This was written and shared by my husband at tonight’s memorial service for our daughter Elli. As always, he wrote and spoke beautifully. Elli was so blessed to have such a man for her earthly father.

I miss you, Elli. The sound of your voice is still fresh in the house. I can almost still hear them. My head has whipped around more than once since Sunday when I thought I heard you. My grief runs deep. My big girl is gone to be with Jesus.

I’m writing this in the living room next to your empty wheelchair, with your name embroidered in purple (your favorite color) on the back rest and your pink flower backpack still draped over the handles.

Your chair is so sadly empty, yet so gloriously empty at the same time. The Apostle Paul said, I am “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” There’s no better way to express how I am feeling right now.

Next to sending His Son to die on the cross, choosing me to be your daddy was one of the most precious gifts God could have ever given me. I was 26 when I became your daddy, and my life would forever be changed.

I want to tell these people what this precious gift of being your daddy means to me.

Being your daddy meant understanding that parents are caretakers, not owners. That meant two things: 1) I would not have you forever, and 2) I would one day give an account of how well I took care of you.

Being your daddy meant opening your bedroom door in the morning and seeing your bright cheery smile. You were so much more of a morning person than I am. Your smile made my mornings much easier.

Being your daddy meant just hanging around the house with you, playing your favorite music, reading books, playing in the sprinkler, and taking walks down Willow Lane.

Being your daddy meant basking in your excitement when would we press play on that music CD you had chosen on your Dynavox. Your smile was because you knew the next 30 minutes will be filled with familiar melodies. You loved a familiar song.

Being your daddy meant laboring hard with Mommy and your teachers and therapists to try to understand what you wanted and needed and were feeling inside, because you couldn’t express these things with words. I would like to think that we scratched the surface of understanding these things. But I have a feeling that when I see you in heaven some day, you will be taking me aside to have a word with me and you will say something like, “Daddy. Seriously. I meant this, not this. You were way off!”

Being your daddy meant serenading you as I gave you a shower and cutting loose with songs I would probably never sing in public. You loved cheesy 80s songs by Chicago. You loved Karen Carpenter (wait, I did sing a Karen Carpenter song in public). You loved for daddy to spin you round and round after your shower, still wrapped up in your bath towel. It seemed like the highest point of your day, and I will never forget those belly laughs as we spun round and round with wet hair and the smell of soap in the air.

You couldn’t speak, but oh, you knew how to laugh.

Being your daddy meant seeing so clearly what matters most in life. You rescued daddy from putting too much stock in his career and the empty promises of earthly success to rush home and help mommy take care of you. You kept mommy and daddy loving Jesus and clinging to Jesus for our hope and our strength and our encouragement, more than anything else.

Being your daddy meant brushing your hair and brushing your teeth, dressing you and feeding you, lifting you up and setting you down, pushing you from place to place and experiencing the world with you from just above your head.

Being your daddy meant playing lots of word games with you. One of your favorite things to do was have fun with words, swapping out vowel sounds and adding extra syllables. Changing the lyrics to a song was the one sure way to get your funny bone. You were definitely born into the right house for that. I invented a new word this week in your honor. It’s the word “cryle” – which means crying with a smile. I’ve been doing a lot of that.

Being your daddy meant having a front row seat to watch God do very big things through very small things. You heart was the size of a walnut when they first operated on you at 3 weeks old. For more than 12 hours they worked to reconstruct your heart, and came out of the operating room smiling in disbelief. It was the first of many times you would overcome the odds. They had given you a 20% chance of surviving that day.

The ripple effect of that surgery sent shock waves of repentance and reconciliation through our family, our friends and countless strangers looking on. And the 3 surgeries after that had the same effect.

It is a gross understatement when I say that God did something very big with something very small. He took five loaves and two fishes and fed untold thousands.

Being your daddy was a precious gift that I will cherish forever.

In his biography on the legacy of Jonathan Edwards, John Piper writes these few words spoken by Edwards’ wife after his death, which echo my heart as I reflect on Elli’s life. Piper says:

“Upon hearing the news that Jonathan had died, his wife Sarah wrote in a letter to their daughter Lucy: ‘O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.’ His legacy is that when he left this earth, he left God with his family—and with us.”

Elli, when you left this earth, you left God with us. There we are, and there we love to be.

We will see you soon, princess.