End of the Year Appreciation

With today being December 31st, it is no secret that people nationwide are making last minute attempts at creating New Years Resolutions and fine-tuning their goals for the upcoming year. What I find interesting (even though I’m guilty of it as well) is that so many of us wait until January 1st to begin to follow through with ways we believe will better us. If our resolutions don’t work, or if we simply cannot stick to the plan we set out for ourselves, well, there’s always next January 1st for us to try again.

If we could move past the concept of New Year’s Resolutions, we could work on continuously trying to better ourselves. Moreover, we’ll have an entire year to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, rather than just waiting for a “re-do” twelve months from now. What is important for us to remember during these upcoming weeks of “resolutioning” (a new verb that’s quite fitting for this time of year) is that one minor setback is not a failure; we must not allow ourselves to get discouraged if things do not go according to plan. There is always tomorrow to wake up refreshed and begin from where we last left off. If we can view New Year’s Resolutions as the Year’s Resolutions, maybe we won’t be so harsh on ourselves. And maybe we’ll realize that our goals can be fought for at any given moment of any given day—not just for the first few days in January.

With that being said, one goal that I set for myself this past year was to continue blogging, since I had taken an extended break before the year began. Just this year alone, individuals from all around the world stopped by my site to read what I had to say. To me, there would be nothing more rewarding than knowing that one person (not including my mother) occasionally glances through my site. However, to find out that more than 2,000 visitors from sixty-nine different countries read my thoughts, experiences, and stories throughout the year is beyond overwhelming.

Just this year alone, my blog has had more visitors than the last three years combined. To my fellow bloggers, readers, and friends from 2015, I extend my sincerest appreciation and gratitude for your support. (In the tag section of this post, I’ve included the country of each visitor throughout this past year as a special way of saying thank you since it’s much easier than hand-written notes).

May 2016 be a year to remember, and may all of our resolutions come to fruition, regardless of any potential setbacks we may experience along the way. Happy New Year to all of you, and thank you, once again.

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In the Face of Abuse

On the medical mission trip I attended this past summer to Guatemala, a young girl in her early 20’s asked if she could speak with someone. One of the volunteers asked me to go over and talk to her, so I sat down alongside her and began conversing. She explained that her uncle had recently passed away from alcoholism and his death had left her distraught because he left behind his wife and young children. His wife is not able to work since her children are so young, so his family was left hungry and without any money. This resulting effect had left the young woman in a state of depression, and she could not stop thinking about her uncle’s passing and what would happen to his family.

Upon inquiring more into her background, I learned that this young woman is married with a newborn. She and her husband live with her parents, but the issue at hand though, is that her husband has been physically abusive by consistently beating her. When her husband wasn’t abusing her, both of her parents would take turns beating her, and if she experiencing such severe mistreatment from either of her “loved ones,” her mother-in-law would verbally abuse her and put her down at any given moment.

While many young adults in the United States are in college and finding themselves at such a young age, this young woman was being abused by everyone in her immediate family. Regardless of the awful situation she was facing, she was still concerned about her uncle’s family and what would happen to his children and wife. Through her way of speaking and her mannerisms, you could tell that this young woman was such a strong, resilient, and caring individual. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to interfere with her situation at home, because upon leaving our medical mission, the situation could intensify and we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it back in the States. However, for the first time ever, this young woman was able to open up about her life behind closed doors.

While the concept of not actually being able to help her situation at home was painful for me to accept, together, we discussed what an incredible mother she has been and what an incredible mother she will continue to be. She alone will break the cycle of abuse when it comes to her child, and she will teach her child the right way to treat others. We were able to collect numerous nutritional pediatric drinks for both her baby and her uncle’s children.

Such stories are more common than we would like to imagine, which is why we must do everything we can to help prevent abuse and domestic violence here at home and wherever possible. No one should have to experience any form of mistreatment by others, and if we could come together to make this a point across the globe, so many lives would be saved and improved. But in the meantime, somewhere out there is a brave young mother tolerating awful abuse by her “loved ones,” but still continuing to care for her newborn baby and young, hungry cousins.

I will not be posting a picture of this young woman, but instead, I decided to post a picture of a sunset during the mission. Although the nights may be dark, a sunrise will always follow. Therefore, there is always hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.

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Important Additions To Misioneros Del Camino

To summarize my past few posts, in 1986, Mami Leo answered a call from God to pack her belongings and move to Guatemala to help abandoned, abused, and malnourished children. With $2,700 raised by her and her prayer group, and faith that the Lord would guide her, Mami Leo devoted nearly thirty years of her life living in the mountains, nourishing, educating, and loving countless Guatemalan children in need. Over the next month, I’ll be highlighting a lot of incredible accomplishments that helped countless children in need, all thanks to one valiant and dedicated woman, Leonor Portela.

By 1999, a chapel built on site at the home gave the children a place to cherish their prayers, and the first baptisms and communion took place shortly thereafter. After having survived a few years of purchasing daily supplies of water, a 705-foot deep well was built that same year, thus providing water to the home, thanks to the Rotary Clubs in Guatemala, the United States, and Canada.

Mami Leo’s Legacy Will Always Live On

This past week was a very difficult one because the world lost an incredible human being on Sunday, March 8th. Whenever the medical mission team I volunteer with would go to Guatemala and stay at the orphanage Mami Leo founded nearly thirty years ago, she would remind us to not forget about the children upon our return to the states. Our group stayed at the home for only one week, twice a year, and that’s it. For the other 355 days in the year, Leonor Portela, who was more affectionately known as Mami Leo was at the home with the children by herself. Through the hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and the days with no electricity, Mami Leo was there protecting her children. It takes a special person to dedicate her life just to provide a life for others, and that’s exactly what Mami Leo did.

I flew out to Guatemala City early Wednesday morning and arrived just in time for a beautiful mass held in her honor. The entire church was packed and there was not an empty seat in the building. Looking around the room and seeing just how many people Mami Leo has impacted throughout her life was an incredible sight, and knowing that this wasn’t even close to the amount of people she saved and inspired was even more incredible. The funeral procession commenced once the mass concluded, and it was just as difficult as you can imagine. When the funeral concluded, we drove to the orphanage in Sumpango, Sacatepequez where we all gathered around and talked, sharing stories of Mami Leo with one another.

We lined a bunch of tables next to one another and sat down for dinner in a long rectangular set-up. I sat by the center table, and as I looked to my left and right, a sense of peace overcame me. It was truly a beautiful sight; the table was filled with children of all ages who had been saved by Mami Leo (some of whom are pictured below). Even young adults who no longer live in the home came back to spend time with Memo Leo before her passing, and celebrate her life following this terrible loss. In looking around and taking in the surrounding environment, I realized the true impact of Mami Leo’s life work. Some of the people sitting at the table were among the first few children Mami Leo took in years ago, and they were sitting here with children of their own whom you can tell are provided with unconditional love and support.

The love that Mami Leo gave to her children has been carried on to their own children, and Mami Leo has successfully helped them break the chain of abuse, neglect, and abandonment in Guatemala. They are well-integrated members of society, many in Guatemala, and some in the United States. And what is just as special is the fact that they all still treasure where they come from, the beautiful home Mami Leo took them into, Misioneros Del Camino.

So while we mourn a tragic loss of what I truly believe is a one of a kind saint, we also rejoice in knowing that Mami Leo’s legacy isn’t going anywhere. We can all come together to help fulfill her mission and dream of providing love and support to such children in need, and more importantly, we will never forget Mami Leo, her work, or the thousands of children whom she is survived by. And as she once said, plain and simply, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Descansa en paz Mami Leo.