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

Friday, December 15, 2017

My Thoughts for Dad

My dad caught a cold this week. For most of us this would not be a game changer, but it can be for someone like him diagnosed with a "progressive neurodegenerative disorder" such as multiple system atrophy (MSA.) He is uncomfortable and tired but thankfully, that seems to be the extent of its seriousness right now. Nonetheless for me a sudden bump in the road like this one stirred up the troubling "what ifs" of my mind. Perhaps, too, because I have heard of many earthly goodbyes this week as seems often to be the case around the holidays.

Today I read the news of the homegoing of theologian and pastor R.C. Sproul. Immediately I began to see articles and posts expressing sorrow over his death and appreciation for his years of faithful ministry. Many, especially one tribute written by John Piper, were thoughtful and inspiring. There is no doubt God used R.C. Sproul in a wonderful way during his years on earth, and widespread recognition of this fact is well deserved.

As I considered these tributes, several thoughts came to mind. The first was that we shouldn't wait until someone is gone to share how they've touched our lives. The second was the realization that for every well-known Christian minister whose death is publicly mourned, there are many more whose lives and work for Christ will go mostly unnoticed and unsung in this world. And the third was that I should write something for my dad while these reflections were on my heart.

This evening I read a blog written by a husband whose wife also battled MSA. His blog was entitled "Living with a Snow(wo)man" because in his words: "I liken this disease to a 'melting' of the individual. Trying to hang on to the loved one you knew is akin to trying to keep a snowman (or snowwoman in our case) whole. The disease is insidious. Watching the progress is like watching a snowman melt."

Perhaps reading that description while living in the dry desert of Iquique would not have struck me as it did today, having awoken to a beautiful dusting of white winter snow in Pennsylvania. But it many ways it is an apt description. My big strong bear of a dad - who with a sense of adventure crossed the borders of multiple countries during his years of ministry in South America - now shuffles within a shrinking circle of people and places due to his inability to stand for long periods and the constant weariness that is his companion. Looking through pictures today I found one from just over a year ago with a glimpse of his old smile and sparkle in his eye, and I realized that his laughter is something that by and large has "melted away." In the day to day of living, it isn't something we hear much anymore.

How important it is to treasure, then, those fleeting moments when it does reappear - and recently, we had two of those! One was on the evening of Thanksgiving when Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop stayed to watched a children's movie with the grandkids and afterwards my mom in a playful mood twirled around the living room to one of the songs. This brought a smile to my dad's face. And something that has brought laughter to him of late is thanks to some dear friends, the Mullins, who present my parents with a box of gifts to open one daily through the month of December. A lighthearted toy called "Talking Tom" repeats back what anyone says in a high-pitched voice and has created quite a stir among the grandkids and adults alike! When Mom and Dad introduced it to me without prior warning, peals of laughter burst across the living room and my dad was even wiping away tears of delight.

The best lessons I have learned in life have been from my dad and mom. Their example has not been perfect, but powerful. Their faithfulness has not been without heartache and struggle, but by the grace of God they have endured. I didn't always appreciate the lessons at the time, but many have stayed with me throughout the years. Some are almost humorous now such as, "If you say "No" to the first person who asked you to the school banquet, you cannot say "Yes" to someone else. That would be an unkindness. So if you choose to say "No," you choose to go alone." Others clamped down on the fickleness of the teenage years; for example, when tempted to renege on a youth event I was told, "You will not back out of this commitment because you'd rather do something else now. You gave your word; you keep your word." Even as a mother with over a dozen years of marriage under my belt, my dad's words could speak reason to me. I remember writing a searing post in response to a conversation with a pastor in which he shared a highly insensitive story with my husband and me. My dad promptly called down to Chile to say, "I understand how you feel. But I really don't think this is something you want to say publicly in this way." He was wise and he was right, and I deleted that post.

There is so much more to say than I could fit in a single post, and the hour is late. I will write again in more detail another time but I want to end by saying this. One of the most powerful lessons I learned came not from my dad's words but his example. Children see the most "real" side of their parents, the one that is not always picture perfect. (How well I know this now with six of my own!) Growing up, as a young girl I remember times when my dad struggled with his temper. He never lost control but it was there. Yet over the years he became the peacemaker, the mediator, the one whom others sought when problems needed to be solved and differences resolved. 

I witnessed this change in his character and know it came from submitting his earthly clay to the Heavenly Potter. How much of a battle it was, only he and God know. And now, only they two truly know how much of a battle it is for him to live with MSA. But I am still watching his example, and it is still changing my life. I love you, Dad, more than you'll ever know.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Ian Turns Ten!

Dear Ian,

What a big year this has been for you! Without a doubt you are enjoying life to the fullest as you embrace our time in the United States and especially your new school and neighborhood. We hear from your teachers that you are a pleasure to have in class, always happy and helpful and engaged with the activities and people around you. And this is not to say it has all been easy! Earlier this summer you bravely endured some big days of testing and now each school day you face the challenge of moving between special classes at multiple times, but always with a smile on your face. More than once you have come home with a handwritten note from a new friend, evidence that others are drawn to your joyful heart and fun-loving spirit.

Inside our family, there is one sibling who adores your laughter and play more than any other! Your little brother Silas gives you the biggest belly laughs and squeals and can't get enough of your games of growling and chasing him in circles around the house. During soccer season, you were such a big helper with him during the games when you pushed his stroller around the field and kept him entertained when for safety's sake he couldn't be set "free." A favorite picture of the two of you was taken after one of those soccer game mornings:

Your birthday this year was a little different with the actual day spent at the home of our friends, Pastor Jim and "Aunt" Charlene Barnes. But with balloons, confetti and cupcakes you had a wonderful celebration and my favorite part of it all was Alec's admiration when you donned your new headphones to listen to music Daddy had chosen for your little MP3 player. "Ian! You look like you are eleven, or twelve years old!" he exclaimed. And you just grinned in glad agreement.

I am happy that a couple of days later, you also were able to celebrate your birthday with cousins and grandparents! The Garcia and Fisher boys enjoyed bowling together and then we all descended on Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's house. It was wall-to-wall grandkids and a little chaotic but you had your requested strawberry ice cream with a delicious white cake from the Shady Maple bakery. Best of all it was Mom-Mom's birthday, too, so we sang to both of you and then recorded long-distance Whatsapp birthday greetings for cousins Matias and Kai as well!

Physically you are growing up so fast, but I am glad that your heart is still that of a little boy. One of your favorite presents this birthday was a Build-a-Bear you made as Mom-Mom's gift to you. (Camouflage green and dressed in fatigues, you named him David after yourself.) I am glad you still enjoy Legos and cars, scooters and bikes and trampolines. You like to stay busy and you love to play! I hope you never lose your appreciation of simple joys and that you continue to be an encouraging friend as you grow up.

Most of all, I pray that your heart will begin to grasp the great love of God for you - for YOU! - just as He created you to be. I pray you will be confident in this without comparison to others as you seek the path He has prepared for you, but that you also will be humble in recognizing your need for Him.

I love you, Ian David, and am so thankful to be your Mom - from Haiti, to home, and beyond!


Birthday Posts by Year:

Ian's 9th birthday post
Ian's 8th birthday post
Ian's 7th birthday post
Ian's 6th birthday post
Ian's 5th birthday post
Ian's 4th birthday post
Ian's 3rd birthday post
Ian's 2nd birthday post
Ian's 1st birthday post

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mid-Furlough Feelings

It is always with great trepidation, with checking and re-checking, that I finally push the button on purchasing plane tickets for our little family of eight. Most recently, after much searching and supplication we found "reasonable" one-way rates for our return to Chile at the end of May. We purchased them in faith, as we still have funds to raise before being afforded financial clearance to depart. Doing the deed, however, seemed to set off sensitivities within our family circle. With the mid-point of furlough upon us, feelings are bubbling forth on each end end of the spectrum.

One of our teenaged girls questioned, "What's the point of coming back to the States for a year just to say goodbye again? That's why I wanted to stay in Iquique!" Our other daughter admitted, "For a long time I didn't think I'd want to return to Iquique, but after talking to [friend's name] I want to. But I just don't want to be stuck there." 

I asked our two third-grade boys how they feel right now about going back, and both said they didn't really want to. These are valid feelings, wrapped up in the current reality they are enjoying of being in a traditional school with great teachers and creative programs and new friends. For our son whose learning challenges made it necessary to withdraw him from Chilean education after kindergarten, going to school is a dream come true. Recently I met with his teacher who had only positive things to say and she remarked that despite his being withdrawn from class for special help up to three or four times a day, "He is always so cheerful and works so hard!" 

In light of this child's situation alone, my own mid-furlough feelings are completely muddled. While homeschool has wonderful benefits and its one-on-one focus is tremendously helpful to him, in Iquique there are no homeschool support groups or co-ops and their MK friends who do homeschool will be leaving for their own year of furlough soon after we return. Here in the States, our son and his brother march off to school excitedly every morning. They love their school and can recite its code of conduct by heart. They think their teachers are beautiful and can do no wrong. They are learning and growing and everyone is their "friend!" The thought of taking that away again makes my heart ache so much.

As we turn the corner toward the second half of furlough, we can't procrastinate on planning and from a family standpoint this primarily means educational decisions which are so hard. We don't feel satisfied with the online option our girls used prior to furlough, as placing them into school here revealed a number of gaps in their learning. So we must find another alternative but they are both in high school and these final few years matter for college. (On that subject, throw in a bunch more big feelings because this foreseeably is our last return to the field all together as a family.) 

As far as our boys are concerned, returning to Chilean school may be an option for two of them but recent changes have been made to the Chilean educational system with major repercussions in our city. Our local paper reported this week that 800 students are without schools for next year at this point in time, and the school that was foremost in our consideration currently has over 300 students on its waiting list. This begs the question, do we spend money on homeschool materials we may not use or save money only to find ourselves without any other options when it's too late?

There are no easy answers to these and many other questions. Our roles and routines will be different when we return to Iquique. My husband is itching to get back and jump into the thick of things. From a ministry standpoint I, too, look forward to reuniting with co-workers especially at FLORECE to see what God has done and watch what He is going to do! As a mom, however, I worry about how it will all work out with our kids' needs and schedules and our adult responsibilities. As a daughter, I am soaking up as much time with my parents as possible and dreading the day we say goodbye. As a teammate, I know that with our return there will be a collective sigh of relief as the workload can be redistributed by our faithful colleagues who have been doing so much this year.

This week I have been in the Psalms during my devotions. There are so many rich truths, but one verse which jumped out to me was Psalm 7:9 which says: "Let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous. The One who examines the thoughts and emotions is a righteous God." (HCSB) What encouraged my heart was that phrase "examine the thoughts and emotions" because it was a reminder that my mid-furlough feelings are no surprise or trouble to my Heavenly Father. In fact, I shared this verse with my children as well to reassure them that God cares about how we feel and He created us with these feelings. And feelings can get pretty big, especially for missionary kids who may feel they have little control about when and where God's will for their parents can take them!

It is my prayer that my children - and their parents! - will learn to continually cry out to God with our yearnings, doubts, hopes, fears, joys and uncertainties. The older I grow, the more gratitude I feel for God's faithful guidance through the stages of my own life - first as a missionary kid, now as a missionary mom. Though each child is unique, I do understand many of their feelings even as I continue to struggle with my own! Yet I am blessed with a broader base of experience which confirms that He has cared for us in the past and will continue to care for us now and into the future. I pray for compassion to meet my children where they are, wisdom to say what they need to hear, and consistency in pointing them to Christ. Lord, may it be so!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Poem for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2017

As daylight dawns this Thanksgiving Day,
In the stillness my soul will quietly say:
Thank You, Lord, for home and for health;
For warmth of family, greater than wealth.
For Your Word which guides us and tells of Your love;
For Jesus, Your Son Who was sent from above
To die in our place on a filthy, hard cross
So that no one who trusts Him would ever be lost.
This message of Hope, passed down through the years –
I thank You for how it brings peace to our fears.
I thank You for purpose to life that it brings,
For perspective it lends to so many things.
I thank You, dear Father, for a Place you prepare
So that when this life’s done we’ll rejoice with You there.
But while we’re still here, Lord, I give You my praise
For the little and great things You send to our days.
Thank You for sunshine, for laughter, for pain;
Thank You for loved ones, for memories to gain.
Thank You for forgiveness and for second chances;
For hugs, conversation and kind, loving glances.
I thank You for this day before it’s begun
The heart of Thanksgiving lies in Your dear Son!

-Stephanie H. Garcia

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fall on Furlough {a/k/a October's Occurrences}

It has been five years since our family experienced a North American fall. And what a fall it has been! My daily planner attests to this and sometimes a picture does speak a thousand words or in this case, describe a thousand activities (at least it felt that way!) in just the past month of October. 

(There was one important and time-consuming event that did not make my little planner but took up a lot of space in our lives and on the large fridge calendar at home. That was the fall play at the older kids' school. Isabel had signed up to help and ended up learning a little bit about building sets and a lot more about running spotlights. She - and we! - learned the most about the tremendous time commitment required for a big high school production, which is a lesson we won't soon forget.)

In October we donated a good amount of time and money to the dentist and the orthopedic specialist. Silas enjoyed his first visit to a children's museum while his older siblings were in school. We celebrated two birthdays (those of cousin Nathaniel Fisher and Silas) and sat through several shivery Saturday morning soccer games. Eva, Isabel and I sang our first number with the Grace Baptist choir and Ian's faithful attendance to children's praise team practice led to his first time singing in front of the whole church as well. At church we enjoyed a potluck one Friday evening and the boys delivered their carved pumpkins to the AWANA judging competition another Wednesday night. Fall leaves were a new favorite activity for Ian and Silas!

Pedro, meanwhile, did a lot of traveling. From October 14 to 22/23, he drove to Philadelphia, PA; flew to Orlando, FL; flew to Flint, MI; flew back to Philadelphia, PA; and drove home. In the middle of all that he squeezed in a quick visit with his parents; a leadership training summit for missionaries; and speaking responsibilities at a missions weekend with our sending church. After only a few days home he drove off to Maryland to speak at a men's retreat which was a challenge and blessing!

I should mention that Ian and Alec experienced two fun firsts at school: a school-wide family reading experience of the fiction book Frindle, and an afternoon of activities at their annual Race for Education. Despite the cooler weather, they continued to relish the independence of walking to and from school with neighbor friends. Every night they brought home the same three homework assignments: math flashcards, spelling words and twenty minutes of reading. Adding to that soccer (mainly for uninjured Alec) and weekly AWANA at church filled their schedule pretty neatly!

At the very front end of October, Pedro and I along with my sister Terri and brother-in-law Dave attended a one-day ministry training entitled "Spiritual Care for the Sexually Broken." This was so helpful for a day and age where sin has broken so much that God created for blessing and purity and enjoyment. We gained insight and tools to prayerfully use in ministry, especially applicable to the needs we encounter at FLORECE. 

We also began October with a special day trip to reunite with one daughter's extended birth family. We are so thankful for a long standing relationship rooted in a shared faith in Christ and love for our child. Over delicious food, sunshine at the park, ping pong games and dart wars - and running after Silas, of course! - there was time to talk and catch up and hopefully look forward to another visit before we return to Chile.

Finally the month ended with what felt like frigid temperatures to our Iquique-accustomed blood, and we spent Halloween night on a search for winter wear in several different stores. Having successfully spent much money (albeit on good sales) and bundled in coats and gloves, we celebrated in fine style. Our first-ever visit to a Sonic drive-in earlier in the month revealed to us that on Halloween they would offer 50-cent corn dogs (a culinary rarity in our family if there ever was one!) and so our kids gleefully devoured these along with excessively sugary drinks at an hour they should have been already in bed. 

But, memories were made! - and so ended a full fall month of family, friendship and fun.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Happy 2nd Birthday, Silas

Dear Silas,

You are now two years old and every bit the tumultuous toddler that age implies! In many ways you have seemed two for a long time already because as you have grown you've demonstrated an intense curiosity in the world around you and an impetuous determination to imitate what you see others (especially your older siblings) do. Whether it's belly sliding down the carpeted stairs or tugging open the fridge to serve yourself some Britta water (albeit against the household rules for two-year olds!) or attempting to unload the dishwasher on your own, you constantly keep us on our toes! A moment with our backs turned might find you perched on the dining room table or pulling laundry out of the dryer or pounding keys on the unlucky laptop within your reach.

The months leading up to your second birthday may have been busy and confusing, but by God's grace you handled them so well. Visiting churches, meeting extended family members and new friends, moving houses, hours in the van, the sudden "abandonment" when your siblings all took off to school and left you alone each day - these are just a few of the changes you have experienced since June! Yet you are fun and sweet and smart and our family's life is crazier and richer because of you.

On your birthday this year it was extra special to have more of our family with us to celebrate, including Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop and Aunt Terri and your Fisher cousins. Choosing your cake theme was a toss up between Thomas the Train Engine and Finding Dory but the latter seemed to have become a bigger favorite (even though you call Dory "Nemo" and I think your favorite character is actually Hank the octopus!) A few days before your party, Mom-Mom took you to Build-a-Bear and you brought home your birthday present which was your new friend Eli the teddy bear. She found a cute little teddy bear coin purse to match him and now you are our resident coin collector who cries, "Eli! Eli!" and claims all forgotten change for the stuffed animal in the house. :)

We love you, Silas, and are so happy God gave you to us as our little "caboose." Happy 2nd Birthday and may God answer our prayers to call you to Himself and help you learn to love Jesus with all your heart!

All my love, 

Birthday Posts by Year:

Silas' 1st Birthday Post

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Teaching Us to Treasure

Ian and Alec's elementary school is doing a school-wide reading program of a children's book named Frindle. As part of their ongoing interaction with the book, they recently received a half-sheet of paper on which to write their first baby/toddler words next to the "real" words they stood for. Unfortunately they alerted me to the assignment on the way out the door for school one morning. On the spur of the moment there was no way I could reach back into the recesses of my aging memory to find an answer! Alec helpfully and hopefully suggested, "Maybe we can watch some videos of us later?" I am so thankful that we do have an adorable collection of videos of Ian and Alec when they came home from Haiti, and even more thankful that we posted them to an online account before both our external hard drive and desktop computer crashed with years' worth of photographic memories back in 2012.

As I reflected on their assignment and the meager recall I have of the older five children's toddlerhoods (without photographic or video assistance!) I thought it was probably time for an update on our littlest - and likely, last - toddler Silas. Dare I say he is our most "grown up" toddler as well? While he can throw a "terrible two" tantrum like any of his contemporaries, his bevy of older brothers and sisters has certainly created a different kind of kid than we've had before!

For instance, we had a very laid-back supper the other night with his older siblings sitting around the living room with bowls of mac-n-cheese in hand. For Silas I prepared a small plate which he promptly tried to take out of my hand with a cheerful, "Thank you, Mommy!" (Or, "Dank oo, Mommy!") He firmly believed that he, too, had the right to sit and self serve with the rest of the gang - and he did not appreciate my impeding him from doing so!

Recently Pedro was away for nine days and that meant full family participation during morning drop-off for the older kids' school. (It is half an hour away and starts half an hour earlier, so usually Pedro does the honors while Ian, Alec and Silas get a little extra time to sleep in.) On many of those mornings I would roll Silas out of bed and into a warm vest while still in his sleeper pajamas, and he would contentedly ride along in the car while chattering about exciting things he saw. "Baloo, Mommy!" he exclaimed over the hot air balloons. "Bih buh!" when he saw the big yellow school buses. "Baaah!" at the water tower which seemed to him a giant ball. But what his siblings loved most was his personalized farewell for each of them ('cool meaning "school.") "Eva! 'Cool. Bye-bye! Dihdy! 'Cool. Bye-Bye. Oweh! 'Cool. Bye-bye!" Later when Daddy returned and Silas no longer went along for the ride, they missed his sweet well wishes.

Although he can say the word "plane," Silas' go-to sound for an airplane is "pfffft." Multiple times a day while Pedro was gone, Silas would ask about Daddy. "Daddy? Daddy bye-bye? Daddy p'ane. Pffft!" It was cute and sweet.

To his maternal grandparents' delight, Silas can now say "Mom-Mom" and "Pop-Pop." Sometimes he gets a little mixed up and Mom-Mom becomes "Mom-Mommy." Last week I bought him a humorous shirt that says, "Warning: I Break Things" specifically for his visits to their house! Mom-Mom has so many craft and decorative temptations that just call Silas' name. But what he really loves is her cookie collection and the water and ice feature on her refrigerator. Needless to say, he requires constant supervision on our frequent visits!

At home, Silas considers himself a full-fledged helper. His favorite pastime is sweeping, followed by putting silverware away. It doesn't really matter to him if it's clean or dirty. After a recent meal, he took his (used) fork and tossed it in the silverware drawer with great satisfaction. He also enjoys flushing toilets, a pastime we attempt to keep at a minimum!

Needless to say, life is anything but dull with our little baby caboose. Hopefully these few reflections will help us remember today's reality years down the road (like Ian and Alec's videos and blog posts do.) Time flies so fast. Thankful for one more toddler teaching us to treasure it while we can!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Happy 1st Anniversary to FLORECE

October 1, 2017 marked the one-year anniversary of the FLORECE Prenatal & Family Counseling Center. What was once just a dream has now been a reality for twelve months filled with joy and tears and learning and growing. It has been a time of watching God work in ways we never even imagined, bringing us clients not only from the city of Iquique but most recently from faraway Cuba! It has also been a time of personal growth in our volunteers as they have been used of God to share the hope of the Gospel and to walk alongside women in some of the most personal and profound moments of their lives.

At their October meeting, the volunteers gathered not only to discuss items of business but to celebrate God's goodness and share testimonies of His work in their lives throughout FLORECE's first year. One of the volunteers made a beautiful cake with our theme colors and decorated the meeting room for their special occasion. With the help of Skype, I even had the privilege of joining them for a few moments long distance and hearing everyone's voices gathered together made my heart so glad!

Earlier that morning, I had been encouraged by the pastor's message at our church stateside. From the challenges recorded in chapter 5 of the book of Nehemiah, he drew a series of applications which I felt related so well to our ministry at FLORECE. First, expect problems to arise when advancing mission. Second, confront those problems courageously centering on God's glory and not your own. Third, be sure your own integrity is intact. Fourth, see life as an opportunity to see God at work. Fifth and finally, make sure your life is motivated by love; controlled by the truth of God; and done for the glory of God.

My only regret is that I was unable to hear the testimonies that the others shared. I thank God for each and every one of the volunteer women He has brought to the ministry. It has not always been easy nor has it always been smooth, but God has used "iron to sharpen iron" and not only have they ministered to our clients but also to one another in some very difficult moments of life this past year. These special ladies are truly serving on the front lines as they shine God's light on the enemy's lies and teach God's truth about hope, repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life and purity.

As our first year of ministry drew to a close, one of our colleagues gathered all the data we had been collecting to give us a clear picture of what was accomplished "by the numbers." We know that God's work is infinitely greater and that the Holy Spirit's work is most often unseen, but nonetheless we rejoice in this evidence that He allowed us to be used in ways far beyond what we could have imagined. To God be all the glory for the great things He has done, and may we remain faithful and available to accomplish His purposes through FLORECE until Jesus comes!

FLORECE's 1st Year Statistics:

New clients - 81
Total client visits - 260
Pregnancy tests administered - 41
Babies born - 8
Gospel presentations - 73
Spiritual conversations - 231
Maternity class sessions - 113
Other Bible study sessions - 90
Days open - 196
Volunteer hours - 4,315.5