Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Adoption Conversations: Evolving and Revolving

Science is a favorite subject for our two homeschooling sons, both currently in 2nd grade. But recently Ian emerged from the schoolroom after watching the day's lesson and exclaimed in his own unique way, "Don't ask me anything! I don't want to cry again!" (In other words, asking to be asked why he was crying.) Surprised, I followed him back to the video screen and spoke with both boys about what had just happened. 

It turned out that their lesson that day had been on earthquakes, which in and of itself was no novelty due to our living in a very seismic country and experiencing strong movement on a regular basis. However, on this occasion the teacher had specifically shared details and photographs of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Both of our Haitian-born sons - then 25 and 21 months old - were still in their orphanage when the earthquake took place and we have spoken of it numerous times. We've also shown them excerpts from a news report filmed at their orphanage shortly after the earthquake, in which they are both specifically featured. Yet for whatever reason, seeing the images in the context of their school day was startling to them. Nor could either of them recall having seen the news report when I reminded them of it. It was as if they were hearing their story for the first time six years later.

We spent awhile that morning reviewing their lesson, its pictures, and then watching the news report again together. Ian and Alec were both very animated about wanting to return to Haiti to help in some way. It was an unexpected opportunity for what felt like a second-generation adoption conversation. We've had so many talks with the older three kids but it isn't a subject our younger boys raise often. However it reminded me that these conversations will constantly be both evolving and revolving, and it is important to be prepared, available and willing to go over the same information as often as requested according to each child's needs.

Fast forward a couple of months, and this evening the boys were chatting nonchalantly while working at the dining room table. In the midst of a completed unrelated conversation, Alec suddenly brought up the topic of their birth moms. Again it was an unscripted and meaningful opportunity to share a piece of their stories with them. It also turned out to be a reminder that their understanding is limited by their age and worldview awareness at each stage! One of the boys seemed to not understand that a baby could be born to an unmarried man and woman. He said, "So my birth mom is like Mary?" (Cue a theological discussion of conception via the Holy Spirit!)

What a privilege and responsibility it is to hold our children's histories and hearts in our hands. May God enable us to always share wisely, wholly and well the precious pieces of each one's early story even as He writes the chapters that are now unfolding, and those still to come!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Beginning to Blossom {FLORECE}

"Mom, how did you choose the name FLORECE?"  My son's question gave me a reflective pause in the midst of a bustling week of preparations. The word "florece" in Spanish means "to blossom" and by God's grace, the FLORECE Prenatal & Family Counseling Center has indeed "blossomed" in its final few weeks before opening to the community of Iquique. What has been beautiful to observe is that not only has the physical property itself been pruned and prepared, but the vision and commitment of our volunteer ladies has also flourished as they see this longtime dream come to fruition.

Some of our volunteers can trace their beginning interest three years ago to a pro-life conference held at our church in June 2013. Eight months later in February 2014, ten women traveled to Peru for a training conference and to visit a functioning pregnancy center first-hand. In the years since then, around thirty women have participated in some form of training. Some have stayed and some have gone, yet our core group has invested hours upon hours in studying, learning and growing to be ready for the opportunity that is now before us. 

For the past three weeks, the training that was only theoretical for so long has been transferred into practical application as our volunteers began fulfilling their weekly scheduled hours in the downtown FLORECE property. We are currently experimenting with a four-day-a-week schedule. This gives us a total of seven shifts with fourteen women committed to serve, generally in groups of three. While we are not yet open for clients, we are practicing exactly what it will look like when that happens very soon! Walking through the process, reading our literature, and role playing with one other has allowed us to see what works smoothly and where we need to make changes on forms and procedures. Safe to say, it has been both thrilling and nerve wracking as we realize our own limitations yet choose to trust in God's promised enabling.

It is in this context that I have truly seen our ladies "blossoming" into women of purpose, prayer and partnership with one another and the Lord to fulfill His purpose through FLORECE. It has been a powerful reminder of our roles and identity as the Body of Christ. None of us has all the knowledge or confidence or ability to carry out this ministry alone. Together, however, we instruct, encourage and challenge one another to step out in faith to serve the women and families of Iquique with God's love and in His name. To God be the glory for what He has done and WILL DO!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Welcoming the Fishers, Part Two

As much as possible, Dave and Terri were willing and desirous of being used in ministry during their ten days in Iquique. Because Terri already speaks Spanish, she had the advantage of being able to jump right in and so she did! Despite weariness from travel, she stayed up late the night of their arrival to participate in an ESL Bible study. The next day she taught the ladies of Iglesia Bautista Misionera and was an impromptu judge for their culinary competition. On Sunday, Dave shared his heart briefly with the church and was warmly welcomed. 

Terri teaching the ladies at Iglesia Bautista Misionera

our colleague Jon Sharp had fun taking a picture of Dave speaking and Pedro translating on Sunday morning

In true Iquique style, our team meetings have become late night affairs. Dave and Terri experienced this on Monday night (hopefully the yummy snacks including torta de merengue de lucuma helped make up for the lack of sleep!) It was encouraging for us to hear their testimony of God's work in their hearts and lives to bring them to this point. We trust it was also encouraging for them to learn more about His work among our team members to direct us now to the FLORECE ministry and in the future to another church plant.

Dave & Terri in front of the FLORECE prenatal and family counseling center

Northern Chile cannot be truly appreciated without a visit to the "interior." This implies a drive some distance up and beyond the coastal mountain range into the desert itself. One popular destination for those in our region is the tiny oasis town of Pica, known for its thermal springs and citric fruit trees. Because our colleagues Jon and Pam Sharp had yet to visit since arriving in Iquique earlier this year, on Tuesday they joined our family and the Fishers for an overnight trip. Our first stop was of the archaeological sort, to the pintados (geoglyphs) left by ancient civilizations on the desert mountains. The kids really enjoyed braving the piercing sun alongside their Aunt Terri and Uncle Dave!

Garcia kids with Aunt Terri & Uncle Dave at the final stop on the walking tour

the "pintados" - geoglyphs on the Atacama hills

Ian and Alec with Uncle Dave

Two small but clean and accommodating cabins welcomed us to Pica. After a lengthy wait, we enjoyed a delicious meal at a local restaurant before settling down to rest from the journey. Tired as the adults were, the kids still had energy and enthusiasm to visit the legendary thermal cocha and eventually they convinced the men to accompany them. It was a decision regretted by some when night fell and they climbed out of the warm water into the frigid desert night air! Pica was only a brief visit, but a memorable one. Perhaps the highlight for the guys was a quick drive up a mountain to see the brilliant stars against the pitch-black backdrop of what has been called the world's clearest skies.

Silas with Uncle Dave and Uncle Jon

a group picture on our little plot of land in Pica

On Wednesday's return trip to Iquique we stopped in the town of La Tirana to visit and photograph the Catholic church there. It is a shrine for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who pay yearly homage to their "Virgin of La Tirana" in the month of July. This tiny, desolate town has no other claim to fame other than its ornate cathedral which stands in stark tribute to lavish faith. Statues of various saints lined the walls, and on this day Saint Lorenzo - the patron saint of miners - was poised on a candle-encircled display at the front of the sanctuary. Nearby statues of Jesus portrayed Him as either the small child of His revered mother Mary or the suffering Savior bleeding on the cross. Across the street from the church, relics could be purchased for a price. For us it was a somber place where ritualistic religion and pagan tradition blended to create a false hope of salvation. Human works can never fulfill what is found solely in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in His cross and resurrection!

a view towards the front of the sanctuary
this ornate stained glass window displays a traditional dance to the Virgin Mary and Christ child

Although Dave and Terri's primary purpose for their trip to Iquique was ministry-focused, definitely a side blessing for our kids was to spend time with an aunt and uncle they do not see often. In between the next few days they spent getting to know our other missionary colleagues, we cherished the moments we could spend together as a family. Our boys were thrilled by a movie night with Uncle Dave, and the whole gang spent one evening down at Cavancha beach exploring the artisan crafts and enjoying crispy hot churros with powdered sugar and manjar. On the Fishers' last day, a final round of fresh fruit juices preceded saying goodbye and heading to the airport.

Uncle Dave with nephews Owen and Ian

Aunt Terri and the gang enjoying fresh churros at Cavancha

Uncle Dave's fresh fruit blend was the first to arrive

It was a bittersweet ride to drop the Dave and Terri off at the Iquique airport knowing their hearts were torn between reuniting with their children back home and returning to Iquique with God's timing yet unknown. As Terri later wrote in their prayer update, "Suffice it to say ... that our hearts are now firmly entrenched in Iquique and we long for the day that we can return and be actively involved in the ministry there to which God has undoubtedly called us and uniquely gifted us."

a family "selfie" to say goodbye

We thank God for the privilege of sharing a heart for ministry and specifically for Iquique with members of our own family. For many years, Dave and Terri were personal supporters of ours as we prepared and departed for the mission field. Now God has called them not only to "send" but to "go." Please pray that His perfect timing and provision would allow them to see their own support needs quickly met and their return to Iquique soon realized! It was a privilege to welcome the Fishers here.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Welcoming the Fishers, Part One

The first words out of my brother-in-law's mouth were not those I expected to hear. "Wow ... This is beautiful!" he exclaimed upon his initial glimpse of the landscape outside of Iquique's airport. Suffice it to say that a typical newcomer often does not have the same reaction! Our vast, dry, vegetation-less desert can sometimes strike despair into an unsuspecting heart. In fact, on our own survey trip to Chile's north in 2003 I distinctly remember stating, "This is the ugliest place I've ever seen!" as our plane descended upon its dusty surface. (Thankfully, the Lord has since changed my heart to fascination and appreciation for the unique terrain that surrounds us!)

amusing cross-cultural experiences begin right outside the airport doors - P.E.E. actually stands for "point of emergency contact!"

Thirteen years after that life-altering survey trip for us, it was our privilege and joy to welcome my sister Terri and her husband Dave on their own trip to survey and get to know the city of Iquique. God has placed it on their hearts to join our team in ministry here, and we are so excited for them to do so! While pre-field ministry (formerly known as deputation) can sometimes seem endless, we hope and trust God will see fit to swiftly raise up faithful supporters in the coming months.

Terri with teammates Pam Sharp and Kim Spink (plus the many marvelous Spink and Garcia MKs!)

Dave with teammates Jon Spink, brother-in-law Pedro and nephew Owen

A welcome to Chile would not be complete without the warmth of an asado, so our team greeted the Fishers with a cookout the day of their arrival. Many more delicious meals would follow, in part to satisfy Terri's longing to reconnect with the flavors of her childhood growing up in this country. Other flavors were new and uniquely characterize our corner of the world, such as creamy mango lecho (a milk and mango smoothie) and other fresh fruit juices which we enjoyed on more than one occasion.

The purpose of Dave and Terri's trip was to observe firsthand the ministry in Iquique and understand better how their gifts and abilities can be used by the Lord alongside our team in this city. Also, a priority was to visit a school providing special education to determine what is available for their daughter Sophia's needs. In the latter case, it was a blessing for me to be able to accompany my sister to the Los Tamarugos educational center. It was also eye opening for both of us. 

The humble building formerly belonged to the Chilean Air Force and shows signs of age and wear. But it was neat and clean and more importantly, a warmth of commitment and spirit shone in the faces of the small group of professionals who work there. Even without a prior appointment, we were welcomed to tour the facility and speak with the acting director who gave us information that both challenged us and nearly brought us to tears. The facility is partially funded by a non-profit with some government support, but still has significant material needs. Their sole school vehicle makes three runs to pick up students each morning and each afternoon. Among other things, we learned that Chile has far to go in accepting and providing for individuals with special needs. Most parents, we were told, still hide their children from society. Others have been abandoned. Several of the students come from children's homes overseen by the government, where they suffer bullying and lack of care appropriate to their needs.

We left with a heavy burden for this school, its needs and the young lives it serves. My sister left with a confirmation in her heart of the purpose God has for Sophia. We are both more than certain that He will use her to touch many lives in her own special way here in Iquique!

To be continued ...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nine Years in Chile

Nine years ago today, our family arrived in Chile for our first term of missionary service. The picture for this prayer card was taken in Texas just a few months prior, as Pedro completed his year of language training and we prepared to set out on this great adventure!

And what an adventure it has been.

God has taught us so much about Himself and His character in these nine years. We've experienced His loving protection and provision, and have witnessed the transforming power of the Gospel in lives of men, women and children in Chile.

There have been mountaintops and valleys, thrills and heartaches, days of rejoicing and days of pain. Yet He has been faithful through it all. The task at hand is greater than ever before as we continue to follow His leading into new and uncharted areas of ministry. We rest in the truth of this verse that hangs on our kitchen wall: "He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Thank You, Lord, for privilege of serving you these nine years in Chile.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blessings in Ministry

This week I had the privilege of writing again for the Breathe Ministry blog with a post entitled: Blessings in Ministry.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction. Have you heard of it? Neither had I until I accepted my friend Luisa's invitation to attend a writer's workshop this week. Hosted through an initiative called Iquique en 100 Palabras and financed by a well-known mining company in our area, the workshop was interesting and informative. Both Luisa and I were surprised at the number of people in attendance, far more than were apparently anticipated. Thanks to a well-placed billboard, I had previously heard of Iquique en 100 Palabras and actually entered a 95-word essay into their 100-words-or-less competition a few years ago. 

However, I have to admit I had no idea there was actually a recognized literary form behind it all. To quote Wikipedia: "Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature of extreme brevity." Since some stories are merely a sentence in length, brevity might sometimes be an understatement! Alejandra Costamagna, the author who led our workshop, gave us a famous example in Ernest Hemingway's six-word story, "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn."  

picture from Iquique en 100 Palabras Facebook page

In Spanish, flash fiction is called the microrrelato or microcuento. Costamagna informed us that it is recognized by several characteristics. Among these are brevity; expressive concentration; ingenious use of language; and sometimes playfulness or absurdity. Titles are meaningful and should complement the story. But what is perhaps most important to the genre is the use of silence or simply, what is left unsaid. Much of the interpretation is left to the reader's imagination. This quality as well as the brevity of the form may be most attractive to today's rapid-fire, social media generation.

I am an observer of people and what drew my attention during the workshop was the broad range of ages represented among those present. Seeing university students next to senior citizens with even a few young teens mixed in, reminded me that everyone has a story to tell. And having the opportunity to do so was apparently important enough to bring this large and varied group together one midweek evening. At the end of the workshop there was a time given for each person to write his or her piece of flash fiction, with the option of having it read aloud by the visiting author. It was fascinating to hear snippets of people's lives, of memories and relationships and heartache and laughter captured in just a few short phrases.

picture from Iquique en 100 Palabras Facebook page

If I was disappointed in anything, it was that the choice of pieces the author had prepared beforehand to share with us were mostly dark in tone. Almost every example was sad, covering such a range of topics as sex, suicide, politics, homelessness, immigration, familial violence and abuse. Interestingly, when we compared notes afterwards both my friend and I had felt the same way. It was a good reminder of the power of words and an encouragement to build up positively through them.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue ..." Might we not say in the power of the "pen" as well? Our words and stories do matter, and it is up to us how we share them. May we find a way to glorify God through both what we say and what is left unsaid, that more hearts would be stirred to find Him.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

“Menú del día” in Iquique

A delightful fact of life in the country of Chile is the lunchtime option of the "menú del día." In Iquique as in other cities and towns throughout the country, shortly before the midday meal you will see handwritten chalk signs appearing in windows or on sidewalks in front of eateries. Prices will vary depending on the fancy factor of each establishment, but most "Mom & Pop" places will offer lunch for an average of $2500 pesos (approximately $4 US dollars.) And by "lunch" they mean fresh bread on the table; soup or salad for the first course; a piping hot second course; and often a small bowl of fruit or ice cream for dessert. Sometimes drinks may also be included, but otherwise family-sized bottles of soda, water or juice can be purchased for the equivalent of another couple of dollars. 

An even more economical option is the "colación" which is often a one-course meal packaged to go. This will usually cost under $2 US dollars and is also fresh, hot and filling.

This week, our family had the opportunity to enjoy a daily menu due to a scheduled power outage which left us without electricity in our neighborhood from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. While it seemed as good an excuse as any to eat out, we also didn't want to break the bank! As they say in Chile, we were looking for the three "B's" - bueno (good), bonito (attractive) and barato (cheap) - for lunch. We decided to try a restaurant just a couple of blocks from the FLORECE building. The price was right, it looked bright and clean and was not too crowded for that time of day.

However, we soon realized we must have just missed the lunch crowd! An important side note to the daily menu is this detail: once they're out, they're out. In other words, only a certain amount of each item offered on the menu is prepared. This particular day the waiter somewhat sheepishly advised us of several options which were no longer available. Thankfully none of our family members had their heart set on anything in particular (because to be perfectly honest, the kids would rather junk/fast food over a daily menu every time!) 

In the end, we enjoyed sliced fresh bread with homemade spicy pebre; the kids began with salads and the adults with a hot soup called ajiaco for appetizers; and everyone had white rice with either pollo al jugo (chicken cooked in its juices with veggies on the stove), pollo al horno (baked chicken), porotos (bean and noodles), or estofado de carne (beef stew.) Besides running low on food, the restaurant was also running low on drink options so our only choice - albeit a healthy one! - was bottled water for the whole family. All in all it was a decent meal but as our children fondly remembered, the last place we ate a daily menu provided a free plate of papas fritas (french fries.) Who can compete with that?!

Oh well. Live and learn (and eat!), Iquique-style.

Friday, July 29, 2016

An Iquique Pharmacy Adventure

example of an on-shift pharmacy in Iquique

This is a rabbit trail before my story's even started, but have I ever mentioned that the 80's never died in Chile? Grocery stores are especially great for reliving musical memories of that iconic era (the longer the shopping trip, the better!) All that to say there's an 80's song somewhere out there with a catchy phrase that goes, "You don't know what you got, until it's gone ... and I found out a little too late ..." which sums up my recent Iquique pharmacy adventure pretty well.

It's an odd but true fact that newborn baby formula is not sold in all grocery stores in Iquique. In fact, the one store that carries the doctor-recommended brand for our son Silas keeps each can in a security device that must be unlocked before purchase. So we learned early on that pharmacies are actually the place to buy baby formula. But, it has to be requested from the pharmacist for retrieval from its safe storage behind the counter.

Now another odd but true fact in Iquique is that although the city never seems to sleep, there is no such thing as a 24-hour grocery store or pharmacy. The closest you can get is the farmacia de turno or the "on-shift pharmacy." Each day, one pharmacy in the entire city of around 250,000 people is designated to stay open through the night. Presumably the pharmacy is listed in the daily newspaper or online to make customers aware should the need arise.

My introduction to this pharmacy phenomenon came on the heels of Pedro's return from a one-week trip to the USA. The kids and I were so excited for his homecoming and welcomed him back that evening with a yummy Chinese dinner. By the time we were done and the kids were headed to bed, it was well past the 10 p.m. closing hour of Iquique's stores and pharmacies. Only then did I realize to my dismay that we no longer had baby formula for Silas! (Epic mommy fail.) My poor husband was so tired and we were hitting dead-ends with our internet search for the on-shift pharmacy. We even posted to our Whatsapp groups and Facebook for help without an immediate response. Finally I drove off in the van to look for a needle in the proverbial haystack.

I had passed two closed pharmacies and was headed towards a third when my husband called. To my utter relief, he directed me to a location just a few blocks from where I was and less than five minutes from home. It could have been such a different story! There are some parts of the city which are just better avoided at night and I had feared ending up in one of them. I immediately prayed and thanked God for His merciful provision. 

While still not a great place to be after dark, the shopping strip where the pharmacy was located was well-lit and at that hour still somewhat crowded. I just couldn't figure out why the metal door of the shop was already sealed and closed! My confusion must have been evident as I stood outside and stared at it, because a passerby told me to knock on a small, inset metal window. The window slid open and voila! a friendly face appeared and my order was taken by a young pharmacy assistant. It felt like a covert operation under cloak of darkness and I couldn't help but feel amusement alongside relief.

What an encouraging reminder of God's provision even in the small details of life. It was also a slight cultural collision that will certainly keep me grateful the next time I have a 24-hour neighborhood pharmacy nearby!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

When a Stranger Asks (Adoption Questions)

It's always fun when an otherwise pleasant family outing is interrupted by random adoption questions by strangers. It's especially fun when those questions are thoughtless, potentially hurtful and asked point-blank in front of my children's faces. 
Woman: (staring at my children as we shopped for clothes) "So, not one of them is your own?" 
Me: (placing my hand significantly on my heart and making direct eye contact in hopes of ending this conversation immediately) "Actually, every single one of them is mine." 
Woman: (not getting the hint and stepping deeper in the mire of insensitive curiosity) "And you love them?" 
Me: (giving each of my kids a pained but intentionally very warm smile) "Of course I love them. Very much."
I guess if I were a glass half-full kind of girl, I would chalk this up as an unexpected opportunity to affirm my children. In public. To a stranger. After all, charity begins at home - or maybe, in the crowded clothing stall of a flea market.

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.