Leo’s Brave Heart

We left yesterday for Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Leo will have open heart surgery tomorrow morning and of course we’re feeling all the feelings about it.  All day Saturday I noted every big and small moment.  Like when Winter was helping me make waffles and she said, “It’s going to be hard without you.”  I told her it would be hard without her and she squeezed my neck tight.  We’ve been gearing up for this moment…like getting our game faces on…and now it’s here and the triggers and trauma are so real.  We know Everett and Leo are not the same, but we also know death is real.  The last time we left for Ann Arbor Everett didn’t come home with us.  I can’t even begin to explain how layered this is and how intense grief is for us and our kids.  It’s always something new and blindsiding…something you did not see coming and of course everyone is crazy nervous about sending Leo in for surgery.

Saturday we prepped like crazy…lunches for the whole week, breakfast items, laundry, packing, etc.  As I was packing some toiletry items I noticed Everett’s toothbrush still in our cup, still in it’s travel cap.  We never unpacked his backpack, but I had carried his toothbrush in my toiletry bag.  I remember unpacking and not wanting to throw it away so I dropped it in our jar along with our other toothbrushes and there it stayed.  We had most everything wrapped up before dinner so we could enjoy making homemade jiaozi together.  I watched as everyone stuffed dumplings and Harper taught Amon how to use her melon baller on a watermelon.  There was not one bite of food leftover…as it should be.

After dinner we went to Everett’s grave to hang new flags.  We talk about him all the time.  What I love is that Leo talks about him just as much.  I love that their brotherhood can exist even after death.  The bigs ran around the cemetery and Winter and Amon road their bikes.  Leo walked around watching Josh and I hang Everett’s new flags.  I love that our cemetery lets us outwardly express our love for him.  It means a lot to each of our hearts.  Every time we leave town we go by the cemetery.  We know he’s not there, but it feels good to stop by and especially with the week ahead we wanted to celebrate our brave and strong FuShuai.

Afterwards we hit up Tiger Market for icees.  I noticed the cashier watching us closely.  We hadn’t met him before as we’re usually there in the middle of the day.  When people are watching us closely I usually prepare for inappropriate questions or rude comments so my guard went up.  As we were checking out, he asked if we just had icees, I confirmed and then he said it was all taken care of and told us to have a great night.  I instantly teared up because come on, icees are one of my love languages and medical debt is real and more heart surgery bills are looming and we’ve been bleeding money and that $8.71 felt like a million dollars in the moment.

Sunday morning consisted of donnas and The Emperors New Groove and washing the last of our laundry and packing any final items.  Everyone was pretty chill about it all and then Winter broke down into tears at the Dairy Queen after we finished lunch.  She sat in that geometric patterned vinyl booth and cried loudly, “I don’t want Leo to have surgery.”  She wailed in the car, tears streaming down her little face.  I listened as Solomon leaned in close, “Winter, it’s what his body needs and he’ll have surgery and come back home to us and then it will be a long time before he needs another surgery.”  I feel so utterly unworthy for any of our brilliantly beautiful children.


The kids lingered in the driveway and got all the hugs and kisses from Leo…minus Amon, who was too hyped about going swimming at Ms. Marcie’s house.  He got his hug and buckled in the car asap.  The kids also all dodged being bit by Leo because we were late leaving and he was crazy tired.  It was hard and sweet and hilarious.  Tight hugs and dodging bites.  This is life with Leo.  I drove them all over to Marcie’s house.  As we pulled onto their street I reminded them they are the strongest kids I know.  Winter cried some more so I carried her giant little body into Marcie’s, but their pool was soon calling her name.  I gave hugs and headed out.

Josh Kelley, Leo and I drove all day and arrived in Ann Arbor way past Leo’s bedtime.  I did learn from the Taco Bell employee in Ohio how to still order the Meximelt even though they removed it from their menu. *Cheesy roll-up + beef + pico de Gallo*  This is life changing.  I was legitimately upset I could not get a meximelt anymore.

Josh listened to The Big Short audio book.  Leo was pretty restless at first, but then fell asleep and did great the rest of the way.  I jammed to Lizzo and Houses and Mumford and Sons while I wrote and scrolled trying to tap out from the reality of  where we were actually headed.  When we pulled up to the hospital I started to cry.  Here we were again.

Leading up to this day I’ve fought mind games constantly.  One day I was putting a few pickle jars on our kitchen shelf and thought, “I wonder if I’ll need these for Leo’s funeral.”  I dreaded packing Leo’s backpack because it made me think about his backpack joining Everett’s, still packed, on our closet floor.  I desperately want to take the travel cap off of Leo’s toothbrush.  This was continuously involuntary.  We are, what I like to call, jaded hope holders.  We will always always hold onto hope like our lives depend on it because they do and because we owe it to ourselves and one another, but we’ve also buried our 3-year-old son on what should have been his 4th birthday and then watched a large portion of our people scatter and have been working to piece our life back together again.  I’ve wiped a 1000 tears from our children’s eyes and I’ve sat dumbfounded with no good answers to their hard and legit questions.  So while we’ll always be hopeful, this is still very hard.  When I think about actually letting Leo’s team take him back for surgery it makes me want to absolutely vomit…so I try not to let my mind go that far yet.

Today we pre-opped all day and are soaking sweet Leo up.  This morning I whispered in his ear, “I’m so glad you are here.” like I have countless times before as I slipped into his bed to snuggle.  We we’re at the hospital most of the day gearing up for tomorrow morning and there we’re highs and lows.  There was joy and sadness…moments of laughing with Leo and his sweet, quirky self and moments when Josh and I flashed either a look with watery eyes and knew the other was thinking of Everett and remembering sacred moments.

 We wrapped things up at the hospital and headed out to get some noodles and dumplings for dinner.  He was hilarious and sweet eating and chatting and carrying his leftover noodles out in a bag over his shoulder.  It’s just all so surreal feeling and I still cannot let me mind get too far ahead of myself.  Trying to keep my thoughts reigned in close to just that very next moment.

We hit up Target after dinner and then headed back to our hotel.  And now we’re doing all the regular pre-surgery things and FaceTiming with our other kiddos and staring at Leo all heart-eyed and we keep asking one another how we’re doing and what the other one is thinking and getting all the Leo snuggles and hugs we can.  We are hopeful and simultaneously scared to death and would so appreciate all your thoughts and prayers and hope…whatever you’ve got…we’ll take it. 🙂

We are so grateful to be in such an amazing hospital and that Leo’s heart will be in such incredible hands.  We have all the emotions and feelings, but we know he’s ready…his little body is telling us it’s time.   So we hope. We white knuckle hope with every ounce of our being.  Just really need him to be okay. ❤️ So let’s go Leo boy. You are so brave and so strong. It’s your time love!


  1. Maura Thompson says:

    Praying for you and your family. I don’t know you personally but have followed you story for a long time. Praying for comfort and peace and he has his surgery. That the Lord would guide the surgeons hands and that you would be given some peace and good comfort during the surgery.
    Love Maura

  2. Dear Lord,
    Please imbide the doctors with wisdom and steady hands tomorrow. Fill Leo’s body with a healing strength that can only come from you. Give each Kelley a comfort beyond understanding. Let Leo wake quickly, recover miraculously and return home where he belongs. Amen

  3. Meredith says:

    Covering you and your sweet family in prayer❤️

  4. Cheyenne says:

    Love. Love. Love you ALL ♥️

  5. Tammy akers says:

    Oh dear Lord please be with this family the ones left in TN and the ones now in Michigan…be with the doctors and nurses and all those that care for this precious child of yours, Leo! We know you are a good good God!!!! ❤️❤️

  6. Ruthanne says:

    I’m in tears; hopeful and heart-broken with you. Praying for all of you.

  7. Praying for your Leo and your entire family. I can’t imagine how all the littles feel right now, but I pray for peace and strength for all of you as well as a smooth surgery with a smooth recovery for Leo. I pray for his medical team of doctors and nurses that will be caring for him as well.

  8. Renee Tidwell says:

    Praying for Leo, his doctors and your whole family. I don’t know you either, but have followed your story and prayed for your family. I won’t quit and will also be holding onto hope for you.

  9. tracy cornett says:

    Oh Laura. Praying…….

  10. Oh my goodness. So good and so hard and so scary. White knuckles of hope YES. One step at a time.
    LORD, please watch over laura and josh and Leo, and all the kiddos at home. Keep the kids at home safe and watch over their fears and hearts. Please give them peace and strength and please guide every nurse and doctor and prep and post op, give them clarity in decisions, help this surgery to be successful. Help Leo’s body to fight, and please fight FOR him. Amen
    Praying so hard for you all.
    (Also Icees for life and thank you for passing on the mexi melt recipe)

  11. Holding Hope with you, and knowing that Leo is securely in the Father’s hands. I know those traumatic memories are so real; praying for peace and new, joyful memories for your hearts.

  12. Tearful and prayerful for your family tonight.

  13. ShErry semlow says:

    I am praying earnestly for you. I love your hope and your brave hearts. I have followed your posts for over 10 years, right before we brought our first 3 adopted kiddos home. I love that you allow others to journey along with you. It is a privilege and blessing to hope and pray with and for your family! – Sherry

  14. Cindi Ellison says:

    Praying for you and your precious family..tears are streaming down my face as I type this…can’t wait for updates!

  15. Praying praying praying!!!

    PS I thought I was the only person in America who missed the meximelt!

  16. Mary Parkman says:

    Oh my goodness! I followed your story when Everett went to be with Jesus! My heart ached for you! And now you are so selfless to put your hearts out there again!! I will be praying for your sweet family!

  17. I know we haven’t met, but I love you and your amazingly strong family. Hugs and love from a random stranger. Prayers and hope headed your way!

  18. Sandy kreps says:

    Praying for your boy and your family ❤️ We are also patients at Mott. Our son has his CHD check up tomorrow. Reach out to me if you need anything – I’m local and happy to help.

  19. Sending so much love to you and your family! I’ve been following you for such a long time, thank you for sharing your life with us! ❤️❤️

  20. I don’t know you but have been following through a friend for years…prayers of protection and health over your family…prayer for peace and the presence of God…prayers that don’t have words, but my spirit groans for you all…clinging to hope with you!

  21. Lindsey says:

    I can feel your grief with you. Thank you for inviting us in so that we can cover you all in prayer.

    Lord, you are sovereign over all. Bring your peace and joy into this time. Remind this family that you do great things. Thank you for this family who does hard things and gives you the glory.
    Please be with the surgical team as they operate give them guidance and strength. Watch over everyone especially Leo. ❤️

  22. Renee PRESLEY says:

    Loving you and holding you all so close to our hearts today…and every day. Praying for the caregivers for the babies In Nashville, praying for Leo’s medical team and his strong and beautiful Momma and Daddy. Tomorrow we are all Kelley’s! #july16weareallKelley’s❤️

  23. Hope love and prayers for you all

  24. Kerri Thorn says:

    Praying for Leo and his surgeons, but also for your heart and mind. You are all so brave.

  25. Barbcole says:

    I have been thinking of you all and wondering how soon the surgery was. My heart aches for EACH of you and can’t imagine your feelings right now. Praying for Leo, the doctors, you both and the siblings back home. May you all feel Gods peace and for everything to go smoothly. Everett is missed and thought of often. Hugs!

  26. Danielle Roberts says:


  27. WENDY MCSWAIN says:

    Praying for little Leo’s heart and for all of you!! I know that God is holding you in his hands. He’s close to the broken hearted, you know.

    Thank you for the mexi-melt tip. That is freaking amazing.

  28. Praying. Heartfelt prayers.

  29. Lisa Russell says:

    Praying for him and you all during this time.

  30. Praying hard for Leo, your family, and Drs performing his surgery. Asking God to comfort and protect his lil heart; He holds it all. Please keep us posted on how things are going. Continued love and prayers ❤️

  31. This bottom picture of Leo reminds me of pictures of Everett. Both such precious gifts. Praying for you all.

  32. Kimberly says:

    I found your words when my son was in cancer treatment shortly after my own cancer treatment and my mom’s death from cancer. Your words are the truest and closest to the very words I have but can’t yet write, and I fully get jaded hope holder. I carry a pink dotted key fob that you made and I ordered this spring that says “brave and strong” because it accurately describes my kiddos. I pray that for all of you this week and especially tomorrow. May you walk away with healing hope for Leo and a little bonus healing and peace for your family.

  33. Michelle says:

    Praying from California for Leo’s heart and your family!

  34. Jemeacia Haynes says:

    My family is prayering for yours.

  35. From Solomon’s lips to God’s ears. Praying for a peace that passes all understanding and a full recovery for Leo’s heart.

  36. Marilyn turnley says:

    Praying and sending love and concern from Canada

  37. Dear Lord,
    Please wrap your peace around these parents… and your strength around Leo.
    In your name we pray!

  38. Praying for your sweet boy, to come through this surgery with flying colors. Also praying for your family. Wishing you peace and love, love, love. Please keep us updated on Leo’s progress.

  39. Sending much love and prayers for Leo’s dear heart and for many divine blessings for your beautiful family.

  40. Toni :0) says:

    Praying for your family and his little heart. I live not far from Ann Arbor and U of M is one of the best hospitals you could be at. Praying for wisdom and guidance for his surgeons and all who take care of him there. I cannot imagine how difficult this will be but I’m sure praying hard he has a successful surgery and a very smooth recovery.

  41. Praying for Leo and your family! I can’t imagine. I’m so thankful for you always sharing your heart with us. Meximelts, I was so sad when I ordered one and they said they don’t have it anymore. Thank you for sharing that little gem, I will go order one.

  42. Laura, I’m praying for Leo and for you and for all of your sweet family today. I think of you every time I see an actual rainbow or a rainbow pattern. ❤️Sending love and HOPE!

  43. Trish SCOTT says:

    Love & Prayers coming your way…especially for Leo and his team. Anxiously waiting to hear and “hoping” along with you that all went as planned! God is good even on the hard days! ❤❤❤

  44. Lisa gilliam says:

    Know I know why you have been on my heart the past several days….God knows to call out the intercessors on you , your family and Leo’s behalf. Praying for rejoicing at the results of this journey and peace for those back at home

  45. Heather n says:

    Thinking of you, thinking of Leo, thinking of your other children at home, and thinking of sweet Everett. This must be beyond hard.

  46. Carrie bentley says:

    You did me in at: “She sat in that geometric patterned vinyl booth and cried loudly, “I don’t want Leo to have surgery.” She wailed in the car, tears streaming down her little face. I listened as Solomon leaned in close, “Winter, it’s what his body needs and he’ll have surgery and come back home to us and then it will be a long time before he needs another surgery.” I feel so utterly unworthy for any of our brilliantly beautiful children.”

    All the tears and feels with that – kids are simply amazing.

    Sending you so many hugs, positive thoughts, and strength for that Leo lion boy <3

  47. Amy Haislip says:

    Myself , my family and church family will be praying for you, all the kids, and especially Leo.
    Love Mrs.Haislip

  48. I’ve walked up and down that street with my kids more times than I can count, since my husband’s office is around the corner. Holding you all in my heart so much though I’m across an ocean right now instead of just a few miles away from sweet Leo. ❤️

  49. Brigette says:

    Just saw your post and pray that all went as well as it could have today. I will pray for his recovery and for your family as you continue to face the emotional tornado. Hang in there as I know you must all be exhausted from facing all the different emotions.

  50. I didn’t see this post til now, but the first thought that popped into my head was “Lord, have mercy.” Not like an older Southern lady exclaiming, but like an Easter choir, saying it into the holy stillness of a Good Friday service. I’ll keep praying as best I can until you update us with more specifics. I was here for Amon’s surgery as well as Everett’s – it’s an honor to walk beside you again.

  51. I also pray from Japan.

  52. Catherine says:

    Praying Leo and your family through this. Thank you for listening to God’s whisper that you are Leo’s family in spite of your tragic loss of Everett. Know you are being lifted before the Great Physician over and over again!!

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