Thursday, June 09, 2016

One Heart to Another

The text from an out of touch friend came when my Friday night Bible study was rescheduled, leaving me with an unexpectedly open evening. "When might you have a minute to listen to my heartaches?" was the gist of her plea, and I knew God had shifted schedules for a reason. Over hot chocolate and sandwiches, I simply listened as one hour turned into two and the trials of her life in this season spilled forth. My own words were few yet I hope encouraging. The circumstances facing her could not be changed by our conversation; only God would be able to do so. But for those brief moments I could enter into them with her and pray for her and be with her, one heart to another.


I stayed seated during the bustling transition from Sunday School to church, my seven month old baby nestled and sleeping soundly in the carrier I wore. Lost in my own thoughts, I was startled by a grandmotherly touch on my arm. An older (yet newer) member of our volunteer training course for the crisis pregnancy center stood over me with a nondescript notebook in a trembling hand. "I have been looking for you to talk to you! I did my homework and I need to talk to you. I know I need to forgive, but my life has been so hard ... so many terrible things have happened to me. Can I read you what I wrote?"

We set up a time to meet the following evening. In the privacy and quietness of the empty church, she spilled out a harrowing tale of heartache pursuing her through childhood and into her adult years. Story after story of traumatic experiences explained the frailty and struggles I had often witnessed in her life. How little I knew of her after all these years of acquaintance! My ears were open but my words were few. Through God's Word and His Spirit she had drawn the conclusions that were right and true; I was merely a sounding board for what she already knew. Later as we said goodbye, she held a hand to her heart and said thank you. "This has helped me ... it has brought peace to my heart," she whispered. The simple act of listening, one heart to another.


"I have a scheduling conflict with our Bible study this week," she texted. "Can we meet for breakfast Saturday morning instead?" It would mean an early-morning trip to the grocery store before dropping my two sons off to their weekly class downtown, and coordinating with another friend to pick them up when done. Yet the momentum we were gaining by being consistent in meeting was too valuable to lose. Our third (of four) Bible study ladies could also join us, if her husband and son were able to come also. They would visit with my husband and children meanwhile.

After an emotional late-night meeting with another friend and some restless sleep interrupted by baby's nighttime feedings, my eyes rebelled against opening and my body against getting out of bed that day. It felt stressful, asking my family to please see that the kitchen and dining room areas were picked up and the bathroom clean by the time I returned from the store, class, and picking up our guest. But when conversation flowed around the table and topics of life and death were discussed in light of the Scriptures, and when our study went deeper and sincere questions were raised, I was reminded of the importance of this time spent studying and sharing together, one heart to another.


“Personal ministry is not about always knowing what to say. It is not about fixing everything in sight that is broken. Personal ministry is about connecting people with Christ so that they are able to think as he would have them think, desire what he says is best, and do what he calls them to do even if their circumstances never get "fixed." It involves exposing hurt, lost, and confused people to God's glory, so that they give up their pursuit of their own glory and live for his.” 

Friday, June 03, 2016

A Very Special Visit, Part Two

During our first eight years on the mission field, we were uniquely blessed. My parents, Jim and Gail Christian, served as missionaries in Chile for sixteen years until returning to the States in 1998 to serve in pastoral ministry at their sending church. Their church then graciously granted the opportunity for them to visit Chile almost on an annual basis for ministry purposes. This translated into the wonderful gift of our kids seeing their maternal grandparents nearly every year - even while on the mission field! This was certainly not my reality growing up as an MK, so I treasured it all the more.

However, in 2013 my dad was diagnosed with MSA (Multiple System Atrophy.) The long trip to Chile became more challenging and exhausting. At the same time it grew apparent that he would be retiring from ministry out of necessity rather than choice, further adding to the difficulty of travel from a financial standpoint. A sweet chapter of our life (enjoying my parents' visits) was drawing to a close just as a new grandbaby (Silas) came along. Our next furlough wasn't scheduled to take place until he was close to 1 1/2 years old. But as I mentioned in part one of this post, God in His goodness allowed Eva, Silas and I to take advantage of a wonderful fare sale and travel to the States ourselves. I am so thankful!  

My mom and my sister Terri met our late-night flight in Philadelphia and drove us to my parents' new home in a Christian retirement community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Our older children have many sweet memories from Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's home in Delaware, but Silas' will all be made here instead. They now live in a complex of lovely little homes in a warm Christian environment, yet a piece of their (and our) hearts will always be just across the border!

A unique characteristic to my parents' community is the variety of ministry opportunities on-site. One morning, Eva accompanied Pop-Pop to his prayer group. To our amusement, they returned with the story that an elderly lady had inquired if she was his wife! Another evening, Silas and I spent time with a group of ladies who gather to hymn sing with my mom as pianist. To their fascination, Silas was bundled into his baby sling and sound asleep during part of our visit. One sweet yet forgetful woman kept repeating, "It looks like you have two babies in there! Is it one? Or two?" When he awoke it was to a roomful of adoring smiles. A retirement community doesn't lend itself to many babies, so he was a delight everywhere we went!

Speaking of delight, however, Silas made it clear he was not delighted by the colder weather up north! A quick run to the grocery store one crisp night resulted in his screaming up one aisle and down the other after being shocked by the brisk walk from the car. Apparently shopping in general is not his favorite activity, even if it includes a delicious lunch at Friendly's and the wonderful assortment of outlet stores that Lancaster offers. I like to think that in the picture below Silas was sharing his woes with Pop-Pop (who wisely stayed home) after a full day of store hopping with the ladies!

One very special opportunity we had in Pennsylvania was an appointment with photographer Kim Winey. What she titles as "real life. your life." sessions are unscripted, at-home interactions between family members caught on camera. As a result of her time and talent, we were blessed with some beautiful images and memories of Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop together and with each of us. Initial feelings of awkwardness gave way to moments of laughter and warmth, and resulted in pictures we will treasure forever!

It was a treat to spend time with my sister Terri, nephews Benjamin and Nathaniel and niece Sophia. It was also wonderful to see my Aunt Joann (pictured below) - and not only because she brought some of her world-famous chocolate chip cookies! During her visit we enjoyed a concert by Robert and Joyce Hayes and Dr. Bill Welte of America's Keswick that was hosted by the retirement community. Our time together was short, but sweet.

The Sunday we spent in Pennsylvania allowed us to visit my parents' new church in the morning, and participate in Vespers at their community in the evening. It was a privilege to share in special music, as I was asked to sing and Mom played (just like old times!) A hilarious memory not to be forgotten was encountering a live bird in the meeting room when we went to practice that afternoon. Chasing it down the hallway and into the laundry room, I stood guard outside while Mom tried to call for help from someone in management. Eventually a brave soul took the challenge of facing off with the panicky bird and succeeded in detaching the window screens and shooing it outside. We got a lot of giggles out of that silly scenario!

All too soon, our visit came to an end. On our way to the airport, friends were invited to stop by my parents' longtime church in Delaware to meet Silas and say hello. What a blessing to see so many familiar and caring faces! It was there we said our goodbyes to Aunt Terri and the cousins. We were graciously chauffeured to the airport in the church van, and outside of security bid our farewells to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. It is never easy to walk away, but we look forward to the next time we say a sweet hello. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of this very special visit!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

These Learning Conversations

"Mom, do you think it's strange that [my brother] is older than me, but I know more than him?" 

It was an innocent question asked in front of the brother in question while both gazed with a measure of concentration at their math worksheets. While I wished it might have been spoken in a more private moment, I was thankful as always for the cheerful disposition of the aforementioned brother who took the conversation in stride. He already knew what my response would be due to having had this discussion more than once between the two of us, often in his moments of frustration and discouragement.

"I actually don't think it's strange." This statement surprised the inquisitive eight-year old. He was already familiar with his adoption story and that of his brother, born to different birth mothers in Haiti four months apart but adopted together from the same orphanage by our family. I reminded him of these similarities, but then pointed out an important difference.

"The reason your brother has a harder time learning is because he did not have enough food when his birth mother was pregnant with him and for several months after he was born. Babies' brains are growing during this time and if they don't get the food they need, their brains get hurt. That's what happened to your brother. On the other hand, you always had more than enough to eat. So it's not his fault at all, but this is why he has a harder time learning than you do."

While his brother was nodding his head in fervent affirmation, I referred to a conversation we'd had during school just a couple of weeks before. "Remember when I said life isn't fair?" Both boys acknowledged their clear recall of this paradigm-shifting statement. "Well, this is an example of how life isn't fair. Is it fair that you had enough to eat but your brother didn't? Is it fair that you can learn easily but it's harder for him?" They solemnly shook their heads over this evident inequality.

"The encouraging thing is that even though this isn't fair, we can trust God to use these things in our lives. The Bible says that when we have problems or hurts, God can use us to help other people who have similar problems. So your brother can help someone else like him someday. And in your case, God can use this to teach you patience when you have to sometimes wait for him in school."

He took this last statement and ran with it. "I am patient! There was this one time ..."

As the conversation drew to a close and the boys returned their attention to the math page at hand, they chattered away companionably. I couldn't help but write down some of the things they said.
"Mom, when my brother goes to Haiti for his 16th birthday can I go with him? YES!" (thrilled shoulder slapping and cheering) 
"I want Mommy and Daddy to be with me in all the birthdays that I have in this world." (animated agreement) 
"I want Mommy and Daddy to survive for years and years and YEARS! Imagine if I could survive longer than Mommy and Daddy. I could, but I don't think so." (deep discussion of the probabilities according to eight-year old perspectives)
I love their friendship and enthusiasm. When I am tempted to worry about the future, and the disparities that may grow wider if they continue to be homeschooled together, I am encouraged by the special bond between them and how God can use even these challenges to teach them and mold them. 

As it turns out, these learning conversations are not only for their benefit after all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Very Special Visit, Part One

Long-distance separation from family is a part of missionary life you never quite get used to. Yes, in this day and age technology works hard to make the distance seem much shorter. It's even true that weeks and months can sometimes go by in which the rhythm of our routines flows naturally and we don't think about the separation so much. But all it takes is one momentous event - happy or sad - to remind us how far apart we really are.

In this case, it was the arrival of a baby. (A quite unexpected and even miraculous baby born after eighteen years of infertility!) Silas was welcomed excitedly by his five older siblings whose own arrivals via adoption had been joyfully celebrated by their grandparents each time. Regardless of where we were living when Eva, Isabel, Owen, Ian and Alec came home - Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Chile - both sets of grandparents had moved mountains to travel and meet their new grandbabies on every prior occasion.  

This time, however, health and finances made it physically impossible for either Silas' paternal or maternal grandparents to come to Chile and meet him. And there's this thing about babies - they grow and change so fast! With furlough nearly two years away, it made our hearts ache when we would post pictures on Facebook and read longing comments from Grandpa Garcia or Mom-Mom Christian about how much they wished they could see and hold Silas while he was still so small. By furlough he'd be running around and maybe too busy for grandparent snuggles! We hoped and prayed there might be a solution somehow.

We were sweetly reminded that God supplies the desires of our hearts when Chile's national airline ran a phenomenal fare sale to the United States. Between their special offer and points accumulated on a card used for travel, I would be able to fly with Silas and one other person for less than what one of us usually pays to return to the States! It was decided that Eva would accompany me because of a previous commitment we had with the girls for a special trip near their 16th birthdays. Along the way I realized what a unique blessing it was for not only Silas but Eva to have this one-on-one time with hwe grandparents and other extended family members. Silas will not remember this trip, but Eva will never forget it.

Eva was six years old when we came to Chile and prior to this trip, had only returned once to the States at the age of eleven. Because our extended family is so spread out, she has had few opportunities to meet and get to know some of them. This made the effort of other family members to join us at my in-laws' house extra-special. Aunt Nina flew in from Iowa to spend the week with us, and Uncle Mateo and Aunt Raquel drove long hours after work to join us for the weekend. On Saturday, Eva and Silas got to spend time with their great-grandmother, great-uncle, two great-aunts, their dad's cousin and even their grandpa's cousin!

Something I love about the Garcia side of our family is their laughter. My father-in-law is renowned for his exuberant laugh. His laugh can't help but make others laugh, too. However, in the case of small children the volume of his laughter has been known to make a baby cry! So Pedro sent me off with instructions to count how many times Grandpa's laugh brought Silas to tears. I'm happy to report that it only happened once - the very first time, when it woke him from a sound sleep on our way home from the airport!

Another thing I love about the Garcia side of our family is their warmth and physical affection. Inevitably there will be hugs, pinching, and wrestling at a Garcia family gathering (sometimes with a side of ear biting!) This one was no exception. Peals of laughter rang out as Aunt Ruth, Grandpa's youngest sister, tried to take him down in an impromptu wrestling match. I enjoyed catching Eva's wide-eyed observation of the crazy antics going on around her. Silas got more than his fair share of cuddles on this day, and even Pedro and the kids back home were able to join us via Skype to talk with the Garcia relatives in Florida.

Our time in Florida was such a sweet visit. With the exception of one marathon shopping day, most of our time was spent at home together. Eva enjoyed bike riding with Grandma and movie nights with the family. Silas enjoyed being held practically non-stop! I enjoyed getting to know my in-laws' new home area, so as to be able to picture them in it when we are far away. We played some competitive rounds of Ticket to Ride and took a winding walk through the neighborhood on a misty evening after rain. We started planning our next family vacation over a year in advance, and had a lot of fun with that!
When Pedro and I were married eighteen years earlier, I never knew that I was getting such a great "package deal" with a caring and committed family. For that matter, when my sister-in-law Raquel and I became friends in college, we never imagined we'd one day be family! I am so thankful for the Author of our life stories. He is faithful through every chapter, blessing us in seasons of rejoicing and carrying us through times of trial and pain. As our story continues, I am grateful to not only be grafted into God's family but the Garcia family as well.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Unexpected Friends

It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Yes, prior to this there had been heartaches and discouragements and really, really hard days. But even in the midst of pain and questioning there was always an undercurrent of assurance, of blind faith as it were that God had it all under control.
This time was different. When the dark clouds enveloped my mind, the weakness and tears came and the feeling of being utterly out of control and alone overwhelmed me. After eighteen years of infertility and the joy of adopting and raising five children for the past fourteen years, the unexpected gift of pregnancy had brought our family the sweetest baby boy. Yet I was paralyzed with concern for his safety and that of my other children. World news such as the terrorist attacks on Paris undid me. For a short while I feared sleep because of the terrible dreams that would come.
Never in my life had I felt so small and frail. In an effort to seek help, I posted a simple question to Facebook asking for suggestions to deal with the “baby blues.” Responses quickly came in publicly and by private message. To my surprise, I was far from the only one who had experienced this devastating anxiety post-partum. Sincere words of support and prayer lifted my spirits across cyberspace. Some of these were from friends I had not seen in years, ones with whom I maintained only a sporadic contact. What a blessing their encouragement was to me, especially those who took it upon themselves to write me regularly just to check in and offer their continued prayers.
The gift of “unexpected friends” was most certainly from God. A decades-old song came to have deeper meaning for me during those difficult days and weeks:
Unexpected Friends
When the dark closes in so hard
I can hardly see
And the walls of my fortress of faith
Crumble in on me
when it seems like the end
not a measure of strength to spend
I feel the arms of a stranger rescue me

With some unexpected friends
Never asking where I have been
Just a hand of mercy and words of love
Call me back again
Oh, it feels like home 
With unexpected friends

A soothing balm for the wounds
I suffer along the way
A fervent prayer giving courage
And hope for another day
Through the help of my friends

Ones I may never see again
Seems like angels that were
sent by heaven for me

With some unexpected friends
never asking where I have been 
Just a hand of mercy and words of love
call me back again
Oh, it feels like home
With unexpected friends
How thankful I am that a number of these women were also women in ministry. Rather than add to my burden with the expectation some might have that a “missionary” wife should be able to keep it together, they transparently recounted their own struggles. They did not preach to me but rather in gentleness and kindness reached out and shared with me their own hard-earned wisdom and faith. I pray I will have the opportunity to one day do the same!
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Birthday Treats with My Sweets

One of our family traditions is to go around the table on a person's birthday, with each family member stating what he/she loves about that person. Today we did so for Pedro (and Owen - catching up from their birthdays a few days ago!) Responses ranged from, "He (Daddy) helps me with schoolwork" to "he plays Wii with me" and "he is always by my side." My comments, too, revolved around relationship - starting with Pedro's relationship with God, out of which flows a loving relationship with his wife and family. I shared that one thing I love about Pedro as a daddy is that he genuinely likes to spend time with his family. But as his wife, I love that he also still enjoys and desires to spend time just with me!

In fact, that is what Pedro requested for his birthday this year - a date. Of necessity we had to keep it low-key and close to home because Silas was under the weather and rather emotionally needy. But after half a dozen kids and a dozen and a half years of marriage maybe we've learned a few tricks! We slipped out as soon as Silas fell asleep for his morning nap, leaving all six kids in the care of a trusted adult. Our calculations included his sleeping for one hour and waking to take a bottle (figuring a half an hour) then having his usual happy playtime for another half an hour. This gave us two hours to relax and enjoy each other's company. Not quite up to pre-baby standards, but we'll take it! :)

A new restaurant opened near us and we are so impressed by the quality of the restoration and decoration of what once was a large single-family home. It's tasteful and lovely, with two wooden-floored dining rooms (on the first and second floors) overlooking the ocean and several other dining areas each with unique motifs. One in the rear of the restaurant is dimmer, with a water fountain and colored lights to set a more intimate mood; while another has clocks of all shapes and colors on the walls with comfortable chairs and round tables for more casual dining. It has an imagined "French cafe" feel. We've only visited the restaurant on a couple of occasions but each time we were one of just two or three tables. On this occasion we chose the upstairs dining room with ocean view and had it all to ourselves, which was perfect for a peaceful and private birthday brunch.

Two hours is hardly time enough to catch up on grown-up conversations, especially after I had just been gone for two weeks to the States for the purpose of introducing Silas to his grandparents. But it is enough time to talk and laugh, reminisce and dream for just a little bit. On my return flights from the States I read a marriage book called Fun Loving You in which the author advocated for a "daily delay, weekly withdrawal and annual abandon." In other words, daily one-one-one time with your spouse, a weekly date night and a couples' getaway at least once a year. Pedro and I talked about how we might be more intentional to make this a reality in our relationship. Interestingly, just a few days later I ran across a well-written blog post on the challenges that cross-cultural ministry life places on marriages and families. It was a timely reminder to do more than just talk about these things! Again, I am so thankful for a husband who desires to spend time together and works to make it possible.

Happy Birthday, Pedro (AKA, "My Sweets!") I love you. ~Stephanie

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Celebrating 11 Years with Owen

Dear Owen,

This morning, a memory from eight years ago surfaced on my F*cebook feed. It was this picture of you and me on your third birthday in Santiago. We had just celebrated with your cousins at McDonald's, and you were clutching your new action figure.

What sweet memories it brought me of the happy, funny, cute little boy you were and it brings me joy that now at 11 years old you are still all of those things! You love to make our family laugh with your jokes, impersonations and quips. You are so much like Daddy with your sense of humor. In fact, just this week you said something in the same words and tone that he does and made us both giggle. It is just fun to be around you.

posing for a picture with your super-sized chaparrita

Speaking of fun, you were concerned that your actual birthday fell on a busy day with school and extra-curricular activities so you requested that we celebrate it yesterday. Your choice of activity was to try a new "9-dimensional" game at the Zofri mall, then have Domino's pizza, ice cream and homemade chocolate cake with peanut butter icing at home. We said you could take a friend, so your buddy Cristobal and your two brothers joined you for the adventure. Daddy filmed a little video and if your faces and intensity are any indication, it was a good time! We love to make these memories with you.

Owen, we are very thankful for your life and pray for you in this new year and season of change. We pray God gives you courage and discernment as you study in a secular environment and that He uses this experience in your life to give you strength in your own faith in Jesus. Daddy and I are proud of your attitude this year of wanting to be diligent in your studies. Remember that whatever you do, you can do it "unto the Lord!" And we believe God has great things in store for you as you trust Him and follow Him. We love you! Happy 11th Birthday to our oldest son!

Love always,

Previous birthday posts:

10th Birthday - Owen
9th Birthday - Owen
8th Birthday - Owen
7th Birthday - Owen
6th Birthday - Owen
5th Birthday - Owen
4th Birthday - Owen
3rd Birthday - Owen
2nd Birthday - Owen

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Alec's Birthday & Memorable Moments

Over the years of living in Chile, we have discovered that birthdays are very significant here. Not that they aren't elsewhere, but in Chile even among adults it is considered polite and friendly to specially recognize this day in the life of someone. Oftentimes it is by way of a personal phone call, a big bear hug, sometimes a present and usually a cake! Our struggle at times is finding a balance between expectations and personal comfort and feasibility. Here is what I mean by that.

the "Fab Five" on their way to see The Jungle Book

Through trial and error, we learned that inviting others to a birthday "party" had some expensive and expansive expectations! In the case of children, gift bags for each attendee with small toys and sweets; activities, games or shows for entertainment; a piñata filled with more goodies; and food and drinks in addition to the big birthday cake. After a few attempts, as parents we felt the quantity outweighed the quality of the celebrations (though the kids may not have shared our opinion!) Since then our goal is to make each child's birthday special in some way, but we would rather invest in making memories than in a boatload of candy.

Joanne playing Happy Birthday on her banjo

This year we gave Alec the option to choose between a trip to Happyland with a couple of friends, or to see Disney's new adaptation of The Jungle Book with his siblings. He chose the latter, which also of necessity included purchasing quick value meals from the McDonald's drive-thru because we were on the clock to pick up Owen from school and make it to the movie on time. However, a simple drive-thru experience became memorable when we were approached by a homeless man requesting money. I offered to buy him food instead. "A Big Mac! Get me a Big Mac?" he urged. "Not a Big Mac," I replied, "but I will get you exactly what our family is eating." At the second window where we received the food, he made specifications on his order to the employee. "Lots of mayo! Lots of ketchup! And Coke, without ice, ok?" The kids watched and listened wide-eyed. All I could think as I witnessed the exchange was "sometimes helping helps, and sometimes helping hurts!" I later tried to explain this idea to the children and how it is hard to discern real needs sometimes. Lightening the mood, we chuckled that instead of the Biblical "cup of cold water" we had given "a Coke without ice!" Thankfully, God knows our hearts and the outcome is ultimately in His hands!

Alec, Ian and friend Tomas in the pool

The fun didn't end with a movie on Alec's birthday, because our family had been invited to join three other families for a swim and cookout. Unfortunately Silas was sick, so he and I stayed home. Also the weather uncharacteristically turned gray and cold, not welcoming for a swim - but our intrepid boys and their friends didn't seem to mind! Alec had requested an "orange" cake for his birthday so we settled on buying a panqueque de naranja, a delicious cake with about a dozen layers of light orange filling. This was sent along to the cookout, which in typical Chilean fashion extended late into the evening. It was almost 11 o'clock p.m. when my husband and kids finally made it home!

our kids with the sweet friends who extended this invitation

The get-together was hosted at a nearby apartment complex where two of the families live. Pedro said other families were also cooking in the common area. When it came time to sing Happy Birthday, their hostess Joanne played on her ukelele and people nearby joined in the applause and well wishes for Alec. Yet another reminder of how much our Chilean friends and neighbors appreciate these special days! Alec arrived home with just enough time to open his gifts from family and head to bed. We hope his birthday moments were memorable and enjoyable - just as he is to us!

Friday, April 08, 2016

To Alec on His 8th Birthday

Dear Alec,

The day has finally come! You have been looking forward to this 8th birthday for awhile now. There has been a big change since last year's birthday - you are no longer the "baby" of the family! And I think that you are pretty happy about that. :) You are one tough cookie (as I write this I am picturing you holding an ice pack to a big bump on your head from skateboarding yesterday, yet another hard knock that you picked yourself up from and kept chugging along with nary a tear.)

Orange is your favorite color and the shade of your shirt and the cake you have requested for your birthday. You loved the outfit in this picture, which I brought back from the States for you just a few days ago, and asked for it to be specially washed for today. I think the saying is perfect for you! You are fun-loving yet very competitive and your favorite position in soccer is goalie, which I think takes some special courage. This year you are doing homeschooling for the first time, and it is neat to watch you learn and quickly grasp new content in 2nd grade. Yesterday you and Ian explained to me what "onomatopoeia" means - like the word "pop!" It was something you learned in school while I was away and you were excited to share your new-found knowledge.

Alec, Daddy and I love you and thank God for you! It is our prayer that you will turn your passion and grit and intelligence toward serving Jesus with your whole heart. He can and will do great things through you if you obey and follow Him. Happy 8th birthday to our sweet son!

All my love,

Previous birthday posts:

7th Birthday - Alec
6th Birthday - Alec
5th Birthday - Alec
4th Birthday - Alec
3rd Birthday - Alec
2nd Birthday - Alec
1st Birthday - Alec

Thursday, March 31, 2016

His Ways Are Higher (FLORECE Update), Part Three

In the day-to-day of our life, nothing ever seems to go exactly as planned. Such was the case that Monday morning as we eagerly waited for word that the interior of the FLORECE property would be available to visit that day. There was a sense of urgency for two reasons: most importantly, our teammates Jon and Pam Sharp were headed on furlough the following day and secondly, later that afternoon Pedro and our boys would take off on their annual father/son overnight beach camping trip prior to school starting. We wanted our entire team to see the property together if at all possible. However, as the hours slipped by it seemed less likely that the visit would take place. I had spoken to the owner's secretary and continued to wait for an answer. Finally I called again, thinking it couldn't hurt to ask.

Yes, we could see the property! Unfortunately, the later timing caused so many things to collide. I had to drive my husband to pick up the vehicle he was borrowing for the camp out. He would be gone before the appointment, which meant I had to pack a diaper bag and the baby for the property visit. My girls were babysitting in the apartment building next door to the Sharps' so thankfully they could pick them up and bring them downtown to me. Our colleagues Jon and Kim Spink could meet us, but one of them was grocery shopping and they would be rushing to make it on time. One more person invited to come was Catalina, a FLORECE volunteer who would likely become the live-in caretaker for the property. She was at work but her workplace was nearby and she could walk over to join us. 

Against all odds, the whole crew of us descended upon the location almost at the same time. I'm sure the owner and current tenants wondered about the six adults, two teenagers and one baby measuring spaces and visualizing room usages while taking in the current unkempt state of the property. It had been rented, sub-rented and sub-rented again and was messy and smelly; but even so the spaces were ample and promised great potential. There would be work ahead of us to make it into what we envisioned, but unanimously we felt this was the place God would have us begin the FLORECE ministry!

We walked back to the owner's office to discuss details of rental costs, contracts and the timing of the transfer of the property, agreeing on May 1 as the day we would receive the keys. It was exhilarating and overwhelming to see God making dreams become a reality before our eyes. We still had questions, and many e-mails would go back and forth in the coming days, but the decision was made. As we finished our time together, Jon Sharp asked the owner if we could pray with him. As a group we did so, asking God's blessing on him personally and on this ministry God was bringing to fruition. We can truly say with the prophet Isaiah that "He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world!" (Isaiah 12:5)

PS - It's a story for another day, but the picture above is just another example of the way God continues to surprise us with support for the FLORECE ministry. Before we have even opened our doors, a recognition from the Rotary Club brought the ministry name and purpose into public view through this newspaper article. We are humbled and fearful of our frailty, but stand in the strength of our great God!

Read Part One
Read Part Two

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

In Every {Crazy} Thing Give Thanks

I was feeling so positive about today. Fed baby at 6 AM, showered, sent some notes of encouragement, read my Bible, prayed for some special needs. Silas went back to sleep, I delegated a FLORECE errand to my gracious husband, dressed in comfy clothes, headed downstairs to sync homeschool videos and ... STOP.

A phone call from Pedro alerted me that his errand was unsuccessful without me. The Sii (think IRS) office would not give FLORECE's ID card to anyone but me or someone with a signed and notarized permission from me. So ... quickly changed clothes, took a phone call, fed baby again, hubby honked horn, and we took the two would-be students with us on a drive downtown.

Completed the errand, came back home, put baby to bed, started school, all was well and ... STOP. 

The incessant melodic jingling of the washing machine alerted me to a problem with laundry. Pause, unlock, open, reshuffle, close, lock, start. More jingles. Tried again, same steps. More jingles. And again. More jingles. Received another phone call. Fielded children's questions and complaints ("The video is stuck! He's copying me!") Slammed hand on washer lid, got teary and cried, "Please give me a break!" Finally thought to pray. Eventually fixed the issue, returned to school and ... STOP.

Ran to the third floor where baby was crying, took a phone call and cried talked to Pedro, fed the baby, called down instructions to the kids, finally gave up in favor of school break and snacks. Wrote this blog entry on a scrap of paper next to a smiling baby, cooing and filling his drawers. Checked the clock, confirmed it was lunchtime and if it weren't for hubby saving the day with breakfast burritos, I would have been sunk. Sighed. Took a deep breath and ... STOP.

Chose to be thankful that a baby to be fed means joyful new life in the home, students to be taught mean there are things worth learning, errands to be run mean God is doing something great and we get to be a part of it. And breakfast burritos made by a busy husband for a frazzled wife means that despite it all, I am loved.

"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." 
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Monday, March 14, 2016

His Ways Are Higher (FLORECE Update), Part Two

Iquique is such an eclectic city, especially in the downtown area and never more than the current day. Historic wooden homes in varying states of maintenance or disrepair totter next to towering new high rises in various stages of construction. From one visit to the next, we find ourselves constantly commenting on the changes taking place (some for better, some for worse.) But what fascinates us most are the hidden jewels camouflaged in plain sight. Such was the office where we found ourselves the next morning.

building projects everywhere in Iquique

Certainly we had walked or driven past the stately old home dozens of times, but without an exterior sign there was nothing to draw attention to it. White walls, white gate, white doors welcomed us, along with the owner and his rescued beagle who was "great with" puppies to be born (that same day, we would later learn!) Inside, the coolness of ancient 18-foot ceilings and a breeze from the back patio's century-old arbor were refreshing. So was the frank and friendly owner who listened to our story and promptly pulled out building plans for two possible locations for FLORECE.

We were surprised to learn he spoke English, having his permanent home and business in Canada as well as a thriving company and multiple real estate investments in Iquique since the mid 1990's. Later we would reflect on the linguistic and cultural connections as yet another evidence of God's hand in this unexpected encounter. Unexpected because after all, we had simply called about an empty lot! 

The two properties were within walking distance from his office, so we ventured out in the blazing sun to look at them from the outside. The larger of the two was a bottom-floor apartment directly across from the largest police station in Iquique. Formerly used as the offices for a well-known radio station, the property's biggest drawback was its subterranean feel. The entrance was a small tunnel-like structure and only the grated windows were above-ground. Immediately we felt this would not convey the welcome we wished to offer to future clients, but we snapped some pictures for further consideration before heading around the corner to the next location.

the tunnel-like entrance was not inviting

Just as immediately as we knew the first was not a great option for us, we knew the second property was an amazing possibility for FLORECE. Our criteria for a location have always included: (1) close to schools or other gathering places for youth; (2) easy to reach via public transportation; (3) large enough to meet our needs; and (4) safe for our volunteers and clients. The latter need was obviously met by the police station nearby. There was a large high school just 1/2 block from property; almost every major bus line passed in front of it; and though we could not see inside that day, the plans and square footage indicated we would have plenty of space to carry out the ministries we envisioned. We were beyond excited!

the (blue) property which captured our imagination

The only question remaining was seeing the inside of the property for ourselves. Currently it was rented (and sub-rented and sub-rented, we would learn) but an appointment could be made. It was Friday and we would have to wait the weekend. With great excitement and anticipation we shared the news with our colleagues, one of whom had spent the morning fasting and in prayer for God to answer in a mighty way. We felt certain He had, but would have to have patience. We prayed and wondered, What would Monday bring?

Monday, March 07, 2016

His Ways Are Higher (FLORECE Update), Part One

"Should I take a picture of that one? It looks like just an empty lot, but it's for rent." I craned my neck and peered out the window with my small camera in hand. It was a steamy summer afternoon in Iquique. All six kids, Pedro and I were packed into our mini-van, headed downtown in search of affordable eyeglasses for four of us. In an attempt to multitask and not miss an opportunity, we were also photographing "For Rent" signs in the area as we sought a location for the FLORECE prenatal and family counseling center.

the sign that caught our eye

My husband encouraged me to snap the shot. "You never know!" (Little did we realize then that in this case, he couldn't have been more right!) Hours later I scribbled the numbers we photographed onto a piece of paper and was pacing the kitchen as I made calls. Already rented, way too much money, way too much space (and too much money!), already rented, no answer, and so forth were the replies I received. Finally I came to the number pertaining to the empty lot. A foreign-accented voice explained that the lot was large and rather expensive (over $2,000 USD monthly) but added that he had other properties available. What was I looking for and in what price range?

Admittedly with some embarrassment, I explained our non-profit status and gave him our financial figure. Sheepishly I added that I knew this figure was a "dream" considering current real estate prices. To my utter surprise, he thought for a moment and then said he might have some properties that could work for us! Could I come to his office tomorrow? I wrote down his name in shock, excitement and unbelief. We already had a babysitter lined up because of a scheduled visit to the notary in the morning, so both Pedro and I were available to meet him. We prayed and wondered, what would tomorrow bring?

Monday, February 29, 2016

Mom, Where Do You Call Home?

"I don't like it when people say unkind things about Iquique. It makes me angry. Iquique is my home!" My daughter's fifteen-year old emotions were riding high as she said these words. I smiled inwardly thinking how much she sounded like me at her age. On the heels of her heated statement, she added one burning question. "Mom, where do you call home?" 

Ask any missionary or missionary kid and they will tell you, that is the million dollar question. It is one I heard all my life growing up (especially on furloughs!) Nonetheless, it is a question that has returned to my mind of late. Recent conversations with missionary moms in different stages of life have supplied me with poignant thoughts on the subject. But in answer to my daughter's question, I simply replied, "When I was your age, I would have said Santiago. That was my home when I was growing up. But now, home is wherever my family is - where Daddy and you kids are. That is my home."

Even as I spoke I was keenly aware that this answer might suffice for now, but in just a few brief years will taste bitter on my tongue. This daughter of mine starts high school next month. Next year, we head stateside for our second furlough and after that - only two and half years until college. She and her sister are just a year apart in school, so "en un dos por tres" (as they say in Chile, or similarly "in the blink of an eye") they will be leaving "home." My kids will no longer all be wherever Daddy and I are. So then where will home be?

Our mission's regional conference early this month brought together missionaries from throughout Spanish-speaking South America. It was unscheduled, but one afternoon a prayer time for missionary moms was organized. We prayed for our children, many with tears. At least half the group had already let their children go, and as a parent looking towards that transition my heart was pricked with a premature sense of loss. It was only recently that I heard from my mom what my own parents went through when they delivered me to college and returned to the mission field as "empty nesters." My strong and stoic dad left my college campus and made it only a short ways down the road before having to pull off, pounding the steering wheel and crying, "I hate this!" At the time I never knew.

It is when these thoughts begin to swirl that I am reminded of two things. First, that I am not to be anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34) because it is in God's hands. And second, that nowhere in this world is truly my home. As the writer exhorts in Hebrews 13:14, "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." How thankful I am for the hope of a Heavenly home! 

There will be no goodbyes there. No furloughs or farewells. Everyone I love who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ will be with me, forever. What a challenge to continue loving Him and encouraging my loved ones to do the same! Because someday we will all be for always, without question or confusion, truly "Home."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

In Times of Transition

I am writing again for the Breathe Ministry blog. My latest entry can be read on their site: In Times of Transition.