I was holding it together — or at least, I was really trying.
I was carrying the sweet girl with the trademark kisses — the one who has been nothing but PURE, UNFILTERED JOY for 30 days in our home — to our final destination at the departures area of the Atlanta airport.
And it was taking everything I had not to break down into hysterics in front of her.
She’d known this day was coming.
Her nannies had reminded her before she left that this was only a 30-day international “camp” experience in America. Her assistant orphanage director had even FaceTimed with her the week before the departure to make sure she remembered she didn’t get to stay at camp forever. She had no expectations of this being a long-term experience, and she had no idea that while she was here, we were fighting for her and telling her story.
She just thought she was one of the lucky 20 selected for a 30-day orphanage field trip to America.
And yet, when she walked through those airport doors, both of us realized just how hard this farewell was going to be.
She clung tighter to my neck and began to sniffle, and I just lost it, then and there.
For an hour, our family got to sit with this sweet girl, snuggle with this sweet girl, play cars one last time with this sweet girl who totally changed our life while the airport coordinator checked in each child and prepared for their international flight home.
And then, we said our last goodbye.
We shared our last kisses.
We held tight to this girl we all adore for one last too-short second.
And then she walked out of our lives as quickly as she walked in.
And five shattered hearts stood watching, wondering how they were going to pick up all the pieces.
Joy, you have literally rearranged our hearts and re-prioritized our lives.
We thought we were bringing you to our home for 30 days to help change YOUR story.
What we discovered is that we didn’t change yours; YOU CHANGED OURS.
You changed our love story. You taught us the meaning of pure, unfiltered, raw and real unconditional love. You taught us how to love with abandon — head-on, full-speed, full-strength — and to fill our lives with such compassion that it can’t help but spill over on every single person we meet.
You changed our boldness story. Taught us how to dance like no one is watching. Taught us how to live out audacious love no matter what others think or what they might say. Taught us how to live ferociously and fearlessly in every moment of every day.
And you changed the story of how we want to live our lives. Not with protected hearts and hands that love only in situations of convenience and comfort; but with hearts wide open, hands outstretched, ready and willing to be the encouraging touch of Jesus at any given time.
Running to the broken.
Sprinting to the wounded hearts.
Caring for the ones who are marginalized and forgotten in our world.
You, sweet 7-year-old girl with wisdom beyond your years, YOU taught us that. And this lifetime of lessons we learned from you and your sparkly designer genes — we promise never to forget them.
We promise never to forget you.
We will never stop fighting for you.
We will never stop SHARING about you.
And we will never stop TELLING YOUR STORY.
Not until the day it changes.
Thank you, forever niece, for changing OUR story.