Monday, December 31, 2012

From my heart to yours: Happy New Year

The year 2012 is about to close... and another year will begin.

It's funny, I guess, but I don't want 2012 to end. No more so than I wanted to deposit checks we received at Avery's funeral. I don't want to face its completion. I don't want to consider this chapter "closed."

"Closed" sounds so final. So absolute. So... unrelenting.

I know what happens to memories. They fade. I know this because I lived 14 amazing years in my childhood farm home and yet I only have the same handful of repeated memories to share: Shannon shaving the goats in the bathtub; an epic food fight with one last bean stuck to the kitchen ceiling; one fabulous play complete with a brown paper bag rainbow that we actually walked over --- but what happened in between? What did we play and sing and talk about in between the food fight and the rainbow?

I worry that time will make that in between space of Avery memories too far for my heart to span.

More space. Less memories.

More of one thing means less of another.

More is less.

I think about the common practice of establishing resolutions for the New Year.

More exercise; less weight.

More health food; less sugar.

What do I resolve to do for 2013? More happiness, less tears? More faith, less fear? More friends, less enemies? More love, less hate. More good, less evil...

More white. Less black.

The truth is a truth only my heart understands but my earthly mind can't wrap itself around: I will be forever thankful for this year.

It would be so easy to hate 2012. Hate October 24th especially. Yet, I can't. October 24th, 2012, was the day my heart shattered into a million pieces ... but my eyes were opened wide. My eyes watched as hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, each holding a tiny piece of my shattered heart, lined up in a humble effort to help put it back together again. And with each hug, with each silent knowing look, with each tight squeeze of my shoulder, I saw it: Love.

2012 was filled with so much Love.

I don't want 2012 to end. I don't want the year to close. I want the love to continue to grow and spill over into 2013; into the yards of neighbors and into the hearts of strangers.

More love.

More faith and hope and goodness.

More white.

I won't lie. I'm scared. I'm scared of what comes next: will Brody forget the time he spent with his sister? Will Jadrian ever recover from losing her only sister... will eleven years of memories of fort building and dance routines and making crafts be darkened by haunting images of one singular moment in one singular day? I don't know.

But I know if there's more white in the world, at least we have hope.

More white... means more hope.

More means more.

More hope means more faith.

More faith means more love.

More love means more white.

More means more.

In 2013, I resolve to Be More.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

AVERYday: Perfectly Imperfect - Part 17

Last night I had to force myself to sift through two months worth of mail. Because it's already been two months. Do you know what comes in the mail in two months? Reminders for a bi-annual dental cleaning appointment that will never be made. Bills for braces that will never come off. The summer camp catalog where you'll find the perfect volleyball camp that will never be attended. There will also be unsolicited invitations to contact attorneys who will help you win millions of dollars in a wrongful death suit.

Amongst the mail will be reminders: of the orchestra concert you were planning on taking your daughter to. Of the paint colors you were going to paint her room. And an extra Keep Kids Safe card you can keep in your wallet that has her name and photo on it. And then you will remember that you have one in your wallet already and it did not keep her safe.

You will cry, of course. I mean, that happens all the time now. But just when you think you can't handle it a second longer; just when you think you'll never be able to complete a simple task like sort through paperwork again, just when you think all the breath has been syphoned out of your lungs and you will never take another breath again - you'll be gifted something beautiful:


A simple reminder of who she really was and why her life was so important. And you'll smile thinking how did she get this good? And, feeling good in an otherwise awful moment, you'll post that hidden gem that came exactly when it was needed to your Facebook feed, because all the other mommies of the alive children are posting what their kids are doing and you want to post things about your child, too, even though she's gone.

If anyone followed my blog and Facebook before Avery's death, they'd be the first to tell you I most often share the things about my family normal people would rather keep quiet. I've been open and willing to throw my family under the bus for the sake of a laugh. I wasn't someone that presented my children, my life or myself as having it all together. Instead, I concentrated on the annoyances and the fact that my family drove me absolutely crazy. I lost count how many times I proclaimed "I cannot wait until they grow up, I get my house all to myself and get to do things my way."

If I were brutally honest with myself I would have to admit that if I had found that same little piece of paper scribbled all over with tween handwriting when Avery was alive I would have quietly thrown it away. (She did that stuff all the time.) Instead, I would have posted the one where the doodles looked highly inappropriate and risque. Because I wanted that laugh.

If I were to be brutally honest with myself I would have to admit that I failed to give voice to Avery's faith and love for God during her life. I failed to acknowledge and embrace who she fully was; I only picked out the parts that I personally felt comfortable with. And now, in her death, I have a choice whether or not to give her faith a voice... or to keep it silent.

And then today I received a message from someone who needed to let me know they are struggling with how Avery has been recently portrayed. That while she was beautiful, she was not perfect and that she was being turned into a god. And that they had to sit their kids down and give it to them straight: Avery was not perfect. If they wanted to look up to someone, it should be Christ, not Avery.

Man, I gotta tell you. That hit harder than the woman who told me I was grieving incorrectly. I wanted to scream - but I didn't know what exactly I would cry out. I mean, really? My daughter died two months ago; this is the hardest Christmas I've ever had to face; I ache with every fiber of my being for my child I will never see, speak to, hold, smell, kiss again; I am full of anxieties and fears of Jadrian's future - legally, emotionally - and yet that's not enough? You really needed to point out that my deceased daughter wasn't perfect?

I'm frustrated and angry and I hate that my family has to navigate this grief. I hate that I sob in the shower and I hate how Jadrian had to take the ACT just a few short weeks after her sister died and she couldn't concentrate on a single question. I hate that Matt is awkward and unknowing in how to comfort us. I hate how we had Christmas and the person who loved Christmas the most wasn't even there. I hate that I don't know what to say or how to be strong. I hate how I got the pity handshake today before my five o'clock meeting. I hate that I even have to go to meetings and pretend I comprehend what people are saying. But most of all, I hate how people feel compelled to tell me I'm doing it wrong.

I sat for awhile - shocked mostly. Then self-consciously doubting myself: what if I was doing it wrong? What if I was painting this picture perfect image of a child who was, well, not? And so I processed this the only way I knew how: by writing a response.


Oh, Avery certainly was NOT perfect - and I certainly never intended to present her that way. It seems wrong, somehow, for me to focus on her faults – (she had them for sure!) - when I think that the entire world would do better if we focused on each other's strengths. But I can see how a continuous stream of "oh look at this good thing she did" can give the impression I thought she was perfect. Avery could be lazy, whiney, annoying, needy, dirty, snotty and frustrating.

Her room was unorganized and unkempt - but her heart was orderly with love for God first and then love for others neatly behind that.

She whined that she didn't like the food I cooked for supper, pleading instead to go to McDonald's - but she feasted on the word of God, choosing to read her bible more than any other book written.

She hated noisy places, begging to leave and having near breakdowns when we wouldn't - but the stillness and peace in her mind was where she found God.

She'd wear the same pants, same shoes and a baggy t-shirt every single day, not caring what her hair looked like or what others thought of her outwardly appearance - but she  lived believing the world was blind; what mattered was on her inside, how she treated others.

Did she do all of this perfectly? No. There were days when she wasn't the nicest kid, when she wasn't the friendliest, when she was a mere mortal and had a grumpy look on her face and was annoyed at the world.

No, I do not believe she was perfect.

I apologize if that's what my posts have been portraying. I do sincerely apologize for anything I've said or done that implies I (and therefore others) ought to turn Avery into a god.

She was my child. And she was good and bad. And I was lucky because during most of my experiences with her the good outweighed the bad. That doesn't mean someone else didn't experience things with her which would cause them to say, "THAT child?! Oh, trust me - that child was NOT that great!"

But she WAS my child. Past tense. I don't get her anymore. I don't get to hold her. Or touch her. Or get annoyed because she won't put her bowl in the kitchen because damn it - I want my living room to look presentable. I don't get to ride through her good side any more than I get to ride through her bad side. So, I guess it's kind of up to me to decide if I want to focus on her good parts or her bad parts. And I chose to focus on her good. Because her good was all about GOD and I can’t go wrong with that.

She wanted the world to know that you could love God in a way that was unashamed and real and messy and everything less than perfect.

I never forced Avery to love God or be who she was. She was just as God intended her to be: not perfect. Not a god. And, sadly, not with me.

I, again, am incredibly sorry for portraying a false image of Avery. It was never my intention at all. But it WAS and IS my intention to be her voice. And her voice focused on a faith I really need to rely on right now.


But I still didn't feel better. Not even after I hit send.

Do I think Avery was perfect? No. But is that disproven because I chose to show the world a side of my daughter they hadn't seen before?  

I thought about all the role models we have in the world. Past presidents and people of influence. Compassionate careworkers and people who volunteer at soup kitchens; missionaries and women of faith who speak at conferences -- people who encourage us to think about how we live our lives, how to be better people, how to be more Christ-like... and you know what? They aren't perfect. But their imperfections shouldn't overshadow the message they're trying to share with the world. 

The best part about the bible is that it is FILLED with imperfect people that loved God. Are we to take our children to church and then point out that it was great they just learned that Sunday School story - but the character was not perfect.

Yes, I get it. Only God is perfect and therefore we should strive to be like God. It's the whole "What Would Jesus Do?" campaign. But... what if you don't know Jesus? What if you honestly don't know what Jesus would do? That would be like me suggesting you do what Franklin Pierce would have done in some situation. If you don't know who Franklin Pierce is, that advice means nothing.

So, wouldn't it be great if we had some people walking the earth that we could point to as someone doing a fairly good job? Someone we could get to know and learn from? Regardless of whether or not they were perfect? And allow that person to bring us closer to God?

Avery never judged others. She was friends with everyone: the girl with dark skin, the shy girl who struggled with learning, the boy who was picked on for not being athletic enough. She looked past their outward appearances and straight into their soul. Don't worry: I don't think that Avery was perfect. But I do believe that God loved all her imperfections perfectly. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could love (and learn from) people with imperfections , too?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

AVERYday: Paint it White - Part 16

A friend of mine sent me an article titled No, Everything Doesn't Happen for a Reason by Adam Hamilton with the note I'd like to hear your opinion on this one....

Immediately I felt defensive. As if my personal peace surrounding Avery's death was being called into question. I logically knew it had to be an article written in response to the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy where 20 six and seven year old children were killed in their classroom. But emotionally - well, I felt that just the title was calling my faith and beliefs into question. And so I responded before I had even read the article. Here is my response:

Without reading it [the article] yet, I will say this has crossed my mind. Absolutely.

Do I believe Avery's death was known by God? Yes. Do I believe that God took Avery in the best way he could have? Actually, yes. (Initially, no - but then I thought about it more.) Avery had a faith that could move mountains and He couldn't allow that message to be silenced. Do I believe that Avery's death is part of a greater plan? Absolutely.

But then Newtown, Connecticut happened and I thought: What the hell? I thought I had it figured out!

That's when my sister and I were talking about the fact that there is heaven and there is hell and there is earth. And on earth there exists slices of heaven.... as well as slices of hell. And we are given Free Will to decide whether or not we will be Warriors for God on this earth, Warriors for Satan on this earth, or warriors for no one.

The Warriors for God pick up paintbrushes of white and spread goodness all over the world. They paint light.

The Warriors for Satan pick up paintbrushes of black and spread evil all over the world. They paint dark.

And those who are warriors for no one dare not pick up a paintbrush at all.

Sometimes, as humans, we drop our paintbrush. Sometimes our arms are too tired to paint. Sometimes we get a flurry of energy and paint excited, broad stripes of white goodness everywhere our eyes settle! (This would be what I am doing right now.) And sometimes, God help us... sometimes we pick up those paintbrushes dripping in black, and - full of anger and rage and fury - we throw evil on whatever is standing in our way.

The soul who purposefully and deliberately shot twenty innocent 6- and 7-year olds was NOT the work of God. At least not MY God. That was the work of evil. That was the work of a soul that would only be comforted when everything around him was dark as night.

But my God was there. He was there holding His hand out to take each and every one of those precious children into his arms. He was there to comfort those who were scared and who cried out for help. He was there to calm the fears of the teachers who did not ever expect this sort of thing to happen in their school.

And He is still there. He is there in the community. In the homes. At the funerals. And at the graves of twenty tiny children. And my God will not leave.

My God is allowing discussions of faith to take place: on the street, in homes, at work, in the newspapers and on the Internet. My God is challenging people to think about the world we live in and encouraging us to be the change we want to see.

My God is asking us to choose to paint the world light again.


***

The night after Avery died, my house filled with people whose eyes were red and puffy from far too much crying, I answered a knock at my door. I welcomed in the officer who had placed his hand on my shoulder the evening before; a man whose task it was to tell a young mother that her 11-year old child had died. He walked in with several other officers who had responded to the accident that irrevocably changed the lives of three beautiful girls, as well as all the people who knew and loved them.

Somber they stood as My Officer (as I have come to affectionately and somewhat protectively refer to him) spoke. He introduced me to each and every man now standing in my living room as the rest of my house stood silent. Then he described how after each shift the team comes together to debrief and discuss the events that had occurred that night.

It was at this debriefing that my words would come back: You don't know her, but if you did you'd know that she loved Jesus. You see, while I was sitting in my living room telling strangers how much my daughter loved God, Jadrian was alone in the ambulance and again in the emergency room being tormented by the images of her sister and her friend and the fear of not knowing what was going on. No one would answer the question are they okay? To work through that fear she spoke of her sister's love for Christ to whoever would listen... and this was heard by the ears of another officer. It became clear at this debriefing that Avery was indeed a God Girl.

My officer explained how he remembered me saying that Avery had just given me her Christmas List... and that all she asked for was a new Bible and horseback riding lessons. "It isn't much," he said humbly. "But we wanted to do something."

And on behalf of the 2nd Shift Team that had been working at the Sheriff's Department that night, they presented me with a bible for Avery. "This way she has her Bible for Christmas," he smiled softly.



I don't know if this is normal protocol for a police department... to come back with a bible for a grieving family. But I know this: these men - these men God holds tightly in His hands. They did  the work of angels the night of October 24, 2012. And they chose to humbly stand before me the next night to let me know they heard.

As a grieving mother, the moment they stood before me and handed me a bible with a front cover inscribed for my daughter would be absolutely critical to my healing and I can never, ever thank them enough.

They could have nodded at each other, filed the paperwork and gone home to their families, chalking it up to a bad thing that happens on the job...

 Instead, they chose to paint with light.

A couple days later our local newspaper would print a beautiful article about Avery on the front page of the newspaper:


The woman who wrote the article?
She chose to paint with light.

As a family we had agreed (well, relented) to get a "real Christmas tree" for the first time ever. Avery wanted one so badly. After she died I told Matt that we needed to get a real one, but that it made me sad because Avery wouldn't be here to enjoy it. That's when Geneva Trees, LLC, a local Christmas Tree business, stepped in and donated a special tree for Avery that we could put at her graveside.

They chose to paint with light!


Do you see all those ornaments on that tree? Those have been placed by friends and family and, yes, even strangers - people whose heart is tugging to do a little something to make a heavenly angel's Christmas a little sweeter... and to bring a small amount of comfort to an earthly family who is having a really hard time  this time of year. These people.... they chose to paint with light!

I'm not so naive to believe that everyone will proudly pick up a white paintbrush and lighten the world around me... already I've seen people with paintbrushes dripping in black come to my door. It's a disappointing part of life here on earth. It makes me sad. Nervous. Anxious. Upset. Scared to death over our future.

But I have no control over the paintbrushes they choose to place in their hands... it just makes me more determined than ever to paint my world white! 


Give a Little Love

Her is the link to No, Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason by Adam Hamilton (just in case you haven't read it yet). You should.... "If we follow God’s lead, our work is to push back the darkness."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

AVERYday: Trust Me - Part 15

The first time I realized my daughter was completely disappointed in me was at the doctor's office when she was about 6-months old. I sat Avery up on my lap and she cooed as the nurse measured the circumference of her head. She giggled and laughed as her belly was pressed and her legs were manipulated to make sure everything was working right. The nurse spoke in a sweet melody that worked its magic like the pied piper. Even I smiled.

In the next second Avery's little arms and legs were held down by expert arms and syringes pierced the skin in both of her thighs. Her eyes widened in shock and stared right at me for a terrifying full second before she erupted in screams and tears.

How could you, mommy? I heard through her wails. I trusted you and you just sat there while they hurt me! How could you allow this to happen to me? Don't you love me?!

As soon as the band-aids were on I picked her up and rocked her. Shhh! Shhh! Shhh! I whispered. Oh, baby, I'm so sorry... but it was for your own good. Trust me.  

Just like many mommies, I felt absolutely horrible. Avery was just a baby; she didn't have the means to comprehend why that pain was necessary. Her understanding was so immature. There was no way I could explain the reasons why a vaccination was needed to keep her healthier in the long run. All she knew was that one minute her mommy was holding her, smiling and laughing, and the next minute she was hurting. And her mommy allowed this hurt to happen.

When my son, Brody, was born several years later, he would require physical therapy. It wasn't fun for him or us. It broke my heart to have to twist and stretch his body... but he needed it if he was to stand any chance of normal development. Ignoring the issue would result in greater physical issues that might require surgeries to fix. Or, if left too long, might not ever be fixed.

He was so little. We couldn't explain to him what was going on. We couldn't explain that the pains and discomforts he felt by our hands were actually to heal him. He had to trust us, which he didn't do.

Instead, he chose to flinch when someone picked him up. He saw mommy and daddy coming and he knew there would be pain involved. Sometimes I wonder if the reason he's not a cuddler is because there is a small part of him that, while he knows we love him, he just doesn't totally trust us.

Avery, however, would come to be the best little patient ever and trust whatever needed to be done. There was a period in her life when she required countless blood draws to determine what was causing her white blood cells to drop so dangerously low. She still hated needles, but she was older, had more understanding of the world. We were able to explain that our blood is like a recipe that had to be measured just right in order for it to work properly. By taking the blood, doctors could look inside and see if there was too much salt or not enough sugar and what was making her so sick. When they found what ingredient had been measured wrong they would then be able to fix it.

She was such a trooper going through those battery of tests. At one point a nurse asked her if she didn't feel anything when the needles were poking her because she never cried, never whined, never complained. Avery answered, "It actually hurts a lot, but I trust my mom."

I was thinking about all this the other day: how parenting includes not just simply loving our children - that would be so easy; but also allowing hurt for their own good. How we are capable of seeing the Big Picture, even though they can't. And how we ask them to trust us over and over again. How often do we find ourselves saying, "you're too young to understand, but some day you'll thank me."

I think that's what our relationship with God is like. Our brains are so immature to the ways of eternity and heaven. Even when God speaks we don't always understand. And sometimes He takes us through something where all we feel is pain and we're so confused as to why He allowed that pain to happen in our lives, and we aren't capable of seeing how that hurt is needed for the greater good of our souls.

I sometimes hate how much sorrow fills my heart. I sometimes get frustrated and angry that there are moments when it is utterly impossible for me to take a breath because my grief is too huge. I want Avery back with me and I want her back now. And, yes, yes, there are moments when I cry out to God, how could you do this to me? Don't you love me?! 

And you know what? After every single time I ask, I feel His arms wrap around me in the form of compassionate family and friends and even strangers I have never met ... Shhh! Shhh! Shhh, child. Trust me. I feel His love, yet I do not understand His reasoning.

I have a choice: to respond like Brody did and distance myself. Run away. Flinch when I hear His name.

Or, I can choose to respond like Avery: acknowledge that this hurts more than anything I've ever felt in this world, but continue to trust my God. Know that somehow, beyond my earthly comprehension, there is a plan so great that this pain is needed for the greater good of my soul. And the souls of so many others.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Too Many Children Gone

I woke up this morning to the news that a man with a knife attacked 22 innocent children at an elementary school in China. I sat stunned. All those children... children who were simply going to school.

Hours later my news feed would explode with the news that a man with a gun killed 20 innocent children (plus others) at an elementary school in Connecticut.

I cannot comprehend the pain and anguish being felt right now. Less than two months ago I lost one child and have seen the domino affect pain and anguish can have on a family; on the ones who survived; on a community. Multiply that by over FORTY CHILDREN.

Our world is hurting.

I cannot make sense of any of this. I cannot begin to make sense of the tears and nightmares and panic and anxieties that are washing through thousands of people.

I live so far physically removed from both China and Connecticut - and yet these tragedies rocked me to my core. What on earth do I do now?

I don't know.

The only thing I know is right now it isn't about gun control or administration in a government. It's not about blaming guns or blaming knives - I once had a boyfriend who picked up a skillet of boiling Hamburger Helper and threw it at my head. Should we ban frying pans, too? It wasn't the frying pan that did it; he consciously made the decision to hurt me. We need candid discussions about what we can do as a society to stop this from happening -- but not now. Now is not the time to hop on your platform.

Because right now it's about choosing to help. It's about choosing to take your confusion and your anger and your opinions and purposefully deciding to do something good instead. It's about opening a door. Being more patient. It's about using kind words, smiling and saying Thank You. It's about being someone who is caring so that you make yourself available to those who are hurting. And right now, there are a lot of people who are hurting.

So very many hurting people....

We could decide to watch that person, sitting on the side of the road, head in their hands, weeping until they had no more bones to hold them up, and pity them. We could decide to feel sorry for them. We could decide to get angry at how unfair it is that they are hurting. We could decide to hate the person who did this. Hate the school who failed to protect all those children. Hate the government that decided to allow weapons or ban weapons or hate the weapon makers themselves. We could decide to hate the family of the attackers for not knowing they were going to do this. We could decide to rant and scream and cuss!

And yet, what good is any of that to the weeping mother who has just lost her child? She doesn't want to hear your anger. She needs to feel your love.


While there is much evil in the world,
there is even more that is good.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

AVERYday: Connecting the Dots - Part 14

This is just one of those things that is so cool that I can't even find the right way to explain it. I've started writing it fifteen times and it's just never right. So, my plan is to blurt it out, which, incidentally, is what I do in most social situations since I'm incredibly awkward and uncomfortable actually speaking to other human beings. But that's a story for a different day.

This is the story for today:

I got an email from Beth which included an apology. She felt like she should have asked my permission to share my blog with others. (For future reference, share away, people!) She just so happened to be in a bible study that was discussing heaven and I just so happened to post a little entry comparing our time here on earth to summer camp. She shared the blog post and then the pastor at her church asked if my blog could be shared with the congregation. Beth felt she should ask me but just kind of felt funny about it and couldn't quite figure out what to say and so never said anything at all, but now - after the fact - felt the need to write to let me know about it.

And I laughed. Because I knew exactly why she was unable to tell me about the upcoming sermon. Because the Sunday of that sermon I was sitting in my own church, wiping away tears and choking down sobs because every lyric to every song, every prayer, every child who got up to read the scripture, reminded me of Avery. I was missing her so much. Too much. Church is not helping me heal, I told myself. It's hurting me. I decided to grab my purse and get out of there.

Just when I looked down to pick up my purse and run away my phone lit up, signaling a text received. Now, I don't normally check my messages during church for fear of being struck down by lightning... but this time I did. One of my dear friends (who doesn't know Beth: the lady who would send me the email a week or two later) wrote: "Sitting in church the pastor is speaking of Revelation and my mind wanders to Avery. Then the pastor is quoting your blog. Avery lives on in your words, dear friend."

You see, the reason Beth couldn't find the right words/time/way to ask/inform me that her pastor would be preaching about Avery was because God knew that wasn't the right time.

God was all, "hold on there, Beth. See, in a couple weeks, Bridget is going to be having a rough time. She's going to start feeling like she can't handle going to church because there's going to be way too much Avery Love surrounding her... and it's gonna hurt her real bad. So, I'm gonna need something in her weak moment to restore her faith a bit. If you just hold off saying anything to her, I promise I'll nudge the right person, at the right time, to say the right thing." And that's exactly why my friend sent that text at that moment.... which was when SHE was sitting in church (and she NEVER would EVER send a text message during a sermon, but felt she needed to right then.)

Of course, I stayed. I want to get to know this God better that my daughter so richly loved.

I suppose that could be the end of the story. Except it's so not.

See, I was telling this story - about the email that shared my words, that were spoken at a church, that was exposed in a text at just the right time - the other day to my friend, S. She's special to me. I can't exactly explain why... just that since the day I met her I knew she would be someone important to me. And she is.

So, I'm sitting there talking to S about these amazing God Moments. About how they're all around us. And about how we need to talk about this stuff. That we need to get over this feeling of embarrassment or awkwardness or silliness or whatever it is that stops us from saying something - sending that email, writing that text - that will help us connect the dots and SEE all these God Purpose Filled Moments. Just imagine how many more God Moments we could share with the world if we would just TALK!

And that's when S told me something she has only told a couple people. Something that she keeps close to her heart... probably because too many people in the world would think she was crazy. But she was really sick once. Very, incredibly, scary sick. And one lonely night in the hospital she felt the presence of God. She knew exactly who it was. And she knew that no matter what was to happen, she would be okay. Not that she would necessarily live but that if she were to die, everything would be okay. God was with her. She told me with such conviction that she had experienced God... and yet she hasn't really told anyone.

And so I told her that I absolutely believed her because of the man at the funeral.

You see, after Avery's funeral we all gathered for a luncheon in the school gym. There were tons of people and I didn't eat and all  these people were hugging me and I tried to stop crying and then Brody threw up everywhere and Matt had to take his shirt off because vomit got on it and I was afraid he'd get naked in the middle of the chaos so I asked his friend to take him to the bathroom and then it was over and everyone was gone and I was staring Being Alone Without My Daughter straight in the face and I hated it...and we had to do something with all the flowers and then decided to keep all the pictures up on the walls for Avery's classmates to see and then there was leftover food being put into containers for us to take home... and through it all an elderly man sat by himself on the bleachers. Just sitting.

As I went to walk out he stood up and touched my arm. "I am so sorry for your loss," he said quietly. I smiled a sad smile at him. "Thank you." He looked around uncomfortably. "Uh...I wanted to tell you.... I've been to heaven." Okay. I wasn't expecting that. "I know I sound crazy. I haven't told many people. I was only there for a short time... I was very, very sick and, well, I went to heaven. I know you're going to think I'm crazy..." He looked down at the ground for a second before looking back up at me. "....but it's beautiful." He looked straight at me with tears in his eyes. "I need you to know how  perfectly beautiful it is."

I told S that I didn't know who this man was but I've felt such a strong desire to find him. "More than anything," I explained, "I just need to tell him I believe him."

We sat together, S and I, trying to think about who this man might have been and talking about how it's sad that people don't talk more about these experiences. Why do people feel silly or embarrassed? People should be proud to share these experiences! Personally, I feel that my faith would be strengthened if I had more evidence of these God Moments, not just working in my life, but working in the lives of others.

As S and I walked out together I remembered another lady, J, who was with me at the funeral luncheon; would she remember the man in the bleachers?

It just so happened that at that moment we passed Jen. "Hey, J!" I blurted out. "Do you remember after the funeral and we came back to eat and at the end there was this old man just sitting by himself on the bleachers?"

"The one who told you he went to heaven?" She remembered?!

"Yeah!! Him!! You wouldn't happen to know who he was, would you?"

She glanced over and pointed at S and said, "yeah, it was her father."

*********

We were just sitting there talking about TALKING ABOUT GOD... and we learned that Father and Daughter had BOTH personally experienced God in a way that most people don't. And they weren't even AWARE of it. If that isn't God using Avery to bring a family together to talk about what's truly important, I don't know what is.

See, if Avery hadn't died that day, I wouldn't be writing about it, and my words wouldn't have been meaningful enough to be shared at a Bible Study, that was shared with a congregation, that was texted to me at one of my weakest moments,  that made me connect the dots when Beth sent me the email RIGHT before I was to sit with S and so she was the one that I shared this with and she was the one that needed to hear it because it moved something in her heart to want to share her experience with me, which made me tell her I believed her because of the man at the funeral who took a risk to share with me his awesome God moment... and the man just happened to be her father and she NEVER KNEW THAT HAPPENED TO HIM!

God is awesome.

Those tugs you feel to say something? Write something? Send something? Just do it. It might not make sense. You might feel silly. But know they're the dots... and they need to be connected. And when we connect them: man, are they glorious!


Friday, December 7, 2012

AVERYday: Wiping Away the Mud - Part 13

There are moments when the grief hits you so hard it's like trying to breathe oxygen while submerged in a mud pit. Everything feels thick and heavy and dark and you think there's no way you're going to be able to grasp that next breath.

But somehow you do.

My problem were her shoes. See, Avery always wore these white tennis shoes with pink soles. Always. Every day. She was like that. Twenty pairs of shoes, but the kid would get hooked on one, and nothing would get her out of them. Before the tennis shoes she wore these pink flip-flops. Every. Single. Day.

But I couldn't get the shoes. They were destroyed in the accident. And her flip-flops would mean her feet would be cold. I couldn't let her feet be cold. I couldn't bury her without shoes. I couldn't choose another pair because I couldn't remember which ones pinched her feet, or which ones were too big, or which ones she just didn't like.

And, yes, of course I was fully aware that this was my human brain trying to make sense of something so out of my control. Yes, I fully realized that Avery's spirit did not need shoes on her feet; she was already soaring with the angels. And yet, all I could hear was my baby needs shoes.

So, I awkwardly put people on the spot when they dropped by with a casserole, demanding to know what I should do. Everyone did their best to stammer through a possible answer: pick out another pair? Buy a pair that looked just like them? Insist the flip-flops would be fine. She always did wear those flip-flops, didn't she?

But I'm a Mama. And flip-flops wouldn't do, no matter how much she loved them, and she can't go without shoes, and God, I cannot breathe. I cannot do this. I cannot! I do not want to be this woman! I do not want to be the one who picks out a burial outfit instead of a sparkly new dress for her upcoming Christmas Program. I do not want this!.... at all!....do not make me be this woman!

Avery on her first day of Fifth Grade.
With the shoes.
September 2012

I called up the funeral director, unsure of what to say or how to say it, only knowing that for some reason I had to. "Umm, hi.... It's just that, uh, I'm having trouble... Avery doesn't have any shoes... well, she does, but she doesn't like them.... and ... (sobbing) .... I can't put her in flip-flops!"

I don't recall exactly how he responded, only that he said things that made me think about stuff other than shoes. He reminded me that this was for me; there was no right or wrong way to do this. That I needed to be okay with what I chose, not anyone else. That I was her mother and if I felt I needed to pack her a suitcase then I should do just that.

And just like that I knew what to do. The only way I could mess this up was to stop being her mother.


Avery was so full of life. So full of love. She didn't care about outfits or shoes accenting or whether or not she'd ever be considered a fashionista. She cared about treating people right and treating each other with respect and being kind. She cared about making people feel included and loved. She cared about being comfortable and allowing others to be comfortable, no matter how they defined their comfort.

Comfort.

I thought of Avery and how she would grab her blanket off her bed and wrap up in it like she was a burrito. I thought about how she'd grab my socks when she had what appeared to be hundreds of her own.

Comfort Wrapped 2009

And then I grabbed her blanket and a pair of my socks. And I wiped the mud from my eyes, took my next breath...

Comfort Wrapped 2012
    ... and headed to the Funeral Home to make sure they tucked my baby in properly.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

AVERYday: God is Wise - Part 12

I just wanted to see her. One more time. Just for a minute.


He advised against it.

"What about her hair? I just want to see her hair... or her shoulder. I'd be okay with her shoulder...I just want to touch it." I tried to stop the stream of tears flowing down my cheeks. I couldn't.

"Bridget, you have such a beautiful memory of your little girl. You don't need to..." I almost felt bad for him, this gentle Funeral Director, who was so kind, so full of compassion, trying so hard to protect me. He offered to show me her hand if I wanted.

Her hand.

I went home and thought about it. And I cried. And railed against God. I didn't want just her hand; I wanted to see HER. Her cheek. Her hair. Her chin. Her nose. Her forehead. I just wanted her.

I was angry and pissed off. I wanted my baby. I sobbed and sobbed, "I just want to see her!"

And then it came: an overwhelming sense of absolute peace with the immediate knowledge that God chose this for me. He chose to take Avery on that very day, in that very minute, in this very way... and it wasn't to punish me.

See, God knows me better than I know myself. He needed me to have that last memory of her; that last vision of her sweet smile as she told me, "You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl." He needed me to remember her last movements that I would ever register in my brain to be of a self-confident, beautiful, God-loving girl slinging her backpack over her shoulder, grabbing her gym back and walking proudly into her school.

And he needed me not to cloud that memory of her with any other vision. I chose not to see her hand. When I close my eyes now, as hard as it is without her, I clearly see the last time I saw her; and she is beautiful.

It pains me to the core of my soul that Jadrian's eyes close to a different, absolutely harrowing, vision.

I don't ever want to lose my last moments with Avery; Jadrian can't outrun hers.

God also knows that I can hold a grudge. He knows I struggle with it. He knows I have little patience for people who are purposefully hateful and cruel and that I struggle greatly with forgiveness; it is not something I hand out easily.

He knew that if Avery had been taken by cancer or some other disease, my message would not be Avery's love for God, but rather my hatred for cancer, my frustration with the medical system, my anger as to why more isn't being done when everyone knows it should be.

He knew that if a drunk driver had hit those beautiful girls on their way home my heart would harden with anger and hate. I doubt I would even be able to see God's love in something like that. God knew me enough to know what my heart could handle. And what it could not.

And so it is with much guilt that I say I believe God used these beautiful, innocent, full of life girls because He knew my first and only reaction would be to protect them, love them, pray for them. I have no room for blame or hate or anger in my heart for these sweet girls. Jadrian and C are so young; so precious. They're just babies themselves, with their whole lives ahead of them. 17 is such a precarious age to be even when everything is perfect... and now to deal with something of this magnitude? I feel guilty because if I were a better person, a more forgiving person, a person of stronger faith; then maybe God would have spared them the physical and emotional trauma this accident has produced for them. I don't know for certain why God has chosen these two girls to walk through this troubled path. I say it a lot - but know it's never enough - please continue to pray for them. To heal. To feel comfort. To find strength. And to feel peace. My heart breaks over and over for these girls.

God made Avery so incredibly special. He made her faith strong and sure. He made her with the ability to empathize to a degree I rarely see in others. He made her feelings of compassion result in action. He made her kind, and willing to make a difference. He made her work hard even though it didn't always come easy for her. He made her loving and gentle and funny and witty. He made her with this beautiful ability to read with expression that made her the all-time favorite story reader. He made her love ice cream and McDonald's fast food and He made her want to see the world improve.

Whether I wanted it or not, He put me in charge of telling her story. And whether I understand (or agree), He did what He needed to do in order for me to do just that. 


“God is too kind to do anything cruel;
too wise to make a mistake; 
too deep to explain Himself. 
When we know the Who 
we can stop asking, 'Why?’”

****

Avery had a special place in her heart for the people of Haiti:

Here... have a closer look:



My girl loved hard.

We have our work cut out for us.

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