there were two inseparable sisters.
20 months apart one had never known life without the other.
Until there were three.
The second, no longer only the shadow of the first, had a choice.
Follow or lead?
The third met the fourth.
And life changed.
Roaring flames lick your face, the heat so oppressive you are forced to stand back to marvel at the demonstration.
A flaunt of power, an ignition of energy. Dangerously beautiful is this virgin blaze.
Time passes. Kindling sparse. The flames, once so bright, begin to dim.
Now approachable, friends find a spot to gather- round this comfortable, broken-in space. Reaching in to warm their hands, absorbing the heat this tired fire has left to give.
The inevitable awaits.
Will this fire burn out?
Or will it scream for someone to feed it?
The story is the same. A mother, a teacher, a doctor, a cleaner. A social worker, an athlete, a therapist, an artist.
We begin ablaze, set to conquer. Eager to learn, eager to share.
Weathered, we abate.
And subconsciously or not, we decide.
Feed the fire?
Or let it die?
They see opportunity, I see the end of an era.
They see a new purpose, I see the memories.
I’ve never been a big fan of thrift stores, yard or estate sales, but it wasn’t until today, when my elderly neighbor’s estate sale went “live” that I understood why.
I don’t see a record player, I hear the music it played over the decades.
I don’t see a dresser, I see the clothes it housed for birthdays, beach days, and every days.
They see dishes, I see Thanksgiving dinner.
They see a chair, I see the person who used to sit in it.
To many, they are just things.
To me, they are a story.
Of a life lived.
Of a past, now gone.
Of a future, without these things.
Perhaps this isn’t their end.
It’s just a new beginning.
Her name was Elisabeth but she was to be called “Beth”.
She was tall with long, wavy brown hair and the face of an angel because, she was an angel.
I was just 11 years old, when I saw her in my pantry.
I was searching for a snack. My mom passed me by with a laundry basket full of clothes.
I paid no mind until I heard, from what seemed a distance, “Lauuuuureeeennn.”
I replied, “YEA?!”
And then I felt it.
An energy. A tingling on the back of my neck. A movement of air.
I turned and she took my breath away.
She was beautiful, and without hesitation, I knew exactly who she was.
In her white dress, floating.
A smile crept upon her face, as if to say, “I’m here. I see you. I’m with you, always.”
And then she evaporated right before my very eyes.
Immediately, I felt my heart restart, pumping so hard, I could feel it through my chest. I gasped for air and screamed out for my mother.
She came downstairs and I pleaded with her, already knowing the answer, “Mom. Did you call my name? Did you CALL MY NAME?!”
She, confused and concerned, reassured me that she hadn’t.
Shaking, I processed what I had seen and felt and have kept close to my heart for the last 25 years.
I had seen her, my sister Elisabeth, gone before I was born.
And today, I see her still, in the face of my daughter, Elizabeth Joy.
My guardian angel.
My name is Lauren, but I almost forget that when all I hear is “momma” these days.
As a child, I was seriously invested in the welfare of others.
My step-dad had previously lived in Africa and returned with dozens of paintings peppering our walls, sparking my obsession with Africa and all of its wonders.
I wanted to be a National Geographic Photographer and I wanted to join the Peace Corps. I came as close as joining the American Field Service (AFS) at 17 years old, living with a Ghanaian family for a month and working in two orphanages.
As a child, I rescued birds, dropped from their nests. I used heating pads and eyedroppers to try and care for them. I taped plastic containers on top of the sand mounds the ants made along the short walkway to our home, so that they would be safe during the rainstorm.
I worked closely with the homeless at soup-kitchens and inner-city teenagers through a missionary church.
I dressed my dachshund and walked her in my babydoll stroller.
I published my very own magazines, full of articles and quizzes (“Does your dog a: run out and pee b: walk a short distance to pee or c: sniff each and every blade of grass, peeing on everything in sight?!)
I never wore shoes outside and gained notoriety for this (even today for my total lack of a shoe collection).
I played “teacher” and “store” almost every single day, complete with tests and inventory.
I played the piano, easily.
In high school, I was the lead in three school plays. And I was good.
I was smart, but unpopular.
And now, I am a mom.
Trying to teach my four daughters everything I ever learned while still learning on-the-go.
Trying to witness and support their innate gifts, while wondering where the hell mine went.
Wondering how I can lead by example, when all I seem to do these days is serve.
My name is Lauren, and I’m still here, somewhere.
I just have to make time to find her and teach my daughters to do the same.
It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to write. And don’t we all experience those phases in life? The tide that ebbs and flows.
I was chatting with another mom earlier about the prospect of my daughter joining a competitive athletic team. She shared the benefits: learning how to lose, how to win, how to handle disappointment and support others, among other things. They were great, valid points and I appreciated her input. I always love a different perspective than my own.
But my response was, “eh”. I like vacations. I like lazy Saturday weekends as opposed to rushing to the field or meet. I like dancing in my jammies with my kids in the kitchen while making pancakes in place of best times, trophies, baskets or goals. I’m sure she does, too, to an extent. But it all begs the question: To what end?
For her, the sacrifice of the initial investment is worth the long-time payout.
For me, the gift of today calls me.
I believe in trying most (good) things, at least once. I believe in trying again, when you fail or are fearful. I believe “real” work doesn’t truly begin until you push yourself out of your comfort zone.
It’s my responsibility to encourage my child to come into her own and to provide the resources available to help her achieve her goals.
But I also believe that we are each born with our innate gifts and it is up to us to listen to those gifts speak their truth.
So even though my daughter is gifted at the piano, I allow her to quit when encouraging her to practice overpowers her desire to play.
And when my other daughter has an anxiety attack over performing in the holiday production, I hug her and reassure her that, IT’S OK. She doesn’t have to sing.
Because, at the end of the day, what is the End Goal?
For us, it is health, happiness and confidence- the ability to tune in to our heart- to pay attention to when it whispers and listen to when it roars.
Our hearts speak.
And it’s our job to listen.
If only, we could listen.
Repetitive. Monotonous. Tedious.
Have you ever felt like you get up and do the same thing every day? You wake at the same time, with the same morning routine, the same route to work or school and the same way home. You shop at the same stores, buying the same things and you wonder, “Is it Groundhog Day?”
I’m 7 years into parenting four young daughters. As exciting as it is to witness our 9 month-old baby reach her developmental milestones, there’s a part of me that feels tired and worn. Sure, it’s her first time, but it’s my fourth. Likely similar to how the doctor performing my gallbladder surgery this past summer felt: she had removed thousands of gallbladders over the years but not mine.
The question I’ve been asking myself lately is how do I get out of this rut?
Just as you aren’t going to quit your job or change your route to work, I’m not looking to give up my children or start a new career. The changes I seek are small, not drastic.
Introduce a new breakfast. Start a new exercise routine. Schedule time during the week just for myself.
When I’m feeling out of control, I recognize that it is time to get back in the driver’s seat and make positive, healthy changes for my body and mental health so that I may approach the same old things with a fresh, new mindset.
Because when Elizabeth takes her first steps in the coming months, I want to celebrate that milestone with her with the same sincerity that doctor reassured me with minutes before my surgery: like it was the first time and not Groundhog Day.
“We should have stopped at three.”
I stood motionless. Awestruck at what this mother had just admitted, so honestly, to me.
It was the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear when I asked the question, “What’s it like to have four?”
But like spinach stuck in teeth, there it was.
The ugly truth.
I wanted to hear how much better it was to have an even number of children; how life seemed incomplete until the fourth arrived.
I wasn’t seeking her truth- I was seeking validation for my relentless desire.
Until I had my fourth.
After which, I understood how much easier it is to reflect and regret, instead of look forward and wonder.
This mother wasn’t a monster. Of course, she loved her fourth, she explained. But life with three was busy enough. Four felt unsustainable.
Horrified then, I now feel gratitude for her veracity.
I saw it, long ago.
Withered and wrinkled.
I asked her, then, if my veins would look the same as hers when I was her age.
She laughed, apologetically, but I was serious.
I wanted those hands.
And I’m beginning to see them, now.
Ever so slightly.
The pronounced blue protrusions.
The fragile cells in-between.
The soft cover of a life, well-lived.
Captured by Katie McCracken