Saturday, August 8, 2015

When the story unfolds differently, still Esperanza...

We are home... from that land of majestic volcanoes, lush rain-forests and ancient Mayan ruins and from being face-to-face with our Compassion daughter, Esperanza

These beautiful horses took us to the peak of Pacaya Volcano.
When your desire is to see, to know, to touch, to understand — with an openness of mind and heart — that is a pilgrimage. And like all pilgrimages, you cannot remain the same at the end of such a journey. Pilgrimages lead you to reflect on your own identity and purpose.
A pilgrimage leads to changed and restored relationships. It’s a result of not visiting the poor, but visiting with the poor.
Visiting with the poor becomes another expression of the love of God and of community. And this idea is deeply ingrained in God’s desire and gift for wholeness.
It’s a mutual embrace of life as it can be.
Friends, it truly was "a mutual embrace of life as it can be" --- beautifully sacred, like being on holy ground.

Ten days before our departure date, I wrote these words...
We are beyond excited to hop on that plane. I have a feeling that Guatemala will take a hold of our hearts in a very special way. 
We will meet our Esperanza and we will witness esperanza... hope.
I am excited, actually beyond excited. Yet, to be honest... I am, at the same time, scared of the many unknowns and of how our hearts will be broken afresh.
But I am keeping my eyes on Jesus because He is our blessed esperanza and because broken is the most blessed you can be... and I am looking forward to that wild joy that will follow this yes!
Little did I know just how true those words would ring in the coming days. A few days later, just one week before our departure date, I got word from Compassion Canada about some news they received from Compassion Guatemala.

Our Esperanza, at age 17, is with child, was recently married, and will be leaving the Compassion program effectively immediately. This visit will be our final goodbye.

This is not how I imagined the story to unfold.

Aren't we supposed to still have a-year-and-a-bit before Esperanza turns 18 and graduates from the Compassion program to continue our sponsorship of her? Isn't this visit supposed to be the start of cultivating an even deeper relationship with our Esperanza before she launches into adulthood?

Everything about this story's unexpected unfolding just seems to be wrong and unfair.

But I quickly snapped out of my pity-party when God reminded me that... these summer pilgrimages of ours aren't at all about our comfort and our preferences, it is all about our role in God's story of redemption --- His desire and gift for wholeness, for us and for all we come in contact with.

A few days before our departure, God impressed this verse from Isaiah 52:7 on my heart --- “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!”


How fitting as Guatemala is a country of beautiful mountains! Side note: My very sore legs sure were not impressed with me at the end of each day during our trip. ;)

With those words from Isaiah 52:7 in mind, we knew we needed to go with hearts ready "to see, to know, to touch, to understand --- with an openness of mind and heart" --- because that is what a pilgrimage is.

Visit Days, July 30 and 31...
These days couldn't come fast enough. They were smack right in the middle of our 10 days in Guatemala. We left Guatemala City very early in the morning. After 8 hours of driving through winding mountain roads, yes... e-i-g-h-t long hours!, we arrived at GU-996, Palestina Child Development Center, in the mountainous community of Chisec, Alta Verapaz, during the mid-afternoon.

A large group of children lined a pathway towards the church building to welcome us. It was the most awesome welcome I've ever experienced!


This Compassion project serves an indigenous Mayan community whose people speak the Queqchi dialect and whose highest education level is Grade 6. It is run by the local church, Iglesia Bautista Palestina, led by Pastor Javier and Project Director Martin. Pastor Javier's vision for this Compassion project is "to show the way of truth in Jesus, teaching registered boys and girls how to generate income for their families." They have almost 300 registered Compassion kids!


Esperanza, her family and Pastor Javier only speak Queqchi. Project Director Martin speaks both Queqchi and Spanish. Our host from Compassion Guatemala, Ruth, speaks Spanish and English (very good English, in fact!) and we only speak English (plus understand a few basic words in Spanish). All that to say, there was a four-way translation going on which made for a very interesting way to communicate.

We came to the end of the children-lined pathway and there was our Esperanza. Also there was her mother Doña Maria and her husband of one month, Hernan. Hernan is 18, just a year older than her.



Everyone enjoyed a lunch of Pollo Campero and Domino's Pizza which we brought up from the City of Coban for them. Coban is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away so these luxuries are virtually inaccessible for the people in this community especially since the bus fare to go there and back is $10 per person and the average income is $3 a day! We would later learn that Esperanza has only been to Coban three times in her entire life!

We chatted over lunch and as I learned more about their way of life, I realized that when we are willing "to see, to know, to touch, to understand --- with an openness of mind and heart" --- and when we don't overlay our first-world template on everything, we start to see things in a very different light.


Esperanza belongs to an indigenous Mayan community. They still largely live a typical Mayan life --- they are farmers, most are not formally educated, the majority start a family at a very early age. Esperanza's grandmother, in her mid-60s, is already a great-grandmother to a teenage girl!

My first-world mind couldn't fathom how this ancient way of life is still in existence today. But my first-world heart silently longed for the simplicity that this way of life seem to offer. Though I was pleasantly surprised to see that our Esperanza owns a cell phone! :)

These two young women... their worlds couldn't be more opposite from each other.
Yet both are infinitely, equally and uniquely loved by our Heavenly Father.

So... while being married and having a baby at age 17 might be foreign to me as a first-world citizen, it is quite normal to them in this Mayan way of life.

While being married and having a baby at age 17 would seemingly spell disaster for a teenager in this first-world which we call home, Esperanza is merely entering the logical next step of life as is expected of her in this Mayan community which she calls home.

Logical? To Esperanza, yes! 

When you are only fluent in an ancient Mayan dialect that is only understood within your own Mayan community and when you don't know very much Spanish...

When you've earned just a Grade 4 education at age 17, even though it already is much better than those who didn't even get any formal education...

When you know your future is to live and work in this community which you call home...

When all of the above is true, the next logical step for you is to start a family. 

Yes, even at age 17.

And this is where the beauty of Compassion's ministry comes in: Even though Esperanza is now leaving the Compassion program, the church will continue to be there for her as she starts a family. It will be just like she never left the program. Her support network remains intact. The difference truly is Jesus!

After lunch, we had the opportunity to tour the facilities at this Compassion project. The children were in their classrooms being taught Bible truths, learning some Spanish, singing, dancing. The facilities are honestly the poorest I have seen in all of our visits to Compassion projects... but the joy evident on the children's faces and the enthusiasm of the teachers truly exude Jesus!








In fact, this region has the most extreme poverty we've seen in all of our travels. We were told that this region is known as the forgotten region... forgotten by the government, forgotten by humanitarian agencies. Thankfully, not forgotten by Compassion International!  
The Maya Q’eqchi’ in Alta Verapaz suffer some of the worst poverty and health conditions in the country. Nearly 90% of the very poor are indigenous, subsistence farmers living on mountainous terrain. (Source)
Then, we were invited to visit Esperanza's family home. I must say that it also is the poorest of all the homes we've seen of our sponsored children. Yet, the sense of family is so strong. Everyone gathered around when we arrived, several generations of family.

Grandma was boiling corn on the fire to make tortilla with. Father was just home from the farm. Sisters and brothers milled about. Children and babies played together. Like a little community in and of itself!

My boy was thrilled to be able to ride in the back of this pick-up truck on the way to Esperanza's house!








It is Esperanza's hope that she and Hernan can build a house right there in her family's homestead so that he can help farm their land. Her homestead is also more accessible from the main road. Hernan's family lives in an even more remote area where one has to cross a river to get home so it is a less ideal place to raise a family. It is our desire to help Esperanza's hope become a reality --- "a mutual embrace of life as it can be." 

Time flew and it was soon time for us to leave as we still had a two-and-a-half-hour drive back to Coban where we were staying the night.

I will always remember the goodbye hug that I exchanged with Esperanza. She clutched my shirt so tight and wouldn't let go. It truly felt like a last goodbye...

Hubby took this opportunity to counsel Hernan to love and take care of our Esperanza. That exchange made my heart smile.


As we gathered around to pray, as is the custom of this community everyone prayed out loud all at once. It was such a powerful moment, beautifully sacred, brought me to tears, like we were on holy ground --- "a mutual embrace of life as it can be."

As I went to sleep that night at the hotel in Coban, I couldn't help but be deeply grateful that God orchestrated to have us say our final goodbye to Esperanza in person. Not a final letter, but an actual face-to-face, skin-to-skin goodbye.

As our Compassion host, Ruth, so eloquently said, "I firmly believe that Esperanza’s life will not be the same and that there is a higher purpose for you being able to meet her."

So very true. And... I believe that our lives won't be the same either --- "a mutual embrace of life as it can be." As I laid on that hotel bed, utterly exhausted, physically and emotionally, from the day's events, my heart was overwhelmed with joy --- and I smiled, realizing... ah, yes... this is that wild joy that follows our yes to God!
And like all pilgrimages, you cannot remain the same at the end of such a journey. Pilgrimages lead you to reflect on your own identity and purpose.
The next day, we had a couple more hours with Esperanza as we arranged for her, Hernan, Doña Maria and Juan, a Compassion project staff, to come into the City of Coban to join us for breakfast at McDonald's! Can you believe she's never eaten at McDonald's before?!? Perhaps that's a good thing, don't you think?!? ;)

After breakfast we took them to Paiz, a store owned by Walmart, so that we could get Esperanza some groceries. Very soon after, it was time for the actual final goodbye...







Words aren't adequate to describe that final goodbye... it was like a piece of my heart stayed behind there with Esperanza. Imagine leaving your pregnant teenager knowing you won't ever see her again nor will you know what her baby looks like. Yeah, that.

But it was there, as I tearfully and fervently waved goodbye, that I saw esperanza. Yes... I saw hope.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. ~ Lamentations 3:21-23.  
Because we serve a God who is always good and we are all His beloved. He loves Esperanza infinitely more than I ever can. He holds her in the palm of His hand... and she knows that, largely because of Compassion's ministry in her life through the local church since she was just a little girl.

As she walked towards the store's exit, I watched her go. She turned around to wave as often as she could. As she disappeared around the corner, she waved one last time and tears started to fall from my eyes and my heart was simultaneously overwhelmed with deep gratitude... 

Because, the difference truly is Jesus! 

At the Compassion Guatemala office.

With our Compassion host, Ruth.
She served with the love of Jesus, going beyond what her "job" entailed and did it with such obvious joy!

With Compassion Guatemala's Country Director, Jose Carlos Prem.

Friends, will you sponsor a child with Compassion today? 
~ Canadian friends, please click here.
~ All others, please click here.

:: :: ::

Five days later, as our plane descended into Toronto, I uttered this prayer of my heart...


Until next time, Guatemala! God has used this beautiful country and its people to impact our family in a very profound way. I think we're going to soon be looking for another Guatemalan girl to sponsor, a Compassion sister for our Esperanza!


Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Road to our Esperanza...

In just a little while our family will be setting foot on a land of majestic volcanoes, lush rainforests and ancient Mayan ruins. And... we are most excited to soon be face-to-face with our Compassion daughter, Esperanza

Esperanza whom we didn't choose. Esperanza, whose name means hope, whom God chose for us

Yes, we are headed to Guatemala!

Guatemala... where we thought we would go last summer until God changed all our summer plans and sent us back to the Philippines instead, where our hearts woke up and broke afresh for those things that break God's.

Guatemala... the first destination we are headed to, as a family, where we know no one and where we do not speak the language. 

Ah, yes... that oh-so-familiar outside-our-comfort-zone place where God somehow seems to always call for our obedience, our yes!


Since our family started answering God with this wild nod of a yes over these past few years, it is changing everything. Among other things, it has changed the way we spend our vacation time... that's for sure! 

As Jennie Allen so eloquently wrote in this must-read guest post on Ann Voskamp's blog today, "... something is happening — not a feeling or love of adventure or desire for glory but something within us that is from God, a call to more: to die — to live. My heart is bleeding and I can’t make it stop. So we are praying and willing and dreaming of living for heaven instead of the American dream, and it is changing everything. And I am strangely okay with that."

Yes, I am indeed strangely okay... strangely okay.

Our family vacations have turned into a pilgrimage of sorts over the years. I wouldn't have chosen to use that word myself — pilgrimage nor did I know how to adequately describe our transformation, until I read this blog post on Compassion International's blog recently.

It was only after reading that blog post did I realize that God has been transforming the way we spend our vacation time in order to disciple us and grow us into the people He created us to be.
When your desire is to see, to know, to touch, to understand — with an openness of mind and heart — that is a pilgrimage. And like all pilgrimages, you cannot remain the same at the end of such a journey. Pilgrimages lead you to reflect on your own identity and purpose.
A pilgrimage leads to changed and restored relationships. It’s a result of not visiting the poor, but visiting with the poor.
Visiting with the poor becomes another expression of the love of God and of community. And this idea is deeply ingrained in God’s desire and gift for wholeness.
It’s a mutual embrace of life as it can be.





Today, I was at my hairdresser's place for a haircut. As we chatted about life, she shared some of her family's current struggles. She, being originally from the Philippines, knows poverty first hand. She said something to me that I think is oh-so-profound.

She said, "When one has never seen how poor people's daily lives look like, one can quickly become self-absorbed."

Yes, this is so. profoundly. true.

And something clicked in my mind. 

It is why this pilgrimage of sorts has become an important part of our family's summer. It is to keep us in touch with the poor, so that we can mutually embrace each other's life.

Mind you, we don't head to an international destination every summer. Some summers we've spent right here at home or near home, yet they have been pilgrimages just the same — sandwich runs for the homeless, painting homes in government housing communities, delivering snacks to inner-city summer camps, spending a few vacation days in an inner-city neighbourhood.

These summer pilgrimages have shown us esperanza, hope. It has shown us "... a mutual embrace of life as it can be." 

It is a truly beautiful, sacred thing.







We are beyond excited to hop on that plane. I have a feeling that Guatemala will take a hold of our hearts in a very special way.

We will meet our Esperanza and we will witness esperanza... hope. 

In addition, we will also be visiting El Oasis Girls' Home, a Kids Alive International ministry.
The Oasis in Guatemala is an amazing ministry that comes alongside girls who have been abandoned or abused. Most were forced into child labour, experienced physical and sexual abuse, and, unfortunately, all too often all three.
At The Oasis, they come to live in a safe environment of family units with Guatemalan house-parents and begin the process of restoring hope. The girls attend school (many for the first time) and have access to therapy to heal emotional scars. Central to their restoration of hope is the knowledge that they are loved, protected, and they are introduced to Jesus who can provide the true healing that they need.
Since my girl started Freedom Creations a couple years ago with the hope of making an impact in the fight against modern-day slavery and oppression, and have since donated over $2,000 to International Justice Mission Canada, we have always had the desire to personally visit such a ministry.

And God has, literally at the very last minute, arranged for us to do just that! Check out this video to learn more about the ministry of El Oasis Girls' Home:


I am excited, actually beyond excited. Yet, to be honest... I am, at the same time, scared of the many unknowns and of how our hearts will be broken afresh.

But I am keeping my eyes on Jesus because He is our blessed esperanza and because broken is the most blessed you can be... and I am looking forward to that wild joy that will follow this yes!

Where will this summer be taking you, friend...? 


Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

As She Walked Across That Stage...

This mama-heart of mine exuded with so much joy I thought it might explode. My first-born child, my baby girl, the one who made me a mama... she walked across that stage and just like that, she's graduated from high-school.

Where exactly has all that time gone to?

Don't blink. Parents of younger children, don't blink... because time waits for no one. It truly flows like a relentless river.

These 18+ years have flown by and this mama is deeply grateful to have had a front row seat to this God-story, to my girl's life where God's grace has been and continues to be powerfully at work in. 

So many beautiful memories... and so many more to look forward to!


I am so incredibly proud to call this amazing young woman my daughter. I am one blessed mama. God's grace truly is astoundingly beautiful. For someone as broken as I am to have been entrusted with this gift of such an extraordinary young lady as a daughter is beyond all I have ever asked for or have even dared to imagine.

He truly gives good gifts. This. astounds. me.


Yesterday she graduated from high-school with an award for her community service work and another one for her love of the French language.

And, edited on July 2, 2015 to add this... that, one week after her graduation ceremony, she got a call from her Principal letting her know that she's graduated as the top student of the Class of 2015, thus is the recipient of this year's Governor General's Academic Medal!!!

This award, along with all the other academic awards, wasn't announced at last week's graduation ceremony due to the unusual school year we had because of the teachers' strike, causing marks submission to be delayed.

All glory be to God alone!



This Fall, she will attend the University of Toronto to pursue an education, and eventually a career, in International Development, entering Canada's top university {and ranked 4th in the world} as a C. David Naylor University Scholar and a President's Scholar of Excellence, to live out her passion to speak out for those who are denied a voice.

These are undoubtedly incredible achievements and I am super proud of her! Trust me... just check out my innumerable #proudmama posts on social media. ;)





Yet, what truly makes this girl stand out is her God-given big heart for compassion and justice and that beautiful contagious smile which lights up an entire room when she enters.

This is a girl who, since the day she could walk and talk, always had the desire to help others. "Mama, me help?" was a regular request of hers.

This is a girl who, at just 12 years of age, listened to God's prompting and ended up propelling our family into a lifestyle of compassion and justice.

This is a girl who, at age 16, was recognized by her peers as someone who embodies living out peace in her everyday life.

This is a girl who, at age 17, agreed to collaborate with Compassion Canada to produce True Story: What God wants us to do about povertyin order to reach her peers across this vast country of ours and across the globe with the message of God's story of redemption.




Best of all, this girl... my daughter, has changed the way I look at the world. 
In my daughter's eyes I am a hero. I am strong and wise and I know no fear. But the truth is plain to see, she was sent to rescue me. I see who I want to be in my daughter's eyes.
In my daughter's eyes everyone is equal. Darkness turns to light and the world is at peace. This miracle God gave to me, gives me strength when I am weak. I find reason to believe in my daughter's eyes.
~ Martina McBride.


My story changed when this girl entered my life... and I have not looked back and I have been blessed beyond measure because of it. God has used motherhood to disciple me in ways that I will always and forever be grateful for.
Christian discipleship is a decision to walk in his ways, steadily and firmly, and then finding that the way integrates all our interests, passions, and gifts, our human needs and eternal aspirations. It is the way of life we were created for. ~ Eugene H. Peterson.
You don't realize your story is changing you until you look back. ~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.
I am feeling all sorts of emotions as I realize that the time has come for this story's next chapter to unfold. 

Yes, transitions and change have always been hard for this mama to face... so I am choosing to find comfort and strength in the reality that God loves her infinitely more than I ever can! 

My dearest Alyssa...
Words aren't adequate enough to express just how much joy you have brought into your daddy's and my life. Everyday, I thank God for you. You. are. a. gift... a grace-gift.

I love you so much... and count it pure blessing to walk this journey as your mama.

And girl, have I told you lately just how incredibly proud I am of you? #proudmama :) 

You are an extraordinarily special young lady. No doubt. God has gifted you in ways that astound me. His grace is wild... His love is extravagant. 

As an image-bearer of our Heavenly Father, may you continue to be Jesus' hands and feet... to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release prisoners from darkness, to comfort all who mourn. 

May you continue to be an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendour.

And may you know, with all your heart, that... you. are. His. beloved! 

That... you. are. eternally. His!

Go now into the world and dream God-sized dreams, my baby girl... because He has already blazed the way for you!

And may this always, always, always be true of you...
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ~ Galatians 6:14
With all the love that your mama has for you...


Compassion is a command, an act of worship, a song of thanks to Him.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God!