A Life Well Lived

We were born 20 days apart with just 2 houses sitting between our own.  My dad taught him how to swim; his dad taught me how to ride a bike.  

We were always outside, waiting for the tell-tale whistle from his parents at dusk, letting us know it was time to come in for dinner and bed. 

In our early teens, he would climb the tree in front of my house, clamber up the roof and knock.  There was a landing just outside of my window and we would sit there, contemplating life until we were caught.  

His parents had been married just shy of 45 years when his mom succumbed to cancer this past September. 

The funeral was held in late October and just 5 days later, with the fragrance of the funeral flowers still permeating the living room, his dad passed away from sudden cardiac arrest, right into my friend’s arms.  It was two days before their 45th anniversary and we all collectively knew, he had died from a broken heart. 

My mother and I had wept during Mr. White’s eulogy for his wife.  He spoke of their first date- when Mrs. White had invited him to lie underneath a Christmas tree to watch the twinkling lights. 

Mr. White then compared those twinkling lights to the thousands upon thousands of prayers family and friends had sent up to God as cancer ravaged his beloved’s body.

And then, just like that, he was gone, too. 

My friend and I stood in the kitchen where he had administered CPR to his dad, just hours before and we hugged, screamed and sobbed.  At 39 years-old we still felt like children, never ever having been in his parents’ house without them there.  

Shocked and numb, I drove away, contemplating the loss. 

Mr. White’s eulogy had been full of love and awe for his wife and the life they had shared. 

And I wondered, 

“What is a well-lived life?”  

Have I lived one? 

Am I living one?

In this distracted day-in-age, it feels all too easy to lose sight of the most important part of life:

Our connection to others. 

And if that is the meaning of life, 

Then I’ve lived it well.  

Let us all lie under the Christmas tree and watch the twinkling lights. 

Shine

Recently, I was told that I am “overwhelming” and “exhausting”. 

And the thing is:  it’s not untrue. 

I am 100% both of those things. 

I live life fast and furiously, never wanting to miss a moment or waste a day- including days with zero plans because those often offer the best unplanned fun.  

And I document them!  

Boy, do I document them. 

Because I never want to forget.

But in my hard-life-living, I’ve also experienced personal casualties and wondered, 

“What’s wrong with me?” 

“Am I too much?”

“Am I not enough?”

The doubt creeps in and for a minute I think, “Yes, I should be smaller.”

Then, I remember a poem read to me by a speaker at a conference:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

I *remember* hearing this poem for the first time and the fire that it ignited in me. 

And as a mother of four daughters, 

I’ll be damned if anyone tries to put that out. 

Our girls will not accept mediocrity, if I have anything to do with it. 

They will strive for their best and nothing less.  

And you know why?

Because they are worth it!

Because we all are all worth it!

And because, as the poem says, we are all better when we let our light shine. 

Giving permission for others to shine, too.  

I considered shrinking 

And then I thought better of it.  

Instead, I shine. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

The Inevitable

Camille Vaughan Photography

They keep calling and I keep putting it off. 

The inevitable. 

It took so long for us to get to this point- 

Photo by Amara Minnis

A place where, although still heavily restricted, we at least know what we are dealing with. 

For three years, feeding Elizabeth was a game of Russian roulette.  

Try a new food and wait 2-4 hours to see if she begins to vomit. Sometimes until her body goes into shock. 

Repeat for the next fourteen days because she could pass the first few trials and fail the seventh attempt.  

Such is the life of a child with FPIES- Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis, a nightmare of an intestinal allergy with no formal testing other than eating the food and seeing what happens.  

Pair that with IgE mediated allergies to dairy, eggs and peanuts, throw a gluten intolerance that triggers severe eczema on top of it and you have our fourth baby girl.

Our little warrior, who in her first few years, endured misery. 

The ocean water burned Elizabeth’s skin so badly during our family photo shoot, we had to stop. Camille Vaughan Photography

No wonder she was growth restricted in the womb!  No wonder she didn’t just spit up but vomited after each nursing session!  No wonder she never slept and always cried.  The foods I was eating were her triggers and I had. No. Idea. 

I eliminated all major allergens and lost twenty pounds in my attempts to continue to nurse her only years later to find out that the avocado I was surviving on was one of her triggers.  

It took batteries of tests, UV light therapy and trial-and-error with her diet to realize her horrific head-to-toe eczema was caused by wheat.  Steroid creams, nightly wet-wraps, and baths with me at 2 o’clock in the morning in desperate attempts to provide relief, even if temporary.  

Yes, I keep putting it off because if I’m being honest, I don’t want to go back there. 

I am running away as fast as I can from those awful memories, from the trauma that was raising baby Elizabeth.  

But without risk we become stagnant.  

Her diet never evolves and we never know, unless we try . . . 

And so I finally take the call. 

I set the date. 

And I wait. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

This is the first of many in-office food challenges for Elizabeth because she has so many FPIES fails: rice, sweet potato, beef, avocado, peanuts, and quinoa just to name a few.  

But in a few weeks we begin with rice. 

The first challenge: getting her to agree to eat a cup of the food. 

A child with food allergies learns to become wary of any new food not previously deemed “safe” so I’ve had to start having conversations with her about trying this new food further adding to my guilt. 

What if she fails?

What if I convince her to eat it all and she begins to vomit?

What will that do to her trust in me?

How will I stand myself?

I’ve held her limp, near lifeless body in my arms after an FPIES fail.  I’ve helped load her onto a stretcher and into an ambulance at just 9 months-old.  I’ve witnessed my husband and babysitter administer an Epipen three times while on the phone with 911.  

I don’t want to go back there. 

And yet, here we are. 

Facing the trauma.  

Looking beyond the wave of fear with the hope of passing and swimming in the deep richness of food variety with her sisters.  

Hold my hand, baby girl.  

Here we go!

Camille Vaughan Photography

Jump In

“Why do you look so mad?  Come on, it’s a beautiful day.”  He said to me, fuming on the one beach towel I had thrown in at the last second.   

Ugh.  I hate it when he is right, which is so very often. 

I was mad because I was trying to be spontaneous with four young children. 

I was mad because for once, I was trying not to help get swimsuits on, pack snacks and lunches and apply sunscreen.

I was mad because it, of course, backfired. 

All four of my children were in the ocean, fully clothed. 

And now, my husband, too.  

Today was supposed to be about our kids accompanying me and my husband to ECSC- an annual surfing and volleyball competition in our hometown of Virginia Beach.  

This was our stomping ground- the way we first met- the way we spent our sun-filled days. 

We had a truck-full of bicycles.  

We brought water. 

But we were there to watch volleyball so we left the rest. 

And here they were. 

In the ocean. 

Laughing, begging me to join them. 

What is one to do?

There was no other reasonable answer other than to jump in. 

So, of course, I did. 

When in doubt, 

Jump in.  

Carry On

I walked in and explained that I’d held on to this gift certificate since Christmas. That I was in the midst of a family trauma and that I was here to relax and let some of that go.

What I didn’t expect was to burst into tears 45 minutes through, as my massage therapist pulled the energy from my muscles and flicked it away. As she summoned my breath and thanked me for feeling safe enough to let it go in that room, with her, a stranger.

But there we were. 2 strangers united at 9 AM. She, not knowing the trauma and still, meeting me there. Helping me to release.

We hugged, afterwards. After all, after weeping, what else is one to do?

And then we carried on. Her next client. My day with my daughters.

We release and we carry on.

Growing Pains

“Mommy, it hurts.”  

I wish I could tell her that it stops. 

But it never does. 

Instead, they migrate from the bones to the heart.

From the physical to the emotional. 

These growing pains. 

Just when we think we’re done . . . 

There they are. 

To remind us that we aren’t yet done. 

Growing, that is. 

And when you think of it that way, it makes sense. 

Perhaps instead of dreading 

We should welcome the pains.  

Peel back that layer

And discover what comes next . . .   

Camille Vaughan Photography

Written while listening to Cover Bombs (Odesza Remix) by Nomadic Firs

Becoming

I realize, now, why it came so easily to me. 

Because it was easier than living my truth. 

Assign me a role. 

Hand me the lines. 

Anything but live. my. truth. 

What was I so afraid of?

Oh, I know.

Fitting into a shattered family. 

Don’t make waves. 

Instead, belong.

What a sad, little girl I was. 

And what a strong woman I am becoming. 

Listener

Why didn’t anyone tell me this?

We spent K-12 in school learning the basics; 

Yet, somehow they missed informing humans that

They. Are. Not. Done. Growing.

We set a magic number: 

18. 

As if then, we are released to the world, ready to tackle it on our own!

What in the actual world??

Some of us go on to college, graduate or doctorate school. . . .

And some don’t.

Then, what?

We magically become parents who know it all?

No, no, no. 

The trickiest part of parenting for me is the revelation that I am growing right alongside with them. 

Who knew?

We are never done learning. 

There is no final exam. 

Just as they have their epiphanies, I have mine- only wishing I had mine first so that I could have led my children all the wiser.

Is this what they meant when they said ‘Life is not a destination, but a journey.”?

Oh. 

Perhaps, I should have been a better listener. 

Camille Vaughan Photography

Forever Learning

I remember thinking, “No one taught me this.”

It began with the simplicity of taking notes.

I was a brand-new student at a Maryland boarding school.

We’d been asked to “take notes” on a couple of chapters. 

I looked like a fish-out-of-water when an experienced junior came to my rescue and offered to teach me.  

Her name was Pauli and she taught me how to highlight and write. 

Fast-forward to meeting my future-husband and his mother, Betty. 

She’d made a career as a homemaker. 

I’d never known one.

I started taking notes. 

How to cook, how to make a home feel like home. 

Four children later, I’m still taking notes. 

How to listen, how to heal. 

No one taught me this.

But I’m forever learning.  

Camille Vaughan Photography

Feet First

Life in our home has been extremely stressful, lately. 

And that’s saying a lot, considering the last four years with our youngest’s health issues.

When our Big Three returned to public school in January, we knew there would be a transition.

But I don’t think anyone could have fully prepared us for: 

The sickness: after living in a bubble for two years, this was inevitable but Lord, it has been relentless. 

The overwhelm:  “7 hours?!” They lament.  They are tired by day’s end and dreading the next. 

The pressure: to perform, to make friends, to survive. 

And yet, here we are.  Just beyond the Ides of March.  We are halfway there and I know we are going to make it after-all.  

These have been trying months. 

As much as I thought I would have “free time”, I have spent the last 2 months playing catch-up to all that I neglected while they were home the last two years.  

My husband and I look at each other and realize, 

There’s so much more to come.  

So, we hold hands. 

And jump in, 

Feet first.