Friday, July 5, 2013

Just another ordinary Friday afternoon.

Mom? When I was a baby, I couldn't drink out of this cup. When I was a baby, I had to drink out of a bottle.


When I was a baby, Avery was my sister, but then I got bigger and Avery just died.

Yes. Yes, she did, Buddy.



I wish Avery would come back and play with me a second. 

Me, too, Buddy. You guys always had a lot of fun when you played together.



I'm saving my money all up so I can buy a swing set and then Avery will come home and play with me. 

Summering for a Season

There were kids who spent their summers vacationing, as in, left their perfectly good homes to swim in oceans adjacent to rented seaside cottages or walked for days amongst Disney characters and acrobatic dolphins. They rode bikes in Nantucket and camped in Yellowstone Park. They boarded airplanes and handed passports to officials in Spain and Paris and, for one lucky kid in the fourth grade, Brazil. 

Me? I spent the summer at my Grandparents' Farm. They lived on the edge of town. We saw them every Sunday. And holidays. This was the exact opposite of vacationing. My mother would wake us at some ungodly hour and we'd drag our tired bodies to the car. I hated it. It was too early. It was too boring. It was completely unfair that I had to help scrape manure off a barn floor when kids my age were being handed twenty dollar bills by their fathers to go get ice cream down by some wharf. 

We'd drive to Grandma's house where she'd be frying up eggs in a skillet, making toast to spread cinnamon and brown sugar on. After breakfast there would be chores down at the barn. Five pounds of potatoes were peeled starting around 10:00am. After lunch we swept floors and washed dishes in water so hot it made the skin on our hands melt. 

I spent my summers sweeping the concrete patio out back, suffering through episodes of Wheel of Fortune, wondering why everything in my life was so blasted unfair.

And yet, those summers would prove to be the foundation for who I am today. I learned how to coax a baby calf to take a bottle. I learned to stack hay bales as tall as the sky without them falling down. I learned to take pride in the things you did and in the things you had. I learned (and was completely confused by) my grandfather's words that he didn't need a single additional thing in life; that he had everything he ever needed and it was more than enough. 

I learned how to treat people who spent their days working for you: you treated them like family even if they weren't. I learned that the sun never rises in the exact same way as any of the days before and it never, ever would, and that's what makes getting up early in the morning so important: because you risk missing a once in a lifetime event every single day. I learned that there is comfort in tradition: especially when it comes in the simple form of a peanut butter sandwich at 4pm. 

I look back now and think of all the fun I had in between the work. The sweltering summer days when older cousins playfully dunked younger ones in stock tanks. The singing at the top of our lungs while sitting on a cattle gate and pretending we were pioneers the day we discovered the old horse-drawn carriage in the back barn.

I wouldn't trade those summers for the world. 

The truth is, I would not have the values I have today if I didn't go through those summers. As much as I dreaded those unfair summers at the time, I look back and realize how necessary they were for me. That prancing through the manicured lawns of a theme park would never have provided what I personally needed to make me, me

There is no way to compare the death of a child to summers on a farm, and yet... what if this is somehow an unfair season I have to go through to continue making me into who I'm supposed to be? Who we're all supposed to be? Sometimes, in the midst of the unfairness and the awfulness we learn how to be who we were meant to become. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Just the Beginning

Avery's school offered the online purchase of yearbooks that included two pages you could personalize for your child. Last year I included all sorts of pictures of things she had done throughout the school year: dressed up as Abraham Lincoln for a history speech; with her swim cap on, waiting for her event; cozied up next to friends at a sleepover.

In last year's yearbook, amongst the photos, I also included this:

I can't say why, exactly. I just knew in my heart of hearts that she was on the cusp of something great. She was amazing and I was seeing her with new eyes: her beauty, her patience, her compassion, her zest for life, her energy, her love for God. I just knew her greatness was just beginning.

Now it's time to order this year's 2012-2013 yearbook. She was in the 5th grade. I had envisioned including photos of her with her trombone at the band concert; dressed up for the school musical; sporting uniforms for the volleyball and basketball team; racing during track; working with the Student Council. Fifth Grade was when everything started. When everything big began. When you got your first locker assigned. When you switched rooms for classes. When you could join the school sports team and be cast in the school musical. When you grew up and got to do great things. But she only lived for six, maybe seven weeks of 5th grade. What did she have time to accomplish?

Avery Johanna McCarthy
2012-2013 5th Grade

The first day of school.
At Ravinia waiting for the Demi Lovato!
First school sport uniform: VOLLEYBALL!

With her good friend Katie. Both were a little timid when they started volleyball, but, man! Did they improve!! I loved watching them play. I loved watching Avery cheer on her teammates.
Celebrating Avery's Birthday!
We had so much fun together!

The outfit Papa bought her!
They went shopping, just the two of them!

Going to the Jamie Grace / tobyMac concert in Madison with Lila! This is the concert where Avery refused to leave until we sponsored a girl named Alphonsine through the Food for the Hungry network.
One of our last days together.
Snapped on Avery's new iPod.
The Officers who were there on that fateful evening.
They came back to give me Avery's Christmas gift: she had just asked for a Bible.

The Headline.
I am so proud of this article. Avery had said she wanted everyone to know about Jesus, that way they wouldn't feel alone or afraid anymore. Avery was just starting to get the Word out. :)
The Visitation.
For hours people stood in line, snaked through the hallways of Avery's beloved school. People had photos up everywhere. Every spot on the wall was met with a sweet, smiling face. Never would I have thought a school gym could feel so much like home.
Just days after Avery's death, her friends had to play in a soccer tournament. Fun Fact: their soccer coach has a son named Avery.
The Letter.
A week after Avery's funeral I found myself sobbing alone in my car in the back of a parking lot. I screamed out, "Avery! I'm so sorry! I don't know what to do! Help me! Help me, Avery! Show me what to do!" Digging in my purse for a Kleenex I came across this letter Avery had written to Alphonsine, where she
answered my pleas:

"I lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
Maker of Heaven and Earth."
Psalm 121:1-2

Coach Jean Jacobs hosted a district wide volleyball camp in  Avery's honor and made these awesome shirts! The last Y is an angel. :)

These magnets were created and sold by dear friends for $5 each. Can I tell you how big I smile when I see one slapped on the back of a car driving around town? (And, yes, we have more!)

We created AVERYday Ministries to continue to be the voice and feet of Avery. Through AVERYday Ministries we will do all the things Avery had planned on doing: telling people about Jesus, helping others, and having a fun time doing it!

The Vorpagel family rang the bell in Avery's memory. Little did they know that Avery asked every single year if we could ring it. I had always said no before.

Avery's beloved UW-Whitewater Gymnastics Team hosted their first home meet in Avery's honor. These awesome shirts (that say ALL DAY AVERYDAY! Psalm 121) were sold to help financially support a gymnastics scholarship in Avery's name. She was a VERY proud GymHawk! I cried a lot this day. The team knocked it out of the park! Records were SHATTERED!!
Avery's Tree.
When Geneva Trees heard Avery had begged us for a REAL Christmas Tree they decided to donate one for her grave. Avery's classmates, friends and family all left little ornaments to decorate her tree and to show me that they cared.

Half of our hometown went to Milwaukee's WinterJam in February. Jamie Grace dedicated her song God Girl to  Avery; there wasn't a dry eye in the house!
Avery really, really, really wanted Matt to coach her basketball team. He couldn't say no. I will always thank
her for leading Matt into God's arms. The people, the community - and these very special girls! Avery was with us all every single step of the way.

954 tickets were sold to the very first AVERYday Ministries Seeds of Faith concert held at Young Auditorium in Whitewater. All those people blessed by Contemporary Christian singer and
Grammy Nominee - Jamie Grace, up and coming singer Morgan Harper Nichols and the wonderful with and humor of Mama Mona Harper.  Let's not forget the amazing dancing ability of Bishop Harper!
I had emailed singer-songwriter Jon Troast not expecting anything back. I explained I wanted to have a concert but had never done his before and had no idea what I was doing. He wrote back: "I'll be there."
Avery's school performed the junior version of Fiddler on the Roof. At the end of each performance the cast
turned to the scenery and pointed; their way of acknowledging that Avery was with them on stage each night, in the form of the a butterfly painted on a tree limb. Oh, my heart!

My brother, Patrick, surprised us all by making an illuminated cross bearing Avery's name. This cross is now with my father, Avery's Papa, who has plans to create a memory garden on his property in honor of Avery.
Personal Trainer John Palmer from Fontana, WI, hosted a 6k event called Run2Riches. Proceeds raised went to several different organizations and two families who recently lost loved ones. I was so humbled
and so honored to learn he included Avery. While we walked I continued to find written reminders that Avery was with me. It was so beautiful!
We met an incredible 11-year old named Morgan Radaj. Morgan created Motivating Kids to Give as a way to encourage kids to be positive members of their community. At her annual charity run/walk, four gymnastics girls and Morgan ran for AVERYday Ministries. Together they raised over $300! Don't ever say kids are too young to make a difference!

Riely Rae Mikrut blessed Avery's school by talking at a special chapel about her experiences during a 9-month mission trip. Avery and Riely performed together in community theater. Riely was a HUGE influence on Avery! Avery wanted to be just like Riely! How neat that Avery has introduced Riely to everyone in her school!

This bench with Avery's name  was hand made by the second grade teacher's husband. It just makes me smile. Another way to remind me that Avery is still very much a presence!

The teachers and staff at Delavan Christian School planted this Tulip Tree in Avery's memory. Oh, how I love this school!
Since Avery loved to read it only made sense to pledge to donate five books (because she was in 5th grade) each year. 
The 8th Graders do a service project each year. I cannot begin to imagine the emotional task of choosing to create a cross marker for Avery's grave. I know God is blessing these children. And I know how incredibly blessed I am by each and every single one of them.

Just some of the beautiful girls who attended a week long Basketball Camp. I love how full of life and energy that gym was!

Avery might not be able to earthly visit Haiti, but she has still found a way to make her presence known in the country she loved so much: a bunch of Avery's shirts are making their way with Trish & Gabby Edwards as they serve a mission there this summer. Also going -- a pair of Avery's shoes.
Oh, Lord, bless the feet that fit these shoes!

And I've lost track of how many times I've cried,
missed Avery,
had a bad day,
been upset,
and just when I needed it ...
was blinded by the most beautiful light!

Oh, yes. I'd say Avery has been VERY busy this school year.
And it's just the beginning to what my sweet, beautiful girl
will accomplish!