're so glad you went, but you also kind of just want to go home and be with your mom and dad and sleep in your own bed again. And when it's time to go home, you hug your friends, proclaim it went too fast, and worry that even though everyone says they'll stay in touch, they might get too busy and forget about you.

Well, maybe we're all just here at summer camp. And some of us are in the Wisconsin cabin and some of us are in the Arkansas cabin. And the really cool kids are way across camp in the Paris cabin. And someday camp will be over for us and it'll be time for us to go home. 

It's just that we've never actually been home... we just have to trust that home is awesome. We have to trust home is filled with only love and goodness and perfection. That there are no annoying angels that try to one-up each other or make fun of the velcro sneakers you're wearing. There are no mortgages or custody disputes or hunger or sickness. It's just perfectly, wonderfully home. 

Avery had asked me recently if she could learn how to show steers at our county fair. My friend Josh was very active showing steers. I'm thinking that Avery is right next to Josh, asking him hundreds of questions about cows. Another thing Avery wanted was her own camera, a professional grade one. (At least you can eat the bovine.) Josh took amazing photographs of nature, animals and country landscapes. When I went through Avery's phone I found all these pictures of country landscapes. My older daughter, Jadrian, explained that when they were together she was always taking pictures like that. I believe that right now Josh is holding Avery's perfect hand, zooming around the heavens and the earth and the stars, pointing out the most amazing landscapes ever.  

So, why does this happen? Why do we have to lose people we love? I don't know. Maybe to remind us that life is short. Maybe to remind us to be nice to the lady in front of us in the check out line because you don't know what kind of struggle or hardship she's experiencing. Or maybe to remind us that we have a place to go home to.

photo credit: Josh Yates