Tuesday, January 8, 2013

AVERYday: The Ties that Bind - Part 20

"A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost."
~Marion C. Garretty

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens when one person dies; there are, simultaneously, a multitude of relational deaths. What I mean is, I lost a daughter. But at the same time Jadrian lost her only sister. And Brody lost a big sister. My mother lost a granddaughter, my sister a niece. A cousin was was lost, a friend, a classmate, a teammate, a neighbor, even lost was just a name once mentioned in passing one long ago evening.

How many times those first early weeks would I say over and over again, "thank God for my sister. I don't what I would have done without my sister. I couldn't have gotten through this without my sister." Grateful words spoken honest from my heart, but which were overheard by the shattered soul of the innocent child who had just lost her one and only sister. My words must have felt like daggers.

There is a special bond between sisters and Jadrian and Avery definitely shared a strong one. Jadrian was an only child until she was six. I worried, of course, how she would react to a new baby, but I needn't worry. She was like a little mommy to Avery. They shared a bedroom together until Avery was 6 and Jadrian was 12. And, although both girls were excited to finally have their own individual space, there were more "sleepovers" than not.

When Jadrian was struggling in school and the fallout of bullying, Avery was her biggest proponent, her strangest ally, her loudest cheering section. I don't know how Avery did it, but she could evoke giggles and silliness like it was nothing at all. She allowed Jadrian to forget, for just a few hours while they were together, the heartache waiting her in the halls of a school she dreaded, and just simply enjoy being a kid. Just another day being sisters together.

Jadrian would talk Avery into some adventure, or Avery would convince Jadrian. It didn't matter, really. They just liked being together. They also had big plans for more mature play dates when Jadrian would eventually go off to college. Dorm room sleepovers with late night make-up make-over sessions were planned regularly.

I question, sometimes, if even I feel the loss of Avery as deeply as Jadrian does. Because, while I love Avery with my heart and soul and miss her with every fiber of my being, I do not feel alone, without my sister. And alone is a terribly dark place to be.

Jadrian was older sister, teacher, protector. She was the safe place for Avery to turn. As sisters, they would team up together and organize protests against the unfair treatment they received when I ordered them to clean their room or vacuum the living room. Together they giggled behind my back about my out of style hat I insisted on wearing out in public and that fact that my baked chicken only ever tasted like packing peanuts.

They were a team.

The  very best one possible.

I can tell you that no one feels more responsibility, and guilt, and regret, and remorse about that fateful day than Jadrian, and I pray every single day that she can break past those lying emotions and find the ones that give her light again.

I want her to laugh while remembering the phenomenal Wii Just Dance Tournaments held in our living room while wearing what appears to be the tackiest pajamas ever. I want her to hold her ribs while snorting out a description of pillow case races (the pillow cases were worn over their heads, restricting their arms to their sides. Ever see the Milwaukee Brewer Sausages? That's what they looked like) even though no one understands why she's laughing so hard.

I want her to trust that Avery is now is such a sweet and special place; one Avery herself desired to be, and even if we cannot ever make sense of the timing, I want Jadrian to trust that God will make amazing things come of this on earth if she would just trust Him.

I want Jadrian to understand that Avery has her tucked so deep inside her heart that even in heaven, Avery knows who her beloved big sister is, and that she continues to love her and look up to her, with all of her eternal heart. I want her to understand what a good big sister she was... and can continue to be.

I want her to stop feeling guilty. Stop thinking she has to take some sort of blame. Stop going over every single nuance of that day. Stop feeling like she could have had the power to change anything in that terrible moment... because the truth is, she couldn't.

All she had the power to do was love like only a sister could....

... and she did that so very, very well, indeed.

AVERYday: Making Another Way - Part 19

There is a song that is so hauntingly beautiful it crushes my soul every time I hear it called Holy is The Lord by Andrew Peterson. It's about the biblical story of Abraham, who is told by God to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham, although distraught, obeys.

"I waited on The Lord
and in a waking dream he came
Riding on a wind across the sand
He spoke my name

Here I am, I whispered
And I waited in the dark
The answer was a sword
That came down hard upon my heart

Holy is the Lord
Holy is the Lord
And the Lord I will obey
Lord, help me I don't know the way

So take me to the mountain
I will follow where You lead
There I'll lay the body
Of the boy You gave to me

And even though You take him
Still I ever will obey
But Maker of this mountain, please
Make another way"

(Don't worry, in the end, God didn't make Abraham sacrifice Isaac.) Anyway, since I first heard that song years ago it has haunted me. As any mother would, the idea that God would tell me to sacrifice my child is absurd. If I thought I heard a voice telling me to do that I'd seek professional help ASAP.

But the lyrics to that song also made me think about obedience. I'll be honest, I don't have it. At least not absolute obedience to God. I wish I could sit hear and say, "anything God calls me to do, I'll do it gladly!" But the truth is, I struggle greatly with that. What if I can't do it? What if it is too much for my soul to bear? I"m more of a pick-and-choose obedience type of Christian.

Then, man oh man; then came October 24, 2012. A little after 6:15pm on a bright, sunny, unusually warm autumn day. Right after gymnastics, on their way home for youth group...

Lord, please make another way!

I guess that was it then: The Lord called Avery home and in doing so called me to do the most difficult thing I have ever faced: give up my precious, precious child. And it would be completely up to me to decide how I was going to go about doing that.

Somewhere along the line I surprised myself; I've actually been giving her gladly.

Do not mistake that word: gladly. If I had my way my life story definitely wouldn't include this chapter and Avery's would have hundreds more. Her death does not make me glad. But, it's like anything that happens in life: getting divorced, or fired, or having to sell the house; you have a choice in the way you set your heart as you journey through it.

I choose not to give her up in anger, or blame, or rage. Instead, I choose to give her in love and peace and forgiveness. I give her with a full heart of faith in God.

Because when I asked God to please, make another way, He showed me THIS way. A way not fueled in the darkness, but rather in the light. It wasn't the answer I wanted... I wanted Avery back. I wanted a miracle. But He showed me another way...

I give her up to The Lord, for that is truly where her heart was and where she wanted to be; where she wanted all of us to be, really.

And I give her to you. I give her voice and her story of her faith to you, to read, to think about, to share with others. Because by giving her up gladly, in love, I heal better. My family heals better. And I honor Avery in the absolutely best way I can, and she deserves that from me.

It's not easy. I still cry, sob; broken, ugly, snot-filled sobs - mostly in the shower, sometimes in the dark of the bedroom before Matt comes in, sometimes in my car on the way to work. But after all those broken down moments I feel the healing hand of God.

Have you ever wondered what the healing hand of God feels like?

It feels like reading a random text from a friend that says, "I was just thinking of you and want you to know I love you."

It feels like a dozen pictures of the same awesome sunset sent to you with messages attached that say, "Look! It's Avery saying hi!"

It feels like opening the mailbox and finding just the right book sent to you from a young lady that remembers you way back when she was in high school and you helped out with her basketball team.

It feels like a message sent from a complete stranger telling you about the one time she met your daughter, and how blessed she felt for meeting her.

It feels like someone dropping off a picture from 8 years ago because even though your daughter is only in the background, they knew you'd want every single memory of her captured on film.

It feels like someone saying, "you're in my prayers" and knowing that they really are praying for you.

It feels like every kind word sent, every encouraging quote shared, every hug held tight.

It feels like every single time any one of you say, "This may sound crazy, but I just felt this incredible urge to tell you....."

That's what the healing hand of God feels like.

And then I know... this way is going to be okay.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

AVERYday: Blessings and Vanilla Beans - Part 18

Make no mistake, I am a mother full of grieving. Sorrow seeps in between the joints of my bones and I breathe weeping. I am a mother without. I have lost two of my four children: one who was 11 years old and one who never got to be. My mind runs away with numbers: counting the number of people wearing red in order to disappear from the sudden crippling anguish that threatens to suffocate my soul; running calculations: 50% of my children are in heaven, 50% of my children are on earth; playing odds: the even children have died. Avery was #2, the unborn would have been #4, if we have another it will be #5, the odd numbered children are alive, the odds are in our favor.

And yet, this grief that has colored my soul isn't a permanent darkness. I am aware of this. I am not stuck. I could be, but I'm not. Not in this moment. I'm aware of what the mind can seduce you into believing, that it can be full of lies so comforting, like a fluffy down blanket that beckons you to close your eyes for just a second.... but I won't be tempted.

I am the proud mother of Jadrian: beautiful, witty, fiercely compassionate, full of dreams and wisdom that belie her 17 years. This girl whose heart breaks when she sees a person sitting alone at a restaurant, who would rescue every stray animal if allowed, who has such an amazing life ahead of her to live if she can just trust God and not fall prey to the lies the voices in her mind whisper to her.

I am the proud mother of Brody: sensitive and caring, gentle with his heart and his kisses. Perfectionist of the Squeezy Hug. The boy who picked up the baton where his sweet Avery left off: "Mom, guess what?" "What, buddy?" "I LOVE YOU!!" Keen to continue the game which brings so much pleasure to my heart. "Guess what, buddy?" "What?" "I LOVE YOU, TOO!!!"

And I am the proud mother of Avery: God Girl. Faith filled. Tender hearted. Compassionate. Loving. Forgiving. Full of grace. And hand chosen to live in Eternity by God the Father Almighty.

Perhaps you might be surprised to know that I sit here today thanking God for all the blessings He has given me... especially on the day of Avery's passing. I have been blessed a thousand times over. I thank God that Avery never suffered. Ever. See, I believe that she was called Home and to Heaven she would go; her passing could have been carried out in a thousand different ways, but God helped protect my heart in the plans He had for Avery. I think so often of all the parents of all the children that are fighting a debilitating disease. Those Mamas and Daddies need our prayers. They need our support. They need to know that there are people holding them up when they feel they can't take another step. So I thank God that He protected my heart as best as He did.

Someone - someone special, indeed, has been sending Jadrian anonymous cards filled with support and love - and that is definitely something to thank God for. Because that person's heart is being pulled to do something for Jadrian, and they don't ignore it. And Jadrian needs that.

Before Christmas, a representative from the Young Auditorium, offered Matt and I complimentary tickets to a show called Leahy Family Christmas. It was the first time I would have been back to the last city my daughter had been alive in. I didn't feel very Christmas spirity. I felt... marked. Like every person would take one look at my face and know. Know that I shouldn't be in public, but home, under covers, sobbing.

But I also knew I couldn't stay home, under covers, sobbing, forever. And I loved this theatre. Adored it. This was the theatre I took Avery to, special Mommy - Daughter dates. This was the stage she had clogged on with the Walworth County Cloggers. Her spirit was in that auditorium and I wasn't going to miss trying to feel it.

I sat, tears streaking down my cheeks, as I watched this amazing Leahy Family sing and play and clog... children the same age as my Avery dancing the same steps she had danced on the same stage she had once danced! It was heartbreaking and yet also so incredibly comforting.

And then I saw him. An old man a few rows in front of me to my right. He clapped the loudest, tapped his feet, threw his hands in the air: "Beautiful! Beautiful!" He turned to the man next to him, "Isn't this beautiful?!" A thought flashed before me: what if this was the last thing he would ever see on earth? I felt so blessed to watch his amazement.

And then I thought... what if this is MY last moment on earth? There are no guarantees for me, either. It's not like you have one really crappy thing happen to you and then you get free passes until you're old and grey. Would someone, right now this very second, rows behind me and to the left, glance over at me and say, "that is a woman who really tastes life! That is a woman whose cup overflows..."

I saw Avery's wide smile in every dance step. I heard her laughter amongst the energy of the fiddles. And I felt the love she had oozing from that elderly man throwing his hands up in excitement, exclaiming BEAUTIFUL!

I thank God for those tickets. I thank God for those seats that allowed me to see, once again, how good life is. Music, family, tradition... these are what tie us to this earth. These are what we taste. These are what bless us.

I am so blessed.

The other day a friend of mine was talking about Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Maybe, if I had to visually describe where I am right now, it would be that my life - my heart, my soul, my thoughts - are like Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Where, in each scoop you'd find those little black specs of bean... it would be impossible to separate them out and remove them; they're just part of what you're eating. My sorrow is like that... all over, in between, impossible to separate out - just an accepted part of my life. But that doesn't mean my life is ruined. I mean, have you ever tasted Vanilla Bean Ice Cream? It's delicious! (Ironic: if you knew me you'd know I don't like ice cream, but Vanilla Bean is actually my preferred flavor when I eat it. Perhaps it's time to pick up a tub.)

Make no mistake, I am a mother full of grieving, yet I am also a mother thankful for the many blessings - and memories - in my life.