The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices –

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The Arbol Gallo – a HUGE artificial Christmas tree in the middle of Guatemala City – every night its lights dance to a number of Christmas songs.

The oversized artificial Christmas trees that mark the main intersections in Guatemala City and the storefronts of shopping malls are coming down. It always surprises me when, overnight, all signs of Christmas are gone and people start looking forward to Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. A bit of a letdown.

I’ve always loved the Christmas season, but I love it even more in Guatemala. Life in Guatemala possesses abundant hardships – violence, death, poverty, hunger, suspicion, fear, to name a few. Christmas gives us the space to step back and breathe a bit.

A recent article published by ABC news and other sources, lists Latin Americans as some of the happiest people on earth. The article went wild in Guatemala – people waving it around saying, “see, we’re happy. despite it all, we’re happy.” I struggled with this – the kids I know are happy to some extent, but they are also filled with a deep and profound sadness and longing for something more, something better. They’re weary of it all.

Which brings me back to Christmas.

Christmas is a time when even (or especially) the weary can rejoice because joy entered the world, hope entered the world. Christmas gives us the courage to lift our chins, look ahead, and dare to hope and dream.

I want to share a story of one girl for whom I have a lot of hope as we enter 2013 – N (although she’s given me permission to share, I still like to preserve the privacy of friends – so N it is). N just turned 15 – she’s motivated, she loves to learn, she’s a great performer, she likes English, and she has a mom who loves her deeply. That’s a rare combination in the communities where we work. I’ve been having Bible Study with N and a group of girls for the past year and look forward to continuing that in 2013. In addition, N and I are going to start meeting 1v1 for English classes.

I sat down with N and shared with her some of the really exciting options YL has for kids like her – if she continues to commit herself to her academic, personal, and spiritual growth. I didn’t make her any promises, but laid out some options. She lit up. Before we talked she hadn’t believe there could ever be an opportunity to go to University, but programs like Developing Global Leaders are making that happen around the world.

N already started coming to leadership training with me and is looking forward to a year of growth and learning. I’m looking forward to seeing firsthand how this year unfolds for a girl who is captured by “the thrill of hope.”

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Christmas Card picture with YL girls after decorating cookies and before heading out to the big Christmas tree!

Feliz año nuevo, and enjoy the last of Christmas lights, trees, and music before we fall into the continuing rhythm of the year!

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