She was quiet. She was peace.
Words that had defined her most of her teenage years, but not the kind of quiet where there was nothing rumbling about in the mind. No, there were a million beautiful and tragic things all at once slamming together into a kaleidoscope of curiosity and restlessness. And beauty, extreme beauty.
I dressed her up as Joseph from the nativity scene to complement my self-cast, role of Mary too many years of advent in a row, I’m sure I watched her take her first steps through we are too close in age for me to remember, I taught her how to complete a Barbie’s wardrobe and which math teacher to have for Algebra II in high school, and to just forget about taking Anatomy & Physiology because it wasn’t worth it. We played varsity volleyball for one swell year together before I graduated, because she was that good. She let me boss her around, and convince her that her cutest dresses were actually mine she had just forgotten. I stole her eye shadow kit on more than one occasion. We guided each other to reconcile with friends and family members and to be thankful. We consoled each other on which boys were worth crying over and which ones weren’t; and we fought. Heavens, did we ever.
We chose polar opposite prom dresses; mine was pink, hers was grey; I wore cowboy boots, she wanted Doc Martens; her music was soul-searching, warm, contented, melancholy lyrical pieces, and mine was let-you-hair-down, restless, wild country lyrics, with the windows truly down, even in the freezing temperatures, and rain on more than one especially stubborn occasion, on the way to high school in the mornings; my room was pink & orange, hers was dark red and brown; and our schools put us at a grave distance apart: mine in the rural southeast of Alabama and hers in the metropolitan capital of Illinois.
All our life we fought these external differences. All our life I thought I was the one teaching her how to “grow-up,” and in some ways, how to not grow up, hoping and praying she would learn from my mistakes and rebellions.
And then the unimaginable happened and just when I thought I was sacrificing a portion of my life and my hopes and dreams I looked below me in the birth order of my family to see her bent low, just loving with everything she had in her young years. I felt myself really, truly looking up, because her reality and faith became something I held at the highest of standards, the paramount of sacrificial, unconditional love. It undoes me.
I didn’t see a quiet girl anymore, overrun by two rambunctious older siblings; squabbling about shotgun in mom’s suburban or who would open Christmas presents first this year. I saw a servant, a girl who made herself low and humble and meek to give. Not just give and expect, but to GIVE IT ALL away. To give the greatest gift, time and her own two unwrinkled, young hands, to her fast-fading mother. I saw the only person whose tears could match my own. I watched her bounce along in the back of a minivan on a trip to the beach as my mom’s last wish, to fill the unnatural role of a child so desperately and delicately caring for a parent so young. When I grumbled, she came through with grit and grace and carried on. I watched her clean countertops and feed the dogs and drag me out of bed when I couldn’t get out myself. She packed up from a trendy liberal arts school in the middle of her freshman semester and endured some classes at a scary place called community college where coed bathrooms and unresponsive teachers are apparently a thing just so she could be close to what mattered. Then I watched her pack up her childhood bedroom and move to Knoxville just 3 days after burying her mother, when my own hands were still shaking so much I couldn’t even fill the cardboard boxes myself. That, is brave. I listened to her wisdom and clarity, well beyond her years, and I smiled–because I knew. I knew a little piece of my mom’s heart-specifically her generosity, wisdom, compassion, and faithfulness-was still here. Still alive, still encouraging and lifting others up. Still obedient and faithful to marching through life despite having lost her biggest support in what was supposed to be the best most brilliant years of her life. I saw her kneel and allow Jesus to use her-here and now. In her family, the greatest calling she could ever answer to. The baby. So much bravery.
Thank you for your humble example sis. Thank you for giving me a glimpse at a shot of glory. Thank you for teaching me through now two decades that love is a lot more about commitment and endurance than similarities and interests. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not inspired and galvanized by your example. You are a brightest light to everyone you meet, you’re the best part of our family, and so much of you reminds me about mom. Thank you for melting my grumpy heart on a daily basis and making me quesadillas and coffee after I work the night shift. Here’s to many more sleepovers in which we starfish-too tall for our own good, sunburns, nailpolish, days at the river covered in muddy paws, pawning off our baking to anyone and everyone, unapologetically taking each other’s clothes back to Knoxville/Nashville respectively, praying that one day Free People will (eventually) endorse us, road trips, you being my person who explains TV shows/movies to me when I am too distracted texting, wistfully waiting for season 4 of House of Cards/you interpreting it for me, the grimace on your face when I make you listen to top 20 country radio, you always having a newer phone and eye shadow palette than me, being my Instagram muse, serially binge-listening to Serial in one afternoon, spontaneous beach trips, cheating at Settlers of Catan, always helping me chose the perfect filter (#blessed), maintaining holiday traditions without mom, adventures on the PCT in California, Madewell packages in dad’s mailbox, rolling eyes across the room at our dysfunctional family, pushing me out the door to make sure I get my coffee before church on Sundays, trying to agree on a movie on Netflix on Sunday afternoons, and wishing we both lived in the middle-of-nowhere-Africa (there’s yet time!). We will always find a reason to smile.
Happy Birthday Elle-belle! God is within you, you will not fail. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I love you.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Ps. I’m sorry for when we were younger at one time saying you wouldn’t be my MOH. You will def be my MOH and probably my only Maid. There you have it in writing tactfully placed at the end of this post and yet with the accountability of all the interwebs.