I’ve thought about the words I would write on this day 1000 times over.  I have spun them every which way and back and have thought about how I would ever give justice to this little piece of our story.  I wanted to write it all out prior to Monday, but I just wasn’t sure how Monday would actually feel when it was all said and done.  So I waited.  And here I sit on a Wednesday afternoon pecking away at these keys because the words were creating such a cloud in my head….the anxiousness to get them all out could wait no longer.

It will be 4 years this October since we became a foster family.  When we decide to foster we looked into several different avenues, but we really wanted to work with a group that would put not only the kids, but their parents as well, at the forefront.  We wanted to work along side people who knew reunification was of top importance and who would fight for it when at all possible and when healthy.  With each group I talked with I asked, “What is your adoption rate?” I know it is just one single statistic, but I felt like it was a really telling one.  In the end we ended up becoming a certified foster family with the state of Tennessee mainly because they had the lowest adoption rate.  We were beyond impressed with the way they valued children and their first families and how reunification was always the goal when possible.

And here’s what I just realized I am doing with the above words…I’m making my case…like I have to prove something or solidify something to you.  It’s my pride and it’s a pretty ugly part of me.  We became a foster family to help keep families together.  Reunification was the goal.  We believe that children in foster care need loving and safe people and places to land, but so do those who are working so hard to get them back.  These parents and relatives and guardians need people cheering them on, encouraging them and stepping into their corner to tell them, “You matter.  You are loved.  You are strong.  You can do this.”  Very honestly, when we realized our girl’s case would move to adoption, I felt like I had failed her and her birth mom.  The goal was reunification and it didn’t happen and I took it very personally.  It was a shot to my pride when I should have put my pride down a long time ago.  One day while talking to my friend Sherry about my feelings of failure she said, “Just because it didn’t end exactly how you planned, does not mean that it ended wrong.”  I immediately jotted it down, taped the small piece of paper in our kitchen and tucked her words away in my heart.

I hardly ever understand how life shakes out.  The past 3 1/2 years we have loved our girl and her birth parents the best we could.  We were never perfect, far from it, but we knew life was better together and that we had to try to give this our very best love.  Monday afternoon was incredibly beautiful and special and bittersweet as we wrapped up the past 43 months and a judge made our newest daughter officially Winter Lee Kelley.  Although we’ve been together since she was a baby, it felt like a fresh start…a redemptive Day 1.

All 7 of our children have joined our family so differently each carrying their own unique story.  I don’t know if I’m getting much right in life, but what I do know is it’s my greatest honor to love my kids, to be their mama and to honor each of their individual stories, beginnings and first families.  They make us better.  They make our life richer.  Josh Kelley and I are not obediant or good people and our children have never been, nor will they ever be, our ministry, charity or good deed.  They are simply our kiddos who we feel so utterly unworthy of.  Once again, Josh and I find ourselves the absolute luckiest.

Winter fully anticipated this day.  I bought her a special dress and she picked out a rainbow cardigan to go with it because it reminded her of Everett.  She has been missing him a lot lately and almost everyday requsts rainbow ribbons in her hair.  The rest of the kids sported a rainbow of some sort as well.  We carry him with us everywhere and I love seeing visual reminders of him.

The kids went to school that morning for a few hours before we picked them all up for our big day.  Before Winter left she asked me to hang flags for her and then instructed me where exactly to hang them. 🙂  Next thing I knew, the kids were in school and I was digging through my basket of banners, flags and buntings to complete her request.  I remember making her name banner for her first birthday.  Insert tears.

After snagging everyone from their schools and getting a quick lunch we headed out.  When we arrived at the courthouse Josh’s parents, Jen and Campbell were waiting on us.  Winter went running as fast as she could to hug their necks.  Winter is named after Josh’s sister, Jennifer Lee, so it felt extra special for Jen to be there.  Winter adores her.

As we waited outside the courtroom our friend Cheyenne came up the stairwell carrying her giant camera and wearing a tank top with little rainbows all over it.  When I saw her all I could think was how undeserving of such a kind friend we are.  Cheyenne had no clue we would all be wearing rainbows, but she remembered Everett on her own and it meant the world to me as his mama.  Cheyenne has photographed our highest highs and deepest, darkest lows.  She is far more than photographer.  She is a dear friend who has chosen to step into the messiest parts of our story and willingly walk along side us.  I could never fully express our gratitude for her kind spirit and insane talent she shares with us and the world.

Right on time they called us into the courtroom.  I teared up instantly and could not hold them in.  They called us forward and our attorney asked questions and I answered them…squeaking out my words in between my tears.  Our judge was kind and moved through his words with grace.  And then just like that, Winter was officially and legally a Kelley…our second daughter…the one we didn’t see coming and didn’t even know we needed, but absolutely did.

   We let her plan out the rest of her special day.  On the way home we all got celebratory icees and she requested Arbys for dinner with little Sprites and wanted to eat in the floor while watching Dolphin Tale.  Dairy Queen was her choice of dessert to which she got an icecream sandwich.  She beamed all day long and told anyone who would listen how she was now Winter Lee Kelley.

I anticipated the day feeling heavy.  Special days are hard without Everett and we all just really miss him.  I also carried a heaviness for Winter…adoption is a mix of sadness and joy, loss and gain.  And sometimes those feelings are just hard to balance out, but Winter went into her day head up, eyes clear and joy oozing from her little body.  She was so joyful about this day which in turn made me even more joyful about it.  Her joy lifted my heaviness.  This day was important to her…this was the permanency she’s longed for and deserved, but at the end of the day the truth I know is that I needed this day as much, if not more, than Winter did.

Winter Kelley, you my love are fierce, strong, resilient and the loudest, wildest, most loving firecracker in the sky.  I’ve never met another child like you and you exhibit so many amazing traits we see in your beautiful birth parents.  You feel all the feels and you share all there is to share and you love with every fiber of your little being.  You have made our family richer indeed.  You are loved by so many and we’re all watching as you change the world one hug and awkwardly too honest comment at a time.  We’re so honored to be your family.  We love you Win!


  1. Congratulations! 😀 I love seeing her beautiful smile 🙂 I love how you remember that adoption is both joy and pain, loss and gain, always mixed. But, even so, I am happy for you – and for her. 🙂

  2. Congratulations!! Once again I am bawling after reading one of your posts! She is beautiful and so lucky to be your daughter!!!

  3. Congratulations for the beautiful permanent addition to your beautiful family!!!

  4. I so appreciate your heart for reunification and the love you clearly feel for Winter’s birth family. While this chapter of her story is not what you’d expected, there is so much to come and chances are God will amaze you by redeeming that piece of her life’s tale in surprising, beautiful ways. Thankful for the stability and love you guys have given her little soul, while sad that she was in a position to need it. You don’t know me, but I so appreciate your willingness to share your life with transparency and vulnerability.

  5. Oh my heart is full in reading this! Congratulations, Kelley family! 🙂

  6. ❤️❤️

  7. Lisa gilliam says:

    What a beautiful family

  8. Amy Huntz says:

    I am ugly crying now. So happy for all of you ❤

  9. As soon as I saw her whole face, I squealed out loud. She is BEAUTIFUL and her smile just beams joy! Congrats on your new daughter, 4 years later. I love how each of you love so deeply, freely and completely! Everett is with you still in everything you do, he won’t be forgotten. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Mo Morgan says:

    Congratulations! It was so lovely to see her face ! She is beautiful

  11. Congratulations!!!So very excited to get to see her sweet face on the blog. Praying for your family! Many beautiful blessings!

  12. Congratulations….. Now we see the sweetest of faces in lieu of a little red heart. To all of you, much love sent from another family of foster adoption.

  13. What a wonderful and special day for you all…!! I had always hoped this would happen and she would finally be a little Kelley..It’s so great to finally see her beautiful smile!! I could not be happier for you all. I wish I lived closer and I could meet all of you and give you a big hug and say well done Mama for giving everything you have to your beautiful children. You are truly blessed by each of them and I wish you only happiness moving forward. Xx

  14. Beautiful

  15. Traci DeSheles says:

    Y’all are the luckiest!

  16. Beautiful words and a beautiful day for a truly beautiful little girl. Laura Kelley, you are something else. Such an amazing family you and Josh have built. Happiest, most sincere wishes to all of you <3

  17. Meggan mcfaden says:

    I just love this and y’all!!!

  18. Winter may not have a BIG O HEART covering her face now, however….. all I see is L-O-V-E!

  19. Glenda Hoagland says:

    Congratulations. When I saw that there was no longer a heart covering her face that something very special had happened. I am very happy for Winter (love that name) Lee Kelley and the entire Kelley family. Blessings to you all.

  20. I wish everyone reading this knew you are exactly how you sound in your blog. All of your children are gifts & you two are the luckiest parents…. and yes, Winter is awkwardly honest… like when she gave me a crazy look while I was holding her & she said, “You’re sweaty!” Hahahahaha. I love her & I love you & all the other Kelley’s ♥️

  21. Congratulations! She is beautiful! I’m so happy for all of you!

  22. Oh, she is SO SO beautiful!!! I am so happy for all of you! God knew this day would come before the foundation of the earth. He knew you would be the perfect family for her and she would be the exact daughter you needed. Congratulations! The joy of this day on her face is priceless. Thank you for sharing.

  23. So Beautiful!!!! All of it!

  24. Deauna davis says:

    Wow, I’ve never seen such a beautiful example of obedience to God’s calling. You’re extraordinary, your whole family is. Winter will be a world changer… all of your kids will be, because that’s what you and Josh are. Thank you for being so transparent and sharing every corner of your story.

  25. Such a lovely story! Thanks for sharing this.

  26. paula Jones says:

    So happy for you Winter! The smiles on all your faces are just beatuful. Thank you so much for sharing your family with us. You are so blessed!

  27. Congratulations!! I just knew she had a cute and adorable face behind those hearts. God bless your family. You are incredible and everyone should have hearts as large and wide as yours. I’m certain we’d have a much kinder world.

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