Priorities: La Familia!

Ready for the Quinceañera!

I think most of us struggle with priorities and the line of what is “most important” on any given day seems to shift dramatically.  One of the constants in the Guatemalan culture is family….or la familia. It is not even a choice, it is a way of life.  It plays out in a myriad of ways but also through some very strong traditions.

One of those traditions is the Quinceañera. When  a girl turns 15, everyone stops and celebrates with a grand fiesta. There are vows the girl takes. It is a passage from young girl into a lady…a woman.  You know how things just happen that seem so “arranged” and yet you can’t imagine any other than the hand of God being involved?  Well Adolfo is a long time friend of our church and specially the mission team that has been coming here for 11 years.  When I was here in April, his daughter, Jackelin, was baptized (another HUGE – day long celebration).  Well, Jackelin’s Quinceañera was this weekend!  Adolfo invited me to come and it was a great experience of culture, of friends and of espanol!  I did not know this would be on my agenda.  My suitcase didn’t have a “dressy dress” in it, but thankfully I did throw in some heels.  (I have learned some things from this adventure about what to bring, but that is another post) I’ve learned a lot about shopping, attire and what you do “no matter what” when a girl turns 15!

Heidy (la madre) helping Jackelin with her shoes

The familia (Adolfo has a lovely wife and three daughters) decorated a rented building (Salon) for the event.  About 400 people attended.  The festivities for the day began with my having lunch in their home (a traditional birthday meal which I also experienced in April with one of the kids from our mission site) and then followed the preparation for the service.  It was as if preparing for a wedding, though I cannot speak to that  tradition here.  The Quinceañera is for all girls.. it knows no class or distinction.  Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, every girl celebrates this passage.  For Jackelin’s family, however, that event is centered completely around the church.

Adolfo, Jackelin, Heidy and Juan Pablo. Juan Pablo is their pastor. The ceremony included a long procession with flower girls, attendants, etc.

The service was clearly Metodista…printed bulletin, hymns, scripture, liturgy and all.  The dressing of the familia was all formal and lovely.  I learned a lot, had a good time and enjoyed making a memory with this familia.

Jackelin Jelhanna Santizo Gramajo
Los Ninos enjoying the fiesta!

There were 8 celebrantes involved in the ceremony in addition to many songs…10-12, both congregational singing and special music. After the ceremony (2.5 hours +) we had a full course dinner (yummy!!!) and cake which was just like a wedding cake… complete with its own cutting ceremony!  It was a very long and grande event.  And awesome for me to share with this special family.

In Guatemala family is a high priority for everyone.  My teacher, for example, shares a home with her parents, her two grown daughters and one 4 year old grandchild.  There is no retirement here (except for government employees) so families have to stick together. In Lily’s household, she is the constant breadwinner.

It is the familia that causes people to come work in the USA, make money and return with a way to offer their families  a decent way of life. It is the familia that always brings them back to their homeland. It is the familia that keeps traditions moving throughout the generations and it is the familia that breaks the hearts of all.  Sounds much like love, doesn’t it?

The new generations of Guatemala are experiencing much change. This tight-knit bond is a little more unraveled these days, though still intact.  The girl that goes off to school away from the family is both discouraged and admired. She has a tough road ahead. The young man who desires to see the world will struggle with a global connection with many countries and a family that needs his support to make it.  Like us, they all wonder: what will happen? What will we become? What will happen to the family?  Will we scatter all over the world, and if we do….who will be there when we are in need?

A portion of my family when we were in Alaska in May. Just appreciating them right now.

The church has a way of answering some of those questions – both here in Guatemala and all over the world.  Jesus was clear that his brothers and sisters are those who follow as his disciples. In other words, the church is to serve as family to all who assemble as a united community.  Thankfully I can say that is exactly my experience. I grew up with an amazing “church family” as a child and I have one in our church today.  My church family today is the most incredible community of faith I’ve ever known.  We love each other and we help each other…in all situations and circumstances.  I think “the family” needs our prayers. Both traditionally and the one we are called to be as a church. And maybe, some priorities should remain.

My family: Mom, Dick, my awesome sister, Liz, and me on the night of my ordination in 2010. I love you all!

5 thoughts on “Priorities: La Familia!

  • A very touching piece….. how wonderful for you to experience this special time in Adolfo’s family!
    The greatest gift we will ever give our family … at home or the church will be the gift of prayer…. I treasure yours and hold you in my heart and prayers.

  • You looked lovely and seeing you entering into the everyday life of a family made me smile. It is good to see God stretching and moving you. Praying for you each day. Grace and peace my friend.

  • Well said. We notice those strong family ties in Latinos around us. Many will turn down a promotion rather than move from the family center. Versus Americans who are encouraged to exercise our independence and “move ahead.” Many immigrant cultures in Calif. (Latino & Asian) practice “extended family ” lifestyles (multi-generations in one home.). It is lovely following your life journey. Thank you for sharing. I still take all the Espanol phrases and paste them onto a translation sight. You should hear Aaron talking about his trip to TJ to attend a soccer game. Just a few hours of what you are experiencing! Love you much, my niece!!!

  • Thanks so much for your faithful writing. Great thoughts on family. I miss you and think of you often. You have given us such a gift! Helping us stay in touch with those we love in Guatemala.
    We love you and miss you!
    Diane and Russ

  • I have so enjoyed your blog…wonderful to read all about Guatemala and the people. I’m sure Adolfo’s family treasures you as much as we do. Miss you!
    Love…Sarah

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