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.

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

I got a voicemail the other day from the hospital saying ‘since you’re the contact on record we just want you to know your Dad can get a Cov...