November 3, 2021

What is it they say? If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. Well, I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that God is a saboteur, nor enjoys when our measly, well-intentioned plans go up in smoke, but I have lived enough life to realize sometimes, you just have to throw up your hands and roll with the punches. I’ve been getting pummeled going with the flow, since the beginning of summer. You know, right around the time I launched this beautiful website of mine. I had visions of weekly blogs, writing, literally, until my heart was content. Then a nanny-less summer happened which meant I was juggling three kids in three different directions, and inventing on-the-spot sarcastic replies to the 1,458,342 times my children declared they were bored or didn’t want to play outside because it was too hot or yelling a non-committal “work it out” when C & T were throwing punches at one another. Needless to say, as August inched closer I began to see a mirage that was school starting and the endless, I mean ENDLESS, amounts of free time to write, to hobby, to sit in the silence with a gigantic grin. Then August came and this mysterious time would seem to vanish into thin air as the alarm on my phone would scream at me that THE KIDS ARE GETTING OFF THE BUS AND YOUR PRODUCTIVITY IS OVER. I would groan in disbelief and make all the plans for the next day, only to wake up and realize it is November and my well-intentioned plans remain, well, plans.

All of this is to say that I very much had meant to blog before this moment, as I feel like there’s much to share, and especially before the dreaded November 3rd post, which is generally my annual dig up all the trauma and find meaning in the pain post. But alas, here we are. This year, the TEN-year anniversary of the worst day of our lives, is a biggie. I could reflect on so many things. However, I haven’t done much reflecting. For most if not all of the past ten years, I’ve experienced weeks of inner turmoil leading up to the day, churning me through a cycle of flashbacks and grief. Whether it’s indicative of the busy-ness of this season of life or (more likely) continual healing, I’m fairly certain this is a good thing. It wasn’t until just a couple days ago when I began to think upon this day, and surprisingly, when I did there weren’t the familiar sharp edges. My thoughts came out as matter-of-fact and distant, which startled me. I had to pause and recheck myself over again, like shaking an empty bottle to be sure it’s empty. Honestly, I was a little jarred by this when a friend lovingly assured me that this is good, that it’s not a betrayal to tragedy of that day, that this is indeed time and healing paving way to honor this day with what’s meaningful to me. I want November 3rd to always be about the gift that is Elena, not just about the ultimate loss she experienced that day, but about the one she (and we) have built from the ashes of her old.

I’ve written many times about what happened that day. The flashbacks, the feelings, while still easily conjured, the trauma of it feels distant and intangible now. Again, I guess that’s a good thing, and I certainly welcome it, but the reflection of it at times does make me pause and remember. It’s remarkable to me how the human brain can get fuzzy on the details and specific memories, but what I will never forget is how I felt that day, tremendous fear and panic. I’m grateful, however, that there are a million other beautiful feelings and memories that have been created this past decade that make the trauma of November 3rd feel so distant. I mean to honor the tragedy of Elena’s injury, to recognize the loss, but not to glorify it. I never want to make what happened to her the defining moment of her life. The defining moments of her life lie in the simplicity of the day-to-day moments, like when she smiles, when she gets the uncontrollable giggles, when she snorts, when she sings with her music, when she looks you in the eye. Life is about seeing and taking the joy in these privileged moments. The unfathomable fear I felt that day was not because I was afraid of how my life would turn out, or the complications that may lay ahead or even what Elena’s life may look like, it was because I was terrified of losing her. These seemingly unimportant moments of her are the most joyous and the most sacred because they are reminders of what truly matters in this life and the gift that is loving and caring for her.

A couple days ago, we received back a few of the proofs of our family pictures we had taken this fall. I just kept looking at one picture in particular and all I could think was, out of the ashes of every expectation I’ve had for my life and the ocean of tears grief has wretched from my eyes, how God has blessed this life of mine over the past ten years! Years ago, I remember a friend telling me that the word ”blessing” isn’t meant to define a gift, a feeling, a sense of gratitude (sorry, #blessed), but rather it’s something in our lives that draws us nearer to God, which encompasses both good and bad. From the bottom dropping out ten years ago this day to this moment where I stand today, blessing is a thread that has woven this life of ours, this family of ours, together over the past ten years.

Looking back, I see that all of this, where I am, what we have, is made possible because of faith. Trusting in God, something outside of the circumstances that I will endure, outside of the control I think I have, outside of the fear that threatens my hope, outside of the uncertainty of my very survival, has taken the burden of every ash and every tear and exchanged it for peace and joy and promise. Faith in Chad, my support, my partner, my love. Faith in Elena, in who she is and what she will achieve. Faith in my boys, to watch them grow and love and care and help. Faith in my family, my friends, my community, to support and hold us after all these years. Faith in God’s very promise to restore, to redeem and to walk us through every step until that day comes. So, while this day does deserve it’s mourning, it also deserves the glory of what has been restored to our family and what healing, through faith, has occurred. The gifts that Elena, our heartbreak, and our healing have brought into our lives far outweigh, and will always outweigh, what was stolen that misty, November day. The blessing that we have chosen to feel, to see, to build upon has been our redemption.

My story is hardly finished. My life’s greatest tragedy, my forever grief, the ashes of my hopes and dreams have become my greatest purpose and the beat of my heart. As is Elena’s story, which is continually written upon the hearts of people every single day. Her light shines brighter than ever and I’m forever humbled that God chose me to hold it high.

  1. Kelly Swearingen says:

    This is a wonderful reflection.
    Have you ever connected with the Light for Levi Family?
    I think you would be a great inspiration for them.

  2. Kasey says:

    You took the words right out of my heart! I feel the same way about Brayden and I didn’t care what adversities were ahead; I just wanted him to live!

    Great blog! Beautiful words❤️

  3. Caroline Mosey says:

    Your words are always beautiful, inspiring, and honest. Thanks for sharing your heart with all of us for the last decade. You, Elena, and your whole family are dearly loved.

  4. Lori (Snodgrass) McKinney says:

    it amazes me how our loving God teaches and ministers to us through tragedy. You have no idea how your beautifully written stories have blessed my life and Inspired do many of us. The light of Jesus shines mightily through Emmalee’s eyes💕 Blessings!

  5. Lori (Snodgrass) McKinney says:

    it amazes me how our loving God teaches and ministers to us through tragedy. You have no idea how your beautifully written stories have blessed my life and Inspired so many of us. The light of Jesus shines mightily through Elena’s eyes💕 Blessings!

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This is Elena. Our Light. You can see all the goodness and joy that shines from those deep blue eyes. She loves sneezes, yawns, industrial toilet flushes, automatic paper towel dispensers and The Star Spangled Banner. Music is her everything, specifically Moana, Frozen (really all Disney), Queen & Taylor Swift. Nothing makes her squeal quite like swimming, fast boat rides and her two brothers in trouble. In addition to her megawatt smile, Elena reminds us to cherish the smallest of victories, to live in the present, and to daily dwell in a posture of gratitude for every breath and every blessing.  

More About Our Story

I’m Emmalee, an ordinary gal born and raised in the Heartland. Wife to Chad, and Mom to Elena, Calvin & Turner, I spend most my days ridin’ dirty (literally so much trash) in my minivan carting kids to and fro. When I’m not being a Momager, I excel at self-care, cooking gourmet meals my kids won’t eat and deep-diving all the feelings. Most days, my attitude is gratitude, just taking life one step at a time.

Emmalee & Elena

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