Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Following Directions

When I was 16 years old, I tried to ignore the sleek black antique Mustang my best friend drove to school. I looked over the roof of my other friend's brand new Mustang convertible, gleaming brightly from its parking spot. I pretended I was completely okay sauntering up to my nice Reliant K automobile with its faded blue interior and cracker box shape. I pretended I didn't mind the fact an 80-year old woman had driven this same car maybe two miles a week for the past fifteen years. But the truth is, I did mind. I thought I deserved better.

Never mind the fact that my father labored for hours in a too hot, dimly lit, loud factory for more hours a day than I worked total in a month in order to get me that car. Never mind that my daddy searched for the safest car he could get me for the money we didn't have. Never mind that there were four of us kids crammed within 5 years of each other, which meant cars every year and overtime every chance it was offered. No, I thought I deserved better. Just because I existed, I suppose. It wasn't like I had a good reason.

My dad gave me that car proudly. He showed me how to turn the lights on, the wipers. He stood back proudly and ran his hand along the side, "not a single scratch on it! Can you believe that? Not a single scratch!" I didn't know why he was telling me that. I just knew it wasn't a Mustang.

He told me to keep the gas filled and to remember to change the oil regularly. That was important. Without proper care, this car wouldn't last.

If you dug down deep inside me - and the sad truth is, you wouldn't have to go that deep at all - I didn't want this car to last. It was an old lady car.

I tossed McDonald's wrappers in the back seat. I spilled soda and didn't bother to wipe it up. The car was embarrassing. Well, it wasn't. I mean, it was a reliable car. It was in good shape. And it was mine. But why did I have to get the used, out of style, old lady car? Why couldn't I get the cool car? No one else had even heard of a Reliant before. I know I hadn't.

I backed into a guardrail in an alley parking lot. I scratched the mirror in the drive thru at the bank. I rarely put more than $5 gas in it at a time, keeping it steady right between 7-miles-to-go and dead-any-second. And those oil changes? Well, I had better things to spend my money on.

I was 16 years old and about as bull headed and idiotic as a kid can be who thinks they know everything about the world when the truth is they haven't been off the block. I spent my money from working at the local Subway sandwich shop on expensive Marithé François Girbaud blue jeans, even though I had no idea how to actually pronounce the name brand I so desperately coveted. I bought Coca-Cola rugby shirts and Guess sweatshirts to make up for the years of ill fitting hand-me-downs and stretched out pastel striped sweaters. And that car my daddy so proudly handed me the keys to? Well, I couldn't be bothered with taking care of it.

It didn't take long for that car to start acting up. Shaking when it shouldn't. A strange noise here and there. It started to smell funky in the hot sun. It was my fault, of course, but that didn't stop me from marching up to my father with a long list of complaints to air.

He just shrugged his shoulders. Told me I'd better start saving up for the much needed maintenance and repairs. Told me how there wasn't anything he could do. Or would do.

The thing is, he gave me a gift. A gift that had worked beautifully. A gift that fit my needs and fit my pocketbook. A gift that would suit my needs and keep me safe. A gift with no strings attached; no balance due, no favors owed. All he asked was that I take care of it. That's all. Simple as that. Take care of it.

He even told me how to do it. Respect it. How hard was it really to do the right thing and throw out the trash and change the oil every 3,000 miles?

But I didn't think that car was good enough for me. I thought I deserved better so I didn't give much thought to taking care of what had been given to me. And I never gave much thought to the simple fact that not taking care of a gift someone gave me was an incredibly rude and selfish thing to do.

I wonder how often God gets frustrated and angry with my selfishness? My never ending list of complaints: Why does this happen to me? Where is my miracle? I deserve better! I list my frustrations of the world around me, buttered up and seasoned as if to look like constructive advice: Think of the good that would come if you just did this... I stomp my feet and pout because it isn't fair! It shouldn't be this hard. I'm a good person and I deserve a good home. Enough money in the bank account so as not to worry. A house that's safe and not about to fall apart.

I wonder how many times God shakes His head and reminds me: "I gave you a gift and told you exactly how to take care of it. Have you? Have you done just that?"

He gave me my life. He placed my soul in this earthly body and whispered, "Love."

Because that's really all there is to figuring out the secret of this life. Love. If I love you I cannot say a hateful word toward you. If I love you I cannot purposefully go out of my way to say things that hurt and cut into a soul. If I love you I cannot spread lies about you and gossip behind your back knowing these untruths will pain you and cause others to doubt you. And if I love God, which is who brought me into being and gave me this gift of life in the first place, how can I take a breath with clear conscience knowing I am taking His gift and scratching it, spitting on it and tossing garbage all over it?

There was so much anger this holiday season. So many frustrated people waiting in lines that were too long, cursing each other over parking places. Families seething because schedules didn't work out and all that was left was bitter rage instead of understanding. We all think we deserve better, but have we changed the oil in our own cars?

I miss that old Reliant K. I really, really do. It's long gone now. I got rid of it the second I was able. Tossed aside the reliable and traded it in for a string of bad choices that looked better on the outside. My daddy knew exactly what car would suit me best; it was right as rain. But like most things in life, you don't realize how good it is until it's gone.

I believe my Father God knows exactly what I need and where I'm supposed to be, skimpy bank account, dilapidated house and all. And it is the right place for me, even if I look over and see the outside of someone else's life glinting in the sun. Yes, that includes Avery's death, too. It's hard for me some days, but it's like that faded blue interior of the Reliant: not my choice, just part of the gift I was given.

The thing that keeps me going? Love. I know that's all God calls me to do. "Just wake up this morning, Bridget, and love on that baby boy of yours. Love your friends. Love that lady with the harsh words - she's forgotten what love feels like. Just love. It's as simple as that. I'll take care of the rest."

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13 -

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Travelling to Haiti

It's funny; when people are alive we do a lot of relating through the things we have in common with them. We find that common ground and cling to it. It's comfortable. It's enjoyable. It's what we know.

When someone precious to us dies, we frantically try to figure out all that stuff that we didn't have in common.

Who were they really? What thoughts did they have before falling asleep at night? Why did they enjoy so much the things that we couldn't relate to?

Although, as my daughter, I knew her very well, I didn't know Avery as a classmate, or as a friend, or as another kid in gymnastics class. Who was she when she wasn't my daughter?

I had always known that Avery felt called to help others. She was drawn to the kid who sat alone, felt the need to protect the kid who was made fun of for being too nerdy, felt it her duty to extend her hand to those who had fallen. 

I just didn't understand why.

I knew that she would spend her life quietly fighting for others, unafraid to hug the less fortunate or the sick. I foresaw her heading out on mission trips, moving to a third world country to take care of orphans in order to teach them about Jesus Christ and the importance of clean water.

I just didn't understand what made her want to do this.

After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Avery felt an even more immediate  - almost desperate - need to help. Even though she was only 7, she took the country on like it was her own flesh and blood. She raised money. She raised awareness. She begged me to adopt as many orphans as I could, explaining that (even if I thought we didn't have enough compared to our US neighbors)  we could share our clean water. We could share our food. We could share our beds.

She offered to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag so kids from Haiti could sleep in her bed. And she suggested we transform the dining room into a bedroom. With four bunk beds we could change the lives of 8 girls.

One of my favorite moments was when she brought this letter to me:

She was so serious about saving the people of Haiti.

After Avery died, I spent a lot of time looking at her things. She didn't have much. True to her form, she wasn't interested in material things. She valued experiences more than items. But the few items she did have told a beautiful story.

References to God in the margins of a book. Highlighted passages in her Bible. Letters she received from her friend, Ashley, planning sleepovers. And in her spiral notebook from school, multiple pages of the same letter started and stopped and scribbled through; her way of trying to find the right words to convince her classmates that more needs to be done to help Haiti. "We cannot forget them!" she writes passionately.

If God so allows, I believe there is an 11-year old, fair-skinned angel watching over the orphans in Haiti as we speak.

Since we started AVERYday Ministries we have financially supported 4 different people headed to Haiti to make a difference. Four. In less than a year. That makes me think Avery would be pretty proud.

Last summer, we also sent a pair of her tennis shoes and some awesome t-shirts. To think there are little kids walking around in a bit of Avery warms my heart.

It didn't surprise me when I was contacted about an upcoming mission trip organized through Children's World Impact. Avery had gone to school with a sweet young boy named Cody and his mother was now planning to go to Haiti for this first time this January. She wanted to ask if there were another pair of shoes or some clothes I'd like to send down. What she ended up asking was if I wanted to go, too.
The problem was, the deadline was the next day. And it was already getting late. There was no way to know I could even get ahold of anyone. The director was understandably very busy. Also, I had no idea how I would handle the cost. I did just quit my job and all. And what skills do I have? I've never been on a mission trip before. I hadn't even heard of them until I had kids of my own.
I ultimately told Anna that if it was God's will to have me go to Haiti, He'd see to it that it was done. If He didn't want me to go, He'd see to that to. It was in God's hands.
I dialed the number for the director. He answered on the first ring.
After talking with him I realized who he was: although I didn't know him personally, he had been one of our main supporters for the Jamie Grace concert we held in Avery's honor.
Dots were connecting.
At the first informational meeting I saw not just one mom of Avery's classmates - but several! At the end of the meeting another woman approached me. She told me that while her daughter was much younger than Avery, they had gone to day care (at Mary Jo's) together. She told me she remembered Avery's sweetness and gentleness with her young daughter.
That wasn't all; several relatives (aunts & uncles) of a sweet, sweet boy in Avery's class were also scheduled to go on this trip! It was Jonny who organized a raspberry picking fundraiser; Jonny who carried his remembrance ribbon to school with him; Jonny who painted a beautiful portrait of Avery that hangs proudly on my wall. And it was Jonny who was responsible for those All Day Avery Day t-shirts to be sent to Haiti this past summer.
I looked around this room and saw over and over people who knew Avery. Who had talked with her, saw her in the halls at school or while dropping off kids for day care. Who had learned who she was through a young nephew. Who felt compelled to support the ministry of a little girl who just loved Jesus.
I saw all these people and I knew....
 this is Avery's trip.
I'm just so grateful to get to go along for the ride.
I'll be travelling to Haiti on January 6, 2014. Assisting on a medical mission trip through Children's World Impact.
The orphanage we'll be working with is in need of some items; I'm asking for these items in lieu of Christmas gifts. So, as much as I'd love a Starbucks gift card, it seems pretty ridiculous when I realize these kids are going without some of the essentials. [One of the things we were cautioned about was eating in public. We were asked to eat privately away. What does it look like to pull out a granola bar from your back pack when some of these kids haven't eaten in two days? Kind of makes that Starbucks habit of mine look utterly pathetic.]

Underwear and panties
[Ladies: sizes 2T to ladies 7]
[Men: sizes 2T to men’s medium]
(the boys prefer the boxer brief style)
Bar Soap
Diapers size 3, 4 & 5
Baby Shampoo
Laundry soap
(the scented pods are great)
Dish Soap


dresses for women & girls

or any dress clothes for boys & men

 (The people of Haiti believe in dressing for church. If they don't believe they have something worthy for worship, they won't go. Remember, Haiti is WARM. Summer clothes, please. And modest dresses.)

I will be accepting donations of the above until December 31st.
So, when you're out doing your last minute Christmas Shopping, feel free to pick up a pack of underwear or some laundry pods. It'll be the best Christmas gift you can give!
[You can drop items off at my house, or contact me to arrange a pick up!]
If you feel led to financially support this mission trip - or future trips, you can donate online at or you can mail a check to:
Children's World Impact
N7176 Lakeshore Avenue
Elkhorn, WI 53121.
When donating, please note “Bridget McCarthy” with any form of payment. (This ensures that the donations are credited towards my portion of expenses for the project.) All donations are tax deductible.
I'm pretty sure I'll never get the chance while on earth to learn every detail of who Avery was and what made her tick, but I believe visiting the country Avery loved so much is going to give me an insight to her soul I wouldn't get otherwise. I believe this trip is God coordinated and is about to change my entire outlook on the world. 
And I'm positive Avery is squealing with delight  - not just because her Mama is going, but because her Mama is doing something that we didn't necessarily have in common when she was alive. I'm meeting her in her place. Not in mine. As parents, especially, we need to do that more often. Seek out your child's interests and meet them there. Don't just rely on the things you have in common to build a lasting relationship.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Things That Stick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I forgot about it.

Or so I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But guess what?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Dance

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

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

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

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

And then she was gone. Just like that.

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

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

She would never get to go to prom.

I fell even further into myself.

She would never go to prom.

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

And then I remembered.

And smiled.

Because of course God knew this would be my thing.

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

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

He'd even hold a prom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And God knew that.

He knew I wouldn't say no.

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

God is good always.

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

God is so very, very good.

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Breathing In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Year 2 is Harder

I made it to the One Year Mark. Actually, I made it beyond the One Year Mark because that was October 24th and we're past that now. Preparing for the One Year Mark is like experiencing the anticipation for the worst dentist appointment on the planet: you get sick and fidgety, you can't sleep, you have awful nightmares - and yet somehow you make it through the appointment with little awareness how you even arrived at it. You wake up and it's suddenly Day One of the 2nd Year; the clock flips over and a new countdown begins.

I made it through because I was busy. I was busy planning and celebrating the First Anniversary of Her Death.

I made it through because over one hundred balloons were released in her honor. Not just in the cemetery in our small town, but all over the world.
Photo Credit: Kimberly Barker-Ries

I made it through because little children laughed and played just like normal kids do - and I can't tell you how good it feels to be around kids who just say it.
Photo Credit: Teresa Rogers-Shallcross

I made it through because the sky was lit with eleven lanterns symbolizing eleven years of her life.
Photo Credit: Tracy Christianson

I made it through and then we ate and a song was sung and a slideshow shown and we all hugged before we went home. Except my home was empty. Way too empty. And the thing is, it will always feel like that.

Because it's supposed to.

When you lose someone you love with all your heart, you're going to feel empty.

And what makes it feel even more empty is realizing that the majority of everyone else stopped feeling shocked and completely thrown for a loop. They've readjusted, settled, gotten back into the swing of things earlier and with better ease than you did.

For me, it's just all hitting me now.

It's as if  I've been standing tall and strong against First Year because I knew I had to. I knew I had to draw up my courage and stand in the face of the biggest, angriest giant I've ever known. I knew I had to face Grief head on, shoulders back, eyes wide open, or risk losing before I even started.

But now, a year later - my eyes burn, my back aches, my head bows down low.

I made it through the First Year, but I'm not done fighting yet... and I so desperately want to be.

As if that's not unfair enough - seriously: I made it 365 days! Can't I get a reprieve? A furlough from grief? A weekend without my heart stopping as I form the thought Avery would have loved this. Without picking something up only to realize the person I was buying it for is not even of this earth? But I know I can't. See, that's not in the Rules of Children Dying. You never get a reprieve. You just learn to swallow around the lump in your throat, how to take in a gulp of air and look to the right before the tears come. (Those tears, oh, how they make people feel uncomfortable.)

But, no - that's not enough unfairness. Somehow, Year Two brings with it the incredible disappearing  act. I'm not talking about friends and family; I'm talking about the thick, foggy haze your brain has been graciously wrapped in for the past year. It's acted as a cushion from reality, helping to soften the blow by allowing you to be completely unaware of life around you.

You get used to it.

You like it.

It feels good.

But suddenly that haze begins to lift, slip away from your mind and you become sharper, more aware. You realize hurts have continued in your absence. Friends got divorced. People lost jobs. The one person you tried really hard to like has just consistently become meaner. The neighbor disputes the lot line. The laundry that was allowed to pile up because it isn't important right now has somehow shifted into it's not healthy to let this go. The bank account you haven't balanced in over a year is now wondering how $57.17 cents can be missing. And the one person who knew your daughter the best - who has grieved her like their own - is now being called to stand up to fight a giant unknown of their own - and not only do they not deserve to be - you're so off your game you don't even know how to help.

And with all of that comes full and complete, crystal clear awareness that this is the second holiday season without your daughter... this time you don't get the cushioned haze of stunned disbelief to help cushion the blow. No, this season you're facing it bare knuckles and without protective gear. This season all your senses are back. This season you're an old pro at Christmas Without. This year you are fully aware that the time between the last time I saw her and the date on the calendar gets further and further apart.

And while your senses are heightened to a degree that makes you feel like this is all way too cruel for any one person to handle - everyone else has lapsed into Phew! At least this year will be better!

We are so far apart from each other.

I am so far apart from you.

My grandmother lost a child. Her son. He was older with young children of his own, but that doesn't matter. Losing your child is a specialized grief, regardless of details. My grandmother was the only one who understood what I am going through. I asked her once if she ever looked at the autopsy report. She said no. That she didn't need to. That report wasn't going to tell her what she already knew; her son wasn't coming back and would never grow to the potential she dreamed of for him.

Because of my grandmother, I was able to sit across from the District Attorney and look him in the eye and tell him that I didn't need to see what was in that particular report.

She told me about people gossiping and turning around in the grocery aisle just to avoid her - and that it was okay; people just don't know what to do sometimes.

My grandmother was 95 and had a heart attack just days after Avery's would-be 12th birthday. When I saw her in the emergency room she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "Maybe I'll get to see Avery today."

It was her way of telling me she'd be taking care of her in heaven. It was her way of telling me I could let go of a bit of my fear because Avery would be in good hands.

A couple days later I was sitting alone with my grandmother in her hospital room when she asked if I had sent a lady to talk to her. "No, I didn't - well, what did the lady look like?" I asked.

"Oh. I thought maybe you sent her to talk to me," my grandmother explained. "She asked me if I was a God Girl - and I said Yes! Yes, I AM a God Girl!" A ninety-five year old God Girl. (See what Avery has already done?)

My grandmother passed away on November 4th. She was the one who let me know it was okay to think about things, consider them, analyze them - but not to get stuck in them. That the only choice we have is to make good of what we've got. Complaining about what we don't have won't make things suddenly appear. That goes for rusted cars and tattered furniture just as much as it goes for heaven-homed children.

And so, I sit here, on Day 25 of Year Two, knowing that one person in my entire family - in my entire circle of close friends, really, who gets grief  because they lived grief is also gone. And that makes Year Two really kind of unbearable from my current point of view.

Because a mother who has already lost a child knows that the empty spot never really goes away, and she's able to tell other mothers who will lose their children that it's okay, it's supposed to feel that way. They're able to look at you with gentle, knowing eyes and explain that when you lose someone you love with all your heart, you're just going to feel empty.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Journey for Bread... and Brighter Days

If you take one cup of flour and mix it with two cups of water, you'll create a globby, grey paste. It's sticky. It's messy. It doesn't look good and you can't eat it.

What good is a sticky glue that hardens across your hands? That leaves your stomach empty?

Put that flour and water aside and go search for some oil.

Maybe you have some in your pantry.

Maybe not.

Maybe you have to drive to the super market.

But your car broke.

So, now you have to walk.

And it's cold.

And rainy.

But you set out anyway.

And as you walk your body gets tired because it's cold and wet.

But you don't stop.

You keep walking.

And then you finally make it to the store, only to find out they're closed.

So you pull up your hood a bit tighter around your ears and set off for the next store.

And maybe the wind picked up and you kind of want to just fall to the ground defeated.

But what good would that do?

So you keep walking.

And your feet are starting to hurt.

But you keep on going.

And you finally make it to the second store.

And you walk inside where it's light and it's warm and you look on the shelf - but they're all out of oil.

And your shoulders slump.

Because this is harder than you thought it would be.

But you take a deep breath and zip up your coat and head out to the third store.

And the sky grew even darker and the rain heavier and the wind angrier.

But you keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And your feet hurt and your shoulders ache and your shoes are soaked through and just as you're crossing the street some jerk flies by and sprays water all over the front of your jeans so now your legs are frozen, too, and you have to climb up the hill and you just can't do it anymore and you hate everything so you fall to the curb, not caring that you're sitting in a cold puddle and you have yourself a good hard cry.

One of those ugly blotchy skin, puffy eyes, dripping snot kind of cries.

And when you're done crying you think, "well, now. I just had myself a good cry."

Then you pick up your cold, tired, aching body, and start climbing that hill to get to that third grocery store, not even knowing if they'll even have the stupid oil.

But you do it - because they just might.

And it's a hard walk.

Blisters form.

Your lips get chapped.

And you close your eyes as you will your numb legs forward.

And you count breaths.

And count steps.

Anything to keep your mind off the fact that you would be perfectly content falling to the cold, hard, wet ground and sleeping forever.

But then, you open your eyes and find yourself suddenly at the top of the hill.

And the store is right there.

So you walk in.

And the cashier smiles at you, nods you over to aisle seven, where you find your choice of oil.

As you hand over your dollars and say thank you for the change you think, "I am so glad I finally found this oil!"

And the walk home is still cold and wet and windy, but somehow not so terrible-horrible with that oil in your hand.

And you smile when you walk through your door because you think, "no one is going to believe what I went through to get this oil!"

And you look over at that flour and water still sitting on the shelf.

You grab that same cup of flour, but this time you only take a half cup of water, add in 2 tablespoons of oil, and mix yourself up some unleavened bread.

And this you eat, warm, straight from the oven.

And as your bones thaw and your muscles relax you think, "mmm, this was worth that painful journey to get that oil. Tomorrow, I just might make me a pie crust."

You see, you could have stayed stuck with just that flour and water. You could have stayed in your safe, warm, dry house, cursing the sticky mess and hating your hunger. What good would have come from a grey paste that you couldn't eat?

You could have stayed there. It doesn't require much energy to stay.

The choice is yours to go out and do whatever it takes to get the ingredient you need to make something useful out of what you've been given. No one is going to drop it in your lap. No one can make the walk for you. You have to be the one to put on your coat and tie your shoes.

Ain't no telling what the weather will be like. Might be sunshiney and warm for some people; might be the middle of a winter hurricane for others. The journey might be long, hard. Hellish, even, at times.

And you might want to give up.

Shoot! You might give up! Plop right down in the middle of the street and sob into yourself - and that's okay. Just as long as you understand it's up to you to get back up when you're finished crying.

It's up to you to take the journey to get to that one ingredient that you know is going to make a difference in your life.

No one is promising it'll be easy. No one is promising it'll be quick. And, the truth is, even after you get that ingredient, you're still left with the same things that created the sickly, gooey mess. It's still there.

It's up to you to keep on fighting to make the bread and to constantly avoid the glue that threatens to hold you down.

But I guarantee you, there isn't a sweeter tasting bread than the one you fought with all your soul to make.

Avery Johanna McCarthy

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Thousand Drops of Sorrow

I'm always learning something about grieving - mostly that it's never done, but people want you to be.

I'm well aware of the awkward glances between people if I dare to mention Avery. The flick of the eyes that say here we go again and aren't we done with this yet? I suppose that makes sense, especially the way I was brought up. In our family you don't dwell on things you can't control. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get going. You don't stand around talking about how sad something made you feel or how you ache with every fiber of your being. You're not the only one with problems, the world is filled with people with problems, so what makes yours so special? In our family you move on.

I suppose it would be easier if I were quieter. Didn't talk as much. Didn't put my stuff out there for everyone to read. I suppose it would be easier if I quietly slipped out my front door and into the Land of the Living trying my hardest to blend in like everyone else.

But I can't.

I didn't know how I would react or respond to my child's death. I didn't practice it or learn from any of my older cousins. I didn't plan my response and immediate steps. Grief was thrust upon me and I had no choice but to accept it. I couldn't turn and give it to anyone else. I couldn't politely decline no, thank you. It was dumped in my lap, legs crushed under its weight, arms pinned below the surface, struggling to breathe as it just kept coming and coming and coming.

And I had a choice: sit still and quiet under the crippling grip of grief so as not to make anyone else feel uncomfortable, or start clawing my way out.

I have always been well aware I didn't fit in with my family. Not just my immediate family, but my extended one as well. I was constantly being told I was reading more into things than what were actually there, trying to make things more difficult than they were. I was asked over and over why I couldn't just be like the other kids.

I did try. I really did. I tried to just walk down a driveway to a barn like the other kids, but what I felt was the light crush of gravel against the sole of my shoe, the blood of a thousand girls before me crossing prairies and plains pulsing through my veins, the weight of skirts brushing my ankles, shaking their way through tall grasses. I could feel the strain and worry, the breathlessness, the boredom of a journey of one hundred days. And yet, next to me the other kids were simply walking down a driveway to a barn.

I was a dreamer. I felt things so intensely but I couldn't explain it. Why didn't others tear up when the sun began its incredible climb? Why couldn't others see the sadness in a cow's eyes? Why was it just me whose breath was stolen when the heron took flight? Why was it just me who could feel the pulse of Eden running through a mighty Oak?

Why have I always felt too much when I'm surrounded by people who don't seem to feel much at all?

My one reprieve was my grandfather. He "got" me.

One early morning, as cows breath warmed the barn, he singled for me to follow him. I walked behind him, not daring to break the silence to ask where we were going. We walked into some long grass by the side of a field near the barn. As the sun rose higher, he knelt down. I knelt beside him. After a moment he waved his hand out in front of us. "See how the sun makes each dew drop sparkle?" he asked. I looked closer. A million sparkling diamonds winked at us. I smiled. "Each drop comes from heaven and holds a story. You don't ever want to rush the dew into drying. It'll all go when they're done telling their story."

We sat and watched the dew drops sparkling and singing. Each one letting its story shine out into the world.

I think about that now: not wanting to rush the dew drop's story. I feel covered, head to toe, in a thousand drops of sorrow, sent from heaven, that sparkle and glint too bright and cause people to squint and turn the other way out of uncomfortableness. I sense their uneasiness, their frustration. I can hear their eyes whisper why doesn't she just wipe all the drops off? That way she'd be done. Back to herself. And we can all move on?

I know they'll go when they're done telling their story. They're just not finished yet.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Letter Back

If you've been following this blog, you know about the letter to Alphonsine.

Twelve days before Avery's death we attended a Christian concert in Madison. Jamie Grace was opening and tobyMac was headlining. The lobby was filled with tables of merchandise - artist t-shirts, posters, CDs, bracelets - anything and everything you could think of! There were also some tables from the Food for the Hungry network. Pictures of starving children from third world countries smiled up from every surface. Avery told me we needed to sponsor a child. I suggested we look at the CDs.

She insisted; I relented. We walked out of there the proud sponsors of a 15-year old girl from Rwanda. I thought, all these beautiful faces of little kids and Avery picks a fifteen year old.

You see, I was spending a LOT of time trying to undo what God placed on Avery's heart. I thought I knew what was best... you'd get more for your money purchasing a music CD than you would a printout of a child's face. Surely, these programs don't really work. For every dollar they collect maybe ten cents goes to actually feeding people, I thought.

Avery wrote a letter right away and asked me to mail it. But I didn't.

She said it was important, but I worried that maybe she had innocently written something that might offend this Alphonsine from Rwanda. These matters had to be approached delicately.

Avery asked me again if I had mailed the letter. I hadn't.

A week after Avery passed away, in what I would now describe as the darkest hour of my entire life, I pulled that forgotten letter from my purse and read it:

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 Sponsor,
Those words, perfectly formed by the heart of my precious daughter, brought a light that shone so bright! To know God planned for me to find these words at exactly the time I needed them most, is a gift of grave I would never be able to forget!
But that's not all...
Of course I had to write to Alphonsine.  I told her about God's love and that I would be writing her faithfully. I told her about Avery and I told her about the letter. (I have the original framed and hung on the wall.) I told her I loved her and I mailed my letter not really expecting anything in return because I still didn't quite believe these programs worked the way they claimed.
And of course I received a letter back, almost immediately. Because if God is going to tug on a little girl's heartstrings to write a letter to a 15-year old she has never met before, maybe, just maybe, the power of those words weren't meant to stop with me. Maybe there's something bigger.
Because in Alphonsine's letter back to me she asked me to pray for her. See, her best friend had just died, and maybe, she wrote, maybe we could help each other.
I wrote back saying I definitely would. I decided then and there that I would write to her regardless of whether or not I ever received another letter back. . Yet each time I wrote, she wrote back.
I write words that I hope are filled with encouragement, with love, with support, with faith. She writes back about her school and her friends and her family.
I found out recently when Aphonsine's birthday is: the day before Avery's. Of course it is!
And then today, as if God can't stop showing me how this girl from Rwanda is going to change my heart, I received another letter:
Dear my beloved sponsor,
I am so proud of the letters you usually send to me. I will always miss Avery because she loved me so much. Her prayers to me always was that I should get to know Jesus and receive Him as my Lord and Savior. I pray that God may help me to draw good lessons from Avery so that I also lead people to know Jesus. I am with hope that one day I will be able to meet with my friend Avery in Heaven. I believe she is now with Jesus. My favorite verse is Psalms 46:1-4.
I cannot help but know that this is way bigger than I am. Bigger even than this world. Our earthly way of thinking is to break it down into smaller, easier to swallow bites. Sometimes, big is just too much to handle. It makes us uncomfortable, awkward. To receive a letter almost a year to the date of Avery's death (Oct. 24th) so poignant and beautiful, when all these months we have been writing about studying hard and living true, is just another way God is showing me Avery's death is crazy important to His world. And that makes me feel really, really good.
October 5, 2013: Singer Riely Rae Mikrut speaks to the crowd at A Troast to Avery describing a Bible Study Avery had wanted to start. The night before the Bible Study was to meet, Avery spoke with Riely expressing fear that no one would show up. Riely's response: I promise you at least one person will show up, and how cool will it be knowing that one person was introduced to Jesus because of you.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Choosing Sides

I was pretty young when I first heard the saying, "Love is a choice." I thought it was stupid. I thought there is no way to simply decide to love someone; that you either did or didn't. It wasn't as simple as choosing to make meatloaf for dinner. If you choose to love this person then you will. Also, you will be eating meatloaf.

I had a lot to learn.

You see, the saying isn't "To Love Someone is a choice" - it's "LOVE is a choice."

It's right there.
All you have to do is choose it.

And to understand that you have to understand what all your other choices are: love, yes. But also hate. Or cruelty. Or indifference. Or  avoidance.

See, at any moment, in any given situation, you have sitting before you a table dressed in emotions. It's yours for the taking - what are you going to pick?

Standing in a line that's way too long, in the hot sun, tired and sore, just wanting a drink of water, and you see three women nudge their way in front of a group of people ahead of you. They're lost in conversation and don't see the slip. But you do. And you're angry and annoyed because, seriously? You have been standing there for the past 45 minutes. Who do they think they are disrespecting everyone else like that? This isn't right! Something needs to be said!

And I'm not saying it doesn't need to be said... but I'm telling you that this is when you look over that table and see what's being served: anger? Hate? Rage? Or that one plate in the middle, the one shining in light? The one labeled LOVE?

And when you don't care for that girl your son is dating - the one with the kids and who obviously doesn't take commitment seriously - well, yes, you do have every right to discuss your concerns. But do you choose to do it with love? Or do you pick up that disgusting plate in the corner labeled HATE that smells of rotting eggs and start hurling insults and rude comments instead?

Love is a choice.

I never began to understand that more than when Avery died.

Because even with every step of this grief journey that table is laid before me. And there are times when it's tempting to just pick up the ANGER plate - because that one always seems to be placed in the most convenient spot and is the lightest to pick up. It doesn't take much energy to lift up anger. But that LOVE plate - it's so heavy. That love is overflowing everywhere and you have to use two hands and - well, sometimes it's just harder to choose LOVE.

But I do it. Every single time I go for that LOVE plate.

Sometimes my arms are weak and I can't seem to get a good grip and the plate falls... then I comfort myself with the VICTIM plate. (Never take too much, though. It's like caramel popcorn - it's deliciously tempting, but the whole bag at once will leave you feeling absolutely sick.)

Avery's birthday will be this Saturday. It's a day that I honestly didn't want to come because I can't imagine not having her here for her special day. We had such an incredible time on her last birthday. I cannot even begin to explain how absolutely perfect it was. And I knew it at that time. Because, at Olive Garden, I remember looking over the table at her and thinking she was growing older. I was thinking about how as girls get older they tend to not want to hang around their moms all that much anymore. And I remember thinking, "If this is the last birthday she enjoys with me, I'm pretty lucky - because this has been more than I could ever ask for!"

The next day we were at Starbucks and she decided to sit at a table by herself. I just sat and watched her and thought of how beautiful she was becoming. So grown up. I thought about how quickly time goes by and how quickly kids grow. "She's going to leave me too soon," I thought. But my mind was foolishly thinking she would fall in love with the man of her dreams and move to some faraway place to do mission work. (Ironic, isn't it? That she really has...)

 Did I know, even then, that my time with her was fleeting? Was there some whisper on my soul that was telling me to love tight because our time together was coming to an end? Something that told me to drink in every curve of her face and the sparkle in her eye because it would be a forever time before I would see her again?

Every single second of every single day I look across that table laid before me and struggle to pick up that heavy plate of LOVE. My back aches and my arms shake but I am bound and determined to choose LOVE. And so her birthday - as much as I want to hurl anger and rage and unfairness and victim - I pick up LOVE. And I will rejoice and thank God that Avery is with Him in heaven. I will rejoice and say Thank You, Lord, for those whispers on my soul that caused me to take way too many pictures and to stop and stare to soak her in.

And in the nineteen days following her birthday - when I walk those days straight toward the first anniversary of the day of her death - a day no mother should ever have to celebrate, ever - I choose to walk them with LOVE. I choose to spend those days encouraging others to spread joy and kindness and compassion so that everyone can have the strength to choose LOVE over hate. Regardless of what anyone else picks up from their plates and hurls my way.

And on the 24th of October, when I have no energy left, and it's too hard to breathe, and my heart aches for the child I can no longer hold, for a kiss I can no longer feel; when my soul is weary and I cannot stand, even then I will choose LOVE. Yes, even then.

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these
is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Giving Thanks In

The other day I posted this on Facebook attempting to be encouraging, inspirational and faith-filled:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18] It's hard to give thanks in ALL circumstances, yet this is what God calls us to do. Sometimes, it's easier to give thanks in all the GOOD circumstances - and to complain about the yucky ones. But God tells us to give thanks ALWAYS. No matter what we're going through.

Some nights, getting a three-year old to bed leaves me feeling anything BUT thankful. I'm frustrated with his excuses, exhausted from my busy day and ready to fall into bed. It's hard to feel thankful when battling for bedtime.

Yet, there is so much to be thankful for! I have a spirited child who is healthy and strong! I have a home that keeps us warm and thick blankets to keep us warm. And I am able to use this time to practice something God always seems to remind me I need to work on - Patience!

Yes, God calls us to give thanks in ALL circumstances. It might take us a few minutes to figure out what that thanks actually is, but it IS there!

As with many things interwebby, I was asked for clarification. Specifically, the part about giving thanks in all circumstances. Because how could I give thanks to God for Avery dying? What kind of mother is thankful that her child is dead?

*Allow me to digress for a second and offer a piece of advice:
if you feel compelled to use any variation of the words 
"I just feel I need to tell you this"
before or after anything you plan to say -
don't actually say it.
Trust me.*

Once the sting subsided, I realized it actually was a legitimate question.

Let me be clear, I do not rise each morning and say, hey, God, just want to thank you that Avery died unexpectedly and I carry a lot of guilt about not letting her lay in my bed the night before she died, even though she came in my room three separate times.

I do not say, hey! Just wanted to thank you for the feelings of incredible pain and anguish and the way I have to stop myself from sobbing multiple times a day.

I do not say, hey! I just want to say thanks because now I'm saving a lot of money on Christmas presents.

I mean, really. Come on. I do not give thanks for this tragic circumstance I find myself in.

But I do believe that God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances. IN all circumstances; not FOR all circumstances. Think about that. There's a difference. In, not for.

As much as this is undeniably the worst possible thing I have ever been in, I give thanks for all the beautiful, wonderful, soul-healing blessings that have found me.

I give thanks that in this incredible darkness, I have the best friends a girl could ever ask for. Friends that dropped everything to run to my side on that terrible, tragic night - not knowing what to say or how to help, and fighting every urge to stay locked in their home sheltering their own from harm - who stayed late and hugged tight and made decisions and talked out loud and listened and mourned and captured photos and tackled projects that were dreamed of better I never thought would ever actually happen until they did it. And they never left my side. They haven't even yet.

I give thanks that in this unbearable pain, I have been able to hear with an indescribable clearness exactly what God wants me to do: create AVERYday Ministries, develop #the19days, encourage kids through Youth ACT! What an incredible way to remember Avery, change lives, honor God and heal my heart. Of course I am thankful!

I have so much to be thankful for in all of this: the afternoon my doorbell rang and before me stood a classmate I hadn't seen in over twenty years, holding out the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp - pages and pages of truth-words that would find their way to every sliver of my shattered heart and slowly bring me back together. How can I not be thankful that in my most broken hour there stood before me the very person I needed to see at that very second, bringing me the very thing I needed in order to heal?

How can I not be thankful that seven days after the death of my precious daughter, seas of costumed children swarmed the streets outside my house, laughing, holding sticky hands and hungry mouths out for candy, and I, in the midst of bitter grief, knew I could not possibly take another breath, sobbing out my pain - and I pulled out the most beautiful handwritten words from my daughter: "I will never forget about you. I will keep you in my heart forever." Tell me, how can I not be thankful for that?

And this? This is not even the beginning of all the amazing, wonderful, beautiful things I have to be thankful for. There is a huge difference between giving thanks FOR a situation and giving thanks IN a situation. I am giving thanks IN.

I don't expect anyone to understand, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to explain it - I just know with every fiber of my being that joy can coexist with sorrow; that goodness can be found sprinkled over anguish. That there is light amongst the darkness - and sometimes it is really hard to see those things - sometimes I find myself frantically searching for the goodness, for the light - but I know it's there and I will not rest until I have found it.

I will continue, all my days, from here until the day God calls me home, to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A TROAST TO AVERY: The Most Epic Birthday Party Ever

Sorry, kids, I don't do birthday parties.

Once upon a time, I had imagined I would. I pictured coordinated decorations and pleasant conversation and smiles and laughter and everyone getting along... and then I hosted a birthday party for Jadrian when she turned 5. Or 6. I don't know - I blocked it out.

That was it. First birthday party hosted. Last birthday party hosted. End of story.

Avery never had a birthday party.

Avery always wanted a birthday party.

And so here I sit, wondering why I never gave her a birthday party. Avery deserved a birthday party. Avery deserved the biggest, bestest, most awesomest birthday party ever! Avery deserved epic.

Instead, Avery had to settle with a mom who just didn't want to deal with the complex characters of small children. And so, I protected my sanity and decided I would not do birthday parties. End of story.

Oh, but how she asked.

Instead, I tried really hard to make up for the lack of party. Each birthday she received a handmade birthday t-shirt and a set of Sharpies (so friends could aforementioned birthday t-shirt), and a basket of tiny wrapped packages. Each package held a piece of paper on which a clue was printed... and we would spend the day together, just Mom and Daughter, going on adventures, a scavenger hunt of nothing but fun -- to breakfast, the movies, horseback riding, shopping, pedicures and manicures -- the possibilities were endless, and always meaningful. But it still wasn't the birthday party with all her friends that she had asked for.

So, really, I only have one choice this October 5th: the first birthday that will come and go without the Guest of Honor. I need to have a birthday party for Avery.

The bestest, most awesomest birthday party ever! And with your help, it can totally be epic.

Consider this your invitation, all you who loved and adored Avery in life; all you who never met Avery but have been forever changed by the story of her faith and love and goodness; all you who can't quite put into words why you were touched by the death of a little girl gone too soon --- I cordially invite you all to A TROAST TO AVERY!


Where singer/songwriter Jon Troast will be headlining!

Get this: JON TROAST WENT TO AVERY'S SCHOOL!! Yeah. I didn't know that either. God works in amazing ways, people! Amazing. 


Where local singer Riely Rae Mikrut will be opening!

Get this: AVERY DID THEATRE WITH RIELY!! Here, I have photographic proof:

Avery surrounded by INCREDIBLE TALENT!
JaNelle Powers, Jay Hawk, Riely Rae Mikrut, and Janet Palmer


Where we'll be gathering at the DELAVAN CHRISTIAN SCHOOL!

Get this: this is Avery's school. The halls she walked. The rooms she laughed and learned in. The walls that held me up in her death. Oh, how I love this school!

Where you can sit back and enjoy some incredible music and help support AVERYday Ministries with some great coffee from Geneva Lake Coffee and lots of baked goods and some really awesome merchandise that I have to remember to shop first for, because I've seen this stuff and it is going to go fast!

Where my Mama Heart will be showered with the light of all of you who come together to enjoy an otherwise really sad day for me. And I won't feel so deep in the dark.

So, please come.

Please come to Avery's Birthday Party. I invite you all.
*****          *****          *****

Tickets can be purchased by mail for $12 each, but must be received no later than September 28, 2013. After which, tickets can be purchased for $15 each at the door the night of the event.

If ordering tickets by mail, please include your NAME, total NUMBER OF TICKETS, provide a PHONE NUMBER and an EMAIL. Confirmation cannot be given without this information.

Please make checks payable to: AVERYDAY MINISTRIES
                                               PO BOX 214
                                               DELAVAN, WI 53115

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