God's Birthday Gift to Anna - by Karen

A quinceañera is something that many Latin American girls dream about in much the same way that little girls fantasize about their wedding day.  When we lived in Peru, Anna had the opportunity to attend other young ladies' special celebrations, including her sister's, and looked forward to turning 15 herself.  

If you want to learn about the history of quinceañeras and read about Katelyn's celebration, click on the following link which will take you to the blog I wrote back in October of 2018:  http://www.carmodyfamilyonmissions.com/2018/10/katelyns-quinceanera-15th-b-day.html

Leaving Peru was hard for many reasons; one of them was the disappointment Anna felt as she realized that outside of Latin America she may never have a quinceañera of her own.  Of course, she enjoys parties and getting dressed up in fancy clothes, but that's not the part of it that she had been looking forward to.

Time flies!
This is a photo of Anna and Katelyn at
Katelyn's quinceañera two years ago.
After our time in Peru we served in Kenya, but they don't celebrate quinceañeras in Africa so the prospects didn't look so good.  When our time in Kenya was drawing to a close we considered serving in Romania, New Zealand and other Pacific island countries - none of which celebrate quinceañeras.  Throughout the discernment process Anna remained optimistic and constantly assured everyone in our family that the Lord would most definitely lead us to the perfect mission post; perhaps that would be somewhere in Asia, maybe we were supposed to serve in India... wherever it was, it would be wonderful, she said.  As we discussed various possibilities there was no mention, of course, of a quinceañera...but that doesn't mean that it didn't cross Anna's mind.  She had already turned 14 and it seemed that 15 was just around the corner.  A couple of weeks before we left Kenya plans began to take shape for us to move to Puerto Rico.  As we were packing up our belongings Anna came across a photo from Katelyn's 15th birthday and it occurred to her that the prospect of having a quinceañera was looking much, much better...  even if that meant nothing more than a private ceremony at church followed by a small celebration with our immediate family.   

Daily, we thank God for always providing for us in the most incredible ways.  Not only does He work through the faithful to make sure that we have the basics like food, clothing, and shelter, but He also blesses us with things like beautiful birthday celebrations for our kids.  

When we arrived in Puerto Rico we left the airport and went directly to the rental unit we had reserved through the AirBnB website.  Unbeknownst to us, the INCREDIBLE landlords who were awaiting our arrival would help us to make Anna's quinceañera a day that she'll remember with a smile for the rest of her life.  The landlords (who just happened to be active members of the local Catholic church) introduced us to the parish priest (who just happens to be a missionary from Poland) and worked to coordinate the details.  Since Anna's birthday fell on a Sunday this year, it was perfect.  

Anna is a missionary through and through.  As such, she was determined to look beautiful without spending a lot of money....but the local dress shops were soooo pricey...what to do???  Anna didn't lose hope.  A little investigating revealed that Amazon delivers to Puerto Rico.  Looking at the calendar we realized that they could bring something in time for Anna's birthday IF she chose quickly.  After much deliberation, the decision was made and her dress was ordered.... for the bargain price of $29.99 instead of $750 or even $1000, which I've read is typical.

Next up - shoes.  One of the important components of every quinceañera celebration is the "changing of the shoes".  Girls arrive in plain flats and leave decked out in fancy heels.

Thankfully there is a little shoe shop near the house we're renting which had a stunning pair that Anna fell in love with immediately.  Accustomed to wearing hand-me-downs, she felt bad spending $15 for a brand new pair of shoes, but I assured her that our mission partners would be delighted to know that their donations were making it possible for her to feel so beautiful on such an important day!  

As we began thinking about Anna's celebration we wondered how we might make it feel really special when it would only be our immediate family plus our landlords and a couple of their adult kids.... little did we know that the Lord had it all figured out.

At Mass the priest asked us to sit in the front row as the guests of honor, which made Anna feel so proud.  

After his homily he introduced our family and spoke a bit about what it's like to be a missionary in a foreign land, which he understands from his personal experiences.  He reminded the community that most girls celebrate their quinceañeras with their extended family, friends, and community members that they've known for years.  Anna, on the other hand, was celebrating with people she hardly knew...which is one example of the many hardships that missionaries face.  

After he said a bit more about the blessing that missionaries are to the communities they serve, he unexpectedly asked Anna and Katelyn to sing a Marian hymn that we often sang in Kenya so that the folks could hear what Swahili sounds like.  Although the people couldn't understand much, they recognized the word "Maria" and delighted in the idea of people all over the world honoring Our Blessed Mother through song.  

Next, the priest invited Anna to present her bouquet of flowers to Mary, which is a traditional part of the quinceañera ceremony.  She then professed her promise to remain pure until her wedding day to Jesus and the whole church community.  This is the part that Anna was most looking forward to.  Of course she read the prayer that she had written in Spanish, which really touched the hearts of the parishioners.  Father gave Anna a beautiful blessing and affirmed her for her desire to live as Jesus teaches us to live.

After Mass many people approached Anna to share their sentiments.  They explained that few girls celebrate their quinceañeras in church these days because all they're interested in is the pretty dress, big party and expensive gifts.  They were inspired by Anna's witness, and cried as they thanked her for courageously living as an example for others her age.   

Despite the covid-19 restrictions, Father allowed us to use the gathering space in the garden behind the church for a small celebration after Mass.  We assumed that it would just be us and the landlords.... but to our surprise and delight there ended up being over 30 people at our little party.

Our festivities started - as most quinceañeras do - with choreographed dances which are presented to the celebrant as a surprise.  

Chris, Jack and Michael were the first to perform.   To see a short video of their dance, click on the following link:



After the guys finished it was the ladies' turn.  Katelyn choreographed a short dance that she taught our landlord, her son's girlfriend, and me.

We found opportunities to practice in secret so that Anna could be completely surprised by our performance.  Although our dance wasn't anything amazing, it was shared with a whole lot of love!!!  To see a clip of our routine, click on the following link:


Next on the agenda was the ceremonial changing of the shoes.  As directed by our guests, Chris and Michael took off Anna's black sandals and put on her fancy high heels.  Everyone clapped and cheered when Anna stood up and curtsied.  She was officially a young lady!!

Our landlord plays the guitar and surprised us by playing the traditional song that he said every young lady dances to with her dad during her quinceañera.  It was heartwarming to hear everyone singing along, tapping their toes, swaying back and forth, and obviously reminiscing about other special quinceañeras that they've participated in during their lives ~ perhaps their own, their daughters or granddaughters.  It was beautiful!  To hear a snippet of the song and see Anna dancing with her dad, click on the following link:


After the dance presentations and the changing of shoes, it was time for speeches.  Chris and I both got the opportunity to express our love for Anna as we acknowledged her passage from childhood into young adulthood.  We are unbelievably proud of Anna, but more importantly we are happy for her.  She has truly discovered - for herself - the joy that is available to those who love the Lord above all things.  

Katelyn shared her sentiments and ended by thanking Anna for being her best friend.  

We forgot to tell the boys that they would be giving speeches...in Spanish...in front of a bunch of people they've never met.... 

I suppose it could have been embarrassing for them, but it just ended up being really silly.  They whispered and giggled, and then finally Jack spoke.  Everyone was entertained by their antics and Anna was touched by their thoughtfulness.

Our celebration continued with group dances like the chicken dance and the limbo.  I was amazed to see all of our guests participating with such tremendous joy and thanked God for making the food, which we planned to feed about 12, satisfy over 30....with plenty leftover.  Finally, after about two and a half hours our guests were ready to leave.  It never ceases to amaze us how the Lord works inside the details of our lives! 

When we got home Anna was happy to receive simple gifts like a canister of goo and a wallet that Katelyn made out of duct tape.  

As we look back on Anna's special day we know that we couldn't have possibly planned for things to go as well as they did.  The credit for the success of the day belongs completely to God.  We believe that He knew how important this was to Anna.  We read in the bible that God knows the desires of our hearts and that He wants to bless us in abundance.  We see His handiwork inside of the details of this day, which was WONDERFUL!  

At the end of the day, when I asked Anna how she felt, she said, "I feel like the whole day was God's way of telling us that everything will be OK and that He's got us taken care of."  

This simple statement represents so much more.  Anna's confidence in the Lord is unmatched.  She completely trusted that He would lead us to the perfect mission post... and He has.  We look forward to all He has planned for us here in Puerto Rico and thank you for taking on this new post with us.  

Lots of love, Karen

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