In 2014 the Orton family purchased a sailboat they had never seen before, flew to the Caribbean, and began living on the 38-foot catamaran for an adventure that would change their entire family. Christening the boat the Fezywig, the family sailed from Sint Maarten to Manhattan on a journey designed to draw them closer as a family, teach their four daughters and one son to "have even greater confidence in their own abilities to navigate life," and provide their children "a greater appreciation for the earth and the people on it," Emily and Erik Orton said.
That one year began a series of life-changing adventures that have deepened their faith and understanding of what Christlike living looks like in our modern life. One such experience came in May 2018 when the Ortons attended a Lei Day celebration put on by La'ie Elementary School at the Church's Polynesian Cultural Center. It was there the Ortons witnessed a new depth of kindness and family.
The celebration included 700 students honoring the eight Hawaiian Islands through dance, with an event king and queen ruling over the festivities. During the celebration, the Ortons' youngest daughter, Lily, who has Down syndrome, became enthralled by the performers.
On their family blog, Emily explains, "Lily noticed the performers were all barefooted on the grass stage. She slipped her shoes off and asked if she could go on stage too. Points for taking her shoes off but—No. I explained these kids had been practicing for months to perform for their families. Maybe after the show we could ask about going onstage. Big tears formed in her eyes and she buried her face in her hands."
Later in the performance, when Emily slipped out to use the restroom, Lily followed close behind, so Erik thought she was accompanying Emily, while Emily thought all their children were staying with Erik.
Just as the 5th graders were preparing to perform, the Ortons watched as their daughter walked barefoot across the stage straight up to the royal court performers. Before the king and queen, Lily curtsied, saying, "Your Majesties." A fellow attendee captured the event and the sixth-grade king's gracious and incredible response to this unscripted interruption.
"I’m certain most eyes were on the unexpected drama in the court," Emily writes. "Then the king (one of his names is literally Kingsley) stood and offered up his throne to Lily. The audience cheered." After making it to the stage, Erik motioned for Lily to leave her throne, but she refused to join him, so he approached his daughter and escorted her off stage, treating her like royalty.
"Erik offered his arm to Lily just as the king had escorted the queen earlier in the program," Emily writes. "King Manulele’s actions impressed me so much. He was seated onstage in his moment of glory reigning over the festivities when an unexpected dilemma faced him in the form of a little girl—my little girl. With no adults to consult he took the responsibility that accompanied the honor of his position. He chose to extend a kindness far beyond what the little interloper deserved. . . . He reminded me that we never regret being kind."
But the king's kindness didn't stop with the performance. Afterward, he presented Lily with a lei and his family, the Ah-You family, quickly connected with the Orton family, later inviting them to a Mother's Day feast, accepting Lily wholeheartedly, and adopting the Orton's into their family.
It was there the Ortons learned King Manulele didn't realize the audience was clapping for him when he gave up his throne during the celebration. He just wanted to help Lily have fun and feel comfortable.
"Having met so much of the Ah-You family, I was beginning to understand how this impressive young man came to be so unconsciously thoughtful," Emily writes. During their visit, the Ortons were surprised when one of the uncles dressed up like Maui to make Lily smile. Before leaving Hawaii, the Ortons often saw the Ah-Yous, who treated them like and called them family.
"Ohana means family—blood, adopted, or intentional. And family means so many different things," Emily writes. "Family looks so many different ways. Every family has its own unique culture. Not every family is going to dance and sing or bake. Not every family gathers weekly. But I think everyone wants to be part of a family that cares, supports, praises, and tries to fix things when they mess up. I think everyone wants to be known and appreciated by their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We crave that connection so much that when we don’t find that at home, we tend to create it elsewhere. Being with the Ah-You family helped me realize that ohana transcends differences and distances. Their example inspired me to want to be a better daughter, a better sister, and a better auntie."
Read the full story at fezywig.com