Saturday, October 14, 2017

Estefani's Story (Our Heart Adoption)

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know Estefani's story.  I have written countless installments about our heart adoption mission over the past few years.  Over time, though, a lot has changed.  When you're working with a developing country like Honduras, it is just that- developing.  Things rarely stay the same for long.  While trying to find the words to share about these things, I decided I would start by recapping our journey for anyone who may be new here, to spare you the time of searching through the archives.  Even if you already know much of this story, you'll want to stay tuned until the end.  I originally made this post last year, but am re-sharing it now with new updates.

Estefani, January 2016

It all started in early 2013 when God began an indescribable work in my life, leading me to reach out beyond my immediate surroundings and on a mission trip to Honduras, Central America.  On this trip, my team would set out to work with children in the mountains who lived in both physical and spiritual poverty.  At that time, I committed to sponsoring a older teen girl in Honduras named Melania.  Sponsoring a child meant that I would financially partner with her local church to help provide her with meals, tutoring, medical care, vocational training, bible teaching, and Godly mentors.  It also meant that I could encourage her through monthly letters and occasional visits.  Most sponsored children have families of their own and just need the extra support.  That alone was such an exciting mission.  On that first trip, I fell in love with Honduras and its people.  I knew I had to return.

On New Years Day 2014, I had spent the day in prayer and knew I wanted to do something big to start the year off right.  God had been teaching me to go and meet needs wherever I saw them, rather than always sitting back and waiting for a specific calling.  Being called by God to a specific mission and proceeding with prayer and caution is very biblical; but I was also learning that the answer to helping the needy is already in the bible, and the answer is yes.  This isn't the say that everyone should become a full time missionary or even sponsor a child- but rather, that everyone is called to serve the needy wherever they see them.  It was on that same day that I fell in love, through a Facebook post, with an 7-year-old orphan named Estefani.

The picture that made me fall in love

Estefani lived in Honduras, and my missions team leader had posted her picture in hopes of finding a sponsor for her.  Instantly, God wove Estefani into my heart and I knew she was the answer to my prayer to do something more that year.  However, being that she would likely need a great deal of individual attention, and being that I had already committed to sponsoring the older girl in her same community who I would be visiting on our upcoming trip...I decided to be Estefani's financial sponsor, but let another friend from the team be the main one to actually form the relationship with her.  It was a sacrifice, because I already loved Estefani; but I prayed and believed it was best.  Little did I know how much God was about to do.

Our team returned to Honduras in May of 2014.  Throughout the week as my friend and I (mainly my friend) bonded with Estefani, we learned that her father killed her mother when she was a small child, and she witnessed it. Her father later died in jail. She now lived with distant relatives- an aunt, uncle, and their three children.  They treated her okay, we were told, but not like one of their own. She craved parental love and attention. On our last night in Honduras, when we took her home from a fun day of vacation bible school and said our goodbyes, Estefani clung to my friend and I and sobbed. I felt helpless, knowing she needed so much more.  She needed a family.  I knew I would love to adopt her for real and be her mama all the time, but I also knew she wasn't really mine.  After all, I had just given my friend permission to have the real relationship with her.  They had already bonded.  I could only pray that my friend would know what to do next.  Shortly after the trip, Estefani wrote her a letter that said, “For me it was difficult to say goodbye, because you are the mother I do not have. I love you very much and I know God fills that void in my life.”

Our first day together at Vacation Bible School

The goodbye

Over the next year, difficult choices were made and Estefani's other sponsor fell through.  My heart was broken for Estefani as I wondered how to undo the damage.  On the other hand, she was mine now.  I knew God was working something out for our good.  I wrote this letter to Estefani, which was delivered to her shortly before I returned to visit her in July of 2015, explaining this change and offering her the hope of a Heavenly Father who would never leave her.  Now that she was all mine, my mission seemed clear.  I began doing research on Honduran adoption and how to be her mother in every possible sense of the word.  International adoption laws in Honduras are near impossible.  After speaking to an adoption attorney, I learned that my choices were basically limited to moving there and adopting her domestically, or bringing her to the states on a student visa (similar to a foreign exchange student) without officially being her mom.  I was willing to do either, but carefully prayed and researched to make sure the right choices were made.  To Estefani and I, the phrase "heart adoption" meant that while the end goal was actual adoption, I was taking on the role of a mother from a distance while I searched for the best route to take.

I returned to Estefani in July 2015 and was relieved that she had received my letter and happily welcomed me into her heart, no questions asked. 

From her teachers and the staff at her sponsorship center, I learned that Estefani still had some obstacles to overcome. She still dealt with the very real effects of trauma caused by her birth parents. She also struggled to focus in school. When I inquired about Estefani, the overall consensus from every adult in her life was, “She is mainly missing the role of mom."  One way or another, that was about to change.

For the 6 months after that visit, constant prayer was poured into her life.  Letters of love, encouragement, and the Word of God were sent back and forth multiple times a month- not only with Estefani, but also her guardians.  A friend of mine in Honduras was also able to connect her with a counselor in the area. 

In January 2016, I returned once again to Honduras to talk to Estefani's guardians about our plans, and to enroll her in English classes.  This was to be the first step in her being granted a student visa to come to the states.  We would also have a late Christmas celebration together.  After 2 flights and an overnight drive through the mountains, I arrived in Estefani's village early on a Tuesday morning.  Of course, my first mission was to retrieve her. 

The second I arrived at the house and saw her, I knew something had changed.  It wasn't just the fact that she had chopped off all of her hair (!!!) or that she was wearing the worn out gold princess dress that had been new when I gave it to her last summer.  No, it was something more.  She was glowing.  Confident.  Healthier, even.  I had never seen so much joy in her face.  Pictures don't do this memory justice.

We took a trip, along with her aunt and baby cousin, to the local bilingual school to get her registered for English classes.  Afterwards, we returned to their home for our Christmas celebration.  It was some time in between when I realized that the change didn't stop with Estefani.  Her aunt, who had once been distant and indifferent towards her, lovingly walked with her arm around her.  They smiled and laughed together.  When we met with the school, her aunt bragged to the teachers about Estefani and her good behavior at home.  And then, I heard Estefani call her "mama".

It was the best and the worst thing in my mind.  For Estefani to be loved in her home was what I had prayed for.  She was happy and thriving in a family and confident in the love of God.  That was all I ever wanted for her.  At the same time, once you have become an adoptive mama, whether legally or "just" in your heart, you don't just stop loving that child as your own once their biological family improves.  Estefani still needs so much.  Her family is still not perfect.  But she has a family. 

In my heart, Estefani will always be my daughter.  However, I now had to at least consider that unless something were to change (and as previously mentioned, this is Honduras, so it might!), it may be better for our heart adoption to remain only a heart adoption.  My goal would be to come alongside the family as an additional mother figure.  After all, who's to say she can only have one?  I continued to visit Estefani often and communicate with her family constantly by phone, Facebook, and letters when we weren't together.  I knew, and she knew, I would always be there to love her.  I continued to observe her situation and talk to her teachers, to make sure she was safe and truly loved in her family, and that all of her needs were met.  I vowed to make sure she would always have every opportunity to become whoever she wanted to be, within the will of God.  She would always be my daughter and I will always her mother, just maybe not her only mother. It took me a while to come to terms with this.  Maybe I'm still sort of coming to terms with it.  From the day I first saw Estefani, none of our story has gone how I planned.  I have to believe, though, that it is so much better.

Almost two years have passed since that day, in which I have seen Estefani several more times.  I recently returned from an extended stay in Honduras where I got to spend so much precious time with my girl.  Thanks to my missionary hosts in country, I was given the opportunity to just live her life, hang out at her house with her family, evaluate her needs, and even celebrate her 11th birthday with cake and presents.

Overall, Estefani is doing so well.  She is thriving in school and adored by her teachers.  She loves Jesus and walks with confidence knowing Who she belongs to.  The future is still not entirely certain.  Her guardians mentioned adoption during a recent conversation, when I thought those doors had been closed.  If we ever get to a place of determining that it is both legal and what is best for her long term, I will stop at nothing to make it happen.  At present, those conversations are staying between the adults.  More letters are being sent back and forth about it, and about potential visits, as we speak; so I ask for your prayers for the most stable and Christ-centered life for my girl.  I am confident in knowing that no matter what, Estefani will never have to doubt that she is loved.  God is writing Estefani's story, and I can't wait to someday hear it in her own words.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What it Means to Be Glorified

"My daughters are free because their mother decided not to allow her past to define their future!!" -Chirstine Caine

"...and these whom He justified, He also glorified." -Romans 8:30

What does it mean to glorified?  What does it mean to be set apart?  To be adopted?  To be pulled from the mire and have your feet set firmly on a rock?  Romans 8:30 is my life verse, because it tells me that it doesn't matter where I come from or who I come from, but only to Whom I now belong.  I always try to instill in my children that they can be transformed and be anyone they want to be, within the will of God.  They can be set apart for the new life He has for them and be the first of many Godly generations.  To be glorified means to be filled with His beauty and purpose, and that they definitely are.

When I think of being set apart from the world, my mind flashes to three solemn faces in the mountains of Western Honduras.

We registered these 3 girls as new additions to the Manna 4 Lempira child sponsorship program on my most recent trip to Honduras this past summer.  When I first saw them, they were huddled behind a row of chairs in the corner of the feeding center where they could hardly be noticed.  They weren't in line to be registered with the rest of the new children, but I knew I hadn't seen them before.  I was told that we were waiting on permission from their parents before we could enroll them.  I learned that these little ones face opposition from their Catholic parents because they want to attend the Christian church/feeding program to hear the bible, and have strong desires for the truth.  Although their parents don't approve, they continue to attend the church every week.

Hearing these words, I felt like I was hearing my own story.  I was also raised in a Catholic home and was the first in my family to become a born again Christian, but not until age 16.  This decision was often not understood or well-received by those around me.  Seeing such small children make the decision to follow God completely on their own, and with such joy, amazed me.  I instantly felt protective of them.  I went over and made friends with the girls, who appeared unsure at best.  I asked their names- Irma, Yessenia, and Kenia.  I took that first straight-faced picture of them and told them how beautiful they were.  Then, their amazing smiles emerged.

The girls were eventually registered into the sponsorship program that day; and yes, I became their sponsor/correspondent.  With a connection like that, how could I not?  I am ecstatic to be able to stay in touch with these girls through letters and continue to encourage them in their faith.  By the grace of God, the cares of the world will not be able to choke out the desire for Him in their hearts.  We have been set free to equip our daughters, even our honorary daughters in the LORD, for a life of glory.  They will be set apart to go on and equip future generations!  They will rise up and be unstoppable!

Also, can we talk about the fact that Irma (on the left) has purple flowers on her shirt??  For those of you who don't know, purple flowers are a personal symbol between God and I of His faithfulness in my life.  Of course He would send my girl to me covered in a flowery purple top. Did I really expect anything less?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Manna 4 Lempira

During my time in Honduras this past summer, my team spent a day starting up a brand new child sponsorship program, Manna 4 Lempira.  Manna is the biblical word for the bread that God sent down from Heaven to feed His people in the wilderness.  It also has a special meaning to me and this blog (see About Me).  Lempira is the department of Honduras where our feeding center is located.  In just a few months, we have seen it take off to include over 200 children registered, over 100 already finding sponsors, and thousands more being fed from the excess funds.  At Manna 4 Lempira, your support of just $15 per month provides not only your sponsored child, but several other children in surrounding communities, with 2 meals per week.  It also provides your own child with annual school shoes/supplies and frequent bible teaching.  In addition, your sponsorship allows you to write monthly letters to your sponsored child and receive a minimum of 4 letters and 1 picture per year in return (though most sponsors receive more).  You also have the opportunity to send one full-sized package of gifts each Christmas.  If you are interested in sponsoring a child through our program, please check out Manna 4 Lempira on Facebook and go to one of the "Waiting for Sponsors" albums.

Below is my sponsored child from our feeding center.  Her name is Carmen, and she is pure evidence of God's leading in my life.  I saw her picture on the list of newly registered children that our missionary partners in Honduras just sent over last week and I instantly fell for her.   Instead of signing up to sponsor Carmen, I posted her picture on Facebook as a way to advertise the program.  Almost instantly, one of my friends contacted me wanting to sponsor Carmen, but let me be the one to write to and visit her!

Even crazier, later on in the day as I was looking through some old pictures from my trip to Honduras 2 years ago (from before we even started the program), I found this... A picture of me with a "random little girl" who I had met at a feeding center.  It was Carmen!  I have little to no memory of this picture, or of meeting her all those years ago...but there we were, together.  A team leader confirmed that it is indeed Carmen in the picture.  I am so excited to know that when this picture was taken, God was smiling- knowing our story wouldn't end there.  And in just a few weeks when I return to Honduras, I will get to see Carmen again!

Many more children are still waiting for sponsors, including Carmen's sister (child #212).  Could you provide hope for one of those children this Christmas season?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

When Two Hearts Became One

In honor of National Daughters Day being this week, I think it is finally time to tell the story of my reunion with Estefani, the sweet little princess who I can now call my daughter.  Estefani and I call it a "heart adoption".  To us, this means that while a few factors currently prevent us from actual adoption, I am taking on the role of a mother from a distance for the time being. 

Shortly before our visit in July, I had sent a letter to Estefani with a friend who could get to her a few weeks before I could.  In this letter, I explained to her that while her previous sponsor (who had visited her once) was no longer in the picture, I remembered her from our visit to her community last year and God had put a great love for her on my heart...that I loved her like a daughter and chose to become her sponsor as soon as I knew that she needed a new one; and that no matter what, God was the Father who would never leave her...that He desired for her to become His princess.  You can read the full letter here.  I packed a copy in my suitcase, decked out in princess stickers, just in case the first one hadn't made it to her.  I didn't know what God was going to do- but I was preparing for a miracle.

When the day of our visit came, I didn't know how Estefani would receive me.  Would she remember spending time with me the year before?  Would she understand and be okay with the fact that I was now her sponsor?  Prior to visiting her home, my team spent a morning teaching at a local elementary school.  While this wasn't scheduled as part of my visit with Estefani, we happened to be working at the school she attends; so I knew I would likely see her.  I arrived at the school that morning ready for our much-anticipated reunion- the first time I would embrace my daughter since she had actually become mine.

As soon as we entered the courtyard at the school that morning, we were greeted by a few teachers who immediately ushered us into a classroom to begin teaching.  I scanned the classroom, quickly realizing that these children were not Estefani's age.  I peered out the door and across the courtyard, looking for any sign of her or which classroom she could be in.  After introductions with the children, one of my teammates took over and started on an art lesson.  I, on the other hand, was not going to be all there until I had found my girl.

I pulled the teacher of this class aside and asked if she knew Estefani and which room she would be in.  The teacher informed me that Estefani was not at the school that day.  She was home sick with a fever.  And although I shouldn't have, I panicked.  I only had a few days scheduled to spend with her; and this morning at the school would be our only time alone together before my teenaged sponsor children arrived.  I feared that she would remain sick throughout our whole trip and I wouldn't get to spend any time with her at all.  My incredible translators quickly jumped into action, finding Estefani's actual teacher and coming up with a game plan.  In the mean time, I used the opportunity to ask the other adults about her. 

When asked about Estefani, the first woman teacher frowned and shook her head in pitty.  My translator relayed to me that the teacher thought Estefani was developing behavioral problems because of her living situation and the trauma of what happened to her parents.  She said she is deeply missing the role of mom in her life.  I can still feel that sinking feeling in my stomach when I talk about this.  My first instinct was to ask, "Does she know which one is my Estefani?".  Don't get me wrong, I knew that Estefani's situation was real; but last year, she had seemed so undaunted by her surroundings.  She had been sponsored by her previous sponsor for an entire year and even received a visit (though not much interaction otherwise).  It was then that I realized that Estefani needed so much more.  She needed consistent parental figures, counseling, constant love; and most of all, the intervention of the Holy Spirit.  Within my first fifteen minutes at the school, I was already in the bathroom crying and praying for a miracle.  My wonderful teammate and mentor, Lori, prayed with me and helped me to collect myself.  We returned to classroom to the news that Estefani was feeling better and we would still be able to do our home visit that I had scheduled for later in the day.  During the rest of our morning at the school, I was pretty much useless.  I helped pass our drawing paper, hugged a few children, and looked at the clock as I waited to see my girl.

Finally, home visit time had arrived!  When we pulled up to Estefani's home that afternoon, the front door was wide open.  And through the open doorway, I saw her.  My sweet girl was peering out the door, waiting for my arrival.  I wondered what she was feeling in that moment- Excitement?  Anticipation?  Uncertainty?  I jumped out of the car and ran to her.  We embraced each other in what was likely the happiest reunion of our lives.

Someone brought me a chair, and I sat down to show Estefani her letter (which she confirmed she had already received a copy of) and the special necklace I had brought for her that had her name engraved on it.  I also showed her pictures of me celebrating her birthday with cupcakes a few weeks earlier, telling her that her life was celebrated that day, even though we were not together.

We stepped out onto the porch to take a few pictures.  Estefani and I sat together and held each other close.  "Te quiero mucho" (I love you so much) I whispered.  In her still-somewhat-shy and tiny voice, she whispered a similar phrase back to me.  I didn't catch the exact wording, but I will never forget the sweet tone of her excitement.  I asked her if she had any questions about anything written in the letter or the fact that I was now her sponsor.  She said no, she understood and was happy.  I told her that if throughout the week there was anything she wanted to ask me, she could.  She nodded with a smile.  Could it be that it would really be this easy?  What about all the confusion and pain I had anticipated her having to work through? 

With God, yes.  It really was that easy.  Only one question about her sponsorship arose throughout the whole week, and even that question was quite cheerful and miraculous.

Later on during our time together, Estefani disappeared and then re-appeared a few minutes later, grabbing my hand and bringing me into the bedroom that she shares with two of her cousins.  There, I saw this:

Pictures of us from last year, and the new picture of me with her birthday cupcake!

God had seamlessly woven our hearts into one.  I was now a 21 year old with a 9 year old daughter who needs more reassurance and intervention than any human can offer.  It was the best day of my life; and at the same time, I had no idea what to do.  From this moment on, things would never be the same.  And it was perfect.

More soon... 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Words I've Found.... (Honduras 2015)

I don't want to write about it...

I don't want to miss it...

I just want to be there.  With my daughter.  With my team.  In that culture.  Where my heart is at home.

I returned home from Honduras just over 5 weeks ago...

But my heart did not return with me.......

I have spent the past five weeks at a complete loss for words to share about the whole thing.  The memories are just so beautiful, no words can match them.  My first days back, I avoided discussion about Honduras at all costs, except with my teammates from the trip; not knowing how to explain the experience that nobody could possibly understand without having been there.  I refused to write about it and have it be seen as just a memory to look back on. In fact, I don't want it to be memory at all.  That feeling of being smack dab in the center of God's will is something I want to experience every day.  God has completely wrecked me in the most perfect way- for His calling.  I am in this season where writing and sharing about missions has just not been what is important.  I have become content flying under the radar and simply living this adventure, taking it in a little more every day.  I don't want to forget the culture, the sounds of people's laughs, the details of their faces, the hilarious moments in the back of the bus while riding through the mountains.... 

For me, this wasn't just a short term mission trip. This was a "evaluating how I can serve God like this for the rest of my life" trip. I don't know yet what that will look like.  What I do know, is that I came home five weeks ago...but my heart, and my daughter, did not come home with me.  Last month, Honduras became my heart's home. My team became family, living all together in one place. I was adapting to the culture...the language...the food...the JOY. And even though it is only a "heart adoption" as she and I call it, rather than a legal one at this point, I became a mother to nine year old Estefani. And I don't think any words can really tell that describe how badly I miss it.  Miss her.  Her hugs.  Her laughs.  Her cute little curls.

While talking with a fellow teammate about adjusting back home after an experience like this, he asked me, "Do you ever think, you know it will be okay eventually, but you don't want it to be okay?".  He took my brain, my culture shock, and my every thought from the past five weeks and put them into a single sentence.  Right now, I feel that.  Eventually, you do adjust back to life in the states.  Your heart stops longing to go back every second of every day.  You get used to not having your kids and your teammates there with you.  You start to get comfortable and even excited about other opportunities.  Summer ends, fall comes (here in Western Pennsylvania, that usually happens in like...August), and you somehow fit right into this new season of cool weather, church bonfires, and pumpkin spice lattes.  You lose your grip on just how amazing life there really was.  It becomes okay.  But I don't want that.  I don't want to forget how perfect it was for my heart to be at home.

I know this post may sound depressing, but I am actually filled with so much JOY over everything God is doing. It is the story that my heart sings every day, but my lips have spent the past five weeks refusing to speak; because without being there, you can never really know. For this reason, these blogs may be less orderly and chronological that any missions series I have written in the past. I may or may not even write a whole detailed series; but there are things that I want the world to know.  Not just about Estefani and my older sponsored children either...

I want the world to know how amazing it feels to live every second of every day nauseous from the heat and the agua verde (green water), yet never happier.  How it feels to open your mouth and suddenly have Spanish come out, phrases you weren't even aware you knew.  How it feels to go on adventures in the murder capital of the world, ride through gang-ridden areas in the back of a pickup truck, spend your nights swimming at a hot spring heated by lava rock, or get stuck in a government protest while just trying to go to the mall...

Note the torches

I want the world to know how much I miss living in a little hotel and laying out on the porch in a hammock.  Or how I miss living in community with my team who quickly became family... never being without fellowship, because our rooms all opened up to the same long-stretched porch.  How I miss the culture where church and worship mean fancy costumes and tambourines.  And without being there, you will never understand why I even miss the agua verde....

The view from the roof in Gracias, Lempira, Honduras

Church in San Pedro Sula

I have been coming to God completely empty.  No empty as in lacking.  I am so filled, so blessed, and so excited for the future.  There are many things I have, but nothing that I cling to.  I am coming to Him open- open for Him to lead me in any direction from here.  To give and take away the desires of my heart.  Being in Honduras freed me to absolutely anything He may have in store.  I can't sit still.  I now know what is out there.  Some nights, late at night, I get so excited that I go outside and just walk...or run...or sometimes just lay on the grass.  Anything to feel closer to that place....the heat, the dirt, the scenery....

In the stillness, I hear God speak:

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.  I will counsel you with my eye upon you." -Psalm 32:8

This verse has been following me since I have been home.  I am learning to follow His voice.  In this time of feeling like the whole world is my possibility, I know that God is instructing me in the way I should go.

Even writing this now, I know my words are not doing it justice.  But I pray that the Spirit will speak to each heart who reads it.  Greater things are still to be done....

More soon...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Letter to My Estefani

If you do not recall Estefani's story, I suggest you start by reading here, here, and here.

"Do not call to mind former things, or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new!" -Isaiah 43:18-19

I need to take a moment to be real with you- because truthfully, there is no poetic way to word this.  God is doing something new and beautiful in my life and the life of my Estefani- the sweet little orphan who I now call my daughter.  This story starts with heartache, and ends with...well...a new beginning.  As I've said before, love is messy.  This story is not playing out at all how I had planned, but in many ways, even better.

My first day with Estefani, last May

As of last week, there has been a change.  Estefani, who was once only my financially sponsored child that my friend formed the actual mother-daughter relationship with, is now completely mine.  In order to respect the others involved, I will not be getting into why things played out the way they did.  I don't know why after all of the miracles God performed last year with Estefani and her previous sponsor, she is now mine.  Don't get me wrong- I am thrilled that she is!  I just don't understand.  I don't understand why my precious girl has to face yet another heartache of yet another change in her life.  I don't understand why she is still stuck in her living situation.  I may never understand it.

As I was praying for the words to tell my Estefani about this change of plans, I was led to the scripture Isaiah 43:18-19:

"Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past.  Behold, I will do something new!  Now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it?  I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert."

When I wonder why God came through so faithfully last year, but this year looks like chaos...

When I start to wonder how the pieces of this puzzle fit together...

When I try to figure out how to undo the damage...

God is working something new.  He will even make rivers in the desert- fulfillment in seemingly impossible situations.  Whatever He is doing, it is sure to be better than anything I can think up.  So much good is coming.  In the mean time, I needed a way to explain this change to Estefani, while also giving her the foundation of a Heavenly Father who will never leave or forsake her.  So, I wrote this letter, which was read to her by a friend who went to Honduras ahead of me (I will be joining in a less than two weeks!).  I am choosing to share it here, because this is my heart for my sweet girl.  Some parts of this letter have been edited or removed before posting, such as the explanation of what exactly happened, and the names of the other people involved.  If the letter seems a little choppy, that is why.

Precious Estefani,

Hello beautiful!  This is Megan- I met you last year when I came to Honduras with your previous sponsor.  You are such a special and beloved girl; meeting you was one of the most amazing things that ever happened to me.  I still think about you every day.  Our whole group loves you so much.  You probably don't know this, but I am actually the one who chose you for your previous sponsor when she decided to sponsor a child.  From the second that I saw your picture, God put a great love for you in my heart. 

Estefani, I am writing to tell you that I am now your sponsor, because your sponsor is no longer able to be.  I promise you that it is not because of you.  There are many other reasons.  I am sorry if  you are sad about this.  It is okay to be sad, but I love you so much and want you to be happy.  I am so happy to be your sponsor. 
On July 13, I am coming to visit you, and we will have so much fun together!  I am so excited to see you!  We will spend time at your school, your house, your sponsorship center, and go swimming together at the pool!  We will play together, talk, and learn about God together.  I will also be bringing gifts for you and your family.  And gifts for your late birthday. I also sponsor two other girls in your community who will be with us- Melania and Irma.  I think of them as my sisters, and I think of you as my daughter.  After I return from visiting you, I will write letters to you all the time.  I wish I could take care of you like a mother all the time.  But for now, I hope to visit you very often.  I will learn more Spanish and will help you to learn more English, so we can communicate better.  When you are happy, we will laugh and play together.  When you are sad, we can pray and cry together.  I will always love you, my sweet girl.

When I was praying about this, God showed me the bible verse Isaiah 43:19.  In this verse, God says, "Behold, I am doing something new!".  I believe that God is doing a beautiful new thing by allowing me to be your sponsor.  I also know that you may not trust me yet, because many people have left you, and you may be afraid.  But I want to tell you that I love you so very much.  I consider you my daughter.  I will never leave you.  Ever since I met you, I have been telling all of my friends and family how special you are.  I look at your picture and pray for you every day. 

More than anything, I want you to know that no matter what, God is the One who will always be with you and love you.  God is a perfect King, so He never messes up or leaves us like people sometimes do.  Have you ever seen a picture of a princess wearing a beautiful crown?  Well, the bible says that even though God does not usually give us actual crowns for our heads, He crowns our hearts with glory and majesty.  The words "glory" and "majesty" both mean "great beauty."  God loves you so much and He wants to crown your heart with great beauty and let you be His daughter.  Do you want to know how?

God sent His perfect Son, Jesus, here to Earth to die on a cross to take the punishment for our sins for us, so our hearts can be free from sin and be crowned with great beauty instead.  All you have to do is turn to Him and ask, and He will clean the sin out of your heart, crown your heart with beauty by putting His Holy Spirit inside of you, and make you His princess forever (because He is the King!)  Have you asked Him to do that for you?  If not, you can ask Him, even right now, and you will be His princess forever!

When you become His princess, you will probably not look any different or live in a castle right now; but, if you are His princess, He will be your Father who will never leave you.  He will always love you.  Even if you do not have a father here on Earth, or even if you miss the people who are not with you any more, God can fill those parts of your heart with His love.  And, when you are old and your life on Earth is over, He will take you to His kingdom in Heaven- because you are His princess!  Heaven is a place so beautiful that we can't even imagine how amazing it will be.  There are animals and colors and food in Heaven that we have never even seen before!  The bible says that everyone in Heaven is happy.  When we get there, we will never be sad or scared or lonely again!  We will all be one big family, with God as our Father.  The floors in Heaven will be made of colorful stones.  The gates will be made of pearls.  In the bible, Revelation 21:4 says, "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any sadness, or crying, or pain."  How amazing does that sound?

Estefani, you are so smart, beautiful, and mature.  I know that God has enormous and amazing plans for your life!  He will transform your life to be exactly what He wants it to be, even if it is different than the family and background that you came from. 

I love you so much and pray for you every day.  I will see you very soon, my princess!

With Much Love,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stretching Beyond Limits

As I've written about in the past, human trafficking is something that God has spent the past few years making me painfully aware of.  I prayed a prayer several months ago, asking Him to give me opportunities to help with this crisis that I could not ignore- knowing how much it happens right here in my own state.  I have joined a local task force against trafficking through my church, but I also wanted to go into all the world and reach victims and at-risk individuals everywhere.  So, I prayed. 

After a few months, a 5 year old little girl named Isadora appeared on the Compassion International website.  She was abandoned by her mother and has no known father.  She lives in a red light district, in a slum, full of child prostitution.  In this slum, children as young as five are prostitutes, and children as young as eight are becoming pregnant!  Compassion has stepped into this community to stop this from happening to children like Isadora.  In addition to the alarming statistics, Isadora wants to be a ballerina when she grows up.  I was a ballerina for more than eight years, and it is still has a very big piece of my heart.  I also have an entire bin full of ballerina-themed stickers and whatnot saved for the girls who I currently sponsor.  Sponsoring Isadora just made sense, and I wanted to so badly.


I began to pray and pray and pray for Isadora.  I prayed so hard for her and posted her picture on Facebook, asking if anyone would sponsor her, since I had no idea how I could, or should, stretch my ministry budget any farther.  After about a day, she was gone from the website and it said she had been chosen by someone else.  When I saw this, I fell to my knees and literally begged,

"God I KNOW I was supposed to sponsor her!  I don't know how to make it work, but PLEASE let her come back onto the site!"

Against all odds, a few minutes later, she was on the website again!  And this time she stayed- for days.  Somehow, I still didn't sponsor her, still doubting if I could.  I continued to pray and share her picture.  When I shared her with a friend who I know from one of my previous mission trips, he fell for her as strongly as I did.  He decided that he wanted to sponsor Isadora, but wanted to let me write to her! 

I have a friend who is visiting her area in May, and is delivering a pair of ballerina slippers to her for me.

Oh, and that area?  Fortaleza, Brazil!  

Between this new venture, preparing to return to Honduras, and advocating for the 200 children who we are hoping to see sponsored from the new center we are kicking off in Honduras, I felt my heart stretching beyond its limits.  In a way, trying to poetically word these stories, while reading hundreds more on various social media platforms, my heart gets overwhelmed.  The enemy has, at times, left me wondering if there is really anything special about these things after all.  Now Brazil too?  I didn't know what to do with it all.  Then the other night, I was in my bedroom writing my first letter to Isadora and looking at her picture in disbelief.  I already loved her so much, but squeezing this new mission into my was didn't fit.  As I wrote her letter and looked at her picture, though, God took that overwhelming fear in my heart and instantly replaced it with joy.  When I say instantly, I mean I glanced over at Isadora's picture and was hit with instantaneous love for this child, unable to even comprehend how much I already loved her. 

In that moment, God intertwined my and Isadora's hearts.  I didn't know how, but suddenly, it fit.  Please be praying for this next step in my journey, as well as for Isadora.  If you would like to know more about the work being done in Isadora's community, click here to watch a short documentary based on the Compassion center that she attends.  If you would like to sponsor a child from this community, click here for a list of the children there who are currently waiting for sponsors on the Compassion website.  Many of them even have videos!