We have been home officially for 2 weeks now and we’ve been in full on acclimating and adjusting and ALL THE DOCTORS APPOINTMENTS zone.  It’s been quite time consuming and exhausting.  I am bound and determined to finish documenting our China trip.  It’s for me.  It’s for our family.  I just really want to make sure I get it all down in this space so here I sit on Mother’s Day propped up on the couch…Josh and Amon are at the flag football field, our littlest and Leo are napping and the big kids are watching a movie right beside me.  Mother’s Day will have to be an entire post of it’s own because WHOA…it has been beyond heavy and painful I’ve decided next year I will boycott the day all together.  I’ve been strategic about the day and taking some time to write was on my short list of musts for the day.

On that crazy early Friday morning in Guangzhou we all rolled out of bed at 4:30 in the morning.  We were ready for home.  It was dark as we loaded up in the van and Elsie handed us all breakfast bags to go.  Everyone was sleepy eyed and anxious to get started on this long journey home.

We first flew from Guangzhou to Beijing.   Let me throw in a plug here for our amazing travel guy Jeff Lemmonds at Adoption Airfare.  We gave Jeff 10 days to get flights for 8 people…6 children, 2 adults…to China…seats together…and he did it.  I can’t even say what that meant to us.  Josh Kelley and I needed to be near the kids and every single flight the seats were where Josh and I were with each set of kiddos.  Jeff is a flight miracle worker and always crazy kind, understanding and beyond efficient to work with.  USE HIM!!!!  You will not regret it.

I was super nervous about flying with a toddler and our lack of communication and the fact that surely he still felt like “Who are these people and why have they kidnapped me from everything I’ve ever known?”  I really felt bad for poor Leo and the insane travel we were about to put him through.  First flight he did great minus vomiting…not once, but twice all over himself…oy…and a few toddler fits.  I packed a back up shirt, but he puked on that along with his rainbow heart shirt I made for him to wear home in honor of his big brother.  You win some, you lose some.

We had a 5 hour layover in Beijing while we waited on our next long 14 hour flight to Detroit.  My friend Meredith came out to the airport with 2 of her friends and 2 of her little guys, Toby and Theo, to hang out while we waited.  Our time consisted of 6 chicken wings, 2 ice-cream cups, 5 ice-cream cones, 1 ice-cream cone tragedy, 5 things of fries, 1000 crackers, water bottles, photos galore, lots of high-fives, a hug-a-thon,  sing-along time, all the stares, lots of laughter and another child whom we did not know joining in on our singing.  It was great and hilarious and crazy sweet.

Sweet Toby had surgery the very same day Everett did across oceans in China and there he sat before me.  When I was praying over Everett’s body, I prayed for Toby.  I hoped so hard he would recover well and while Toby still has quite the road ahead of him, Meredith has chosen hope and life and love for that sweet boy and championed for him like no other.  It was just an honor and privilege to meet both Toby and Theo and see their little faces, gets hugs and high-5s and watch our kiddos interact with them.  Meredith is the best kind of crazy friend.  The one who sleeps over in our hotel room in Zhengzhou with ALL OUR CRAZY MESSINESS and the one who BRINGS HER BABIES TO THE AIRPORT FOR 3 HOURS!!!  She’s a gem in the world of friendship.

We boarded our flight late for Detroit and settled in for the long flight.  Everyone did amazing.  I was so surprised by Leo, but really why shouldn’t this kid shock us at this point.  He of course had his little moments, but did so so well.  He did throw up…again…bring on yet another shirt.  Hahahahaha.  Dude was just not feeling his best.  He actually slept a lot and also called the flight attendant several times to our seat.  Hahaha.

By the time we touched down in Detroit, everyone was thrilled.  To say that we were all homesick would be the understatement of the century!!!!!  We didn’t care how it happened or how long it took, but we needed to be home.  Grief has taken a toll on all of us and we are all beyond home people now.  It’s our comfort and safe space.

We had quite a bit of time in Detroit while we waited on our flight to Nashville.  We found a spot for us to camp out in and then I took all the kids…minus Leo…to get some Chickfila for dinner.  As we stood in line waiting to order my friend Courtney sent me a picture from her and my other sweet friend Ashley.

And then I sobbed.  Like full on tears will not stop coming, people are looking at you, strangers feel like they should maybe check on you to make sure you can actually handle the 5 children with you because clearly your mental state is now questionable, sobbed.  Sweet Everett should have been with us.  This is not how this was suppose to go down.  He was 3-years-old.  He was precious and innocent.  He was suppose to live this long beautiful life and he was not suppose to die in that stupid effin hospital.  This was not okay and we’re not okay without him.  9 months has felt like zero time at all.  And at any given time, on any given day my thoughts are on Everett and how I just want my baby back in my arms.

^^ Please enjoy Josh Kelley’s photo taking skillz 🙂 ^^

In that moment, seeing that big brother balloon, I felt seen.  I felt like someone really saw us and the immense grief that swirled around the joy in bringing Leo home.  The past 9 months have been the loneliest of our lives.  We are too much for most people.  We are too broken and too messed up and too jaded and most people are just not up for that.  And I get it.  But in the darkest times of our lives these simple gestures like buying a big brother balloon, tying it to a rock and placing it on our boy’s grave, well, those are the pinholes of light that pierce through our darkness.  They are the way we will eventually find our way out of this madness and into the light.  I just know it.

Our last flight ended up being late.  Leo was pretty much losing his exhausted, confused little mind and the Kelleys were officially DONE.  We needed home immediately, if not sooner. 🙂  We boarded our last flight, got settled with Leo and realized somewhere in the Detroit airport was his shoe.  We’d made it this whole time and now lost one of his little shoes.  It’s small I know, but I was bummed because those shoes are special.  He came to us in those shoes and he loved those shoes so I was down about it, but we were almost home so I focussed in on the task at hand.

When we finally stepped foot off the plane and onto Nashville soil it felt different that I expected it to.  We walked out and of course sweet family and friends were waiting on us.  Our beloved photographer Cheyenne and her partner Laci were there to snap all the photos and I felt absolutely broken on the inside.  I felt bewildered on how we had actually gotten to this point in our family.  I felt overwhelmed with grief recognizing how different this moment was without Everett.  I tried making small talk and then Courtney gave me a hug and I just cried and whispered in her ear, “I just thought I would feel happier than this.  I thought I would feel different.”  Cheyenne stepped in and I hugged the guts out of her.  She has loved us beyond well and has captured the highest and lowest moments of our lives through her lens with her impeccable talent.  She has our deepest gratitude for forever.

I was so relieved to be home with Leo…I mean, we had made it.  And he had done so well and we had zero complications with his little sick heart and body and all of our other kiddos had done so well too and we are loved by so many kind people and they showed up at that airport, but I just thought I would feel different.  Grief is like that though.  Grief gets these unexpected moments and you simply cannot control them.  It swoops in and wrecks your heart.  It’s suffocating and debilitating in so many ways.  In that moment my heart was just so grieved and longed for our Fu Shuai to be there with us in this sweet moment for our family.  I missed my mom too.  I know she would have yanked Leo right out of my arms and I thought how this would be our 4th child she never met.  What I would have given for one of her big, tight hugs.  In my heart, they were both so missed, but Everett won out on those thoughts.  Part of me wanted to yell out loud in the airport, “I hope you’re all thinking what I’m thinking.  This is so beyond stupid and Shuai should be here with us.  Thank you for coming to meet Leo and love on us.”  The end.

We got our luggage and finally loaded up in our ginormous van and Josh’s dad drove us home.  The van was so quiet and yet not one big or little human was asleep.  It just felt like this sacred family moment for us.  Everyone quiet and still and awake and like, “Here we go.  Family again.  We miss Shuai, but we can do this.  We are the luckiest of the lucky to have each other.”  At least, that’s what was running through my mind.

Home.  We had made it.  Here is where family really begins again.  Here is where we start to sort all of this out and work like crazy and love like mad and enjoy and annoy and bother and bug and fight and care and choose kindness and grieve and yell and sling insults and hug it out and give kisses and cuddle and here is where the real guts of being a family would start to play out for us again.  Just like every single kid who has joined our family…no matter how they have joined us…Leo made us that much better.  Leo wasn’t obedience…Leo is a gift none of us deserved.  Leo was wanted and longed for and we rolled up to our little white house in the middle of the night…exhausted, sad, grieving, but knowing yet again, this sweet little boy had made us the luckiest parents on the planet all over again.  It sure was good to finally be home.


  1. Beautiful, blessed by you, your words, your ginormous family. Luke 1:37 says with God All things are possible, I believe that. I know Everett awaits you and you WILL be together again, until then, keep in loving so well my friend. God is using you and your story around the world. I am so proud of your entire family. Little Leo is one blessed little fella! Our God is Good!! LOVE you ALL!!

  2. Tears again!!! You are all amazing. Every. One. Of. You. Hero’s in my book. To love so deeply, openly and in the midst of grieving you choose love all over again. Everett is certainly missed in your pictures but HE is present in all you do and are. Your family was prayed for often on Mother’s Day and every day. Hugs! Thanks again for sharing with us.

  3. Thank you for sharing Laura ♥️

  4. Heather Herman says:

    Your words always hit me. Praying for you and all the Kelley’s. I can’t wait to watch Leo grow. I’m so sorry your Fu Shuai isn’t here with you like he should be. It’ll never be right without him.

  5. Thank you for sharing this and recording this part of your trip. That photo of you crying wrecked me – I could feel all of your emotions right there and can’t imagine how you were holding it together (not to mention with the addition of exhaustion!). Laura, you are something special and the whole Kelley family makes me feel constantly optimistic for this world <3

  6. I am so sooooo grateful to have found your beautiful space on the internet. I so wish we were neighbors so that I could try and help beat some of your burden. I’d dare you to be too messy or jaded or difficult. Alllllllll of the love for you and your miraculous family.

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