Ella and I have been dear friends since she was 20 months old.
The first moment I met her, I was in love.
She looked like the Gerber baby (I kid you not).
Precious strawberry blonde, dimples, a smile that will melt ice, and so articulate, even then.
She has always loved me.
And I have loved her.
She was - on rough days - my hiding place.
I'd go to the Cash household (loooooong before) just to be with her.
We'd play, giggle, read, snuggle, play chase.
The stresses of ministry, moving from 'home,' and being away from everyone I loved would melt when I was with her.
She called me "My Erin."
The day her mom moved her away, it ripped out a part of my heart.
The first time I saw her room, painted just for her, now empty, I wept silently.
For nearly half a year I missed her.
And then her dad and I began to date.
I saw more of Ella.
We fell in love all over again.
The first night she spent in their new house, Ella was overwhelmed, overtired, and couldn't control her own reactions.
She sobbed and cried for no apparent reason.
Several people tried to console her, to make her giggle, to distract her.
In the midst of the chaos of a new house, I scooped her up off the bed, grabbed her blanket and did what I did when she was small.
We turned the lights down and I just held her.
In minutes she was asleep.
"I can take her to bed," Chris said.
He turned the light off and left us alone in the room, in the dark.
And I wept over her.
Over the year she'd had.
Over the trauma her little heart had known.
Over her future.
I wept tears of joy.
My Ella was Home.
While she slept, I prayed for her.
For her daddy.
For every person who would touch her life.
And I cried.
I have loved lots of children in my life.
But never this fiercely.
She is My Ella.
She took it all in stride when we told her we were dating, and then when we told her we were going to get married. She was excited about being the flower girl, about the flowers and the cake and me moving in. But she never said anything about our relationships. She just took it for what it was.
So the day of my dress fitting, I took her with me. A dear friend did all of the alterations, so we were at her house. She was running and playing with this friend's grandson. I got the dress on and my friend was pinning the hem when Ella burst into the room.
"Erin ....." she stopped dead in her tracks, took a second look, and grinned.
"I love you."
With that she hugged me and was gone again.
The light went on for her that this was real.
Her Erin would always be there.
My Ella will always be mine.
Neither of us would have it any other way.