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-

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