Friday, January 25, 2013

AVERYday: Heaven is for Real - Part 22

It's the phone.

The one I was so blessed was forgotten and left at home on Wednesday, October 24, 2012. Avery's phone. I am so grateful to have the 87 photos of our cat and the 20 pictures of landscapes and her friends and the singular photo of us together, smiling direct into the camera.

I watch her videos. There are only a few. In one she introduces the viewer to her brand new trombone. (She only had a few lessons.) In another she proudly shows off her volleyball uniform. (She was so excited to play!) In another she watches Brody play the piano, encouraging him to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star along the plucked out tune. (He had just turned three; it was totally unrecognizable.) In two of the videos she's singing Christian songs I have never heard before. The screen is black, as if covered by her hand, or turned face down on a table, as if to stress to the viewer that it was the words that were most important, not the face of the person singing it. And I hear her voice.

Sometimes a text message will come in on that phone. It's usually an automated message informing her (now me) that someone posted on her photos in Facebook. Sometimes it's spam telling her (now me) that we've won a $500 shopping spree from Walmart. And sometimes, it's Meredith (*not her real name).

I didn't recognize the name. But six or seven times over the last few months there have been short, simple texts; a photo of some younger child and a dog (neither of which I had ever seen before), a few words:  "cuties!" or "my favorite dog!" And then "Hi!" and the next afternoon, "how are you?"

I thought, at first, maybe it was a wrong number, except it couldn't be since Meredith's name had been programmed into Avery's phone. Then I thought maybe they were sent to Avery because the sender had opted to send the message to everyone in her contacts. The messages don't upset me, just leave me with this sense that I can only explain as 'unresolved' although I didn't know why.

And then, tonight, just before I grabbed my coat to head out, it hit me: Meredith is the girl from summer camp. Meredith: the shy, quiet girl who spent a week with Avery at gymnastics camp. Meredith lives several hours away up north, away from our local news, away from the people talking in the street. Meredith doesn't know.

This girl has been texting my daughter for months and getting no response. Granted, there have probably only been seven messages total since the accident... but what if this sweet girl is wondering why Avery isn't talking to her anymore? Wondering why her friend won't send her a simple text back?

It made me think of my own childhood friends and pen pals. Was one of my unanswered letters the result of death?

I can't wrap my head around the fact that Avery is just not here. It's, well, weird. I mean, she would go away to summer camp for a week at a time and I would miss her and think about her and wonder what she could possibly be doing at that same moment I was picking up a tub of cottage cheese off the grocery store shelf. Maybe she's swimming. I wonder if she's eating dinner. I bet they're walking back to their rooms now. It just that, well, sometimes I feel like she's just away at camp but then I can't think of what she might be actually doing.

Like, is there swimming in heaven? Avery loves to swim. I've heard people say that there is going to be singing in heaven and we will feel happy and full of love. Is that all? Just singing? What about swimming? So every time I miss Avery and wonder what she's doing it's always going to be singing and loving? I mean, sure, that's good stuff... but an eternity of it?

People have told me, "but you won't want for anything! You won't even know that you're missing out on swimming because you'll be in heaven!" But, still I think, surely God didn't create all this amazing stuff on earth just to have us forget about it? Wouldn't he want us to still enjoy his masterpieces in heaven? Wouldn't there be a way to sing and love and swim? Plus, the bible talks about rivers in heaven... wouldn't that be awesome to immerse ourselves in the cleanest, most purest waters of heaven?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,
bright as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
through the middle of the street of the city;
also, on either side of the river,
the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit,
yielding its fruit each month.
:Revelation 22:1-2

Sometimes I fear all my questioning and wondering boils down to the fact I don't have enough faith in God and what He says biblically regarding eternity. I've got to be honest - a bible is a hard thing for me to read. It's got a lot of characters and I can never keep the historical timeframe straight, and I can never remember if this group of people are the good guys or the bad guys... but, it's just that every single day I see amazing beautiful miracles on earth: a butterfly flitting around before choosing to land on the small hand of a child with full-of-surprise eyes; dew drops on thousands upon thousands of blades of emerald that kiss ankles cool as they're silently walked across; soft breezes that blow and birds that sing quiet -- God gave me all of this - why would he want me to simply forget it?

See, I don't think He would.

I think right now Avery could be singing, sure. Or doing cartwheels across the brightest lawn. Or laughing with friends. Or holding hands. Or asking a million questions of Uncle David just so she can hear his Australian slang. She could swim relaxed in the most perfect waters ever, hug tame lions, and read the most wonderful books ever written.

I think heaven is complicated in its colors and joys and wonders and we have all of eternity to discover new things and new activities and yes, new songs. I think since Avery loved kangaroos and ice cream she's surrounded by them both.

"In heaven I believe there is a place
where each of us will be able to choose and create a sanctuary.
I believe that certain things
will be somewhat similar to the earth
and many things completely different."
- Akiane Kramarik

A couple months before Avery died she started insisting I read a book called Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo. I had never read a book about heaven before; I was always a bit afraid that what was described would not be where I would want to spend eternity. Think of heaven as the ultimate vacation destination! I've heard where people choose to go on vacations and quite frankly, half those places I don't want to go to. What if I want to spend my ultimate vacation in the French countryside and I end up in Tokyo? I don't want to go to Tokyo.

Anyway. I shrugged Avery off. After the eighteenth time of her asking whether or not I read the book I told her she could read it herself and then tell me about it. She looked so sad. "You just need to read it, Mom." "Have you ever read it?" I asked. "No." "Then why do you think I should?"

After she died I went and got the book, of course. Remember when I was in the parking lot having my breakdown and I found the letter to Alphonsine? After that, I ran into that store like a mad woman praying the book was still on the shelf. I read it cover to cover and I thought, man, if heaven is like this then I am so in!

There are so many books out there from people who have claimed to have gone to heaven; but this was the only book Avery insisted I read. From what I know now, that was the book God asked me to read.

Remember the elderly man waiting for me after the funeral luncheon? The man who went to heaven?  After I read the book I fixated on that poor man. I was obsessed. I needed to talk to him. Ask him what he saw. What it was like. I needed details.

I finally saw him at an evening church service right before Christmas. He caught my eye as the service ended and winked. I had no trouble then hunting him down like a mad woman as he grabbed his coat and tried to exit.

"I need to know what was it like!" I blurted.

He smiled a slow smile; the kind of smile that starts from the heart as it remembers first true love. Tears gathered in his eyes. "Oh," he said slow and quiet in his thick, Dutch accent, "it is so perfectly beautiful!" He told me about the colors and the flowers and the peace... and I smiled. "I wish I could tell you more... but I was only there a short time." He looked down at the ground, paused, and looked back up. "I didn't want to leave."

And then....

"This happened a long time ago. Years later, there was a book that was writ - a book that say a little boy, he goes to heaven. I think, maybe I should read this book. I get the book, and I read. And I read the words and say, 'yes! Yes! YES!! This is it! This is what I see! This is what I see in heaven!' Maybe you read the book... it is called Heaven is for Real... and it IS for real!"

It was exactly what I needed to hear. Exactly.

Monday, January 21, 2013

AVERYday: Dancing in the In Between - Part 21

"Blame is a vicious card to play, and like guilt, generates useless emotions. But nonetheless, blame rears its head when there is no plausible reason to attribute to devastating loss. Blame robs you of objectivity and assigns fault where there is none. Anything, anything at all could have and would have changed that fateful day. The fingers were pointed everywhere, and none gave us the reasons we so needed to hear. When you lose your child, there is no reason good enough for their death." - Maria Malin, author of When You Just Can't Say Good-bye, Don't

As a grieving mother, I have purposely chosen how I would like to move forward in my healing. Understand, it is not the way you might grieve, or you, or you, or you. In fact, everyone grieves in such a personally, uniquely intimate way that I do not expect anyone to have ever before grieved the way I have, nor do I expect anyone to grieve this same way in the future.

I have chosen to see joy and light and goodness. I choose to fill up on faith and love and forgiveness. Blame has no place in my process. I do not wish to allow anger, rage, pessimism, guilt, shame, or any other negative thought to seep into my heart; to take root and spread like a disease throughout my soul.

I know that life guarantees but two things: a start and an end. What we don't know is how long the interval in between is. Some people get one hundred years in between their start and finish. Others just sixty-seven. Some thirty-eight. Still, some only get eleven. Some four. Some only weeks, some mere hours. And some, some are only remembered by the blood veins shared with their full-of-hope mamas. Their in between start and ending the cruelest of all.

I am sitting in my in between... and I know all too well that the final scene is never revealed until it is too late and it's just over. It is up to me to choose what I do in my in between. And you know what? You, reading this right now? Yeah, you're in your in between, too.

So, what do we do?

Crawl under the covers and hate? Blame the unfairness of life? Curse the meager food and the unmatched furniture and squint-glare at the Richard Cory's that walk about town, assuming we know how perfect their in between is and hating how our imperfect in between eats away at the bones that hold our hearts and souls in place? Waiting until bones become dust and hearts and souls lay broken along the streets we walk? Empty, angry people unaware that we've wasted our in betweens.

Or do we search for the goodness? Wake up and thank the good Lord for hot, steamy water and a bright, yellow towel. Watch just a moment longer the little boy splashing in puddles wearing hand-me-down rain boots. Spread butter on bread, drink cold milk from Grandma's mason jar, and know that this in between is pretty alright in the grand scheme of things.

This is my in between. I could fall to the floor, blame the unfairness of it all, thereby blocking out all the beautiful music that surrounds me, or I could dance.

And so, I choose, to learn to dance in the In Between.