11 Things

1. Solomon needs to be in gymnastic stat.  Like for reals stat.  He is so bendy and flippy and he can jump up and land in the splits and walk on his hands and do a front flip and backflips on our swings and cartwheels for 96% of his days.  The need is legit.  I imagine him bringing home a gold medal one day. 🙂

2. Amon.  I just don’t have enough words for him.

3. Hudson’s little body has really been worn down lately.  It’s crazy hard and sad, but it’s also pretty darn sweet finding him asleep in random places.  Makes him feel little again which I love since he’s pretty much giant now.

4. Hudson and Solomon both bought skateboards with their money recently.  And now the unsafety is on!!!    I cringe at their falls, but they get right back up and go at it again.  A few weekends ago the big kids all created the olympics for us to participate in.  One of the events was butt boarding on their skateboards.  It was hilarious and a tad bit terrifying flying down our driveway going for the gold.

5. During the week I’ve been really trying to make better choices about my food, but come the weekend treats and cookies and delectables of all kinds are hard to resist.  This is currently my weekending balanced breakfast. PS:  If you’re looking for a local gym Main Street Strength & Conditioning is just THE BEST.  I’ve been going for over a year now and could not love it more.  The nicest people around.

6.  I saw this photo on Josh’s phone and it took my breath away.  What I wouldn’t give to hold that boy one more time, kiss his sweet cheeks and stroke his thick, dark hair.  Miss him every single day.  We’re all better having known our Shuai Shuai.

7. Hands down one of my favorite things about our local children’s hospital is that we get to draw on whichever kid’s bed sheets…and the free icees.

8. Even though we were sick on Chinese New Year this year, we still carried on with our mask making tradition.  This year is the Year of the Dog so we crafted up yet another hilariously wonderful mask in honor of the year…and endured countless hot glue gun burns.  Everyone could not get enough of it.  I chuckled each time I found someone wearing it.

9. These two are insanely smitten with one another.  Want a straight shot to Josh Kelley’s heart, get him to talking about his heart warrior boys.  And Amon knows exactly who to ask for things he really wants. 🙂

10. Maybe this is part of Josh’s smitten problem.  Amon still can fall asleep anywhere and at anytime he wishes too.  If only we could all live like Amon.

And 11.  Harper Kelley killing chalk drawing since she could hold a piece of chalk.  This girl.  She’s a keeper.

Kiddos’ Art Wall

I’ve been learning a lot about myself and Josh Kelley and our kids while grieving the loss of Everett.  We’re figuring each other out even more while all walking our own grief journeys.  It’s been hard for sure, but I’m so honored I get to be here for each of them and so thankful they are each here for me.  I don’t like saying my kids are helping me grieve, but they are.  They see my tears and sadness and they are right there giving out hugs and “love you mama”s all the time.  Harper writes me the sweetest notes…she’s our resident writer.  And Josh, well, there aren’t enough words for him.  He’s the one person on this planet who understands my grief the most and willingly walks head on into each day.  Goodness, I’m the luckiest.

One thing I’m learning is that while my grief feels so out of control and is 100% unpredictable right now, I look for ways to feel in control again.  I grab onto things that give me a sense of grounding and control almost every day.  For me that looks like organizing and purging our house and starting and finishing projects.  When I can start something and finish it, it makes me feel like I can grasp the control again.

Recently Josh and I randomly decided to take down all the art going up our stairs one night.  I had somewhat of an idea of what I wanted to refill the space with, but it was going to take me a bit of figuring it all out.  I also went on a crazy week long full on purge of our house.  Every room.  Every corner.  Every space.  Every single inch of our house.  We threw away so much stuff and filled our 12 passenger van with items to donate.  I consider myself and our home pretty simple and minimal and we do regular clean-outs, so I was slightly shocked at what all we tossed and donated.

We have some small attic spaces where we keep a few kids clothes they will grow into and luggage.  Each kiddo also has one bin for keepsakes.  I went through each of their boxes and got rid of sooooooo much.  I thought I had really been choosy about what I had kept of their school papers and artwork, etc, but apparently I had not been choosy enough.  You guys!!!!  I threw away SOOOOOO much trash.  I realized I was keeping a lot of things that really we’re not important to us…like preschool diplomas, report cards (which our school district already has), baby pacifiers and so much more.

Here’s what we did…we tossed almost everything and kept only a few items which were truly special.  Any artwork we kept was organized into two piles:

1. Art to be framed for our stair wall

2. Seasonal art to be rotated in-and-out in our kitchen throughout the year.

I did the initial purge and made the semi-final cuts pile…the things I thought we might want to keep.  Then Josh and I sat down one night and went through all of the art pieces.  In our kitchen I bought 6 cheapo 8×10 frames from Target to rotate seasonal artwork.  I have one small bin for seasonal decor…does not include Christmas…and now I have a small stack of art I can bring out and put into frames for winter, Valentines, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, spring, summer, fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  They are the sweetest little pieces which make my mama’s heart pretty happy.

Next Josh and I went through the pile of artwork which might adorn our big stair wall.  We made a pile for each kiddo and then picked out our absolute favorites.  All the ones that did not make the cut we’re tossed in our recycling bin.  If we kept it, we wanted to see it.

Then we taped each piece on our big wall to make sure they would fit and to see how they would fit.  I also figured out what pieces could be cut down for a smaller frame and what pieces needed to be framed as is.  Walmart ended up having all the frames I needed.  I wanted cheap and easy to work with frames especially since our stairs get a lot of action and it’s likely some will eventually get broken due to rowdy children.  I spent right at about $100 and framed every single piece.  All the frames have hangers on the back and are light weight which meant I could hang every thing with thumbtacks.  Hallelujah.  Amen.

As the kids make new pieces, we love that we can toss old ones if we want, add a few frames if needed since we still have a little room to work with or just put them over old art pieces and switch them out.  I love how versatile and easy this wall is to work with.  Plus, ALL THAT COLOR.

My favorite part about this wall is that our kids LOVE it!!!!  They love seeing all their artwork hanging together and remembering when they we’re little or remembering when they made certain pieces.  These pieces hold really sweet memories like Everett’s footprints his night nurses made with him on 4th of July and a coloring page Everett colored on our flight to Mott.  Harper’s doctor art she made in the hospital with Amon when she decided she wanted to be a doctor because doctors helped heal Amon’s heart and two of her art pieces that got her recognized at our mayor’s art show.  Hudson’s self portrait of me when he was 3 and his mixed medium of our city including the Crogrt…aka Kroger.  Solomon’s “hot dog” and the bouquet of flowers he created for me and gave to me with a giant smile on his tiny little face.  Amon’s picture he drew of himself and Everett in group grief counseling and his bear art because he’s been a bear lover since he was 2.  Our littlest’s watercolors she paints for days and days and have to dry for days and days and her adorable sheep coloring page she did this year that made me tear up.  And all the rainbow art they’ve made through out the years which reminds us all of sweet Everett.  I couldn’t love this constant visual memory reminder any more.


This definitely ended up being a pretty easy and special project.  It gave my mind something to think about and my hands something to do.  It was also crazy sweet remembering all those precious moments of our kids through their art.  If we ever move, this wall is definitely coming with us. 🙂

Everett’s Gotcha Day

February proved to be one tough month.  It held a bajillion reminders of Everett and where we we’re exactly one year ago.  The emotions and feelings we’re quite opposite and in some ways quite the same.  One year ago we we’re meeting Everett in China and starting the process of bonding and attaching and we we’re all over the moon to finally be with him.  We had worked lighting fast to get to him and now we we’re soaking up every little piece of him.  We we’re also desperate for healing and redemption and comfort.  We we’re trusting God to be Himself and while it doesn’t look the exact same, we’re doing those things again.

His gotcha day was the 27th in China.  As the 27th moved closer I could feel the weight of that day.  Hudson woke up that morning in tears.  Harper was sad.  I was sad.  Everyone was down and gloomy.  I went back and read over my words I had written a year ago…the day we became a family again and became mom and dad to another amazing little boy.


Meeting Everett Louie Shuai

Warning…500 photos to follow 🙂

I woke at 1:30am with nerves.  My phone had sweet messages from family.  My eyes read over them and fell back asleep.  I woke again around 4 and again around 5:30.  I scrolled through my phone.  Josh was already up and gone.  My stomach swirled.  So so nervous.  The kids were all still sleeping…I wondered if our boy was still sleeping too or if he was already awake like his dad and I.  I started to get ready and noticed his little toothbrush.  Hudson woke up first.  He walked in all squinty eyed, grabbed a book and hopped up on our bed to read.  I read in Exodus 10…the ninth plague…darkness…you know, just some light hearted reading 🙂 Hudson and I talked about what his little brother might be doing that morning.

Josh came back from the hotel gym and Harper and Solomon woke up.  We all headed down to get some breakfast together.  Watermelon, waffles, bacon and eggs.  Everyone ate the beautiful dragon fruit and agreed we liked it better than we do kiwi…and we love kiwi.  I stepped outside to get a shot of Zhengzhou waking up.  We went back up to straighten the room and get everything situated.  The kids put on a gynmastics show complete with sword swallowing and a human suspension bridge.  I love them.  Harper kept signing Christmas carols.  My nerves kept churning.  Harper and I sang a small Justin Beiber duo.  She facetimed her friend Zoe and we all facetimed with Amon and our littlest as they were getting ready for bed.

We double checked his bag…cookies, snacks, cars, playdoh, stickers and a sippy cup of water.  Then it was time to go.  9:30.  We walked down to the lobby to meet Wendy and exchange some money.  There were other families gathering in the lobby obviously going to meet their children too.  Everyone was carrying colorful gift bags mostly in reds and golds to give as thank yous to different officials and nannies.

We loaded in the van.  The weather was sunny and warm.  The adoption center was very close by and we were the first ones there.  The building was colorful, welcoming and friendly.  We were greeted with smiles from everyone.  We sat at a table nervously waiting and started going over paperwork and double checking spellings and information.  They said he was in the building.  I started to cry.  Wendy gave me a tissue and said comforting words.  She is the nicest.  We went over paperwork again.  Other families started to arrive and join us in the big colorful room.  Then they said he was coming and I started to cry again heart racing.

And then there he was.  He was walking in on his own through the first set of automatic doors with a nanny holding a baby.  He got through the first set of doors and then hesitated.  He wouldn’t come any further.  There was no crying, but head shakes back-and-forth no.  Wendy and several staff members went to him to try and coax him in.  He stood his ground.  Then we went out to him.  I couldn’t believe it.  There we were face-to-face with our son.  I had dreamed of this moment at least a 1,001 times.  We gave him space and one of his workers at his home picked him up.  Everyone was talking to him.  We gave him some cookies and Josh and I both tried to hold him and he shook his head no.  We tried again and he came to me.  He squirmed a bit and then settled down.  He was wearing 2 giant layers of clothing and holding a piece of chocolate wrapped in a shiny silver and purple wrapper.  Harper, Hudson and Solomon were smitten.

He sat with me for a while.  I noticed he would tap his foot.  I had to do something and Josh tried to take him and he went with ease.  There they sat together.  His little face still had not budged…he was taking it all in.

We spent the rest of the time filling out paperwork and soaking his somber little self up.  I wrote out his name Everett Louie Shuai…he was ours.  We played with cars and ate vanilla wafers.  He played with stickers and little animals.  His worker brought each item we mailed him in his care package.  His little book was well worn…they had been working hard to prepare him for us and it showed.  I cried again.  We all looked at his little book together.  He said the Chinese name for each person and then looked at that person and smiled.  We all sat amazed…just in awe of this little gem we get to call our son and brother.  Every time he said the name and then looked at the correct person we all lost it.

We filled out more paperwork.  Other families were meeting their children all around us.  Some kids were so quiet while others we’re crying so hard and loud.  It was such a beautiful and bittersweet moment.  I tried soaking in every piece of it…what a gift we have been given.  Solomon got him to laugh for the first time while he road on a little push car.  It was the sweetest little laugh.  At one point we had to put our fingerprints on some paperwork in red ink and I got very emotional…the significance of putting my actual fingerprint onto paperwork promising I would love our son forever was not lost on me.  What an honor we have been given.

We needed his hand print next and he wasn’t having it.  Wendy talked and talked and talked to him.  Harper showed him how to do it on her own hand.  We offered cookies and snacks of all kinds.  We tried everything, but finally broke out some candy crush on Josh’s phone.  He clicked away and eventually let us stamp his little hand.

Once paperwork was all finished we walked out of the building with another sweet little boy to call our own.  He was so quiet.  He rode in Josh’s lap to our hotel.  Not many noises at all, but Hudson told him he loved him in Chinese and Everett said it back.  We all died.

At the hotel he checked out everything and was just super quiet.  He loved playing with a sword and Hudson and Solomon had him laughing at catapulting blocks into the air.  The big kids went to swim and we facetimed with Uncle Andy and Aunt Becky and he fell asleep.  We spent the afternoon looking at each other and taking his stats to send to his doctors.

Later in the afternoon we went to visit his home.  I kind of hate the word orphanage and it was his home.  It was absolutely beautiful.  I cried too many times to count.  He is such a loved little boy and was incredibly well taken care of by the staff and nannies and doctors and nurses.  Everyone told him bye and just made over him.  He did great.  I can’t say enough good things about Show Hope and the homes they run in Zhengzhou.  The doctor we spoke with was so kind and actually worked at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville for a few years.  Such a small world.

After our visit we headed back to the hotel.  We got take out from a little local place, took a bath, put on fresh pajamas and then chilled out in front of Storks.  He had such a big hard day and he handled it incredibly well.

It was a day filled with emotions, but Shuai rocked it!  I however was a mess.  So many tears for his little mind and heart.  I prayed all throughout the day asking God to be everything he needs and to comfort him like no other.  This was the first day to our forever and I seriously feel like the luckiest mama on Earth.


 I sobbed over my words.  I sobbed over the pain and sadness of missing Shuai.  I sobbed over the dreams lost with his death.  I sobbed over my own guilt and regretful feelings.  I sobbed over the unfairness feeling of it all.  I sobbed over our childrens’ grief and Josh’s grief and my own grief.  I sobbed because I want my boy back.

All day it filled my mind.  Where we we’re then and where we are now.  I ran all the events and moments over and over through my head and heart.  I remembered my feelings and I remembered Everett…his beautiful little self…and all the special moments we shared together in China.  I remembered our beginning together and desperately longed to go back.

We spent most of the morning at the hospital with Hudson, but were back home by noon.  One of Hudson’s nurses told me she knew our story and had been thinking of us and praying for us.  I hugged her twice and cried in the hospital hallways while she walked me and our littlest to our waiting room.  It made me feel seen.  Since we had been sick for our Chinese New Year celebration we decided we would celebrate Chinese New Year on Shuai’s gotcha day.  We hoped having a fun little something planned at home would lift spirits even for just a bit.  We hung up red lanterns and Everett’s strand of donkey piñatas a kind friend sent us while we were at Mott hospital.  We made pork jaoizi (dumplings), spicy garlic broccoli and fried rice.  We sucked down sodas and devoured Pocky’s of all flavors together.  We passed out Chinese envelopes I picked up while in China together filled with $5 bills.  And we talked of our time in China with Everett.  We remembered him and how special he is.

It was a tough day.  It was a hard day.  It was also a sweet and oh so intentional day.  It is a day I know we will always gather together to celebrate and remember and honor our incredible Everett boy.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

Littlest Is Four

I have a lot of heavy things floating around in my heart and head today.  I started to try and write them out this morning, but it was hard.  The weekend wasn’t the easiest emotionally and the words would not come easily so I decided to document our littlest’s 4th birthday instead.

We are still a foster family and have been for 3 1/2 years now.  That 1/2 feels important to me.  I’m not sure if being a foster family is ever easy for anyone, but worth it?!?!  Absolutely.  I hope we’re a foster family until Josh Kelley and myself have gray hair and can’t remember each other’s names. 🙂  Loving our littlest is such an honor.  Loving her birth family feels like just as much an honor.  It’s been a hard, messy road and we’ve made lots of mistakes along the way, but every day it seems like we’re learning something new and I hope we never stop learning and growing and seeing how to love and be loved by others.

Last year on our littlest’s birthday we we’re in China.  It was such a scattered week preparing to bring Everett home…locating and having his O2 machine delivered, Hudson getting the flu, gathering all our medical and adoption paperwork, getting everyone packed and everyone running around like crazy people.  On a whim we headed to Chuck E Cheese one night to celebrate her.  She got a store bought cake and pizza and hardly any gifts, but we wanted to celebrate her before we left.

When her birthday rolled around this year we decided to have a party.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had a birthday party for one of our kiddos…we’re just not party-every-year-people…and that’s okay.  This year we pulled out all the party stops because our girl needed major celebrating.

She is the fiercest and strongest and most resilient little one.  She works so hard every week.  She is brave and has pushed through so many barriers.  She is working on grieving and healing and she misses her FuShuai so much.  She is growing and learning and changing and we are simply so incredibly proud of her.

She was beyond excited to make all her birthday plans.  Pancakes for her birthday breakfast.  McDonalds for her birthday lunch.  Chickfila for her birthday dinner.  And pink cookies and candy for her birthday dessert.

This girl absolutely lived it up.  She was sure the whole world was celebrating her and knew it was her day.  We all sang our hearts out that morning with a giant stack of pancakes piled high and adorned with 4 melting candles.  As she opened her gifts I laughed as I watched Josh Kelley videoing with his phone and Solomon AND Harper taking photos with their own cameras.  She’s not adored at all. 🙂  We gifted her with My Little Ponies and a baby doll stroller.  Harper gave her a new Elsa baby doll.  And she wore her new Twinkle Toe shoes her birth mom gave her.  This girl was on cloud 10+.

At Kroger they we’re putting out balloons at the end of each register.  She told me how pretty the balloons we’re and I agreed.  She then said, “They must be for my birthday.”  Hahaha, yes, Kroger is really upping their customer relationship services.  She had to get 3 shots on her birthday for her 4 year well visit.  She told every single doctor and nurse all about her big day.  Anyone who even made remote eye contact with her got a magical 4-year-old ear full.  When a sweet man on the elevator asked her what she had planned for the day, she of course shared it was her birthday.  He said, “I bet you’re about 12 right?”  She said, “Well, actually I’m just 4.”  After her shots, which she didn’t even blink for and proceeded to brag to her nurse about all her bravery and lack of tears, she got her birthday McDonalds Happy Meal as requested.

When we got home from the doctor one of the wheels on her baby doll stroller wasn’t rolling.  I tried fixing it and completely snapped it off.  Clearly I don’t know my own strength when it comes to cheap plastic doll strollers.  I looked up at her.  She looked down at me.  Then she flashed a smile and said, “It’s okay.  I forgive you.”  If you only knew that on most any regular day this fiery girl would have lost her mind on me.  Birthdays put everyone in a better mood.  The whole thing made me laugh and I scooped her up and off we went to Target to purchase a new $10 baby doll stroller.

She got a card in the mail, a peach Sonic slush for happy hour, fun phone calls and facetimes and our sweet friend Julie who drives Harper home from school bought her all the fun candies and delivered them in a shimmering birthday bag.  All the smiles, all day long.  We ate Chickfila on Trolls Poppy plates and watched Moana while eating all the sugary treats.  You only turn four once!

The next day was party day and she requested a Pinkalicious party.  She LOVES all the books from the Pinkalicious series, but it’s not very popular so we went with just all the pinks.  There was pizza and veggies and fruit.  Pink gatorade, per her request, and an array of pink candies.  There were our favorite iced sugar cookies hombred in shades of pink, chocolate cupcakes with pink icing and all the sprinkles and ice-cream.  There were birthday plates and napkins, pink Chinese lanterns we got in China with Everett and a ceiling covered in pink balloons.

And then there was my most favorite moment of all:  Watching her as we all gathered around and sang happy birthday.  She reminded me so much of little Harper.  Her eyes were straight up sparkles and she beamed…smiling her biggest smile and seriously soaking up the fact that everyone was singing TO HER.  It made me teary eyed.  She is just so special and she has lived so much in her little life.  What an honor to watch her grow another year older.

She opened her presents and played her heart out.  She told everyone thank you and gave out hugs.  She went to bed very easily that night snuggled up with one of her new My Little Ponies.  Goodness, this girl.  So much spunk and fire and personality and love and compassion balled up into one tall, tiny little body.  I have no idea what the future holds for her, but I know it’s going to be a wonder and she’s going to leave her beautiful mark wherever she lands.

Mom Struggling Well Podcast

I forgot to share in this space and wanted to drop into today and tell you about a podcast I did last week.  My friend Emily over on the Mom Struggling Well podcast recently asked me to chat with her about Everett and his death.  We talked about what it was like walking that road and how we got there, the complexities of grief, what we can do to walk along side each other through hard times, figuring out our kids’ grief and more.

It was a crazy hard conversation full of tears, but I am so grateful and honored Emily wanted to have this talk.  It was therapeutic and so incredibly nice to share about our brave, strong boy.

If you want to take a listen head over HERE, click on the photo of Everett and me and grab a tissue box on your way.  You’ve been warned.

I will never stop saying and knowing and believing how honored I am to be Everett’s mama and to be apart of his story.  Miss you sweet boy more than words could ever say.

Rather Lengthy Randomness

1. Josh’s sister Jen lives just down our street.  Sometimes she comes over and then we party…and by party I mean we usually play games and enjoy cocktails & queso…until crazy late while all the kids sleep.  It never fails that intense, meaningful conversations happen ALWAYS!!!!  It’s seriously one of my most favorite things.

Documenting said intense and meaningful conversations.  One day we will all look back and be so happy I over documented our life here on this little piece of the internet.  One day.  Hahahahahaha.

2.  We have been crazy sick the last 2 weeks and I just can’t figure out why.  It couldn’t be that some of our children sit like this ALL.THE.TIME or that we send 5 kids out into the school world where it’s a germ free for all or that maybe some people in our house are still trying to remember to wash their hands!!!!!!  Nope, definitely not why.

3.  We recently marched in the Women’s March here in Nashville.  I know, I know, I know…here’s where people either cheer or click unfollow.  Hahaha.  I shared a photo that day of our littlest on Instagram with the following words:

“I got teary every time people cheered our kids on…especially our little queen bee with her “strong” sign.  I thought about how there was no way all those people and myself agreed on every single issue in life, but before they encouraged us or our kids they didn’t stop me and say, “Now before I choose love & kindness, can you tell me your stance on immigration, health care, Black Lives Matter, abortion, DACA, LGBQ rights, Trump, etc?” Nope. That didn’t happen. We can choose love and kindness without agreeing on everything. We do not have to be 100% on the same page to stand with one another and love deeply. Today I marched because I believe in the stories & hope that dwell within both my daughters and sons. More than anything I long for them to be kind, loving, generous, compassionate and respectful. And I never want them to doubt the power & bravery that lies within themselves.”

And that was when people got really bold hiding behind their computer screens sending me ugly messages.  And that was when I simply deleted those mean comments.  Let’s all be kind in person, but also on the internet.  I know we can do it.

Let’s also enjoy some cuteness while we’re at it.

By the way, have you seen Wonder Woman?!?!?  If you haven’t, add it to your list right now and watch it asap.  Incredibly good.  I cried maybe 32 times.

Josh’s brother Andy sent me this picture afterwards and it instantly became my favorite photo from the day.  Seriously could not stop laughing.  Oh Josh Kelley, we love you and all your introverted ways.

4.  Marcie and I took a Southern Belle Biscuit Class a couple of weeks ago and YOU GUYS!!!!!  It was insanely fun and eye opening…yes, biscuit making can be eye opening…and well, I totally recommend this to anyone and everyone.  There we’re Nashville people in the class, out of state tourists, men, women, seasoned biscuit makers and newbies to the biscuit world and everyone had THE BEST time!  You might feel like I’m punking you right now, but this is not a drill…it’s legit and amazing and if you take the class you’ll love it!  And this is not sponsored and I wasn’t asked to talk about the class, I just had that much fun learning how, eating and making biscuits.  Marcie actually scored the class on Groupon and we we’re both so giddy afterwards.

5.  Valentines pretty much sucked terribly this year.  Josh Kelley and I had gone out of our way to really try and make it a special, fun day because it seems that every single holiday right now, no matter how big or small, sucks without Everett and our kiddos feel this big time too.  Well, by the end of the day Harper and I had the flu and our littlest had strep.  And there we’re lots of tears from pretty much everyone.  We did however continue on in our tradition of books and beans (jellybeans) for Valentines and one of my all time favorite cookies ever!!!

And the day before Valentines…when Harper and I weren’t feeling like death yet, we both gasped when we saw this card and stopped just to pick it up.  Everett Kelley, goodness do we miss you every single day.  We see you and feel you in everything and everywhere we go.

6.  So we basically just passed flu and strep around for about 2 weeks.  It actually became comical minus the fact that our co-pay went WAY up and that blows with 7 people in the house who are passing around germs and need for real medication.

During our sickness we relied heavily on the Olympics, Gatorade, ramen, popsicles, movies of all varieties and sleep.  Being an adult with the flu was WHOA!!!  One night I told Josh he had to take me to the hospital, instead he loaded everyone up and we went the the Kroger Minute Clinic 🙂  It was crazy and I honestly couldn’t recall much of what happened the first 48 hours.  I sent texts I didn’t remember sending and even made some purchases on Amazon.  What in the world?!?!  Our Amazon cart had like 10 toiletry bags in it…all different…so glad I didn’t make that delusional flu purchase.  On a really just yuck feeling, sad day Hudson gave me this and all was right with the world again.  He’s such a ham with such a funny personality and I just couldn’t love him more.

7.  If you need an awesome marinade for some meats in your life you have to try THIS ONE!  I know, totally weird random thing to share with you, but we’ve used this recipe approximately 57 times and it’s always so good.  We love to use it on steak for some steak fajita bowls…hold the dinner phone.  Crazy good.

And while I’m at it you must must must MAKE THESE too.  Marcie shared the recipe with me and every single person devoured theirs.  Giant crowd pleaser.

And 8.  Sunday we hit the 7 month mark since Everett died.  It was a doozy.  There was some sickness still floating around, the prior week had been so wonky, we’d had to change our Chinese New Year plans, we’d had to postpone some other things and moral was just low.  It’s been raining constantly, but that morning the sun was out.  It was the first time in a long time we’d seen some good solid sunshine so I dragged my body from the bed and we all finally went to the cemetery to hang the solar lanterns we had purchased to hang for Chinese New Year.  The big kids took their bikes and skateboards, Josh’s dad came by with donuts and it ended up being really special.  We’re figuring out our new normal without Everett and that is really hard most days.  Josh and I later talked about how that seemed like just the right way to do the cemetery for us.  No one left crying or really extra down and everyone felt it was nice to be there and to celebrate Everett and such a special holiday with him.

This grief thing is a beast.  Not having our son and brother with us will be something we work through and heal from for a long time.  We’ll always walk with a limp.  I just can’t explain how much we miss him and how we long to be with him, but this visit was our first cemetery visit that wasn’t terrible and actually felt sweet.  Maybe it was the sunshine.  Maybe it was the rainbow lanterns.  Maybe it was the donuts.  Maybe it was the flu 🙂 but maybe it was our first glimpse at some healing.  Whatever it was, we’ll take it.

Solomon is 9!

Each year I try and do a little blog post about our kiddos’ birthdays.  This blog serves as not only a place for me to write, but also as a bit of a scrapbook for our family.  It holds precious memories and often reminds us of things we’ve long forgotten.

At the start of February we celebrated Solomon’s 9th birthday.  How on earth can that be?!?!?  He and Hudson we’re just tiny babies making all kinds of trouble together.  I remember when Solomon came home Harper was a fresh 2-year-old and Hudson was just 9-months-old.  When we would go out to run errands I would carry Hudson since he couldn’t walk yet, wear Solomon in a sling and hold Harper’s hand trying to keep her from making a mad dash into parking lots.  Those we’re the days that felt easier and yet completely chaotic.

Sol has always been the most detail oriented child.  When given the chance to choose meals and desserts and plans his mind goes into over drive and his choices are made so carefully and deliberately, but not before visiting all of his possible options.  Birthdays are at the top of his planning list.  This year Josh Kelley and I had a good laugh after Josh proclaimed he wanted to start doing his birthday like Sol does his.  Go big or go home is definitely his motto.

Solomon is our most adventurous eater and always has been.  Now granted the kid doesn’t like cereal or the crust of bread, but give him all the peppers and onions and exotic foods of the world.  Good food is one of his love languages.  While we we’re in China, Josh and Sol we’re the only ones to try donkey.  Still makes me smile thinking about it.  Nothing scares Solomon off…except Cheerios 🙂

We usually do birthday doors, but since Everett died we actually took a year off of the doors.  We hope to start back up with Hudson’s 10th birthday at the end of this year.  Kind of weird, but in the mean time we have been making up our Letterfolk board for the birthday kid.  It started with Hudson and now it was Solomon’s turn.  Josh and I had fun picking out all the words and character traits that describe our special guy.

For breakfast Solomon requested cinnamon rolls and bacon.  We actually let him pick two dinners…one on his actual birthday and one on the weekend for an extra birthday celebration.  He chose supreme pizza with all the toppings one night and a hot dog bar with all the toppings…again…for the other night.  He wanted my chili, cheese, bacon, peppers, two kinds of jalapeños, ketchup and mustard.  No topping was left unturned.  The hot dog bar was accompanied by “the good chips”…aka BBQ Lays and Spicy Nacho Doritos.  Gah I love this kid.

Solomon is quite the desert man too.  He wanted to look online for a good chocolate dessert and finally landed on this Best Brownie Pie topped with ice-cream.  Well done son!   He also loves iceream and when he couldn’t narrow his iceream dessert choice down he concocted his own.  He asked me to layer my big pan (9×13) with ice-cream sandwiches, then a layer of Oreo ice-cream, followed by a layer of crumbled Oreos and then topped with a layer of whipped cream.  My accomplishments as a mother have now been fulfilled. 🙂

Sol’s a giver so there we’re also candy treats and chex-mix involved for his classmates and all the members of his rhythm squad…aka dance team…aka pep rally leaders…to celebrate as well.  This kid lives it up on his day to say the least.  It’s one of my greatest enjoyments as a mom celebrating them on their special day.

We ate lunch with him at school and when I brought out my phone to take a picture he grinned ear-to-ear.  He really wanted a little point-and-shoot camera for his birthday and Josh Kelley and I made that happen.  Hudson got one for his birthday too so it was quite hilarious watching Hudson video and photograph Sol on his birthday.  These two have a special bond.  They don’t remember life without one another and I couldn’t love it more.  Amon tried honing in on all of Solomon’s birthday action as well and Sol obliged…nevermind Amon stood in the corner sulking while we sang happy birthday during Sol’s birthday breakfast because he was unhappy about the plate he was given.  Kids…hahahahahaha.

When anyone asked him what he wanted for his birthday he told them money.  He has been saving and saving for a Playstation 4 and he was hoping this birthday just might complete his savings.  Sure enough, it did.  Dude saved up all his cash monies and handed every last dollar over to me as I made his purchase VIA the internet.  Josh told him he’d buy him an extra controller, but it had to be just for him.  Wink, wink.  Not sure who’s more excited about his PS4 purchase…Josh or Sol.

Solomon is just quite the kid.  He keeps us on our toes and keeps us thinking.  He is always up for helping and can find anything anyone has misplaced.  He is complicated and resillent and lovable.  He’s beyond special and is likely on his way to being voted The Funniest Kelley.  He can walk on his hands and can almost land his self taught front handspring…he seriously needs to be in a gymnastics class.  He gives amazing hugs and a key to his heart is good food and a glass of milk.  He misses Everett deeply and we’re working together so hard on his healing.  He was the best big brother to him.

His birthday always makes me think extra about his birth family.  I reminded him how so many things I love about him he got directly from them and how much we love and respect we have for them.  When I tucked him in that night I reminded him of how for the longest time when he was tiny instead of saying “I love you” he would say, in the most endearing way, “Happy Christmas”.  I hugged him tight and asked him if he had a good birthday.  He assured me he did.  I hugged his little body once more and he whispered in my ear, “Happy Christmas.”  I laughed.  This is our boy and goodness are we forever greatly to be his parents.  We are simply the luckiest!

Happy 9th birthday Solomon!

6 Months

On January 18th it marked 6 months since Everett went to be with Jesus.  Honestly, I don’t even really like that sentence.  It marked 6 months since he died and our world was flipped in an entirely new direction.  6 months since sadness and pain like we’ve never known laid heavy on our family.

I was really dreading the 6 month mark because now he had been gone longer than he was with us.  Since August of 2016 we had been working to get to him as quickly as we could and in 6 short, fast & furious months we’d done it…we’d reached our boy…so it kind of sucks that it took us 6 months to get to him and it has been 6 months without him…that those time frames now mark us being apart longer than we we’re together.

We feel very tied to Everett’s spot in the cemetery.  I love how his Uncle Andy puts it, “Everett’s special corner of the earth” and that’s how I’ll always refer to his little space under that big tree in the cemetery just down the road.  Josh Kelley was actually out of town on that day so I loaded up all the kids and we went and got a big gold 6 balloon and went for a visit at the cemetery.

Each time I’m there it’s hard…it takes me breath away and spins my stomach into a thousand knots that this is now our reality…what we live with every day…our 3-year-old being dead and his body deep within the earth.  It makes me angry and sad and I just do not understand any part of it for the life of me.  I’ve read words by other mothers who have buried a child and some of them say they don’t like what happened, but they trust it.  I am not there yet.  I can’t say I trust what happened or trust God who let this filter through His hands.  I don’t understand why He didn’t give Everett a miracle…why He didn’t breath life back into his small, weak body or heal his little mind.  I don’t understand the timeframe…I just don’t understand any of it.  I also know God is God and I am not and I’m not owed any explanation of why what happened to Everett did.  It’s just hard and a daily battle.

I still love Jesus, but I’m working on trying to come to a place where I have a better grasp on who He is now sitting on His thrown in heaven while we’re living down here on earth.  Does He still do miracles and heal while in heaven?  I just don’t know.  I’ll be crazy honest in saying I like Him better if He doesn’t…if He’s not healer and miracle worker still…and that He’s just fully aware of what’s going to happen and is flat out broken over it for us and the fact that this world is just shitty which means sometimes really really shitty things just happen.  I don’t like thinking about Him deciding who gets miracles and healing while He decides that some people do not.  It’s extra hard when you are thinking about your little kiddo who was helpless and ultimately looked to you to keep them safe and protect them.  I know we can’t do that all the time, but a large part of parenting in their young years is keeping them safe from harms way.  Hence all the guilt and regret that weighs on Josh Kelley and myself daily.  Weekly Josh and I talk through this again and again rehashing everything…every decision, every question asked, every moment and so on and so on.  It’s a giant circle of questions that just keeps us going in a loop and there’s never much relief.

Prayer is hard too.  I don’t pray much if any right now.  Again, a little brutal truth telling, I just don’t really understand prayer right now.  When friends or family ask for prayer about something I always default to sentences like, “I am hoping for the best” or “I hope you get some relief soon” because I don’t want to straight up lie, but I’m not a praying person right now.  People keep sending us verses and inspirational memes that have all these Bible verses and quotes on them and I feel like I could poke holes in them for days 🙂  We did have faith as small as a mustard seed, we did gather together, we did believe, we did hope, we did follow where God led, we did, we did, we did.  Harper, Hudson and Solomon…especially Hudson…beleived without a shadow of doubt that God would heal Everett…we had faith like a child.  I prayed over Everett’s life from the very moment we saw his sweet face on our computer screen.  I surrendered Him over, I followed all the Biblical text book jazz and still he died.  So I just don’t fully understand prayer right now.  It feels a bit pointless if whatever is going to happen, happens anyways.

And my head knows all the Bible says about prayer and who He is.  I know prayer keeps you in communication with Jesus, I know He likes to hear from us, etc etc, but I also know He knows broken people.  People who are sad and down and in pain and He knows every thought that crosses our minds.  I know He knows deep pain and sadness Himself and I know He’s not going anywhere based on what I think or feel about Him and Biblical practices right now.  Insert wiping sweat from brow emoji 🙂

I struggle in a way I never have with Jesus and the Bible, but one thing I keep holding onto is that God says His power is perfected in my weakness.  As we drove to Shaui’s grave with that giant number 6 balloon floating around in the back seats, I turned the sound up on the radio and sang a little louder than normal,

“And in these ashes I’m stronger still.  You’ll learn to fear my pain, yeah you will.” -Johnny Swim

I keep trying to hold God to His word that He will use our pain and that Satan trembles at the power that is perfected in our weakness.  I know from these ashes we will rise with a limp that will never fade, but stronger and braver than ever before.  We just need some time.

As time has marched on we’ve also been learning more and more about our own personal grief.  The week following Everett’s 6 month anniversary we decided to do some hard firsts in grieving the loss of Everett.  We went through his basket of clothes that have been on our bedroom floor since last January.  With only one dresser and no closet in the boys’ room, Everett got his own basket in our room and he would pick out his little clothes from it each morning.

We also went through all the cards & gifts we’ve received over the past 7 months since we left for Michigan in June.  So many of you have loved on us in such kind and thoughtful ways and we are forever grateful.  I also listened to Hillsong United’s Wonder album again for the first time since Everett died.  It was playing in his hospital room as I held him close and we went to be with Jesus.  Again, that sentence.  I sobbed my guts out so many times that week and it was just a heavy week in general for our whole house.

Everett’s backpack we packed for Michigan is still sitting in the corner of our bedroom.  His flip-flops tucked in the side pocket and things like his favorite sippy cup, pretzels from the airplane and some of his favorite little toys and coloring books packed inside.  We see it everyday and with so many hard firsts we had pushed through that week I thought to myself, “Is it time to go through his backpack too?”  I remember handing his backpack over to Josh’s sister Jen at Mott in Everett’s transition room after a long day of snuggling and being together and our kids and family saying their goodbyes.  When she took it from my hands I immediately felt panicked and burst into tears asking her not to let anyone unpack it.  She assured me she would not let anyone unpack his little bag.  That moment will be one forever etched in my heart.  We ended up not unpacking it and leaving his backpack right where it was in the corner of our room still because it just wasn’t time yet.

Grief is big and heavy and it’s a very finicky process.  We’re learning when to push and when to lay off.  We’re learning when space is needed and when a group hug is in order.  We’re learning sometimes we need a nap and sometimes we need to stay up late listening to one another’s hearts.  We’re learning we need grace in abundance and to keep taking this journey just one day at a time with each day drawing us closer to our boy.  We’re resting in the assurance that Jesus, no matter what we think about Him or feel about Him currently, isn’t going anywhere and that His power is actually being perfected in our deep, hard weaknesses.