When God’s Plans are Better than My Plans

Sometimes God’s gifts are obvious, and they fit perfectly into my plans: a healthy newborn baby; a loved one returning safely from a war zone; a cancer scare for a dear family member that turns out fine. Huge life moments when you fall to your knees in thanks for the outcome.

But what about those gifts that are not only unexpected, but don’t even really register on your wish list because they don’t fit into your plans?

Jefry coming into my life was one of those gifts, unplanned by me, but not by God.

JefryJuly2014

Jefry’s official Compassion photo.

He stood out in a stack of five child folders I received just two months before visiting Nicaragua. At three years old, he was almost exactly one year younger than my youngest son, and had a birthday just a few days before my son’s.

Jefry looked apprehensive in his photo, maybe even shy, his skinny legs peeking out of his shorts, baby toes showing in his little red sandals. I thought how I’d love to sponsor this little boy, but I set aside his folder on the table.

Later my husband walked by the table, and he noticed Jefry’s photo, too. “Who is this,” he asked. I said, “You’re drawn to him, too, aren’t you? He’s a cutie.”

But we had no plans to sponsor another child so close to my upcoming trip with Compassion. I already had two children on my list for child visit day, and had been collecting gifts to bring to them, and I was saving a spot in our budget to sponsor another child while on the trip.

So, as planned, I scanned in Jefry’s photo, and along with the four other child folders, posted his information on my blog, hoping to find him a sponsor.

In less than a day, a man contacted me and said he wanted to sponsor one of the children whose photos I had posted. I asked which child, and he said to just choose for him. He also agreed to have me assigned as his child’s correspondent, so I would write to the child while he was the financial sponsor.

Any guesses who I chose? Two months later, I was meeting Jefry for the first time.

DSC_2144_2

Meeting Jefry for the first time.

Just like in his photo, he looked shy as he approached. One of my other boys, Esteban, held Jefry’s hand and led him to me. After our first hug, “shy Jefry” disappeared.

It turned out that timid little guy actually had mischief in his eyes, beautiful dimples that flashed with plentiful smiles, and a whole lot of energy. He was on the go non-stop!

I often pray for his beautiful mother, Gloria, that she would have the energy to keep up with her little firecracker, as I saw him test and challenge her many times that day.

He carried a “traca traca”, two balls connected by a string, stuffed impossibly into his little jeans pocket.

He crashed into a glass door, which knocked him flat on his back and left a small red bump on his forehead, but he didn’t miss a beat.

This boy tackled every new experience throughout the day with enthusiasm, from his first go-cart ride as my passenger, to driving his own boat in circles, to a boat ride with me as we chased my son and other sponsor children to squirt them with our water cannon, causing him to laugh loudly.

He overcame his fear of the jumping castle as we bounced inside it during a rain shower, soaking wet and laughing.

He strapped on roller skates and flung his legs wildly, held up by the arms between his mother and our translator, eyes sparkling and only half-heartedly trying to skate, but obviously enjoying his legs wildly flailing around.

He repeatedly stuck his thumb in his mouth during photos to tease his mother.

He wanted to play baseball immediately upon receiving the glove and ball I brought for him.

He ate a hot dog in the morning, chicken and fries for lunch, then cake and popcorn later in the day, always with enthusiasm and finishing every bite.

And after all of this, he still had the energy to kick a soccer ball around with me and the older boys.

In fact, I didn’t see Jefry slow down the entire day, until we climbed back on the bus together. Then he fell asleep – sitting up.

Our translator carefully lifted him over the bus seat and into the arms of his mother.

So despite Jefry’s photo catching my eye and tugging at my heart that first time I saw it, I was ready to give up the chance to meet this wonderful little boy without even a second thought. I’d have missed out on that awesome day with Jefry, getting to know him and his mother. I’d have missed out on the chance to watch him grow in the coming years, and hopefully to visit him again sometime. I’m so thankful God had other plans.

DSC_2204

Jefry on the go carts.

DSC_2246_2

Jefry driving his own boat.

DSC_2515_2

Jefry teasing his mom by sticking his thumb in his mouth.

DSC_2536_2

Ready to play ball.

DSC_2505

Roller skating with some help.

Birthday Boy

DSC_2548

Compassion children celebrate their birthdays with their sponsors!

Today is Esteban’s 9th birthday!

This month also marks four years that I’ve been sponsoring Esteban, and getting to know him through letters.

This year, I had the privilege of sharing birthday cake with Esteban in an early birthday celebration during our child visit day last month in Managua. Toward the end of the day, we all gathered together to sing “Happy Birthday” to the children with birthdays in October and November.

It was very special for the children, and Esteban even teared up a bit with emotion during the song.

Afterwards, I got to hug him, wish him a Happy Birthday in person for the first time, and share some cake with him.

It was a special moment for us, and has been on my mind today as I imagine him celebrating his birthday at home with his family.

Happy 9th Birthday, Esteban!

DSC_2549

Esteban with his birthday cake.

DSC_2551

Kerri & Esteban

Boats, Cars and Smiles

One of the boys’ favorite activities during our visit day was driving, whether it was boats or cars. Please enjoy the beautiful smiles in the following photos.

DSC_2448

Jose, Aidan and Kerri ready to race!

DSC_2242_2

Jefry piloting his very own little boat.

DSC_2221

Esteban driving a race car.

DSC_2190_2

Kerri and Esteban

DSC_2191

Jose and Aidan riding together.

DSC_2280

Jefry and Kerri

DSC_2271

Esteban getting ready to take aim at Kerri.

DSC_2270

Jose enjoying the boats.

The Meeting

In a trip that was full of new experiences, sights and sounds, filled with emotion, with each day ending in exhaustion, heart overflowing with God’s blessings and love, everything came together in these brief, beautiful moments. I met my boys.

Yes, meeting them was the main purpose of this journey to Nicaragua. If not for them, Aidan and I would not be there. But we had experienced so much already, changed so much already, how could there be more?

But of course, there was more, and it began with this meeting.

DSC_2124

Anxious sponsors listen as Kim, our tour leader, reads off bus assignments before the children arrive.

After much anticipation, a sleepless night, and an early-morning wake-up filed with anxiety and nerves, Aidan and I headed to the hotel lobby, loaded down with gifts for our boys. There we joined the other sponsors on our tour, and listened closely as our leader, Kim, read off our bus assignments.

Five buses would be arriving shortly, carrying our sponsored children, and we were excited to learn that we’d be on the first bus!

Finally, we saw the buses pull up in front of the hotel. The first sponsor from our bus headed out and hugged his children, then they posed for photos. At this point, it was becoming difficult to hold back the tears. I squeezed the hand of the sponsor in front of me, and moments later, she walked outside to meet her beautiful young lady, followed by more hugs, more tears, more photos.

And it was our turn.

I handed my camera to Kim as Aidan and I walked through the lobby doors, and I saw Jose walking toward me. We hugged, I kissed him and cried, and we hugged some more. Then we tried to pull it together enough to pose for a few photos.

DSC_2131

Meeting Jose for the first time.

DSC_2138_2

Aidan, Kerri and Jose after our first hugs.

Before we had a chance to recover, Esteban walked into my arms. The little pudgy 5-year-old, whom I had sponsored almost four years ago, who had asked me to visit in his letters, was now a thinner, taller boy, and hugging him at last was a wonderful feeling.

As soon as we finished our hugs, little 3-year-old Jefry cautiously walked up and greeted me. I only started writing to Jefry at the end of August. In fact, he hadn’t even received a letter from me, yet, and that, along with his age, left him a little unsure of what was going on. But he followed Esteban’s lead, and joined in the celebration, posing for photos after hugs.

DSC_2143_2

Finally hugging Esteban after almost four years of sponsorship.

DSC_2147

Aidan, Kerri, Esteban and Jefry.

We climbed onto the bus together, where I met each boy’s mother and project tutor, and I must admit, I had to ask for everyone’s names again later because it was all I could do to just be in the moment with my boys, hardly believing I was sitting next to them on a bus in Managua.

To break the ice during the drive to Play Zone Park, I gave each boy the soccer bracelet my daughter had made for them, and a little photo album full of family photos. We all looked through the photos together, Esteban making sure Jefry turned the pages in his album right along with the rest of us.

It was a beautiful start to an unforgettable day.

DSC_2149

Seated on the bus, traveling to Play Zone Park.

Beautiful Nicaragua

DSC_1909

Volcanoes Momotombo, left, and Momotombito, right, as seen across Lake Managua.

Nicaragua is known as, “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” and that’s just what we got to see while driving back to Managua from Leon one evening.

It had been such a hot and humid day, while visiting a project in Leon, playing with the children and visiting a home in the area, that a quick stop at the shore of Lake Managua was a welcome reprieve. The air was cooler standing at the edge of the water, and the breeze felt wonderful.

The view was beautiful, peaceful, and it was a perfect end to the day.

DSC_1910

The shore of Lake Managua.

DSC_1920

A family collecting firewood on the shore of Lake Managua.

God is Good

JoseAidanslide

Jose and Aidan enjoying the waterslide at Play Zone Park in Managua.

We are two mothers sitting side by side, watching our sons laugh, play together.

They are climbing the inflatable waterslide’s ladder, then racing down the slide, two boys from different countries who became fast friends this morning. After they tumble into the water, make their splashes, they resurface with huge smiles and climb up again.

JoseAidanLadder

Jose and Aidan

We laugh, too, every once in a while. We are both mothers of sons. She has three, and I have five. But mostly we are quiet, sitting together in the shade, finding refuge from the heat, taking in the scene in front of us.

Our translator asks me, “Is there anything you want to ask her?”

His job is to translate, to encourage us to communicate, and he is very good at this. But he is also a young man. How can he know that mothers don’t always need words to communicate? Mothers can be content watching their sons build a friendship, marveling at their sons from different worlds together, laughing, splashing more.

Is there anything I want to ask her? Of course there is, and questions buzz through my head like a swarm of bees. How can I narrow it down? Which questions are most important?

By nature, I often enjoy silence more than talking, and she seems the same, this mother of my sponsored child. This hard-working woman, whose struggles I can only imagine, has taken a day off from her duties to visit an amusement park with her son to meet me, her son’s sponsor, who lives more than 2,000 miles away from Managua.

Our time together is short, and my questions are many, and as our translator patiently waits, I desperately choose one.

Jose&Mom

Jose and his mother

“Can you ask her, what is Jose like at home?,” I say.

He asks, and she answers, “He is obedient.” She says he plays well with his 5-year-old brother and helps him a lot.

I nod and say, “That’s good.”

But she isn’t finished.

She tells our translator that Jose sometimes becomes so emotional when he reads my letters to her that he cries. She says he can feel how much I care for him in the letters.

I can feel my throat tightening as I take this in, as we continue to watch our boys together on the waterslide, smiling, sliding, splashing.

Then she tells our translator that I sent Jose a financial gift earlier this year. She says she is so grateful for the gift.

I had sent money in March for Jose’s 11th birthday.

She explains that the gift arrived at a very difficult time for her family, that they were struggling, and it enabled them to purchase shoes for Jose and food. She is very grateful, she says again. Unsure and awkward when accepting thanks, I nod again.

I take a deep breath to push back the emotion, and I explain this gift was from God, not from me. He blesses me, and in turn uses me to bless her. And his timing is perfect. He knew when they would need the gift.

After my words are translated, she nods, and I nod. We hug each other, our eyes watering, then look ahead at our sons again, side by side. I swallow hard as my throat tightens again.

Our translator watches us, then says simply, quietly, “God is good.”