On Wednesday, October 24, 2012, Avery passed away as a result of a single car accident. Her older sister, Jadrian (17, and a Senior at Elkhorn High School) was driving. Jadrian had picked Avery up after school to take her to her gymnastics practice with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater GymHawks, one of Avery’s many passions. On their way home from practice, driving to the Delavan Christian Reformed Church’s girls’ youth group, GEMS, Jadrian lost control of the car. Avery was killed instantly. Our hearts instantly shattered.
When the Sheriff’s officer and County Coroner sat in my living room to give me the news I broke down. Hard. I sobbed. All oxygen was sucked out of my body. I couldn’t see. However, something else happened in those darkest moments. A feeling of indescribable peace swept through me. I lifted my head and looked straight into the eyes of that police officer: “I know you didn’t know her,” I said. “But if you did, you would know she loved Jesus.” Because that was Avery.
Avery loved God. I wish I could say she got her faith from me, but the truth is, only in her passing could I dare admit how superficial my own faith really was. No, Avery got her faith directly from God Himself. I believe this with my entire heart. A couple of weeks before she passed away I caught her up late reading the book of Revelation from the bible. I told her to put it away because it would give her nightmares. She laughed and shook her head, telling me instead that when the world we live in gets crazy and we don’t understand it, we should read Revelation and be comforted by it, for it explains the promises of eternal life. I believe in that moment God was preparing my heart for her departure.
The last morning I spent with Avery we drove to school singing along to Contemporary Christian Artist Jamie Grace’s song God Girl. Some of the lyrics include the words “I’m a God Girl that’s who I’ll be, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet.” The song ended just as we pulled up to the school. I turned the radio down as Avery opened the car door. “You know, Mom,” she said, grabbing her backpack and looking at me. “I really am a God Girl.” She flashed her trademark smile, flung her bag over her shoulder and, although I did not know it then, for the very last time on earth, I watched my baby girl walk into the school she loved so much. No matter how fractured my heart, I still thank God for those final words my ears heard my precious daughter speak: “You know, Mom, I really am a God Girl.” I am so blessed!
Words can never express my heartfelt gratitude toward everyone at the Delavan Christian Reformed Church and the Delavan Christian School who supported our family throughout the days and weeks following Avery’s death. I had no idea how unbelievably amazing my faith community could be. God used so many people in such incredible ways to encourage and inspire myself and my family; especially through the Christian School Avery loved so very much. I had completely underestimated our school community and will never be able to thank them for all that they did for Avery and for us! I recall a conversation Avery and I had at the start of this school year; she told me she wished everyone could go to school to learn about God and that it shouldn’t matter if you had enough money or not. “If everyone knew about Jesus, they wouldn’t feel lonely or afraid anymore.”
Avery always spoke proudly of her school to anyone who would listen. Just two years earlier a new student arrived at Delavan Christian School; her mother had been Avery’s bus driver. She said the way Avery spoke of her school community was what convinced her that her own child should attend. If Avery had her way, the school would be overflowing with students praising Jesus!
The days and months following her death were filled with an unprecedented (at least in my experience) amount of spiritual gifts and God moments. I began to write about them (as well as my grief) in my blog, Stumbling Towards Perfect. I received countless emails and messages from neighbors and strangers telling me the same thing: Avery’s story has renewed my relationship with Christ. Or, Avery’s story of faith encouraged me to go to church for the first time. And, the one that touched my heart the most: Avery saved my life. I was so empty. It was through Avery’s unashamed love of God that I came to realize only God could fill me up and make me whole.
It became obvious – in only the way God can show a person – that our family was to honor Avery’s memory by continuing to be her voice. It had been Avery’s plan to tell everyone about Jesus. To accomplish that she planned to go to mission trips, serve at orphanages in Haiti and become a camp counselor. She had a special spot in her heart for children and she vowed to tell each and every one about her beloved Jesus.
In order for us to be her voice, our family decided to create AVERYday Ministries. In its simplest form, our mission is to introduce the world to Jesus. We will plant seeds of discipleship to grow great Christians; engage young people with God using all appropriate methods to excite, inspire, capture and ignite young people for Jesus; and, enable young people to understand and recognize who Jesus is, and what it is to live for Him only.
We’ve decided to incorporate things that Avery would have enjoyed. Avery loved music and dance, gymnastics, reading and theater. She loved being active and helping others. And she was always faithfully led by Jesus Christ.
So, that is what we will do: allow ourselves to be led by Him, too.