Guest blogger: Amanda Popp

My guest blogger for today is Amanda Popp. Or who I lovingly like to call, Amanda Popp-Star! Amanda is a KEEP sister of mine from Wisconsin. Interestingly enough, we are not even on the same team. That might be surprising to some, but to us, it is not. Because that is what KEEP Collective represents and embodies. Founded on friendships……not divided by teams……… rather encompassing love all across state lines.

I met Amanda on both of our very first incentive trips. Glam Getaway to Cancun. What I recall most about meeting Amanda was a regret. A regret because we met on a shuttle on the way to the airport to go back home. However, in that short amount of time in the van, we covered alot of topics. Family, KEEP, and our lives. We were quickly friends.

Over the course of the years, we’ve been able to re-connect at various other events. More Glam and several Hooplas. And even a dinner, with her entire amazing family, one night in November when they were in the area to visit The Ark.

I remember at Michelle’s visitation….talking person to person, next in line etc. Honestly, I don’t remember alot about those hours standing beside Michelle’s casket. But there are moments that stick out vividly in my memory of that evening. I remember looking up and seeing who was next for me to greet and it was Amanda and her husband, Shaun. I nearly fell over. So many tears.

Below is her story about Michelle.

P.S.-For all of you out there who bought KEEP live free or high five bracelets…Amanda was the brains behind that idea 😉

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My story and memories of Michelle are a little different than most. Why? Because I actually never met her in “real life”. I knew of Michelle because of her momma and Facebook.

But let’s go back to where the story begins. It was a warm sunny day in Cancun and I was fortunate enough to end up on the shuttle bus and sat next to Patty on the way back to the airport. I had seen Patty throughout our few days in paradise, but never had the chance to actually meet her. We did the normal “Hi…I’m (fill in the blank).” Asked the where are you from questions. When I found out Patty was from near Cincinnati I threw out everything I knew about the area. We stop there on our travels to Tennessee. It felt “cool” to know the area my new friend was from. Somehow it came up that I was missing my daughters’ dance recital by being in Cancun. Naturally, Patty brought up Michelle and how she danced as well. We connected over being two very proud dance mommas from the midwest.

We quickly became Facebook friends after our initial meeting and I enjoyed staying up to date with my new found friend over social media. I loved following Michelle’s dance. She was only a few years older than my oldest and I could see the talent that they both shared.

I saw Patty again a few times over the next few years in Charlotte, Punta Cana and in Vegas. I loved that we could connect like no time had past and bond over the fact that we felt a little out of place amongst the crowds of people around us.

Vegas was only a few weeks before Patty’s life would change forever. When Patty’s life would become before August 1st and after August 1st. Before Michelle died…and after Michelle died.

The morning I found out about the tragic accident I stared in shock. I stared at my seven kids in shock. I read the news reports about what happened and stared in shock at my phone. HOW!? WHAT!? OH MY WORD…WHY!?!

My kids were immediately concerned for their momma and through tears I explained to them what happened. We all shared tears together for a sweet girl we had never met.

I called my husband and waited impatiently for him to call me back. Through broken words and more shed tears I told him what happened. I fell even more in love with my husband when he said, “I guess we’re taking a road trip.” Through the tropical vacations he had the pleasure of meeting Keith and chatting a bit. (and if you knew my husband, you’d know that chatting a bit is a huge deal. He’s super shy, but thankfully Keith could break into that shell a little bit.) Our hearts were connected to a couple we’d met only a few times, but it didn’t matter. We knew we needed to be there.

I am thankful for the help of my sister who took our seven kids willingly for a weekend so we could make the 9 hour drive to Cincinnati.

We woke the morning of the wake and found a church near our hotel. The service was one that only God could have ordained. It focused on Daniel in the Lion’s Den. What struck me the most was when the Pastor was talking about our lives. When we step back and take a look at our life we have so many Lion’s Den moments. When we step back and take a look at those moments we realize, that just like with Daniel, God was with us the entire time. And since He was with us then…He is with us now. Because THIS moment will become THAT moment sometime in the future. We will see how He never left us. Not at all. Even when it was the hardest moment we’d ever been through. HE WAS THERE. HE IS THERE. THEN. NOW. and WILL BE.

Of course, we are human. In the moment it can be so hard to see. But what a promise to rest on that He is always there through it all.

I thought of the wake we’d be attending in only a few hours and I actually felt at peace. Peace knowing that SOMEDAY my sweet hurting friends would look back at this ugly Lion’s Den moment and realize that God had never left their side. Peace knowing that I could make it through the day because God was also at my side. Then I felt dumb a little. How could I think about how hard this was going to be for me when my children were safe and sound. But I know that I could feel sad and devastated for my friend and that’s what I was. And I knew I needed to have the strength to stand before my friends and give all the love I had in me, because what I wanted to do was crumble to the floor and just ask, actually scream, WHY!?! God gently reminded me in the moment that His ways aren’t mine. That I’m actually not even going to realize or fully understand all the things on this side of Heaven. They’re not mine to understand always.

We drove through the quaint town of Fort Thomas and found Starbucks. We were super early, and I think we both needed some time to just sit and prepare our hearts for what we were about to walk into. We sat in mostly silence as time ticked away. Then. It was time. It was time to go. We drove down the bow lined street and my eyes filled with tears. The tears fell and slid down my cheeks and I wondered if I could do this. If it would be weird that I drove 9 hours for a girl I had never met. For friends I really knew the most through Facebook. I think the enemy really worked on my emotions and wanted me to feel stupid.

We got to the funeral home and stood in line. The line. Oh, the line. It was already out the door when we arrived. The lump in my throat as a I stared at the shocked faces of the people in line with me. As I stared at those who walked out of the funeral home. We all shared the same shocked emotion. I think we all shared the same “we shouldn’t be here for a 15 year old girl” feelings. But. But yet, we were there. We stood in solidarity for that sweet 15 year old girl, for her brothers and for her parents, for everyone who knew her…and…for me, for those who didn’t know her more than a smiling face on Facebook.

The line moved slowly as it went up the front stairs through the foyer and wound through rooms. I stood in the room with the slide show. It hit me then. We were here for a funeral that I’d never grasp understanding of. We were watching pictures fly by, essentially…a life fly by. Right before our eyes.

I filled out a memory and truthfully, don’t remember what I wrote. I’m sure it was something about dance. I don’t even know. I just pray it held a bit of comfort to those that have read it.

The line slowed as we made it up towards Patty and Keith. I saw my friends standing so bravely next to their daughter’s casket. We saw Keith first and I’m not sure I can explain the emotions of being able to hug him. I’m sure he mentioned something to me about being “awesome” for coming, because he really does know how to make a girl feel good about herself. Yeah, during one of the toughest moments of his life HE was encouraging ME. That’s the man Keith is.

Patty was next and I held her as tears fell from both of our eyes and the sorrow of losing a child filled both of our hearts. I have never known the loss of a child I’ve birthed alive, but have lost 3 to miscarriage. Our hearts beat together, but not full, and to be never full again. Because both of our hearts have pieces in heaven. She whispered to me that I should hug my kids and hold them tight. She asked me what she was going to do without her baby girl. I don’t know what I said. I think I said that she was tough, and that she was going to be okay, but it’d be hard. I hope whatever I said sounded as comforting as I meant it to. Patty introduced me to her mom and her boys before we left. It was in those moments my heart could have exploded with joy. Joy that I was given such a sweet friendship in the Chalks and that’d He’d allow us to have our paths cross. In the joy I danced with the grief I felt with them at the same time. And I knew those feelings of “stupid” from earlier were…well, stupid.

We walked silently out of the funeral home and stared at the shocked faces as we walked out with our own.

We got into the vehicle and I looked at my husband and said…now you want to know why I am so annoying and take all those pictures. Because that is all they have left of her. Pictures. He didn’t respond with words, but his eyes gave me all I needed…his understanding.

Days after the funeral I thought of the words Patty said to me. “Hug your kids.” Patty had no idea what her words would do to me. I had been struggling a lot earlier in the summer. Just being a mom of 7 was getting to me. I wasn’t enjoying being a mom. I was wondering why in the world I was a mom. I just didn’t know how I could be a good mom, and survived the best I could.

Patty’s words resonated within every part of my soul. When I got home I had a renewed spirit. I had a new perspective. Patty would have given anything for a teenage daughter eye-roll or to tell her to quit picking on her brothers. I learned to find the joy in all things parenting again. To know that God had given me these blessings and I was in charge of taking care of them the best way I could. Because just as quickly as He gave them to me…He could take them away.

Michelle’s life changed my life and I never had the joy of meeting her in real life. In January of this year I “met” Michelle in a dream. It was the strangest of moments. My oldest daughter, my ballerina, and Michelle danced together at the request of their mothers. They danced. And then Michelle was gone. Patty and I shared tears again in my dream. I woke up with such a crazy joy. Somehow I felt like I had met Michelle and it was a sweet moment I’ll truly cherish. I can, in fact, still picture the moment of them dancing.

I wear a #livefree bracelet each day in honor of the life Michelle lived. A life that her parents helped her live. A life instilled with pure joy and awe at the life she was given. A life that was lived so freely and joyfully. A life that was only 15 years short, but was worth a million years. A life so filled with so much I don’t think anyone could write down everything she impacted.

My memories of Michelle don’t come from knowing her in real life, but knowing the spirit in which she lived her life. My life is richer because of it. My life is richer because I was seated next to a “random” couple on a shuttle bus. It was a God ordained seating and I’m forever grateful that He knew even then what would happen only a few years later…because that bus ride changed my life.

 

 

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