She came to me when I was nine years old. My angel, with the chubbiest of cheeks, a head full of dark brown hair, and liquid golden brown eyes. Laura Rachel entered our family with an infilling of love and what felt to me to be a powerful, brilliant light.
She was my fourth sibling to be born, but there was something different about her right from the start. I was old enough, for the first time, to feel a protective, motherly instinct. I sensed an innocence and purity about her, and I guarded it ferociously. Our mom was quite busy with five kids and she allowed me to help with diapers, bottles, and everything in between. In my free time I occupied myself with looking after her like she was my own baby. Our relationship only intensified when, a year after the birth of our youngest brother, our mom went back to work, leaving the four younger siblings in Michelle’s and my care.
I poured everything I had into that little girl, into all of them. Michelle and I fed and cared for all four of them and helped them with their schoolwork. We did our homework at the computer in the family room while the boys played raucously behind us. And when all our chores were done we took them to the park, carrying them home on our backs just because we could.
Laura would sneak downstairs to my room when I was working on high school art projects. I did her hair and we talked for hours. I called her “mon petit fleur,” which is French for “my little flower.” I sang to her when I tucked her into bed.
“When you’re crying in the night
All you need to do is call me
I’ll be there for you
‘Cuz you’re my little girl”
[Go Fish, You’re my Little Girl]
I sat by her bed at night, rubbed her back, prayed, and shared what was most important to me in the whole world.
“Seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.”
She looked at me with innocent, knowing eyes and made me want to be everything she believed I was. We connected over our shared interest in spiritual things. I watched as she fell in love with the magnificent, ineffable being we call God; I listened as she expressed the same desires I had, to really and truly know him, to experience him and discover the mystery of who he was.
I knew from a young age that she had been sent to us for a purpose, to teach us by her example. And I was not wrong. As she grew she became one of the most genuine and loving people I have ever known. When others would be flat-out mean or rude to her, she would respond with a smile and a bear-hug. She truly, willingly loved people – all people from the bottom of her heart. She forgave freely. She sought people out, saw the light in them, chased after them, boldly and unashamedly, even when they didn’t want to be loved. What set her apart was that her heart and intentions were pure. And rather than letting the world dim her light as she grew older, she has remained, in spite of struggle, failures and mistakes, genuine, radiant, and deeply compassionate.
The first time she came to visit me in Montana was shortly after the birth of my second son, William Paul. I had been gone for five years and had experienced hardships since moving away. Things that I wasn’t prepared for and didn’t understand had happened, and I had become fearful, inverted, and withdrawn. As a young mother I was stressed, impatient, and lonely. I still loved and believed in God, but my passion had died. I was lost, drifting spiritually. And she walked off that airplane exuding an aura of pure light and love energy, wrapped me in one of her famous bear-hugs, looked at me with those trusting, knowing, golden brown eyes, and I realized how far I had fallen.
I drove her home from the airport, to the place Ryan and I were staying at the time. She entered that house and it lit up like it had been surrounded by angels. The presence of God around her was so tangible I wondered if everyone else could feel it. I vividly remember her walking in, picking two-year-old Audrey up in her arms, and dancing around the room, singing about the love of Jesus. The atmosphere of the house exploded with a glory both innocent and powerful, and as if being awakened from a slumber, I remembered who I was meant to be.
Not lost and anxious, barren and empty, sucking those around me dry with my neediness, hanging on by a thread, letting life happen to me. No, like her, I was meant to be powerful in compassion and gentleness, fierce in empathy and understanding, unashamed and extravagant in love, filled with joy like springs of living water, satisfied, secure, confident, at peace.
And if there is anything I want her to know now it is this: that I know who I am because of her.
I want her to know that I recognized her as soon as she was born, that I knew who she was, where she had come from, and what we were both doing here. We mirror each other. We amplify each other. We are our best selves when we are together. There is no-one in the world that I am more strongly influenced by, even though we now live miles apart. The short weeks we do spend together once or twice a year have been absolutely pivotal to my growth, because that aura of love around her, that tangible presence of God – it’s catching. Those golden-brown eyes – they are knowing and trusting, and in them I see myself. And those hugs of hers remind me of who holds me, securely and eternally.
I want her to know that even though I am older, she has been my teacher. I want her to know that she is more beautiful, more powerful, and more secure in her freedom than she imagines. I want her to know that she is making a tremendous difference in the world, a ripple the size of a tidal wave, rearranging her surroundings into the rhythm of the music of heaven, painting those around her with the color of divine love.
And I want her to know that she fills my life with the music of heaven and paints my world with the color of love. She always has and she always will.
She’s my littlest sister, my dark-haired, golden-eyed, exuberant, radiant, ridiculously soft-hearted angel.