I don’t want to fix you, and I can’t heal you, but maybe I can help you see just how beautiful your broken is. Each cracked piece fits into the masterpiece of who you are right now. And, right now, I see a beautiful soul. -LK Pilgrim
Many of you have been anticipating the second edition of “The Warrior Project” for quite some time. This year the blog will be a little different. Bailey started writing, and well to say the least, life got in the way. We discussed it and decided that I will add the final touches. My hope is that as my words mingle with those of another, something in them will inspire some of you to BE PRESENT and BE REAL. That’s been my motto as of lately. I’ll not apologize for any of the words you are about to read, they are honest, and I have pulled them as kindly as I can from a hurting heart. Early last week as I sat at my desk, I found myself shaking and upset at the way this project had somehow become a source of anxiety and sadness for the two of us. While my head wants me to defend and be angry, my heart calls for me to let it go and be kind.
As I was struggling with how to react, I happened to glance down at my left wrist. I have the words, “Love Them Anyway” inscribed as a constant reminder that my fellow humans are just as imperfect as I am. The whole point of The Warrior Project is to bring together a group of the strongest most beautiful individuals we can find, in an effort to promote love, healing, and kindness. A Whole LOT of time, effort, and expense was put into this event. There are also alot of kind people who volunteer and help. From Edg-Clif winery who has donated the space for two years now, to the local Hubs Pub that donated food, Bailey and I are grateful for all of the help and support. I absolutely love seeing the heart of people like my BFF Connie, who made up little gift bags for each of the women. We also had hair and make-up done all free of charge, for the second year in a row!
We will start off with Bailey’s words and a little about each of our Warriors!
Another year, another amazing set of women. I am always so humbled to hear these women’s stories, and find out what their passions are. What drives them? What scares them? What has changed them? This round of warriors are made up of some women I have known for years, and some not at all. Either way, I am proud to know them now and proud to call them friends.
My first warrior wasn’t able make it to our event, but that doesn’t make her any less deserving to be featured here. The thing about Diane, is that she doesn’t realize how much of an impact she has on the people around her. As a former teacher, she has touched so many lives. I actually remember being jealous that I never had her as a teacher in school, because literally everyone talked about how much they loved her! Diane became close with a warrior from last year, Kelly Griffin. When Kelly passed away I know it was hard for her. They would stay up late confiding in one another and sharing their doubts and fears. I was just going back through mine and Diane’s older emails today, and I found some, where she was talking about Kelly. Diane said, Kelly was a real warrior. She wished she could trade places with her, so that Kelly would have more time with her family. I instantly felt in my heart that she meant it. I realized just how much we have in common, when I asked Diane what she loved about herself .
She said, “I love the way I love others. If that makes any sense. My heart is always open. I don’t judge. Everyone gets more than two chances with me. First time, I could have just been having a bad day. Second time, maybe you were having a bad day. As always, three times is a charm!”
Many times we shut people out because of the way they’ve hurt us. We are unwilling, or unable to forgive. This quote about the way Diane loves others will stick with me for the rest of my life. The world really, really, really, needs more people like Diane. I am so glad to know her.
Laci, Laci, Laci. I don’t think I have ever met someone more likable! On the day of our event she treated everyone like lifelong friends. This is such an amazing character trait to have, and it speaks volumes for her business as well! She runs an amazing boutique called The Mustard Seed Mercantile in Fredricktown, MO. If you’ve never been, you are truly missing out! Laci is inspired by everything around her, spoken like a true artist. When I asked her what drives her, she had what is probably one of my most favorite answers.
“I drive myself.” YAS QUEEN. She says, “I hold on strong to the fact that God made me the way I am because he has a huge plan for my life. I know my heart, I know my intentions. I won’t stop at life until what I feel on the inside, shows on the outside.”
One of the big things I love about this project is learning more about someone I already adore. Laci shared with me the struggles of being a teenage single mother. I completely relate to that, but I could not imagine doing it at 15 and then again at 17. THIS. GIRL. She is the definition of BOSS LADY. Not only is she a business owner, a wife, and mother of four… but her large family sold their home and recently built and moved into a tiny house. This girl is not slowing down, and I will constantly be cheering her on in everything she does!
Bailey’s description of Laci could not be more spot on! I can’t help but add a little take away of my own. I didn’t know her before that day at the winery. My first impression was FIRE! I literally thought to myself, This girl is fire and light! Her love for CHEESE is what pushed me over the edge though.
Man she reminds me of myself, or who I’m striving to be! She is not afraid to be just who she is. I heard a quote the other day, and I couldn’t help but think of her.
“You are so very much yourself, you don’t even have to try.”
I have known Megan for too many years to count. I’ve had sleepovers with her, We’ve snuck out to parties together, and gotten grounded together. I remember many nights falling asleep while listening to her talk on the phone to her boyfriend, even after her mom said to get off the phone. (SORRY TINA!). I recall fighting with her and making up, and fighting and making up. I remember when she met her husband, I could tell it was forever. She had met her match!
Sometime after that, life got too busy, and our friendship faded. She got married and then pregnant, all the while I cheered her on from afar. When Logan was born, I couldn’t stop myself from reaching out. He was born at 24 weeks, and spent 108 days in the NICU. For almost four months, Megan had to drive to see her baby in the hospital. While most moms are posting their babies first laughs on Facebook, little Logan was fighting to survive. Every photo I see of him brings a smile to my face, and I could not be more happy for their family. I asked Megan what she was most proud her response was breathtaking.
“I am most proud of how much my experience with my own child has changed me. The NICU has made me a more understanding person, a more positive person, a person that realizes anything is possible, and honestly probably a better mother. It makes me realize that my kid is so strong. He fought so hard to be where he is today, and I can fight just as hard to make the rest of his life the best it can possibly be no matter what obstacles we have to get through.”
Logan is doing great with no serious health issues, and he has an amazing momma behind him supporting him on every step he takes!
Let me paint a picture for you. It is year 2001. I’m a fourth grader in Mrs French’s class. I am on the verge of crying. A boy in our class was teasing me about believing in Santa Claus. I’m the type of person who cries when I’m mad. Just before the first tear falls Madison spins around and tells him to “zip it” and he did.
Madison has a way of making everyone around her happy. She is truly one of the best human beings I know. I knew, even years ago, that she would do something really cool and meaningful with her life. I wasn’t wrong. She currently works at Marygrove (a children’s residential facility that works with kids that have behavioral and psychiatric issues). I had no idea how tough the road was to get her there, though.
After high school Madison went to a university to play golf, not yet realizing a four year college just wasn’t for her. “Then at the beginning of my junior year, my grandpa passed away, and it was really hard being away from home. I was already struggling with what I wanted to do and had already switched my major. I took some education classes, because I knew I wanted to work with kids and that felt like the only way I could. But, it still just didn’t feel like the right fit for me. So… I decided to drop out. I stayed in Kansas City, got a job at Target and didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I was too embarrassed to even bring it up. That wasn’t supposed to be my plan, and I was so concerned with disappointing everyone that I just kept it hidden. After lots of tears and conversations with my awesome parents I found my place at Marygrove.”
Seeing Madison doing something she loves and making a difference at the same time is truly remarkable.
“I truly found my happy place working with these kids who are going through SO much at such a young age. I have met some of the very best people while working there and I wouldn’t trade my little hiccup in life for anything in the world. I learned so much about myself in that time and looking back it was just the crazy path that led me to where I am now.”
Honestly, Madison you deserve all the happiness in the world, and those kids are lucky to have you!
A literal joy. You cannot be around her and not feel happy. In this world we live in, that is SO important! Paula inspires me all the time. She is kind, funny, and beautiful inside and out. I cannot imagine the struggles a trans woman may face in life, especially in a town of this size. Paula is a true warrior, going to battle for herself daily. Some of the struggles Paula’s has dealt with in the last year include mental harassment at work which lead to an early retirement, being evicted from her home of 16 years due to her gender change, being robbed of family heirlooms and many other things, depression, and the list goes on.
All of this stuff Paula has been through and I had no idea. Do you know why? Because she lights up any room she is in! Paula is a perfect example of why we should just be kind to one another, because you just never know what someone is going through. She is incredibly kind, and I love talking to her. She is also a killer musician. Paula thought she would have to give up music when she transitioned. The summer of 2016, she announced that she would be retiring from music at the end of the year.
“In November of 2016, I notified my work of my plans to transition to full-time female after the first of the year, and on a December 19, I legally changed my name, a week later my gender was legally changed and my lifelong career as a musician was over — Or so I thought.”
Turns out Paula had a friend who wasn’t going to let her give up just yet. On Christmas Eve that year, another local musician messaged her. He was inviting her over to play music at his family’s house! Once she got there she shocked to see the entire family was there! Instead of walking out she simply picked up a guitar.
“But to my surprise instead of eye rolls and disdain, I got cheers and applause. Most importantly to me was that throughout the evening, they continued to address me using my new legal name and gender pronouns conforming to my new gender identity. Apparently it didn’t matter that some of them knew me before, and it also apparently didn’t matter that I didn’t talk or sing in a typical female voice. They still respected me enough as a person, and as a musician to also respect me as the female that I am. At the end of the wonderful night the ladies hugged me bye, but to my delight, so did the guys. They hugged me bye just as they would any other woman and I was floored.”
She said she left in the wee hours of Christmas morning with a new light burning in her soul.
“A light that made me realize that I don’t have to hide one part of who I am in order to unhide the other part of who I am. That’s not progress at all. That’s a compromise that still involves hiding, and I’m done hiding.”
The older sister I never knew I needed. She taught me so much from a young age. Although she is my aunt Crystal’s best friends, I think of her as one of mine too. She and Crystal lived my family during their high school years. We fought, we played Barbies, we even shared a bed. Four girls in one room! Crazy isn’t it? I wouldn’t change a second of that part of my childhood. She is a true role model, and I have admired her for years. I have seen her overcome so many things. Last year it was the death of both of her brothers.
“My dad passed exactly a year before them. All drug addicts, but still took its toll. I had subconsciously pushed down thoughts of them and felt like I’d mourned their deaths long before they actually passed because I disconnected myself due to their poor choices. But when they died, and in such a short time frame, it was heart shattering. You share a bond with your siblings that’s unlike any other. To have that gone forever is devastating.”
She also graduated in May with her second master’s degree! She says she hopes to get her doctorate.
“Growing up I had a lot of turmoil.” She says. “I had the support from great people (your mom and dad) and some wonderful teachers along the way. One day I realized that I wanted to be one of those teachers who shows kids it’s not your circumstances that define you…it’s the choice every day to work hard. From the shy little girl receiving free lunches to what I’ve accomplished today makes me proud!”
I have loved every second of watching her succeed. I remember being a little girl and hearing her cry over a boy who broke her heart. I was too young understand heartbreak, but I knew I hated seeing her upset.
Since then I have watched her become a wife to the man of her dreams, and an amazing mother to two of the most beautiful little girls. We were even pregnant together! Our girls are exactly a month apart! I have seen her crush her career and education goals, and this year I watched her accomplish her fitness goals as well by losing over 50 pounds!!! I’m so, so grateful, to know her and call her family. Even if we don’t share the same blood, we shared the same bed so that counts right?
Mandy is one of the women, that I didn’t know until the day of the warrior project. She is a great part of our community. Her love for teaching our towns children to dance is inspiring to say the least. Reading her story, she talks about finding her own inspiration from grandparents who were able to succeed in life without a high school or college education.
“They taught me so much about life, business, family, love, and most importantly God.”
Her story tells of being born out of wedlock, a biological father who was never there. Her mom married twice and divorced, before finding a man who in Mandy’s words, “treated her mother and the girls like they were his own.” At 29 years old, after a wonderful 4 years of courtship, Mandy finally had the privilege of marrying the love of her life Ray. She talks about how he was her biggest encourager to chase her dreams. He was there for her through the good and the bad. Mandy says she was devastated when she found out her grandma’s cancer had returned.
“I remember crying so hard because my memom is a fighter, and she absolutely loved life.”
While Ray held and comforted her through the hardest of situations, he reminded her that dying was a part of life. While no one is eager to face us, someday each of us will stand on it’s precipice. Mandy didn’t make it through the mourning of one of her most favorite people, before she was faced with another. Ray passed away 7 days after her grandma.
“About 8:55 they came out and said there was nothing more they could do. I remember thinking to myself, no, and really this can’t be real.”
Through unimaginable heartache, Mandy has risen above. She has had an incredible weight loss journey, and truly glows with beauty and grace. She told us how one of her best days was the day she gave her life to Jesus.
When Bailey asked her about herself, she described a person that all of us should strive to be.
“I love people. I love giving. I love making people smile and happy, no matter children or adults. It gives me great joy to brighten someone’s day. Giving a gift means more to me than receiving one. I am proud to be a daughter, sister, granddaughter, aunt, and once a wife. I am proud of that some of my goals were reached. I am proud that through my pain and suffering, heartache and grief, that I keep going. I choose not to give up. I know my memom and Ray would want me to keep pushing forward and enjoy life to the fullest.”
Not a single word written by my hands can take away her pain, or make the situations different. The Warrior Project was meant to bring all of us together as fellow women, sisters if you will. Hopefully, to encourage and lift each other up. To be inspired by each others stories, as I am by Mandy’s. YOU madam, are a true warrior!
Possibly the kindest person you could ever meet. When I told one of my friends (who happened to work with Bree) that Bree was one of my warriors this year, she went on and on about what an amazing person Bree was. She is loved by everyone who knows her. So when Bree was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin Large Diffuse B Cell Lymphoma (fancy words for cancer) our community and her friends and family were shocked and scared. Bree says she hated the thought of scaring her family or hurting them in any way.
“We didn’t know what stage it was or what to expect so it was incredibly scary. The next day I went to my oncologist with my husband, my three kids, my mom, my dad, and my stepmom. He told us what kind of cancer I had and the kind of treatments and side effects I could expect. He said I would need chemo and radiation and I would for sure be losing my hair. The amount of each treatment depended on the stage. The next day I went for a bone marrow test and a pet scan to determine the stage. A couple of days later we got the news that it was stage 1. That was the best news we could have asked for.”
Even so, it can take a toll. Luckily Bree had an amazing support system by her side including her husband Larry who she says is her biggest inspiration.
“The next week I had my first round of chemo. Two days after that I had my first battle of days of sickness from treatment. Then 13 days after that my hair started to fall out. A couple of days after that I only had a few patches of hair left. That night my husband came home and helped me shave my head all the way as I cried. He told me how beautiful I was and hugged me forever and told me that it was ok. It would grow back. Everyday after that he made sure to make me feel loved and beautiful even though I was bald!”
Seeing her kick cancer’s ass was so inspirational. She truly went about her fight with such humility and grace.
“Stage 1 was a hard battle. It was a big fight. It was so tough, and it breaks my heart knowing that so many people have to fight and battle this horrible disease for a lot longer than I did and some don’t ever get to close that chapter. From the very first moment I found out I had cancer I had so many people reach out to me through Facebook, messenger, and text messages to show me support. I was blown away! From that day forward the support I received from our community and my friends and family was absolutely amazing. They inspired me to be strong even on my darkest days… and there are many dark days when battling cancer. Their support touched me deeply. I will strive to reach out and help others the way so many stepped up to help me.”
My sweet friend. Someone I can call anytime and she helps me in any way she can. I will never not appreciate her friendship. I admire her for so many reasons. When I asked her about what inspires her I realized how alike we are…
“I look for inspiration in as much as possible. The innocence of a child, the wisdom of an elderly person, the beauty of nature and God’s creation, the positivity and drive of those around me.”
Her heart is so full of love and understanding. Not many people could lose their mother and remain so open hearted and still have a smile to share. After watching her mom battle cancer Sarah said, “Seeing the strongest woman I’ve ever met become so physically weak and helpless. It broke my heart but I knew God designed us to be able to withstand losing our parents so I kept that in my mind and heart and had to move forward.”
I truly believe her mother’s spirit is with her all the time. She is watching her grandson from up above smiling from ear to ear. And I know she would be so insanely proud of her little girl.
Reading Bailey’s blurb about Sarah, made me think of one of the first times I met her. I was in the middle of what became a divorce. I had spent months fighting anxiety and depression. Finally I decided to go to the doctor. I made an appointment with my nurse practitioner. The Doctor came in and asked if she could bring in someone who was shadowing her. I agreed and in walked Sarah. I didn’t know her at the time, but she was a great friend of my sisters. My sister who knew nothing about what I was going through, and I wasn’t ready to tell. I think Sarah must’ve seen the look of utter disappointment on my face when I recognized her. I remember whispering, “Please don’t tell my sister.” She sat with me and promised that even if she wanted to she couldn’t and wouldn’t say a word to anyone.
She spent several minutes assuring me that things would get better. All I can say is she has a calming way about her. Almost like you can feel the peace that flows from within her. It might sound cheesy, but she just has this way about her, that makes you feel like you are surrounded by gentle loving kindness.
Bailey had already finished almost all of the bios when we decided that I was going to complete this years blog. She said, “You can do Ann’s, you can really relate to her story.” After reading the words that Ann sent in response to Bailey’s questions, I found myself thinking that my story and I stand no comparison to Ann and hers.
From the very first line of her very well crafted answer, she doesn’t speak of herself or what she’s been through. She leads with pointing us in the direction of Jesus.
“Looking back, I see how much God was there in my life, even when I wasn’t searching, even when I didn’t feel it.”
She goes on to describe how God created each and every one of us right down to our distinct DNA. Not one single person is exactly the same. She tells of a God who gives us free will, instead of forcing us to serve him. Ann reminds us that we are not perfect, and sometimes our own desires lead us down roads that He never intended for us to travel, He still loves us right in the middle of our imperfect choices.
“Even though He designed us perfectly according to His will, He did not design us to save ourselves. He sent us a Savior, His own Son, to bear the weight and punishment of our mistakes. If we choose to ask God to forgive us, turn away from our sinful behaviors, and put our trust in Jesus, we will never perish but live in eternity with our merciful Creator and beautiful Savior.“
The day we held the photo shoot for the warrior project was a wonderful day to celebrate, but 17 years back from that day, Ann was having a D&C for her first miscarriage. She talks about how losing the baby was like a loss of innocence. The decisions leading up to the pregnancy, led her to drop out of college and give up a basketball scholarship to be a mother. The loss of the baby left her feeling crushed. Ann stated that she let others “uneducated opinions” about her situation define her for too long. As bitterness grew in her heart, she put on a façade to hide what she was really feeling. Through it all she clung to a scripture she found in a bible she received as a gift from her Gram.
“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways, according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”
Ann’s story didn’t stop there. God brought healing, and Chad. I chuckle to myself because I know Chad. He is one of the most soft-spoken, kind hearted people I’ve ever met. I can just picture Ann trying to avoid a relationship with Chad, but God had other plans for them. They eventually married, and had Peyton, about 11 months after. She talks about how a few years later, they were expecting again. A week before her first appointment with her doctor, she suffered her second miscarriage. Reading what she wrote about that time exactly parallels a chapter in my life.
“The world tends to not see the heartache associated with pregnancy loss. It is hard to justify that you actually lost a child, when the world wants you to believe it is just a clump of cells that you can choose to throw away.”
A few years passed and the Declue’s found out Ann was expecting once again, but soon discovered it was what’s called a molar pregnancy. After the loss of this third child, she had to have cancer screenings for a whole year to make sure her health was intact. She gained strength during this time from many friends and family members, who reached out to her via social media. It inspired her to be open and honest about her experiences.
When Peyton was 6 years old, news came that Ann was pregnant again. She talks about how fear kept them quiet for the first 13 weeks. When they went to the doctor to find out the baby’s gender, which was also their 8th wedding anniversary, they found that there was no heartbeat. Being 15 weeks along, Ann was going to have to deliver the stillborn baby.
“We walked away from the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart.”
Having lived through the pain and disappointment of miscarriage myself, I still cannot begin to imagine facing this four times. Still she has found beauty even within ashes. Ann’s story is a song of love for her Creator. Even after all of the pain she’s faced, she never once hesitated to point all of us directly to Jesus.
“This is apart of my story. This is apart of our story. If our story can help others, then praise God! In the words of Big Daddy Weave, to tell you my story is to tell of Him.”
Last year, Katelynn’s sister Kelly, was a warrior. Literally. Yes, she was one of the “warriors” for this project, but she was LITERALLY a warrior. She fought cancer so hard, and although she is no longer here on earth, she will always be one of the strongest women I have ever met. Kate spent the whole last year running around like crazy! Helping me, helping her sister. Sweating her butt off, driving us around, rolling around on the ground releasing balloons so she wouldn’t be in the photos. She even took my camera and got some amazing behind the scenes shots of me with the women. I cannot applaud her enough. She never one time thought of anything other than “how can I help?”
This girl was such an easy choice. She is a ray of sunshine and my sides hurt from laughing every time I am around her!
She is the light that Ella needs, and I know Kelly is proud of everything Katelyn does for her little girl! I included a picture where she is fixing Ella’s necklace because, I don’t know..in that moment my heart just went out to them both. Kelly knew, Katelynn would be what Ella needed. I knew that losing Kelly was hard on Kate, but my mind didn’t even think of the days and weeks leading up to her passing. Katelynn was a single mother working a full time job, trying to be strong for everyone. Being the aunt Ella needed, being the mom Harper needed, being there for her parents, and of course for Kelly. I cannot fathom trying to juggle all of that, and Katelynn handled it all like a true warrior. She also said something that really resonated with me… she was telling me about her “worst day” and she said it wasn’t the day her sister died because all of her suffering was finally over and she knew she was in paradise. For Kate, it was the day they learned the cancer had returned and it was terminal. While she was happy about how many people were there to support her sister she said she thought,
“How about we learn to love people when they are well….be there for those who need you BEFORE they get an awful diagnosis.”
Those words have stuck with me. “I had trouble putting into words what an inspiration Kelly was and how hard she fought. She kept pushing through and trying to live everyday to the fullest, accomplishing all things and planning her departure to prepare us all the best she could.”
I hope Katelynn knows that her sister was proud of her, and she is truly one in a million.
SARAH & LEIGHTON VOLNER
One of the main reasons this project has taken so long to get out was because of these two lovely girls. They just truly mean so much to me, and I have had trouble finding the right words to put out there. You don’t think of the word “warrior” and not think of Leighton.
This feisty six year old, with Cystic Fibrosis and her warrior of a mother flew from Florida for our event, and I was so humbled. I’ve gotten a lot closer to Sarah this last year, and she is just the best person to have as a friend. Someone who is always in your corner, rooting for you, praying for you. Sarah is an outstanding mother to three gorgeous kids. I keep thinking about how in my eyes she is “super human”, like the closest thing to a super hero I can think of. Not just because she is an amazing mom, but because of all the adversities she has faced and overcame. To be a victim of rape, who fought in court to see that justice was served, not many women can go through that and come out with such great strength. Then to be able carry on and be a teenage bride, and a young mother, First to Madisson, then Devon, and finally Leighton.
“Madisson opened my eyes to a mothers Selfless nature. She changed our lives forever in ways words can’t describe. When Devon was born. I went through my pregnancy terrified and worried that I couldn’t possibly give him as much love as I was giving his sister. Boy, was I wrong there. I learned the definition of the meaning, ‘a mothers love is infinite’.”
When Leighton came along, she truly completed their family. I remember the joy of holding my own daughter. I remember that perfect smell, her soft skin. Everything. I now know how strong a mother’s love is. This is why Sarah and Leighton will always be held dear in my heart. I have tried to imagine what it must have been like to hear that your perfect baby that owns your entire heart and soul, isn’t healthy….. it physically hurts my heart.
“The day and weeks within Leighton’s birth and diagnoses. Those weeks started with such overwhelming joy, then suddenly were filled with Fear, Anxiety, Heartbreak. Processing that mix of emotions was thus far the most difficult of all situations I’ve faced. Like I said earlier, I am a fixer, this I couldn’t fix. That consumed me heavily that first year.”
Leighton is the youngest person I know to have impacted so many people the way she has. If you know this little girl, then she has touched your heart. She is fearless, magnificent, joyful, silly, resilient, brave, persistent, caring, hilarious, and a warrior through and through. To know her, is to love her. She danced in the rain with a pure heart and taught everyone that day a lesson in turning rain into rainbows.
Honestly, I wasn’t planning on adding to Baileys bio of Sarah and Leighton because I may be a little biased where they are concerned. While a lot of times Cystic Fibrosis demands Sarah’s attention, I’ve never once seen her neglect a need of anyone around her. Friend, family, or stranger, everyone is loved equally. When I was destroyed by betrayal, divorce, and well LIFE in general, she picked me up. She lifted me up, offered a place to stay for months without question, and a little tough love when needed. I see her doing the same process with others in her life on the daily. Living in the Volner household, Leighton would sneak into my room in the mornings and snuggle. I remember one night in particular, she wiggled into my bed and whispered “I love you”. She would find me around the house and randomly say, “we need to pray.” At a time when I didn’t have any words to pray, she would step in at 4 or 5 years old and somehow know just what to say to God. I love that kid, and the rest of her family like they are my own! She reminds me that there is good in the world, and makes me want to be a part of it. I also totally agree with Baileys earlier statement.
“To know her is to love her. She danced in the rain with a pure heart and taught everyone that day a lesson in turning rain into rainbows.”
As a mother to my own little girl… I think my only way to get this out to just say this to directly to Ella.
When I, (and many others) look at you, we see the same light that was inside your mom. Not only are you a spitting image of her physically, but also in your character. You have the same heart, mind, and soul. I know everyone tells you how much she loved you, and how much she wished she could see you grow up. I know you get to hear that, and I am so glad. I wanted to tell you that too, but I also wanted to tell you that when you were born… your mom spent hours just looking at the perfect thing she created. I know this because I’ve never met a mom who says differently. She let your tiny hand grasp her fingers, she gladly accepted slobbery kisses, she wiped away your tears, and sometimes she felt like her heart could burst open with the happiness you put there. It doesn’t feel like enough to say that she loved you, love isn’t a strong enough word.
Seeing you dance in the rain and jump into puddles truly changed my mindset and my own outlook on life. I pray that you remain a carefree, free spirit. I pray that when you need guidance, you will find it. I pray that you will find signs sent by your mother anytime you need them, and even sometimes when you don’t. Just know that while you are carrying your mommy around in your heart, she is always with you. I see her every time your smile lights up the room, because hers did too. I hear her every time you laugh, and I feel her walking with you every step you take. May you live your life to the very fullest, and be in love with every breath you take. And remember that so many of us are here for you always.
I don’t think Bailey knew as she was writing this, that Kelly LOVED Leighton. Kelly would mail Leighton little gifts and letters. One of Kelly’s wishes was to see Ella and Leighton meet someday. I know she was here with us every step of the way during this years warrior project. As the littles were dancing in the rain on an old gravel road, I can just picture Ella’s mommy dancing right along with them on streets of gold.
When I mentioned to Bailey that I’d like to include her as one of the women in the warrior project, she wasn’t thrilled. Honestly, not very many people actually enjoy talking about themselves. I had to drag the answers out of her. She told me that her favorite thing about herself is her ability to see the good in others. Although, it has also made her very naïve in the past, she tries to keep a positive outlook on life. She forgives easily and refuses to live with bitterness in her heart.
She says, “I want Avery to see that you don’t have to hate the ones who hurt you, and it doesn’t make you weak by accepting the apologies you may never receive.”
Bailey and I, our stories, have at times taken a very similar path. We have both loved many times without receiving that love we so desire in return. When I was going through the hardest time in my life, she had already been there. She was able to say, “this is perfectly normal” or ” it WILL get better.” It was a comfort to know she had faced and overcame just what I was struggling with. I’m sad to say that I knew nothing of her struggles the past 6 months or so. She has been going through a place that I was in before her, and I was not there to help.
“I’ve had many heartbreaks, within my family, within my personal life, and to many people I love. All of it hurts. I’ve been unable to get out of bed. I’ve been to the ER for anxiety attacks. My mom has been afraid to go to sleep because I could not calm down. I’ve seen the family I pictured in my head get torn in half before we were ever whole. None of that seems like anything though in the grand scheme of things. I have always known that time heals. Even in those times that I didn’t think I could go on, I knew deep down that I would be okay.”
I’m forever grateful that my sister had you, even though I didn’t like you for the first 4 years. My heart hurts when yours does, and I rejoice in your successes. It’s kind of a weird situation because I love you like a sister, but I have the urge to protect you like a fierce mama bear. Your beauty astounds me, and you are worth so much more than you give yourself credit for.
THE NEVERENDING STORY
Really… I promise there is an end. It’s a hard one to write because I want to leave you all inspired by the stories you have read. Of all the things I could write about I just keep coming back to a conversation about shoes that I had a few days ago.
I was talking to Sarah and I said, “Ann always has the fanciest shoes.” She laughed out loud and said, “Ann’s shoes are always falling apart. She has really good taste but she wears them for years until they are broken.”
I thought, hmm… guess I never looked that closely. They always look perfect to me. I see her fancy footwear and tend to look down at my flip flops housing my unpainted toes in shame. Here I go once again, comparing myself to Ann. I actually sent her a message tonight asking how she feels about the way we, as women, are constantly compared to each other. In looks, in love, in heartache, someone is always comparing. Her answer was spot on:
“I can’t worry about the world’s standards; if I did than I would never be enough. Comparison is a scheme of the devil, keeping us from fulfilling God’s purpose for us. A bee cannot be a butterfly, both can pollenate but only one can make honey. God did not create us differently or allow different situations to happen so we can go and make others feel worse about themselves. He sees beauty in our hearts. He shows us His perfect love. He knows every tear we have shed. I don’t have to buy into justifying myself to anyone. I can be myself and use the good, the bad and the ugly to help others and serve God.”
The point is, we may never get close enough to see when someone, or their shoes are falling apart. A person may seemingly have a perfect life, but sometimes behind a pretty smile is unimaginable pain. Why not be the person that lifts someone else up out of the muck, and says, “hey I’m right here, you’re not alone.”
Bailey and I are undecided as to whether “The Warrior Project” will continue next year. After reading everyone’s stories, I can truly say that I hope we find a way to carry the spirit of the project into next year, and many years to come.