With seven children in the house, it was difficult to work. A few members of our crew took turns “entertaining” them, but even then, a few of the girls found their way back inside, clearly intrigued as to what these strangers were doing. I had just finished patching the sheetrock in the back bedroom and was beginning to paint when I noticed a small head poking around the doorframe.
"Can I help?" asked a small girl. She held her hands on her hips and peered up at me with a look of vague curiosity.
"Sure," I laughed. "What's your name?"
"Alicia. I'm six." She answered proudly. I mentally noted that she was more than likely the middle child and therefore the one who was most left out. It made sense that she had escaped the others playing outside. Being the middle child myself, I definitely empathized with her.
“Nice to meet you Alicia,” I smiled at her, “I’m Jackson.” She was quick to return the smile, and I got the feeling that she was taking a liking to me. “Just grab a paintbrush.”
We began painting, in silence at first, but then Alicia began to sing. It seemed she only knew the words to Amazing Grace and the Alphabet song, but that did not deter her as she began to make up songs about painting, the two of us, and everything else that came into her mind. Soon, she grew tired of standing and asked if I would hold her. Not one to say no, I obliged.
There I was, in a surburb of Houston, bouncing a six-year old on my hip that I had known no more than a few hours and who was doing a very good job of getting more paint on the two of us than actually on the wall we were intending to coat. Alicia just smiled at me and I could tell she really enjoyed getting attention, for once. When the time came for us to leave for the day, she waved goodbye somewhat sadly, despite my reassurances that I and the rest of the crew would be returning.
The next day was slated to be our last on the mission, a prospect for which I was both thankful and disheartened. My team worked hard throughout the morning, hoping to push through to the end. True to form, Alicia stayed by my side, determined to help. When we broke for lunch, we surprised the girls with a picnic underneath the large oak tree in their front yard. Alicia insisted on sitting on my lap as we ate and I couldn't help but grin.
The day drew to a close and I felt genuine grief at the prospect of parting from both the girls and my team. The youngsters lined up on the front porch as we prepared to leave, obviously saddened as well by our departure. I gave Alicia a final goodbye hug and stepped away, forlornly. Alicia looked up at me, her young brown eyes swimming with tears. Then, slowly she said, "Bye, Daddy."
I was at a total loss for words. Alicia never had a father. The impact I must have made on her spoke to my heart. I then realized the life lesson concealed in those weeks I spent searching for meaning. Just like a hurricane can have a major impact on my life, I can affect someone else in a great way. This little girl unknowingly taught me that I have the ability to grow, to affect, and to empower. And with this knowledge, the future looks infinite.