Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Things That Stick

I've always been sensitive. If there is a slight breeze, I'll feel it. If there is a whisper of an odor, I'll smell it. If there comes a chill in the air, my body feels it. And if there is a word or deed that hurts, my fragile soul will begin to crumble.

I understood at an incredibly young age the power of words. Not just the words themselves, but how they're delivered. The passive aggressive comments that are meant to attack. The back handed compliments whose only purpose it was to damage. And while, of course, when directed at me, my heart would break and I'd start to cry, it was when I heard things about my children that the pain 
I felt would just about almost crush my spirit into nothingness. 

I have been so stuck lately on a comment that was made many years ago about Avery. It hurt the first time I heard it, but the remembrance of it makes me angry. And I can't understand why. 

And so it is that I write. Because for me, I don't know what I'm going to write about or what conclusion I'll come to until I get to the end. I write what needs to come out trusting that somehow God will use the written word to help me make sense of things. And, 9 times out of 10, I feel better, more at peace, after I write. And I need to feel better about this.
Avery had eczema. That meant really dry skin. More than likely it had to do with undiagnosed
Celiac. Eczema is one of a ridiculous amount of symptoms of Celiac. Two years before her death we cut gluten out of her diet and she was like a totally different kid. Even her skin improved dramatically. But we didn't know that at the time. She was just a young child with really dry skin.

It was summer time and Avery was busy playing with a bunch of kids while I was at work. When they wanted to go outside sunscreen had to be applied. I was eventually told by the adult in charge that they would rub the sunscreen on all the kids except Avery. Avery had to do it herself because they didn't like the feel of her dry skin. They went on to tell me how they always kept their own children's skin nice and moist by rubbing lotion in every night and what a wonderful experience that was. 

I was stunned, but laughed it off. I'm not good at assertiveness and I'm too emotional to even start to say what I feel (lest I turn into a blubbering idiot 37 seconds in) and I don't like confrontation. Even 
I know that someone who feels compelled to go up to a mother and point out their child's skin problem has no cares about hurting feelings.

So, I did what I always do. I laughed it off. Chuckled weakly, nodded my head, yep, yep she's got dry skin. Oh, hey! I'm late, we have to get going! When what I wanted to say was are you serious? You are supposed to be some fabulous child advocate and yet you single out the children not good enough for you? 

My feelings were hurt; yet, worse was my fear that Avery had felt this different treatment. That she had possibly felt the hurt that comes from being segregated and subtly shown you're not good enough.

But Avery never let on to me that she even knew this had happened. We walked on into the sunshine, celebrated the day, continued to sing way too loud in the car, and ate way too much popcorn as a snack before bed.

And I forgot about it.

Or so I thought.

It seems now, for whatever reason, this comment has come back to haunt me. It won't let me go. And it leaves me feeling angry.

Angry because I was her mom and I failed her. I was too weak to say something. I should have stood up and clearly disallowed that type of behavior towards my child. And yet, I knew that it wouldn't have mattered. They were already treating her differently; doesn't matter the reason: too annoying, too snotty, too dirty, or too dry - that wasn't going to improve just because I called them out on it. 

Angry because my daughter deserved better. All our daughters do. And our sons. Who comes into this world asking for drug addicted parents or a mom who's a stripper, or a palsy that confines them to a wheelchair, or a skin disorder that makes their arms feel like sandpaper? Who of us entered this world controlling our circumstances? Our physical appearance? The amount of money in the checking account? And yet somehow, as an adult, we feel we have the right to treat people - young, innocent people - different because of something they have no control over. As adults, we should know better. We should be better.

Angry because I am so naive as to believe that everyone who chooses a profession that claims to be an advocate of children is actually a practicing advocate of ALL children. Not just the cute ones or the ones whose mom's drop them off wearing the NorthFace jacket, yoga pants and Uggs. 

Angry because when I look at all the children waiting in orphanages or in foster homes for a family to love them - just love them - not provide a upper middle class home with a fireplace and spring break vacations to Myrtle Beach each year - just LOVE - they aren't chosen because they're not perfect enough. They aren't cute enough. What are we telling them? If you were just a little closer to perfect you would have been chosen. Unfortunately, you're not good enough to deserve my love and acceptance.

Sometimes I see the most judgmental adults with the seemingly perfect kids. They don't know what it's like to put a baby in physical therapy with the prayers that they will someday walk. They don't know what it's like to battle a learning disability secretly fearing the limited future of their child. They don't know what it feels like to be the mom in the stands whose child sits each and every game on the bench, whose teammates forget he was even part of the team after they graduate. 

I wonder why God does that. Why does He give these judging adults - most of whom can't even see that they're callously judging others - why does He give them these seemingly perfect situations? 

And then I think: but what would it mean for the imperfect child to be brought into a home where the one person who was supposed to love them unconditionally was unable to see past their imperfections?

Maybe that's why the comment is bothering me so much. To remind me of how easy it is to treat a child differently. To remind me of how easy it is to hurt a child through segregation. 

And maybe this is haunting me to serve as a warning; to remind myself what responsibility I have to the hearts of others. To caution me not to forget how the treatment of others can be filled with dignity, or infected with disrespect. Maybe it's God's way of preparing me for what's to come. 

Matt and I coach the 5th and 6th grade girls basketball team at Avery's school. Each and every single one of those girls I swear I can see into their soul. I swear God has graciously allowed me to look into their hearts, see where their hurts lie, see what they fear. They are so amazingly beautiful and I KNOW God has a special plan for each one of them. 

I want them to know how worthy and special and amazing they are. I want them to see that there were no mistakes when God created them. They are beautiful. They are special. And they deserve unconditional love. 

I want to sit every single child down and just give them a huge list of all the positive things that make them uniquely them. Because we are not our physical selves. See, none of that matters. Society makes us believe that in order to be successful you need the right hair style and the latest fashions. Society tells us we should focus on the outer appearance and then we will be liked and valued. And that is so wrong!

But guess what?

WE are society. You and me. Our families, our friends, our co-workers. It's US who teach this way of thinking to our children.

And I have a choice to make as to what beliefs and comments I throw out in the world because, trust me, something will stick.

I want to be the person that would take that child with dry skin and a heart of gold each and every day, a thousand times over. And it would be me who would feel lucky and blessed. Me who would feel so privileged to be trusted with God's most special children. And all He would ask is that I just love them.

Such an incredibly important thing God calls us to do... simply love. Love so hard that it sticks with that child no matter where they go in life.

Maybe all this remembering of something thrown out in the past is just a way to challenge me to watch what I throw out in the present.

You know, I do feel better. And now I know better, too.


Ephesians 4:29ESV
 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,
 but only such as is good for building up,
 as fits the occasion,
that it may give grace to those who hear. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Dance

When Avery died, all the dreams and expectations I had for her died, too. Of all the things she wouldn't do, the fact that she wouldn't attend prom was one of the toughest for me to accept.

See, I had always wanted to be that mom who drove to the big city (in my case, Milwaukee) in search of the perfect prom dress for my baby girl. We'd shop and eat and laugh and shop some more. We'd make a big deal over getting her hair and nails done and I'd take no less than 117 photos the day/night of the infamous prom.

I'd stay up ridiculously late reading and not watching the television just waiting for my baby girl (who was growing up way too fast) to come home, fall onto the couch with a huge smile and announce that she had just experienced the best time of her life ever.

Jadrian had little interest in prom. She had even less interest in sharing that experience with her mother. And so, in a way, everything fell on Avery.

And then she was gone. Just like that.

One minute I'm picking up KFC to bring to Matt at a job site, the next my daughter is dead. What a cliché evening: everything can change in the blink of an eye.

I remember sobbing, choking out the words she'll never go to prom. Of all  the things Avery will never get to do: get a drivers license, experience a first kiss, fly in an airplane, go to Disneyworld, graduate college, have a baby - prom was the thing that just about put me under.

She would never get to go to prom.

I fell even further into myself.

She would never go to prom.

How could that ever make sense? Avery was supposed to go to prom! That was the way it was supposed to be!

And then I remembered.

And smiled.

Because of course God knew this would be my thing.

Of course God knew how important this was to my heart. He knows me better than anyone.

And of course God would have provided for me. God doesn't want to cause me pain. He wants to hold me tight. He wants to help me through. He wants to provide love and hope and grace for me. And He'd do whatever He could to make that happen.

He'd even hold a prom.

Back in 2009, four years before Avery's passing - Avery came to me and said she wanted to host a prom.

She had it all planned out. We would clean out the basement and put up lights and have the prom down there. We would have food to snack on and drinks in case people got thirsty.
Matt would be the DJ. He could borrow Avery's pink CD player and pick out songs that everyone could dance to. All the kids would dance in their pretty dresses and fancy clothes.

And she handed me a list of kids to invite. Girls and boys. Friends from different towns, cousins, classmates and neighbors - it didn't matter to her that they didn't know each other. See, she explained, "they would become friends after meeting at the prom."

I don't know why I said yes. It certainly wasn't like me. I've always been way too insecure with where I live: low income with ratty furniture. I always felt other parents would judge me and my financial failures.

I don't know why I said yes. Normally I'd feel so awkward allowing Avery invite boys. I'd worry about what their parents would think about a woman who was trying to force kids into situations that were well beyond their emotional ages.

And yet, I said yes. Of course I said yes. I mean, this was a super cool idea! And Avery came to me with everything planned out. What she would wear, who she would invite, where it would be held, what they would eat. How could I ever say no?

And God knew that.

He knew I wouldn't say no.

Because He knew all I wanted was to see my baby girl go to prom.

God is good always.

He was preparing my heart long before I realized He was. He has never abandoned me. Not for a single second. And, while I wish with every sliver of my shattered Mama Heart that my baby girl was back in my arms, so I could hold her, kiss her, hug her, I cannot deny that God provided what He knew was something very important to me. It may not have been exactly what I imagined, but I did get to see my baby girl go to prom.

God is so very, very good.

** Thank you to  each and every parent who allowed their child to attend Avery's Pretty Pink Prom Party. Little did you know then how incredibly important to my healing that day would be.

"Death seems to take so much. We bury not just a body but the wedding that never happened, the golden years we never knew. We bury dreams. But in heaven these dreams will come true. God has promised a "restoration of all things" (Acts 3:21 ASV). 'All things' includes all relationships."   - Max Lucado, You'll Get Through This

Monday, December 2, 2013

Breathing In

About thirty-seven seconds after finding out one is pregnant, comes the rush of realizing that somehow this human life form will need to exit your body. And that it will  hurt.

Pregnant women hear a plethora of tales from used-to-be pregnant women detailing the horrors of childbirth (whether they want to or not). Woes of failed epidurals, the horrors of the Ring of Fire - "don't worry, it's just your flesh tearing" -  thirty seven hours of torturous labor; all will be told.

And yet, no matter how many stories are heard, each delivery is as unique and individual as the person giving birth. Yours may be better, or worse, or eerily similar, but never exact.

The thing to remember is that every ache, pain, and sensation will only be felt by you.

Others can try to empathize. They can rub your lower back, remind you to breathe, spoon feed you ice chips - any myriad of ways in an attempt to ease your pain, but they can't do it for you.

Funny thing is, enduring the contractions of grief is sort of the same. Every single shooting pain belongs to the one whose loved one has been lost. Every contraction of grief. Every single shooting pain - it's all  yours. Only yours. And there is nothing you can do about it, except endure.

Unfortunately, the longer time passes, the more irregular the grieving contractions come. It's not something you can time every five minutes anymore. It just hits. Could happen while standing at the grocery store staring at the sign that declares PICK YOUR SIDES. One minute you're grabbing a bag of frozen gluten free chicken nuggets, the next minute you're gasping breath and choking on tears, all the while holiday shoppers pass unaware that your beautiful 11-year old used to ask what the sides were for dinner.

Ironically, birthing labor and grieving labor is also handled in somewhat the same manner: you have to learn to breathe through the pain.

Matt woke me up Sunday morning for church. I looked at him and said, "I can't. I'm depressed." Thanksgiving put me under. Swept me away with the grieving current and held me under until I had no more strength left.

I settled into the chair in front of the TV with my comfy clothes on and I sat. And sat. And I stayed up late and sat some more. For days I sat, unshowered, munching on popcorn and flipping through thousands of images on Houzz. And Matt was sweet to not comment on my passivity, yet he was too scared to ask what was going on in my heart. He gave Brody his bath and heated his dinner. He watched Lifetime Christmas movies with me as if he enjoyed them.

He did exactly what he could. He was gentle and calm, reminding me to breathe through the pain. "I'll take Brody with me to the store to get some light bulbs so you can get some rest," he suggested. Because he knew this contraction of grief was mine to endure.

And then this afternoon, somewhere around 2pm, a thought occurred. I could shower. My body, stiff from unmoving, stood beneath the hottest water I could handle. Layers of protective defenses washed away, circled the drain and disappeared. I could feel my heart start beating again, and with each pulse came unimaginable pain.

After days of numbness and checking out, it was all rushing back. Pain so awful I wanted to curl up on the floor of the tub and rock myself to sleep.

Avery is gone. And that hurts with an ache no words can ever describe.

And yet, today I showered and breathed through the pain.

"Don't let the sadness overwhelm you.
Don't let the fear intimidate you.
To do nothing is the wrong thing.
To do something is the right thing.
And to believe is the highest thing."
- Max Lucado, You'll Get Through This