Let's Talk About Grief, Baby!

This week marked the one year birthday of Uphold Global – which is crazy.  I’m so passionate about my organization – like duh, everyone knows that – but I genuinely wanted to bake it a chocolate/PB cake (because duh, it loves PB too) that it could smash it’s one year old little face into.  Then I’d kiss it’s little cheeks and say “Mommy loves you, baby – I’m so glad you made it a year without dying!” while onlookers snapped pics and posted them all over the interwebs.  Seriously though, it’s a miracle that we’re still rocking and rolling.


The google analytics fairies have told me that we’ve managed to raise awareness on the injustice and mass murder facing children with special needs with over 100k people just through our social media efforts – not to mention the events we’ve hosted or the schools and churches that have gotten behind us.  That is nuts and I am humbled to be a part of seeking justice for my precious, precious children. WOAH. I really, really love my life now.


I have my dream job: I get paid to strategize and write words that move hearts to support the most effective youth ministry in the nation – and as a result teens are finding Jesus, and their lives are being transformed.


I have an awesome house with hilarious, mature, non-passive aggressive roommates (which let’s face it, in MN is a minor miracle itself) – and it has a massive kitchen where I can cook for my beloved community.


I have an incredible church that is changing my city and growing exponentially.  I get to write for them, too, as well as participate in their dance/creative arts programs for large scale events.  What an honor!


I have the best team for Uphold – seriously my board is above and beyond and doors that I never would have dreamed of are opening in ways that I couldn’t have strategized for if I tried.


I wouldn’t say that “excessive growth and expansion of my non-profit” would be what I used to characterize this year as.  I’d say that this year was a year of immense grief.  My homies at Mirriam – Webster define grief as…


: deep sadness caused especially by someone's death

: a cause of deep sadness

: trouble or annoyance


I’d also like to add my own definition: the shittiest, nastiest yet completely unavoidable part of life. 


Don’t get me wrong: I REALLY love my life now, but it looks nothing like what I had planned for right now.


It was about this time last year that my entire life literally fell apart.  Like, we’re talking human-sized Jenga – and not the fun kind at parties that has truth or dare/drinking game cues on the back. If my life had gone according to “plan” I would have been married to the love of my life for 9 months now and running the organization we started together, together. 


But that’s not what happened.  No relationship is perfect, right? Essentially you’re combining two very broken people and saying, “Hey – figure this shit out, together, have fun, make a difference in the world and try not to kill each other – Good Luck!”


My almost mother-in-law decided she hated me, she hated Uphold (seriously?! – how can you hate an organization that helps children with special needs in Africa?), and had a ridiculously controlling pull on her son.  She sat me down on my birthday and told me if I didn’t become a first grade teacher and do Uphold on the side that my life was going nowhere.  Then we got a four page letter from his sister explaining all of the reasons we shouldn’t be together – including, but not limited to: “Kelsey wants to adopt disabled children, why would you ever want to do that? How would you even support them?” Home girl had met me four times.  (I’m sure I’ll write a few posts on what I learned from this family in future posts, Lord knows I have material).


All of this, paired with the stress of starting a non-profit organization compiled and eventually our relationship imploded in a moment of severe stress for us both and physical outburst on his part.  I ended the relationship immediately, told him to get help and then the real fireworks started. 


I tried to drive Uphold Global in my own strength, picking up the jagged pieces of everything we built together, alone, and managing a workload designed for two along with a normal job while he ran off to El Salvador.


I nearly developed an eating disorder because I had been immersed in his family who are obsessed with physical appearance. He made a comment about my obliques not being chiseled enough – and somehow my brain computed that to mean “fix your abs, fix your life.”


I had serious health issues and lost a very close family member at the end of December. 


On February 18th I was hit by TWO semi-trucks on Highway 35 going full speed. 


Praise the lamb on high that I was miraculously able to go back to SA.  I planned to stay for a month, but in my heart I resolved “I am not stepping foot back in America until some serious healing has gone on.” Enter here the healing powers of Jesus, my best friend, and favorite token counselor River, who has now gotten me through my fear of burgers and the darkest season of my life to date. Side note: hugging black babies is incredible therapy.


My time in South Africa was beautiful, therapeutic and necessary…but it wasn’t a cake walk either.  Building a non-profit is tough, gaining community input is tougher and ending up in South African hospitals with nurses demanding they give you a shot in the ass instead of the arm – simply because they think it’s funny – is no joke. 


Because of my bout of pneumonia in SA, I was unable to leave when my flight was eventually scheduled to leave (3.5 months after I’d gotten there).  I ended up staying two more weeks which was lovely for Fran and I – but also caused me to not be able to say goodbye to my other best friend: my sassy, spunky, highly inappropriate Yaya, who I loved more than anything on Earth.  She passed away days after I got home while we were speeding up to North Dakota to say goodbye to her.  My precious girlfriend and #1 cheerleader and go to funny woman during this season was gone forever.


Not to mention the normal day to day BS of being a 23 year old chick with a visionary heart, occasional bouts of PMS, and being unfairly dumped because of someone else’s baggage once I dealt with my heart and put myself out there again.  Shit.


It has been quite a year – extreme lows, and now extreme highs. As I celebrated our one year birthday I found myself both shaking with excitement and awe at the good in what God is doing in my life AND Kim Kardashian style ugly crying on the beach of Calhoun as I acknowledged the amount of things that I’ve lost over the last 365 days – and I think that’s beautiful. 


As I stated before, grief is unavoidable.  Eventually, we’re going to get our hearts broken, someone is going to die, and life is going to yell PLOT TWIST and let you be it’s bitch for a while – and it’s in this time that we have a few choices to make.


1.     Fight it: I did this for a while.  I genuinely referred to myself as Katniss and would fight anyone who disagreed.  I’d decide that I wasn’t going to be sad, I was just angry and “I’d prove them wrong.”  The problem with this is that there REALLY wasn’t anyone to ‘prove wrong’.  The trajedy that happened in my year wasn’t anyone’s fault specifically – it was just the messiness and brokenness of life all combining at once. 

2.     Fake it:  Now this is something I simply cannot do long term, because I’m so black and white by nature. However, I see SO many people – especially Midwesterners – doing this in day-to-day life.  They act like its fine, they don’t process things, they don’t fully acknowledge the loss or hurt they’re experiencing and as a result it never heals.  It’s like constantly popping Advil for a knee injury that needs surgery.  You’re just going to get hurt in the long run – and you’re going to hurt others along the way. 

3.     Feel it: FEEL THE DAMN FEELS – NASTY CRY YOUR GUTS OUT. Deal with the fact that you are losing something – or someone – very important to you. Be with people who love you where you’re at – who call the good out in you when you are completely blindsided by the black eye from the curveball that life just threw you.  Wrap yourself in the blankets of joy from knowing thateverything good and bad comes to and end – that this won’t last forever.



This year has given me so much perspective -- which is invaluable in life.  It has forced me to develop such a strong desire to meet people where they’re at and see the good in them despite their behavior – whether good or bad. It’s helped me to get over myself and realize that I’m not invincible or a big deal – I’m super broken like everyone else. Most importantly though, I’m able to relate with people on a much deeper level than I thought possible: mom’s who have miscarriages, people going through difficult breakups, people who cant seem to get their dreams up and running, people who have parents or family members die – and it makes me think about how Jesus must have felt when he came here.  He came to experience our suffering – and just love us.  How are we supposed to love people like Jesus loves them if we can’t identify with their pain?


While this year was drenched in grief from pretty much every angle, I’ve also never been more grateful for a year of my life.  This year has shown me that words like “hope, faith, and trust” are overused euphemisms that Christian bookstores like to put on poorly designed plaques to describe the reality that “life really hurts, but it is breathtakingly beautiful because regardless of what happens, the Savior of the Universe is madly in love with every part of you, and he DELIGHTS in your existence.”  This year has taught me that above anything else, I am seen andknown by Jesus. WOAH.