For Our Sisters

You teach us and love us, and we love you.

By Carly Phillips

Go to my house and find one of the plastic boxes labeled “pictures.” Pry off the lid and dig through empty film canisters, old rolls of negatives and hundreds of photos. You’ll find me posing in someone else’s sunglasses, with birthday cakes, buried in the sand, in the backyard on the patio with a slice of watermelon as big as my head.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find my favorite ones. The old and precious ones. The ones so etched into my memory I can remember even the miniscule details.

In these, I am with my big sister. She’s tall, gangly and her hair is the color of fire. One arm is usually draped over my shoulder or both of them are wrapped a little too tight around my neck. Sometimes she’s even throwing a peace sign. We are probably wearing matching sequined headbands or Old Navy T-shirts, and if it’s Halloween, we’re both witches.

Her name is Madison, but she goes by Maddie. She was born two years before I was, and with an extra chromosome 21. Maddie has Down syndrome, but that’s not even close to all she has. I picture her heart bright red and plump, free of all the bad stuff. She is the only girl I know that could get a local bar band to sing the song as “Mustang Maddie” instead of “Mustang Sally.” She is one part spicy and one part sweet, the perfect mixture. She was my first best friend and partner in all crimes against our parents. I love her. I love how she only wants to sit in the front seat in the car and requests Whitney Houston during our joy rides. I love how she always wants to invite our entire town to all of her birthday parties and remembers the name of every person she has ever met. I love her spirit and how there is usually a ring on each one of her fingers. I love how she is always the first person to kick off her shoes and dance to the music. I love how her voice rises a few octaves when she’s excited. I love how she can quote any “Friends” or “Will & Grace” episode ever.

Most of all, I love how she loves everyone. As humans, we all have flaws. They are those embarrassing little bits and pieces that make us who we are. The thing about Maddie? She doesn’t see them. Your skin color, gender, regrets, sexual orientation, reputation, size, shape, nationality? Maddie could care less about those, too. If she loves you, she just does. There is nothing else to it.

Isn’t that what we all secretly want? To love and be loved, no matter what. No messy, frayed or complicated strings attached.

Maddie doesn’t have that nagging mental block that could potentially keep her from finding something to enjoy about another person. I envy her simple way and feel lucky my life has been mixed in with hers for all of my 23 years. She is the one that has been teaching me, not the other way around. I owe her most of the credit for the way I see the world.

Let’s try to live like Maddie, and pick fierce and all-consuming love, every single time.

Photos by Fred Lynch


  • Christi Ashley
    Just Beautiful Watching you grow into beautiful young women.
  • Gloria Houston
    This is the most beautiful thing I have ever read and speaks such truth. Way to go Maddie for showing us all how to live BIG!
  • Susan
    Beautiful. Well said she is dear to so many. What a grand sister you are too.
  • Camille
    Awww- sweet Maddie. I remember her from when I worked at Lilbourn and she was in PreK. What a tiny little firecracker!!
  • Gena
    Absolutely beautiful!!!
  • If I could love this a million times over I would!!! Great job Carly!!! I believe Maddie has touched the hearts of every single person she has ever came into contact with!! She definitely did mine!!! ❤❤❤
  • Pat Mccracken
    Such a beautiful, Carly, and such a beautiful sister you have. I am blessed to be her friend. Love you, Maddie.
  • Lori Brotherton
    We all love Maddie. She is a treasure sent from heaven above. A true inspiration on how to love thy neighbor! Maddie, be blessed always.
  • Sherry Copeland
    Oh Carly....This is the sweetest thing EVER! Everything you said about Maddie is soooo true! You carry those same attributes you mentioned about Maddie. You both make us all better by knowing you!
  • Cindy Amick
    Perfectly said! Maddie loves everyone and everyone loves Maddie. We are so blessed to have her in our life. Your article is outstanding!!!
  • Noell
    Carly that was precious! You described Maddy to the T. She is SO special to us all. You have always been a special loving sister to her. I LOVE all my sweet memories with Maddy at school and especially football games in the ticket booth! LOL you are right she NEVER forgets a name! She is very BLESSED to have you as a perfect younger sister ??? LUV YA sweet girls.
  • Heather Polk
    I love love love this! And I love Maddie—my entire family does!! (And Maddie LOVES Jeff...just ask her!?) Carly, this was a beautiful read! Girl, you have talent! Looking forward to reading more from you in the future!❤️