As a sit here on the eve of a new year, I am sure to be no different than most everyone reading this blog. We all contemplate the year behind us as we think of the possibilities of the year ahead. Every year I do this, and every year my mind focuses more on the new year than the old. However, this year is different.
I am struggling to let go of 2016. I mean, it was the worst year I could have ever imagined and yet, I find myself trying to hold on. There are mixed emotions, the first of which is that it will forever be the year that I last held Ella, heard her laugh, felt her hug. While this is the reality we will forever live with, I also must recognize the fact that 2016 taught us a lot about life, love, and legacy.
In 2016, the goodness of people was on display like we've never seen before. We have literally received thousands of messages, cards, and acts of kindness from people we have never even met. An entire town covered itself in green to honor a 10 year old girl with a procession reserved for royalty. Ella's elementary school honored her with a green-heart balloon release, an amazing gift to our family, and they have continued to do things in her name. In January, they are starting an "Acts of Kindness" program in which students will write acts of kindness that they recognize at the school on green hearts that will be displayed around the school with #Ella on them. Others have orchestrated toy drives in Ella's name for children in the hospital. Still many others have donated financially to the Ella Kate Memorial Fund, the Children's Hospital of Georgia, and to our Ella's Lunchboxes Drive to provide an insulated lunchbox full of crayons, books, a Bible, and several other things to bring a smile to the face of a child who is fighting for their health at the Children's Hospital of Georgia. These bags will actually say "Ella's Gift" on each of them and will have a picture of her and a card telling a little of her story. Wrist bands were bought to give away as a way to remember Ella. A home was decorated for Christmas to raise funds to purchase toys for children in the hospital in Ella's name (and Evan!). Our church, First Baptist North Augusta, has been amazing to us. I can't even begin to list all the ways they have loved us and honored Ella at every turn. We probably aren't even aware of all of the things that have been done for our family and others to honor Ella. However, there is one more that we recently became aware of and we want to share it with you.
We recently received a call from the Pastor of a local church in Augusta, GA. He offered his condolences and invited me and Jody to come to his office for a brief meeting later in the week. All he told us was that the church wanted to do something in Ella's name. When we arrived, he introduced us to a gentleman who is leading a mission team to South Africa. They shared with us that this team will be doing some construction work, but that they are also delivering bags to 450 children that will have a Bible in their language in each one. They are doing this in partnership with a lady who began this ministry to children on her own property in South Africa. Each bag is green, and the front of each bag will say "Ella's Gift". Her name will literally be carried into parts of the world we ourselves can't go. We are blown away by the expression of love this congregation is showing us and are grateful to be allowed to be a part of this mission trip through prayer. We wanted to contribute in some way, so we have purchased wristbands that say "ForElla.org" and "John 3:16" on the other. After all, we only want Ella's name to be known in it's association with her Savior. Our hopes are that people in Africa will hear of Ella, her story, and will visit this website to hear more about Ella and her amazing God! Oh, and the lady who began the ministry to children in Africa....her name is Ella. ;)
As 2016 is on the way out, we will let it go, but we will not forget. I posted on my Facebook page that it will not define us. Instead, we choose to live with a boldness that will carry Ella's voice into the new year and beyond, glorifying her God and loving others in ways that Ella loved; unashamed and with a purpose. Ella asked me one time why people are so mean to each other. We have several plans already taking shape to impact lives and make this world a better place just like she wanted it to be. Stay close in 2017 to hear how you can share Ella's Gift of love with others.