Although a bit dramatic I always imagine that in the pre-mortal world Avery volunteered to come to our family a tad early. Born just five months before Claire was diagnosed with Leukemia, Avery was a difficult baby. She cried every evening for about three hours. Eating was challenging. The only way to lull her into a nap was to listen to Josh Groban’s You Are Loved loudly while swaying back and forth in our winter-lit living room. I cradled her small body further and further from my own, still swaying to keep the rhythm of my rocking arms the same as the cadence of the baby swing, until she rested in the swing. Then, careful not to jostle the newborn bundle, I held my breath while I released my grasp. Claire, not yet two, rocked and swayed with me. She knew we would read books when Avery was finally asleep.
We had no business getting pregnant with Avery. We had previously struggled with infertility for almost 5 years before getting pregnant with Claire, and we had every reason to believe it could take another five before our family would number four. We were understandably overjoyed with the surprise of her pregnancy. I remember the day well. It was a Saturday morning, and a sleepy Dustin was holding a sleepy 14-month-old Claire. They were in the kitchen making pancakes. This time, I didn’t tell him I was taking a test because, really, I didn’t think it possible that I could be pregnant. Barely able to talk after reading the results I lept out to the kitchen bar. Without preamble, I announced, “Dus, I’m pregnant!” I don’t think anyone could look more stunned than he did at that moment. The best surprise we’ve experienced by far.
Still, I don’t think Avery was ready to come. In January, she arrived to us, and she just wasn’t prepared for this world. She was still longing for Heaven and cried for it often. I envision that her compassionate spirit had discovered what was about to take place in her family, and I think she raised her hand quickly, “I will go now,” she most likely said. “I want to be there for Claire.” I think someone probably told her that it would not be easy to go early, but I’m sure she insisted that she would do her best to make things easier for Claire. “I want to help!” I’m sure she said this because she still says it often.
A couple of weeks ago, Dustin taught a lesson on prayer for Family Home Evening. The girls loved holding the footprints that were the ‘steps of prayer’ and walked along the bright paper prints as Dustin helped them say the words. Claire consistently started with “Thank you for this day” and asked blessings upon “Gangy and Pop Pop and Grandma and Grandpa.” Avery needed a little more prodding, but ultimately thanked Heavenly Father for her beautiful hair and asked blessings upon her umbrella. As Dustin closed his lesson he told the girls he wanted to give them a present. Claire’s dark eyes lit up at the mention of a present. She loves gifts of any kind. She listened raptly as he then explained that he was going to give them each a father’s blessing. He compared the blessing to a special prayer. He blessed Claire first, and although the words were beautiful, I only remember that he voiced aloud the words, “I bless you that Leukemia will leave your body and that it won’t return.” A Father’s request. For Claire, that’s all I needed to hear. He then blessed Avery. I admit I peeked at her, folding her arms tightly across her chest as only a two-year-old can. The Spirit was strong and both girls were surprisingly reverent. In Avery’s blessing, Dustin began with “You are very special.” I know all children are special, but it struck me that Avery is exceptionally so. He then stated that, already kindhearted, Avery has progressed in compassion immensely in her two years in this mortal life. Tears came to my eyes at this moment as I felt the truth of the declaration and the power in Avery’s spirit.
I know from my own experience as Claire’s mother these past two years that my compassion has worn thin on many occasions. I have wavered in my love when things are most difficult. Avery never has. She has shared beyond her years. More than a younger sibling syndrome of wanting to please the older child, Avery serves Claire. She is concerned for Claire. She loves Claire even when Claire gives nothing in return. In many ways, Avery has grown more from this trial than Claire herself.
Maybe it’s because she volunteered for it.