I feel compelled to describe a moment that has, at least momentarily, brought so much meaning to my life in this trying and tiresome time.
Jackson made something at school. It was in a brown paper bag, emblazoned with glittery stickers, and he was really excited about it. As soon as he climbed into the car, he told me that he had a present. For Jacob! He couldn’t wait to pick his brother up from school and have him open it up.
Inside, Jacob pulls out a clear ball ornament on which Jackson has made a white-painted handprint, and turned each finger into a snowman with markers. Jacob smiles sweetly and tells his brother how wonderful this ornament is. “I made the snowmans all by myself!” Jackson proclaims.
“Are you sure you don’t want to give this to mommy?” Jacob asks.
“No. I made it for you because you’re the best brother.”
My heart swelling with pride and affection I watch as this love-fest continues; Jacob praising Jackson’s artistic talent, and Jackson telling Jacob how much he deserves the gift. It’s really cute, and I am reflecting on the fact that I get to enjoy this ornament on my own Christmas tree, with its darling little finger-prints, as Jacob decides he will place it on said tree so we can al enjoy it.
He takes a couple of steps and something happens. The ornament slips from his hand and explodes on the brick floor, turning almost to dust in an instant. Jacob immediately starts wailing with sadness and anger. Jackson freezes, looks at the broken glass and his crying brother, and runs up the stairs in tears. I hear anguished sobs coming from the direction of his room. My heart breaks for each of them at the same time. Oh and the ornament. It’s destroyed. Three tiny pieces remain on which you can see the hand drawn faces of the “snowmans.”
I take Jacob into my arms, but he cannot be consoled. “I am the worst brother!” He yelps. “I don’t deserve to be given nice things! He made this for me! Out of love! And I BROKE IT!” He cries until his face is bright red, veins protruding from either side of his neck, so much like his father when he is angry. I call Jackson down and ask him why he is crying. Is it because the ornament is broken? “No!” He cries, followed by an unintelligible cluster of words. “What?” I ask.
“I’m. Sad. Because I. Have emotions. For other people!” He spits out, sad and frustrated. This is the big reveal. He’s not sad that the ornament is broken, his work gone and his kind gesture spread in pieces on the floor. He is simply sad because his brother is sad and cannot be consoled. His brother is sad and he can’t make him feel better, can’t do anything about it. All he wants from life right now is for Jacob not to be sad.
“I’ll stay at school as late as I have to and make you another one!” He promises.
I sit with Jacob. I explain to him that his brother isn’t disappointed in him, or angry that he dropped the gift, just experiencing empathy in a beautiful and pure way. His description of empathy is perfect for a five-year-old: he has emotions for other people, and right now, he feels the sadness and anger that Jacob is experiencing, and he wants to make it better. I tell him that the reason the ornament was special wasn’t because the object itself was special; it was made special by the love of the maker for him. The ornament is just a thing, just a symbol of the love that made you view it as precious. The love of a little boy for his big brother. And that little boy is crying quietly over there, so badly wanting you to be okay, and I think what he needs is for you to sit with him, and tell him that everything will be alright, whether or not you feel that way right now.
Because it will be, of course. Jackson is still here, he can still take his little hand and coat it in white paint and make another set of snowmans. And even if that one was to break, we have our memory of it, and the knowledge of that love and excitement, and that is what really matters. We still have that, and always will.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think wistfully of my own brother, or my sister-in-law, and the things I wish I had, from them, to hold on to. Sometimes things are all you have left that are tangible, and that makes them precious. You feel the need to touch and hold something to reassure yourself that it is real. As I swept up the tiny shards of glass I thought about that compulsion to hold something in one’s hand and feel reassured by the solid physicality of it. How unnecessary that is, when all that matters can be felt and remembered, even if no part of it can be seen or felt.
We have, inside of us all, the mementos and treasures of a million special moments. With this story, I have added one more.
The next day at school pickup, Jackson came to the car with another brown bag. This one had two ornaments he had made that day. I hung one on the tree and tucked the other away for safekeeping. Apparently I don’t trust the faulty computer hard drive of my memory. I just want to know that, if I need to, I can hold that ornament in my hand and remember the beauty of this moment in time. I don’t need the thing, but I want it just the same.
On August 13, my sweet “sister-in-love,” Laci, went to Heaven. It was not a surprise, as we had known her time here was coming to a close, but still so hard to accept. There is no way to convince the mind that such a young life should end. 34 years old, with a 7- and 4-year old at home, Laci had a lot of living left to do. I feel robbed of time with her. I feel bereft, heartbroken. It also feels so surreal. I am relieved that her pain and intense suffering are over, but I grieve the loss of her steady and faithful influence on my life.
All of us are unique, individual beings, and the knowledge of this makes life so exciting, relationships so rewarding, but in ten lifetimes you would never meet a person like Laci. She was confident, bold in her convictions, completely selfless, generous to a degree that I have never seen, and will never see again. The world is a darker place without the sunshine of her smile, and the workings of her brain, always planning things for others. She would let nothing go to waste if she thought another person could use it. She enthusiastically accepted hand-me-downs, and told me joyfully of the fun of unpacking each tiny shirt, each pair of slightly worn shoes, as treasures, full of a worth that her eyes could see when most of us saw something temporal, used, plain. She saw the potential in everything to bring light and joy to others. Her snack baskets were bountiful gifts of great attention and care, and it brought her joy to meet the physical needs of others with food. She was in charge of snacks and meals at her church, and coordinated meals for church families welcoming new babies, or returning home from hospitalizations. That ministry lives on without her now, serving her own family in a way that I am certain she wouldn’t have anticipated.
Laci was brave. As my husband, her brother, has told me and his friends hundreds of times, she was the fastest “girl” he had ever seen on a quad, and would continue to be faster than all of his friends. He used to remind them that his sister would outpace them anytime, anywhere. His pride in her shone so brightly in those moments. From the moment I met Laci, in the early summer of 2003, I was in awe of her confidence. She was so unshakably Laci, and she was truly one of a kind. I remember her asking Josh if a shirt and skirt matched. “I think the skirt is too fancy for the shirt” he would say. (I wouldn’t recommend Josh as an authority on clothes.) She couldn’t be bothered with trivial matters like fashion: she had a world in need of her, and she was busy. She would tell jokes that sometimes only I laughed at (in her defense, they were great jokes, and I would know!) and then thank me for “getting her.” I think we were about as different as two college-aged gals could be. She was competitive and athletic, always moving, always doing something. While I focused on my hair and getting my liquid eyeliner just right, she threw her hair into a ponytail and was out the door. Always loving to be out of doors, moving. she never allowed her gender to get in the way of what she wanted to do. It was this, and our differences, that caused us to be such fast friends; we never had cause to be competitive with one another, because our interests were so varied and she set her sights higher. She wanted to compete with Josh. On ski/snowboard trips she wanted me to judge which of them got more air off of a jump.
The thing that makes my heart hurt, aside from my own loss and grief, is the knowledge that Laci has been so happy. She had really found her stride in life, and things were going well. I remember her telling me that life was just good. She had become a stay-at-home mom, had a rewarding role at her church, and a beautiful home. It makes me sad, and angry, frankly, to think of how short lived this perfection was for her. She was such a great mom. I was so impressed by her casual but firm take on parenting. Last Christmas, as she had made her way to her family room using a walker and kind of collapsed into the couch, she told me how she was aware of some behavioral stage Alexis was in and was keeping her eye on the behavior to shut it down. Using a gentle “no thank you” or “do you want to try that again?” She would redirect the kids toward better behavior, and be unshaken and calm in the process. We talked about how great it was that we each blamed our own kids first, and then found out the facts, rather than blaming the other’s children, even if the facts seemed evident. Our kids get along so well, and genuinely love one another. I feel so blessed that we have these living pieces of Laci to keep her best attributes living on through them.
Laci gave me a beautiful gift in the last time we visited her. We had this amazing day; Laci requested all kinds of yummy foods from a local restaurant, and I supplemented that with pastries. She was so excited to see us, and to eat yummy foods, and we had some really great, deep conversations about life, death, and faith. She was struggling, at this point, to feed herself, so I sat by her bedside and fed her, watching her face light up and her eyes close with each bite. As we talked, sometimes she would fall asleep for a bit, and then join our conversation again. I felt as though josh and I were trying to keep things light, but Laci wasn’t one to avoid a chance to dive deeper into the serious stuff. She asked us how we felt about the fact that she was dying. Only Laci would think of how her mortality affected us. During a point where just the two of us were talking, she looked at me and said “isn’t it so great that we already loved each other? We could have been like so many sisters in law who fight over petty things, but we never did. We didn’t waste any time fighting or not getting along. We didn’t have to start loving each other just now because I am dying. We didn’t waste any time not loving each other.” I can’t even think about this without crying. It was a serious gift, the kind only Laci could give. The kind she was so great at giving.
Sometimes Laci would call me out of the blue and ask how she could be praying for me. She said it was her honor, and she wanted to know specifics, so she was praying for just what I needed. I had told her, toward the end, that I felt so worried..,I’ll feel so lost without your prayer. Who will pray for me?
One thing that Laci said to me on that last beautiful day together still haunts me. She said that she just couldn’t find the blessing in this. She said if her suffering would bless anyone, she would keep doing it. It wasn’t blessing her, she wasn’t healing, and it wasn’t blessing anyone else. I tried to tell her that it certainly wasn’t true, and her faithfulness blessed so many. I know this wasn’t the outcome she wanted or expected. I know she believed God would save her physical body on Earth. I don’t know why He didn’t. I know she had plenty more work she would have done to glorify Him. From the first time I heard of her diagnosis, it didn’t make sense. Why Laci? She had diffuse “B” cell lymphoma. Blood cancer. It can travel wherever blood can travel. It was in her stomach and liver, and I remember talking to josh about how insulting it felt for a person so focused on health and nutrition, who didn’t drink alcohol, so have cancer there. Of all places. But then it was everywhere, in almost all places. And so, while I’ll never understand the whys in this story, I do know that no experience is wasted. I know that I will continue to think, learn, and grow from the example of Laci’s life. I will learn things in my grief that I wouldn’t have without it. In a conversation with one of my best friends, I told her how upset i was that Laci didn’t see the blessing in her experience. She corrected me. “Oh Korey” she said, “that’s not true. My life has been SO blessed by this experience. My prayer life has been blessed immensely. I am praying so much more often because I’ve been thinking of her, and I’m not just praying about her. My life has been blessed so much by how she’s transformed my prayer life.” Oh, how I wish I could tell her this.
I got a text yesterday that sums Laci up so perfectly. It was the owner of the yoga studio where I used to host my La Leche League meetings. She was texting her condolences, and told me something so perfectly “Laci.” She wrote:
Korey- sending all my Love to you and the fam. I just now made the connection that I met Laci as she gave me some Maternity clothes when I was pregnant with London just 4 years ago and she was the sweetest! I’m so so so sorry. ♥️
This encounter is so emblematic of the person Laci was, and the lives she touched. I hope she remembers that I asked her to send ladybugs to me when she thinks of me…I’ll be watching for them. I know she’s in paradise and out of pain, and I am so thankful. I also know that my life will never be the same. There is less light in it, and there is a hole no one can fill.
Rest In Peace, my sweet sister. I love you now and forever. Until we meet again. ❤️
We take a LOT of road trips. I feel like I’ve learned from experience some tips I want to share with you. We have tried a lot of things. We have regretted some of them. We have traveled with babies, toddlers, and now school-age children. The best packing and activity tips I have found are compiled here.
1. Plan, plan, and plan some more.
Really, no trip should begin without a host of lists and notes. I write down the weather along with each day’s activities, so that I can plan what to pack. It’s nice to know that on Thursday it will be chilly in the morning (pack Uggs and sweatshirts) and we will be hiking (hiking boots!) and later on showering and eating out (a nice outfit). We plan where we will stop for food and gas on the drive as well.
2. Pack for the way you want to live
Do you like living out of a suitcase of jumbled up clothes? I don’t! We pack in plastic, interlocking lid bins from Home Depot. Each family member has a dedicated bin with his or her name on it. They are heavy-duty and stack uniformly and nicely. Because we are RV campers, I usually take my clothes straight into the closet of the trailer, leaving things on hangers and putting folded items in the drawers. For the kids, my favorite method is to pack each day in an extra-large ziploc bag. This limits rummaging and complaining, two of my least favorite things. 🙂 I save the bags to reuse over and over. I label them with my label maker, and those labels can be peeled off for future bag use. For a typical day I’ll pack the kids layers: undies and socks, pants, shorts, a t-shirt and sweatshirt, and pajamas. That way, whatever the day brings, they have things that match. I recommend packing cubes for adults, and I usually pack like items together: all pajamas in one cube, all undergarments in another. My clothes don’t fit in the ziploc bags, plus I do know how to match things. Hehe.
3. What rides in the car with you?
If your kids are like mine, they’ll want fifty random things with them in the car. Usually a blanket, pillow, some toys, books, and a lot of snacks. Josh really can’t handle this. I try to keep our in-car activities (which will also double as trip activities) and snacks in one structured basket. This one collapses when not in use.
4. Lap trays are your friends.
I have two repurposed cookie sheets that I bring along for the kids on road trips. They are lined with bright contact paper (totally unnecessary) and serve as lap desks and tables. The raised edges keep crayons from rolling away, and they are perfect for eating a meal on the road. They are easy to wipe down and sanitize, then get back to fun. As a bonus, magnetic cookie sheets can be fun with magnetic letters or other magnets.
5. Options are good
If you know kids, you know that their attention spans can be quite short. This basket looks like total overkill, but sometimes they will do one activity for two minutes and move on. I have a plastic drawer thingie (technical term) where i keep all kinds of things so that i can change it up and provide fresh, new activities for different trips.
Some things i like to bring;
Road games (you can spot a wooden memory game; also car scavenger hunts, eye spy bags, and things without parts that can be lost, like a Rubik’s cube, are fun to have.)
Coloring and activity books
Highlights and Hive Five magazines
Reusable sticker books
Felt activities (I have a build-a-pizza set I made)
Inexpensive lined notebooks
Magic ink markers and books
Dry erase pockets and pens
6. Mother-in-law hack
My MIL came up with a great activity: she packs a baggie of Cheerios or fruit loops along with a piece of string with a washer tied to one end. The kids can happily load the cereal onto the string, eventually making a necklace which they can then eat!
7. Don’t forget refreshments
Here i packed snacks in a ziploc bag with 2-3 plastic trash can liners. These are small but hold a lot, and great for banana peels! I bring small cups in case we have something shareable (like trail mix or pretzels). We usually have lidded containers for water with a jug to refill them—of course you don’t want to drink too much water on the road! And of course, napkins and wipes are a necessity if you’ll be eating any more than snacks on the road.
We went all out with tie-dye, and it was a messy and fun experience! Since tie-dye is really in style and bright fun colors are just happy-making, we decided to go for it!
I don’t have pictures of us doing the tie-dying as it’s a messy process, but we used squirt/dropper bottles on a large plastic tablecloth on the lawn. Even with gloves, we all ended up with purple fingers and color-splattered legs.
We also tried a rainbow arch: you sketch the outline with a washable marker and then fold the shirt along the outside lines and rubber and it to form the outer curves. Then, separate the amount of shirt in between your rubber bands into equal sections for the remaining colors of the rainbow. I LOVE how these turned out!
Below you can see jacob’s swirl design, Jackie’s crumple method, and one of our rainbow arches. We then added iron-on vinyl to Jacob’s to customize it with his choice of phrases.
I did a few tshirts and tank tops for myself, but this is my fave, and it inspired Jacob to want his own kindness tee:
This was a very fun activity to do with the kids—it’s all worth it for the big reveal! We had a couple of swirl designs that turned out very white in the center, and we rubberbanded them up again and made another swirl! They turned out awesome! Comment if you want tips or guidance!
Sometimes it’s nice to do something quasi-normal and feel like the world makes sense again. Sure, we were outdoors on a makeshift patio, and yes, we had to wear masks as we walked in and out, but we were out in public, dining al fresco together on a Saturday morning. It was a reason for lipstick and a curling iron.