Wednesday, March 27, 2013

AVERYday: All Day, Avery Day - Part 29


I couldn't potty train Avery. She had no interest. No desire. I would attempt to make going potty on the toilet the most exciting thing ever and she would stare at me as if I were a potato sitting on the counter.

And then, when she was almost 4 years old, she stood mesmerized in front of the television set watching gymnastics, something she had never before seen. Through her mostly incoherent speech, she told me she wanted to do that. "Too bad," I said. "You can't learn gymnastics until you're potty trained. They don't allow diapers in the gym."

She stared silent at the TV, taking in every movement of the entire routine playing out in front of her. Then she turned, walked into the bathroom, and went potty on the toilet.

And that was it. No accidents. No problems with bed wetting. She was decidedly done with diapers and ready to learn gymnastics.


She was never the best, never the stand out. But she did give 110% at every practice. She would go home and practice bridge kick-overs off the couch for hours at a time. She was scared to death of the height of the balance beam but still, she got on it. She loved flying from one bar to the next; where I saw the shaky nervousness of an unsure body, she felt only the graceful fluidity of a soul in flight. 

We would find ourselves at a new youth program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater called the  GymHawks Youth Gymnastics Program... and it would change our lives.

The GymHawks program is awesome because the kids train in the same gym as the college gymnastics team. Side by side. And the college girls coach the young girls. And nothing is more exciting to a young, impressionable girl that being coach by the young lady whose picture graces the poster in the hall, whose stats are updated on the Internet, and who travels the country competing with other universities. The coaches worked the girls hard and the girls worked hard for their coaches. 

Avery was in heaven in that gym. The coaches were her friends. She knew more details about them - how many had big sisters, who struggled with their beam routine, and who couldn't get enough Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

Avery went to three separate weeks of summer camp that was held on the UW-W campus. She loved each and every week. She was a bit homesick and would spend more time in the coaches rooms than in her own. It made her feel incredibly special. I apologized to the coaches, afraid Avery was intruding and overstaying her visit to their rooms, but they assured me they loved Avery. That she was welcome any time.

Photo Credit: Allison Annala

Avery planned on attending UW-Whitewater and being part of the college gymnastics team. She, too, was going to coach. "And then, when kids get homesick, I can tell them that I know how that feels because I was homesick, too." That girl has my heart.

Some of the young ladies from the college team attended Avery's visitation and funeral. My heart soared when I saw them. Avery would be so beyond thrilled to know they came all this way to see her! And then my heart fell to the floor. Avery would be so thrilled... if she were here.

On January 26, 2013, the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater Gymnastics Team hosted their first home meet. They were going to honor Avery. Oh, how Avery would love to be the center of the Gymnastics Team's attention, I thought. It took every ounce of strength I had buried in me to walk into that building. That was the last place Avery was on earth. She left the gym... and died.

I walked down the hall and saw all these beautiful, amazing, talented young women sporting purple All Day AVERY Day shirts -- how is it possible to feel so much gratitude and so much loneliness at one time? I just wanted Avery there. I wanted her to sit by me. I wanted to listen as she told me the names of every single person on the team, the names of their siblings and whether or not they had a dog growing up. I missed her so much I couldn't breathe.

Photo Credit: Allison Annala
I hope these girls understand how amazing they are.

They would go on and set two school records to win.
Avery was definitely in that gym.

I've tried to blog about this day so many times and what it meant to me; but there comes a time when too many tears can block a keyboard for far too long. If you want to know a bit more about that precious, precious day, please read THIS AMAZING BLOG POST from Avery's coach. (I'm pretty sure you can see my joyful/anguish face in the photo.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

AVERYday: Ethereal Happiness - Part 28

I sat in Julie's kitchen. I love Julie's kitchen. It feels like family, strong hugs and honest compassion. The kitchen was filled with laughter and chatter and the most beautiful spread of gluten filled snacks I couldn't eat. In the center of it all, on a glass pedestal cake dish, stood the most amazing Red Velvet Cake any of us had ever laid eyes on.

The icing was delicate and gentle, tempting me to slyly drag a single finger along it's edge. Julie sliced into the center revealing the most vibrant red. It was simply the most beautiful cake I'd ever been in the same room with. But I couldn't eat it. I have Celiac Disease and I cannot consume gluten. I wouldn't get a chance to taste this cake.

Women to the left and right of me tried to describe it: it's so moist and creamy and soft. "What does it taste like?" I asked. Well, it's not chocolate, and it's not vanilla.... it's just, I don't know - tastes like happiness!

I watched as forks slowly picked up piece after piece, eyes closed as people chewed, no - savored. I wanted so badly what they had. I wanted to taste what they tasted. I wanted to feel as satisfied as they looked.

I placed my finger on a tiny crumb that had fallen on the counter. Watched as it clung to my finger as I carried it closer and closer to my mouth - and then, I tasted it.

But it was so small. I could tell it was a moist cake, I could tell it was good, but I still didn't know what it tasted like. Not chocolate, and not vanilla. Because I had never personally experienced Red Velvet Cake, I could only choose to believe it was more delicious than anything I had ever tasted.

About a month ago a woman approached me and carefully, cautiously began to tell me about how she has seen Avery at various times since Avery died. As soon as she saw I was open to receive her information she explained how she has had the gift of seeing people who had passed since she was a small girl and that her grandmother shared the same gift. She explained she was initially confused by what was happening to her, yet her grandmother simply explained, God gives people many different types of gifts. This woman went on to explain that she normally only sees family or very close friends, people she knew and loved, and so she was surprised when she first saw Avery, since she hadn't known Avery that well at all.

"I always see her around little children. She loves their laughter. She just really loves the little kids." Oh, yes! I thought. That's my Avery! The little Mama! She went on to tell me that Avery was really happy. Like, really, really happy. "I can't explain it - she is just - so happy. The happiest I've ever seen anyone. She doesn't understand why people are sad for her. She just wants everyone to know that she is really happy in heaven with Jesus."

And then, on March 11th, I received an email from a friend who never met Avery, to tell me about a dream she had. She noted that Avery was dancing, twirling around - and how little her legs were. (Avery had very slender, skinny legs; she hated being called skinny.) "...she was just HAPPY. Ethereally happy.... I needed to tell you how absolutely happy she was."

Haven't we always been told that heaven is a place of happiness? Revelation 21:4 reads, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Think about it: no more tears. No mourning. No crying. No pain. Nothing but what brings joy and happiness.

But, do we even know what it means to be truly, ethereally happy all the time? Just, so, very, very happy?

I've been happy. I've had happy moments. I've laughed until my sides hurt and tears ran down my cheeks. I've had days that I'd be happy if they lasted for years. But when I think about the overall majority of any given day, the majority of the emotions experienced would not be classified as happy.

Imagine a day when you never get hungry. Or thirsty. You never have to think ahead about what you're going to make for supper or if you have to stop off at the store for additional ingredients. There are no calls to make to insurance companies, or to the electric drain service, or to schedule an oil change for the car. Banking accounts would not need to be balanced, paper cuts would not sting, and there would be no Kleenex to purchase for that cold that's been lingering for the past four days.

You would never experience a stiff neck or an upset stomach or constipation. You would never have to referee siblings who can't seem to agree on a television station or remind your neighbor that walking her dog through your yard so it can do its business isn't working for you. You would never have to hear an unkind word from your boyfriend's mother, or his sister, or his aunt. You would never have to pump gas in a torrential downpour. Basements wouldn't leak, babies wouldn't get ear infections, dogs wouldn't eat through brand new sofas.

There would be no asthma inhalers, diabetes, high blood pressure, seizures, cancer, pneumonia, dementia, brittle bone disease, migraines or celiac disease. There would be no toddlers having epic temper tantrums in public, no nasty sweat socks that need to be unfurled, no discovering a tree limb crashed into the back window of the car when you're already twenty minutes late.

See, while life isn't necessarily awful, it is filled with a bunch of things that distract us from pure, unadulterated happiness. We have to react and respond to medical needs, emotional needs, physical needs, financial needs. We have to deal with a plethora of personalities that don't always mix with our own. We get fired from our jobs, robbed of our belongings and disappointed in the leaders of our community. Friends hurt us with stinging words, teachers get cross and punish the whole class, and we forget our lunch on the counter at home.

What will we do, then, when all that is left is happiness? How do we even begin to wrap our heads around what this truly means? To be happy. So happy. So ethereally happy. Every second of every day with no distractions. No more tears. No crying. No more pain.

We catch glimpses. And, since we understand these are gifts, most of us want to create more glimpses of happiness for others. Because those glimpses show us promises of the future. An eternal future that I cannot wrap my head around but that I desperately want to be a part of.

What is heaven like? It is neither chocolate, nor vanilla, but it tastes like happiness.