Life-Changing Valentines

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My wife, Susan, recently wrote about Hope’s Valentine project at her blog, My Place to Yours. With her permission, her words are reprinted here.

My word for 2013 is shelter. Simply hearing the word brings to mind thoughts of safety … stability … home.  I suppose it’s because I’m one of the fortunate ones. Many (most?) of you are, too. While I’ve had my share of challenges in life … some I pray none of you will ever experience … there’s never been a time when I wondered if I was loved or a time I questioned my long-term safety or whether I would have a roof over my head. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose I’ve been “sheltered” in more ways than one.  I’ll be forever grateful.

I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

I once shared a tablescape with you that I said was the Very BEST Tablescape Ever. Many of you agreed with me.  Two years later, I still say it is.  If you missed the story, I hope you’ll click on the link and read it … and then come back here so you can read the story of a young girl turned young woman.

In her own words, this is Joyce’s story …

When I was born, my mother gave me to my grandfather – because he was my biological father. The idea of raising me was too painful for her.

I didn’t know this until I was seven years old. I lived with my grandparents, and, as I got older, my grandmother didn’t want to keep me either. She was afraid my grandfather would start abusing me. My grandfather also didn’t want me around. I felt alone. I became very rebellious and didn’t obey anyone. I left home and went to a short-term holding house. The authorities knew it was dangerous for me there, so they called Hope Unlimited right away to come take care of me. I was just 11 years old.

When I first arrived at the City of Youth, it was not easy. I didn’t know what it meant to love or to be loved. The staff nurtured me and taught me about God’s love, though. Over my first few months at Hope Unlimited, I felt valued. My behavior changed, as I eventually understood the power of God’s love for me.

I remember receiving Valentine’s Day cards at our summer Day of Love party from people in the United States. The first time I opened one of these cards, I was overwhelmed. Someone who didn’t even know me, but who wanted to encourage me and pray for me, sent it with love. My friends and I were so excited to receive the cards. They made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself. There were people rooting for me and loving me from afar. I would put the cards in my locker and remember when times were hard that friends in the United States were praying for me and thinking of me.

I was at the City of Youth for seven years. There were highs and lows, but the staff here became my family. They taught me how to behave, how to slowly open my heart, how to love, and how to have healthy relationships. I would not be where I am today without Hope Unlimited.

Today I am a happy wife and mother to two sons. My husband and I live and work here at the City of Youth. By God’s grace, I am an example to the kids that transformation is possible. With God’s help, no matter what your past is like, you can learn to love and write your own family story. And it’s not just me. Our church is full of examples of others who have graduated from the City of Youth and had similar experiences of healing and transformation!

I would like to thank all the people who helped me grow – both here in Brazil and in the United States. So many individuals who I will never meet have encouraged me through Valentine’s cards, donated with their hearts open, and taught me that I could love and was loved. May God bless all of you, and thank you for everything. 

The Valentine project Joyce talks about is one we do every year at Hope Unlimited for Children. In my last post, I invited you to join me in making Valentines for the girls who now live at Hope’s City of Youth. Perhaps you thought your card wouldn’t make any difference to anyone. Perhaps, after reading Joyce’s story, you realize that it will.

If you’re willing to take just a few minutes to Celebrate Love, provide encouragement, and offer a sense of shelter to a young girl, just click on the heart to learn how.

Brazil’s Day of Love isn’t until early Summer.

You can send your Valentines any time from now until April 1.

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