newsworthy

photo-1428947828962-3ad251e1571bThe air was stiff, our pace slow, my words silent.

I looked down, realizing I had no memory of putting on my sneakers before leaving the house.

Somehow, my laces were perfectly tied the same way I’d knotted them for every other neighborhood walk. Then, I saw them: bare ankles, exposing the fog that filled my thoughts.

It was the first time I’d felt strong enough to leave the house since receiving the news, and only for a quick walk up and down the street. A few family members decided to join, needing a break from the home that kept warm hundreds of grief casseroles.

A car passed us without fanfare, followed by a local news truck. They reached the end of the street, both shining red brake lights in unison before stopping in front of a house. Ours.

We were those people, the ones you hope to never be.
Our devastating loss had become someone else’s breaking news.

At 6 o’clock that night, I collapsed on the bathroom floor, plugging my ears, failing to drown out the TV playing in the next room.

The familiar voices of neighbors, teachers and friends told the story of my brother’s life and sudden deaththe story I’d be retelling for the rest of my own life.

I’d spent four years studying journalism and I knew the criteria for highlight reels and front page stories. It wasn’t a category I wanted to find myself in, yet the full-page cover spread of my brother’s face confirmed our tragic circumstance.

I was haunted by the words Kendall wrote in response to the death of Robin Williams, just a month before his own passing:

“How will the world react when I die? Will my face be on the news? Will people say it was a terrible occurrence? What will they remember about me?”

As I watched the answers to the first three questions somberly unveil themselves, I couldn’t help but wonder about the fourth.

Before my own story became a headline, I’d find myself turning off the TV during the stories of terrible occurrences. I’d attach to their drama, create unnecessary fear in my own life, then be thankful the freak accident didn’t happen to my loved one, and never hear about it again.

This story won’t play out like the tragedies you’re used to.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Norcross High School in Atlanta to work on an amazing project inspired by Kendall himself. The Good Turn Initiative is a program designed to help high schoolers live with intentionality in their academic, personal and professional lives. In true Kendall fashion, each student will create their own mission statement and participate in “good turns daily,” pushing them to see beyond their routines and into the creation of a lasting legacy.

While there, I was put in front of a camera to tell Kendall’s story, but this time was very different.

I recalled the mornings my brother and I dragged our feet into the high school doors as the late bell rang. What came out next wasn’t perfect, but I think it’s exactly what Kendall would have said to inspire little teenage Kait and Ken.

And then I gushed. I thought about all of the students who would be watching the video, explaining how much they would have loved Kendall (and how much cooler he was than I), and really truly feeling how much Kendall would have loved them.

It wasn’t newsworthy and it definitely won’t meet the criteria for a front page story, but if Kendall were still here, that’s exactly how he would be spending his days—inspiring others while developing himself.

As for me, this is the story I’ll spend my life telling: the one about my incredible little brother who continues to change the world. And I’m pretty sure nothing about that is tragic.

*Author’s Note: Since this post was published, the beautiful city of Paris faced its own tragedy. It only feels appropriate to acknowledge their own hurt and loss in this post, not to compare my personal story to theirs, but to collectively pose the question of how we can rally around those suffering in and through their tragic story. Thank goodness suffering is not the end. Jesus, be near. 

a big announcement!

GoodTurnYou guys, I have a not-so-secret confession to make: I’m still the most overprotective sister I know. In the Wernet family video archives, I can be seen time and time again, demanding that my brother “SING!”, or “Be nice to the cat!”, or “Let me do it!”.

Although my voice is (thankfully) less mysteriously Southern and deep, I’m finding that I’m just as bossy and loud as I used to be.

Kendall had the same genes of determination, but he was much more generous and kind with his ambition. You could say he was an overprotective brother to me, but I’m slowly learning I wasn’t the only one. He adopted so many of you as siblings, looking out for our best interest and pushing us further than we could go by ourselves. It’s a true privilege to watch you share how Kendall shaped your story, and I can clearly picture his humble smile forming in response.

A month before his heaven day, I moved to a brand-new city full of strangers, taking a job not many people in my circle supported. In the weeks leading up to this decision, Kendall was my truest cheerleader, staying up night after night helping me make pro/con lists and listening to my endless worried sighs. After I accepted an offer, I was relieved and ready to celebrate when he told me my work was just beginning.

“Okay Kait, so now that you’ve got the job, what’s your new goal?”

It’s been over a year since we had that conversation, and I’m missing my brother more than ever. But when I think about what he’d be saying to me today, it’s something very similar to before: “What’s next?”

In that spirit, I’m thrilled to finally announce an opportunity we have to join together in memory of Kendall.

I’ve spent the past year being my usual overprotective self looking for the best way to steward my brother’s legacy in a way that he would be proud of. My parents and I wanted to create something intentional, long-lasting and well-researched, and, well friends, I’m excited to announce the establishment of the Kendall Alexander Wernet Community Foundation.

What does this mean? You guys, in true Kendall-style, we’re going to “do good turns daily” LIKE CRAZY through the creation of grants and scholarships.

A community foundation allows us to specify a variety of recipient causes over time, keeping in step with Kendall’s multi-passioned, well-rounded spirit. However, there will be one common thread: each cause will be chosen based on alignment with Kendall’s mission:

 “To lift up and encourage those around me and to develop them as I develop myself. I will capture greatness and succeed through passion in order to please those around me and ultimately achieve a paradise known as heaven.” 

With your generous donations, prayers and pep-talks,  we look forward to “doing good turns daily” in the areas he loved most, including music, education, entrepreneurship, community improvement and helping those in need.

All of the details can be found at KendallWernetLegacyFund.com.

And because I know we’re already ridiculously in this together, THANK YOU. We look forward to updating you on all of the incredible things made possible with your help!

xoxoxo,
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when it’s okay to feel small

282540_SimplyTuesdayFreeman_pinsI’m not a fan of grief books. Not yet, at least.

Honestly, I’d prefer to pawn the bereavement library I’ve accumulated off on all of my friends and loved ones-the people who know but don’t understand. It would save me a lot of explaining.

I’d assume prisoners probably aren’t eager to read books about jail cells.
They certainly don’t need a guide to point out the stark white walls and fluorescent lighting.
I’m not sure I want a stranger to highlight the dark framework and dusty corners of my grief.

In an effort to preserve my upmost affection for reading, my book list backflipped favorably in the humor section. That’s right, for the past several months, I’ve been devouring words from Tina Fey,  Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling. I was quite literally kidding myself, but it was fun while it lasted.

Enter the best non-grief-book-for-grief-and-other-overall-reading-enjoyment:

Simply Tuesday, by Emily Freeman.

If you want to see me melt into a fangirl in half a second, ask me about Emily. I stalked met her at a writing conference a few years ago, which sounds way too casual for my brain to even bear. The truth is I was an intern for the organization putting on the conference, bribed my fellow interns to cover my morning responsibilities and snuck down to a breakfast table where Emily was meeting some of her readers. There, instead of signing books and kissing babies, Emily circled the group together and asked us to share with one another. She looked to her left at the shy intern girl (me, because fangirl) and asked me to answer the question:

In this moment, where are you? 

Babble fell from my mouth before I could even recognize it as words. I looked at the circle of older, wiser, real-life writers, and responded:

I feel so small. 

And ever-so-gracious Emily celebrated with me. As the other women responded around the circle, I watched the significance of taking a moment to feel still and small. I’m still great friends with many of the writers in that circle, and they continue to be some of the loudest cheerleaders on my team.

You may know Emily from her blog Chatting At The Sky, her books Grace For The Good Girl and A Million Little Ways, or just from my straight-up heart-eyed recommendation. Her newest work, Simply Tuesday, is so beautifully composed that I won’t cheapen it with a summary, but I will tell you this: this book is a deep gulp of air for your weary, hurried, grieving, wherever-you-are today soul.

You in? I thought so. You’re super in luck because the book releases TODAY and you can find it here. (Tuesday? Genius). Brb too busy letting my soul breathe.

xoxo,

K

*I was chosen to be a member of Emily Freeman’s launch team and given a free copy of Simply Tuesday in exchange for my honest review. I’ve already ordered eleventy billion copies for my family and friends, so sorry if that spoils your Christmas present joy.* 

kendall sky

IMG_4203Our first night without Kendall, hours after he went to heaven, my dad and I sat in the car, breathing in stiff silence. We were going to the Asheville airport, dropping off the friend who, selflessly and without hesitation, let go of her plans in Nashville to hand deliver a stunned sister to her hometown.

I was scared to let my friend go, realizing I was losing the last excuse to stuff my despair. I didn’t want to stay, but I knew I couldn’t leave. The home I grew up in felt oddly unsafe and everyone’s sudden use of past-tense verbs made me livid. “He was, he did, he would have, he loved.” 

As the tires rolled past Moe’s, Target and our local gas station, I tried to absorb the normalcy they once radiated, but felt nothing. A plane took off in the distance, as the curves in the road began to shift and we approached the terminal. As we rounded the bend our eyes meet the sky and then, immediately, each others’.

We saw the pink streaks and knew. 

But even now as I recall the encounter, I’m not exactly sure what we knew. Previously, I’ve always kind of secretly become uncomfortable when others try to pinpoint something as a sign from a lost loved one, and I promised myself I’d never be “that” girl. I don’t know if that hot pink horizon was from Kendall or God, or honestly if it was intentional or meaningful, but I do know that it was enough. Just for that second, it was enough to help me take my next breath.

And so when I started sharing some of my thoughts about grief publicly and people asked more about my faith, I shared the story of Kendall Sky. If I’m being a truth teller here (and I want to be!), the story began as a way to neatly avoid or disguise the status of my messy relationship with God. But as I told the story over and over again, I realized He is using the story to draw me to Himself.

When tragedy hits, I think all of us huddled in faith want to believe that God will shield us from the pain, revealing a detail that will make everything make sense and work out in our favor. I immediately wanted to be the poster-child of faith, activating my Sunday School memory verses to safeguard my heart from the pain. I thought I needed a different God from the One I had before my loss: one who was bolder and braver with an upgraded shield and shelter. I was wrong.

I was too busy looking for a numbing savior to see my real need for a nearby savior. 

I find myself clamoring for big signs and logical explanations in prayer, and I haven’t gotten them. But what I do find in the small, simple moments is Immanuel: God with me, just as He promised. The more I look for and rely upon His presence, the more I feel His closeness. (Seriously, guys. I would not put myself in a position of being “that cliche Christian girl” if it wasn’t so shockingly and comfortingly true.) 

Since the first Kendall Sky, it has been my companion in different cities, on hard days, and via text messages from friends. I’ve learned to anticipate its reliable and consistent appearance by simply looking in the same place each day. Now, I see that God is the same way: reliable, consistent, and always close by. Maybe one day I’ll be able to muster a deep explanation for what I know about God, but for now, breath by breath, I know that He is enough.

And I think I’ll keep looking up.

what I’m loving lately

11230431_390934114432436_662734505_nThe notes I keep in my iPhone are borderline batty for a few reasons.

First of all, let’s start with my baby name list. You guys, it’s embarrassing. If you found my phone abandoned on a shelf in J. Crew, you’d turn to the nearest pregnant woman, assuming she dropped her phone in the midst of consoling a crying toddler or carrying a diaper bag.

No, just a 20-something unable to juggle an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and her phone at the same time. You’re welcome, future children.

Then, it’s a collection of favorite words, books to read, restaurants to visit, office ChickFilA orders and car wreck contact information. PS: iPhone notes don’t count as official documents, just so ya know. *insert cry-laughing/concerned-for-my-future face”

But somewhere in the midst of grief and people telling me weird stories of things that comfort them, I made a new list. A pick-me-up list of sorts.
There’s a little more fog in my brain that makes comfort seem distant and harder to recall, so I began recording the tiny, tangible things that cheer me up.

I thought it’d be fun to share a few of those things with you today, and don’t worry, this is probably the only iPhone list of mine that will ever go public!KWPicMonkey Collage

  1. LaraBars: A few people I’ve suggested these to have been turned off by a select few flavors, but I’m here to tell you the secret: chocolate chip cookie dough, key lime pie, lemon bar. Repeat. All week long. Insider tip: microwave the cookie dough bar for 10 seconds=warm cookie. Enough said.
  2. Periwinkle nail polish: I got this color a few weeks ago at the nail salon, and I asked the manicurist a million times if she thought it was a terrible choice. It wasn’t. Moving on.
  3. Have you heard of Darling magazine? Their slogan is “the art of being a woman,” and I’m positive you’ll love it. The pages are beautifully designed with substantial articles and you’ll want to keep it on your coffee table forever. Bye, US Weekly.
  4. Acai bowls: When you learn to say acai, (ah-sah-ee), you’ll want to eat them all the time and use all the puns. (I can’t wait to acai you again. On board?) Basically a smoothie you can eat with a spoon and cover in healthy toppings, this is the definition of healthy comfort food. I get mine locally from Franklin Juice or make my own using these.  Did you notice in the picture up top that I’m holding an acai bowl with my periwinkle nails? Oops.
  5. Up2 By Jawbone: I wrote a post for She Reads Truth about our cutthroat office competitions with these fitness bands, and I’m still loving accountability wrapped around my wrist. I’m always up for a challenge, so 10,000 steps a day? Let’s do this. This little guy can also track your sleep, food, mood and initiate personal or team goals. I’ve been going on walks after work each day and it makes such a difference. And, I get to see my small changes add up. #obsessed

What are some things on your pick-me-up list? Do you have suggestions for mine? I’d love to know!

on your birthday

IMG_3540Dear Kendall,
Your 21st birthday. How are we supposed to spend today?

Months ago, I started planning a huge event for you. We were going to all “ do good turns daily” in your honor, both near and far, acts of service to reflect your kind and selfless spirit. Everyone was going to know your name. We’d wear matching tshirts and create hashtags, thus initiating a ruckus in your honor.

Then, we’d go to the top of a mountain and release balloons for you. Orange, of course. We would stand and watch them fade into glory, holding hands and fighting back tears.

So badly, I wanted to create a positive tradition in your memory. I hoped to prevent another painful holiday and distract mom and dad from the painful sting unique to June 7th.

But somewhere along the way, it started to feel weird and forced and I remembered you were never one to make a ruckus anyway.

Last year, we went to Binion’s, the steakhouse you loved and requested for most of the previous 19 years. We stepped on peanut shells and ate rolls dripping with butter, a screaming toddler and unknown country songs our soundtrack. I was a recent grad waiting for a job offer to uplift me from our hometown any minute, but I’m so glad it didn’t come quickly.

That night, we ate white cupcakes with white icing and rainbow sprinkles, your birthday food of choice since you could chew. For the hundredth time, I argued the lack of difference between cupcakes and sheet cake, but you stood firm in your tradition.

Today, I see the difference. Ken, it’s you. It’s the way you weaved celebration into the tiniest of details, and didn’t let loose ends or changes in plans hinder your determination to commemorate the day.

It’s the way you remembered details and showcased your love through acknowledging them. Like the time you wrote a fake letter from my favorite USC football player, saying he couldn’t make it to my birthday because he was too busy taking care of sick cats (the only excuse you knew I would find acceptable!!). Or the times I’d wake up in the middle of the night and crawl into your room? You’d do anything to cheer me up, from ridiculous breathing exercises to Jerry Seinfeld impressions. You always knew, in the silly times and in the sad.

When I started to create an event for your birthday, I was fighting so hard to establish your legacy through an annual event people would remember. One of the first things our grief counselors warned us about was the shift of people’s attention away from what happened. They said people would move on, forget, and it would be painful.

But they never met you. Kendall, you don’t need an event to speak volumes of your life. I see it every day in the supportive texts I receive, social media posts and the way your friends love us.

Did you know that your friends would come to Asheville on a random weekend to keep mom and dad from feeling lonely?
Did you know that one of your best friends would move to Nashville for the summer and we’ll celebrate you later today with Moe’s burritos?
You would be so proud of your people.

So today, I’m leaning in to the things you love with the people who love you. We’re going to eat white on white cupcakes with sprinkles and celebrate our Kendall in the ways that feel right this year. And I think that’s just how you want it.

Thanks for teaching me so many lessons, many of which I’ve yet to uncover, but most of all, for being you. We love you, little brother. Happy Birthday!

xoxo-Kait

a thank-you note

IMG_3118I’m not afraid of public speaking. In fact, I unashamedly love it. But, a few months ago I was asked to speak at an event unlike any I had previously experienced: a ceremony at Clemson University to celebrate my brother’s accomplishments and award his posthumous degree.

Although I spoke at his funeral 6 months prior, this time was different.

I was no longer stung by shock, and my numbness had turned to a continual recognition of his absence deeper than I cared to face. We had made it through half a year of holidays without him, and I was knee-deep in the grief I initially could only anticipate with dread.

It would have been simple for me to not speak at the event. If it’s too hard, we understand, said many a family member and university official. I had an easy out. I thought about how it would be a relief to solely be a spectator, only tending to my Kleenex supply and grasping my parents’ hands the whole time.

I remembered the songs Kendall wrote and performed for me in honor of my birthdays and graduation. I recalled the videos and slideshows I would faithfully produce for his high school graduation and Eagle Scout ceremony. We didn’t need Myers-Briggs to tell us how similar our personalities were, but no matter how many times we took the test, we got the exact same result: ENFJ. Our mutual celebration style was to make a big to-do of anything and everything, while our introvert-natured parents watched and applauded.

So, the obvious answer was yes. Yes, I would speak. Yes, it would be hard. And yes, I desperately needed this one thing to stay the same just once more.

Writing my speech was another demon entirely. Although I had scribbled and crossed out paragraphs upon paragraphs, nothing seemed appropriate. My writing method is unorganized and last minute, during which I usually circle around and rearrange ideas and words until they fall into place seamlessly.

That didn’t happen this time. I concluded that nothing would feel right. I couldn’t address each person in the room, thanking them for the way they loved my brother and they continue to support my parents. I couldn’t write a novel filled with the ways I miss Kendall. I couldn’t justify our relationship as brother and sister, recalling childhood stories. I couldn’t sermonize, listing the things that I’m sure of, and the unanswered questions I have. I couldn’t beg all of his friends to please, please don’t forget about him and to call me when the grief becomes too much to bear alone. I couldn’t tell them how I just wanted to sit in that auditorium forever, savoring one of my last public opportunities to be a proud sister.

But I wanted to.

Instead, I told them how much Kendall loved Clemson, thanked them for loving the heck out of our boy, and challenged them to continue his legacy through their love and ambition. I know they will.

There are always going to be things I am unable to say out loud, and I think sometimes you may feel that way, too. I’m familiar with the silence when I enter a room, the awkward small talk in church, the avoidance in the grocery store. And it’s okay. 

I don’t know how to handle this either. But thank you for loving me in the ways you may think are insignificant, awkward or unsuitable. Thank you for allowing me to stumble through the next several days and years and decades, unaware of what to do and hopefully getting better at it along the way. Please know you also have the same freedom. 

Shauna Niequist said it best (she always does), when she wrote:

“We don’t learn to love each other well in the easy moments. Anyone is good company at a cocktail party. But love is born when we misunderstand one another and make it right, when we cry in the kitchen, when we show up uninvited with magazines and granola bars, in an effort to say, I love you.” 

Let’s awkwardly falter through this together. We can do it. 

All my love,
K

when you give a girl a mocha

photo-1422433555807-2559a27433bd
It’s spring time in Nashville and I’m seriously in love. Maybe it’s the string lights over outdoor patios lining basically every street in the city, or the fact that tacos and popsicles are a way of life here. Regardless, I’m always just so thankful for seasons changing, the kind of turn that’s expected and feels like an old friend back in town.

Speaking of old friends, Jessica Fralin is someone who feels like one, no matter how long you’ve known her. We’ve been social media friends for some time, but just recently connected face-to-face in Nashville. (Because she’s moving here! YAY.) I’m certain that beginning a friendship over Frothy Monkey mochas is the absolute best way, so we’re pretty much going to be BFFs forever.

Jessica just finished her first book (casually) and I’m counting down the days until it releases in August! Partly because I’m hoping her release party will include white monkey mochas, but mostly because her heart beats for all things social media and pointing people to Jesus. #Stolen is the title, and it’s going to be SO good, y’all.

(Did I mention the title of her book begins with a hashtag? I’m just saying.)

Here’s the super fun part: I’m writing over in her online neck-of-the-woods today about Disney princesses, identity and keeping it real.

So hop on over there and join me!

 

the spiritual discipline of wearing high heels

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I’m 5’9″ on a good day. (I just typed “foot” instead of “good.” Good foot day? Something like that.)

When I go for a check-up and the nurse insists it’s okay to leave my shoes on while she measures my height, I vehemently refuse, socks already in hand.

I wore flats to all proms and sorority functions so I wouldn’t be taller than my date.

I’m more than familiar with the disappointed look following, “No, I don’t play sports.” And my favorite comment from my high school gym coach: “You have the legs, you just don’t know how to use them.” Oh. Ok. 

So I think that somewhere along the way, while I played along with jokes and usually made them about myself, I began to believe my height was a problem to be solved rather than a truth to embrace.

While, no, this wasn’t something earth-shattering or even a topic I actively thought about daily, I continued to passively create a list of limitations and parameters for myself to solve the “problem.”

I’d sprint past the shoe aisles with heels, because they clearly weren’t meant for me.
I’d intentionally make myself look shorter in pictures with other people, because obviously tall isn’t cute.
I’d plan my shoe choice based on who I would see that day. I mean, seriously.

PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, it was all a lie. Duh. I think I knew that all along, but I just thought it was too dumb to even rethink my vain attempts.

But if dumb little things like shoes and height and my appearance are keeping me from believing truth, what else is?

Over the summer, I was playing dress-up in my sorority sister’s closet, trying on her heels and wedges, because clearly I had no intentions to wear them in public. I tried on a pair of super cute wedges, looking longingly at them, beginning to remember my rules.

Maybe I’ll just wear them for one night, I thought. So, I did. And ya know what?

Nothing changed. Yes, I was tall. Yes, I was an eensy bit taller than usual. But I loved it. I was literally allowing myself to walk in freedom.

Once I did, I realized maybe this mentality could be hurting me in other areas I didn’t consider. Am I allowing the parts of my story I wouldn’t choose to hinder the parts I already love? Am I spending too much time fixing or running from the things I’d like to change? Is this keeping me from making much of my life and the story I hope to tell? 

Friends, let’s own every single shattered piece of our story and walk fiercely in freedom. (And maybe wear heels while we do it?)

 

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a little pep, a lot of talk

2e9b0cb2So much joy is happening right now, you guys. From where I sit at my cozy table in Whole Foods, I’m listening to a Spanish lesson taking place at the table behind me, and I’m watching a cooking lesson take place in the room beside mine. I’m eating a sandwich appropriately named “Southern Lover,” which I obviously accepted as a challenge, and am enjoying to pieces. (It has goat cheese, need I say more?) I’m in a happy place, surrounded by people soaking up fresh knowledge, and my heart begins buzzing, begging my hands to start typing. So, I write.

The week I lost my brother is a complete blur to me, but I clearly remember one conversation I had with one of mine and Kendall’s closest friends. She told me about a night spent reminiscing with his other high school friends, sharing bittersweet memories and stories.

“Ultimately,” she said, “there isn’t any regret. Kendall wouldn’t let us.”

And that’s the most accurate description of my brother I’ve heard. He wouldn’t allow regret. Time spent with him was savored by those he accompanied.

I’ve felt eyes watching me through a grief-shaped lens since the accident. And honestly, sometimes it feels appropriate and wanted, acknowledgment of the vastness of loss. Mainly, I’m re-learning a lot. How to answer small talk questions, navigate the reactions of others, face hard days, and even tiny things like post to social media. I’m seeking the difference between acknowledging and dwelling, afraid to come across as “super strong and over it” or “attention-seeking and unable to move on.”

In all this, what I do know for sure is that I want my grief to speak volumes of the person I’m missing, and my Kendall was a fighter for joy.

So, friends! Here’s what this means for us:

My little blogging space is BACK IN ACTION.

I’m here to recapture excitement and stop allowing joy to go undocumented.

I’ll be sharing some fun Nashville posts and we’ll catch up like old friends. There will probably be a lot of talk about Whole Foods. It’s fine.

LET’S DO THIS THANG.

See you soon, promise!