Friday, February 22, 2013

AVERYday: Helping Me Stand - Part 25

My friend and I went racing to the swing set at recess. In first grade, there was nothing better than the freedom of a swing. You could fly so high your toes could practically reach heaven. I felt so close. Imagine, being able to touch heaven.

"Push me! Push me!" we pleaded. We had the best recess monitor ever, Mrs. Hauns. She was the youngest old person I ever knew. She had a short, pixie hair cut and a smile that made this six-year old believe we were actually friends. She gave me the biggest push ever and I soared! I threw my head back and laughed.

And I watched as she pushed my friend. Over and over she pushed her. My friend laughing just like me. Except, I only got one push, and Mrs. Hauns kept pushing my friend over and over. It just wasn't fair.

I've always been "easy to read" when it comes to my facial expressions and how I feel about any given situation, so it was pretty obvious to Mrs. Hauns how upset I was as I suddenly jumped off my swing and stomped away. "Hey," she called after me. "What's going on?"

I turned around, threw my hands on my hips and, with all the gumption and spunk my six-year old body could handle, railed against the injustices of getting one singular push versus the hundreds of pushes for the girl she obviously liked better than me.

She crouched down to look me in the eyes and explained. "Oh, Bridget," she sighed. "I wasn't pushing you not because I don't like you; I wasn't pushing you because you don't need me to. You know how to pump your legs and you always get so high. But your friend needed my help more."

I think that was the first time I realized that when you're strong enough, people assume you don't need them. See, in my six-year old mind, I needed someone to want to push me. I needed them to make that choice. To choose to help me, even if it looked like I didn't need it.

As a young adult I remember getting into a fierce fight with my mother. My world was always so black and white. There were definite categories of right and wrong, of fair and unfair. And yet, I was able to see a million  shades of green in a single tree - there wasn't just one. I would cry at a sunset and not understand why others weren't. My heart would swell and ache and I'd wipe away tears as we played Ravel's Bolero in high school; images of starlings performing their stunning aeronautical choreography in my mind's eye. Yes, my world was black and white and filled with obvious injustices I felt born to point out, but my world was also filled with so much emotion: love, beauty, pain, tenderness, excitement, fury and fear. The problem was, no one else in my world thought, or felt, like me.

I was forever being described as "too emotional" or "too sensitive" and "always looking for a fight." I'll admit to the overly emotional and sensitive side, but looking to fight? I hated fighting. I just felt that things should be fair, falling neatly into an already labeled box and I grew frustrated that no one - no one, around me seemed to see things that way, too.

And so it was that I found myself full of fury, fighting injustice, yelling across the room at my mother, "you always help him!" I accused her, referring to my brother, who in my mind was now clearly old enough to take care of himself. "Why can't you help me the same way?!" (Now, understand it wasn't true that my mother didn't help me. Of course she did. I was a very young single mother who was going through a vicious custody dispute and losing the house I lived in. I was worried and anxious and scared, and yes, she helped me. She helped me more than any person I knew and I was incredibly appreciative of it, but I also felt that she was doing way too much for my brother. She was doing things that he should be doing. I felt she was being taken advantage of. Where she would push me once on the swing, she would stand behind him and push him all night long, well past the point her arms grew weary and heavy, and he would just enjoy the ride, oblivious to her exhaustion and fatigue.)

She paused and looked at me for a moment before speaking. "I didn't help you because you didn't need it. You're strong enough to figure it out on your own."

Couldn't she see? I didn't want to be strong enough.

I don't want to be strong enough now, either. Instead, I want to crumple into my soul in the middle of a dirty street, tears streaking my face as I scream out, "why have you done this? Why are you punishing me?" I want to lay on the wet pavement and heave sobs so loud and so scary that all the people staring at me from their safe distance won't know what to do. I want someone braver than me to pick me up and carry me home, where I'll take to my bed for a month and refuse visitors and barely eat.

I want that because well, who wants to pump their own legs to lift them to the heavens, when you could sit back and let someone else do it for you?

Except, that's the thing about grief. No one can do it for you. You have to choose to be strong enough to gather yourself from the street, throw your legs off the bed and stand. There's no time limit. And you can go as slow as you want; but only you can do it.

I have a cousin whose leg was destroyed in a farm auger. I remember my grandfather crying. I remember going to the hospital and seeing my cousin forced to sit in a wheelchair, a maze of metal rods and pins sticking out from his mangled leg. He was in so much pain. I'll never forget his eyes; wild with pain and fear. The nurses could change the dressing, monitor the pain meds, soothe his mind with encouraging words, hold his hand to steady him, but only he could find the strength and the courage to work the physical therapy. Only he could choose to stand on his shattered leg knowing every cell in his body was going to scream out in pain.

There are times when I can barely lift my head to whisper, "I am not strong enough to handle this constant ache in my heart, Lord. I am so weak and so very, very weary." But then God sends to me a soul-nurse, who tenderly changes the dressing wrapped around my wounded heart and who chooses, with typewritten words folded neatly in a bright, green envelope, to help me to stand.


"Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid or terrified because of them,
for the Lord your God goes with you;
He will never leave nor forsake you."
Deuteronomy 31:6

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Teddy Bear Picnic

These bears were crafted
 (with a tremendous amount of love and respect)
for Jadrian and Brody
using a couple of Avery's shirts.
 


...with pink wings for Brody.


 
When Brody saw his bear he exclaimed,
"Mama! This polar bear has pink wings!
Just like AVERY!"
 
Jadrian, whose heart is more solemn, said simply,
"I remember her wearing this shirt."
 
So do I, honey.
So do I.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

AVERYday: God and Basketball - Part 24





This guy.

Avery really loved this guy.

Master of hide-n-seek,
conqueror of large snow covered hills with a flimsy plastic sled,
impromptu bicycle-ride planner that always ended in ice cream.

This guy.

Matt has always been easy going. A laid back and go with the flow, kind of guy. It's a wonderful quality. Endearing. Comforting. He demands little of the people in his life. A simple smile and this guy is your best friend for life.

When Avery started fifth grade this past September her number one goal was to play on whatever school sports team she could. Volleyball season came first and I worried thinking the experience would end up being bad for her. Avery didn't know how to play volleyball. Maybe the gym would be too loud and it would be confusing or her teammates would get upset because she would make a mistake and then she'd get embarrassed, or worse, maybe she would be such a poor player that she wouldn't get any play time at all and she'd just be heartbroken... of course, those were my fears, not hers.
 
Avery's dear friend, Katie, on the left at volleyball.

 
Avery ended up being a pretty good little athlete. Her assertiveness surprised me. Matt was so excited because he could see her potential. I was excited because she was so happy. They would sit together and talk about volleyball and then the upcoming season of basketball. They made plans to practice at the park. Avery was so excited to be placed under Matt's basketball training wing.

One day she walked up to Matt and told him he needed to coach their basketball team. He laughed it off, telling her to focus on volleyball, but she was insistent. He tried to explain that he worked full time, that the time commitment needed to coach a 5th and 6th grade basketball team wasn't possible with his job, plus, what did he know about girls? She then came up with an obvious solution: pointing to me she said that I could help coach! That way, I could start the practices and then Matt could come later when he was done working. I explained that wouldn't be possible because I was scared of the ball. In fact, I had made it my life mission to never, ever involve myself in any activity where people were hurling objects at me (except for my not-so-thought-out stint in the US Army). Anyway, ever been hit in the face by a basketball? It hurts. Bad.
 
But, man. Avery would not let it go. Over and over she would remind us, "you need to tell the school you're going to be the coach." One afternoon, we walked into the school for a volleyball game and Mr. Taylor, the Athletic Director, said to Matt, "so Avery tells me you're going to be our new basketball coach!"  I tried to talk to Avery. "Honey, I know you want Matt to coach, but I just don't think that's going to work." "But, Mom," she explained in that patient, matter-of-fact way she had. "He needs to."
 

After she passed, how could he say no?

At first I thought maybe she was so insistent for me. Maybe walking back into that school a week after her funeral was to help me move forward. But I remembered she was after Matt to coach, not me. She just used me as a vehicle to get Matt into that gym.

Then I thought, well, maybe it was for the girls. I remember in seventh grade my friend Veronica died. Her locker was cleared out and her name erased from attendance sheets. A part of my heart had hardened with the knowledge that one of my friends could be here one second and so completely gone the next. And, to me and my immature mind, it seemed like the grown-ups got over it way too easily. Maybe Avery had wanted us to coach to show the girls that even though mourning someone was hard, it was possible to go on and have fun. 
  
 
I loved seeing Matt with these girls. I loved how he knew each and every one of them within the first week and could tell you (in detail if you were willing to listen) which skill set this one had or needed to have or what position they would be best at. I loved how he would talk to them like they were professional ball players and act surprised when he realized they had no idea what he was talking about.
 
I loved how he came home all excited, excited not because of their incredible win, but because, as he exclaimed "I installed my very first ponytail!" (since one of the girls had forgotten to put her hair up).
 
After detailing every play of every game he would slump his shoulders a bit, "I wonder what kind of player Avery would have been." One of a million unanswered questions we'll always have.
  

 
Now, almost three months after Matt first took hold of the coveted dry-erase clipboard, I believe I know why Avery was so insistent that Matt needed to coach basketball. I believe God was preparing our healing and I believe Avery knew that. Maybe not the specifics, but she knew that God called Matt to coach inside this small gym of her modest Christian School and that he had to answer that call and that is why she was so insistent and so firm and adamant.
 
None of us knew how to cope with Avery's sudden death. I turned to God with the simplest of prayers: please, help me. Immediately a scripture came to my mind and would remain on repeat for five full days and nights: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens meI can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me. I held on to the courage of others. I cried openly into the palms of my hands. But no one heard the words spoken between God and I in my heart.
 
And Matt didn't know God well enough to turn to Him, or to recognize Him speaking to his heart. Matt had no experience, no example. He saw only my head bowed, eyes squeezed tight, forehead wrinkled in an unrecognizable pain. He had no way of knowing the conversations pulsating through the core of my innermost being: my railing anger, confused pleading, and the comforting answers which found their way back to my knowing.
 
But through this team? This team has taught Matt who God is. 
 
Walking into the school that Avery adored, day after day, looking into the faces of children that had known Avery for years: had laughed with her, been annoyed by her, supported by her, created inside jokes with her, learned and played and prayed with her - somewhere along the way Matt learned about God's Gifts. He learned about the blessings of life.


Coach Matt and Mr. T with the girls.

But most of all, by coaching this team, Matt has been led towards faith by a wonderful, God filled man: Mr. Taylor. Both Matt and Mr. T enjoy sports. (A lot.) They both are about the same age and have boys around the same age. They both do tile work. Their father's even have the same name. They both have a spunk and free spirit about them. They are both easy going and patient. And they both coached the girls basketball teams (5th/6th by Matt; 7th/8th by Mr. T.). The biggest lesson Mr. T has taught Matt is that a man whose heart is centered on God is a man who can accomplish anything.

Basketball Hall of Famer, Larry Bird, once said, "A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals." It's true for the girls on the basketball team, but it's also true of all of us. I hope that Matt can see the talents God has given him and he chooses to develop them to reach his goals. And I believe that, through Avery, Matt was able to take those first, very important steps.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

AVERYday: How Will You Answer if He Calls?

Avery might have only been 11, but she had very specific plans.

She was going to read scripture in church. And play the piano before services began. And help out in Sunday School. And, also, maybe she could help in the kitchen for coffee hour. (She liked helping out in the kitchen.)

She was going to go on mission trips with her youth group, hoping to cuddle orphans and tell young children all about Jesus. (She'd build houses if she had to, but she'd rather work with the little kids.)

She was going to go to college at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, stay in a dorm with her best friend, Katie and compete on the gymnastics team. (Katie's mom was going to send care packages full of chocolate chip cookies and soda.)

After college, she was going to travel to Haiti and save everyone. Because there was this awful earthquake in Haiti and for a while everyone helped... but then the help sort of faded away and Avery was going to make sure that she would go to finish everything that still needed help.

She was going to work in orphanages. Playing with children. Rocking them. Reading to them. Talking to them about Jesus. And I could come to visit her.

In fact, Avery was going to tell everyone about Jesus because, she surmised, "if people knew about Jesus, then they wouldn't feel lonely or afraid anymore."

Avery would tell me of her plans and I would smile. Because she was young and her thoughts were simple and surely she would change her mind a thousand times before she grew up.

Except God didn't want her to change her mind. Or her heart.

This little girl, who would never grow old, would hold Jesus in her heart for ever and ever.

My daughter saw her world as one where Christ reigned with simple rules: be kind. Help others. And, above all, tell people about God.

I received an email a few weeks after Avery's death: "you are Avery's voice; don't silence her." It was a lot of responsibility and kind of scared me, yet I found that the more I told people about who Avery was, what she believed in, about the faith that held her tight, the more my sorrow lifted and joy flooded in.

I spent the minutes, days and weeks after her death repeating Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Those words ran through my head, coursed their way through my veins, encouraged my heart to keep beating.

I can do ALL things... all things? Even this, Lord? Yes. All things. Even this.

Soon, an idea to me. But I shook it away. Yet it kept coming back. Uninvited, it would meet me around corners, before sleep, upon waking, staring back at me in the mirror. I've never "heard" God's voice; not as an actual voice...but for some reason, this idea wouldn't leave me. Was this what people meant when God showed them signs? Or led them to something specific? That tugging of the heartstrings - was that God?

Lord, I'm sorry, but you're mistaken. I'm not cut out for this. I'm ornery and sarcastic. I swear too much and watch R-rated movies. I don't like people.

You do, too, like people. You're just anxious and awkward about meeting them. Stop with the excuses. This is what I am calling you to do.

I went to my sister with this ridiculous idea.

What if we found a way to keep Avery's voice alive? What if we continued to do all the things she wanted to do, but can't do, but other people can do? What if we could find a way to support mission trips? Especially those to Haiti? She loved Haiti. What if we could figure out a way to tell people about Jesus through her love of reading? Donate Christian books to her school or to the library? What if we could find ways - fun, exciting ways, to tell people about Jesus, to plant seeds of faith?

Instead of thinking it was a ridiculous idea my sister only shrugged, "what took you so long?"

Before I knew it, my friend Ginger, my sister Shannon, and I were huddled around a crowded kitchen table, laptops lit, pencils scribbling notes on paper, lists growing as long as my arm.

I turned around and a long-lost classmate of mine was filing necessary paperwork and researching how to do things legally.

I blinked and my cousin had designed an amazing logo. This amazing logo:



And that was it. AVERYday Ministries was born.

Now, the hard work begins. I am filled with worry and doubt and anxieties. Do I even know what I am doing? What if I fail Avery? What if, what I imagine never comes to fruition? What's worse: creating all this only to have it flop? Or not trying at all?

I can do all things.... ALL THINGS... I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Even this. Yes, even this.

Feel free to "like" us on Facebook at: AVERYday Ministries

And follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/AVERYdayTweets

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

AVERYday: You Lead, I'll Follow - Part 23

Oftentimes, no matter how hard you try to plan something, things will never go as perfectly as they will if you just step back and let God lead.

Jamie Grace was scheduled to play at Winter Jam in Milwaukee this past Friday (Feb. 1st). So many kids from Avery's school wanted to go. But I didn't. I did... but I didn't. This happens a lot lately. I struggle between Avery would love this! and why is it that Avery can't be here to enjoy this? Grief is a delicate dance between joy and sorrow. I feel the hard tugging of joy on one arm and the hard tugging of sorrow on the other in every activity or event Avery could be found in. In the middle of this struggle I find false comfort in the dark and stillness; it's the perfect place to lay down, close my eyes, and pretend like this is all a bad dream. Except nothing changes. Another day dawns and still I have lost my daughter.

And so it was that as the days dawned closer and closer to Winter Jam, everyone became excited except me. The days got colder. I grew weary. Matt got excited. I sorted laundry. The truth was, going to see Jamie Grace at Winter Jam was exactly what Avery would have wanted to do. She would have worn her Jamie Grace t-shirt that she bought at the October 12th concert in Madison. She would have charged her iPod to take a thousand pictures. She would have grabbed scraps of paper and a chewed down pencil last minute just in case the opportunity were to present itself for an autograph. She would have sang all the songs on the entire CD over and over and over again until we parked the car. And knowing all that hurt my heart.

Nonstop, my soul weeps for her, begging: just one more minute. Just one more hug. Just one more anything.

And, over and over I hear God's quiet answer: No. No, my sweet child, not now. Soon. But not now. Please, take my hand. Let me lead you.

***

My phone rang at 3:22pm on Thursday, January 31st. I didn't recognize the number so I let it go to voicemail. The message left was from Jamie Grace's mother.

Go ahead. I'll let that one sink in for a bit.

The message left on my phone was from Jamie Grace's mother.

And ten minutes later I'm speaking with Ms. Mona who is going to be my Best Friend for Life and her smooth voice is hugging my soul tight and I am all wrapped up in her love and never wanting to let this woman go... because even though she has never met my Avery, she gets it. She gets it huge, y'all.

And I find myself spilling my guts and laughing out loud and wiping away tears that threaten to fall and shushing Matt out of the room. And I find myself listening. Listening to this woman I do not know tell me how nervous she was to call me and how humbled and honored she is to talk to me. Me?! Me? What I have I done but loved a little girl with all my heart? But Ms. Mona is telling me God is working miracles through your Avery. Don't ever forget that. God is working.

I try to explain; I try to thank her for loving her little girl with all her heart. But I can't put into words that make sense how her love created a child encouraged to put words into song and how important those songs would be to me; the right words, the right melody, the right chords that would heal my heart and remind my soul to what was truly important.

But I have no words to my heart gushing: Track 8 gets me out of bed! I play it in the shower and force myself to sing. "Cause I know what you got for me is more than I can see!" I picture Avery's face smiling as she sings along but more than that it reminds me to say to God, I don't seem to know where I'm going today, so you lead and I'll follow.

Track 5? Track 5 has sung me out of some dark moments. "Come to me when you're weary... " Oh, Lord, you know how my shoulders ache and my head throbs and my bones are so brittle from weeping - give me rest from my burdens, Lord. Give me rest. And He does. Every single time. I just need that reminder to go to Him.

I manage to tell Ms. Mona about the first track on the CD. Ready to Fly. It's a prelude to the CD really. Just about sixty seconds.

There's a feather in my hair
and a wing around my neck;
I'm ready to fly away.

And I've got the wishes
from all of my friends,
Hugs and kisses
from my Mom and my Dad.

There's a feather in my hair
and a wing around my neck;
I am ready
to fly
away.

I tell Ms. Mona that this was the last song played at Avery's funeral. This song that played in a church with over six hundred people trying to wrap their head around why such a precious, beautiful God Girl was taken from us. This song that answered our sobbing hearts: "I am ready to fly away and meet Jesus." If you knew her, you would know: she was ready. We were not.

***

I gathered my people Friday afternoon. My sister. My daughter. My niece. My fiancé. And my father. These same people stood for Avery's visitation. For her funeral. And now here we were, standing together in my sister's kitchen, preparing to conquer city traffic and troubled hearts.

I looked tired. I knew it. I felt it. "I don't want to go," I told my sister. I hadn't slept, hadn't eaten. There was a time once where I would have picked the right outfit, put on make-up, fixed my hair just so; instead I was watering plants, picking off brown leaves. Delaying time. When she asked why I tried to explain, "because Avery would have loved this... and she's not here." I dabbed at my tears. Always, the tears. "I didn't even bother to do anything with my hair. Look at all this gray! What's become of me that I'm about to meet Jamie Grace and I didn't bother to do anything about my gray hair!" 

Shannon looked hard at me. At my tired eyes and my gray streaked hair. "Come here." And then she did what only an older sister could do: she colored my gray hair 37 seconds before we piled into the car. With a brown Sharpie.

Yes, people. I was about to meet my sweet Avery's favorite music artist with Sharpie-colored hair.

And you know what? It totally worked.
***

We arrived at the arena and found awesome seats right up near the stage. We couldn't have imagined a more perfect seating section! Jadrian and Aleah found two seats on the floor in front of the stage. Oh, to be young again, we mused. We were old. We needed our space. We needed the back of our chairs in case we had to sit. You can't sit in front of the stage. That's the standing, rocking out only section!

Matt asked where all the kids from DCS might be. I told him not to plan on seeing them at all. The arena was huge. There was no way we'd find them. Besides, we couldn't save seats. We'd just have to trust that they'd find decent ones. I said a silent prayer, "please, God, these kids travelled a long way to see Jamie Grace. Help them find the right place tonight." Matt decided to go look for them. The doors were open, people were flooding in. "You're never going to find them," I yelled after his back.

Twelve seconds later he was back in front of me: The Pied Piper of the Christian School Kids. They filled the seats around us. Thank you, God. Thank you.

Just a sampling of the whole crew.

Girls giggled and squirmed and squealed all around me, faces printed with Avery's name across their foreheads and cheeks. A sliver of me hardened. Why couldn't Avery be here giggling and squirming and squealing? She should be here. With these kids. Laughing. Antsy with anticipation. Begging me for money to buy a drink. Why can't she be here?

My sister nudged me. "Do you see their sign?" I looked up a couple rows. The girls were standing, singing, swaying to the music, holding up a sign: AVERY.

These sweet children were making sure Avery was with them. My heart swelled.

***

"That was her! Jamie Grace! That was her! She walked right by in front of us!" I was gushing. "Did you see her?" Eyes followed to where I was pointing. There in the stands, surrounded by fans, stood Jamie Grace. The spotlight trained on her. Her heaven-sent voice reaching the ears of eager thousands.

She began her walk through the crowd. Singing and smiling, slapping hi-fives with twinkling eyes and a sure step, making her way to the stage. Avery, do you see her? Do you hear her? 

***

The mood shifted. I could feel it. God perking up my ears, listen...

I cannot do it justice; the words Jamie Grace spoke about this little 11-year old girl named Avery, who wasn't afraid to say I AM A GOD GIRL! I cannot begin to find words that show my gratitude and my love; that show appreciation for her choice to give my daughter a voice in an arena filled with thousands of people. To introduce these people to a beautiful girl who loved God so very much....

Jamie Grace gives tribute to Avery Johanna.
And then she sang.  

 I'm a God girl that's who I'll be
From the top of my head to the soles of my feet
I can't deny it, wouldn't even try
I'm your girl in a crazy world

Avery's song. The last song I heard her sing. The song she smiled and swayed to, throwing her hands up, be-bopping and bouncing, singing lyrics out loud and proud on an ordinary Wednesday morning of that disastrous day.

Tears - how could they not come? And then, the most amazing thing happened. In the middle of the song God Girl, Jamie Grace seemed to turn directly to where we were sitting - of course she had no idea where we were, but I swear it was like she was drawn right to us as she sang these most precious words:

...there's a feather in my hair and a wing around my neck...

A million slivers and shards of my heart swirled around me, drawn back together to dance for Avery's soul, and for mine.

***


Matt (who is running his Faith Journey).
My sister Shannon (who has an AMAZING video that she needs to upload).
Jamie Grace (with pink in her hair and God in her heart).
Me (with my Sharpie colored hair)
Aleah (who looks so much like Avery).
Jadrian (who needed every word of that concert).
My Dad (who wouldn't go home to Australia until AFTER he saw Jamie Grace in concert).

***

Let me tell you about meeting Miss Jamie Grace. She is a fabulous person. Down to earth. Real. Without pretentiousness or ego or any of those things people who are "recognized" may gather inside their hearts. I really, really liked her. As in, I wish she were my neighbor. Or my co-worker. Or Brody's Sunday School teacher. I wish she were Jadrian's friend, or our babysitter, or the super market checkout clerk because I know she would smile and ask how're ya doing today and actually mean it. Ever meet someone and think how amazing the world would be if there were more people like them? That's what I thought when I met Miss Jamie Grace.

She told me she met a good friend of hers, who happens to live in the Milwaukee area, for lunch. Her friend just had a baby a couple weeks ago and couldn't come to the concert. (New babies always make me smile: "The birth of a baby is God's way of saying, 'I want my world to go on.'" How can you not smile?!) Her friend asked if she were doing anything different for tonight's concert. Jamie Grace started to tell her about this young girl who was killed in a car accident a couple months ago named Avery... "I know about that!" Apparently her friend has heard about Avery, telling Jamie Grace about following it on Facebook and this blog.

How far is your love for Jesus reaching, Avery?

More than you can ever earthly imagine, Mama.

***

As exciting and yes, healing, as throwing my arms around the voice who continues to encourage and give strength to be a live-out-loud God Girl - especially to my Avery, part of me worried about the kids from DCS. They had their signs and their painted faces and they screamed their love for Avery through this concert... but I wanted more for them.

I know an unexpected death can harden hearts. I knew from those very first moments that how I reacted and how I talked and how I processed would be watched by a school full of children who sat next to, ate lunch with, went on fieldtrips together, shared inside secrets with...yes, they would be taking their clues from me. In fact, that very next morning I had pulled myself together as best as I could and sat cross legged on the floor of my no-longer-there baby's classroom and I looked each one of those too-young-to-deal-with-this kids in the eyes and told them God was making sure this was all going to work for His good. I have showed them that I will not allow my heart to harden; not with anger, nor with doubt and fear. That I can do all  things through Christ who strengthens me, even this really awful part that I don't want to be a part of.

One of Avery's classmates came to me, her innocence and naivety cloaked around her, "you got to meet Jamie Grace? That's not fair! I want to meet her!" "Be patient," I answered. "God always has something prepared for you." Please, Lord. Prepare them something awesome.

***

The concert was almost over. TobyMac was doing his tobyMac thang - strutting and jumping and getting us all on our feet. His energy is beyond contagious; it's intoxicating, addicting. I, like everyone around me, was singing, putting our hands up, clapping, praising. (Put "see tobyMac in concert" on your bucket list. You won't be disappointed.) I was smiling thinking about the last two days. The phone call from Ms. Mona. The beautiful tribute to Avery. Meeting Jamie Grace. All my silly fears and anxieties that were so unnecessary. Why I keep thinking I need to be in charge when I could just follow Christ. I smiled and sighed. My life is good.

I looked across the crowd at Jadrian. For more than half the concert she had stood awkwardly within herself, held by a hesitant heart. And now, I could so easily see something had happened inside her. Somewhere between the unsure movements of an I-don't-know-where-I-stand-as-a-Christian, through sobbing seeing her sister's face smile out at the crowd, amongst Matthew West's set about Forgiveness: Forgiving others. Forgiving yourself. (And it was powerful!) my gorgeous, hurting, absolutely-forgiven-even-though-I-never-blamed-her 17-year old daughter was dancing and smiling and letting her hurts free and letting God in. We've been planting the seeds, Lord, and we're thanking you for bringing the right people into her life to water them.

Yes, I thought as I looked across at my daughter and around all the people who surrounded me. My life is so good. Thank you, Avery, for watering my seeds.

I turned my head to the right and looked down at the floor next to the steps leading to the stage. There stood Avery's classmates, circling Jamie Grace, heads a-nodding, grins spread out from ear to ear. What on earth...?

At the signal the kids flew on to the stage: dancing with tobyMac and Jamie Grace and all the other artists that had performed at Winter Jam!

Look at those pink shirts flying onto that stage!
Unbeknownst to me, unbeknownst to Jamie Grace even -- she had grabbed our DCS kids to go on stage for the final number. ON THE STAGE, Y'ALL!!


All of Avery's friends. All of the kids she would include in her prayers. There they were. On stage!!


Confetti flying, faces beaming, words tripping: Can you believe that? I can't believe that! Did you see us? Jamie Grace wanted US on stage! and my favorite: It was like Avery told God to do something special just for us!
I couldn't have planned a better night if I had tried. For the kids, for my family. For my grief-tired soul. Because God was all over me. And I heard Him ask did you feel her? Because she was here.

Yes. Yes, I felt her.

Good. Here now, take my hand. If you follow me, I will always lead you to where you can feel her.

The One in which I take my Father for his Covid Vaccine

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