Meeting Leo

Crazy long and explanatory post ahead. 🙂

We actually met Leo…Lin…the day we met Everett.  So on February 27th 2017 we met both of our sons for the first time.

I’ll never forget going back to Everett’s home in Zhengzhou the day we finally met him.  Josh held him close and he refused to get down out of Josh’s arms.  Josh toted him all over his home and he was so quiet and reserved.  Such a big, hard day for such a little guy, but how deeply loved and cared for he was.

That little jacket he’s wearing is still hanging in his locker along with his little shoes in our laundry room.  It takes my breath away when things like this hit my heart.  What I wouldn’t give to hold our boy one more time.  Kiss his face.  Stroke his soft dark hair.  Just feel the weight of his body in my arms.  He was the most precious little thing.

I remember when we walked into his room where he stayed all his nannies we’re sitting on the ground.  One little boy among them instantly lost his mind upon seeing us…crying and screaming…basically terrified of us.  We met Everett’s nannies and nurses and doctors and took photos and chatted.  All the while that one little terrified boy stayed tucked in his nanny’s arms.  He was not letting her put him down and he even made it into my photo I took of their nannies.  That is our Leo, we just didn’t know it yet.

  Shortly after Everett died a friend of ours who knew and loved both Everett and Leo sent us some information about Leo.  We thought it was a tad on the crazy side to even consider adopting again so soon after losing Everett, but also, when Everett died time instantly changed.  We knew if there was another child out there who was going to be ours then we didn’t want to spend another day away from him than we had to.  We decided to at least look at Leo’s file, but when all the people and agencies who should have known where his file was could not locate it anywhere, we thought the door had closed and we set back into our new normal of grieving our son and trudging along through life.  End of story, we thought.

On one of my sleepless grief nights, I logged into our agency’s waiting child page and as I scrolled in the dark and I saw his face.  There was Leo.  I thought there was no way it could be him, but turns out it was totally him.  I recognized his face from the younger photos in his file so I went back to all of our pictures in China with Everett and discovered he was the frightned little guy who made it in our nanny photo.  When I went through Everett’s file we were sent from his home, I found photos of them together.  I’ve cried a thousand tears over the fact that Everett and Leo knew one another and that even though Everett isn’t physically with us anymore, every member of our family knew and was loved by Everett.

We then took some time to review his file with our pediatrician and cardiologist and have some good conversations with our social worker and adoption agency.  The rule in place by China said we would need to wait until March of 2018 to start the adoption process and our agency had noticed China was actually making families who had lost a child wait even longer.  This was looking like a hard no from China.  Our social worker Lisa shared that 80% of her thought we would receive a no, but that 20% of her felt like we’d receive a yes…that this was special. 🙂  We ended up submitting a pre-pre-approval to China asking for special permission to even submit the pre-approval.  To everyone’s shock and surprise China said yes.  Then we had to submit the typical LOI pre-approval paperwork.  We waited and waited and finally heard another yes from China.  Then we set to work moving as quickly as we could to get to our newest boy.

Leo has a complex congenital heart defect.  These heart babes are just larger than life.  He received medical expedites and everything moved pretty quickly.  Our paperwork did get held up several weeks due to the Chinese New Year, but other than that everything was quick and smooth.  While we waited for paperwork to clear we worked at home on getting our littlest a passport, visa and travel approval from the state of Tennessee.  It’s not the easiest of things to take a child who is in foster care out of the county, but we didn’t want to leave her at home.  She needed this trip just as much as the rest of us so we jumped through every last hoop and gathered every last document and court order and copies and signatures and even got in a few smallish fights with the records department at the court house. 🙂  The last of her paperwork arrived just a week before we left.

While in process we moved through life longing for two little boys who we’re missing from our home.  Leo was born in the year of the sheep, so at Christmas we bought all the sheep ornaments and for Easter the kids got chocolate sheep instead of bunnies or chicks.  We hung Leo and Everett’s stockings in the mix with ours.  We made photo books for Leo to send along with an adorable stuffed sheep and soft teal blanket with a red polka dot L.  Rainbow everything for all the holidays.  We figured out how to weave them into our life without them physically being with us.

We kept this journey to ourselves for almost the entire process…it felt sacred and special and emotionally taxing.  We celebrated milestones along the journey to Leo while also grieving each milestone and stark reality of Everett being gone.  We would start dinners with exciting conversations about Leo and end them with children in tears over Everett.  We bounced between wild emotions and feelings constantly.  There was fear in adopting another child with a CHD.  We now know the reality of one heart warrior son living and one heart warrior son dying.  We carry life and death in our home and the fear lays heavy on our shoulders.  And then some days I felt like the hope of Leo was the only thing pulling us along…keeping us afloat.  He would be our beauty in the ashes.  He was our hope in this deep darkness.

I nested like a mad women and we began the fine dance of living life without one son and starting life with a new son.  It felt weird to prepare Everett’s bed for Leo and nobody wanted to do it.  So we didn’t.  Instead all the boys switched up spots.  Solomon had been sleeping in Everett’s bed for months anyways, but he wanted to be above Leo like he was above Everett.  Everyone switched to a new bed position and Hudson ended up in Everett’s bed.  We left his E’s on the wall and always will…we just added Hudson’s H’s to the mix and it felt more okay than I thought it would.

We still haven’t cleaned out Everett’s locker and I’m not sure if we’ll ever be ready to do that.  His jacket still hangs on the hook inside and the shelf below holds his little shoes.  When I open it I instantly sob.  There was no way I could empty it and make room for Leo’s stuff.  Harper knew where we stood and automatically said she would share lockers with Leo.  Dilemma solved.

Things arose over and over and we just moved through figuring them all out.  We wanted new pictures to send to Leo, but ached to think of how Shuai wouldn’t be in them.  A rainbow wall would have to suffice.  And it did.  Not the way we would have wanted, but it worked and we felt like we we’re honoring him the best we could.  When you are faced with death daily you have to learn to troubleshoot…you’ve got to learn to figure some things out whether you like it or not.

 As we got closer and closer to our departure date for China to bring Leo home we continued to weave Everett into everything.  Leo’s blanket is the sweetest rainbow crocheted goodness.  The shirt he’ll wear home is a rainbow heart I sewed for him in honor of his big brother.  We made photo books of Everett to take to all his nannies.  Harper placed the sweetest rainbow heart sticker on her suitcase.  Heart shirts we’re packed and we bought all the kids their own “love” t-shirt just like Everett’s.  We taped up gifts for Chinese government officials with Fiesta Donkey washi tape.  We want to honor him however we can and it can take a million different shapes.

We finally received our travel approval and we would be leaving for China in a mere 11 days.  I told Josh I wish we had given the kids shaken bottles of champaign and goggles when we told them we would officially be leaving.  They we’re the cutest.  Lots of jumping up and down and hugging each other and screaming.  In the midst of it all Hudson walked over and hugged my neck and whispered in my ear, “I am just so happy.”

(Ipod ^ I told our kids they are not allowed to have phones until they are high schoolers.  Muhuhahahaha.)

The night before we left for China we all headed to the cemetery.  We all agreed we wanted to spend our last night there.  We know Everett isn’t there, but it feels nice to all be together in his special little place.  Everyone picked out a fabric of their choice and we made heart flags to put around his spot.  We made one for each family member and put out one China flag for Leo.  We ate ice-cream and the kids played games and Josh and I laid on a quilt on the ground.  We all needed this moment.

When it came time to board our first plane in route for Zhengzhou, China I felt I might vomit.  All the nerves and all the emotions for forever.  We traveled a full 25 hours.

The kids did amazing in flight, but everyone was wiped out, hungry, exhausted and emotional.  Our 5 hour layover in Shanghai contained fighting and tears and at one point I was in a tiny bathroom stall with one of our kids and both of us we’re sobbing.  True story.  Josh said he’d rather have three colonoscopies than to do that travel day again.  Hahahaha.

But we all survived and made it!!!  We’re here and Leo is officially a Kelley…Leo Shuai Lin Kelley…named after his big brother who led the way to him.  He’s been with us since Monday and I have about 1000 more words to say about our time back in China so far, but for now I’ll just end with his scrumptious cuteness.

We are all overly tired, emotions are running hot and Leo is grieving hard, but once again Josh and I have become the luckiest mom and dad all over again.  These kids man, they are our greatest honor.


  1. oh my gosh!!!! i am over the moon happy for you all!!!!!

  2. Do it again, i can hear Papa say! Well done in your obedience! ❤️❤️

  3. Love this so much!! When I saw your original picture with sweet Leo, I started crying right then and there (which happened to be in the waiting area at my dentist hah). So many blessings on your family as you continue this journey all together.

  4. Kim Wayman says:

    After reading this post I am reminded of God’s promise as the rainbow in the clouds appeared. Thank you for sharing your journey through the rain and sunshine with us. You will always have your rainbow where ever you go and now you have a new son. Congratulations Kelly family! Prayers for a smooth transition for Leo and all of you.

  5. Wow! All glory to Him.

  6. Marianne cupples says:

    So thrilled for you guys! I am in tears reading this! Your family is the bravest!

  7. My heart is so very, very full reading this. I was just wearing my argyle “Everett” socks this week, thinking of your family, and then to find this today…! God is so merciful. Blessings to you.

  8. Oh the tears!!! I am so so happy for you all! You and your family just blow me away. So much love and so many prayers being sent to you all.

  9. Love!

  10. So happy for you!! Praying for your hearts and for the adjustments with little Leo.

  11. Amazing!!! Just think what Everett will say about this when you see him again?!
    <3 10 Minutes <3 …on earth, forever in eternity!

  12. I am so so happy for you all! Many prayers in this time of adjustment for you all!

  13. You and your family are amazing ❤️

  14. jen gordon says:

    I am over the moon happy to hear this! What a blessing you and your family are to this world! I mean it! You guys rock! I hope this is a step forward in healing for all of you. Prayers and prayers and more prayers for the Kelly family. XO.

  15. Congratulations and God’s blessings!!

  16. Kimberlee Jost says:

    Okay, I take an instagram break and all this beautiful stuff happens!! Praise GOD! Praying for you right now!

  17. My heart is so happy for you!

  18. You guys are my hero’s!! I couldn’t help but think that Leo is your rainbow boy! Kind of like when a mother lose’s a child through miscarriage or at birth and the baby that is born after that baby is called a rainbow baby! Leo is your rainbow boy! And how fitting that rainbows have been so huge on your journey!

  19. Geezzzz, I have to stop reading these at my desk, in the office, where coworkers wonder what is wrong with me! Sending love and prayers and if I could send sleep I would do that too. 🙂

  20. God blessed Leo with the best family ever!!

  21. Overwhelmed and thrilled for all of you!!!

  22. When I saw your first IG lost the other day I just said, out loud (by myself), “yes, yes, yes”
    Everything about this is remarkable. It takes my breath away to consider the co-mingling of joy and pain, grief and anticipation. Amazing grace.

  23. I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again….I want to be just like you when I grow up! So proud of you. So thankful for you. So celebrating with you. Praise God. He is faithful. Keep walking in obedience, my friend. It’s beautiful. Prayers always ❤️

  24. Congratulations! So happy for you all!

  25. Stacey T. says:

    I am so FLIPPING happy for you all!!!!!!

  26. My heart is bursting with happiness!!! ❤️❤️

  27. Glenda Hoagland says:

    So very happy for you and your family

  28. So happy for your beautiful family. Your family shines Jesus SO brightly

  29. Gretchen says:

    Overjoyed for you all! True beauty from ashes. Praying for all of you and for you to feel all the love of so many. God’s blessings to each one of you!

  30. Just beautiful. I am so full of you for you and your family, and pray Leo’s transition home will be peaceful and joyful for each one of you. Thank you for sharing your incredible hearts with the world.

  31. You guys are amazing! God bless your family!

  32. This is the best!

  33. Goosebumps. Tears. And prayers celebrating God’s love flowing through your family. Congratulations on this next step in your lives.

  34. I knew I couldn’t be the only one who cried reading this… this is so awesome (as in, inspiring awe). That’s so fantastic that the process went so quickly for you. And fantastic that all the kids could come this time. And… I’ll stop. 🙂 Thank you for sharing Leo with us! I’ll pray for smooth transitions ahead.

  35. Soooo incredibly amazing!!!! I am over the moon for your family! ❤❤❤ Prayers for rest, safe journeys, and happy happy days ahead!!! XOXO

  36. I’m so happy you adopted again and its so amazing that they knew each other. God bless all of you.

  37. Susan brewer says:

    Oh my goodness, what a beautiful story. Prayers being lifted for your sweet family.

  38. Catherine says:

    Read this entire post through tears of joy for you and with goosebumps on my arms. God is SO good!!! Praising Him for your 2 precious sons from China! Praying for your family as you continue your journey in China and then again at home….as a family of 9! I can picture Everett doing a happy dance in heaven!!! His little friend is now his little brother!

  39. Overflowing ❤️❤️❤️ for you… Hopeful is a good look on you, friend!

  40. This post is just…magical. I know that life is real and not perfect, but this is pretty incredible. So excited for you all and for sweet Leo. I admire how much you lean in with everything and truly find a beautiful path forward no matter what happens (I’m sure you are laughing at that, so caveat it with “even after plenty of messy days” lol). Wishing you all the best while in China, traveling home, and readjusting to life going forward. You inspire me and thank you so much for continuing to always share your story so openly.

  41. Andrea young says:

    Oh my stinkin goodness!!! I am so surprised and so not surprised!!! You have been so quiet and a million times I’ve wanted to reach out and say are you sureeeeeee just maybe there’s not a little boy in China who is waiting?! I felt it in my bones! Oh my glory!!!! This is just the greatest!!!!!!!! I’m so happy for your family and praying for sweet Leo and his grieving heart. Love you all and praying for all of you!!!

  42. That last picture though

  43. This is the greatest surprise!!!! I’m so excited for your family and Leo is most definitely scrumptious!!!!

  44. Heidi sherwood says:

    So happy and yet always so sad. Praying for your sweet family. I never know what to say, so when I saw you in Hobby Lobby a while back I just didn’t speak. I’ve regretted that, but I want you to know how much y’all are on my heart.

  45. Toni :0) says:

    Incredible! What a blessing you are to those children! God works miracles and I’m certain Everett is smiling so big down on you all. What a wonderful time for your family. God bless you all.

  46. No words….. other than what a blessing and God is so good.

Leave A Comment