Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feliz Cumpleanos!

One of the pics we put in her Bday card- Sam, Sammy, and her all got matching Guatemala soccer jerseys and she had hers on a lot when I was there so thought she would like to see them in theirs

Here we are the week we met and then again last year

So our sweet Cristina, the little (or not so little anymore) girl we sponsor turned 15 on Feb 12 and I am just shocked that she is this old now! She had just turned 11 when we started sponsoring her, right after she arrived at Casa (the childrens home we go to on our mission trips each year) and it has been such an amazing experience to first get to know her and then to watch her blossom from this silly sweet little girl to this amazingly strong beautiful young woman of God. She really has matured in just about every way and I am just so proud of her. I tell her constantly that God has big plans for her life and remind her of the verse Jeremias 29:11-12 b/c I just know that God brought her to Casa so she could find Him and learn to follow His plans for her life.

I can still see the first day we met her just as vivid as yesterday. She had some behavioral issues back then and we had just arrived in Guatemala and Jack was giving us our tour of Casa. I had obviously only seen pictures of her and only knew her through letters at that point but I kept staring at every girl we walked by to see if it was her. It was so hard to focus on what Jack was saying b/c I just wanted to meet her so badly (sorry Jack, no offense meant). Finally when we finished and we were standing outside of her dorm talking as best we could to some of the girls I asked if they knew Crisinta and where she was. They said " she punished" and pointed up to her dorm. She had gotten in trouble at school and wasn't aloud to come out. I was sooo disappointed but thankfully Julissa said she would talk to Alex and Sarah and they agreed to let her come down. I thought she may be shy and it may be awkward at first but it was just so unforgettable. All of a sudden this tiny girl bolted from the door and waved, ran full speed down the stairs and threw, literally almost knocking me down, herself into my arms and we both cried a little. It was so surreal to hold her in my arms after all the letters. She looked up and said "hola Teri, me loves you", and I of course had to grab her back up in a hug.

We have grown leaps and bounds in our relationship since then. That first year was rough b/c she was on the worst behavior level so she didn't have as many privileges as the other children and was not allowed to do as much. Carolyn took some of her girls to the pool and let us tag along (thank you a billion times over) and so Cristina and I swam together while Sam went shopping in Antigua. He got her a teddy bear and some jewelry, and she still had it last year when we were there. It was pretty raggedy and dirty but she still slept with her bear. We talked a lot about God and read scriptures together. Communication was somewhat challenging as I had VERY limited Spanish and she had VERY limited English. Thankfully my dear friend Andrea (we actually met each other this trip at Casa!), translated a lot for us and when they left Chica took over for them. We had such a great time getting to know her that year and it made our letters all the more meaningful during the following year. It was so hard to wait an entire year to see her again.

She had improved a great deal by our second trip there but still struggled some with school and behavior. She had learned a lot more English and I had a little more Spanish which was nice and we were able to have more serious talks. Leslie was with me on this trip and she helped tremendously with translating (just as an aside, it was dream come true for us to be on mission trip together. I love you Leslie!). I was able to get to know Irma, Cristina's older sister some the first year but this second trip was when they both really opened up about their past and their family and really how they ended up at Casa. I had a vague understanding of her background just as her sponsor but it just broke my heart to hear the details. I should also mention the incredible bond between Cristina and Sam. The two of them are just so close, she clung to him both years he was there, and I honestly think he would do anything for that girl. This second trip was again, a huge building block in our relationship as she opened up so much more and we not only laughed but cried together. It was so hard to say goodbye. We just held each other and cried for a very long time. We promised to study hard.. me Spanish and her English and she promised to stay on level 5 (the best level) and mentioned in each letter how she was trying. God's timing is perfect, I got a letter from her the day before I went into labor with Sammy and it was just what I needed. I was freaking out about not being ready and feeling like I didn't know how to be a mom, but being almost a week over my due date.. not much chance of escaping it then! ha ha! Cristina's letter was just so perfect. Along with the typical updates on how she was doing, school, etc. she mentioned she was praying for baby Sammy and then she said that she wanted to thank me for being the mom she didn't have and explained how it has helped her, I won't share the rest but ... she said some other very encouraging sweet things and may sound weird but it was just what I needed and I had her letter right by my bed when I delivered Sammy.

This last year we visited was just the best yet. Crisitina's English had improved so much and thanks to Gloria I knew just enough Spanish that we didn't need a translator! I cannot explain just how cool it was to sit and talk just the two of us about everything from boys to fashion to future goals to yummy food. I am sure our team wanted to ring my neck a few times as she and I just hid away from everyone and talked, but I just couldn't resist. It was what I had dreamed of but only here on earth! See, when Sam and I first decided to become sponsors I printed out the possible children and silly as it sounds slept with it under my pillow (no clue why I did that now). I had narrowed it down to 4 girls but wanted to really bathe the decision in prayer. After only two days of praying I just KNEW it was Crisitna. Sponsorship through Casa is much more than a financial commitment, you promise to pray for your child daily on a variety of issues. I remember praying so hard for her one night that I was actually crying. I was praying for her salvation, that God would use her in a HUGE and MIGHTY way to bring many to Him. I just remember then feeling so selfish b/c and I confessed my sin right there b/c part of why I was praying that was so I could meet her. I wanted to know she would be in Heaven one day so I could talk with her and know her. Little did I know His plans for the two of us were far bigger and better than anything I could dream up. He must have smiled when I prayed and shook His head and said.. "oh my beloved, I can do so much more.. try me". Well, I am so glad He did!

The trip this summer was just more then I could have ever hoped for and I had tears rolling down my cheek as Mike held an invitation one night for all those who felt called to missions to go forward and our Cristina was the youngest and only girl up there. I was just bursting with joy! I am SOO thankful that not only did she give her life to Him over the years but she is called to serve Him in full time missions and how perfect again was His timing that I could be there to witness this and share in her joy. Plus, the first night we arrived, she took me to the chart and showed me she had made and stayed on level 5 the ENTIRE YEAR since we left!!! Alex & Sarah (her former dorm parents) told me just how well she had done that year, such a change. She has recently moved up to Jack & Carolyn's dorm with the teen girls and their blog post of this mentioned that Alex & Sarah said the few girls that moved up were really good girls. I just couldn't be more proud of her. We had SOO much fun together this last time. I laughed so hard that my cheeks hurt several times. We made a promise to do mission work together in the future, when she is older and that is something I plan to keep, it will be another dream come true! Mike (Papi) talked with me some about her and again had the most incredible things to say. So..yes.. we are just as proud as can be of her.

I know she doesn't live with us, or even in this country, but Sam, Sammy, and I consider her part of our family and she always writes that we are her family that God picked for her. We pray for her every time we pray together and Sammy loves to watch the videos she made for him. We sent her a Valentine's Day card that had Sammy's voice recorded in it. The last videos she saw of him were from when he was 7 or 8 months old so I am sure she was surprised to see how big he is in the pictures.

Well.. obviously I could go on and on about her. I have so many memories and stories I could share but I realize most prob don't care to hear all of those so I will wrap this up for now. I leave you with a few pictures of memories from each year and some videos of our sweet little girl.. all grown up.
Te amo mucho mi princesa!

Our first visit to Casa

Adorable! They are so sweet together!

This was right after we met the first year, she was so little!

Our first trip to Antigua, she had never seen big city like this and was so scared of cars!

She made this tshirt with the names of her Family on it and it even had Baby Sammy!

In Antigua our second trip, I was preggers so Sammy was technically in this pic too

sposor photo from our second trip

In Antigua, we took Chica along with us and had so much fun! Yea, definitely pregnant in this one!

Bear hugs!

Last year in Antigua with Kendall, Karina, & Lilly

This is VERY important picture. We left our group and went shopping on our own! I was able to effectively communicate and barter in Spanish and got great deals on new school clothes for her as a reward for imroving so much. So congrats to both of us! WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!

Ok.. this is proof that I'm not there yet in terms of Spanish. I ordered our dinner at this nice restaraunt, of course menu was in Spanish, waitress only spoke Spanish, it was rough. I did my best. yes Cristina speaks Spanish but obviously has no expereince eating in restraunts and had no clue what things on the menu were. SO we ended up with two of every drink, sweet tea, water, coke, a nasty yogurt smoothy thing, etc and then a dinner I didn't intend to get that was disgusting. Thank you to Bill for swaping with me!

one of my favorite nights ever

We had such a blast together she just has such a good heart. She carried my backpack (ie breast pump) all over Antigua b/c she didn't want me to have to bother with it, I said no and tried to take it back several times but she refused b/c she wanted to help. That is just one of many exapmles of how amazing she is

In the market with her mango

She used her sponsor money to buy us these bracelets. Mine has "C" and hers has "T" to symbolisze the string that goes from her heart to mine when we are far way.. so cute! I cried, ha ha!

This was taken on our first trip with my very old camera.. sorry for the poor quality

This too was our first year, Sam and Cristina were being so silly I love it! The were saying our names with a rolling "R" it was hilarious!

These last two videos are from my trip this past summer and were failed attempts where Cristina wanted to make videos for Sam but she was bound and determined to do in English and it just wouldn't work ... ha ha. She was in an EXTREMELY silly mood so thought would put them up, enjoy!