If we haven't met yet, I'm Ivy! I'm a wedding and senior photographer based in East Tennessee. I hope you'll relax, grab a cup of coffee (or a baja blast), and enjoy seeing my latest work, as well as getting an inside look at my life!
15 years ago today, one of my favorite people in the world was born. I love Levi more than words can even express, and I am so thankful to have him as a little brother. But today is so bittersweet. Because he should be getting his learner’s permit today.
He should have had a bunch of his friends over this weekend for a birthday party.
He should have gotten Xbox games or whatever it is that 15 year old boys want for their birthday.
He and I should’ve fought over his friends being loud and annoying because that’s what big sisters and little brothers do.
He should be shopping online for cars and working a job to save up his money to buy one.
He should be going to basketball games at the high school with all of his friends and begging me to drive him places.
We should be texting each other and picking on each other and talking on the phone while I’m away at college.
He should be able to tell me “thank you” when I tell him “happy birthday” today.
But he can’t do any of those things.
This post is not so I can complain about everything that he can’t do yet, so I don’t want you to think this is me complaining or wishing he was different. But I just didn’t fully realize until today how different his life has been from mine. I didn’t realize until today how much my heart hurts for all the things that he can’t do when he should be able to. And I started realizing over the past year how much it breaks my heart that people see him differently because of it.
This December when we were at Disney World, I was pushing Levi in his wheelchair along the sidewalk. Two little kids walked by and started whispering to each other and pointing at him. As I started to walk away with Levi, I heard the little girl say, “That’s freaky.” And I know she’s just a kid and “kids say the darnedest things” and they haven’t learned what’s appropriate to say and what’s not appropriate to say yet. But hearing someone who doesn’t know your little brother call him freaky and knowing he can’t stand up for himself hurts. I just kept walking, but so many times I’ve wished I could’ve gone back and told that little girl, “He’s not freaky. He has a lot of medical problems that make him look different, but he is the most loving and beautiful person I have ever met in my life. And even though you just called him freaky, if you asked him, he would give you a hug right now because he loves unconditionally and relentlessly and with no judgment. I hope one day you’ll start to understand that so you can do the same.” In that moment, it would’ve come out in anger, so it’s probably best that I didn’t… But the fact that I didn’t stand up for him knowing he couldn’t stand up for himself honestly makes me feel like trash. Because I know if the tables were turned, he would have stood up for me. That’s just the kind of person he is. He’s never been able to tell me he loves me that much, but I know that he does. I know he loves me because of the way his eyes light up when I come home from school. I know he loves me because of the way he laughs when I talk to him on the phone. I know he loves me because of the kisses he gives me on the cheek and the times he just comes up to me and hugs me out of nowhere. And I know that he knows I love him too, even if he can’t say he does.
Sometimes I think about that statement: “He can’t say __________,” and I wonder what it would be like if I didn’t have the ability to talk. Think about that for a minute. What would your life be like if you couldn’t talk? When I think about it, I think I would feel so trapped. I take talking for granted so much. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t talk. And that’s Levi’s reality. He can’t tell us when he starts to feel sick. He can’t tell us when he’s sad or mad or angry or hungry. He can’t tell us when he feels left out, and he can’t tell us if someone was mean to him at school. He can’t tell people his name when they ask him, and he can’t say “good” or “bad” when someone asks him, “how are you?” Yet in the past 15 years, I don’t think there’s ever been a day he hasn’t smiled.
I complain about homework and exams and projects. I get upset when I don’t make an A. Meanwhile, my little brother can’t even talk and he’s always smiling. And I realize that I am so selfish. I realize that I should be happy simply because God chose to give me life. I realize I should be thankful that I am able to go to college and take exams and make any grade at all. Because my own brother probably won’t get the chance to do that. And I take it for granted and complain about it every chance I get.
I take so many things for granted that he would probably be happy just to experience. Talking, cooking, driving . . . the list could go on but I don’t want to focus on the can’t. I want to focus on the can.
Because even though there are so many things Levi can’t do, there are so many things that he can do. He has the ability to make me smile when my world feels like it’s crumbling down. He gets the purest joy out of sitting in the front seat of my car or watching doors open and close. Without using any words, he is able to show people so much love. If I could be half as good as Levi, I would be doing something right. He is so, so good. And I wish more people could see that.
He is not the braces he wears on his feet.
He is not scoliosis.
He is not hypotonia.
He is not autism.
He is not a learning disability.
He is not all the things that are “wrong” with him.
And he is not freaky.
He is Levi, and he is the kindest, most loving person in the world. And he can show you that he loves you without ever saying a word.
Levi, maybe one day you’ll read this. And if you do, I want you to know that I love you more than words can express. You have taught me the meaning of joy. You have taught me that in whatever situation, I am to be content. You have taught me to be thankful for the life that God has given me even when it’s hard because even when life is hard, it’s beautiful, and it’s something to smile about. You have taught me that actions speak so much louder than words, and that if I love people, the best thing I can do is show them by treating them with love and kindness. Thank you for everything you have taught me over the past 15 years. Thank you for loving me no matter what. And thank you for teaching me to use my voice for those who – literally and figuratively – can’t speak. I pray that one day, you’ll speak for yourself. But until that day comes, I promise I will never stop speaking for you.
I love you, Levi. Happy 15th birthday.