Saturday, July 23, 2016

You Just Have to Reach out Your Hand

It took longer than I expected, but finally the photos from my cell phone were downloaded and then uploaded in semi-organized fashion onto Facebook. Many friends were kind enough to "like" and comment on them, yet one message spoke volumes:
Love your family pictures. Keep posting them. They send a message that so many of us need to see on a daily basis. Myself included!

In light of recent national heartache and struggle, my friend's words reminded me of the hope that I have for the future. It does indeed involve our children, our family, and other families that look like ours. Each of my children is quite cognizant of his or her skin tone. Often they will even compare skin tone with one another. Occasionally they will try to coordinate our family members by who "matches" whom. But the bottom line which goes without saying between us, no matter our shades of skin we are a family and we belong together. I love the picture above of littlest (white) brother surrounded by three doting older (black) brothers. It truly speaks a thousand words. He loves them, and they love him.

After so many years, I truly don't think a whole lot about how our family looks except to appreciate the beautiful "colors of us" (to borrow the title of one of our favorite children's books!) Sometimes I stare at the deep mahogany of Owen's skin and am in awe of how gorgeous it is. I gaze at our "Mexican" baby Silas and chuckle at how fair he turned out to be. I admire the dark pupils of my daughter Eva's hazel eyes and play with the cute curls on Isabel's head. I take pictures of my handsome Haitian sons with their warm brown skin and sparkling black eyes. I hold my husband's hand and enjoy the contrast of my pale complexion against his. Like the painting on our wall (pictured below) we are a colorful cacophony!

My dream is that my children would take this everyday acceptance of living among a multitude of colors into the world and carry on in the same way with everyone around them. I want them to be comfortable and proud of who they are while also enjoying and appreciating the uniqueness of others. Nowadays there are a growing number of families that look like ours. I can't help but hope and wonder how an entire generation of colorful children growing up in harmony side by side could shape their contemporaries' perception of race. My children's brothers and sisters are black and white. But you know what? So are mine and yours. After all, we are all ONE family - the human family. 

By virtue of growing up cross-culturally as an MK (missionary kid), I loved the words of Revelation 7:9 even before we became a transracial family. But now I appreciate them even more. I've told my children that we have the privilege of a little foretaste of Heaven on earth because of our family makeup. Someday, all believers in Jesus Christ will stand side by side with "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages." But we don't have to wait! And honestly - neither does anyone else. Because "you don't have to look like someone else to love them." You just have to reach out your hand.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Please. Just Listen.

There have been so many words written across screens this past week and a half. Blogs. Facebook. News outlets. I've read so many of them. Cried. Sighed. Clenched fists. So many times I've grabbed a pen, or sat in front of my computer and felt the urgency to add my voice but it has seemed like too much. Too much noise. Too much hurt. Too much misunderstanding.

What I mostly wanted to say was, "Please. Just Listen." And though I haven't said it, I have done it. I have listened to stories like Brian Crook's experience entitled "What it's like to be black in Naperville, America." And police officer Chelsea Whitaker's post on "Shopping While Black w/a Badge." I've cried re-reading the 2014 article "Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk" - especially the last story of the 12-year old son who reminds me so much of my own.

I've remembered ugly criticism directed at my child as young as two years old because of the color of his skin. I've lain awake to the awful words of a horrifically racist joke told to us by a Chilean pastor who heard it from a church in the deep south of the United States. My blood has run cold upon recently learning it was a joke based in unfathomable past truth in our country. I've hurt over my eleven-year old son being called the N-word by someone he considered a friend.

I have wanted to say, "Please. Just Listen." Racism is still real. The Bible tells us to "weep with those who weep." Black lives do matter. Yes, all lives matter - but right now maybe the rest of us are finally understanding that black lives are hurting and have been for quite some time. If we are listening. And many are. Such as our pastor in Michigan in his courageous and compassionate July 10 message entitled "A Biblical Perspective on Current Events." Or those who have written thoughtful posts entitled "Spanning the racial divide with authentic love" and "Valuing the lives of all mankind."

Many people are listening. Many people are caring.

I try to remember this when it is easy to become super-sensitive to what others say - or don't say - on social media. When one Facebook friend is so quick to link an article implying guilt about someone who has lost his life, as if the end does justify the means. Or another flippantly tosses a loaded one-liner amidst pictures of an otherwise unaffected life. When one clicks to "like" article after article focused on one view of the issue without evidence of concern for the realities that affect my children and family. When a quote like this one seems to fall on deaf ears: "If we are teaching respect and honor for all people crafted by God's hands, then our children will become protectors and advocates for all people, especially those who are unfairly found victims of a broken, fallen world." (Sally Clarkson)

"Please. Just Listen." I have read the heartfelt words of police officer Merri McGregor. I have worried for our friends who are good, honest policemen. For their families and children, and the danger they now face because of actions not their own. I pray for these friends in uniform. I pray for the families of those whose loved ones have died tragically while carrying out their sworn duties and in defense of strangers. My heart breaks with the words of Officer Jackson who faced criticism in and out of uniform yet loved his city and was senselessly killed while serving it. Recently I prayed for a lifelong family friend at the request of his daughter, as he oversaw a rally in his town. Later I was so blessed by her words in response to the many who prayed:
Thank you for joining me in prayer for our friends, former classmates, former classmates children, public servants, and family! Please spread love to those who are different than you! Spread love to people you don't understand. We all have different eyes... I was raised surrounded by the love of policemen- like family. I have many people in my life who were raised differently. Take a minute to try to understand what it is like to live in someone else's shoes. I want people who are frightened to be able to speak about their fears- when I was young my dad told me about his black friend that told him what it was like to walk around a store and be followed, assumed to be a thief. That is a terrible life to live! At the same time I have my own desires. I'd like to see my dad make retirement as one of the best men on this planet. He retires Dec. 6. Thanks for praying him through another day!
If only we did all take a minute to understand what it is like to live in someone else's shoes, what a difference that might make. I thought of this again when I had reason this week to apologize to a Christlike friend. She graciously forgave me and said, "I'm not easily offended. When someone says something I might take the wrong way, I usually stop and think that he or she has probably had a bad day or something else is going on in their life."

There have been a lot of bad days lately. And a lot has been going on in our nation's life. How might things change if we responded as she did? I believe there is hope for change. "Please. Just Listen."

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: 
Everyone should be quick to listen, 
slow to speak and slow to become angry ..." 
James 1:19

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Marriage in Ministry: Serving Together

Thirteen years ago, my husband and I shared a platform and an overhead projector as we told church after church of the burden God had given us to serve Him on the mission field. While my husband spoke of the hopes and dreams we had for ministry, I slid color transparencies on and off the lighted glass until my turn came to speak and his to switch the snapshots! Even back then our technology was dated, but many times we received encouraging comments from the congregation about hearing from both spouses and presenting as a team.

Memories of those early opportunities to stand side by side serving together are still sweet. I count as one of the greatest blessings of ministry that I can share the same vocation as my husband and work alongside him in a complementary role. The people he serves are the people I serve; the burdens he carries are the burdens I share; the joys that delight and challenges that concern him are mine as well.

As the author of Ecclesiastes says in chapter 4, verses 9 and 10, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

While I write this post, my husband and I are seated at small desks on opposite sides of our bed. He is doing bookkeeping for a new ministry project. I am scanning documents for the same. Our youngest son is sleeping in his crib just a few feet away. Our older children are homeschooling the next floor down. Though I’ll admit there are times I dream of a more structured work environment, right now this is our reality and I wouldn’t change it! It is part of the adventure of doing ministry together.

Recently I read another pastor’s reflection that ministering with his wife had made them better friends. Thankfully, this has been our experience as well. Below are three other ways ministering together has had an impact on our marriage.
1. Being married in ministry has held us accountable. When we prepare together to teach God’s Word on topics related to marriage and family, we must evaluate our own first. Then we must remember that our listeners will be watching to see if we “practice what we preach!”
2. Being married in ministry has kept us communicating. When ministry commitments take us in different directions at different times, it requires us to be coordinate schedules and adjust accordingly. No two weeks are exactly the same, so keeping current with each other is a must.
3. Being married in ministry has never been boring. We joke about this, but it really is true. There have been so many surprises (good and bad!) and unexpected twists and turns in our ministry life together. It is an “adventure” that like any good drama has kept us looking forward to each new chapter together. Yet only knowing and trusting the Author of our story has made this possible.
This week, we celebrated nineteen years of God’s grace and of marriage. Half of those years were spent in study and/or preparation for ministry, and half in the trenches of ministry itself. What a privilege it has all been. Thank You, Lord, for the blessing of a marriage in ministry.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Stepping Up and Saying Goodbye

It would have to happen while Pedro was away. I jolted from bed that Sunday morning to the sound of heartbroken wails coming from the floor below. My daughter Isabel stumbled into my room, rubbing sleep from her eyes and stating that her sister needed me. Doctor Nefario had died.

If you've seen the animated movie Despicable Me, you may remember a curious character called "Dr. Nefario." A one-time villainous scientist turned tender-hearted sidekick, his name was the one Eva chose for the hamster she received on her 13th birthday. Only this pet was anything but a villain. In fact, he may have been the calmest, most easygoing rodent this family has seen (and we've seen a few - here is a link to the story of "Cheese.")

We knew his time was coming, as he slept much more and could barely walk upright when he was awake. But nothing prepares a girl whose heart is so tightly intertwined with her furry friends, and Eva was beside herself with the loss of Doctor Nefario. Eventually she calmed down enough to somberly head for church and she later spent the afternoon with a friend.

So it wasn't until nearly bedtime that we were forced to say our goodbyes to her little hamster. And by "say our goodbyes" I mean that someone was going to have to actually pick him up and dispose of him. Unfortunately, this would normally be the moment Daddy stepped in to rescue his women from their squeamishness and he was not home. So we found a little box and Eva and I stood beside the cold cage. "I can't do it!" she whimpered, looking at me. I cried, "Honey, I'm sorry but I can't either!" 

There was nothing to do but call in reinforcements. And since Owen had informed us all that he was "the man of the house" with Daddy being gone, he was the natural choice. I was so proud of him when despite his own qualms he stepped up to the plate when asked. He, too, stood beside the cold cage uneasily at first. "I'm not sure I can do it," he admitted. But accepting a plastic bag I offered as a makeshift glove, he gingerly completed his task.

By then it was dark out, and we still had one thing more to do. This time Ian stepped up. "I'll dig a hole," he offered. Our tenderhearted boy, he had already told me how sad he was for his sister. With all seriousness he shoveled out spades of dirt and carefully placed the box inside. After patting everything back down he said, "One more thing!" and arranged a heavy rock on top of the little pet's grave. I heard his sister's gratitude in her voice. "Thank you, Ian," she whispered.

That night, Eva's sister Isabel and brother Owen slept on couches to be near her downstairs. (Her little brothers offered to make it a full-fledged camp out, but Mommy declined.) She had been staying in the spare room with Whittaker, our dog who was currently having to wear a dog cone collar (affectionately known as "the cone of shame") which kept him from fitting into his doghouse on cold nights. She felt nervous to be alone, and her siblings stepped up to accompany her. 

What a blessing to this momma's heart! These are the moments I want to cherish, when squabbles and rivalries fade into the background and I see evidence of true sibling love underneath it all. So thank you, Doctor Nefario, for bringing happiness to my girl and togetherness to my gang. You will be fondly remembered.

Friday, July 01, 2016

A Foot in Both Worlds

In our sixteenth year of marriage, my husband's parents lived with us for three months on the mission field where we serve and where I was also raised as an M.K. ("missionary kid.") At some point my dear mother-in-law remarked that it had been most enlightening to observe me in this context. "I think I realize now that you are more Chilean than American," she said.

A traditional Chilean dish similar to a bean soup is called "porotos." As a teenager, more than once I was described as "mas chilena que los porotos" ("more Chilean than the beans!") I love my adopted country and have always taken it as a compliment when it is said that I speak like a Chilean or seem like one.

Yet there is a part of me that knows quite well I will never be fully a citizen of either my passport country or my adopted country. Both places have shaped me linguistically, culturally, emotionally and spiritually. My life is richer by having a foot in both worlds - which does not, however, mean that it is always easy.

And now this same heritage has been passed on to my children as well.

Last week, Chile played Argentina for their 1st place finish in the 100th Copa America (soccer) tournament. I have it on good authority that my eleven-year old son - who was watching the game at a friend's house - raced outside at one point, yelling in his near-perfect Spanish an invitation to chant the traditional Chilean cheer. He was rewarded with rousing voices from surrounding houses joining him for an animated rendition. This is the same son who has taken to calling us "Mamá" and "Papá" rather than Mom and Dad, and who recently made me chuckle by saying his teacher gives them time to "pass over" their tests before taking them. (In Chile, the word "review" is literally "repasar" or "to pass over.")

Most days we live comfortably in the world where we are, but today we felt the tug. My sister and her family, who live and serve a thousand miles south of us (but nonetheless in the same country!) arrived in the United States for their year of home ministry/furlough. We anxiously awaited updates on their travels but when my brother-in-law announced via Wh*tsapp that they were in Delaware with Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop eating Domino's pizza, my kids all groaned and cried, "We want to be there, too!" 

Yet not long ago, one of these same kids announced, "I just want to go on furlough and get it over with, so I can come back!" It is the War of the Worlds in an M.K.'s life. I remember giving my parents a run for their money the year I turned sixteen and had to attend school stateside for one year. Every day when I exited the school van and trudged up the long drive to our missionary house, my mom would greet me hopefully and ask about my day. I'm afraid all too often I threw down my bookbag in disgust and proclaimed everything awful because I wanted to go "home." But eventually I made wonderful friends and memories that I value to this day.

Having a foot in both worlds can throw us off balance on a rough day, but on a good day it reminds us that neither place on earth is truly our home. Jesus told His disciples, "In my Father's house are many mansions ... I go to prepare a place for you." As children of missionaries our hearts may be torn, but Heaven is our final destination as children of God. What a wonderful day it will be when we are finally, permanently, wholeheartedly - HOME!

I Write to Not Forget

A day or two ago there was such a sweet moment in my household that I never wanted to forget. It had to do with something unique and funny that my husband was doing with my kids, that brought me a smile and surge of love for the family I am privileged to call my own.

The problem is, I don't remember what it was.

Multiple times a day and dozens of times a month, I have moments like these. Words my kids have spoken, stories that bring us laughter, ministry moments that touch my heart, experiences we encounter and things I observe at home or out and about in the city where we live. I think, "I need to remember this." Or, "I should write about that." And then, I forget.

It is a long-standing agreement in my family that the missionary life is so crammed full of people and places and experiences and memories that at some point our brains just can't hold it all. My parents and sisters and I agree on this point when yet again someone shares a story in which we all played a part and half of us have to admit, "I don't remember that at all!"

Recently a longtime friend referred to an exchange between the two of us years ago which she has never forgotten. Thankfully she did so in writing, so I wasn't in that uncomfortable position of racking my brain right on the spot to respond. Unfortunately I have since tried to imagine that conversation and for the life of me, cannot recall it.

So I am frustrated, and I am inspired. I need to remember. And to remember, I need to write.

I write to remember.

And I write to not forget.

Recently I have had the privilege of studying the lives of the Biblical patriarchs with a small group of ladies. So many times in their journeys, these men chosen by God would leave a permanent record of some sort to remember what God had done for them. The Jewish people themselves celebrated - and continue to celebrate - many feasts of remembrance according to God's directives to them. So there is a spiritual aspect to remembering, primarily as it recalls God's working in our lives. That is what I want to capture as well.

Help me, Lord, to leave a written legacy not only of the sweet and sentimental moments of life but of the great and small ways You work in it. Thank You that ultimately You are the Author and I am simply the scribe. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Happy 14th Birthday, Isabel!

It was the "gift that kept on giving" ... this year's birthday celebration stretched across three days for our beautiful daughter Isabel. On Friday at teen time there was cake and candles (and Chile's Copa America win against Bolivia!) 

On Saturday at ladies' tea there was cake and candles and thoughtful gifts from the many sweet women at church who care for her. And on Sunday (her actual birthday) there was cake and candles and a cookout and games and family and friends who love her and celebrated the very special person she is to all of us.

"Aunt" Pam made a cherry chip birthday cake. New friends Rodrigo and Emily reserved their apartment complex's quincho for a completada and hamburguesada. The sun disappeared and the weather was cool, but the fellowship was warm!

Dear Isabel,

Happy Birthday to my precious daughter. Thank you for letting me celebrate with you on a mother-daughter shopping trip and lunch out on the town this year! I so enjoyed spending time together and finding the things you needed and desired. It was a special treat to be reminded how God cares about the details of our lives when we walked right into a sale on what we were looking for!

I thank God for your life - for creating, protecting, and molding it into the beautiful young woman you are becoming inside and out. I admire your courage and camaraderie and clear convictions. I enjoy watching you with your friends and witnessing your growth mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I love your quick wit and sense of humor. It makes me smile to see you turning into the bookworm I was at your age! I appreciate your gentleness with your brothers and your growing maturity in areas of responsibility at home.

Our family would be incomplete without you in it! I hope your birthday was every bit at special as you are to all of us. We love you and believe God has great things in store for this new year and many to come. Happy 14th Birthday, Isabel Hope!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

13th Birthday - Isabel
12th Birthday - Isabel
11th Birthday - Isabel
10th Birthday - Isabel
9th Birthday - Isabel
8th Birthday - Isabel
7th Birthday - Isabel
6th Birthday - Isabel
5th Birthday - Isabel

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