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?