April in Review

The month of April was, to say the least, awesome. A lot of fun and cool things happened here at NPH El Salvador, not least among them being Holy Week and Easter. Lent is my favorite liturgical season, but there’s something about Holy Week that I can’t explain. I love it! It was very neat to have experienced new traditions here with my NPH family.

Here is the month of April in photo review at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador! I included a lot of pictures in this post (more than usual) because of how much went on and simply due to the fact that I cannot make a decision on which picture to use. I hope you don’t mind that (but really, why would you mind more pictures?)

Also, I should note that at some point after Easter, something happened with the inner workings of my camera, and now a black mark appears in the corner of every picture. Unfortunately I have not been able to figure out how to make it go away.

Enjoy!

Paz y bien.

The boys are working (mostly) on some drawings, but near the end of the afternoon they spent more time goofing off than working, ha!

The boys are working (mostly) on some drawings, but near the end of the afternoon they spent more time goofing off than working, ha!

On our way to see FAS play! (FAS is a professional soccer team!)

On our way to see FAS play! (FAS is a professional soccer team!)

Our special treat to the boys was going on the field. In this shot, the players are going back inside to change before the game. Those are my boys lining the tunnel. How cool!? The leading scorer in all of El Salvador is the guy in blue about to give out some high fives.

Our special treat to the boys was going on the field. In this shot, the players are going back inside to change before the game. Those are my boys lining the tunnel. How cool!? The leading scorer in all of El Salvador is the guy in blue about to give out some high fives.

The story of my life – an unsuccessful group picture, ha. I got a few of the boys and some of the players looking at my camera.

The story of my life – an unsuccessful group picture, ha. I got a few of the boys and some of the players looking at my camera.

It wasn’t actually raining, but she needed a picture with an umbrella. So we improvised!

It wasn’t actually raining, but she needed a picture with an umbrella. So we improvised!

With the boys and their homework assignment. Kudos go to the Tía who helped them make the very delicious pudín.

With the boys and their homework assignment. Kudos go to the Tía who helped them make the very delicious pudín.

With the girls while they prepare chilaquiles…

With the girls while they prepare chilaquiles…

The finished product, chilaquiles. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you. IT IS AWESOME.

The finished product, chilaquiles. I know it doesn’t look like much, but I promise you. IT IS AWESOME.

How the frontlines look just before dinner time.

How the frontlines look just before dinner time.

Beans and cream for dinner, one of my favs.

Beans and cream for dinner, one of my favs.

The life of that beheaded piñata was short. There was still candy inside!

The life of that beheaded piñata was short. There was still candy inside!

April birthdays!

April birthdays!

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Going for a spin on the track! I gave some of the girls a ride later on because they don’t know how to ride a bike, but they still wanted to experience it.

Going for a spin on the track! I gave some of the girls a ride later on because they don’t know how to ride a bike, but they still wanted to experience it.

Palm Sunday procession!

Palm Sunday procession!

An NPH El Salvador Holy Week tradition is to go to the Lempa River. It’s a 2 hour walk from the foundation. This is a bridge you have to cross. Really. Haha. I opted to walk through the stream. On the way home, I walked across. It was mildly terrifying as you’d imagine.

An NPH El Salvador Holy Week tradition is to go to the Lempa River. It’s a 2 hour walk from the foundation. This is a bridge you have to cross. Really. Haha. I opted to walk through the stream. On the way home, I walked across. It was mildly terrifying as you’d imagine.

She needed to borrow my shoes, but I wouldn’t let her until I took a picture documenting the stark difference between our feet, ha.

She needed to borrow my shoes, but I wouldn’t let her until I took a picture documenting the stark difference between our feet, ha.

All 3 of the gallinas at the river.  Gallina means hen in Spanish. Our nickname for each other happened because of a misunderstanding between the word for flip flop and the word for hen. The silliness will never go away, and the nickname stuck.

All 3 of the gallinas at the river. Gallina means hen in Spanish. Our nickname for each other happened because of a misunderstanding between the word for flip flop and the word for hen. The silliness will never go away, and the nickname stuck.

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In order to cross the strong current to get to the other side, you had to use the rope that the year of service boys somehow managed to string across. They’re awesome.

In order to cross the strong current to get to the other side, you had to use the rope that the year of service boys somehow managed to string across. They’re awesome.

I kept walking around making kissy faces with my algae mustache. The girls hated it, I loved it.

I kept walking around making kissy faces with my algae mustache. The girls hated it, I loved it.

The boy in the middle had just basically fallen off his seat, which happens to be a water jug that caved in on itself. Haha.

The boy in the middle had just basically fallen off his seat, which happens to be a water jug that caved in on itself. Haha.

Walking home

Walking home

Enjoying a lovely sunset. I walked home with 3 girls in less than 2 hours! We were very proud of ourselves.

Enjoying a lovely sunset. I walked home with 3 girls in less than 2 hours! We were very proud of ourselves.

Holy Thursday is my favorite! Washing of the feet.

Holy Thursday is my favorite! Washing of the feet.

On Good Friday, the year of service youth put on their production of the Stations of the Cross. We all lined the field to watch.

On Good Friday, the year of service youth put on their production of the Stations of the Cross. We all lined the field to watch.

I love Pilate’s outfit. It makes me giggle, especially since this guy is always so serious!

I love Pilate’s outfit. It makes me giggle, especially since this guy is always so serious!

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It was awesome watching the guys put the crosses up, so very smooth and skilled.

It was awesome watching the guys put the crosses up, so very smooth and skilled.

This is the thief who defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him when he arrived in the Kingdom…well that guy happens to be my little brother, E, who said those words. Although Holy Thursday is my favorite of the Triduum, Good Friday ALWAYS gets me and makes me cry. I lost it, internally, when E said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” This time it wasn’t just words I heard from a lector. It was my brother, hanging from a cross, who said them.

This is the thief who defended Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him when he arrived in the Kingdom…well that guy happens to be my little brother, E, who said those words. Although Holy Thursday is my favorite of the Triduum, Good Friday ALWAYS gets me and makes me cry. I lost it, internally, when E said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” This time it wasn’t just words I heard from a lector. It was my brother, hanging from a cross, who said them.

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Good Friday was…good...to say the least.

Good Friday was…good…to say the least.

Veneration of the Cross

Veneration of the Cross

All of the year of service youth and Padre Ron being silly!

All of the year of service youth and Padre Ron being silly!

Blessing of the fire on Easter Vigil

Blessing of the fire on Easter Vigil

I could make an album just from pictures from that night, titled “Boys who squint because of the flash.”

I could make an album just from pictures from that night, titled “Boys who squint because of the flash.”

Easter morning’s only light at 4:30am was a path lined with these votive candles in sand.

Easter morning’s only light at 4:30am was a path lined with these votive candles in sand.

Padre and the guys before Mass started

Padre and the guys before Mass started

Happy Easter! The sun has risen, Christ has risen! Alleluia.

Happy Easter! The sun has risen, Christ has risen! Alleluia.

With my friend! He studies on the other side of the country, so we rarely see him.

With my friend! He studies on the other side of the country, so we rarely see him.

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Hahaha. This is a beautiful and silly picture.

Hahaha. This is a beautiful and silly picture.

The week’s other Peter Parker.

The week’s other Peter Parker.

“This is my beloved family, with whom I am well pleased.”

“This is my beloved family, with whom I am well pleased.”

One of the tías and her girls

One of the tías and her girls

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Easter Sunday activities…I promise, she clears it and makes a big ol’ splash.

Easter Sunday activities…I promise, she clears it and makes a big ol’ splash.

This kid is awesome. He asked to see the picture, and when he saw it he yelled, “WOW I LOOK SOOOOO COOL!”

This kid is awesome. He asked to see the picture, and when he saw it he yelled, “WOW I LOOK SOOOOO COOL!”

Even the year of service girls got in on the fun.

Even the year of service girls got in on the fun.

I love the smiles.

I love the smiles.

I spent part of my Easter afternoon in the clinic because of a gnarly blister I got on our hike to the river.

I spent part of my Easter afternoon in the clinic because of a gnarly blister I got on our hike to the river.

More homework time in the kitchen, this time it was sopes! Delicious.

More homework time in the kitchen, this time it was sopes! Delicious.

This year of service guy, who is not assigned to work in the kitchen, randomly stopped by and started helping the tía prepare beans without being asked. I love it! Yet another reason why my kids are way cool.

This year of service guy, who is not assigned to work in the kitchen, randomly stopped by and started helping the tía prepare beans without being asked. I love it! Yet another reason why my kids are way cool.

“Haciendo la paja” is what the boys told me (doing the lie, literally). The boys didn’t actually make the tortillas, the girls helped them ha. So I took a picture of them pretending to work.

“Haciendo la paja” is what the boys told me (doing the lie, literally). The boys didn’t actually make the tortillas, the girls helped them ha. So I took a picture of them pretending to work.

Their final product was chilaquilas (though the name is only one letter different from what the girls made – see the earlier picture – it is in fact much different but still just as delicious!).

Their final product was chilaquilas (though the name is only one letter different from what the girls made – see the earlier picture – it is in fact much different but still just as delicious!).

My best friend Katie Ann came to visit me for a little over a week. She’s so cool!

My best friend Katie Ann came to visit me for a little over a week. She’s so cool!

She made friends in the clinic too, haha.

She made friends in the clinic too, haha.

Photographic evidence that I do in fact wash my clothes by hand…

Photographic evidence that I do in fact wash my clothes by hand…

…and then almost cry because the sun is shining in my eyes when I hang them up to dry. Ha.

…and then almost cry because the sun is shining in my eyes when I hang them up to dry. Ha.

Friends making friendship bracelets

Friends making friendship bracelets

After a few days at NPH, Katie Ann and I went to the beach!!! This is looking at the tide pool area at high tide!

After a few days at NPH, Katie Ann and I went to the beach!!! This is looking at the tide pool area at high tide!

First time for me swimming in an ocean, ever. First time for Katie Ann seeing the Pacific Ocean (I’ve seen it before but had only gotten my feet wet.)

First time for me swimming in an ocean, ever. First time for Katie Ann seeing the Pacific Ocean (I’ve seen it before but had only gotten my feet wet.)

Low tide! Such awesome views.

Low tide! Such awesome views.

The tide pool when you can actually swim in it.

The tide pool when you can actually swim in it.

Let’s just say, I was nerding out after witnessing the tides come and go and what is left behind.

Let’s just say, I was nerding out after witnessing the tides come and go and what is left behind.

Lens kept fogging up, which annoyed me, but I did get some cool pictures.

Lens kept fogging up, which annoyed me, but I did get some cool pictures.

Ah, if only that pesky black spot weren’t there.

Ah, if only that pesky black spot weren’t there.

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Home (Falls)

Part 2 of the “Home” series

In spite of the fact that the first thing you hear is, Sure feel like escaping, so I hit the road, that’s not what I’m getting at. I believe that with Falls’ “Home” there are many interpretations. One obvious one for me is that of someone who ran away or at least deliberately decided to leave and then much later on realizes the value of home.

That would be a suitable interpretation, of course.

Though I did not run away or feel like escaping (as they sing), I did deliberately (but prayerfully and thoughtfully) make the decision to leave home and move to El Salvador and volunteer with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. As I mentioned in the first “Home” series post, I discovered through several experiences and over several years just what home means to me.

Home is not solely a tangible thing. It is not just a physical object, a pile of bricks with paint and glass and flowers out front. It is also the moment when you are surrounded by those you love. That moment or that special grouping of individuals doesn’t have to occur within a house.

On Easter Vigil night, I ventured out to the cancha (soccer field) while the boys were bringing out the cafeteria benches and setting up for the Easter sunrise Mass. That in itself was a comical and memorable experience, listening to some of them gripe at each other or argue about how to best set things up all while working with a few flashlights and very little light from the church’s floodlights, haha. There are no streetlights on the way to the field nor are there lights at the field. The field was in near darkness, save for the stars and sliver of moon. So, I found myself looking up at the sky. So big and so endless and so full of stars. I know that Tennessee is beautiful and that we have breathtaking views, but there is something about being in El Salvador, about being the person that I have become, that makes this sky view so much more special to me than any others I have seen.

We are far enough away and out in the country that I can’t see any lights from Santa Ana (the big city nearby) when I’m in the main part of the ciudadela (as we call it…which is to say, the main NPH campus); though, we do have our fair share of streetlights lining the roads and sidewalks that connect the houses and other buildings. Even in the cancha, one can see a few blinking tower lights and a small pocket of light from a nearby small town. However, the majority of the view is unobstructed by artificial structures, and light pollution is nonexistent.

Anyway, as the boys finished, only a few of them hung around to help with last minute tasks. While I was gazing at the sky, I started to pay attention to the three year of service boys standing a few feet away from me who weren’t actually doing any work, ha. “We’re supervising.” “Yeah…yeah! That’s right, we’re supervising.” Haha. They were cracking jokes, laughing, and having a merry old time standing in complete darkness. At that moment when I tuned in to their shenanigans, I realized I could tell the difference between the 3 of them though I could not see their faces: Wilfrido’s* almost high-pitched, infectious giggle that cracks me up every time; Abraham’s* serious and somber tone that masks a very funny and quick sense of humor; Alfonso’s* sarcastic quips and drawn out sentences pocketed with bouts of near silent laughter.

All 3 very different forms of expressing joy. All 3 forms united in one great big cacophony of joy and laughter. It was music to my ears. In that moment, I felt like my chest had grown in size, like my heart was about to burst. I was just so overwhelmed with how much I love them, these brothers of mine. I was overwhelmed with how at ease and how much at home I felt just by being able to hear them.

Falls sing:

And oh when those city lights are blinding, back across the bridge. Back into acceptance that this is where I live.

While there aren’t many city lights (as in, none) near NPH or even near my parents’ house and certainly not near my grandparents’ house, these “blinding lights” that draw me back toward home are people.

Just like my sisters, parents, and grandparents back in Tennessee as well as other loved ones in different states, I felt and feel like those 3 boys that Saturday night were lights pulling me in the direction of home. With and around them, I too feel loved. They are the blinding city lights that tell me I am home, that I am accepted.

And I know, yeah I know, it all comes back the moment I get home.

When I arrive at a place or moment when I am surrounded by the people that I love, I am reminded that I am home. The interestingly beautiful thing for me is that I have multiple places and many “city lights” with which to draw me home.

Many lights are put in our lives to help us get where we need to be. The blinding lights, at least for me, are the ones that guide me home and that lead me to the people that I love, wherever in the world that may be.

There’s song #2 in the Home series. There’s only one left! Stay tuned for that finalizing post to what’s been a fun series to write.

Don’t forget to give “Home” by Falls a listen on the main page. It’s a nice tune!

*Names changed to protect the pequeños’ privacy.

Like A Speck of Dust

One night after dinner as I was standing outside talking to a friend, the power suddenly went out all over campus. Floodlights on buildings, interior lights, the few streetlights we have…all of it was gone in a matter of seconds.

This has happened before, but the few times that it has, we have all been together so usually the screams, shouts, and shrieks of joy mixed with those of terror are much louder. This time however the reaction was quieter as it was after we had all mostly dispersed for dinner so there wasn’t too much activity going on. The younger kids had already gone back to the houses, and the older kids who were in charge of the dishes that night were busy carrying things from the cancha to the kitchen.

We are so very fortunate right now that it isn’t the rainy season because it means we can eat dinner outside every night, gathered as one big family instead of eating it separate sides of the cafeteria, with the babies eating in their own little cafeteria at their house. When I got here in June, we rarely ate outside during the week for dinner, and if we did, it was always on the weekends weather permitting of course. It hasn’t rained in 4 months, save for one random night last weekend, and even then it was a surprise and short-lived burst of hard rain.

All that said, instead of finding myself in the kitchen or in the house, I was in the middle of the street when the lights went out. Immediately, I looked up and gasped.

The night was almost cloudless. I had ringside seats to a beautiful night sky. For the first time in a long time, I found myself standing slack jawed in amazement, just staring at the stars. Now, we’ve had plenty of beautiful night skies here, but this was the first night I can recall not being under the trees or at the cancha (where we turn on the stadium lights); it was the first time I did not have an obstructed view. No trees, no lights. Just the stars.

And it was awesome.

Have you ever considered just how tiny we really are? In comparison to how big the world is, nay, how the big the universe is?

At that particular moment, I felt so very tiny. Not in a bad way, but in a very good way. A fulfilled way. I was filled with a sense of understanding, albeit just a tiny bit more, of who I am and where I am in all of this.

After gleefully telling my friend to look up at the sky, I laughed at his bewildered reaction to my unrestrained excitement and awe. He said, why are you so happy about the sky? In reply I said, “look at how BEAUTIFUL the sky is. Doesn’t it just make you think about how small we really are?” Then he too looked up at the sky and became real quiet for a few moments. I took that for understanding and for contemplation. Though he’s younger than me by just a few years, this friend of mine has suffered a lot in his life. Much more than I would think humanly possible. I don’t think he’s ever just looked at the sky, the way we both did that night.

A little while later, I remarked that, even if the night sky was cloudless, I often didn’t see stars back home, at least when I lived in the city during college. Light pollution isn’t just about obscuring the pretty view. I think it takes away from views that have the power to change people or to at least wake them up from whatever stupor they’ve been in.

It wasn’t just a breathtaking view. It was a healing view. It was something that reminded me that I am just tiny speck in the grand scheme of things, that I am here and want to be here to do my part, in whichever way the Lord calls me to.

I walked back to the house humming “I Like Giants” by Kimya Dawson. Rather than just share one line or two, here are the lyrics to the whole song. The entire song itself speaks to the night sky moment, of my place in the world, of your place in the world, and everything in between.

When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road, turn out the lights, get out and look up at the sky
And I do this to remind me that I’m really, really tiny
In the grand scheme of things and sometimes this terrifies me

But it’s only really scary cause it makes me feel serene
In a way I never thought I’d be because I’ve never been
So grounded, and so humbled, and so one with everything
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything

Rock and roll is fun but if you ever hear someone
Say you are huge, look at the moon, look at the stars, look at the sun
Look at the ocean and the desert and the mountains and the sky
Say I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye

When I saw Geneviève I really liked it when she said
What she said about the giant and the lemmings on the cliff
She said ‘I like giants
Especially girl giants
Cause all girls feel too big sometimes
Regardless of their size’

When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road and run and jump into the ocean in my clothes
I’m smaller than a poppy seed inside a great big bowl
And the ocean is a giant that can swallow me whole

So I swim for all salvation and I swim to save my soul
But my soul is just a whisper trapped inside a tornado
So I flip to my back and I float and I sing
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything

So I talked to Geneviève and almost cried when she said
That the giant on the cliff wished that she was dead
And the lemmings on the cliff wished that they were dead
So the giant told the lemmings why they ought to live instead

When she thought up all those reasons that they ought to live instead
It made her reconsider all the sad thoughts in her head
So thank you Geneviève, cause you take what is in your head
you make things that are so beautiful and share them with your friends

We all become important when we realize our goal
Should be to figure out our role within the context of the whole
And yeah, rock and roll is fun, but if you ever hear someone
Say you are huge, look at the moon, look at the stars, look at the sun
Look at the ocean and the desert and the mountains and the sky

Say I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
I am just a speck of dust inside a giant’s eye
And I don’t wanna make her cry
Cause I like giants

So you see, I am just a speck of dust inside a Giant’s eye. What a great thing it is to be. Grounded. Humbled. One with everything.

P.S. – Don’t forget to go back to the main page to give “I Like Giants” a listen!

Alegría

What is alegría?

In its simplest form or definition, it means joy in Spanish.

The word “joy” is a nice English word in and of itself. For me, it conjures up beautiful images and can be manifested differently. However, as much as I like sound of the word, I’ve come to discover that I much prefer the Spanish word, alegría.

In my time here in El Salvador, being surrounded by and using Spanish, I’ve noticed that I do that a lot lately, prefer Spanish words over English words. Sometimes there are words in Spanish that, for me, capture an entire thought or idea or whatever…that is, what I feel can sometimes be expressed in one or two words in Spanish rather than several words in English. I think that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, back to the point – alegría. According to my experiences in the Spanish-speaking world (and also Merriam-Webster’s Spanish dictionary), alegría is defined as: joy, cheer, happiness.

Joy, cheer, happiness

Now, there are other, similar words such as: gozo, felicidad, placer. But for some reason, for me, alegría just does it for me. If words could “get” people, then alegría gets me. Know what I’m saying?

In my almost 8 months here, I’ve had an infinite number of joyful moments. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately though because of two things in particular – a conversation and a photograph.

It was no surprise for me that when I got here, there would be children that wouldn’t want to talk, that wouldn’t come up and ask me millions of questions. There are shy kids, quiet kids…kids just like I was. Well, just like I am. Whatever the reasons may be, we’re just quiet with and around each other. Here’s an example from a previous post:

…almost 5 months had passed when one of the older girls finally opened up and started talking with me; at least it became more than just saying hello in passing. Just a few weeks ago, she felt comfortable enough with me to cry on my shoulder. I would never have expected that when I first met her.

In addition to shy, quiet, and/or reserved kids, the other issue is that I don’t see the university students very often. Those few that I have made connections with just so happened to have stayed here at our main facility for an extended amount of time; or, they were here finishing their years of service and have just recently left the campus to go study and live in our university houses in Santa Ana.

So, it wasn’t until the days leading up to Christmas that I created a bond with two of the university guys. For whatever reason, we just clicked and now get along swimmingly. We’re able to joke and tease each other, but we can also talk about serious things or subjects with much depth.

They both left not too long ago, at different times. The one guy returned for the weekend the other day, and we picked up our usual banter as if he hadn’t left and been away for a few weeks. That moment in itself was joyful and full of alegría when I ran into him.

However, it wasn’t until the conversation left its usual lightheartedness and became serious that I fully understood what alegría is. I’m not one to betray confidences, so I won’t discuss what he and I talked about. Suffice to say though, it was a very deep and beautiful conversation.

It’s not very often (really, ever) that I get those moments with the pequeños. Where all the barriers are down, and life is looked at and discussed for what it is.

That is alegría. Being human. Being human and sharing the human experience with someone.

It is being able to be trusted and confided in. It is joyful, full of cheer, full of happiness. And everything else that I simply can’t put into words. Oh how I wish you all could just feel what I feel by being here!

So there’s the first thing – the conversation. The easier and shorter moment to share with you is a photograph. Well, I lied. It’s multiple photographs…

This is the picture I intially thought of. Keep thinking about it, honestly. She's just so alive and joyful. Alegría.

This is the picture I intially thought of. Keep thinking about it, honestly. She’s just so alive and joyful. Alegría.

You see...

You see…

...what I mean?

…what I mean?

I know for a fact that I didn’t do the word and the meaning justice, but it’s my attempt nonetheless. Alegría, what a wonderful thing.

Update and A Slice of Happy

Well, this is embarrassing.

The whole point of this blog was to help in sharing my experiences. What have I done? I’ve been quiet for the last 2 months. My sincerest apologies!

I know it’s an easy way out, but it’s the truth when I say that I have been busy. There has been soooo much going on, it’s great! At times, it’s an exhausting kind of day when I get back to my room, so I tell myself, oh I’ll write tomorrow. Then I don’t.

My only disclaimer is that my Facebook friends have been kept up to speed…it’s way easier for me to post updates there. Though I also have more constraints with that medium. Here on the blog, it feels like the world is my oyster, so to speak. And I tend to go more in-depth with my experiences here (which requires more time than a quick Facebook status takes), few and far between though they may be.

Anyway…here’s a quick recap. Then I’ll start posting posts with some more meat to them, as they say.

I realized I never told you this, but back in the middle of October, I went to NPH Guatemala/Antigua/Panajachel, Guatemala for 6 days (note: got a post coming up that’s sort of related to the trip). A family that has been instrumental in supporting and fundraising for NPH, practically since its inception back in 1954, came for a visit. They have worked with NPH for what seems like forever, so it was a wonderful opportunity to have met them. It was almost like meeting Fr. Wasson himself with the stories that I heard. Anyway, the family’s original travel plans changed right before they left NPH El Salvador, so they “borrowed” me for a few days to help translate while they visited at NPH Guatemala and went to do a few tourist-y things. You could say that it was an awesome working vacation. It was great!

November came. I ceased working at the school because classes were over, so I went full time in the office. We had a lot of visitors for various reasons, and I had roommates for practically the entire month. We hosted a spiritual workshop for 5 of the NPH homes, a large group of sponsors from the US came to visit; we celebrated kindergarten and 9th grade graduations and quinceañeras for 12 of our beautiful girls. In the middle of all of those activities – which happened within the same week – I turned 23. It was the best birthday that I have ever had, seriously. I’ve never received so many surprises in one day. Who knew that 23 could be so awesome?

The last week of November, 25 of our kids went to NPH Guatemala to participate in the 7th annual NPH International Soccer Tournament. I was fortunate enough to go along and document the experience and be a caregiver for our girls’ team. For me, November was the month that was and wasn’t. It flew by so fast and there was so much going on, I sometimes don’t remember that it happened, though I have the photographic evidence to prove otherwise. In one November week alone, I took almost 4,000 pictures, and I’ve been here 6 months!

The majority of December has also been incredibly busy and packed full of many fun things. Of course, we’re still in December so more on those experiences and happenings later on.

As many of my friends who have visited and become a part of the NPH family can attest, NPH is a wonderful place and is creating positive change in the world one child at a time. In speaking with a friend, our mutual discovery was that you really can’t find this kind of happiness anywhere else outside of NPH. It’s almost unreal. Recently I’ve come across two magnificent quotes, and I’d like to share them with you. The first comes from this season’s Little Blue Book (daily reflections and prayer for the Advent season; they also make books for Lent and Easter – check it out!):

“Whatever God wants me to be is the happiest life I could ever have.”

This next quote is from Vicki L. Kucia:

“Life is too short not to do something you love every day.”

My challenge to you is (if you haven’t found it already) go find that something that makes you happy. Find that something that you love and invest yourself in it, heart and soul. I think it’s safe to say that I’m doing what God wants me to do, and I couldn’t be happier. I also can’t imagine not being here at NPH.

At NPH, we always say that our doors and our hearts are always open to you. So come visit! Perhaps being a part of the NPH family is just the “thing” for you.

Paz y bien, Ashley.