These trips were not planned when we first decided to drive to Florida. We made the decision to make the trip after my aneurysm was found because it's a trip I always wanted to take with the kids, but we were waiting for the 'right time'. When you realize that you might not see your kids grow up, suddenly 'right' doesn't matter... and so we planned it out.
It wasn't until a week or two prior that I started working out our route and as I did, I started to want to see as many of my Rachel friends as possible. I contacted a few of them, but some of it was still up in the air since timing and how the kids would do was unpredictable. As soon as we got out of our cold 3 degree weather, the temp was 43 degrees for most of the entire first day.
|South West here we come!!|
We stopped, after 14 hours of driving, in Durham NC where we stayed with my Papa's son Gary and his wife Elaine. I've never been close to my Papa's side of the family since my Nana died when I was 10 and our families went our own ways. But when Papa was dying, I saw them at the nursing home he was at and they offered us to stay there. They cooked us an amazing gluten free meal and gave us the most comfy rooms to stay in. At one point I was looking at a map with Gary and for a minute and I felt like I could have been hanging out with Papa - they are so similar in so many ways. Their daughter Jen stopped in to say hi too and gave us some clothes for the boys. It was a quick, but awesome visit that I'm glad we were able to make. (There was frost on the ground the next morning, it was COLD, which I hear never happens... only for us!)
|These two became quick buddies ♥|
We didn't know if we were going to be able to work it all out until the night before, but we left there and met my friend Hannah Rose for coffee at a Starbuck's nearby. You might remember her as Lily's mom. We became friends through my blog and had never met in person. We had coffee and talked and got to hug in real life... the things that distance prevents friends from doing. She showed me some of Lily's things, which was an honor. It was another short, and very special visit. It's amazing to me that I can see people I have never met in person - and might never see in person again - and feel like it's not our first meeting. It's amazing to me how deep the bond of knowing each other's pain as baby loss Mamas can go. I'm thankful that God provides for us in this way. I don't know how people went through this before the Internet times because I can only imagine how lonely it would be.
|My big girl joining in on girl talk.|
|♥ With our girls' blankets ♥|
We said bye for now to Hannah and headed to Florida, where we spent 6 days with Matt's dad and step mom. We don't see them very often and could never afford to fly all of us there and then rent a car big enough for us all, so this was a pretty huge thing. The kids had fun hanging with Memere and Pepere and we went on a few day trips, one of which requires another post but we also went to Homosasa Springs to see the manatees and Busch Gardens.
For BG, I put us all in our shirts from Rachel's Race... We hadn't even made it in the gate yet and someone asked "Where's Rachel?" I told them she is in heaven and the man started telling me about his son who died at just a couple of months old 29 years ago. He said "You never get over it." Afterwards, I was thinking... he must see us and think of where his son would be now... would he have a family... like rollercoasters...? You really truly never move on... only forward without them.
We had probably 20 or more people ask "Where is Rachel?" I thought it interesting that they all used the word "where" instead of " who " like we usually hear. The simple answer was "She is in heaven.". It was better than having to answer who she is... That's something that can't be summed up so easily. And yet the simple statement of where she is felt explanation enough about our shirts and I *know* left an impact on so many. I know this was God's provision for me and a way He was reminding me that where she is matters more than even who she is... because it's where I'm going to be one day - and why even though she is there, she is still here in our hearts. I missed her so much this day.
|The rides are numbered - and the merry-go-round was ride #43. |
It was the only one that we were all able to go on together.
I have a feeling there were 8 of us there. ♥
The original plan was for Matt & I to go to a river to kayak for the day on our 9th anniversary, but his step mom got really sick and we had a lot of driving ahead of us, so we left a day early, on our anniversary, instead. The weather was about as cold as it's ever been while we were there (35 the day we left, which I hear never happens... only for us!) so kayaking wasn't really the best idea anyway, but my hope was to spend the day doing something warm on our anniversary for once.(married in February in NH means it's always freezing!) But the car ride led us to another very special place....
|Dinner at Ruby Tuesdays - making lemonade|
|snack at a rest stop on the South Carolina Line|
|curious boys ♥|
|Hi Rachel ♥|
My Rachel friend Jenn lives in GA and I met her after she found my blog because we had both lost daughters. Her daughter Stella died at 5 days old around the time Rachel did. They adopted two daughters from China and a year later, their Chinese daughter Rose died suddenly. They have walked through so much in such a short time - and they had just adopted two more daughters from China in January. I was beyond excited to be able to meet their family. There were 12 kids with us and 3 missing. Add 4 adults and that was a FULL house! We were there for Chinese New Year and were so blessed to share in that celebration with them. They made us homemade Chinese food - mostly gluten and dairy free! This was my only 'cheat' food wise... I'm a sucker for crab rangoons and these things looked professional! They tasted even better. I paid for it, but they were *good*!
|Red envelopes for Chinese New Year|
They set us up in their basement which had it's own bathroom and we felt so spoiled. I never told Jenn this, but the first night, we overheard them doing their family time and I was ear to ear smiles... listening to this family who has gone through so much and has welcomed all these little children into their family teaching their kids about God and praying to Him together - in ways that were almost identical to what we do in our home each night - just made me realize how united we are in Christ. Adopted as sons and daughters into His Kingdom. It's amazing.
Once again, it was an instant connection... like we've always known each other... Jenn and I have talked on the phone a bunch too, but it was so nice to hug and spend time together. We hung out on her couch chatting it up the first night... more time was the only thing that could have made this visit better. (that and warm weather! It was 19 degrees there, which I hear never happen...only for us!) We did get to stay for two nights, which was awesome. She babysat our kids so Matt & I could go out for lunch for our anniversary. Watching their new daughters and them overcoming the language barrier seriously had me in awe. The entire visit was such a blessing.
|lunch at BK when we left... all the cups and plates said Stella on them!|
We left there on Friday and headed to VA for a one night stop so we could get home late Saturday night. I had one more visit my heart was seriously longing for.... a little girl in VA named Lily ♥ We heard rumors that a storm was coming and we would be driving straight into it so I asked Matt if we could make the trip to visit Lily that night instead of Saturday on the way home like I had planned. I'm thankful for his willingness to add the extra 2 hours of driving onto an already really long day. I'm thankful for a husband who understands the importance of visiting a baby's grave and cares about how much it means to me. Our initial plan was to drive for about 9 hours. By the time we were in our hotel, we were closer to 12. But along the extra drive, we saw the most beautiful sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We found Lily's special spot in a little cemetery in VA... There was snow on the ground (which I hear never happens...only for us!) This is the stone that we helped pay for so Hannah could give it to Lily in 2013 when we didn't do a race. It was SO amazing to see it in person - it's so pretty and so perfect. I was blessed beyond measure to be able to show the kids in a tangible way what we did that year. They knew, but it helps bring it to reality for them... they know how special stones are, having watched me at Rachel's spot all these years. The sun was still setting and the view was beautiful. I wanted to tell Hannah we were going, but decided I'd surprise her as long as we could find it okay. I sent her a text with a picture of us there. That was one of my most favorite parts of our entire vacation... to know how much it would mean to her to see us there and be able to do it!! It fills me up like nothing else to make another hurting mama smile.
|It's so 'ironic' that this picture is numbered 5143 in my camera roll|
We were there right before Lily's 5th birthday.
|can't take a family photo without feeling that missing piece...|
I always can picture just where she'd be.
We hung out on Saturday and swam and ordered gluten free pizza... it turned into one of the best days of our vacation... a down day just me and my loves... we watched TV and ate. It was so relaxing. The perfect end to an awesome trip. But as the day went on, the snow just kept coming down... 18 inches later!! we didn't know if we were leaving on Sunday either! I checked out the weather and it said it would be in the 40's and so we planned to try to leave and see how it went. We were given clear roads, bright sun, and a perfect 43 degrees all the way home.... ♥♥♥
|The only moving vehicles we saw during the storm were tow trucks |
dragging other cars that crashed!
|Yes, this is VA. Did I mention this never happens here... only for us!|
|North East... coming home!|
There is one more trip I want to share, hopefully I will get to that soon, but it needs it's own post.
I must say that I was pretty unsure of how this long drive would be with 5 little kids who hate sleeping in the car... but we planned all our driving for during the day (except just as we were getting home on Sunday which was the hard part) and it went way better than I could have EVER expected. Even with our DVD player breaking 2 movies in on the way there! They did unbelievable. Pit stops take a lot of extra time, but they all went smoothly. I was able to research ahead so I knew what fast food items were safe for us gluten free wise, and I packed a ton of food which kept us eating well and saved us money. We did get a couple of nice weather days which my head needed and the kids have a ton of memories of a huge trip that wasn't stressful with their mom and dad. This is exactly what I had hoped for in this trip. I'm so thankful to God for the opportunity to do all of this, and for making a way to see all these people who mean so much to us along the way. I can't put words to how special this was for me, as Rachel's Mama. She truly has brought me so many blessings... too many to count.
We discovered we really like road trips, and now that we are not afraid of driving long distance with our crew, all I can think about is where we are going next!! So many places to see and friends I long to meet. If I love you, you are on our bucket list! Wanna meet somewhere in between?! ;)
|E's Team Rachel Blanket|
|The daisies we bought for Matt's step mom for Valentines Day.|
Picked them up and they were labeled 43 ♥
|A warm Valentines with my Honey|
|Last day of vacation... |
I love these people so much.
|Pit stop! We got really good at these and managed to always make them fun!|