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  • Writer's pictureAli

The Sweetest Sixteen

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

My sweet little sister turns a sweet sixteen today, and my heart can't fathom how we got here. The story of this little {not-so-little} girl's life has had a profound impact on every part of me. Including my one true passion - mental health.

Stay with me and you'll understand why.

Warning: long post {but #worthit}

I wrote the following post on January 12, 2018 when life was a little more complicated than my average complicated. As I reflect on all that's happened in three years, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and hope for what our future holds.


As I sat in Ms. Tolbert's sixth grade class on January 12, 2005, I vividly remember the fury I felt towards my parents. I begged and begged to accompany them to Northside Hospital instead of going to school that day, but they refused. An honest confession: I wanted to be at the hospital no doubt, but when the request was presented to my parents, it wasn't due to my enthusiasm for what was to come. It was due to my lack of motivation to sit in class.

I wouldn't arrive to the hospital until later that evening. As I actively reminisce, I can sense every single memory. My stomach was filled up with butterflies and jealousy as I realized how much my life had been changed. I was pouring with nervous excitement, but I would never let my parents know that I was actually excited.

I remember when my mother was about 8 months pregnant, she would say, "she's going to look up to you, Ali. She's going to be just like you. She's going to get into your stuff, and steal your junk, and make a mess in your room just because she can. But she's going to love you so much. At the time, I resented these words, because it only solidified that there would be this little girl re-enacting the toddler's version of MTV's Room Raiders. I was not down for that.

After arriving to the hospital, I glanced at my exhausted parents not sure of what to do next. I sat next to my dad in one of the worn out hospital chairs, and I was asked if I wanted to hold her. As I held this tiny 6lb. 5 oz. baby girl in my arms that night, I remember hearing those words that my mother said to me just a month prior, and the only thing that mattered to me in that moment was realizing just how much I had fallen in love with such a tiny human being. She was gorgeous. She was perfect. She was flawless, and so absolutely wonderful.

As she grew a few months older, the feelings of jealously still lingered, and I battled not being the baby of the family anymore. But months turned into years, and things certainly changed. When her first birthday rolled around, I no longer felt like I was competing for the spotlight. When she turned two, I was thankful that I wasn't in the spotlight, as I was pulling my own teenage shenanigans. The months following her third birthday life began to take a more drastic turn. I had to balance my emotions as I dealt with the divorce of my parents, while trying to stay strong for this little girl who was helpless, but incredibly loved.

There are circumstances that have happened and stories that I could elaborate on during those times, but I'll keep them safely hidden. I don't speak of those stories to many people, except those closest to me. But know that they were, and still are, agonizing and brutally painful, and they play a key role in this little girl's story.

I remember stepping up and stepping in as the woman who would care for her. I bathed her, put bows in her hair before school. I taught her how to write her name, and we had a long battle with potty training. I took her shopping, and to play at the McDonald's playground on Highway 61 every chance I could get. This little girl was growing up fast, and somehow I couldn't get the clock to stop ticking.

As I look back now on her 13th birthday, those memories are still so alive in my heart, but I am saddened that the ability to make new memories with her has been put on hold. For now. One day, there will be reconciliation, and on the day that we reunite, my arms will be wide open filled with nothing but unconditional love for her, and thankfulness for the bond that we share can never be severed.

Happy birthday, Aubrey Payton. I love you so very much. I hope that your day is filled with happiness and memories that you will forever cherish. I hope you know just how precious you are to me. And there will come a day when I'll tell you over and over just how much I love you.

For the long, emotional journey ahead, I'll hold onto the memories and the pictures, and I'll never give up hope that life will one day look a little different.

"I will restore the years that the locust has eaten."

This is my hope. This is the rock I stand on. And there is grace in the midst of my weakness.


Before a few months ago, I hadn't seen or heard from my sister on a regular basis since her tenth birthday. Nearly six years of waiting and wondering how she was or what she was doing weighed heavy on my heart. I prayed relentless prayers hoping for God to grant me a magic wish to make everything right in my world.

You've been there too, right? Don't tell me I'm alone in this.

Seemingly, answers were silent. Reunification seemed dismal and out of reach. My heart kept breaking over and over with thoughts about how God seemed to hate me, because what I was asking for wasn't unholy or unworthy of a positive outcome. So why was He withholding something good from my life when He is a God of goodness?

He was working even when I couldn't see it.

Before I knew it, Aubrey wasn't thirteen anymore. She was growing older and wiser, able to make her own decisions and create her own social media accounts. And this my friends, is where I am SO THANKFUL for social media! She added me on IG and Facebook, where sporadically, she'd go silent. My assumption was that our dad found out that she was talking to me without him knowing (another story for another time). But I didn't care how often or when or where, I'd pick up those quick video chats just to sneak a peek at her smile - even at work, where if you read my last blog post, Alleyways & The Ali Way, you know I mentioned being overwhelmed and stressed. I didn't have time to breathe, let alone talk for long periods of time, but for her, I'd never miss a call. I cherished every millisecond I shared with her through an iPhone screen, because that's all I could tangibly grasp.

But then, last Friday, I got a message from Aubrey saying that she asked our stepmom if she could call me. I wasn't expecting to hear that, because she mentioned before how she was scared to ask out of hearing 'no' and feeling disappointed. But the answer was yes! We spent over an hour on video chat talking about school and my new job, what she got for Christmas and her never-ending obsession with Five Nights at Freddy's. She was excited for her birthday coming up and to be the super cool age of sixteen.

Right before the end of the call, Aubrey said that she had to go. I was bracing my heart for the possibility that I might not hear from her in a while, when all of a sudden, I hear someone in the background,

"tell her you'll call her later.'

Oh. My. Heart. Be. Still. Before. It. Explodes.

Things are still completely different from what I expected life would look like, but I've learned to appreciate time with her in a way that I didn't know was possible. I don't take any part of her for granted. Only hard and difficult circumstances in life teach us patience and perseverance. They teach us steadfastness and deep, wide, true love.

Aubrey, you are worthy of a beautiful, amazing life. Even if it doesn't turn out like you expect, and it won't {#sorrynotsorry to be the bearer of good news}. There is beauty to be found around every corner if you choose to see it. Your life itself is a gift I cherish every single day that never fades or loses value over time.

And hey, birthday gifts are great and all, but the greatest gift of all is you.

I love you. Happy birthday!

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