Saturday, May 19, 2018

Conversations That Make Me Smile

Ian: Do you remember that movie we watched with the guy on his motorcycle? It was like it had power from the sun, because he never stopped for gas.

Alec: They didn't have him stop for gas in the movie because it would take up too much time. And who wants to watch a long movie?

Ian: Kids do! Because if it's a long movie, then they get to stay up longer and later before going to bed!

(In reference to the Christian film "Fury to Freedom." It obviously impressed them though perhaps not as intended!) 

Alec and Ian, June 2017

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Blessings Are Meant to be Shared {Adoption}

Seventeen years ago today, we received "the call" that changed our lives forever. On May 9, 2001 we learned of the three-month old baby girl who would become our first precious daughter. We knew so little about parenting, even less about adoption, but understood that we had received an indescribable gift. Hers was a closed adoption per agency policy. At the time it seemed like a good idea. Yet blessings are meant to be shared, and as our daughter's first birthday approached we sensed God leading us to write a letter of thanksgiving and hope to her birth parents. As the years went by we continued, sending a letter and photos annually to the agency with our request that they be forwarded. We had no way of knowing, however, if this would be done.

As most adopted children do, our daughter wondered about her origins. Why did her first parents make an adoption plan? Did they think of her, remember her? Were there any siblings out in the world? The questions came and went, sometimes pensive and other times urgent, by turns neutral or impassioned. Often they crescendoed in response to her sister's open adoption and the difference in their realities.

The desire grew stronger in her to know her story. On our return to the States in 2012, we petitioned the adoption agency for information. We were not given much more than two first names, new to us. With them and some other clues, Facebook become our friend and ally in searching for answers to give our dear daughter. Finally we found them - or at least thought we had. But there was no certainty nor sensitive way to make a connection and by then we were thousands of miles away on another continent. So we waited.

In 2017, we returned to the States and rented a post office box for the sole purpose of pursuing our leads. Letters mailed went unanswered, as did messages sent to the likeliest person on Facebook. Weeks turned to months and 2017 became 2018. We prepared to depart the U.S. once again. Ahead of our leaving, today we received a special visitor. Her sister's birth mother came overnight and our time together was sweet. In the midst of it, an almost overlooked message arrived on my phone.

"I think I am who you are looking for." May 9, 2018 - seventeen years to the day of "the call" that changed our lives. Today our daughter received a message that brought us full circle, answering doubts and restoring confidence to her heart. "I have always thought about and wondered about you. I have always loved you." Her sister's birth mother was here to see it happen. My heart is full of wonder at God's patient working in all of us. Years ago I could never have believed my reaction would be gladness and gratitude, rather than insecurity and self-preservation. Yet blessings are meant to be shared, and today God's blessings overflowed.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Celebrating a New Teenager (Happy 13th Birthday to Owen)

Dear Owen,

And just like that, you are a teenager. 

Thirteen years ago I cradled a tiny baby in the neonatal intensive care unit of a Jacksonville hospital. Today I wrap my arms around a lanky boy who is just taller than his sisters and soon to be taller than me. I'm so glad that though you have outgrown multiple shoe and pant sizes this past year, you have not outgrown your affectionate ways. I love that you still try to climb on my lap or Daddy's, with long arms and legs and elbows and knees spilling out in every direction!

Just last week after a family outing we'd had together, your Pop-Pop remarked how special you are. "Owen is a natural-born leader," he said. And I agreed. From the time you were little, you have had a spark that draws people to you. God has uniquely created you and I know that He has mighty plans to fulfill in your life as you follow Him. It has been such a joy this year to see you growing and maturing in your faith, especially on Sundays as you take notes during Pastor Greg's sermons and later have thoughtful comments that reveal how closely you have been listening to what he shares from God's Word.

It has also been so rewarding to observe you this year in a new school context. Despite challenges from having had almost all your prior education in Spanish, you have pushed through obstacles and impressed your teachers with the self-motivation you possess. You have made many friends and pursued new opportunities such as band without any prior knowledge or training. You have faced some hard times and heartache from one individual's personal attacks but through this trial developed compassion and concern for others' wellbeing. As any new teenager, you have had high highs and low lows but you have emerged with the humor we all enjoy so much and the energy that motivates us to keep going. Your family loves you dearly!

On the exact day of your birthday, I was saddened to be far away with Daddy in California but thankful for Grandpa Garcia stepping in to make your day special. Your growing boy appetite was more than satisfied at Shady Maple Smorgasbord and it made Grandpa laugh that with all the many options available, a burger was still your first choice! A few days later we celebrated again, this time with cake and ice cream and presents along with both sets of grandparents. And finally, Uncle Dave and Aunt Terri made your day with a much-anticipated movie and popcorn and a sleepover with your cousin Benjamin. Hopefully you will remember all these things and realize how very much you are valued and enjoyed.

Happy 13th Birthday, Owen! May this be a wonderful year of your life, full of blessings and learning. Daddy and I love you so much!

Love always,

Previous birthday posts:

12th Birthday - Owen
11th Birthday - Owen
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

Monday, April 09, 2018

46 Years and a California Birthday

Dear Pedro,

April 9, 1972 was a day that changed my life, and I wasn't even around yet to know it. It was the day you were born in Lapeer, Michigan and began your life's journey that would take you across the state, the country and eventually the world. Twenty-three years later, by God's grace our paths coincided and I am so thankful they did!

It was a sweet blessing to share the morning of your 46th birthday with a house full of our six children and your two parents who had flown from Florida to generously watch their grandchildren while we flew away for eight days' time. It was an unusual way to celebrate, taking one plane after another on our voyage from coast to coast. You didn't complain, and I hope it was not a disappointment to end your birthday collapsing into a strange bed after driving, flying, and driving again on dark and unfamiliar California highways. It was certainly another adventure on our ever-growing list of memories together! And I for one am so glad to have shared it with you.

In fact, I am glad for every adventure and memory we have made together and I look forward to each one that is still to come. You are my best friend and confidante, my laughter and safe place to land. You lead our family lovingly and make the partnership of marriage a daily joy. I am so thankful for the time we were given together away from usual scenes and routines and eventually out into God's great earth to be overwhelmed by His amazing creation. What began on your birthday became a weeklong gift of being together and I loved every minute!

Happy Birthday, my Sweets, and thank you for so many selfless acts you perform daily for me and our children, our family and our friends. May God be your guide and your Rock and your righteousness as you follow him and focus on what He has in store for this next year of your life! As long as He allows, I will be right here beside you.

I love you,

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Double Digits for Alec (Happy 10th Birthday!)

Dear Alec,

You have finally reached the "double digits" that you long dreamed of! What a privilege to celebrate YOU alongside so many family members who love you: Grandpa and Grandma Garcia, Pop-Pop and Mom-Mom Christian, Aunt Terri and Uncle Dave, your cousins Benjamin, Nathaniel and Sophia, and of course, Daddy and Mommy and siblings Eva, Isabel, Owen, Ian and Silas!

This has been a big and busy year in your life as we moved to the States and you entered Highland Elementary School, meeting new teachers, making new friends and finding new routines. It has been fun to watch you and Ian as you are the last to leave each morning and carry on lengthy, creative (and often conflictive!) conversations as make your breakfast and lunch for the day. Your favorite thing is having enough time left over for a quick card game with Mommy before school! Walking to school on your own with your brother - and often the neighbor kids - has been a great way to feel independent. You have made some great memories!

For your 10th birthday, in addition to your family celebration you asked for a special dinner date with Mom and Dad to a restaurant that had always piqued your curiosity: Red Lobster! Of course you wanted to try the most grown-up options, so for the first time ever you tried lobster tail and also enjoyed your favorite shrimp. The wait staff even brought you a bowl of ice cream and sang Happy Birthday!

Perhaps of all our children, you can often be the quietest and keep us guessing about what is really on your mind. So I brought a list of questions with me to the dinner table, and I think you enjoyed answering them. Some were serious, others silly but Daddy and I enjoyed hearing your thoughts.

Alec, as you turn 10 years old we want you to know that we are so happy that you are our son and we are so proud of you! You have put forth an excellent effort in school this year, showing initiative and self-motivation with your studies. You have been a help to your teacher and a good friend to your classmates. You are a great big brother to Silas and it always warms my heart to see that you genuinely enjoy having your whole family around you. I want to encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus and follow Him each day! You love to read and God is writing a great adventure just for you. I can't wait to see what it's all about.

Happy 10th Birthday, Alec Stephen! Daddy and I love you.


Previous birthday posts:

9th Birthday - Alec
8th Birthday - Alec
7th Birthday - Alec
6th Birthday - Alec
5th Birthday - Alec
4th Birthday - Alec
3rd Birthday - Alec
2nd Birthday - Alec
1st Birthday - Alec

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Remember to Remember

My husband likes to tease me about being a Steven Curtis Chapman fan and it is true that I am. The reason for my appreciation, however, is only in part related to his music. As much as I like many of his songs, my utmost respect is for the faithful life he has lived in a very public spotlight. I often encourage my kids to consider that a song may sound great, but if the artist behind it doesn't practice what he or she preaches then the words do not carry much weight. In the case of the Chapman family, a very heavy weight was entrusted to them with the tragic death of their young daughter nearly ten years ago. Pushed onto a platform of exposed sorrow before the eyes of the whole world, they did not hide their questions and grief yet remained steadfast in their confidence in a loving God.

Last year I read Steven's autobiographical book entitled Between Heaven and the Real World. It was well worth the time and impressed me again with his humility and transparency. This is not someone who claims to have it all together, but who clings to the Father who does. A subject I found especially encouraging was his description of challenges he and his wife Mary Beth have faced in their marriage and how God has sustained their commitment to one another. Too often well-meaning Christian couples always wear their "game faces" in public. By presenting a perfect facade to a watching world, they inadvertently discourage others who struggle and feel they'll never measure up to an impossible standard.

It goes with saying that another huge area of connection and appreciation for Steven and Mary Beth Chapman's ministry is adoption. With humor they share the story of how it took their eleven-year old daughter nudging and "guilting" them over a period of time to even consider adoption. Then one adoption turned into two, and finally three! Through this God made them aware of how many Christian families desire to adopt but are held back by financial constraints. They founded Show Hope, an organization that accomplishes two major purposes: providing financial grants to adopting families, and funding care centers in China for children with acute medical and special needs. In addition, they provide adoption support through conferences and resources to strengthen families along their journey. They also coordinate student trips to China in an effort to challenge the next generation with God's call to care for orphans. All of this is personal to us because God used a Show Hope grant in a very significant way to bring our sons home from Haiti. 

Last weekend, my oldest sister surprised me with tickets to the sold-out "SCC Solo" concert in Manheim, Pennsylvania. What an amazing gift! I had the privilege of taking my mom, who had never attended a Steven Curtis Chapman concert but knew some of his story and especially how the Shop Hope ministry blessed our family. Listening to him in person I was impressed again with his humble recognition that his ministry and platform has been God-given for a greater purpose such as proclaiming God's heart for orphans. Over 6,000 children have now come home with the help of Show Hope grants! I couldn't help but compare this concert to two previous ones I attended, each about ten years earlier than the other. The fans have changed, grown older and calmer but I'd like to believe, more deeply rooted in truth and commitment.

My most lasting impression of the concert was Steven's new song entitled "Remember to Remember." The lyrics are meaningful and I've abbreviated them to share here. (I also found a video someone recorded at another recent concert.)

I've been looking back over my shoulder
Retracing every step, trying to unforget
And I see the mountains I journeyed over
And I see the valleys deep where I crawled on my hands and knees
Pages of memories, filled with joy and stained with tears
They call to me and if I listen I can hear them saying:

Remember the way He led us up to the top of the highest mountain
Remember the way He carried us through the deepest dark
Remember His promises for every step on the road ahead
Look where you've been and where you're going
And remember to remember

And now I'm looking at the road that's waiting
But my eyes can only see so far up ahead of me
As sure as the sun will shine, there will be more mountains I will climb
More deep dark shadowlands where desperate faith is all I'll have
Until I'm Home I'm resting on my hope and trust
In the One and Only God whose name is God With Us

This was such an important reminder for me because so often in the busyness of life I forget to trace God's faithful hand in our family's story. Yet as I look back I see how time and again He has answered our cries, supplied our needs, poured out His blessings over and above what we could ever deserve. I do not know why He has been so good to us. 

But I, too, need to "remember to remember!"

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

One Day at a Time

My fifteen-year old daughter put the feeling into words. While we sat stopped at a red light on Sunday after church, she announced to us in the car: "I don't know where my head is. It's not here (in the States.) It's not in Chile yet, either. I don't know where it is!" 

To which I could honestly reply: "I know exactly how you feel!"

Yesterday I was encouraged to take it "one day at a time." And recently, that is pretty much how things have been. With most of the family sick for almost two weeks, it was "just get through today." Then with Pedro away for a week to Chile and my solo parenting six children (which included driving a total of almost 80 miles to/from school each day) I kept doing the same thing. One day ... to the next ... to the next ... (And today he is coming home - hooray!) Tomorrow we recoup and the next day, we are off to Michigan.

I don't mind living one day at a time. But panic threatens to set in when I think of huge things hanging over my head while I do so. Figuring out schooling for the kids. Will it be online? Then we have several laptops to research and order. Should we consider Chilean school for a couple of the boys? The new law that has gone in effect since our departure seriously restricts our options. What about our child with a learning disability? Online school is not a good option, so what curriculum should we be purchasing to take with us? Should we try to squeeze four semesters into three so that our oldest child can plan on an extra six months stateside to earn money, get a driver's license and re-adapt to the US before starting college two years from now? 

So many decisions that feel so weighty.

Then there are other, less weighty but equally necessary tasks. Taking inventory of eight people's clothing. Do we need socks? Undergarments? My soon-to-be thirteen-year old son has one pair of jeans that still covers his ankles. (This after growing through multiple sizes in the past nine months.) Shoes on sale here are much more affordable than in Chile. Should we stock up on several sizes, and for whom? We've got a child who wears slim, another who wears husky and everything in between. Who needs what, and how urgently?

We need to pack sixteen large and eight carry-on suitcases within a pound or two of strict airline weight limits. (First we need to purchase several more.) Speaking of weight, we need to create personalized weight management plans to satisfy medical clearance requirements. And raise a final bit of require support to meet financial clearance regulations. We also need to deep clean our lovely furlough home and try our best to minimize the effects of an eight-person family's wear and tear over the past year. More importantly, our children need our awareness and help to say good goodbyes. They will be pulling out of school early and some are sorry to miss the final class parties and fun outings that are planned. Our child who finds such comfort in animals must leave the fish club she created at school (and her beloved betta) behind. 

Closure. Transition. Celebrating the positives, grieving the losses, anticipating the changes soon to come. Spending three last weeks with the Garcia grandparents when they visit next month. Storing up sweet memories with Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop during our final weeks in Pennsylvania. Being fully present here while also preparing our hearts to completely engage and joyfully serve in the ministries that await us.

My dad was famous for quoting Jim Elliot to us when we were growing up. Now, I quote it to my children and to myself: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Be all there ... Live to the hilt ... One day at a time.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Keeping an Eye on Our Little Guy

Silas. Sometimes I wonder if I've had any child so wild and active at your age. (Then I remember the dynamic duo of Ian and Alec and realize it just feels so much more overwhelming because I am eight years older than I was back then!) 

Yesterday we had Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop over for dinner and a movie. Turmoil ensued towards the end of dinner when you departed your booster seat for the living room and attempted to wield Pop-Pop's cane like a lightsaber. When your sister wisely removed it from your eager hands, there was wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth. Only the arrival of dessert (a giant whoopie pie from the visit you and Mom-Mom and I made to the Green Dragon Farmer's Market earlier that morning) changed your disposition for the better. But then you frightened your brother into fearing for your well-being with the massive spoonfuls of white cream you shoveled into your little mouth with astonishing speed and zeal!

Throughout the entire movie, you alternately climbed and perched and leaped from the back of the couch. You pulled a picture off the wall, then yanked out the screw that held it in place. You flicked the lights. Off and on, off and on. Occasionally the movie would catch your attention and you would linger for a sweet space of quiet where we could actually hear the dialogue! (Ironically the movie was Mom's Night Out so all of your antics were truly timely.) When it was over and the credits and silly scenes were playing on the screen, you danced around the living room and did somersaults and rollovers around the carpet in glee.

Literally the only time you sit still is for episodes of Shaun the Sheep, which you request multiple times daily. I don't know what it is about the claymation creation that captures your imagination so fully, but it seems to wield the same magic on your brothers and Daddy when they are around! So we gratefully accept the moments of peace when they come.

You astonish us with how in tune you are with life around you. Recently you started "praying" at mealtimes. "Father, Jesus.... hmmm, hmmm ... family, food ... Amen!" is your standard repetition. Your favorite songs are still "Deep and Wide" and "God Made Me." You love "church." In fact, Daddy has been gone for days (to Chile for meetings) and when we asked you where he was, you cheerfully replied: "Daddy bye-bye. Daddy church!"

A story that will go down in family lore was your recent song making on the drive home from school. I had gotten a call that Ian was sick and needed to be picked up with Alec, rather than walking home as they usually do. Daddy was already on his way home with the older kids and when he stopped to load the boys in the van, you began chanting a little ditty. "Acca (Alec) didn't wa-alk! Ian didn't wa-alk!" was your impromptu refrain which surprised and made everyone laugh so much.

You are also a little parrot. Often it is words, but sometimes it is sounds that you hear your siblings making on a regular basis. For instance, yesterday morning we passed an Amish buggy on the road. The high-pitched, drawn out "Ahhhhhhhh!" you exclaimed was a perfect rendition of big sister Eva's excitement every time she sees one on the road. Again you brought a moment of laughter to our morning commute!

It is a full time job keeping an eye on our little guy. You make our days crazy but you also make them so cute and so fun. 

We love you, Silas Eben Garcia!

Saturday, March 03, 2018

The Elusive Home of the MK

I am not proud of it, but I can remember as if it were yesterday.

I was a 16-year old MK ("missionary kid") in 10th grade on furlough, and I was not happy about it. The school van had dropped me off at the end of the long drive leading to the rambling farmhouse we rented as a missionary home that year. The backpack I carried wasn't the only heavy load on my shoulders; rather, it was my attitude that really weighed me down. My mother met me at the end of my trudging walk up the front steps with a hopeful look in her eyes. "How was your day?" she kindly asked. 

My response was to throw down my pack in disgust and reply with gritted teeth, "Terrible. As always. I want to go HOME!"

Ah, yes. The elusive home of the MK. Today I am a 42-year old adult MK and mom to six MK children on furlough, and I still stand as witness to the conflict both without and within. The children we brought "home" to the States came tentatively, sad to leave their familiar friends, church and neighborhood behind. Now nearly nine months later, the tables have all but turned. Recently my 15-year old declared, "My plan was just not to make friends here. That way I wouldn't have to say any more goodbyes. It didn't work. If only I wasn't so stinkin' social!"

The neighborhood we arrived to in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was new to all of us. But the drive that at first seemed so confusing, now is comfortably familiar. Several nearby houses that once seemed stark and uninviting, we now recognize as home to regular playmates of our kids. The unfenced yards and quieter streets and fresh green grass have afforded a relaxing environment day by day. Early this Saturday morning I drove two of our boys to practice for the upcoming AWANA Games and as we returned home and crested the hill leading to our furlough house, the panoramic beauty of the widespread fields made my heart sigh. At the same time a familiar sickly feeling twisted in the pit of my stomach as I thought, only three more months of this.

It's not so much a reluctance on my part to return, but the huge transition it entails. It's restoring a rental home to its right condition while simultaneously living in it with eight people and packing twenty-four suitcases (including carry-ons) while determining what must be left behind. It's sorting through the sharp feelings of family members on sensitive days when emotions spill over into cries such as, "You and Dad need to go back! I don't. Why can't I just stay here?" It's determining when a heart needs sympathy or when an attitude needs straightening up. (Not just the kids' but the parents', too!) It's an ever-increasing list of to-do's and don't-forget's that ratchets the anxiety levels a bit higher every day.

Perhaps ironically, the movie Inside Out has been looping on repeat in our house these days. Even my less-than-sentimental husband commented on its uncanny accuracy in capturing the emotions of coming and going and saying goodbye. He observed that for all its funny parts, it leaves him with a feeling of melancholy each time. (For a better understanding and a great written review by another TCK - third culture kid - read this blog post: Inside Out and Jumbled Up.)  

It has been sweet to hear from the adults have been a part of our children's lives at church this year, sharing how much they've enjoyed them in their classes. But it's true as one leader stated, "It's like they are finally getting to be known and making friends, and now it is time for them to leave already. We'll really miss them!" It does take awhile to settle in and make those connections, only to disconnect them once again. 

It is not only this reality of winding down and saying goodbye, but also so much turmoil and trouble in the world at large that continually draws my heart to its moorings of an eternal home. Knowing that in the big picture of things we are only passing through this world, makes "just passing through" another year of furlough more bearable. Knowing that those relationships we cultivate which are grounded in Christ cannot truly be broken even by time or distance, creates a measure of peace in the midst of emotional chaos. And to think that our Savior amazingly chose to do this very thing - leave Home, live as a stranger moving from place to place, establish close relationships, and ultimately say not goodbye to those who loved Him - just takes my breath away.

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, 
Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, 
but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, 
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." 
--Hebrews 4:14-16

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Happy 17th Birthday, Eva Grace

Dear Eva -

What a whirlwind the day of your 17th birthday was! It included your friend from Iquique flying to the States with her family, and winter weather delays that turned into school cancellations, and last-minute plan changes that resulted in you and Isabel accompanying us on the long round trip to New York City and back again. Despite all the craziness, I hope your day was special and that you sensed how much you are loved.

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that you are seventeen years old. This past year of your life has been a challenging one, saying goodbye to the familiar and to friends in Iquique while facing hurdles of fear and doubt as you set foot in a large new school campus in the United States and initially struggled to make friends. But on the morning of your birthday, you shared the story of how you recently noticed a girl sitting alone at lunch and reached out to her. You told me about a boy who seemed lonely and with whom you struck up a conversation. You were excited that the betta club you created is now "officially" related to FFA and members of that association are involved and interested in it. You had a dream, and you worked hard to see it become a reality! Daddy and I are so proud of you for persevering.

We have seen you grow in many ways this year. One of my greatest joys is observing how of your own accord you often seek God's Word in the morning. I love hearing your enthusiasm over this semester's Bible class, especially as ancient truths spring to new life in your heart and understanding.

Daddy and I both love to watch you create. You astonish us with your artistic imagination and how you can see a flowing, colorful fish in a piece of tinfoil and tissue paper. We marvel at your tenacity when you tackle a new subject (usually related to animals!) and pore over it in studious investigation until you know it inside and out. You are such a great researcher.

This year it has been my privilege to walk beside you as you stared down some of your deepest struggles. My heart has often ached for your pain while being inspired by your courage. There is no doubt in my mind that God has important, meaningful work for you to accomplish in this world for His glory! The future looks too close to me now as we see glimpses of how soon your high school career will be done and you will pursue other goals in your life. But for now I will cherish seeing my first baby girl grow, spread her wings and fly.

I love you, always and forever -


Birthday Posts by Year:

16th Birthday - Eva
15th Birthday - Eva
14th Birthday - Eva
13th Birthday - Eva
12th Birthday - Eva
11th Birthday - Eva

Monday, January 22, 2018

Laughter is the Best Medicine

Ian and Alec (June 2017)

Abbott and Costello. Luci and Desi. Lewis and Martin. Add to the list of famous comedy duos of all time ... Alec and Ian. 

Almost every morning, for one hour I have these two boys to myself while Daddy runs the older kids to their school. And almost every morning, I have a new unique comedy routine played out before me. All I have to do is be quiet and listen!

Their repartee is quick, witty and relentless. Their non-stop banter fluctuates from banal to hilariously inventive. Their topics are anyone's guess. I've heard jungle animals snarling back and forth in the basement, and young "English" gentlemen holding stilted conversations over eggs and sausage.

Today it was the latter. I have one son (Ian) who loves eggs and high-protein breakfasts. Since his tendency is to get hyper on sugar, it's really the better choice over cereal but takes a little more work. As they say it's better to "teach a man to fish" and feed him for a lifetime, last week I decided to teach him to make his own morning meal. Of course, today he was excited to do it again. Meanwhile Alec hovered over his shoulder giving unsolicited feedback and opinions until he decided to give cooking a try himself!

When they had both settled into stools at the counter with their plates of eggs and sausage, the conversation renewed. "Oh!" Alec exclaimed in his best British brogue, carefully enunciating each syllable with special attention to crisp consonants. "This Alec fellow is a very good cook."

Without missing a beat, Ian interjected commentary in a matching accent of his own. "Although ..." He drew the word out haughtily. "That fellow did have the help of his muh-thah [mother.]" To which statement they both erupted in giggles and pointed fingers at one another with complete loss of English dignity. "You did, too! No, I did not! She helped you with the sausage! Well, maybe the sausage, but I did the eggs! I did the eggs, too!" And so on, and so forth, ad infinitum.

If laughter is truly good medicine, then I've got all the medicine I need! I just need to slow down more and soak it in. Hopefully this little post will help me do just that. :)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

When Friends Become Family (and Family Become Friends)

I still remember waking up that first morning to find myself nearly nose to nose with my assigned roommate. With just hours of acquaintance I could not yet imagine that this squirmy little six-year old named Nina would soon become my sister-in-law and over twenty years later, a trusted friend! On the other hand, I enjoyed many crazy moments in college with my friend Raquel before God drew us together as sisters-in-law by marrying brothers. Both ways, I am grateful for friends who became family, and family who became friends. And I am especially grateful for the gift of coming together this New Year and spending a week in one another's company!

family photo by Jen Mininger Photography

Shortly before their visit, I commented to an acquaintance that my in-laws would be in town for an extended stay. Her negative response caught me off guard as apparently the relationship with her husband's family is quite strained. I was saddened by her experience yet reminded anew of the blessing it has been to spend twenty years of marriage as part of the admittedly imperfect, yet loving and generous and gracious Garcia clan! Although our times together are often far between, my mother-in-law and father-in-law are unfailingly warm and loving. I am so glad for the three weeks they invested in us and their grandchildren through Christmas and into January. It was also a special treat for our kids to have both sets of grandparents together for the holidays, and a memory they will not soon forget!

Grandpa and Grandma's arrival

Garcia family gift exchange

Perhaps no one was more eagerly welcomed to the family celebration than new cousin Chloe. Even Silas was quickly smitten with his infant companion. Never was there a more easygoing baby, and everyone enjoyed turns holding and playing and loving on the newest member of the Garcia clan! Thank you, Nina and Kyle, for sharing your "baby doll" with us.

meeting cousin Chloe for the first time

the youngest grandkids with "Nana" and Grandpa

It was five years ago that we were last together as an entire family. Despite record-breaking cold temperatures, the warmth of love and lots of laughter filled our home with the fifteen of us reunited! When we could bear the frigid air, occasional outings (and a love for doughnuts!) took us to the Shady Maple Farm Market and Green Dragon Farmer's Market. At the latter we may have made one vendor's day, since we each bought multiple jars of her all-natural healing ointments for our sadly weathered and chapped hands! Food was a very popular part of our time together, with samples of many local delights (did I mention our love for Shady Maple doughnuts?!) 

the gang's (almost) all here!

grown up siblings and spouses

Our adult-siblings outing attempted a visit to Kitchen Kettle but due to inclement weather was re-routed to a fabulous furniture shop where one-of-a-kind pieces were made from rescued barn wood. It was attached to a coffee shop with delicious hot chocolate and next door we savored cheese steaks and other hot sandwiches at an incredible local deli and butcher shop. At home we shared meal preparation, with Aunt Raquel's amazing Peruvian fare one night and Aunt Nina's authentic Mexican meal later in the week. For good measure, we also tossed in Italian food by way of the amazing stuffed pizza available from a local restaurant in town!

getting Grandpa to play was quite a feat

Grandma patiently taught the younger generation how to play

The flip side of food was certainly games, which we enjoyed in spades (pun intended, ha.) Playing "Pit" was a loud family affair and much to our amusement we later found two-year old Silas trying to play his own version - i.e., throwing cards in the air and yelling "two, free, five" enthusiastically! "Ticket to Ride - Africa" was a new version and brother-in-law Kyle did the honors of researching the rules and patiently explaining them to the rest of us. Mother and daughters competed in "Settlers of Catan" on a couple of occasions and Uncle Mateo kindly taught chess to his nieces and nephews, but by far the favorite game this year was "Dutch Blitz" with the expansion to allow up to eight raucous players!

Uncle Mateo with Isabel

Aunt Raquel with Eva

Without a doubt, the highlight of our time together as a family came one night around the dinner table when our meal was done. It was then that the aunts and uncles shared their personal salvation testimonies with everyone present, and it was a special and holy time. My deepest desire is that our children understand how much God loves them and desires a relationship with them. What blessed me so much was hearing how despite challenges and heartaches, when the time was right each aunt and uncle was convicted by the Holy Spirit and surrendered in obedience to Him. Yet each one testified to the joy and fulfillment found only in God and following His will! I pray our children will pursue the same.

family photo by Jen Mininger Photography

So often my father-in-law has reminded our family of 3 John 1:4, the verse he and Mom hold most dear: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." With tears and with smiles, that evening we rejoiced in God's faithfulness to our family. He is the one Who draws us into fellowship with Himself and one another. Our family - both the Garcias and Christians - are also our dearest friends, because of our bond in Christ. 

This New Year's week was an incredible blessing. We hope it will not be another five years before we are all together again! We captured some family photos with the help of a friend, Jen Mininger Photography, on an unforgettable and absolutely freezing morning of 12-degree winter weather. Yet another memory to cherish! - as we will each moment one from this very special visit.

family photo by Jen Mininger Photography

Monday, January 08, 2018

What a {Monday} Morning

At first all I could hear on the other end of the line was urgent, quick breathing and one word: "Mom?!" It was my anxious child, clearly close to panic, alerting me to an unannounced early dismissal from school due to weather and "something about a student with weapons." Immediately my response was an attempt to calm her while asking direct questions until I was certain that the weather was real and the weapons were not! An e-mail from the school soon followed with clarification:
"[Our] Campus went into a precautionary security mode for a short period of time this morning in response to threats via social media. Law enforcement officials have investigated and have informed the school that these threats were part of a national hoax affecting numerous schools.  
The students on all campuses will be released today at 11:30 a.m. due to a winter weather advisory. This early dismissal is entirely weather-related and is not due to the above incident."
A short while earlier, my phone had rung with an automated announcement from our younger sons' school regarding their early dismissal scheduled for 12:20. Thankful for Grandma and Grandpa Garcia's company for Silas while Pedro was in a Skype meeting, I slipped out the door in hopes of beating the icy conditions home with the children. My girls quickly met me but Owen was nowhere to be found when I reached their school. Not surprisingly, it was due to confusion with the sudden change of schedule. Eventually we connected and I gathered their accounts of the morning's strange events as we headed home.

The girls were both in chapel when an announcement was made that precautions were being taken "just in case" and all outside doors were locked with policemen "everywhere" (per Isabel.) The proceeded to their next classes until dismissal. Owen was in physical education class when a teacher "came running" and hurried them to their classroom where doors were locked and they practiced a "mini drill" which consisted of stacking chairs against the door and laying flat on the ground for a short while. Overall it seemed that for two out of three the excitement had mainly been a diversion from the norm. 

But for my anxious child, it was a frightening morning on top of a nightmare-filled night. Added to that was the concern of icy conditions on the roads as we drove carefully back to town. I stopped at the younger boys' school to confirm whether their regular companions would walk home with them, and it was during my brief absence from the vehicle that panic flooded over. I returned to a disgruntled trio, one scared and hurt by siblings' criticism and two frustrated and tired of yet another emotional outburst.

We reached home just a few minutes before Ian and Alec arrived ice-covered yet safe and sound. The silver lining to our crazy Monday morning was having extra time with the grandparents before their scheduled departure this Wednesday! A family movie, yummy dinner, rousing game of Dutch Blitz and warm companionship helped make up for the worries that started the day. Around the dinner table we caught up on our unfulfilled tradition from Silas' and Ian's birthdays with each family member expressing what he/she loved about each of these two brothers/sons/grandsons. It was a general consensus that Ian's smile and happy heart were much admired, as were Silas' antics that bring the whole family together! I asked the kids if they remembered the theme of our morning devotions to share with their grandparents, and we ended our meal with two stanzas of a hymn we'd sung together around 7 a.m. (long before all the excitement had begun!)

What a Monday! What a morning! What gratefulness I have for God's gracious protection over us. Thank You, Lord.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ten Years of Friendship

Once upon a time, in a very hot state on the southern border of the United States, two young families met. One family was composed of a wife who grew up as a missionary kid in Venezuela, her husband who was Venezuelan and a Bible college student, and their three children ages 4, 2 and newborn baby. The other family was made up of a wife who grew up as a missionary kid in Chile, her husband who was American of Mexican descent and a Spanish language school student, and their three children ages 6, 5 and 2 years old.

With both husbands in school and both wives at home entertaining young children; and in humble student apartments with back doors that faced one another across a dry field generously called a playground; the two wives became fast friends, and eventually the husbands followed.

Though our time together was short, the memories made were priceless and ten years later it was a delight to host the Acosta family in our furlough home in Ephrata. Fifteen people under one roof in a three-bedroom house during a freezing winter weekend made for new and equally priceless memories! Playing games on a comfortable dining room table in Pennsylvania with teenage and pre-teen children was a far cry from playing games on the dusty steps outside side-by-side hotel rooms on Padre Island listening for a sleeping baby's cry. 

To our children's dismay we recalled many cute moments of their childhood, including a pledge of marriage between our oldest before they had entered elementary school! No sooner had they arrived than Ramon asked Pedro, "So how many cattle do you want to seal the deal?" I must admit it was fun to see our kids squirm yet secretly I think they enjoyed the good-natured humor. And while it was our goal to reproduce some of the photos we had taken when they were younger, adolescent angst refused such embarrassment and the best I could do was compare the two pictures above.

Thank you, Erin and Ramon, for making the trip to see us and being the flexible, fun, fearless friends we remembered. We are thankful for the time together and for ten years of friendship (and counting.) God bless and guide you as you parent your sweet kiddos and continue to serve Him!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Poem for Christmas 2017

‘Twas the night before Christmas and this year was sweet,
As the grandkids with both sets of grandparents would meet.
Some presents at Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s did start,
Then a candlelight service that spoke to the heart.

Before bedtime, a movie that told the old story
Of how Jesus came down as a Babe without glory
To ransom mankind with His own sacrifice –
For only a sinless One’s life would suffice.

The next day – His “birth day” – we gathered together,
Made memories, shared laughter to remember forever.
With Grandma and Grandpa to watch all their joy,
Six children unwrapped each new gift and each toy.

Traditions were kept with warm oatmeal bake pieces,
And later a trip to see nephews and nieces.
Twenty-one people, a family extended
Through love and through marriage and hearts that were mended. 

Goodbyes being said, and back home Christmas night
We spun one more memory before dreams took flight.
As a family encircled round the lights of our tree,
Each one lifted prayers of thanksgiving to Thee.

“Thank You, Dear Father, for giving Your Son.
Thank You for the Gift that is greater than none.
Yet thank You as well for Your gift from above –
The gift of a family on earth, and their love.”

-Stephanie H. Garcia