Dear Venti

This week you celebrated your 14th birthday.


When did you start growing up so quickly, my Dear Sweet Sister?

I remember the year you turned seven.  The year I first learned your name and saw your face.  And I remember that photo of your almost-seven-year-old self--pink frilly dress not quite reaching your knees, black-as-night hair tucked behind a headband full of red, and a sparkle in your eyes defying the very poverty you had been born into.

I was smitten the moment I saw your face.

But I had no idea how deeply you would enter my heart, how hard and how fast I would fall in love with you in the months and years to follow.

You started writing your own letters to me before you even turned nine, calling me "Sister" and melting my heart with your sweet, joyful spirit.  I kept every letter, every photograph, every scrap of paper that passed from your hands to mine, trying to hold you close across oceans and continents.

You told me you liked to dance and play drums, to swim and play games with your friends, to visit your relatives and go on field trips with the Compassion Project.  You asked about my family, my work, my cat, my life here in a world so far from yours.  Our letters took months to reach each other, but still we kept at it, trying to bridge gaps of time and distance and culture just to whisper love into each others lives.

Then came the year you turned 12.  You wrote to me one July day to tell me your dear mom had passed away.  And my heart broke for you, wondered at the injustice of one more loss you had to bear.  I wanted to fly across the world to gather you in my arms and tell you of my love, His love, the hope that would carry us through our grief.  You thanked me for the picture I had sent, told me it had become your courage.  And then you said this:  Let's pray for each other that God will keep on encouraging us, Sister."  Such wise words from a girl so young in years.

A few months ago, I asked what you dreamed of becoming.  I had never asked before, always fearful that the harshness of your life had stolen all your dreams, left you grasping wildly for hope.  But you wrote back and told me you wanted to be a doctor.  I should have known you still had dreams.  I should have known they were big dreams.  I should have known you wanted to change the world.

Some say I have given you a gift.  Some say I have changed your life and breathed hope into your future.  Maybe it's true, but this one thing I know:  It is you who has changed me.  It is you who has given the gift.

You have taught me how to love someone I have never met.  You have shown me what it means to build relationship across time and distance and all the differences that can hang between two people.  And you have humbled and inspired me to live with hope and faith no matter the circumstances.

You've been the little sister I've always wanted.

And I am incredibly grateful for the gift of you.

May the God Who holds us both in His Hands guide and protect you as you grow into the beautiful woman He has called you to be.  May you always feel His presence near and know that you are deeply loved.  In His strength, I know you will change the world.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Sister of Mine.

I love you.

Hugs and Kisses,