Her pink dress flowed with the wind as she skipped up the sidewalk. Reaching the gate, she didn’t notice the barbed wire stretched in double around the compound. The smile on her face was contagious as she awaited the gravelly sound of the latch breaking free so she could walk into the enclosure.
Twinkling eyes met mine as she walked to the back of the line. Grabbing the hand of her loved one, she chatted happily about the day to come. With a serious look on her face, she looked at me and stated, “I have to wait my turn.”
The sweet southern lilt served as a healing balm over the frustration the adults felt during their wait. You could feel the temperature lower ten degrees in her presence.
She didn’t notice the gun on the officer’s belt. She only continued chatting to the officer as she exclaimed the reason for her visit, “I’m gonna see my daddy!” The stern face of the officer was replaced with a smile from ear to ear as she responded, “Really now? I’ll bet your happy.” “Oh yes ma’am, it’s been a couple days since I seen him.”
“He’s in time out,” she looked at me with another serious look. “His name is Alex.”
I leaned down and looked directly into her eyes, “My son’s in time out too. His name is Lee.”
She looked down and shook her head once in understanding.
“I love your barrettes. Look they match mine,” I pointed to the barrette in my own hair. She pointed to mine and said, “Ooh, I have one just like that.”
As we waited our turn, the young girl continued to share about the long car ride and the snacks they shared on the way. Walking through the metal detector, she didn't notice the nervousness of those around who wanted to make sure their pockets and socks were clean.
I watched as she skipped to each gate and awaited the familiar latch release. “Come on, Meemaw, he’s waiting!”
As she walked into the big room, she smiled at the young man waiting patiently for his family to arrive. She didn’t notice the look of shame in his eyes over the crime he had committed. She only saw a sad young man who needed cheering up.
She waved at the man with the tattoos, saying "Hi" as she skipped by. It was a gift to watch the smile brighten his eyes as he said hello in return.
She recognized the older man praying over his wife. Responding with a solemn “Amen,” she walked slowly by as he kissed his wife on the forehead.
She didn’t see the pain on the faces of those who had to say goodbye to their loved ones, only the joy on those who had the opportunity to hug for even a few short hours.
Then she saw him. As she ran up to her daddy and jumped into his arms, he hugged her tight. “Oh daddy, don’t cry,” she said as she wiped the tear away. “Crocodile tears of joy,” he replied as he kissed her.
She didn’t see the guards keeping order, nor did she see their strained looks as they walked through the rows. Her eyes were only for her daddy.
As I visited with my own son, my heart was encouraged by the joy in this one little girl. Often in life we miss the little things as we focus on the challenges we face. But this little girl, whom I may never meet again, reminded me that I always have the option to choose joy.
Her last words to me were, “He will be home in a few days.”
I’m not sure if she was referring to Alex or Lee; however, I just knew in my heart that the Lord had given a word to this little angel for me. “Choose Joy, my daughter, he will be home soon.”
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.