La Vida Buena

The good life.

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I left my heart in….

So I have been home two weeks now. I came home to futbol fever in the U.S., which has in my opinion, been the best possible way to come home. There are the immediate reliefs: I can drink the tap water, I can brush my teeth, my shower is automatically hot, and wow, the water pressure is insane! Then there are the immediate weird feelings, no one speaks Spanish here, I haven’t had black beans in days, and why do I still want to put my toilet paper in the trash?

It’s funny because I have seen facebook posts and instagram pictures for months of how my friends are doing and what life is like here. I have been excited to come home and finally be able to spend time with them. I have been a little too excited for In-n-Out and homemade chocolate chip cookies. However, I am home and happy….and I miss all the kids. At the end of every day it is weird to think one more day has gone by where I have not been there, where I have not seen them or heard how they were doing. One more day I have gone without hugs from every kid that passes.

I went to the Apple store the other day and the person who helped me saw a picture of me and some of the kids on my laptop’s desktop. She asked about it and I explained. Her response, “Oh, so your heart is there, and you’re here.” I’ve never had a stranger understand it so well. My heart is there.

The thing is, my heart is in many places. My heart is in Casa Shalom, Elk Grove, Azusa, Camp Barnabas, and some places I’ve never even been but my friends are there, so now my heart is too. God has taken me to so many beautiful places and I’ve met so many wonderful people that really no matter where I am, my heart is also going to be in other places.

Unfortunately, I can’t be in 10 places at once but I can be present and loving where I am. My day-to-day life in Guatemala is a constant opportunity to show God’s love. But, so is my life here in Elk Grove. I’ve been reading The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen and I recently read, “The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of your self. “

With my heart in so many places it is easy to be torn and confused. But I know that I am going back to Guatemala and I will see those kids again. For these next few weeks I am home, I need to be present here. I left my heart in Guatemala but there is still plenty of my heart that lives here in the United States too. 

I’m missing these two for sure.

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A Fountain of Blessings (literally)

As I’ve been here, I’ve done my best to count my blessings as often as possible.  When there’s no hot water and I have to take a cold bucket bath, I am thankful for water. Fried egg with green beans is not my favorite meal, but I remind myself to be thankful that I have food. Originally I wouldn’t have though of an ice cold bath as something to be thankful for but I am aware now of the significance of each of these blessings. Everyday I am blessed and there are plenty of things I have to be thankful for.

These past two weeks I was given even more reason to be thankful. For the past five months, I have lived in the baby house in a side room with it’s own bathroom. This bathroom has given me a lot of problems but nothing like last week. Water started leaking out of the wall and so they decided to take apart the tub to find the leak. Over the next couple of days they deconstructed the outer brick of the tub and they took out the tub itself. They also exposed the pipes of the shower.

This is Christian sitting in my tub, in the middle of the room. 

Then, at 5am one morning (the time that the water is turned on) a pipe broke in the shower and started spraying water, with ferocity, into my room. I jumped out of bed and ran to find the leak. However, in my panicked early morning state, my first thought was to try to jump the stream of water to get in. That didn’t work and there was really no way to avoid getting an early morning shower. I ran to get a blanket and my phone and used the blanket to shield the water downwards into the bathroom and the phone to call for help. About ten minutes later the water was finally turned off, I was soaked and my room was left with a new puddle of water. 

Over the next several days, they continued to work on my bathroom but with always the same result, water would leak every night. Finally they decided to rip up the floor and find the leak below. They found a sinkhole. After that they realized that actually, my whole room was sinking and that the floor was falling. I moved out that very day.

In all of this, I had to keep reminding myself that there was still so much to be thankful for. I was having problems with the plumbing but at least I have plumbing, blessing. I had to move all of my stuff out but my friend offered to let me stay with her, blessing. My entire room had to be taken apart (which had even bigger sinkholes underneath) but at Casa Shalom we have incredible maintenance guys to do that, blessing. The fact that all of that craziness happened so that we could find the sinkhole before my room caved in while I was sleeping, is a huge blessing.

There are blessings all around and plenty of things to be thankful for here. Sometimes being thankful requires me looking for the ways that I am being blessed, but no matter what, I can find them. 

For example, Yoselin. 

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The Power of Words

It is amazing what words can mean to someone. We hear this all the time. “The pen is mightier than the sword.”  I have to share the ways in which I’ve seen it recently.

There’s a little girl in the Angelitos house named Zuly. She is 4 years old and has some speech and special needs. She is super fun and I get to have a class with her once a week. Recently, I read a sponsor’s letter to her and at the end it said, “I want you to know that you are a very special girl.” “Why?!” she half-screamed (she kind of has one volume – loud).  For a second, I didn’t know what to say. “You’re special because God made you that way.”  It was the only thing I could think of to tell her but her question surprised me. So many of these kids do not understand their value and how truly loved they are.  

Chepe is a boy I wrote about on here before. He was one of my student’s the last time I was here and he is a rambunctious 12-year-old boy. I love him. And recently I told him so. “I love you,” I said. “What, no? No, no.” So, I started to tell him as often as I could. It took several times before he finally accepted it. Those words weren’t acceptable to him. He couldn’t process that I would love him. But, those words are important to him. I can see it plainly on his face when I tell him.

It can be hard to love consistently and to constantly break down the walls that these kids put up and then take down, day in and out. What is hardest, is that they don’t feel loved. It breaks my heart but I am also so blessed to be able to tell Chepe and Zuly and so many others daily that they are loved, to be able to tell these kids that they are special and that they are important. Because, those words can be powerful.

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Caps for Sale

 There was a book I read again, and again, and again as a nanny this past summer. Caps for Sale. It’s a great book, especially the 20th time.

I thought of this book the other day when I was thinking about all of the different hats I can wear here on a daily basis: teacher, secretary, event organizer, intern, translator, Mom, friend, big sister, confidant and sometimes jungle gym. My job can switch so quickly. Secretary to friend. Teacher to translator. Jungle gym to Mom. It can be exhausting some days to keep track. We run around doing all different kinds of jobs and by the end of the day I wouldn’t even be able to tell you that I got anything for my actual job done (those are probably the best days). Regardless of what my day looks like, my favorite job here is friend. I get to be a friend/big sister to over 100 kids every day. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like it and I wouldn’t sell that cap for anything. 

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The days here have their ups and downs.  Living with 85 kids is a lot of fun but it can be difficult at times. Also, I love Guatemala, but boy are some things frustrating here. It’s every day life. Nothing is perfect.

Still, every meal here I have the chance to sit down with these kids, hear about their days, exchange stories, and talk abut nothing. At any time I could walk around and find kids playing basketball, marbles, or soccer. Some are climbing trees, listening to music or playing with cars. In my house the toddlers are running around like crazy, squealing as they go. It is pure joy to watch these things happen and to be a part of them as they do.

Some of these kids have experienced things I can’t even begin to understand or imagine. Some of them have lost parents or have been disappointed by them in countless ways. There is sadness and there is pain but there is also great JOY.image


 This picture was an accident. Yovani was using the camera on Jenny’s phone to look at the food he had on his face. Captured: joy.

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My Guatemalan Family

I have the weirdest assortment of a family here. First, my Dad. Meet Victor.


He’s 11 years old and the one thing that makes him my Dad is that he has the same name as my real Dad in the United States. At first, he just laughed and laughed whenever I called him Dad, but now he’s made it his own. He talks to me about keeping my room clean. He’s told me he will punish me if I’m not on my best behavior and he’s told the other Americans to let him know if I act out. Recently while doing his chores he told me he was making money so that I would be able to eat. He’s already got the Dad jokes down.

Next, my brother. Miguel.

Miguel is the boy my parents sponsor and therefore my little brother. It’s really the best. I can always count on him to run over and give me a hug. We talked once about the importance of brothers. He told me that I needed a brother because they help you and that he was going to do that for me. Oh, my heart.

It’s kind of a weird mix to have a dad and a brother of the same age but I think it works. I love being able to see these two on a daily basis. They bring my so much joy and it’s nice to know I have family nearby. :)

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So I’ve been here a month. The one word that comes to mind when I think back on this month, “perspective.” In the weeks building up to my trip, I was nervous. Oh, how I was nervous. And now, looking back, I can’t imagine why. Of course, those first few nights alone in my room with the rats in the rafters were a tad unnerving, but I LOVE it here.

When I left last year, my grandma posed this question, “Did you leave a piece of your heart there?” I knew my answer right away. “Yes.” It was so hard for me to return home, to leave all the wonderful people I met here and to leave this country.

But then, the longer I was away, the less I felt that piece missing, the more I loved my comfortable life in the states, and as it got closer, the more nervous I was to return to a life that I knew wasn’t easy.

A month into my time here I can truly say, I found that missing piece. My heart is so full. I am completely happy to be here. My perspective has changed and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Even more, the kids have taught me something, yet again. One of my first days here one of the other Americans and I were talking about how hungry we were for dinner. Then she said, “But you know, I always feel bad saying that. One day I told one of the kids that I was really hungry and they said ‘Have you never gone a day without food?’”

Woah. That put my life into perspective. I have never gone a day without food. I repeat that in my head when my shower is too cold, when I’m hungry or when I’m freezing in our heater-less office. Most of these kids have experienced more hardships in their short lives than I have in my 23 years. I can endure these small things because I love these children and I love this place. Perspective. 

Yeah, they’re adorable. 

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At the Airport

So, it’s about 4:07 am my time and I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for my next flight. Currently, I am experiencing the nervous excitement I can only describe as the feeling of starting a new year in school. A feeling filled with the possibility of new friends and new lessons.

In April, when I returned from Guatemala, I felt like I had missed something. I didn’t feel like my time there was done and I didn’t think I could ignore that feeling. After a lot of prayer, I decided to return to Casa Shalom and stay for a longer amount of time. Since then, like the first time, everything has fallen into place. I got a wonderful job that lasted the exact amount of time that I was home in Sacramento. The time limit on my stay fit perfectly with the future summer’s weddings. I was home to watch most of the Niner’s season (may it continue, #questforsix). And most importantly, I received the utmost support from my friends and family.

My departure date has felt so far off for so long that now that it’s here, I feel like it snuck up on me. There were a couple of weeks in the last month where I felt like I would never be prepared. My mind constantly raced with all of the things I needed to do, people I needed to see, and things I needed to get at Target. And then, I realized I wouldn’t ever be prepared. There is no way for me to ever be prepared for this new adventure and that’s almost the best part. I don’t get to know what happens next, only God does, but I get to trust in Him and his faithfulness. It’s pretty exciting, even if it’s a nervous excitement.

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Casa Shalom

Shalom: “It’s about the whole of our lives becoming woven through with the sacred spirit of God, through friendship and confession, through rest and motion, through marriage and silence. “ That’s a quote from the chapter entitled Shalom in the Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist.

I love that. It’s my last few days at Casa Shalom and thinking back on my experience this chapter really has stuck with me. We are living everyday lives here, the same schedule day in and day out. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together.  Being here isn’t some incredible special experience where magical things are happening all the time. It is the day to day struggle to put God and others above ourselves. But there is a peace in that that I think I understand better now. I feel peace because I know that God is here. I know he is working through the people who care for these kids, through the ways he is providing and through the smiles and laughter of these beautiful children.

This is a house of peace. The final part of the chapter says,

“[Shalom] happens when we do the hardest work, the most secret struggle, the most demanding truth telling. In those moments of ferocity and fight, peace is born. Shalom arrives and everything is new. And when you’ve tasted it, smelled it, fought for it, labored in into life, you’ll give your soul to get a little more, and it is always worth it. “

This has totally been worth it. And I am really going to miss it.

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My Kid

I’ve written about this a little before but I just have to write about this again. Here at Casa Shalom there is a sponsorship program where sponsors pay 30$ a month and are paired with a child who lives here. They can write each other letters, send gifts to the children and basically keep up a pretty great pen pal relationship all through this program. A good chunk of my afternoons here I have spent translating letters for the sponsorship program and I’ve loved it (both because it helps my Spanish and because it is so great to see the relationships some of these sponsors have with their kids).

I decided a couple weeks ago that I wanted to join this program and I knew who I really wanted to sponsor: Juan Carlos. I had spent a lot of time playing horse with him out on the court and he’s AWESOME. Juan Carlos is 13 and loves sports. He is always playing with the dogs or running around doing something else and he has a very infectious laugh. He and his brothers and sister were found at the Guatemala City dump where they were doing their best to survive. His oldest brother is no longer here but his other brother Marlon is just one year older and they are super close. You would think that having been in tough situations would bring siblings together here, but that isn’t necessarily the case. You might never even see them talk to each other. Marlon and Juan Carlos are not that way at all. Marlon is old enough to go to the youth group and I recently found out from Juan Carlos that he brings him back some of the snack ever single Friday. Brotherly love, it’s great.

When I first told Juan Carlos that I wanted to be his sponsor, I took Jenny (who’s in charge of the sponsorship program) with me. She tried to give him all these clues about who his new sponsor was but he had no idea and she finally told him it was me. He gave me a huge hug and was so thankful. Two days later he came to me with a painting he had done of a sunset behind the mountains. It’s beautiful. Since then I’ve become a little protective of him. I’m not a fan of him climbing trees or the rooftops but when we played frisbee he did this more than once. He’s my kid and I think he’s pretty great.

Last week I told him I wanted to take him out to lunch and he had two options. He could either decide to go into Guatemala City, go to a nice lunch and to the movies with just me him and Jenny, or we could go to the local town San Lucas to get lunch with his brother and sister. Of course, he chose to do lunch with his brother and sister. And of course being a sucker for that stuff, I took them to the city for lunch and a movie anyways.  We ate in the food court and then went to see The Croods. They laughed through the whole movie and I was so happy they were all there together.  Then we went to get Dairy Queen Blizzards (partially because the nutella brownie blizzard is the best things I’ve tasted here). It was a great day.image

From left: Juan Carlos, Vivi, Marlon

I was so blessed by the chance to take all of them out together and to share in that time with them. Before I came I was really concerned about coming here and not actually doing anything that would be long lasting. I know that my joining this sponsorship program is probably going to be the best thing I have done here. It is a chance for me to continue to support this orphanage and to continue to pour into one of its children whether I have the chance to come back down here or not. I will be able to hear about how and what he is doing and 5 years from now when Juan Carlos is getting ready to graduate from high school I will get to hear about it. I’m pretty excited about that.