Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What's Your Cause?

"We live in a generation where girls are taught to be the complete opposite of a God girl, so hearing how precious her heart was stood out to me, and I knew I needed to share her story, if but briefly."
Those were the words sent to me by NRT contributor, Sarah Fine. Sarah had just reviewed Jamie Grace's new album, Ready to Fly. And she made me cry.

In her review, Sarah wrote about Avery. Why? Because the incredible Jamie Grace has included a very special song on her album:

And while it is super cool to have Avery remembered by an incredibly talented Christian artist, what the true blessing is, is that people are starting to GET IT.

It's all about God.
Avery loved God more than anyone I ever knew. If you had known her, had truly known her, you would have been able to watch her walk down the hall holding hands with Jesus. You would have seen her pull out a chair and sit next to him at lunch. You would have heard her talking to him, telling him about her day, laughing at all the goodness, crying into his shoulder when she was sad. I cannot explain how real and how present Christ was for Avery. He wasn't just a sometimes reference; He was her ever present, all day, every day, seeped in every single second love.


As much as my shattered Mama Heart craves to see Avery's name in print and hear her being remembered - I need everyone to understand that the real story about Avery is that she was put on this earth and died way too soon all for God's Glory.

And while Avery lived on this earth with us, she wanted each and every single person she met to understand  that they, too, could have a real and ever present relationship with Christ. That they needed that real and present relationship with Christ.
Sarah Fine wrote this in her review about Ready to Fly, the song Jamie Grace dedicates to Avery, in her review

"The original version, written about Jamie coming of age, was played at Avery's funeral, and takes on a whole new meaning as the lyrics now represent the frailty of our lives on earth and how we need to seize the one chance we're given at life to soar for a greater cause."

Read that again: 

we need to seize
the one chance we're given at life
to soar for a greater cause.
Because for Avery it wasn't about acting the part. It wasn't about going to church a certain number of times and having the important verses memorized. It was so much more.

Avery understood something I didn't. Or couldn't. Or wasn't ready to understand.

She knew what her Greater Cause was.


She knew that who we are in heaven is who we ought to strive to be on earth. 

If, when in heaven, you are thanking God for everything and everybody that touches your life, then you should thank God on earth for everything and everybody that touches it today.
If in heaven you are driven by kindness and compassion, then on earth you strive to be driven by those same qualities.

If in heaven you are patient and giving, then be patient and giving here on earth.
If in heaven you are overflowing with praise and forgiveness, filled with the ability to see good in everyone, then do that here. Do that now.

Because you are here on earth for an indeterminate amount of time and it's up to you to make that time mean something big. It's up to you to live your greater cause today.
Avery understood you don't wait. 

You don't wait to love God. 
You don't wait to praise God. 
You don't wait to thank God. 
You don't wait to glorify God. 
You don't wait to have a relationship with God. 

 Avery understood it is in the here and now that our relationship with Christ should begin. She wasn't afraid to walk the walk and talk the talk. She wasn't afraid to live her love for Christ out loud, big and proud. And that is the legacy Avery leaves behind. 
"I'm praying like crazy that God would use it [Avery's story] to draw attention to how bold her life was, and encourages girls her age, and both younger/older, to live life loud and with purpose."  - Sarah Fine

Check out Jamie Grace's new song, Do Life Big,
available TODAY on her new album,

Monday, January 6, 2014

My First Trip to Haiti

I couldn't sleep last night. Just couldn't. In less than 24 hours I would be in the country Avery held so dear to her heart. Haiti. Avery's country.

I would be travelling with multiple people who knew Avery, who loved Avery, who went to school with Avery, whose kids went to school with Avery, who never knew about Avery but heard about her after her death.

I was 100% certain this trip was called by God, planned by God, sanctioned by God; there was something BIG on the horizon and I was going to do everything I could to run towards it and grab it with willing hands!
Sleep? Forget about it.

Instead, Matt slept while I busied myself with scheduling social media posts. Even in my absence from technology, I would make sure that people were reminded of our mission trip, that they would not forget the amazing work being done by Children's World Impact, that people would be reminded of the need to continue to help the people of Haiti.

Photo Credit: Children's World Impact, 2013

Photo Credit: Children's World Impact, 2013
Photo Credit: Children's World Impact, 2013
Photo Credit: Children's World Impact, 2013

Photo Credit: Children's World Impact, 2013

Photo Credit: Children's World Impact, 2013

I was beyond ready.

And, so, I shook Matt from his sleep at quarter after one in the morning. He wiped the sleep from his eyes, pulled on a pair of jeans and started the car. The temperatures were brutal. Negative forty, fifty degrees - I even heard on the news someone estimated it got to -70 degrees. It was ridiculous. But we threw my backpacks into the trunk and drove towards the church we were meeting at.

It was eerily quiet on those small city streets. Matt concentrated on driving; I on praying. "Lord, you know what you have called me to do; let me welcome it with open arms. Let me be willing to do whatever you ask, go wherever you call."

28 of us gathered, quickly threw bags of supplies into a freezing trailer and climbed into waiting vans, eager to start the first leg of the journey.

That first step tested me quickly. I was tired, without sleep - that I can handle. Cold? Cold I'm not so good with. The heater was broken in our van. For two hours I shivered. My toes turned to ice, my fingers numb. Ice formed on the inside of the windows. I wanted out. I hated this stupid van with its nonexistent heat. I was convinced my ears would become frostbit and would fall off.

But none of that happened. Instead, we pulled in front of the airport and began lugging in sixty large bags of supplies, along with the two carry-on's 28 people were allowed. (Did you do the math? That's a lot of baggage!) *we would quickly learn three bags did not make it; they were left behind at the church.

We waited patiently through check-in, emptied our pockets through security, Starbucks'd it through the waiting area, and handed our boarding passes to the lady at the gate. She told us to make sure our coats were on; the airwalk to the plane was really, really cold. And long.

She was right. I could see my breath.

The Midwest is used to cold. Chicago is no wimp when it comes to winters. We do winters. This, though. This brutal cold was something altogether different. This was something we don't see often.

Once cozied on the plane we all relaxed. It was cozy. It was warm. The freezing temperatures were behind us. We had nothing but sunshine and happiness to look forward to!

Our plane was about half full. Lots of room. Lots of overhead compartment space. Perfect for an early morning flight. After we had been sitting there a tad too long, the pilot came over the loudspeaker. Our pilot. We had actually met him earlier in the airport Starbucks. I was waiting for my chai tea latte when I heard a voice proclaim, "I am a Christian, too." That's not something you hear everyday so it tends to carry across the airwaves and perk people's interests. It was our pilot, talking to a couple members from our team. He was so proud and excited to be flying us into Florida and then on to Haiti.

I smiled. Look at God work! He made it so we would meet our pilot; our Christian pilot. I loved this trip already.

Anyway, so there we were, waiting for the plane to depart, when our pilot announced that we were in the process of refueling and it was taking a bit, so sit back and relax. Once they figured out what was going on it would take about ten minutes to fuel the plane.

I looked out my window and watched the most beautiful sunrise. The brightest orange I ever saw! And to the right of the plane's wing, a sun dog: a bright prism of light revealing itself as a rainbow. How many of these did I see after Avery's death? An orange sunrise and a sun dog, God is good!

After more waiting the pilot announced that we were, in fact, the last flight to leave for Florida. They were cancelling upcoming flights. Because of this we would be sharing our ample room on the flight with others. He asked that we all move to our originally assigned seats. The overhead compartments were being rearranged to provide more room.

We waited, but no one came on our flight. An hour after we were scheduled to take off came this announcement, "This flight has been cancelled. Please collect your belongings and exit the aircraft."

I assumed we had been bumped, but I was mistaken. O'Hare airport was grounding everything. I would hear later on the news that thousands of flights were cancelled today. It wasn't just us sitting in airport chairs wondering what to do next.

Logistically speaking, getting 28 people to travel together on one flight takes some serious coordination. As a team we couldn't "trickle in" and attempt to somehow join up after a mish-mash of flights and connecting cities, hoping that we'd find each other. Most of us were not carrying cell phones, which added another layer of things to consider. Besides, the trouble with the flight was due to the effect the extreme cold weather was having on the fueling operations, and that wasn't likely to fix itself as long as the weather was so brutal. The best case scenario wasn't that great and wouldn't even be possible until Wednesday.

After waiting several hours, praying, speculating, and more waiting, the decision was made: This medical mission trip to Haiti was being cancelled.

What?! I felt like the girl who gets all dressed up for prom and her date doesn't show up.

I felt disappointed. Confused. Angry. And, somehow, embarrassed. Like, I had told all these people I was going. I joked about the weather. I scheduled Facebook posts and Twitter updates. I had people praying and supporting me and - what? I go home and watch TV? Pretend like I'm okay sitting at home when I really, really, really want to be at prom?

Why would God call all these people to make plans, take time off of work, pack bags, hope, pray, want, expect - only to have us all collect our bags and go home? Why would God call us out on the most brutal Arctic-freezing cold day of our lives just to board the plane and walk off again?

And then it hit me: God called me to go on this trip. All he wanted was an answer. He didn't say, "if you say yes, it'll be this fabulous time and you'll just love it!" He didn't say, "if you hem and haw and act all unsure, well, then, I don't know if things will all go according to your plans." He simply said, "I'd like you to go to Haiti."

I answered His call. I said yes. A very excited yes!

That doesn't mean we'd be going when we said we'd go, on the flight we said we'd go on. Oh, no. This is God's trip and He's in complete control of the itinerary.

Hours and hours later, after a day spent in an airport, we all returned home to the church we had met at less than 24 hours before. It was there I heard a man proclaim, "I heard the flights were cancelled and that you guys wouldn't be going on your trip and I just said, 'Thank you, Lord, for protecting them for whatever it was they were about to walk into!'"

Thank you. His first reaction was to thank God for stopping this trip. While I sat disappointed and confused and anxious and well, just plain sorry for myself, this man was hi-fiving Jesus for keeping us safe.

I have so much to learn.

We will be meeting tomorrow night to discuss coordinating a second try. (Possibly late February, March or April. We need to see when the doctors are available!)

"Lean on,
trust in,
 and be confident
in the Lord
with all your heart
and mind
and do not rely on
your own insight or understanding.
In all your ways know,
and acknowledge Him,
and He will direct
and make straight
and plain your paths."
Proverbs 3:5-6


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Seeing the Good Stuff

Someone asked me how I could possibly laugh. How on earth, they asked, could I possibly be happy?

Don't be quick to judge; they have their own demons whispering in their ears, screaming during their dreams. They honestly just didn't know how it was possible.

How is it, they wondered, that a soul can be crushed into nothingness and still be able to see joy?

Easy. I told them. I swam in the Gooligans.

When I was 10, my cousins took me to a state park in the area of Innisfail, Queensland. It was beyond magical. Surrounded by rainforest and natural waterfalls stood the clearest body of water I ever saw. I was only ten, but in my memory I swam in water as clear as the air around me. Like swimming in transparent silks and satins - it was absolutely perfect water. More perfect than I could ever conjure up in my own mind. I could look to the very bottom of the swimming hole - the water so clear I couldn't tell if it was six feet deep or six hundred.

I don't know if you've ever swam in water like that, but it allows you to see every single precious miracle that is usually secreted away in the depths of dark waters. I could see every plant, every animal, every everything.

But, let's say something came along and shook everything up. Muddied up those waters. Just because I can't see to the bottom anymore doesn't mean it all disappeared. The plants, the animals - they'd still be there whether I could see them or not.

Life is like that. Sometimes the waters of life are crystal clear and it's super easy to see the good stuff. It's so easy to realize you're surrounded by nothing but goodness. But every so often something comes along to muddy up those waters: job loss, death, a diagnosis - and it's up to you to remind yourself that you're just having a bit of trouble seeing to the bottom. It's all still there, it just might take a bit of time until the waters settle and everything becomes crystal clear again.

But you can trust that the good stuff is still there. You can have faith that they have not disappeared from your life; your eyes are just temporarily clouded and blinded to their sight. Have faith that in time, you will again see that you are surrounded by nothing but goodness. If not in this life, then the next.

Sometimes, just knowing that makes all the difference in the world.

For we live by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Finding Jesus

It's snowing now. We should really be shoveling the sidewalks before the city imposes its $50 fine for unclear walkways. Instead I'm standing over our bed, items spread out: a flashlight, two pairs of pants, a couple quick drying shirts, my Bible and a journal with pencils. And still I have too much.

I'm not bringing make-up. That would be foolish. There is no need for perfume or hair dryers where I'm going. Even what I have - minimal by normal vacation standards - still seems way excessive.

I pack gluten-free granola bars, since I am one of those people. Except I'm not. I have a medical condition that requires a special diet. If I don't eat right I won't be any help to anyone. And yet, how do you feel good about yourself with a bag full of food, walking into a country that has none?

I stare at these items and think, "what am I doing?"

I have no business going to Haiti. It is not my country. It is not my problem. I live here, in the United States. I have children and a mortgage and an electric bill. I have a child in a grave without a headstone. And the reality is, she may never get one. We are not people of money. We live paycheck-to-paycheck with never enough. We don't have any retirement savings to think of and we're not getting any younger. The dog is still not properly housebroken (as evidenced by his actions this morning on my living room rug). I have my own problems here. I should be trying to fix my own problems here.

And yet...

I have children that are healthy. And if they happen to run a fever, I can go to the local Walgreens, a three minute drive in my comfortable, affordable compact SUV (currently ranked number 3 by US News and World Report) to pick up some Children's Tylenol with its safety seal properly intact and maybe a magazine, some new nail polish in a bright pink, and a candle that smells of lavender. On my way home I can run through McDonald's and pick up a Big Mac Value Meal and a hot fudge sundae, just because I can. And I'll drive home without any threat of a military ambush or angry mob surrounding my car and threatening my livelihood. No, instead I will pass by quaint homes with cute landscaping and pull into my modest two car garage before walking into my cozy home. It will be warm in the wintertime, cool in the summer. There will be fresh water that comes out of every faucet in my house. I will never worry that the water is unsafe to drink. I will simply grab a glass and let the water run until it gets nice and cold. A luxury I will never contemplate. Who would waste such precious water? Who would simply stand and watch it go down a drain when there are children in the world who haven't tasted clean water in their entire lifetime?

As I stare at the few shirts rolled and packed in a Ziploc bag in an effort to stay dry, I know that, although I can't explain it, this is where I'm supposed to go.

This is a medical mission trip. I am surrounded by doctors and nurses and optometrists. I wonder what, if any, special skills I possess that could possibly benefit this trip. I have had numerous people ask me what I'll be doing on this trip. "I don't know," I answer. Because I don't. But I do. Deep down inside. In the places I hold sacred. I know.

Haiti is Avery's country. Filled with too many orphans and widows that somehow her soul connected with, even though I could not have located it on a map if you had asked me. Avery's passionate pleas to Help Haiti rang constant throughout our home and I felt just as frustrated as she felt desperate because I didn't know how to help. What do I know of helping?

If you think God is only where the people succeed and drive fancy cars, you're wrong. If you think the size of a paycheck is a direct correlation of God's love for you, you are mistaken. Because here's what I know about Christ: I know he is everywhere. Everywhere. On my block, on yours. Across the ocean on a tiny island ravaged by an earthquake and political unrest. He is everywhere, my friends. But He gets hard to see when He's shoved aside by our second mortgages and the new swimming pool we're putting in. And He gets hard to see when He's shoved aside to make room for our new furniture and planning our trip to Disney and He is really hard to see when we're complaining about the way the local grocery store rearranged the food aisles and now we can't find where anything is anymore. And He's just about impossible to see when He isn't at the top of our To Do List.

But God is really easy to see when you have nothing.

When you are at the bottom of that pit and it's dark as midnight and you can't hold onto a single thought other than keep breathing, you have two choices: sit there and hate, or search out God's Light. You'll see it. He's there.

When you have nothing but time on your hands because you have no job to go to, no house to clean, no dinner to prepare, you have two choices: sit there and hate, or search out Jesus. You'll find him. He's there.

I know that, yes, for some reason I cannot explain, I must go to Haiti. God wants this to be my problem.

If there's one thing I know about Avery, it's that she knew where to find God. Sitting on our couch, playing on the playground, practicing gymnastics in the gym --- [do you know how many college aged girls have written to tell me that Avery asked them if they knew Jesus? That was Avery. Goofing off, laughing with whoever she was around, making sure they knew the love of Our Lord and Savior.] --- she sought Him out and she heard His voice. Fighting for Haiti as passionately as she did was not without reason.

There is a reason that little girl needed so badly to help Haiti. There is a reason Haiti was on her heart from such a young age and she could never let go of it. There is a reason she spoke about Haiti constantly and there is a reason I'm going to Haiti:

"I'm going to go find Jesus," I whisper before grabbing my leather work gloves and zipping them into another waterproof baggie.

Want to follow along on my journey? I am intentionally not bringing any phones or cameras. (Yes, I know. The girl who takes hundreds of pictures! But I want to be present. Really, really, absolutely present.) However, if you go and "like" the Children's World Impact Facebook page, you'll be able to see the daily posts on what our team is doing. (That is, if all goes well with things like electricity and cellular carriers.) So, "like" their page.
Thank you to each and every one of you who have donated. You have blown my mind! Avery thanks you, too. I can feel her excitement from heaven. Please pray for a safe journey, for wisdom and strength for everyone on our team. Pray for the families at home holding down the fort. They'll have a big job to tackle, too.
In our home, Matt will be left with a wiggly, overactive 4-year old while working full time, coaching basketball (oh, how I will miss those precious girls!) and attempting to figure out a way to keep our bathroom from falling into the basement. Every time we turn around we find something else wrong. Today it was rotten, moldy supports. Trust me, Matt will be tested big time! 

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