Tweet "You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."
The last sentence I ever heard my 11-year old daughter speak to me. Nine simple words that spoke volumes about her soul. Nine words that I'd go back to over and over and over again: she was a God Girl. She loved God.
Word spread quickly through our small community; tragedy tends to. But then something else was being spoken. Amongst the gossip and speculation was a declaration: this faith filled little girl was special. Really special.
And then I got that email: "You are Avery's voice. Don't silence her."
And I knew.
I just knew.
I was going to have a concert and Jamie Grace would play at it. Yes, Grammy Nominee, Contemporary Christian Singer, actress in the upcoming movie Grace Unplugged - yes, that Jamie Grace would play at this concert. Avery needed to share the message that was so important to her, that was taught to her through the songs written by and performed by Jamie Grace. I needed the woman whose lyrics blessed my heart as Avery's last words to me. It was as if God was whispering in my ear: you will have a concert and Jamie Grace will play.
Except I knew nothing about organizing a concert. I had no idea where to begin. There was no way I could do this by myself. I needed help.
I told my sister. "I want to have a concert and I want Jamie Grace to play at it." I had planned on Shannon telling me how ridiculous it was. How out of my mind I was. A nobody from Southeastern Wisconsin doesn't "have" concerts. Not with popular Christian singers.
But she surprised me by looking at me and asking, "what took you so long?" As if the answer was decided long ago and I was just figuring it out.
I was excited and giddy and beside myself. It just made so much sense! It was so obvious! It was going to be just so perfect!
And then it became completely obvious quite quickly that concerts are expensive and there is no way that I had the kind of money required. What had seemed so perfect now seemed so idiotic. What was I thinking?
I drove home talking to God, "look, I don't get it when people say they hear your voice, okay? I mean, I'm just being honest. I thought I heard your voice telling me to do this, but maybe it was just my own mind wanting it. How am I supposed to know? Do people hear an actual voice? Like out loud? How will I know the difference between my thoughts and your direction? It's all confusing and I'm new at this and I don't know what to do. I just know I want to do something awesome for Avery and Avery would want something that glorifies you. Avery would want something that tells people about Jesus. So, I thought it was going to be this concert, but maybe it's not. So if you could just tell me. But like in a really loud, obvious voice, I'd appreciate that."
I parked the car into the garage and looked at all the stuff filling it up. A two car garage, I thought, and we can only fit one car in here. What's the point of all this crap piled up making this space unusable? I chuckled. Isn't that what we do in life? Fill up all our inside spaces with piles of crap. The boyfriend who said I'd never amount to anything. The girl who told me my nose was too big. The I-thought-you-were-my-best-friend who raged and hated and wouldn't explain why. All this stuff I still hang on to. No wonder it's hard to hear God's voice, I thought. I'm allowing too many people to talk at once.
I grabbed the mail. Two envelopes. Just two.
One was red with my name scrawled on the outside. I tore it open and found a Christmas card from a special little girl. It wasn't the words themselves that got me - it was the five gold foil wrapped chocolate coins tucked inside. As I dropped them into my hand my mind thought, "the money will come. Don't worry." What? Where did that thought come from? Did I think that? Or did God just tell me....?
I stared at the chocolate coins. It was chocolate. A child's innocent way of sharing. Nothing more. "The money will come." I shook the thought away, slapping the coins to the counter and picked up the second envelope. There was something inside that one, too.
I laughed and laughed, tears streaming down my cheeks, remembering a summer conversation with a light breeze flowing through chestnut brown hair and cigarette smoke, where I revealed my secret desire to collect buttons. Not to go to a store and buy buttons, anyone can do that. But to collect buttons with a story. Off a particular blouse, or from a particular location. A button held in the hand of an exhausted mother who just wanted to go to sleep yet she sewed anyway. A button of wood or glass; pink or green or brass. It didn't matter. Buttons hold things together. They each hold a story. I wanted to collect buttons.
And there they were.... buttons. "I remember...." the note said. My dear, dear sweet friend, telling me from across too many miles that it was time to start collecting my buttons.
Matt came in to see what was going on with me. "Look!" I said, pushing my cupped hands in front of his face. "Buttons! She sent me buttons!" He stared down at the randomness in my palms, "I don't get it."
How could he? How do I begin to explain what those buttons meant? I never began to collect them because I never knew anyone who did. I was afraid of being made fun of, laughed at. Yet throughout all these years I always wanted to. I'd come across one on the ground and bend down to pick it up, looking left and right to see if anyone saw. Here I was, almost 40 years old... wasn't it time to start to collect something I had liked for most my life?
I opened the accompanying card and a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. I left it laying at the side of my right foot as I read through the note. It was time, she said. Time to start collecting buttons; time to start being who I was meant to be. And then the paragraph that broke my heart: she knew my heartbreak. Knew it way too well, for she, too, had lost a sister. She knew what the grief and heartache could do to a family. And she wanted to help.
I bent down and picked up the paper on the floor. A gift of money to do with whatever I wanted. To do something that would make me smile. And I laughed. And I cried! Because it was God's voice I heard: "don't worry about the money. It will come."
"Matt!" I yelled out. "We're having a concert!"
Then the doorbell rang. Standing outside in his uniform was a police officer. My stomach sank as I thought, "you idiot. This money isn't for a concert. It's for the incredible expense of attorney fees. This cannot be good." I steeled myself as I opened the door.
But the officer wasn't there with bad news. Just the opposite, in fact! He had agreed to deliver something to me. A thick, bright green envelope. It had nothing to do with the police department, he explained. Just a good group of people who had heard my story and wanted to do something nice. Inside was money. Money meant to make a wish. Money meant to make me smile.
I laughed. "Okay, God! I get it! I get it! We'll have the concert!"
But he wasn't done with me yet. The next morning I received yet another gift from a family who each year chooses not to give gifts to each other, but rather take the money they would normally spend on each other and give it to someone to make them smile. To shine a little light and spread a little joy.
As it turned out, I ended up with the amount I needed to pay the deposit to bring Jamie Grace to Whitewater, Wisconsin.
God is so cool! Do you get that?! I can't even explain how unbelievably awesome and amazing this was. He provided just enough for what was needed. He called on those hearts and they listened. God is good!
I wanted an opening act. I wanted someone local. Avery loved her community and seemingly everyone in it; she would want someone local. My sister suggested a singer/songwriter named Jon Troast. It wasn't until several weeks after he agreed that I learned he had attended our church when he was a kid. That he attended the Delavan Christian School for a couple years - which meant Avery walked down the same halls as he did. Coincidence? Nope. Just God sharing more of His plans with us.
I wanted the concert to be held at the Young Auditorium in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Avery had danced on this very stage with the Walworth County Cloggers. She had milled around back stage. She had sat in probably thirty of those chairs as we watched different performances. She loved the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater. It was where she took gymnastics, where she slept in the dorms during summer camp, where she planned college activities with her friend Katie. Whitewater was the last city that held her on that fateful day last October. The concert just had to be in Whitewater.
I wanted - insisted - that the concert take place before college graduation. There were seniors on that gymnastics team that Avery loved like sisters. I didn't want them not able to attend because they had already returned to their home states.
And so we began the massive coordination of schedules: Jon (who now lived in Nashville, TN), of Jamie Grace (who had an incredibly busy and tight schedule) and of the auditorium itself, with it's own already planned season of events.
Again, I thought, "this is never going to happen."
(Why do I doubt? Will I ever learn?)
I was driving home, down a straighter than straight country road that stretched out for miles in either direction when my phone rang. It was my sister.... screaming. We had just confirmed the concert date. "APRIL THIRTEENTH!! THE CONCERT IS GOING TO BE APRIL 13TH!!!"
"I know. I signed the contract, remember?"
"NO!! IT'S GOING TO BE APRIL THIRTEENTH! FOUR! THIRTEEN!"
"I don't get it."
"APRIL 13th! 4-13. PHILIPPIANS 4:13 - 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.'"
Like, the biggest woah ever.
Because Philippians 4:13 was my mantra. From the minute I found out Avery died - from the second I knew I had to call my parents, call my sister, stand and make my way to the hospital to get to Jadrian. How could I possibly know how to comfort her? "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
How would I face Avery's classmates the next morning? What would I say? "I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
How could I plan a funeral? Pick out her clothes? Say a final goodbye? "I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me."
How would I go back to work? Maintain some semblance of sanity in public? "I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens me."
How would I get out of bed? Not slip into the darkness of absolute despair? How would I ever stand on my own again? "I can do all things through Christ who STRENGTHENS me."
Of course the concert would be on April 13th. God didn't plan it any other way.