The day is January 28th in Key West, Florida, and I have arrived at my beautiful hometown with a surprise for my mom. I brought my camera with me with the intention of taking photos of her at her favorite pier to celebrate her 85th birthday. But if you know my mom, you know how hard it is to surprise her. When I told her my plan, she replied, “God already told me this morning we were going to do this.” And that is how surprises always go with my mom. God has always been ahead of any plans you can make for her, and for that I am grateful.
My mom was born 85 years ago today in Havana, Cuba. As a small child, she quickly developed a passion for two things: sports and singing. She won numerous medals competing in volleyball, track and field, and in her favorite sport, swimming. She was so passionate about swimming that one day, as a young girl, she swam so far off the shore at her favorite beach in Mariano, Cuba that a rescue boat had to go find her.
She also had a passion for music and the arts. At the age of 14, without her mom knowing, she snuck across town to a popular local singing competition. Her Tia Gracelia secretly made her a “rumbera” costume and coached her to sing “Babaloo.” She took first place in the competition that night and snuck back home, thinking her mom would never find out. But the local radio station broadcasted her success, and when a neighbor heard the news and came over to congratulate her, things turned serious.
Why? Because my Abuela Estela, who was a good woman and loved her only child, was gripped by fear. In that day and age, she was afraid that my mom would succeed. Succeed in sports or succeed in a singing career, which meant that my mom would be recruited, taken to the United States, and separated from her. So in came the “chancleta,” as we Cubans call it. My mom was very familiar with a “chancleta” beating as a child. She got it when she competed and she got it when she sang. Not because she wasn’t loved by her mom, but because her mom was afraid to lose her.
When my mom was in 3rd grade, a nun visited her public school in Havana and asked her if she would like to take her First Communion. At that moment, my mom had never been to a church and didn’t even know what communion was. She went home and asked her mom if she could participate, and as God had planned it, her mom did not object.
The nun took my mom in, gave her Bible classes for two months, and even made her a white dress and veil for her special day. Her parents did not attend her First Communion, but that didn’t stop my mom from pursuing a relationship with God and the local church just blocks from her home. God had made plans for her, and she wasn’t afraid to follow them, even at a young age.
My mom got her teaching degree in Havana (the safe career her mom approved of), and at 19 she met my dad and they married. Ironically, he quickly took her out of Cuba to live in New York. Not being able to endure the cold weather, they moved to Miami (where she gave birth to her first of six children, Teresa), and a few months later they made their way down to Key West. That was 62 years ago.
How did my mom follow God’s plans during those years?
The entire time her kids were in elementary school, she was a volunteer teacher’s aide with Mrs. Mosher at Truman School.
She was a choreographer for numerous “Quince” Birthday parties in Key West and one of the directors of the famous Key West Comparsa with Boza. In fact, every one of her children danced in the comparsa at one time.
She was also the Music Director at the Catholic Church, and her kids were the lead organist, pianist, and guitar players for the Spanish masses there.
She encouraged all of her children to chase their dreams, whether it be in music or sports, and never once lifted a “chancleta” to stop them from pursuing their passion.
Today, my young mom continues to make an impact in her community. Every weekday morning you will find her at the 7:30 am mass, followed by a prayer time at her favorite pier. On Monday she visits 3 homes for a Bible study and time of communion. On Tuesdays you will find her doing hospital rounds, praying and giving communion to those who are sick and weary. On Wednesdays she has a prayer group in her home, and on Fridays she is at the Monroe County Jail, where she has been ministering to inmates for the past 20 years.
So back to my photo shoot. It was no surprise to my mom that I was going to document her love for God and prayer at her favorite pier that day. Why? Because she has pursued a life chasing God and has allowed Him to go before her in every season. She couldn’t dance as a child but spent years teaching her children to dance. She couldn’t sing as a child, yet she encouraged her children to master a musical instrument of their choosing. She wasn’t introduced to a church by her parents, yet she introduced her God and a passion to serve others to each of her kids, including me.
I am grateful today for a God who goes before my mom. I am grateful today for a mom who knows how to trust Him to give her the desires of her heart at the right time and in the right season.
When we were wrapping up the photo shoot she handed me a scribbled envelope with a prophetic word she received from God on the pier that very morning. And these are the words I will leave with you today. I pray they encourage you and remind you to praise and trust Him in every season.
We need to praise God wherever we are. Whether it be from your kitchen, your bedroom, or your dining room table. Praise God when we you are sad, happy, at a party, even if you are sick (in fact that is the best medicine for your body)!
Look at that great ocean He created…how can you not praise Him?
Wherever you are, praise Him. Praise Him because He will extend His hand toward you and respond. He says to you, “Here I am my daughter; receive from me. Don’t doubt because I will give you the desires of your heart in abundance.”