Sammy's* head rested in his lap, his little body shaking as he tried to keep his cries quiet and his tears hidden.
It was Valentines Day, we were in Presencia's weekly performing arts class, and I was in the middle of the circle listening to our students name things they love.
I hadn’t noticed Sammy crying, but thankfully Nathaniel, one of our volunteers, had. His hand rested on Sammy's back.
I quickly went over to find out what was wrong. Sammy was too upset to get any words out. Nathaniel is a speech therapist and was able to show Sammy a breathing trick to help him calm down enough to communicate.
Most of the kids in our community live with layer upon layer of instability and insecurity. Sammy and his mom made the dangerous journey to the US, leaving his Dad back in Honduras. When I first met him as a 2nd grader a couple years back, he knew very little English. He and his mom rented a room in our complex from another family.
Sammy began to tell us he was sad because he missed his mom. She had to find work out of state and had left him with relatives for a week. He told us that he had made her 20 Valentine cards at school but that it wasn’t enough! He told us that she was getting back tomorrow but that he had nothing, no food or gifts he could give her.
God had put me in the just the right place to meet Sammy in his grief, and had brought Presencia into a season to provide for Sammy's need in that moment.
This season was a long time coming. For the first decade in this neighborhood, Ian and I struggled financially, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. From day one, we ran the after school program out of our home.
Last year, Presencia received a couple large one time gifts, and we experienced financial stability for the first time as an organization and as a family.
With Jack now (4) and Andy (2), my family's needs and Presencia programing needs were growing and colliding in the same 1,000 square feet of space and often in the same window of time! Things were so good and fruitful, but this new reality was taking a great toll on my mental health!
Our maturing staff and several exciting new partnerships with local churches, businesses, and nonprofits meant sudden growth in our capacity to love and serve our young neighbors. The only thing holding us back was the space to grow.
So we began to think through options, weighing the costs with trusted friends, advisors and the Presencia board.
We realized that this neighborhood was where our family was meant to be, and that Presencia programing needed its own space.
So in a big step of faith, we decided to take on the added expense of a second apartment in our complex for Presencia programing.
We signed the lease the first week in February. All the furniture and supplies needed for the new space was provided almost immediately through the small group of supporters and community members who knew our need!
If you know me well, you know that I love to share and document every new exciting thing on Facebook! So why are you just now hearing about this?
As I processed all these changes, I began to feel uncomfortable and unsure about how to share them. This new found mental health and financial stability was something I hadn't felt in a decade! I felt bad about feeling so happy and free.
Would my friends who are suffering or fighting to survive find this blessing alienating? How do I enjoy and celebrate these blessings when I know kids like Sammy are struggling with very little? Would donors feel unmotivated to give, knowing that Presencia is thriving and I’m in such a good place?
This Sunday, with these questions weighing me down, I heard a familiar Bible story in a new way.
The story is in Luke 5. Jesus calls his first disciples, lowly fisherman, worn out and frustrated from a long night of work, doubtful of their own abilities. Jesus tells them to do something totally irrational and illogical. He tells them to go out into deep water and let down their nets. The fisherman replies "Master, we have worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down my net."
Their nets become so full that they begin to break. They call out to a nearby boat to help them carry all the fish! And soon, even those boats begin to sink from the weight. They needed to call out to even more boats!
Jesus uses this miracle to teach his followers what kind of people they will become. He says "you will be fishers of man", meaning in the same way, God will always be the source of provision, showing them where to go, and when to drop down their nets. And they will catch people to do justice and usher in God's love. And when that happens, they are going to need way more than just their own boat!
I realized that this is what is happening for Presencia right now. God's miraculous provision of a committed group of young staff, eager middle school helpers, 35 little ones bursting with potential, and new community partners had reached a breaking point in our apartment. So we needed to call out for more boats!
As I sat with Sammy, listening to his heartache, I knew more than anything he needed to know his mom loved him. I told him that she was working so hard and so far away because she loved him so very much. And I knew we had a Presencia apartment space now filled with valentines decorations and left over treats! I told him that when we got back home he could have them all and make a surprise party for his mom. That cheered him right up!
All the good new things in my life are God’s loving provision. I don’t need to hide them, or feel bad about them. I can celebrate them, share them, and invite others to join me in experiencing the overflowing load.
Whether you’re from our neighborhood or someone just learning about the rich community where God has called us, we need you to bring over your boat! Join us in making this growing ministry sustainable for years to come. Celebrate with us as we see lives transformed by God's radical love.
*Name changed to respect privacy