7 Things {Black & White Edition}

1. If you ever feel like you’re a terrible parent then watching your kids come up with the Top 25 Names for Barf will renew all sense of possible parental failure.  It was the best/most hilarious thing watching Harper, Hudson and Solomon coming up with this list.  They even broke out a thesaurus.  My favorite was a close tie between “ralph” and “regurgitate”.  Kids are the best!

2. This guy has allergies like nobody’s business…peanuts, dairy, dogs, cats and pretty much EVERYTHING outside including grass.  WHAT?!?!?!  Week after week he gets 3 allergy shots and takes it like a defeated champ 🙂  They hurt…his arm hurts…and inevitably his arm is quite swollen afterwards and he leaves with an ice pack strapped to his little bicep.  Could not love him more and his allergy ridden body more.

3. Our nephew Cooper made us an aunt and uncle.  He’s now only one year away from being a bonafide adult.  To say we like him would be the greatest of understatements.  He is kind and funny and loves our kiddos so well.  We use to play games of hide-n-seek, have sleepovers, craft our hearts out and give crab kisses with him.  Now he plays games and loves on our kiddos and chats with them in between making all the fancy coffees.  We are all surely the luckiest to have him in our lives.

4. Do you need a most delicious and easy treat for the holiday season?  Then look no further than the beloved, but forgotten & underrated Snickerdoodle.  There are a few desserts which bring about certain feelings and snickerdoodles are one of them for me.  I am confident Angel Food Cake is the closest thing to manna and Snickerdoodles are what clouds taste like.  Cook time should be 8 minutes tops…give them a few minutes to set…and then bite into what you can only assume those fluffy beauties in the sky surely taste like.  Easily double the recipe and share with people you want to make like you 🙂

5. Thes two are kindred spirits.  Harper has had the toughest year and Meiya just gets it.  They understand each other on a freakishly sweet level and they have plans to travel the world together…China and Swaziland being at the top of their list.  They dream up wild beautiful worlds, have their own language & writing code and create until their fingers tire.  It is one of my greatest joys watching their relationship be what it is.

6. Marriage is hard.  If someone ever told me it was easy I would look them in the eye and declare them a liar 🙂  And I think it’s suppose to be because we’re two sinners living under one roof doing life together.  Losing a child together has been so difficult.  It is not easy to watch Josh Kelley grieve and I know it’s not easy for him to watch me grieve.  We tell each other how sorry we are all the time for Everett dying.  Not that it’s one of our faults, but because we know the weight and sadness and pain associated with our boy being in heaven and not here among us.  Josh is by far my favorite human and his heart and gift of humor keep me afloat daily.  There’s not another person I’d want to walk this road with.  Just call me lucky.

And 7. Watching our children grieve the loss of their little brother has been excruciating.  We we’re all of 0% prepared for helping them navigate this road.  And while some days I want to cover my ears and run for the hills, I know this is one of my greatest honors to help them move through this the best we can.  Every last one of us are in therapy and I’ll never ever ever be ashamed of that.  And I hope our kids are never ashamed of that either.  Instead I hope they feel pride in their hard work and perseverance to grow and heal.  Our world is becoming more open and accepting of those who are in therapy and/or counseling and rightly so, if we have a leaky faucet or broken toilet I call a plumber to help fix them, so I’ll never feel shame or embarrassment for reaching out to trusted professionals to help us maneuver and heal our own brokenness.

Hope your week is off to a decent start.  We all had a rough weekend so we’re welcoming in this week with anticipation of hope and kindness.

Kindness Advent 2017

This is our 7th year doing our kindness advent.  This formed after losing my Mom suddenly and being plunged into intense grief.  We do not do this to show off or to make people think we’re amazingly great people.  Let me put your mind to ease real quick…this morning I yelled at my kids BEFORE we got to school, I say too many curse words, sometimes I drink too much, I’ve already had chocolate this morning and sometimes if I decide not to purchase an item in the store I don’t return it to it’s spot and put it on a random shelf.  I mean, we are struggling on SO MANY levels and there is so much more I could say, but yikes, you guys might run away and never look back.

So this isn’t a show off kind of thing, this is a deep rooted tradition that formed from great sorrow and has made it’s residence among our Christmas holiday.  Sometimes we spend more money, sometimes we spend less.  A lot of people get hung up on how much this costs, but you could totally do this completely free…kindness does not always cost money.  And to each their own…different strokes for different folks.  Not everyone’s finances are the same by any means, so just make changes as you need to.  I want to be super transparent so last night I sat down and added up how much this years is going to cost and we came in right under $250.  We have 2 big items on the calendar this year…donuts for our elementary school and sending cookies to Mott Hospital in Michigan…Everett’s heart surgery hospital.  Both of those are running us around $120 together, but they are super important to us this year so we figured it out.  If we cut those costs we would come way down on our money we’re spending this year.

  So here’s the list of our activities this year:

Share candy canes.  Send fun mail.  Buy soap for prison ministry Christmas gifts.  Take treats to our funeral home.  Angel Tree bag in honor of Everett.  Take donuts to school staff.  Decorate someone’s mailbox.  Give away a redox bucket.  Leave sticky notes on public bathroom mirrors.  Take peoples polaroid photos.  Surprise yard inflatable.  Treat for our trashman.  Ornament delivery.  Load bubble gum & trinket machines with quarters.  Share Sonic happy hour.  Take someone breakfast.  Return shopping carts.  Treat for our mail carrier.  Cards & treats for our pediatrician’s office.  Gift card for a single parent.  Cookie delivery to Mott Hospital.  Snack for Salvation Army bell ringer.  Paint wood slices and leave around town.  Give someone flowers.  Leave encouraging notes on cars.

So there’s this year’s list.  I’ll be sharing details here probably on Fridays and daily over on Instagram so feel free to follow along.  If you need more information on how this gig all got started and for lots of ideas THIS POST is a great place to start.  And I do not lose my mind over this.  This is such a fun tradition everyone looks forward to it so there’s zero pressure.  If an activity doesn’t get done, it does’t get done.  No biggie.  No one needs anymore crazy pressure.

You can CLICK HERE to see our list of last years activities.  And CLICK HERE for a recap of other year’s activities and ways we’ve displayed our advent.

Today we kicked things off by sharing candy canes with friends.  I bought some cheap mini candy canes, the kids divided them up for their classmates and they all headed off to school to share away.  Crazy easy.

And tomorrow we are sending fun mail.  Everyone wrote kind notes to a friend last night and I took anyone who wanted to use their own money to purchase a treat for their mail friend to Target last night too.  I loved seeing what they each chose and this was no money out of my pocket.  Harper is a pretty big giver…she’s more of a go big or go home gal…so she has quite the goodies to share.  Sending mail is one of my most favorite things!

(Blocked out addresses because, ummm, privacy & we want our recipients to be surprised.)

Hope you guys enjoy your weekend!  It’s Friday and officially December.  Raise the roof.

7 Things

1. Tomorrow kicks off our 7th year of our kindness advent.  You can see a good re-cap post from our original year HERE or you can see last year’s post HERE or you can use the search bar to your right and search “Kindness advent” and see all our past posts and ideas.  This has become a staple in our Christmas season and this year feels so similar to our very first year when we’d just lost my Mom 10 days prior.  We needed something to push us outside ourselves during intense grief and this year is no different.  Still thinking and holding tight to what I learned most from Mom’s death…”When you don’t know what to do for yourself, you can always do for others.”  I’ll post tomorrow on what all we’re doing for this year’s advent.

2. Amon’s kindergarten teacher text me this photo of him from his Thanksgiving meal with his classmates and I almost died.  I mean, he’s the cutest little thing I ever did see.  And his Indian name was Amon Biting Snake 🙂  He was so proud and wore his get up at home quite a bit.  Good teachers are the bomb…teaching and loving on our babies.  Thank you Mrs. Peters!!!!  And yes, the giant holes in his knees, he is the third little boy who has worn these jeans that came to use already used and we were fresh out of clean unholy jeans that day.  We rolled with it and so did his school.

3. These are the faces of 3 brothers who are deeply invested in a Star Wars series and are not one bit interested in their mother taking their photo.  Hahahahahaha.  It made me laugh when I finally looked at it.

4. Let’s just call him Clark Griswold.

5. It’s not even December and we’ve already made gingerbread houses…or at least 3 of the Kelley kids and 1 Kelley cousin have.  They assembled and decorated 4 of these and promptly got busy eating them.  We have lost all our parenting will and are just trying to say “yes” to those things which really aren’t crazy important.  “Can we have a piece of gum?” “Yes.”  “Can we go to the library for the 10,000th time?”  “Sure.”  “Can we make gingerbread houses on November 25th and immediately devour them?”  “Why not.”

6. The cutest little Everett boy in all the lands because, well, I just miss his sweet little face and body.  Shuai Shuai, you are terribly missed and you would have loved every last thing about this holiday season.

And 7. Sometimes things are just so dark…looks and feels like thick darkness, but that light is coming.  The skies still preach to me that is for sure.

 Thank you guys for all the love and kindness…as always.  Thank you for still meeting me hear, reading my mess on the inter webs and sharing your own.  You are encouragers and I am forever grateful.  See you tomorrow with our kindness advent ideas for this year.  Can’t wait to share with you what’s on our calendar.

6 Years

It’s in the 3am hour and I can’t sleep.  Our littlest woke up about 2 hours ago throwing a fit which she does often now.  Josh Kelley got up first with her like he always does and then it was my turn the next go around.  She finally went back to sleep, but then my mind took off.  I laid there thinking about Everett of course and then my mind ran.  I whispered to Josh, “Are you awake?”  After several asks he finally responded and I could put my burning question to rest, “What was the name of Everett’s respiratory therapist at Mott who we loved so much?”  It was driving me crazy sitting there in the dark.  “Mike.”  His name was Mike.  Thanks Josh for being on it even at 3:22am.

The 20th marked 6 years since my mom died suddenly.  She was sick with brain cancer for a total of 10 days and then she was gone.  It was crazy and still is.  She was my parent and so many things died with her when she died.  I still think about her everyday and would give most anything to crawl up in the bed with her, have her wrap her arms around me and hear her amazing laugh.

I think about the day she died a lot especially after watching our son die.  I can get really angry about the day she died because no one treated us with care at the hospital…minus her nurse on her regular floor.  The doctors who worked on her and who talked with us afterwards we’re aholes…or at least that’s how they presented themselves.  We we’re given all of about zero time with her and ushered out as quickly as possible.  And then the immediate paperwork while her body literally laid within looking distance.  Yep, it still makes my blood boil, but I had never experienced death so personally before and had no clue…zero expectations on how all this was suppose to go down.  It feels quite insane thinking through it all.

Our experience at Mott with Everett could not have been more drastically different.  Maybe because it was a children’s hospital, but I like to think it has more to do with the people who work in that children’s hospital.  I remember vividly standing in the hallway by myself looking in through the big glass doors while Everett’s room filled with people…several who had become like family to us…and they worked on him as he had coded for the second time…this time having to be put on life support.  I remember the shock and terror and the immediate indescribable sadness.  At Mott when something goes wrong you immediately have a social worker by your side.  Out of no where one of their social workers just appeared…our normal lady was busy at the time.  This social worker immediately started asking questions…would you like to sit down…do you want to go somewhere else…maybe we should step inside this room…do you need anything…would you like some water…can I call someone for you?  I didn’t want to go anywhere…I wanted to stay as close to Everett as humanly possible.  I did not want water…I did not want to sit down…I didn’t want to go anywhere except out of that hospital with our son and back home…and I had already called Josh and he was rushing to find and get on a flight.  I just couldn’t stop crying and all I knew was I wanted out of this hellish moment with Everett in my arms.

Then this sweet woman, who wanted to do nothing but help, in her last-ditch effort to help in some way asked, “Do you want me to call your mom?”  I turned in all my panicked mother glory, sobbing I might add, and said, “You can’t.  She’s dead.”  YOU GUYS!!!!  This poor poor woman.  And then I busted into laughter while the tears streamed and I apologized.  I mean, what is the likeliness.  She walked right into that one and I just instinctively responded.  I felt so bad for her and she was so shocked/horrified/crazy apologetic/weirded out-relived I was laughing.  This is my Mom…still providing laughter in those insane moments even after she’s gone onto glory.  She totally loved to laugh and her laugh was my favorite.

In our first parental grief group I thought about Mom a lot because there we’re a few grandparents at the meeting.  To start off each meeting they pass around a microphone and each person is given the chance to say their child’s name, how old they we’re when they died and how they died.  Not one person passed up this opportunity.  Not one.  It was so hard and yet so nice to be in a place and with other people where the first thing we did was talk about Everett.  It’s a heartbreakingly, beautiful thing.  On the day we buried Everett we immediately began to feel the isolation and loneliness.  Most places we go and people we are around rarely mention his name…it’s like people just don’t know what to do with us or our kids…so to be in a place and around other people and the first thing we do is say Everett’s name and acknowledge his death and our pain from it is, well, like breathing a giant breath of air into our emptied out lungs.

I have wondered about how Mom would have handled Everett’s death a 1000 times over.  I said one time how if she hadn’t already died, this would have surely killed her. 🙂   I talked to my Mom almost every single day.  She came by our house multiple times during the week just to see the kids and snag some hugs from them.  I often wonder if this would have pushed her away, but my head knows better because during big change for us in the past she never checked out, but more so, checked in.  She would have worried about us and Jesus.  She would have wanted every last gritty, ugly, hard detail of how the kids we’re processing it all.  She would have wanted to know how Josh and I we’re doing and how our sex life was 🙂  Nothing was off limits to Sandra Hall.  She would have done our laundry.  She would have brought food.  She would have stocked our cabinets with all the best snacks.  She would have watched the kids for us so we could have some time just me and Josh.  She would have dropped by or had us swing by her bank so she could smother the kids in hugs and kisses and give them small treats and gifts just to relieve the pain for even a moment.  I like to think she would have just kept doing what she always had done.  And that makes me miss her the most because I know she wouldn’t have run for the hills or hid away…she would have walked this messy journey with us and for us.  She would have been all in.

6 years.   This year was maybe my saddest death anniversary because 6 years feels like way too long.  After 6 years people have far moved on and likely forgotten and rightly so, I mean, do you know how much life happens in 6 years?!?!  A lot.  But this year was especially hard because it made me think about Everett and what 6 years without him will look like.  Will anyone really remember?!?!  People will have far moved on and likely forgotten and rightly so, but as his mama, gah, it just makes my heart want to jump out of my chest and demand the world to stop moving.  I know it’s life.  I know death happens.  I know my Mom and Everett are both in heaven with Jesus, but that knowledge does not make this any less painful.

This past week was a tough one.  Everyone felt it extremely heavy, but I feel like this week might be better.  As I sit here in the dark of our warm little home, filled with all these precious people I get the honor to call mine, I can’t help but be extremely grateful.  I’ve got a lot of hangups with Jesus right now…we’re working through some things to say the least…but His goodness, so far I’m still holding on crazy tight to it.  I know His goodness brought Everett into our lives and allowed me to be born to one of the greatest women I’ve ever met.  His goodness, well, so far I’m still a believer. 🙂

His Place

Last week Everett’s burial marker came in and the funeral home put it out.  I missed a call from the funeral home letting us know it was out and when I heard the message I let Josh Kelley know. I received a picture just a few hours later…Josh stopped on his way home.  When he got home I asked how he was feeling and it said it actually felt nice to have his marker in.

The next day I pulled out a recently emptied jar…banana peppers to be exact…and after I dropped our littlest off at school I went to get some flowers.  I splurged for some special flowers at our local flower shop and picked up some cheaper filler flowers at Kroger.  As I carefully cut and arranged flowers it hit me I was making flowers to take to our son’s burial place.  I often ask myself, “How in the world is this our reality now?” and I did the same in that moment.

I took Everett’s flowers and sat them on his marker.  I read over the words and looked at his sweet little name.  The Chinese characters are his Chinese name Zheng Fu Shuai which were incredibly important to us to have first, front and center.  They are the names what we first new our son by and still use frequently.  We chose the name Everett because it means “brave & strong” and it’s from one of Josh’s favorite books The Brother’s K by David James Duncan.  We give all our kids a special family middle name and Everett was named after Josh’s grandfather Louie.  And Shuai was Everett’s Chinese name…it’s always important for us to keep a part of their given names and Shuai mean handsome…which he absolutely is the most handsome of little boys.

I sat down in front of his place there in the cemetery and it felt nice to have this official piece in place, but it also felt so final.  It made me sad thinking about all the life that would happen in this place, all the seasons which would come and go and all the times we would visit with all of our other children, but with Everett missing.  I thought about how we’d already seen summer in this place and we’d watched the leaves fall and change from golden yellow and vibrant red & orange to crunchy brown and how winter was already upon us.  I thought about the picnics and games of tag and holiday celebrations and cemetery birthday parties and the treats we’d would enjoy together without him right here in this spot.  It all just sucks on about a million different levels.  As we’ve entered into this first big holiday season without Everett it feels so deeply sad and weighs heavily on all 7 of us.  Our kids have not gone unscathed by any means and if anything, my heart aches for them and the way they are each having to individually move through and process Everett’s death and their own huge loss they feel every single day.

I’ve been back to the cemetery 4 more times since.  I ordered rainbow solar powered Christmas lights for the little Christmas tree Josh Kelley decided to get for his spot.  Everett’s best friend’s 4th birthday was last week.  They spent all of their birthdays together.  We have the sweetest photos of them blowing out birthday cake candles right beside each other.  Early in the morning our littlest and I went out to the cemetery and left balloons because I know Everett would have been beyond thrilled to celebrate yet another birthday with his best friend.  My brother-in-law Andy referred to Everett’s spot in the cemetery as “a special corner of the earth” and I can’t think of better words.

I checked the mailbox last week and discovered the sweetest package from our friend Melena at the funeral home.  In this whole journey I have been absolutely floored by the kindness of people we never expected.  To say Forest Lawn Funeral Home is full of kind, generous and insanely thoughtful people would be a massive understatement.  So thankful for these people like Melena who have taken their love and kindness far beyond their job description.  It makes me teary instantly because we have felt so cared for and seen by them.

Every day we get up and move through another day.  I’ve cried every single day for the past 5 months…the hospital really did a number on my ability to keep tears in…and I don’t foresee an end in sight on those tears.  We talk about our FuShuai every single day.  We laugh and smile about memories and we cry and hurt about those very same memories.  We feel all the feelings.  Josh and I hash out guilt and regret 1000 different times over the span of each week.  We’re working hard at figuring it all out and while I know we aren’t close to “closure”…if that is such a thing…I do know the love we have for our son and the gentle healing of our God will eventually lead us to better place.  It must.  It just must.

8 Things

1. Solomon lost his first front tooth and now his other 3 front teeth are loose too.  What I don’t want to forget is how he has a slight lisp now with that cute missing tooth.  I could stare at his precious face for the rest of my life and know that I am surely the luckiest mama around.  Seriously. He’s amazing.  And I kind of hope he looses those other 3 soon too…I mean, 4 front missing teeth…I imagine it being hilariously cute.

2. Candy bowls forever.  Whether it’s strategically purchased candy or just throwing all the random candy you have lying around into a bowl it’s always a massive hit among kids.  I’ve even had adults raid these bowls of sugar goodness.

3. Me and her.  Her and me.  We spend everyday together and we are learning more and more to be each other’s rock and comfort.  We are two heartbroken ladies missing the same special boy and we lean hard on one another.  This little girl is simply amazing and her life has not been what it should be, but she is deeply loved and cared for by so many.  It’s an honor to have her hold my face in her hands and tell me comforting things like, “It’s okay…I miss him too.” or “You’re breath smells really bad.” 🙂 This girl, man, she’s something special.

4. We put our Christmas up last Saturday after I arrived home from Guatemala.  November 11th.  It was really hard and really good.  I had forgotten that last Christmas I wrote Everett a letter and tucked it away in his ornament box with a few ornaments we had for him.  I read the note and sobbed.  It was full of so much hope and love and anticipation of spending our first Christmas together this year.  It was full of hope and assurance that Jesus would indeed heal his heart.  I think about his little body…his little personality…his little life and with everything in me I cannot grasp the point of him not living.  What I wouldn’t give for him to be enjoying the holidays with us.  He would have loved every bit of it.

5. I went into our elementary school to check the boys out for yet another x-ray appointment for Amon’s foot.  As I was checking them out one of our secretaries handed me a donkey piñata and said it was from some of the teachers at school.  I thought it was such a sweet gesture.  Our littlest carried it out to the car.  As we we’re driving Solomon discovered the piñata was stuffed full of notes.  Notes to me.  Notes to Josh.  Notes to Harper.  Notes to Hudson.  Notes to Solomon.  Notes to Amon.  Notes to our littlest.  Notes to all 7 of us.  I sat in traffic in Nashville and thought about this incredibly kind gesture as we all read the different words written to us.  I thought about how simple this act of kindness was, but what an impact it had on our hearts.  I hope I never forget how important kindness and inclusion and remembering others is.

6. Sometimes things completely catch me off guard about Everett and suck the breath out of my lungs.  It’s funny how these feelings just boil over in a moments notice.  I was cleaning out our medicine baskets and found his oxygen tubing.  I instantly wanted to vomit.  That sweet little tubing.  We’ve touched not many of his things, but some items we have been able to give away or toss, but I looked at that tubing and slid it right back into it’s place.  Not today.

I was also sitting waiting for an appointment and noticed on the rug under my feet letter E’s.  No joke, I burst into tears.  So much so the lady next to me struck up a conversation and I could not quit crying and she ended up crying as well.  For all the hurt that comes from others while walking through grief, I am equally amazed at the empathy and compassion from others.  This woman did not know me and owed me not a thing, but she could see something was very upsetting to me and she extended me the empathy I needed in that moment.  She walked straight into it and chose to reach out and use her words to make me feel seen.

7. Anyone ever play bingo…like legit bingo?  You guys!!  It was so much fun/the most stressful thing ever.  Some friends and I went to Kentucky to play for our friend Marcie’s birthday.  We had a blast.  There we’re snacks and all the colorful dotters and Susan brought 100 good luck charms which did not work because none of us won a cent.  But no joke…So.Much.Fun!

And 8.  This last entry is just so I can feel better about my parenting, but does anyone else hate when their kids drag out all the crap from everywhere and call it “playing”?!?!?  Hahahahaha.  What?!?!?  This collection of items in our driveway was Amon and our littlest’s lions den.  I know imaginations are great and healthy and blah blah blah, but my OCD runs wild when they play like this.  I gave a very stern motherly warning that every bit of that crap better be picked up once the lions den game was finished. 🙂 Amazing mothers unite.

Here’s to the weekend.  Welcoming in this Friday!

Safe Place To Land

Before I left for Guatemala I felt the intense need to go to the cemetery. I know Everett’s not there, but it’s our place and just like how I grabbed each one of my babies and hugged them tightly and kissed their sweet faces and told them I’d miss them like crazy before I left, I felt the need to go to our place and tell him I miss him like crazy too and I’d be back on Friday.  His burial plaque was still not in at the time and I just thought he needed something there.  I cleared a little area and gathered a few bright yellow fall leaves.  An E would certainly do.

Sweet boy, how you are desperately missed.  How I’ve never felt the pain of separation like I do being apart from you.  Everything in my body screams out daily with how not right our family is without you…none of us are the same now…we have all changed…we desperately miss who we use to be…we desperately miss our family with you here with us.  Our kids miss him so much and I keep telling myself, “One day.  One day joy will emerge.  One day their little smiles will slightly resemble what they use to.  One day their eyes will twinkle and dance again. One day.”

I cried because I didn’t want to go on the trip.  Grief and sadness and pain quickly have turned me into quite the homebody.  I cried on the floor of a Victoria Secret’s dressing room because I felt the least I owed Noonday was to have an actual real bra after wearing just sports bras for months upon months and since my fashion sense would certainly be lacking.  I text josh and explained the very lowly…literally and figuratively…position I was in 🙂  He cracked some text jokes and I eventually wiped my face and peeled myself up off the rather forbidding dressing room floor, real lady bra in hand.  I checked out and went home feeling quite pathetic/rather accomplished.

 

I was so anxious about this trip. I mean, sometimes I burst into tears at a moments notice and I simply cannot control the grief when it is so thick and heavy. I  packed.  And self talked. “This is going to be good.  Everything will be fine Laura. This is going to be just fine.”

Our littlest cried when I got out of the car.  Josh hugged me so tight.  He then promised her Sonic for lunch and her demeanor changed.  Forget mom, give me a slush and tots.  That’s my girl.

I met Lindsey in the Nashville airport and she was an instant comfort. She loves home and she self talks too. We were made for each other.  Lindsey was the highlight of this trip.  She was kind and compassionate.  She was supportive and talkative.  We we’re each other’s comfort, cracked all the jokes and supported one another in ways we each so needed.  We literally read one another’s minds and spoke hard truths out loud only confirming the other’s same hard truths.

We found our gate at the airport, grabbed lunch and chatted each other’s faces off.  We didn’t miss a beat. We started to board and while walking the aisle looking for our seats all I could think about was the last time I was on an airplane. The last time Josh Kelley and I boarded the worst flight of our lives in Michigan empty handed.  I remember our seats weren’t even together and I held in my hands Everett’s hand and footprint molds we did right before he died. I sobbed and prayed the man sitting next to me wouldn’t strike up a conversation.  I just wanted to guard his little hand and footprints with my life in a sweaty, tear filled peace.  No small talk man.  My mind raced back to that day and it made me sick to my stomach.  Where was that damn drink cart when I needed it?!?!

After some music and drawing and pretzels and a coke I starred out the window and thought about how this is physically the closest to heaven I can get right now.  How this is physically the closest I could come to Everett right now.  And then I creepily wondered about every other passenger on the plane and if any of their children had died too.  We’re any of them 3-years-old like Everett?!?!  All the weird, creepo, mother-in-intense-grief-mode questions spilled through my brain.  I pulled his photo out from behind my psssport and starred at his little face and thought, “This cannot still be real.  He was so lively and fun and full of life and gave the sweetest hugs.” I still feel intense regret and responsibility for his death.  I’m his mama.  I should have been able to protect him. The tears formed and I wiped them away with my shirt which instantly made my mustard yellow shirt appear darker in spots.  And then I remembered what I’d forgotten…my handkerchief.

Lindsey sat in front of me and passed me back a little note and present.  I knew she was going to be a gift on this trip and boy was she.  I seriously cannot say that enough.  When I felt the intense grief I felt like Lindsey understood.  I didn’t feel awkward or weird around her at all.  I never once thought how I might be putting her out…I felt seen and welcomed and known.  She would hear conversations and whisper in my ear words of empathy and encouragement.  She was so intentional with me and I hope was just as much with her.  Stepping out into this trip was not easy for either one of us.  Lindsey talks candidly about her battle with chronic pain and fatigue with Lyme’s disease and her sweet daughter’s intense trauma.  Us going on this trip was huge to both of us and we we’re each other’s champions.

 As our plane descended into Guatemala I watched the sweetest fiesta sunset and was so grateful for the reminder of Everett…of his little life.

The place of Guatemala and it’s people are ridiculously gorgeous.  I absolutely loved meeting the artisans and watching them create and work.  They are inventive and smart and creative and so freakin’ talented.  It was so neat and such an honor to work along side them briefly.  I cannot say enough how impressed I was with these artists and the work they do in Guatemala and with Noonday.

One of the days we visited Natalia’s house and it struck me right in the mama’s heart when I noticed some of the things hung up on her walls.  A calendar, some of her children’s crafty artwork, photos of their family and special moments like kindergarten graduation.  The exact same things I hold precious and hang up in our own home.  Women supporting and loving and lifting other women up is where it’s at!

The country was over the top beautiful.  Everywhere you looked was more and more to wow your eyeballs.  The lush landscape, the mountains, the volcanoes, the people, the food, the vibrant colors everywhere.  I felt so privileged to experience Guatemala for the first time.  What I loved most was hearing Lindsey’s excitement for it all.  This is her daughter’s birth country…a deeply rooted and beloved place by her, her husband and daughter.  She went on and on about it all and rightly so.  All I could think is how I would have been the exact same had we been in Ethiopia or Zhengzhou.  Our children’s countries…their beginnings…are so valued and I loved hearing Lindsey’s love and enthusiasm ooze from her body while there.

I’ll be super honest, this trip was crazy hard.  I felt weird, lonely and out of place a lot.  I missed home desperately and could not board those return flights fast enough.  I missed Josh and our kids.  I missed my place where I knew I was understood and my grief was understood as well.  I missed Everett.  Each night Lindsey and I would talk about the day and she was this soothing balm to my raw heart.  So many people hoped this trip would be joy and hope for me, but instead I got a greater gift.  I met another woman who knows suffering far too well and taught me how to tend to others who know it too.  In moments when I walked out to go cry in a bathroom stall, Lindsey would always catch my eye and simply asked me 100 times in a span of 3 days, “Are you okay?” or “How are you doing?”  So simple, but so needed for me.  I walked away longing more and more to be that type of person…that type of friend…to be a safe place for hurting people to land.  To choose empathy and compassion.  To include everyone and notice those who are on the fringes feeling misplaced.  Lindsey showed me love like Jesus and I know, that I know, that I know she was the purpose of this trip for me.  Massive bonus: She lives in Nashville.  We said, “Let’s be friends in Nashville too.”  Done and done.

Thank you guys so much for voting.  I am still so humbled and honored you took the time to vote.  And thank you Noonday for sending us.  Guatemala definitely became one of those places I want to return to and a place where I learned such an invaluable lesson about loving people who are hurting.

 And if you haven’t check out Lindsey’s Bottle of Tears shop, please go right now.  I actually cried after looking through her shop for the first time.  It is so intentional and sweet and not corny at all!  Her stuff is legit and hip and just an amazing way to comfort a friend who needs a little extra love.  Definitely on my list of places to shop now!

Taking The Reins

I’m not good at relationships right now.  I’m not a good friend, I’m not a good family member, I’m not a good neighbor, I’m not a good business owner.  Right now I’m in full on survival mode which means so many things are falling to the wayside and I have to watch them drop from my hands.  I’m giving everything I have to pull myself out of bed each morning.  I’m giving everything I have to help Josh Kelley keep our family afloat right now.  I’m giving everything I have to help our children process and grieve the death of their little brother.  At the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the day I don’t have the energy or the capability to manage my relationships.

It’s extremely hard and sad to watch your relationships fizzle out in front of you, but we’re pouring our whole selves into grief right now.  I can’t say how hard this is coming from someone who thrives on giving, thoughtful and intentional relationships.  My calendar is marked up with every birthday, anniversary, death anniversary, hard date for a friend because I WANT to remember with them and be the person who stands in that gap.  A goal every single year is to send more mail and I didn’t even send my brother a gift or card on his 40th birthday in October.  This is not me and it’s hard to admit I can’t do it right now.  It’s hard to hand the reins over solely to the other person and know deep down if this relationship is going to survive it’s all on their shoulders.  It’s not even fair to them.  I keep reminding myself when I feel like I suck at everything right now that this is a season currently and dear Jesus, surely one day it will end.

My friendships I have right now are very one sided and I know it.  It’s all on the other person because I am physically, mentally and emotionally maxed out.  I forget things.  I get caught up in grief and don’t call or text.  I don’t reach out because I’m exhausted and it slips my mind.  Sometimes I can’t even hold a simple conversation because I am on the verge of bursting into tears in the middle of the restaurant while discussing pop culture news just because that’s what grief does.  My mind is consumed with grasping the fact that Everett is dead while simultaneously trying to figure out how I can get back to him although I know that’s not even a reality.  It’s an impossible situation and most of my days are filled with telling myself I’m not crazy…I’m just a mother who longs deeply for her boy to be back in her arms.  I’ve spent many a moments crying in a public bathroom stall because I didn’t want to cry in front of the people I was with.  I don’t want to be this pity party, Debbie Downer of a person, but my 3-year-old died a very baffling, heart crushing death and I’m just not okay with it and I don’t know how to be myself right now.

So the friendships I have right now are full of grace.  They know my heart and know I can’t fully be myself right now and tend to our friendship how I normally would.  They love me and are doing all the hard work in our relationship while I flounder around in grief, pain and sadness.  It’s not that I don’t care or value our friendship…I immensely do, but I’m in a season of needing and accepting the help and care to keep our friendship going.

I share these things because I wish I’d known.  I wish I’d had a heads up that I was going to suck at keeping relationships going because I just couldn’t do it.  I wish I had a heads up at how awkward just my presence sometimes makes things for others.  I wish I’d known how terrible a conversationalist I’d become because all I can think about is the fact that Everett is dead.  I wish I’d known I’d literally burst into tears at the most inopportune times.  I wish I’d known just how physically taxing grief could be.  I wish I’d known sooner that it was okay and that there would be those friends who would come up and grab those reins for me, take over and say, “It’s okay Laura.  I’ll do the work right now while you sit in the pain and wait for healing. When you’re ready we’ll share these reins again.  In the mean time, I’m not going anywhere.”

So if you have a person in your life right now who’s suffering or has experienced loss or trauma or hardships and maybe they forgot your birthday or maybe they haven’t been the one to initiate a conversation or phone call lately or maybe they didn’t ask you about that exciting job promotion you got or your vacation you just took or maybe they forgot you had some big, hard things going on in your own life, consider graciously taking the reins in your friendship right now and showing them some big merciful love.  They are struggling, they are in the deep trenches and it’s not how they want things to be, but sometimes people are just doing their damndest to open their eyes each morning and put their feet on the floor. Rally with them and help them rise.  One day roles may be reversed and you are going to need them to step in and take those reins for you and when they do it will simply mean the world to you.