Wednesday, October 23, 2013

365 Days

My favorite picture of Avery, stolen from
Bridget's Facebook, is so beautiful. 
365 days.

It's been 365 days since our God Girl went home.
It feels like yesterday when I got the text message.  It was a Thursday, I was sitting in my 11am class.  There was a presenter giving a lecture to the 140 students that I taught each Thursday.  All the text said was, "I just sent you a terrible email."  It was from one of my GymHawks moms.  I didn't know what to make of it, so I checked my email on my phone.  The email contained a link to a newspaper article and the statement, "word is, they were coming home from gymnastics."  Confused, I clicked on the link to the article, and immediately, my world started spinning.

11 year old---Dies----Car Accident------Delavan Girl--------Hwy 89

Those words flashed through my brain like a strobe light.  AVERY.  I knew it.  Immediately, my heart stopped beating.  At least it may as well have.  I left my class mid presentation.  I couldn't breathe.  I walked to the next building over on campus, I think it took me 6 seconds to scale two flights of stairs and a 600 foot corridor.  I walked in to our registration office and (not very nicely) demanded that they bring up all Delavan residents enrolled in gymnastics on their computer.  There were three names on the list... only one fit the profile described in the article... Avery.

Her "gymnast of the month"picture
from the GymHawks Newsletter in
October 2011.
I left quickly, unable to cry, still unable to breathe, and walked back to my class.  I slipped back in the door and sat down at the back of the lecture hall, still to the world, just me and my racing mind.  I texted my boss, who has never been just a "boss" to me, she has been a coach, a mentor and a friend-- I forwarded her the email and told her what I had heard, and again, I snuck out of my classroom to pace the hallway.

The rest of the day was a blur.  There was a luncheon for athletics, (which happened to be today as well), and I remember sitting there, completely numb.  I don't remember who was there, I don't remember what was said, I just remember staring in to space.  I couldn't eat, I still couldn't breathe and I sure as hell couldn't focus on anything but seeing those blue eyes again.

We had calls in to the Whitewater police, the county police and teachers in the Delavan school district.  No one could tell me the words I knew were coming, but dreaded to hear.

Finally, a friend at the Delavan High School texted me back, and listed the names of the girls she had heard were in the car.  There it was in plain text on my phone... "Avery McCarthy."

I praise God, that my friend snapped
 this picture of us together at camp
in 2012.  She was one of the hardest
working gymnasts I've ever coached.
I don't remember the events that followed.  I went to practice with my kids... left the gym more than once to catch my breath... and sent them home to their parents.  I don't remember the collegiate practice that day.  I don't remember coming home, or going to bed, or getting up the next morning.  I don't remember leaving for the Dells (we had a team trip that weekend) or driving the 2 hours up to the Dells.   Somehow, I just arrived there.

The first thing I remember is arriving at the Wilderness resort.  I got out of my car and walked into the hotel.  I walked around the water park, the arcade, and the bar.  I seriously considered getting a drink, but thought it might ease the tears I had so forcefully been holding back.

I settled for coffee.  I sat with my cup in the lobby of the hotel, and I remember hating all of the happy families that were walking by.  With their goofy floaties, pool toys and long tickets from the arcade games, their happy faces just seemed so wrong.  Didn't they know that my heart was breaking, didn't they know about this perfect little family whose world just crumbled?  Apparently they didn't... and it frustrated me incessantly that they were able to hold their children tight, while Bridget would never hold her baby girl again.

It wasn't fair.

And then, she called me.  That sweet, ridiculously sarcastic, and all around wonderful human being, called me.  Me.  I felt (in that moment, and still to this day) so unworthy that she would call me to tell me that on the way home from gymnastics last night, Avery and Jadrian were in an accident, and "Avery didn't make it"- didn't make it... those words will be forever burned into my ears.  Not, Avery "didn't make it" to school on time, or Avery "didn't make it" to the concert she wanted to go to. No... Avery just "didn't make it."

I remember bits and pieces of that conversation, and I remember I didn't cry.  I remember thinking, Dear Lord, please watch over this wonderful Mama going through the most unimaginable pain.  And then I remember hanging up with her.  I immediately rose from my chair in the hotel lobby and made my way for the door.  It was probably only 25-30 feet from where I stood, and yet I could NOT get out of there fast enough.  I hit the cold, October air and it was like an ocean of tears washed over me.  As I ran to my car I couldn't fathom what was happening.  My brain ceased to function and all I could do was sit in the car and drown in the tears that refused to stop falling.


Avery has inspired many of my GymHawks to reach out to
the community.  Here they are with Bridget at a fundraiser
raising money for Averyday Ministries.  
Flash forward 364 days...

That little ribbon means
the world to me. It hasn't
missed a meet.
Avery is with me every single day.  I am always carrying that little girl with the bright blue eyes, and crazy curly permed hair who loved gymnastics... and Jesus, with me... AVERYday.  You see, Avery taught me so much about life, and about myself.  I've always been a dreamer, I see the best in people and have always had a hard time dealing with life's realities.  Losing Avery helped me to grow up. (and not in a bad way... the most perfect way possible)  I still don't feel old enough to comprehend the true enormity of loss, but Avery is guiding me through that.  Learning more about Avery, (through her mom's beautifully written blog) has helped me to reaffirm my faith in Christ (something I lost sight of as I was going through the darkness of my eating disorder).  I'm probably one of hundreds who have fallen on their knees and given themselves up to Jesus in the past year because of Avery's devotion.  The more we learn about her, the more we want to emulate her and the way that she lived her inspiring, yet short life.  I can't even tell you how often we speak of her at GymHawks.  When one of my girls is struggling, (particularly on bars) I always tell them to have faith because Avery is watching out for them... Avery's best event was bars.  Almost instantly, these little girls go from being afraid to radiating confidence knowing that they have an angel looking out for them.   The purple ribbon I got at her funeral comes with me to every competition and the little girls ask me frequently if they can rub it... like its their lucky rabbit's foot or something.

There is not a day that goes by where I don't think of Avery, or her mom, or her BEAUTIFUL big sister Jadrian.  They have welcomed me into their life, and I pray that they know how much that it means to me.  They will forever be in my heart, and this day... no matter how many years go by... will always be with me.

Carrying our God Girl with me &
every day she helps me grow in my faith.
"I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my
help come from? My help comes from the Lord,
 the maker of Heaven and Earth."
 Psalm 121  
I wish, with every fiber of my being, that I could be there for the balloon release tomorrow.  My heart aches knowing what the event symbolizes, and I know there are several other members of the UW-Whitewater Gymnastics family who wish the could be there as well.  I'll be sending my own message up to Avery tomorrow... and pray like crazy that she knows how much I miss her, and how her wonderful heart is living here each and every day because of what she taught us.  Averyday I give thanks for knowing her, because she has made me a better coach, a better sister, a better daughter, a better friend and a better Christian.

Thank you, God Girl, for your continued guidance and never ending comfort.  I know you are with us each and Avery day... ;) I promise, we are doing our best to live in your example.

Love True-

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Life That's Good

I love music.  Beautiful words strung together with a melody that can melt your soul is simply the perfect medicine for a rough day... or month.

Sometimes life gets hard and complicated and the stresses consume me.  I'm not the type to shake it off and roll on.  Believe me... I wish I were.  Funny thing is, many people don't know this about me.  Sometimes it feels like every little task or minor stressor is hanging like a charm bracelet- a very LARGE, and heavy charm bracelet- around my neck, just pulling me down.  For those who know me well, they can often tell when I start to reach a breaking point.  I get short tempered, I stop sleeping at night and I'm not nice (to those who know me well).  To those who don't know me well... I just seem like Al.

The past month of my life has been hard.  I'm a people pleaser to the core, and when I upset someone... and I do mean ANYONE, I turn in to mush.  Seriously, folks, if I knew the neighbors hamster had ill feelings toward me, I'd probably need a Xanax.

Through the craziness of the last month and the emotional roller coaster that I have very un-willingly stepped on, I have had a few moments of clarity.  As I sat at home tonight trying to get caught up on the pile of work that I can never seem to make a dent in, I had the TV show Nashville on in the background (DVR'd of course, because I watch everything late as HELL).  As the episode came to a resolution the two youngest characters (the Stella sisters... who are AMAZING) began to sing.  Lennon and Maisy Stella caught my undivided attention as they sang these words:

Sitting here tonight
By the fire light
It reminds me
I already have more than I should

I don't need fame
No one to know my name
At the end of the day
Lord I pray 
I have a life thats good.

Two arms around me
Heaven to ground me 
and a family that always calls me home

Four wheels to get there 
Enough love to share
And a sweet sweet sweet song

At the end of the day
Lord i pray
I have a life that's good.

Sometimes I'm hard on me
When dreams don't come easy
I wanna look back and say
I did all that I could

At the end of the day
Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

Two arms around me 
Heaven to ground me
and a family that always calls me home
Four wheels to get there
enough love to share
and a sweet sweet sweet song

At the end of the day
Lord I pray
I Have a life that's good

At the end of the day
Lord I pray
I have a life that's good.

After hearing the song, I immediately bought it on iTunes, listened to it 5 times and started to write.  You see, I've been a little bit blocked with working as much as I have, and trying to sort through the things going on in my brain. When I'm stressed I don't sleep well, and when I don't sleep well, I don't work well, and when I don't work well, I get even more stressed... and so the cycle continues.  Tonight, that song reminded me of all of the wonderful things I have in my life; the people I have been blessed with, the opportunities I have been given, the athletes I have the privilege of working with, the fact that I am alive and able to go to work every day...

Those are all gifts to my life.  My life is good.  And though sometimes it seems like it is too much, it does me well to remember that God would not bring me to it, if He didn't believe I could get through it."  It's not always easy to remember that, especially in the day to day... but it's true.  And I thank God for that song that came at just the right moment tonight.  That song, did me a whole lot of healing... and I pray that it can help heal you too. 

Love True-

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Psalm 121

"I lift my eyes to the hills-
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The maker of Heaven and Earth.

He will not let your foot slip-
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, He who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you-
The Lord is your shade at your right hand;
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm-
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going,
both now and forevermore. "

These words mean so much to me now.  So much so, that in April, I had the verse "Psalm 121" with a cross tattooed in white across my wrist.  Not many people know it is there.  In fact, I think that the majority of people I know have never even seen it.  But I know it is there.  It is a constant reminder of the little girl who led me to Jesus.  The little girl who taught me what it means to trust and what it truly means to love.  Avery would have turned 12 today... just one day before I turn 27.  We used to chat about our birthdays and compare our presents (her's were usually epic- like a perm in her hair or a whole day with her mom)  I've known a lot of people in my life who have had October 5th as a birthday, and I always felt a little special place in my heart for those "almost birthday twins."  I'm not sure why.  Avery was no exception.

Tonight I get to celebrate Avery's birthday and her life in extraordinary fashion.  Her beautiful, wonderful, amazing mother is throwing a birthday bash to top all birthday bashes!  It will be an amazing celebration of Avery's life and generosity, and will kick off The 19 Days!  For the 19 days between Avery's birthday and the anniversary of her death, her mother is asking that we all participate in 19 Random Acts of Kindness.  Give a hug, send a letter, or let someone go first in the check out line... what ever you can do to spread cheer and happiness.  Avery wanted to make the world a better place, so we're going to try to do that, one smile at a time.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Angel!  We miss you down here!

Love True,