Friday, November 30, 2012

AVERYday: What Really Matters - Part 11

I never fully realized how important knowing - really knowing - whether or not the people I loved accepted Christ was, until Avery passed. See, Avery was filled up, overflowing, oozing out love for Christ! She did not get that from me. Sure, I believed in God. And, yes, I brought her to Church and Sunday School like a good parent (mostly for the social coffee hour after). But I have always been what you would probably call a Holiday and a Half Christian.

You know Holiday Christians: they show up at Christmas, Easter, a few weddings and all the funerals.

Well, Holiday and a Half Christians show up at all the holidays, weddings and funerals, but they also go to church for at least half the year. They might sign up for a Bible Study (but only do half the lessons). They sign their Christmas cards with "blessings" and aren't afraid to tell people they'll pray for them. And they can quote a thing or two from the Bible: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" [Philippians 4:13] and the Lord's Prayer (which is also called the Our Father in Catholic lingo, which is kind of smart because that's the first words of the prayer so the title doubles as a prompt).

Anyway, I've always been a Holiday and a Half Christian. I still get confused whether we have debts or trespasses. While I've gone to the same church for the entire 39 years of my life, I have never taken communion because I don't know if it's against the law. (The law of the church. Are they laws? Rules? Policies? I don't know.) Since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease I can get by with saying gluten allergy, but really, I've never made Profession of Faith, which is what I think has to happen before you're allowed to take communion. In the Catholic Church you turn seven and wear a wedding dress. If you're Lutheran you wait until 8th grade Confirmation. In our church there is no set age. It's when you feel it... when you know. 

Another thing that might surprise you is that none of my children are baptized. Nope, not even Avery, my God Girl.

Want to know why? Because I didn't really know about it. I mean, I did. I knew it existed. But I saw it as this thing parents did to get more presents for their kids. All the baptisms I was ever invited to were by people I was, quite frankly, shocked that they even knew what a church was. They bought fancy clothes, took pictures, and then we went and ate an expensive catered meal and handed over obligatory stuffed lambs and cash. From my point of view I had already handed over a Baby Shower Gift, then a The Baby Was Born Gift, and I'll be required to contribute to the Baby Is One Year Old Gift... and now they were trying to get another gift?

Simply put, I didn't fully understand what baptism meant or why it was important other than to symbolically wash away sins (which is strange to me because I don't view most babies as being covered in sin. I do, however, have a list of really mean adults that could use a good cleansing.)

But - and this might anger a lot of religious zealots - I don't think it really mattered.

See, Avery LOVED HER GOD!! Loved God, understood God, lived God and respected God. She spoke God's Word, committed her life to Him, and wanted nothing less than for everyone on the planet to know who God was. She would tell me that if people just knew God they would know how much He loved them and they would never feel alone or afraid. She wanted everyone to be kind and respectful with each other because that's just how it's supposed to be. God said so. And she wanted everyone to learn about God in school (specifically, her school). 

She did all this never realizing she hadn't been baptized. Do I think God reached His hand out to her on the night of October 24, 2012, and then quickly snatched it back saying, "sorry, can't take you; you weren't baptised." No. Not at all. 

I think God loved that little girl with all His heart. And I believe that God specifically and perfectly picked her soul to be loaned to my mothering arms, into our family and into our community, to remind us what it's like to live for God. See, God knew every hair on that little girl's head. He knew her fears and her strengths. He knew how she would spend her days and what her trials would be. And he knew that she would be placed in a family that wouldn't have thought to have her baptized. He knew that she would embrace His love and loudly proclaim His blessings to the world. He knew that His earthly plan for her would only take eleven years, and He knew the when and how and WHY she would be brought Home to Heaven on October 24, 2012.  

Not being baptized, that was my decision (or lack thereof, since I really only remembered she wasn't baptised just today) - not Avery's. And God knows my heart, too, and actually understands better than I the things I do. 

I know that Avery's heart was right with the Lord. Without a doubt, without question. I keep thinking how much comfort that has brought me... immeasurable amounts. So many people have looked at me and have asked, "how can you be so strong?" I guess it's because I know without a question where she is. I know she is safe and in the best hands possible. Much like when parents are way more relaxed on vacation knowing kids at Grandma's house rather than with the lady that was recommended by the butcher at the local grocery.

I have thought about what would have happened if Jadrian hadn't survived the accident. (Morbid, I know, but trust me when I say I've never had much control over my thoughts, and right now it's a free for all.) I honestly don't think I'd be handling it as well. Jadrian is a Holiday Christian. I'd be on my hands and knees begging God to please, please just show me she was with Him. 

That got me thinking about my siblings. I know how my sister feels about God. Her heart is right. But my brothers? Do they believe? I'm pretty sure the one does. But the other? And to what extent? My Mom is faithful.... and my Dad believes in God, but struggles with man-run religion. 

And Matt? Matt never thought about God much. He grew up Catholic but couldn't tell me a thing he learned. He hadn't been to church since high school. With Avery in our home, religion has come up a lot in our relationship. I wanted someone who supported our family's religion. He figured not getting in our way while we were getting ready for church was being supportive enough. When Avery would get upset that Matt wasn't participating, he would explain that he was "covered" because he had baptised and confirmed. But was he really? 

And then, what about me? Is my heart considered right with the Lord? 

Here's what I do know: if I'm asking, then I have some work to do.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for 
and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

Monday, November 26, 2012

AVERYday: Avery Asks God a Question - Part 10

Avery knew things.

She would just declare things and they were always, always right. Sometimes they were little things:     

"Mom, we need to stop and get me a lunch for the field trip tomorrow." What field trip? I chalked it up to impressive organizational skills. She knew my schedule, her schedule, grandma's schedule, the schedule of all her friends - and their parents. We joked that the best job for her would be secretary to the President of the United States. The girl loved a schedule.

But then there were bigger things. Things I couldn't understand, but probably would be overlooked by someone who didn't really know her.

For example, a couple years ago she came to me and announced she would be auditioning for a summer theatre production. With people she didn't know. And I had to explain to her that not only would it be with people she didn't know, it would be performed for people she didn't know. And these strangers would sit and watch her. And she would actually have to speak. Out loud. And she just looked at me and said that I would need to drive her and that we could not be late. 

Now, at this point in Avery's life she did not do well with strangers. As in, could not function. I couldn't get her to look at my friends who I have had for years if they dared try to speak to her; how on earth did this kid think she was going to perform for strangers? It would crush her. She'll get terrified and scared and it'll be awful and she'll be traumatized. 

And yet, she did. She went and auditioned and got a part, and then learned several other parts (because it was a summer program where there were multiple performances) and then she performed in the park in full view of the faces of strangers. And you know what? I was so wrong.

I tried to talk her out of it. I tried to explain it was too much for her. I tried to protect her from what I feared might happen. And I was so very wrong.

Over and over she would do this: declare something with an indescribable conviction that I, personally, had little faith in. She was always confident that this IS what she should be doing. No questions, no explanation. She just knew it. Even if it didn't make any sense to me.

A couple weeks ago I needed to write something down and there was no paper anywhere. I searched and searched - nothing. I was frustrated. I just buried my daughter and I can't find a stupid piece of paper! I finally discovered an unused journal that had been carelessly tossed on top of the refrigerator. Standing on tip toe on top of a chair, I tried to rip out a single page. The journal fell to the floor, splayed apart. Annoyed I hopped off the chair and bent down to pick up the journal. In the middle of this otherwise empty journal was a page handwritten by my dear, sweet Avery, back on April 30, 2012:

"Dear God,"

(What? She wrote letters to God?)

"I really want to go Up North with Lila but I'm scared!" (Oh, her sweet friend Lila! They had invited her up north with them for the first time last summer and she got homesick. Bad. Matt and I drove 8 hours to go get her. And then 8 hours back. She loved it up there at their cabin; but she hated not being able to talk to me.)

"I would rather do the 5 day one. But I don't know if they are doing it." (Last summer they stayed longer than she had originally planned. They kept talking about adding on days and she got nervous and upset so we drove through the day and night to bring her home.)

"I keep on asking myself Should I tell them or should I not? What do you think?" (Oh, my heart!)

"I love my mom so much and I love my friend so much, I don't know what to choose! May you please help me make my decision?"  (Twice she has asked God for guidance.)

"Should I do the 5 day camp or the week or just stay home? PLEASE HELP ME!!" (Three times she turns to God.)

Now I get it. I get how she was able to come to me and declare something with absolute conviction that the decision she was making was the right one. She took her direction from God.

I remember when Avery walked up to me with her decision, obviously after this letter was written. "Mom, I'm not going to go up north with Lila this summer." I asked her if she wanted to talk about it. I asked her if she wanted to go for a couple days and then Matt and I would come up and get her, maybe stay at a hotel before driving home. But her mind was set. And happy. 

I can see now that she knew she had made the right decision because she had consulted God and she heard His answer. She put her absolute faith in God. He told her He would lead her, and she followed without questioning - or negotiating. 

How many of us (ME!) turn first to friends and family for advice? How many of us (ME!) unload all our concerns and worries to whomever will listen in the hopes that they will point out some magic answer? How many of us (ME!) forget to even ask God? How many of us (ME!) waste so much time trying to talk our fears out with people when what we should be doing is turning to God?

Oh, the things my God Girl is teaching me! (Trust me when I say she did not learn this from me.)

I need this now more than ever: when I don't know how I am going to put one foot in front of the other. When I have the devil knocking down my door, trying to suck me into a dark pit of depression and anger and fear -- lots and lots of fear. Fear about Jadrian's future. Fear about whether Brody will forget his sister... fear about whether I will...

Avery would tell me simply, "ask God; He will show you the way." 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

AVERYday: Out of the Broken - Part 9

A couple weeks before Avery's death, I presented her with a charm bracelet that had her name on it. I had a bracelet made for me with the initials of my children and Matt, which Avery fell in love with. She asked for her name on a bracelet for her birthday, which was October 5th. A couple days after her birthday the bracelet was ready. She wore it constantly.

After I returned home from the hospital the night of the accident all I wanted to do was find that bracelet. I needed that bracelet. Except Jadrian needed comforting and we laid together, side by side, in Avery's twin bed. Crying.

I couldn't sleep. I tried to sneak out of the bed, but Jadrian wasn't sleeping either. I offered some paltry excuse, but I just couldn't tell her what I really needed: the bracelet.

In between visitors on Thursday I searched. I opened drawers, emptied pockets, ran my hands along the top of shelves. I feared the bracelet wouldn't be at home. I feared Avery would have had that bracelet on the day of her death and it would now be gone forever.

The police had returned my daughter's school backpack and I obsessively rummaged through its contents: a math book, a sweatshirt, a folder with odds and ends. I emptied everything, shook the bag, put everything back in. Did it all again. I remember leaning back against the wall on Friday night, trying to stifle a sob. It was just a bracelet. It wasn't who she was. I was trying to quiet my emotional side with logic. It wasn't working. My biggest fear was that she had tossed the bracelet into her gymnastics bag. The gymnastics bag that couldn't be returned due to the damage it received.

Lord, I know it sounds silly, but I just want her bracelet. Please, let me find her bracelet. 

I took a deep breath and slipped my hand once again into the empty front pocket. Only this time my fingers touched her bracelet. I laughed and cried, so many tears I couldn't fasten it around my wrist. Thank you! Thank you!

I wore that bracelet the next morning and into most of the afternoon. I loved the way the charms clinked against each other; it was like Avery was with me. I swore I would never take it off! Thirty seconds later, Jadrian noticed the bracelet and asked if she could wear it. I smiled, took off the bracelet and put it around her wrist.

It would be just one of a thousand times where I would have to choose between Grieving for the Loss of My Child and Supporting My Daughter Grieve Over the Loss of Her Sister. It's just a bracelet. It wasn't who she was.

Twenty minutes later she came to me in tears. Frantic and wild, not making sense. It took me forever to understand that a couple charms had fallen off the bracelet. She was absolutely inconsolable.

I did what any mother would do: I promised her it would all be okay while offering up angry words to God. Really? The bracelet had to break?! Don't you see what I'm dealing with here? I am not that strong! I do not know what I'm doing! I can't do this! I am barely functioning on the most basic level and now I have to figure out how to fix this damn bracelet?!

I was raging on the inside. Mad at myself. If I hadn't let Jadrian wear the bracelet she wouldn't be freaking out. If I hadn't worn the bracelet in the first place Jadrian wouldn't have even seen it. It was all my fault just like the accident was all my fault.

The truth was, I had asked off early from work that Wednesday for the purpose of driving Avery to gymnastics. It should have been me driving, not Jadrian. Avery had just moved up a level and her class day changed. I knew as her mom I should be there to watch her. I wanted to watch her because it was a 2-hour class and I could have some "me time" disguised as "look at what a great Mom I am time." I had every intention of picking Avery up... but I never told Jadrian that. When Jadrian sent me the text to confirm that Avery's class was from 4 to 6 that day my initial thought was but I was going to bring her... and that quickly changed to but if Jadrian takes her I won't have to take off work and I can save my vacation time; 80 hours rolls over, you know.

I sat at my desk when I should have been protecting the future and hearts of three innocent girls. Their lives are forever changed because I wanted to save my vacation time.

I felt so heavy. So responsible. And now the bracelet....

I called my friend, L, jewelry maker extraordinaire, and left her a long, rambling message about a broken bracelet and it's not a big deal, but if she could, would she come over and fix it, but she shouldn't feel obligated, but Jadrian wanted to wear it, but it was okay if she couldn't....

I noted it was the first time I was "alone." For the past three days countless people had descended upon my home, surrounding me, supporting me, passing me tissues, and suddenly here I was, alone in my kitchen. Alone except for Jadrian who was taking a shower.

15 minutes later L was at my house, jewelry pliers in hand, two kids and some lady I never met before in tow. I welcomed them in. Pointed out the broken bracelet. Talked incoherently about whatever game to mind. I must admit, I wasn't a good hostess. I never thought to ask the other lady's name... in fact, it never occurred to me that it was impolite to not even acknowledge who she was. I was in my own world: one foot in front of the other, clean up the mess of the house, remember to find nylons for tomorrow's visitation. 

I moved around the house, placing dishes in the sink, setting papers on the dining room table, fretting about what words I would speak at Avery's funeral. I hung something up in the sun room. Went back to the kitchen...

... and all the while there was this little girl...

How old was she? Seven? Eight? The shyest smile. The purest eyes. She had offered me a timid hug when she arrived. I tried to talk to her, let her know it was okay to talk to me; it had to be awkward for kids this young... Avery knew this little girl. Played with her even though she was several years older than this child. I remember they played "Conjoined Twins." Wrapped ace bandages around their waist and legs; it was a favorite game of Avery's.

Now, here stood this young girl in front of me, eyes searching all over my stomach - back and forth, back and forth, before stopping to an invisible spot just to the left of my body. She smiled shyly. Walked over to my side and offered a whisper of a hug. I put my arm around her and she looked up, almost surprised to see me standing there. I smiled down at her. 

Over and over this happened. I'd walk into the next room and she'd follow me, find her way in front of me again and commence searching my stomach with her eyes. Sure enough, she'd stop at a spot just to the left of my body and offer up that smile; almost like a child playing peek-a-boo in church, quiet and respectful, yet full of silly recognition. She'd take a few steps towards me and offer that whisper of a hug again; as if she were trying to hug the air beside me.

After the sixth or seventh time I was starting to get a little uncomfortable. She wasn't looking at me or trying to talk to me, yet she wasn't leaving my side, either. I chalked it up to being too young to know how to handle the topic of someone dying.

Eventually the bracelet was fixed and we found ourselves in the sun room saying my thank you's and good bye's. The little girl stared at me then started whispering to L. "What do you see?" L gently asked.

The little girl looked at me, tilted her head from left to right, then raised her arm, and pointed at my stomach. "I see lines like this ---" she moved her hand from right to left, invisibly cutting my body in half across my torso. Then she pointed to a spot just to my left side of my body, tilted her head to the right and smiled the sweetest smile I'd ever seen. "And I see the light, blue and purple, right there." She smiled at that spot with the kind of smile reserved for friends.

Awkwardly I stood there. "Uhh... I have no idea what that means," I joked.

L looked up at me, then down at her daughter. "She's telling you that she sees Avery's spirit with you. Avery is very happy."

Say what you will, but I am now nothing less than a 100% believer. In my heart of hearts I know that this little girl has a gift I cannot explain. A gift that brought this Mama some comfort. That calmed my heart and soothed my weeping soul.  

And in my heart of hearts I knew that God used the bracelet to give me that gift. The bracelet I searched for, the bracelet I wore, that Jadrian saw, that Jadrian asked for, that the charms fell off...  

Thank you, God, for the broken bracelet...
Avery's beautiful bracelet was made with much love by: 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

AVERYday: Thanksgiving 2012

Today is Thanksgiving. I suppose I should note some internal negative emotional significance in that this is the first Thanksgiving without my 11-year old daughter. My 11-year old daughter who will forever be just 11-years old. Except that, I'm not feeling bad. Not in this moment, anyway.

In this moment, I feel so incredibly thankful! 

When I think back on the past 4 weeks, my heart swells. 

I am thankful for LH. The angel who was the first to come across the accident scene. Who got out of her car and held out her arms to a child screaming, terrified, covered in blood. Who took my 17-year old daughter's face in her hands, looked straight into her eyes and said, "We are going to pray right now." Thank you, for turning first to God.

I am thankful for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football players who ran to the car to try to get to C and Avery. Hearts pounding, facing fear head on, to do whatever they could. Thank you for having that courage. And thank you for returning to school and praying as a team. God heard your prayers.

I am thankful for the police and rescue personnel who responded to the scene of the accident. I have said it a million times: I do not know how you do your jobs, but I thank God that you do.

I am thankful to the kind and respectful way the Walworth County Sheriff's Department notified this Mama of her baby's death. Thank you for hearing the words I spoke. Thank you for answering my questions. Thank you for your tenderness. 

I am so very, very, VERY thankful to my friend Kim. My ROCK. I am so blessed that you answered the phone, dropped everything to run to me, and held me when I broke. I am so very, very thankful for your strength, for your hugs, for your ironing skills. I am so thankful that when I came out of that hospital room, with no strength left to stand, there you were... with Jocelyn and Ginger. My dear, dear friends. A fortress of strength. 

I am thankful to the Delavan Christian School. The outpouring of love and support has been amazing and awe inspiring. We are a small school filled with big hearts and huge faith. 

I am thankful to Monroe Funeral Home. It helps to have a kind soul lead the way. From the moment I walked in I felt that I was sitting at the table with an older brother, intent on leading the way, protecting my heart, and making sure only the best was done for Avery.

I am thankful for the people who descended upon my home and cleaned it, washed dishes, scrubbed toilets, dusted the fake ficus tree, all while I sat crying, unable to comprehend what was happening to me and my family. I am thankful for the loads of toilet paper and basket of boxes of tissues dropped off. I am thankful for the coffee that appeared and the sandwiches and the sodas and the gluten free food (because otherwise I wouldn't have eaten). So many people did so many things; things I wouldn't have thought of but were absolutely needed at the right moment. Maybe they might have felt awkward or unsure, but they did it anyway... and it was perfect. It was always perfect.

I am thankful to Pastor Dan... whose words perfectly described the amazing moment when God reached out his hand to Avery, and Avery took hold.

I am thankful for all the moments when Avery's spirit shined before my eyes!! Oh, how each one of those moments warmed my soul!

I am thankful for every phone call, text, email message... for every person who has stopped me in the bank, or grocery store, or at the gas station to tell me how hearing Avery's story has touched their lives in immeasurable ways. Who tell me they went back to church, or they prayed for the first time in years, or decided to strengthen their relationship with God. I need to hear these stories. They help me believe there is a reason bigger than my broken heart for my sweet daughter's death.

I am thankful for the opportunity to hold my 17-year old to cuddle with my 3-year old. I am thankful for the photos I have taken over the years that captured all the smiles and laughs, the basketball and gymnastics and birthdays and trips to Shopko and ice cream cones eaten.

And I am thankful, beyond words that could ever measure, that Avery's heart was right with the Lord.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

AVERYday: Dreaming My Dreams - Part 8

Photo Credit: Emily Brewster

I was afraid of sleeping, or rather, not sleeping, after that first night. And so I did what made sense to me and that was to find something that would help put me to sleep. I was successful and found amazing assistance in the form of a little, round pill. I could sleep. And there were no nightmares. But there were no dreams either.

After two weeks I thought maybe I'd better try sleeping on my own, lest I become a sleeping pill addict... and also because I wanted to dream. I selfishly wanted her to visit me in my dreams. I had heard stories about this: dreams so vivid it was like their lost loved one was really there. I fixated on what Avery would tell me; what words of wisdom she would impart to her grieving mother.

Except she hasn't been in my dreams yet. 

I think about her constantly. She interrupts my thoughts. I can't focus on what people are saying to me because suddenly a thought will slip in: I'll never know how tall Avery would have grown, I'll think. She'll never be in a wedding; she just always wanted to be in a wedding. Or, I should flip through every book on the bookcases because maybe she left a note in one of them.

Today I broke down multiple times. I had gone to a store called Hobby Lobby. She would have loved it, I sobbed. In each aisle I saw something she would have wanted; decorative crosses and faith filled wall art. I picked myself up and went next door to Dollar Tree for a couple odds and ends. I cried when I saw the super-cheap Nativity scene. She always set the Nativity scene up at Christmas and she won't be doing that this year. Or ever, ever again. I picked myself up and went across the street to Target. And I bawled when I got to the Christmas aisle. Each year, Santa "labeled" his gifts to the kids with an ornament that had their initials on it. Santa won't have to buy an "A."

I picked myself up and drove slowly home, my heart weeping.

I then did what I have found myself doing since October 24th. Staying up as late as my body will allow me even though I'm so tired I could cry. Because I am scared of falling asleep. I'm scared of not falling asleep. I'm scared of not knowing what will happen when I sleep. Or what won't happen. And so I wait until my body can't take another second and fall, utterly and completely spent, into bed.

When Avery was just six weeks old I started dating Jason. We dated for a couple years and he was the only person who could get Avery to calm down and fall asleep. He would sing Dreaming My Dreams by the Cranberries. I had forgotten that. 

I am so glad I remembered.

Tonight I'll be dreaming my dreams with Avery... or I'll be waiting...

Monday, November 19, 2012

AVERYday: Revelations - Part 7

I have always believed in God. I grew up going to church because that's what we did on Sundays. The best part about Sundays was going to my grandparent's house after church to eat. The grown-ups would talk over coffee and the cousins would all play together, secretly hoping the adults would forget they had kids and we could stay forever.

I grew up. Went to college for a bit, joined the military. Maybe went to church twice in four years. I had children. Tried to go to church. Tried to take them to Sunday School. It was hard. They didn't want to go. I wanted to sleep in. Sometimes I was really good about going... but then I'd get lazy again. I always believed in God, but I certainly wasn't what you'd call an Ideal Representative of the Christian Faith. I had kids out of wedlock, cussed like a sailor, had my priorities messed up. I failed more times than I could count. I'd try to do the right thing, but I always seemed to be making wrong decisions. I usually turned to God when things were messed up and I needed help. More often than I care to admit I'd forget about Him when things were going good. Needless to say, Avery didn't get her faith from me. 

Avery just loved God. Absolutely. With all her heart and without question. He was her Father, her Best Friend, her Everything. He was who she chatted with about school and family; good, bad or indifferent, she talked with Him; shared herself with Him. She talked to Him like He was sitting next to her at all times. And she listened to Him; really listened.

Less than two weeks before the accident I caught her reading way past her bedtime. 

"Aves, you need to go to sleep - you have school tomorrow."

"I can't sleep, Mom."

"Well you sure can't sleep if you're sitting there reading with the lights on. What are you reading, anyway?"

She held up her bible. "Revelations."

"Revelations?!" I spat. "That'll give you nightmares!" Now, I've never actually read Revelations, but I knew enough to know that's the end of the bible. The scary part. The one that talks about beasts and horsemen and the end of the world. Nothing good can come from a story about the end of the world.

Avery rolled her eyes at me and scoffed. "No, Mom, it's not like that. When the world we live in gets all confusing and we don't understand it, you can just read Revelations and it tells you all about heaven and you can be comforted by that." 

I just stared at her. So many times in her life I did not understand what she was saying to me. I always knew there was something so special about her, so different, yet I brushed it off like I always did because I didn't understand it. "Just don't stay up too late, got it? You'll be too tired for school." I shut her door and walked down the hall. How does she know this stuff?

There is a ribbon in her bible marking a page in Revelations. I have desperately searched those passages for something, anything, that will bring me comfort like it brought her; I cannot find it. The words scare me and frighten me. I do not see what she saw. I am not comforted by what she read. And yet, it was the words she spoke to me that night that bring me comfort... her words were spoken to prepare my heart for her departure from our earthly lives. When the world we live in gets confusing, turn to God's Word; there you will find comfort. I do not doubt for a second that God was preparing me that night.

I just wish I would have said something different. "Tell me more," I would have said, peeling back her covers and sliding into bed next to her, lacing her long, slender fingers inbetween mine. "Please, tell me more, and I will stay here all night and listen."

Friday, November 16, 2012

AVERYday: How Blessed am I? - Part 6

I was so mad that Avery didn't have her phone that day.

That day. October 24, 2012.

Avery would have answered her phone. Jadrian, probably not. Jadrian was driving. Avery was a passenger in the back seat. Avery always answered her phone. In fact, on the days that her older sister drove her to and from gymnastics, Avery would spend much of the ride texting me.

What are we going to eat for dinner?

I'm hungry.

Can't we just get McDonald's?

I got my back hip circle with a spot!

Except not on October 24th. On that day, when I tried frantically to get a hold of someone - anyone - who could tell me where my babies were, Avery's phone was sitting on the chair in my bedroom.

For a long time I was angry. Why didn't she have her phone with her? I could have talked to her one more time! I always texted back that I loved her! Why did she leave it at home?! I could have heard her voice one more time....

I felt, I don't know, cheated, somehow. I could have had one more moment with her... but her phone was still at home.

And now I know why God ensured the phone was not with Avery on that beautiful, awful night:

That morning, Avery got dressed like she did every morning. Except this morning she looked more beautiful then she ever had. She wore her sister's black and white striped sweater with dark jeans. She asked if she could wear her sister's earrings. I told her she could. And she asked me if I would do her hair.

We were running late. We should have left. I should have shoo'd her off to the car. And yet... she was just so beautiful in that moment. So, I put my purse down on the counter and walked into the bathroom to brush my baby's hair. I remember brushing it and thinking how gorgeous the color was when you looked closely. People spent so much money on all the different colors for their hair and here she was, blessed with golds and browns.

I was standing behind her, both of us facing the large bathroom mirror... and my heart just swelled. Such a beautiful girl who didn't even care about looks. She placed no value on the outside of a person. She only saw their hearts.

We smiled at each other, happy with the hair pinned up, and the earrings in... and we walked out to the car.

She turned the volume up... Jamie Grace's "God Girl" rang through the car... and we SANG!

We sang loud and proud and just as we pulled into the school the song ended.

I switched off the radio and turned to watch Avery as she hopped out of the car and swung her backpack over her shoulder. As she picked up her gymnastics bag she looked at me and smiled: "You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."

I smiled as I watched her walk confidently into school. Man, that girl has my heart! So graceful. So beautiful. So full of God's love. So much more than I ever was or am.

That was the last time I saw my daughter. The last words I heard my precious daughter speak to me: "You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."

Right there: Do you see that? God gave me that gift. If she had her phone with her there is a very real possibility that her last words to me would have been I'm hungry or What's for dinner? or something equally inconsequential. And yet, here they are - "... I really am a God Girl..." a declaration of who she was to the core of her soul. A reminder to me of where her heart was. Preparing my heart for her return to God's loving arms.

How blessed am I?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

AVERYday: Jesus Wept - Part 5

The cry is what I'll always remember. Animalistic. Primal. Filled with more pain than any one person should ever have to feel.


My beautiful, precious daughter's hands flew to cover her face. I didn't want to take another step. I wanted to run away. Turn around and leave this emergency room, run from the hospital and never, ever look back. I can't do this. Do you hear me, God? I cannot do this.

And yet my legs kept walking purposefully to that bed.


I grabbed her hands and and pulled them down so I could see her face. Her eyes were squeezed shut, tears streaked her cheeks. I could tell her eye was swollen and shut. There was bruising. There was a large bump on the side of her head.

"Look at me. You look at me!" She kept her eyes shut. God help me. "Look at me. I love you. Do you hear me? I LOVE YOU! And I DO NOT blame you! I DO. NOT. BLAME. YOU. Look at me!"

Her arms were trembling. I held on tighter.

"Look at me!" Her eyes barely opened but I could see all her pain. It almost knocked me over.  "You can feel grief. And you can feel sorrow, And you can feel angry. But you are NOT allowed to feel responsible, do you hear me? You are NOT allowed to blame yourself! You are a child and you did NOT want this to happen and I DO NOT BLAME YOU!"

She opened her eyes. "SHE'S MY SISTER AND SHE'S GONE!!!!"

"Honey, look at me. You knew your sister and you knew her love for Jesus. You know right now she is sitting with God praying for you. For YOU."

I honestly don't know what else I said. I know the words didn't come from me... I would never have been able to choose the right ones, say them the right way; and yet somehow, it was exactly what she needed to hear.

After a while a nurse came in to review what tests were done, what the results were, what the treatment plan was.... all I could think of was somewhere in this building lays the body of my other daughter. I had two daughters and now I have one.

A nurse came up to me and asked me for my insurance card. I hadn't thought to bring it. I told her what company my insurance was; she told me this hospital didn't accept that coverage. I didn't care. Charge me a million dollars; I used to have two daughters and now I have just one, and she is broken. Broken to the core of her soul. As she stood and talked insurance I prayed to God to give me the strength to take another breath.

Last year, Avery's Sunday School teacher would hand out a candy bar to those kids who came with a memorized bible verse. One week, Avery was not prepared. She had completely forgotten and didn't want to go to class because she was embarrassed that she would have to admit to having nothing memorized. And yet, after class, there she was, walking towards me with a Hershey's Bar. "How'd you get that?" I asked. "For my memory verse." "Which one did you do?" "John 11 verse 35," she smirked, "Jesus wept."

Jesus wept.

That's the shortest verse in the bible. I laughed and shook my head. Oh, Avery! Anything for chocolate.

The story goes that Jesus was friends with a guy named Lazarus, who got sick and died. Jesus showed up four days later and saw how upset everyone was. He wept, and then brought Lazarus back from the dead.

I grew up believing that the reason Jesus wept was because he was mourning the loss of his friend. If Jesus was that upset, how on earth would us mere mortals ever be able to handle the death of someone we loved?

This morning I went to my friend Josh's funeral. His grandfather was the officiant of the service. He talked about this same verse... but maybe, he said, maybe Jesus wept because he knew Lazarus was in heaven; glorious and good and surrounded by love and all things perfect and right... and bringing him back would mean taking him from that glorious, beautiful, perfect heaven and making him live in an imperfect, sorrow filled world.

I had two daughters; one is in heaven, and the other is broken. But together we'll try to find our way through this imperfect, sorrow-filled world, into the arms of Jesus.

Monday, November 12, 2012

AVERYday: Holding Each Other Up - Part 4

There were hundreds of people that stood in line for over an hour to give me a hug. People streamed through the school gymnasium where Avery's visitation was being held from 3:45pm until after 9:00 at night. People I was related to. People who I have known all my life. People I worked with. People I had only known for a short time. And people I had never met.

I remember meeting a man who was holding the most precious little girl. She reached her arms out to me and climbed into my arms. "What's your name?" she asked, squeezing my cheeks, pulling back my cheeks, morphing my face and smile into silly expressions. "Bridget. What's yours?" "Chelsie. You're pretty." 

Perhaps it sounds bizarre, and maybe if you ever go through something like this, you'll understand what I'm about to say: I needed her. At that moment in time, I needed this innocent child to squeeze my cheeks and tell me I was pretty. 

Her father had never met me. He had heard about Avery's death and felt compelled to stand in line to hug a complete stranger. 

It was these moments of complete goodness that helped pull me through. Made me remember that life was good. Made me think that if goodness surrounded me, nothing bad could ever happen.

Except that's not how real life works. 

You would think by now I know how real life works. 

This past Friday a friend of mine passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was a couple years younger than me, laughed louder than me, lived louder than me, and loved life louder than me. He's a daddy and a brother and a pumpkin grower and a steer shower. He's a practical joker and the most amazing photographer I've ever met. He would capture quiet country moments in a way that would rock your emotions. Did I really tear up when I saw that picture of the round hay bale? Yes. Yes, I did.

He and his family were just standing in my line, giving me their hugs and support. They were just holding me up. Now it is our turn to hold them up.

In the past few weeks our community has been rocked to the core. We have had a Mother and a Father pass away, reminding us that our parents could suddenly be called home. We have been reminded that our children can die without warning. And we have now been shown that we, ourselves, are not immune to our own mortality. 

And that can be very, very scary.

Throughout all my hurt and confusion and feelings of loss, I go back to God. 

Have you ever gone to summer camp? You meet people and go swimming and have fun and create memories and inside jokes and think the food sucks but the friends are great, even though that the one girl in the next cabin is kind of mean but overall everyone else is cool. You think summer camp is an awesome experience and you're so glad you went, but you also kind of just want to go home and be with your mom and dad and sleep in your own bed again. And when it's time to go home, you hug your friends, proclaim it went too fast, and worry that even though everyone says they'll stay in touch, they might get too busy and forget about you.

Well, maybe we're all just here at summer camp. And some of us are in the Wisconsin cabin and some of us are in the Arkansas cabin. And the really cool kids are way across camp in the Paris cabin. And someday camp will be over for us and it'll be time for us to go home. 

It's just that we've never actually been home... we just have to trust that home is awesome. We have to trust home is filled with only love and goodness and perfection. That there are no annoying angels that try to one-up each other or make fun of the velcro sneakers you're wearing. There are no mortgages or custody disputes or hunger or sickness. It's just perfectly, wonderfully home. 

Avery had asked me recently if she could learn how to show steers at our county fair. My friend Josh was very active showing steers. I'm thinking that Avery is right next to Josh, asking him hundreds of questions about cows. Another thing Avery wanted was her own camera, a professional grade one. (At least you can eat the bovine.) Josh took amazing photographs of nature, animals and country landscapes. When I went through Avery's phone I found all these pictures of country landscapes. My older daughter, Jadrian, explained that when they were together she was always taking pictures like that. I believe that right now Josh is holding Avery's perfect hand, zooming around the heavens and the earth and the stars, pointing out the most amazing landscapes ever.  

So, why does this happen? Why do we have to lose people we love? I don't know. Maybe to remind us that life is short. Maybe to remind us to be nice to the lady in front of us in the check out line because you don't know what kind of struggle or hardship she's experiencing. Or maybe to remind us that we have a place to go home to.

photo credit: Josh Yates

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AVERYday: God Girl Extraordinaire - Part 3

"There's been an accident... Avery didn't make it."

People say a heart can break into a million pieces... mine was shattered into dust.

No....not Avery...... I covered my face with my hands and sobbed.

My beautiful, quirky, full of energy, sweet, sweet girl! She just turned 11. She was supposed to get her braces off in a couple weeks. She made up dance routines and forced Brody to learn them. She went with her older sister on "dates" to Starbucks and WalMart and was always so excited when Jadrian did her hair. She went for bike rides and sledding and swimming with Matt and hated his macaroni. She would still hold my hand in public and curl up in my lap to watch tv.

Tears from so far deep within me streamed down my cheeks. My beautiful, beautiful baby girl.

So, I'm the type who covers their face and sobs, I thought. I've often wondered that: in the face of tragedy would I scream out? Would I faint? Throw things? Kick? Call you a liar? But I am the type who covers their face and sobs.

And then: something warm washed over me... like someone was pouring hot water all over my insides, except it didn't feel like water; just warm. I looked up at the officer, his hand still on my shoulder: "I know you didn't know her, but if you did, you'd know that she loves Jesus."

Avery was so many, many things. She was a kid who was all kid. She had emotions and feelings and ideas and plans. And she hated cleaning her room. And she loved going to the library. And she struggled with math. And she would never put her clothes away properly. But above all these things she loved Jesus.

"She just gave me her Christmas List," I told the two unknown men sitting with me in my living room. "She wanted a bible and horseback riding lessons."

I smiled at the memory. Avery was so gentle. So sweet. So loving.

"Oh my god! Jadrian! How is Jadrian? What happened?" What kind of mother forgets their child? They told me then that it had been a single car accident. It appeared Jadrian had gone over and got the tire stuck in the gravel on the side of the road, she then overcorrected and they had hit a utility pole. Avery died instantly. Jadrian's dear, dear friend C was stuck in the car and they had to use the Jaws of Life to get her out. They couldn't tell me anything about her condition, other than she had be flight lifted to a nearby hospital.

My prayers for that young girl's life began in that moment and have not stopped. Right now, before you read another word - I need you to stop and pray for physical and emotional healing for C. She is a beautiful, amazing girl with a sweet quiet side, a fantastic smile and an uproarious laugh. Once those girls started laughing they wouldn't quit. Anything could be funny to Jadrian and C. Anything. Pray. Pray now.

They told me that Jadrian was transported to our local hospital with cuts and bruises to her head. That she wasn't alone, there with an officer with her. "I need to call my sister!"

With shaking hands I dialed Shannon's number.


"They were in an accident.... Avery didn't make it -"  "WHAT?!"  "Avery didn't make it - but Jadrian is at the hospital. You need to go to the hospital! You need to tell her I don't blame her. You need to tell her this isn't her fault. You need to go to her now! This is going to kill her - Shannon! You need to go to her!"

How do I explain my absolute fear? How do I put into words how fragile Jadrian is? It's not my story to tell; it's hers... but hers is intertwined with mine and too often I am reminded how my immature, selfish choices of my story negatively affected hers:  born to a too young mother and a father in jail, horrible custody disputes, being forced to eat food from the garbage, mind games, so many, many stories.... and then.... the day she sat down for lunch and every single girl got up from the table and moved. Every single one. And still she sat there; her head held high, frozen in an I-am-so-wounded-but-I-won't-let-you-see-it expression. The next day when a classmate asked, "raise your hand if you don't want Jadrian to be here" and every person around her except one raised their hand.

Her childhood groomed her to be a victim. To take the insults without complaint. She was such an easy target. Her story includes a Mom who didn't know how to help her. Who didn't know how to protect her feelings of self-worth because I wasn't sure of mine. I only knew how to turn my back and hide. So I did what I thought was best and moved her to a different school. A new school. A new start.

Except it was worse there. Horrible even. And I didn't know what to do and I still didn't do things right... and to this day I have no idea how she walked down those halls listening to those words. I don't know how she walked back into that school feeling so alone and knowing at any moment another punch would be thrown, another shove would knock her down. How did she walk back into that day after day? And yet she tried to act like everything was okay. Only it wasn't. And on Thanksgiving weekend two years ago...I promised her she would never, ever have to go back.

And we've been working so hard at showing her how beautiful and worthy and important and good she is. That it doesn't matter what mean girls say. And she wants to go to college and she feels good and she's so much better and she laughs real laughs now and she is so absolutely perfect...

No. This cannot happen to her. Not to Jadrian. She has been through too much. Her sister was her refuse. Jadrian was safe with Avery. She was important. She was liked. She was looked up to. She took Avery under her wing and took care of her. They giggled together and made silly videos making fun of news reporters and they spoke with accents. They cuddled together on the overstuffed chair with way too many blankets for two tiny girls. They did make-up and hair and gave each other pedicures. They made plans for Avery to visit Jadrian at college. They loved each other like only sisters can. Avery would tell everyone she had the best sister in the world....

No. I will not lose this daughter, too. Not to this tragedy. I will not. I refuse.

"Shannon! You have to tell her I love her!" I yelled into the phone. "Tell her I don't blame her! TELL HER!!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

AVERYday: God Girl Extraordinaire - Part 2

By now you may have heard that Avery was referred to as a God Girl. [See also Delavan Enterprise article: God Girl goes home.) Once we heard the full Jamie Grace CD we were like "yep. That's Avery! She's a God Girl!"

Avery carried her bible with her always. And she read it everywhere. This summer she was a Mother's Helper and took her bible with to read from when the kids were napping or there was just some downtime to be had. She was not ashamed of her love for Jesus. (You see, Avery had WAY more faith than her mother. I have always had faith - but questioning, sometimes doubting and confused faith. Mine is the kind that I must work at. Avery's has always been an absolute, oozing from her pores, kind of faith.)

And Avery's faith extended far beyond the written pages of a book.

Avery had compassion. She felt compelled to help people. All people. She wanted to save the world through the knowledge of Jesus. "Mom," she began one afternoon when we were driving in the car. "I feel bad for people who don't know about Jesus. If they knew about Him they would know He loved them and they would never feel lonely or afraid."

She wanted to go on mission trips and preach God's Word. She wanted to help children in orphanages. She wanted to spread kindness and hope. She figured that if people knew Jesus there would be no more meanness, no more bullying, no more children sitting alone at lunch.

On October 12, 2012, Avery and I were invited to a tobyMac concert in Madison. Jamie Grace opened for tobyMac (whom Avery also adores!) and we were both thrilled! Jamie Grace is one of Avery's favorite Christian artists. Between artists, a preacher took to the stage and talked to the audience. He talked about how we often look at the people "ahead" of us in line and wonder why we can't have what they have, why we don't have it as good as them, why we have to be "way back here." But then he said that if we turned around and look at who was standing in line "behind" us, we would see scores of people who have no electricity. No schooling. No food. Children who were starving. God wants us to turn to those "behind" us in line and extend a hand to lift them up.

In the lobby were envelopes with the faces of children from various third world countries. Avery would NOT let me leave without first agreeing to sponsor a child. In fact, I tried to leave without sponsoring anyone. My cynical, doubting mind was telling me that no one really benefits from these types of organizations. You send in $30 a month and they might get sixteen cents. They spend their money on fancy paper and pictures of children who probably are models living in Ohio.

But Avery was adamant. And when Avery was adamant there was no letting go until what needed to get done got done.

And so, I dumped the rest of my cash in the envelope of the child she picked and filled out my address. I nodded, annoyed that I got suckered in to putting two twenty dollar bills into an envelope, as the kid behind the table explained that in a couple weeks we'd be receiving an informational packet that would tell us how to write to our new Sponsored Child, Alphonsine, from Rwanda.

Two days later Avery handed me a sealed envelope. "You need to mail this, Mom." It was addressed to Alphonsine. I tried to explain that we should first wait to get the informational packet. "But it's important, Mom." I smiled weakly and slipped the envelope into my purse. "I'll try to mail it tomorrow."

I never mailed it. For the last ten days of Avery's life she asked me about mailing that letter. She grew frustrated with my excuses. I didn't have time to get to the Post Office. I didn't have money for postage but I'd do it for sure tomorrow, I promised.

See, I was trying to protect her. I didn't want her to send something that wasn't right and then have to watch her heart break when it was returned. I didn't know if we had the right address. What if the letter never got to its intended recipient and Avery would spend months waiting for a reply? Also, I wasn't quite sure what she had written. This is a 15-year old girl who lives in a war torn country... Avery would have to be careful and sensitive to what she would write. It was something we should do together; something that I should help her with so she would do it right.

A week after Avery died I found myself alone, sobbing in my car, in the parking lot of Shopko. I had fled my house because I just couldn't take it anymore. I didn't know how to comfort everyone. I didn't know how to be strong for everyone.

I had a fiancé that spent every day of the last almost 6 years with Avery: sledding and swimming and playing catch and laughing and trying to convince me to go to McDonald's for dinner. He felt on the fringe of everything and not recognized for the love he had for Avery. I was trying to hold him up.

I had a daughter who felt imaginable grief and responsibility - who had little faith; who was angry; "If Avery loved God so much why would He do this to her? Why would He want her dead? Why would He take her away from everyone she loved so much? If God loves me why would he take my only sister away from me? I loved her!!!" I tried, but I couldn't answer her questions. I tried to console her and be strong for her but the whole time I just wanted to crawl under my blankets and disappear.

I had a toddler who was reverting back to baby talk and "only Mama do it." I tried to have patience ... he was so very, very close to Avery. He would run to her before he ran to me.

I felt defeated.

And so I sat in my car and wept. I cried out, "Oh, Avery! I am failing you! I don't know what to do! I'm trying to be strong for everyone but I don't know how! Help me, Avery! Please help me and tell me what to do!"

And then I looked in my purse and saw the envelope that had rested there for far too many days.

And I opened it.

Inside were two pencils, a pen, and a purple marker, along with a simple stationary card that had the letter "A" stamped on the front. I read my daughter's words:

“Dear Alphonsine,

My name is Avery! I am a girl! I live in Wisconsin, I’m 11 years old and in the 5th grade!
I am here with you always. I will always write to you! I will never forget about you. I will keep you in my heart forever!

Do you know Jesus!? Because I do and if you don’t know him I will share his word with you! I just want to share this verse to you and then I have to go to bed,

Psalm 121:
“I lift my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
Maker of Heaven and earth!”
Your Sponsorer (sic),

... and here I had been worried that she wouldn't say the right thing....

THIS is just one of many examples I have of my God Girl. I believe that she had a purpose: to share the Word of Jesus. To bring people closer to God. To encourage people to be kind to one another. To be honest, I don't know where she got that from. Sure, I talked about being kind to others. And while I believe in God and go to church (sometimes) and to Bible Study (occasionally) --  it isn't a topic of conversation in our home. I can only say that God Himself made this child with that unwavering, absolute faith. That His plan for her is huge and beyond my feeble understanding. And I believe that her purpose and legacy will continue -- it is up to us, all of us, to share the story of Avery and her love for Jesus Christ.

Jamie Grace (feat. tobyMac): Hold Me

Sunday, November 4, 2012

AVERYday: God Girl Extraordinaire - Part 1

A couple weeks ago Avery (my 11-year old, Dotter) was invited to a sleepover. It was late but they were like a second family... "Go get what you need," I told her. I stood talking to Avery's friend and her mother while Avery grabbed her sleepover necessities: she came back holding just a toothbrush and a bible. That's the kind of girl she was. She didn't worry about clothes or pajamas... she just needed her bible.

I called her quirky. Different. But she was just Avery. I didn't write about Avery as often as I wrote about my other children... or my fiance, Matt (aka: Big V), not because I didn't want to; but because I didn't know how. Avery was special and I failed at finding the words to do her justice.

Avery wasn't late for anything. Ever. She was strict about her schedule. In fact, she was strict about everyone's schedule: she knew who needed to go where when and what they needed to bring. We joked that the perfect job for her would be secretary to the President of the United States. She was that detailed.

But on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, Avery was late.

Her older sister, whom she adored completely, had picked her up from school to drive her to gymnastics. Jadrian (aka Teen Bean) had done this every week for the past couple months. Avery loved going with her sister; hanging out with the big kids. Listening to the music loud and singing at the top of her lungs. (As her mother I had somehow stopped singing at the top of my lungs; having children and mortgages and laundry sometimes does this to a person.)

Avery had youth group at her church later Wednesday night, after gymnastics. She wouldn't have missed youth group. She just wouldn't.

And so I waited at home for their return so I could drive Avery to youth group.

Only they didn't come.

They were 10 minutes late, which happens.

And then twenty.

And I called but no one answered.

And I called again.

And I sent a text to my sister who said "that's scary; it's not like them to be late" and I got mad and told her that she wasn't supposed to say that because she's supposed to be the logical, level-headed one an I'm supposed to be the anxiety-ridden, overdramatic one.

So I called the Sheriff's Department. The non-emergency number. And I explained that I knew I sounded crazy, but really, my girls wouldn't be late. Avery wouldn't be late. Avery wouldn't miss youth group. And they would have been coming home from Whitewater and there are only two routes they would take so could they just tell me if there had been any accidents? And they took down my name and number and told me an officer would contact me.

So I called Jadrian's Dad. He had given her an iPhone and so then he could just look at the GPS and tell me where they were. Jadrian had brought a friend with her since Avery's gymnastics was 2 hours long. They are beautiful, beautiful girls: what if someone took them? And Avery was all alone at the gym? I don't know if she would ask for help from a stranger. She didn't like talking to people. She was afraid of people she didn't know. But Jadrian's Dad said the GPS was an app and it hadn't been installed.

So I called the Whitewater Police. "Can you just check to see if the car is still in the parking lot?" But they just took my name and number.

And I called Matt (Big V). He was working and hadn't heard from them. "They should have been home an hour ago," I told him. "Do you want me to go to Whitewater and try to find them?"

And then I called my sister again. She told me to go to the church and check to see if maybe Jadrian had just dropped her off there instead of bringing her home first. But I knew while I was driving there that she wouldn't be there. 

I called 911. 


"Look. You don't know my daughter; she would NOT have missed youth group. Something is the matter." And they asked for my name and number again. An officer would contact me. "Would you at least ask me the make and model of the car?!" I snapped.

But see, the thing is, they already knew the make and model of the car. They already knew who I was. They already knew who I was worrying over, who I was pacing the floor for, who I was sending out prayers for. They knew it the first time I called.

But there are policies and procedures and the girls didn't have IDs on them and they needed to know for certain who was sitting where in the car. 

I called my Mom: "... I can't find the girls..." I choked out. She tried to reassure me: "... they were driving your car. It's registered in your name. If there was an accident they would notify you."

And at just that second the doorbell rang. "Mom, I gotta let you go." 

I opened the door and saw the police officer standing there. Thank God, they're finally taking me seriously. A second officer followed him in. Then a nice looking man wearing a polo shirt. He was carrying something: a pad of paper? a clipboard? Why did they send a sketch artist? I have pictures of my children.

"Are you Bridget McCarthy?"

"Yes... please, come in."

"Are you alone?"

"Uh, yes. Well, I mean, Brody (aka Cletus) is here." I pointed to the little boy half-dressed for bed, hanging on my left leg. Gosh, he's cute.

"Is there someone you can call?" The officer looked down at Brody. Oh! I thought, they don't want to be bothered by a toddler when they ask me all these questions about the girls. 

"Brody, honey... why don't you go in your bedroom and read a book. Mama will be right there, okay?"

The second officer followed him down the hall and into his room, "I can stay with him. C'mon, buddy...."

The first officer turned to me. "You have two daughters?"

"Yes, Jadrian and Avery... they were supposed to be back at 6:30..."

He looked at me. There was so much compassion in his eyes. So much.... love. "There's been an accident...."

.... and in that second I knew. I just knew....  
" --- which one?" I asked.

He put his hand on my shoulder and looked straight in my eyes...

"Avery didn't make it." 

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