“I’m so proud of you because you work so hard."
To say it was hard for Juan and Kathy Peña to leave their home country of Guatemala is a massive understatement.
"I remember thinking, 'I don’t know when I’m going to come back,'" recalls Kathy. "And my family’s everything, so it’s hard."
The couple came to the United States in 2006 so Juan could study and pursue a career in motion graphics and video production.
"We sold everything we had just to get enough money to pay the tuition," explains Juan. "It was a leap of faith."
Juan and Kathy Peña. All photos via Minute Maid.
On top of stretching finances for Juan's school, the couple had trouble getting pregnant.
The doctors had told Juan he had only a 1% chance of being a parent, so they thought it might never happen. But out of the blue, Kathy got pregnant with what they nicknamed their "miracle baby."
While it was a dream come true for the Peñas, the doctors told them the pregnancy was high-risk, which meant Kathy had to be on bed rest for the majority of it. So not only was Juan trying to complete his schooling, he was taking care of his pregnant wife at the same time.
"I knew in my heart we would be all right because we had each other," says Kathy.
Kathy and Juan during Kathy's pregnancy.
Thankfully, Kathy's pregnancy went smoothly, and Juan managed to keep up with his education throughout.
Soon, they were holding their daughter Elizabeth in their arms.
"Our daughter, our miracle. We couldn’t believe it when we had her in our arms," recalls Kathy.
But the blessings didn't stop there. In 2015, they welcomed their son Joseph into the world.
Elizabeth and Joseph drawing together.
Today, thanks to Juan and Kathy's inexhaustible faith and perseverance, they have two happy, healthy children who have everything they need and more.
Juan hopes their life up to this point inspires his kids to work hard and keep dreaming big.
"I think dreams and purpose are the things that drive us as humans," says Juan.
Kathy's also been able to pursue her ambition of becoming a designer of hand-crafted party supplies.
Crafting is Kathy's passion, so being able to throw herself into it has revitalized her sense of purpose.
Her creativity sparked an idea in Elizabeth. She wanted to make something really special for her parents.
Elizabeth's future diploma.
So she started putting together a colorful display filled with hand-drawn pictures of her family, festive hats, and decorations — just like her mom's.
It included one extra meaningful piece of paper: Elizabeth's future veterinarian degree — her dream profession.
When her parents saw what she'd made, they were overwhelmed with emotion. Her mother was so proud to see her daughter showcasing her creativity, and her father knew just what to do with the certificate.
"I will save this, and then we will see it in the future being a reality."
Juan holds Elizabeth's future degree.
Taking a leap of faith isn't easy, but the Peñas' story reminds us that it can be more than worth it in the end.
While there were times when they weren't sure they were making the right decisions as parents, seeing their kids develop lofty aspirations that are totally achievable is all the assurance they need.
The family has a comfortable life with so many opportunities at their fingertips. And it only happened because Juan and Kathy made a decision to finish what they started and stuck to it. While that's a reward all on its own, their daughter showing them what their efforts did for her was the sweetest icing on the cake.
Then she said this, which left them speechless: "I’m so proud of you because you work so hard."
Watch the Peña's whole story here: