Not a day goes by when I don't get hit. A song. A sun. A smell. A smile. And I must stop myself from doubling over and crying out, oh, Avery! I just want you back! I just want to hold you! See you one more time!
The hurt is so incredibly raw. Caustic. I remember how bad my throat hurt from squeezing together my pain, holding it back from erupting in all the inappropriate places; so many inappropriate places. At the checkout lane. In front of a client. In line at the DMV. Sitting stoic in the church pew. At a meeting discussing building setbacks and impervious surface ratios. My throat still aches. I barely made in through the first time; would I have the strength to relive it a second?
I try to explain to Matt my need to chase the sun. I don't even think about it anymore. I just do it. Sometimes gone for fifteen minutes; one night, two hours. Driving alone to catch a glimpse of heaven's bright light, desperate for a sign she is still with me. That she remembers who I am. Yesterday, the sky was pink over the cemetary and I smiled. What would I ever do without the sun?
As I stood to leave last night, an older gentleman came over to me. He had lost a daughter to cancer. He showed me her picture. She was so beautiful. He told me he hopes that I will always see God throughout every single detail of this journey. Too many people angrily accuse, "Where was my God? Why did He abandon me? Why did He do this to me?"
But I know not everything that happens on this earth is God's Will; but, if I choose to see it, I can find His Will in everything.
"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord,
"plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope."
How did the unexpected death of my beautiful, innocent 11-year old daughter include welfare, a future, and hope? In the midst of this tragedy, where was my God?
My God was stretching out His loving arms, smiling wide with pure joy as He welcomed Avery home.
My God was comforting the young girl in the passenger seat, holding her tight as He whispered, "I am with you. Do not be afraid."
My God was the strength in Jadrian's heart and mind as she ran to the road to seek help, as she climbed back into the car to craddle her beautiful sister one last time.
My God was with the woman who hadn't been to church in years yet remembered His name as she ran out of her car and into the arms of a tortured and panicked child. He guided her to hold Jadrian's face in her hands and to look unwaveringly into fear filled eyes as she prayed. Prayed fervently with every fiber of her being to the God she knew she needed.
My God was the hands of the college boys who tried in vain to get those beautiful girls out, not knowing how or why or even what to do if they did, just knowing that they had to try. And my God stayed with them as they went, shell-shocked and shattered, to their football team and asked if they could pray.
My God was with all those teammates who were just a minute ago talking about football and girls and giving each other a hard time; He moved their hearts to compassionate prayer.
My God was with every single rescue responder. He was their strength. He was their decisions. He was their gentleness.
My God was there and everywhere and He showered us with blessings and grace, not only in that moment, in that day, but in the days and weeks and months to come.
He compelled reporters to write about a little girl's faith. He called on people to be strong and compassionate with their thoughts, words and deeds. He stirred hearts to question where they stood in the name of Jesus. He asked people to think long and hard about their relationships with their children and their families. He put words to feelings and stayed near as they were typed out at three in the morning by a wounded mother's pain and into the eyes and hearts of strangers.
My God spoke loud and clear about His plans to create a ministry in Avery's name. He spoke to many about the amazing ways they could spread His word and His love: through concerts and books and walking and magnets and t-shirts and raspberries; all of it for the Glory of His Name.
My God has not left us.
Not for a second.
He holds me tight during my darkest hours. And He allows me to laugh in the light.
He whispers a sister's name to a 3-year old boy, recalling memories of singing and dancing and hide n' go seek.
He prompts visiting ministers to preach about the goodness of heaven, the blessings of eternal life, and of the reality that we will know our loved ones within the gates of the Almighty One and Only.
He sends powerful reminders of love and support through emails from faceless names several states away, of a gift sent in the mail from someone I have never met. Books, cards, even gluten free red velvet cake!
He whispers words of encouragement as I looked into the eyes of the enemy: "I can't believe the visitation was in a school gym," she had quipped. "That's so tacky." And as her arms embraced me in the fakest of motions, and I felt my anger boiling to rage, I heard God's voice: she is broken. She has no idea of her hate. She has wandered so far away from me. Be gentle with her; I am anxiously waiting for her return.
He pulls my heartstrings and I follow Him. Always. He leads me not in the ways I would have planned nor guessed, but I attempt my best to trust absolute.
I do not pretend to understand why. I do not pretend to be stronger than I am. I am weak. I am confused. I am hurt. I am angry. I am sad. I am salty tears dried in sunshine and I miss who I used to be even though I know I am one hundred times better than who I was and I owe it all to this; all because my daughter wanted to tell the world about Jesus. "Because then people wouldn't feel alone or afraid anymore," she had explained. And when I looked into her eyes I had always known she was right. And I had always known God would see to it that she would.
I just never imagined it would be in this way.
In the midst of tragedy, where is my God?
He is right here with me; where He has always been, and where He will continue to always be.