Thursday, September 21, 2017

Writing Therapy

(Note: Writing is often my therapy, hence the title and primary purpose of this post!)

It all started with a cough. Not just any cough, but one like I had never experienced before. Throat catching, face turning red, cough after cough with drainage in the throat until it closed and panic set in to draw a breath. Long seconds with tears flowing and trying to calm down enough to suck in air through my nose because my windpipe was otherwise sealed. Soon the cough spread to Eva whose perhaps became worse: deep, throaty, more constant and she literally was living on dozens of cough drops a day. Eva was the first we took to Urgent Care where she was told it was just something "post-viral." Then she saw a pediatrician who echoed the same sentiment (clear lungs, nothing serious.) Finally Owen joined us and he was perhaps the most likely candidate, having struggled in the past with allergies and bronchial obstruction and all things respiratory-related.

For weeks upon weeks this lasted until finally the three of us returned to Urgent Care to request antibiotics whether the doctor (or in this case, PA) believed they were necessary or not. I spent extensive time reading this website - - and personally was convinced that was our malady. The recorded sound of a cough was exactly like Eva's, and I could answer the "quick self-diagnosis test questions" to a T. From the website I learned that given the amount of time that had passed, even if my guess was right there wasn't really any way to diagnose it and unlikely a medical professional would agree unless we had an attack right in front of him/her. My main concern was not getting anyone else sick and according to this website we could curb any contagion with antibiotics, so that was the route we took.

In black and white it doesn't sound like such a big deal, but in living color this cough really did interfere with daily life and it lasted so long that it was quite discouraging. I found that laying down made it worse and I would wake up gagging in the middle of the night, so I slept for quite awhile on a recliner instead. While it is mostly under control, even now Eva and I carry cough drops and will have lesser episodes a couple times a day. Little did I know this cough, albeit troubling, would become the least of our health issues over the past few weeks!

Ian upped the ante with a fall from his scooter on August 26th which resulted in a broken forearm. Another visit to Urgent Care and to date two visits to the orthopedic specialist followed. On September 16th, Owen fell from the same scooter under different circumstances and broke his clavicle. We gave our business to Urgent Care once again and this week had our first of several visits to the orthopedic specialist on his behalf.

Our insurance is rather unique; designed for missionaries and ex-pats, it is wonderful when living outside the United States (no deductible, covers almost everything and they will even pay you a bonus for being hospitalized in a non-US hospital!) But here in the States we are warned to try and avoid the ER at all cost (no pun intended.) The deductible is high as are all related costs. Nonetheless we found ourselves at the ER twice this week with Silas. There are times for caution and there are times to throw caution to the wind; in his case, we would do it all over again because it was just incredibly frightening to see our little toddler go through what he has these past days.

Over the weekend, Silas began with a runny nose and by Monday evening we could feel he was fighting a fever. Unfortunately we did not have a thermometer and it was too late for the store, so we tried giving oral ibuprofen (which he coughed back up) and keeping him cool. At around 3 a.m. he was in bed with us, having finished a bottle shortly before and acting restless/unhappy in his sleep. I woke suddenly to the sound of a retching cough. Quickly turning him over and standing up, I waited for his next breath or cough and it never came. It was dark and I urged Pedro to turn on the light which at that frantic moment decided not to work! I passed Silas to Pedro who rushed him downstairs into the light and stood him up, patting his back and urging him to breathe. He went to swipe Silas' mouth and found his jaw locked. Try as he might, he could not get it open. Long seconds felt like minutes and Silas' eyes glazed and started to roll backwards. I ran upstairs in a panic for my phone to call 911, and just as I returned Pedro succeeded in his efforts and Silas coughed up more vomit. It was one of the scariest moments of our lives, and I think Silas was scared also. He seemed dazed or in shock initially, but when he finally spoke it was to touch my mouth and ask, "Mommy open it?" I think he was referring to what had just happened with his own jaw.

He felt very hot and despite his protests we drew a lukewarm bath to cool him down. I wrote to a doctor friend very early that morning since we do not have a doctor here yet for Silas, asking what we should do. She recommended at the very least some bloodwork and a chest x-ray to rule out aspiration pneumonia. We took him to the ER on Tuesday morning. Two other factors I mentioned to the medical professionals there (just in case they were related) were some "insect bites" Silas had recently gotten and a dark red rash on his lower back at the diaper line. Everyone questioned whether we had changed diaper brands or laundry detergent; the answer was no. The chest x-ray was clear and the attending physician said if it were his own children, he would not deem bloodwork necessary so we did not request it. The final diagnosis was an "isolated incident" but we were told to bring Silas back if his temperature rose above 104 degrees or the rash darkened.

That afternoon I bought two thermometers and chewable fever medicine, hoping Silas would keep it down. He did not and continued to feel hotter as the evening wore on. I returned to the store for fever suppositories (used commonly in Chile) and followed the dosage instructions on the box for his age. Still his fever rose from over 102 to over 103 and in his fitful sleep he moaned in pain and just was not at all himself. We tried cool compresses and nothing brought the fever down, so around 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning I got dressed and drove him to the ER once again. There his fever measured 105 degrees so the doctor immediately ordered medication to bring it down. He also decided to order bloodwork and a urine sample, but this new doctor's first reaction to seeing Silas was to declare chicken pox as a diagnosis. Interestingly the nurse was the same from the day before, and initially seemed surprised by his declaration. I spent several long hours in the ER with Silas very lethargic in between the tests which made him scream in fear and pain (I did not realize they would use a catheter for the urine sample and wanted to cry, too!) Finally we were released with orders to alternate Tylenol and Motrin every six hours and follow up with a pediatrician.

The rest of today was long and hard for Silas. He only has a few spots which he doesn't really scratch all that much. The fever seems to be his strongest symptom but has stayed controlled with medication. Yet he cries repeatedly, "Owie, owie!" and we don't know what exactly is hurting. Sometimes it seems like his head but it also seems that perhaps urination is painful because of his catheter experience. He is certainly not himself and this evening screamed and screamed for Daddy when Pedro left for church and would not be comforted. (He fell asleep almost immediately in Pedro's arms when he returned.) We are baffled as to how Silas contracted the illness because he is at home with us all the time. Also, because of other family members' illnesses and accidents he has not even been to church in the past two weeks (his one contact with other children.)

Honestly, over the past weeks it has been crazy but we have sort of managed to roll with the punches. We've found reasons to be thankful that if God allowed all these things, it is during a season when both Pedro and I have more freedom during the week than we would on the mission field and so we can coordinate appointments and driving and such. I personally am extremely grateful that on the night Silas stopped breathing, I for the first time in awhile did not take Nyquil to help with my own cold because it is very likely I would not have heard him. God has been good and faithful to provide medical specialists and even lots of options for care which we might not have in Iquique. (Note to self: Remember this when the bills start coming, ha!)

Nonetheless, today it felt like the punches connected and I was just so tired and sad. (I'm sure it also has to do with my 3 a.m. wake up the past two mornings!) I began to question why this is all happening to us while at the same time being very aware that our family's "suffering" is so small compared to friends whose loved ones are facing serious/terminal health situations and families who have lost children to recent earthquakes, homes to hurricanes, etc.

As I pondered these things, I received notifications from our FLORECE volunteers of not one or two but three new clients that arrived just today! This, in addition to three new clients who visited the center last week. Hearing that news helped reorient my perspective to one of greater patience and reflection on the "big picture" that perhaps our struggles are but part of a greater battle between good and evil, and with the news from FLORECE I was reminded that God is ultimately the victor!

Lord, I thank You for Your sustaining grace. For Your sovereign protection and provision. 
For your greater purposes and the privilege of playing just one small part in Your plan. 
Please continue to watch over our family and our children - physically, emotionally, spiritually. 
May we seek You and love You more each day. 
Strengthen our passion to share Christ with others and to enjoy His presence in our own lives. 
In His name I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Walk by Faith

This entry was originally titled "Working through Tears" and was partially written in the second half of 2016. It ends abruptly because it is still incomplete. I ran across the draft this week and chose to post it now because while reading it I was struck by two things. The first was how God has abundantly blessed us this furlough year with educational opportunities for our children that provide such a relief from the stress noted here. It's not that challenges do not still exist and in fact we have pursued testing, met with educational professionals and are currently obtaining support in various areas. But the fact that we are not doing it alone is huge. The second was how God met us in the unknowns of opening FLORECE and accomplished above and beyond what we could have ever dreamed, despite our shortcomings and feeling we had no idea what we were doing on many days!

As I read this post, I was reminded of God's faithfulness. I was also reminded that I have a choice in my response to fearful situations that arise. Because when I look at the two major concerns represented here - our children's education and the balance of family/ministry - they are still real issues we will continue to face, especially when we return to the field. A part of me wants to start worrying now and feels frustrated that I have to address schooling dilemmas again in a short time. This part of me wants to stress about how I will re-engage in FLORECE while parenting a toddler and homeschooling kids and supporting my husband so he can accomplish his ministries as well. But Philippians 4:8 tells me this part of me is not choosing the correct response. Instead I must respond instead in gratitude and humility for what God has already done, and in faith and trust for what He is going to do. The same God who solved last year's problems already has next year's figured out. Help me, Lord, to walk by faith!

There is no textbook for educating children on the mission field. Even families serving in the same location with the same options from which to choose may find themselves headed in vastly different directions. And choices are not static. As circumstances and our children's needs change, so may our course of action.  
The five school-aged children in our family have attended a combined total of nearly a dozen different schools from pre-school on forward. Stateside and during our first year and half in Santiago, we had the privilege of opting for Christian schooling in English. Later with no missionary or Christian school in Iquique and motivated by a priority for language learning, we placed our children in semi-private Chilean schools with all education in Spanish. Several years down the road, furlough propelled us back into English and the challenging world of homeschooling. 
Upon returning to Chile we initially rejoined Chilean schools but soon circumstances dictated a change. In the several years since, we have juggled online schooling, homeschooling with and without video curriculum, and Chilean schooling depending on the needs of each child. Along the way we have recognized obvious pros and cons, including strengths developed in Spanish and weaknesses accrued in English. The switches made between languages, learning styles and calendars (Chilean schools run from March to December) have resulted in all of the kids being one grade level behind their American counterparts. 
Beyond question, this area of missionary life is one of greatest anxiety and self-doubt for me. So much so that bittersweet tears have mixed with the enjoyment of seeing beautiful pictures of smiling children on their first days of school stateside. This year, my emotions are heightened with the transitions within our own family and ministry - a sweet baby racing toward his first birthday in October and meanwhile a huge, exciting yet overwhelming opportunity to open the prenatal and family counseling center which will require my commitment outside of the home much more than before.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Life at Warp Speed {& in Collages}

Every time I think about sitting down to create a new post, I am torn between feeling somewhat guilty that I should share something more "meaningful" than simply the crazy reality that has been our lives of late. The truth is that life has been moving at warp speed ever since we set foot stateside but never more than since we hit the school trail! Toss in new schedules, some sickness, broken bones, sports and a missionary conference commitment over a weekend in New England - and even that does not quite sum up what the last three weeks have been like. (See, that's the crazy thing! It's only been three weeks, but it feels like three lifetimes.)

I wrote about the first week of school in a previous post entitled: One Really Big Week. What I didn't know then was that Ian's injury would indeed turn out to be a fracture. The following morning on Saturday, Pedro took Ian and Eva to the Urgent Care in Ephrata to follow up on Ian's arm and to check out a nasty prolonged cough that both Eva and I had. (I figured that if they gave Eva a diagnosis it would work for me, too!) X-rays showed that Ian had tiny breaks in both bones in his left forearm - and yes, he is a leftie. He was splinted and wrapped until we could get an appointment on Monday morning. Eva's chest sounded clear so the PA wrote her cough off as a post-viral cough and said to return in another week if things didn't get better.

Thus it was to Ian's disappointment and somewhat to Alec's dismay that the two of them did not enter their elementary school together on the very first day (August 28.) We were proud of Alec, though, for his courage at entering school alone! Ian's day turned out quite well in the end as he not only saw the orthopedic doctor, but also managed to make a splash by arriving late to his school classroom with his arm in a sling. It was an instant attention grabber and he even had a little girl classmate assigned to help him with his classwork (talk about smooth!)

As the children were finding their footing in their new rhythm of life, Pedro and I were scrambling to fill in some other necessary gaps on their behalf such as scheduling appointments for shots, dental work, vision checkups, etc. Trying to do so in a brand-new context with zero knowledge of the professionals in our area was a challenge. Google recommendations can only tell you so much! I will say that it was a bit embarrassing when the person scheduling an appointment asked, "When was your child's last cleaning?" Kudos to her for not gasping when she heard in reply, "Um, almost five years ago!" (Bonus points for then offering a $99 coupon for checkup, xrays and cleaning all in one!)

Pedro had committed to speak on two consecutive Thursday mornings at a men's prayer and Bible study in the retirement community where my parents live. The first week he was asked to share about how God formed our family through adoption. I was secretly delighted that he was tasked with telling this story, since usually it's presented from my perspective. He must have done a great job because the men insisted that their wives needed to hear it, too! The women were invited for the second week and I was asked to join Pedro in sharing how God formed the new ministry of FLORECE. There's nothing quite like speaking to senior saints who have already lived a lifetime of faithful ministry to their Savior. I struggled to speak through a nagging cough, but it was a blessing to publicly give glory to God for all He has done in our lives as well.

Because we are not super-saints, I must be honest and say that it was a challenge to muster the troops for a weekend trip to Connecticut for a supporting church's missions conference (September 1-3.) Everyone was tired and it was not an ideal time so soon into the school year, but as I reminded the kids and myself: This is why we are here. For my own benefit early in our furlough travels I summarized our purpose in reporting to our churches in this way:

          A - Accountability (from John 3:21 "... so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.")
          B - Boast in God (from Psalm 5:11 "... may those who love Your name boast about You.") 
          C- Challenge to serve

What Pedro and I understood but our children did not, was that this church was a hurting church. It was the last supporting church we visited on our previous furlough and on the very Sunday we attended, things unknown to us came to a head and for a time it seemed this church might cease to exist at all. Only over time as outside hands came alongside to nurse a wounded remnant back to health did it appear there might be a way forward. But it was still tenuous and we truly desired to be a blessing if nothing else than with our presence and participation. Of course, in the end we ourselves were blessed just by rubbing shoulders with other missionaries and hearing stories of what God is doing in even remote and closed areas upon this earth!

Unfortunately, my cough and Eva's spread to Owen over the course of the weekend and made for an "adventure" on the drive home. It really was like nothing we've ever had, a sudden coughing and choking that led to gasping for breath or in his case, a fit of vomiting while in the van on the New York highway! Pedro quickly pulled over in the triangle between an exit ramp and the right-hand lane of traffic, and I rubbed Owen's shoulders as he heaved in the misty air. To add to the excitement, a state trooper pulled up behind us and exited his vehicle to check on our status. He was young and solicitous, so we appreciated his concern. Thankfully the rest of our trip was less uneventful!

Labor Day luncheon was with family on Monday; doctor's appointment for Pedro on Tuesday; a hurried trip to Delaware on Wednesday (its main purpose to pick up a new credit card since my number was stolen and used for various gas transactions in South Carolina - another story, another day!); and a doozy of a day on Thursday. I thought of writing a separate post for the latter and entitling it "Coughs, Casts and Cataracts!" Eva, Owen and I went back to Urgent Care in the morning in hopes of a definite answer on our coughs (mine at over a month and counting, not getting any better and sometimes feeling worse.) We left with antibiotics and steroids but no conclusion. At 12:45 Pedro and I had a meeting with the school counselor after which we brought Isabel home, then picked up Ian and Alec early from school so that I could take half of the kids with me to Ian's orthopedic appointment for his new cast while Pedro took the others to soccer practice (which had been thrice previously rescheduled due to rain.) That evening at 7 p.m. was parent night at the older kids' school and I had been planning on leaving our tribe with the grandparents who suspiciously were not answering phones all morning. Come to find out that what I assumed was a standard eye doctor appointment was really my dad's second cataract surgery that day! Mom had forgotten we'd even discussed the kids coming over and everything was crazy but when I apologized she said, "Well, most grandparents get to do this kind of craziness all the time! But we only get to enjoy it for awhile." Bless her!

Just to top the weekend off, they joined us for more craziness on Saturday when Owen and Alec had their debut soccer matches in the recreational league they've joined through the older kids' school. We returned to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's for a last-minute lunch of grocery store fried chicken and frozen french fries seasoned with rosemary and sea salt, accompanied by a very old family recipe our kids had never tried before. They each bravely tasted fried green tomatoes, courtesy of Aunt Terri who had delivered the veggies the day before and thanks to their grandmother's labor of love at the kitchen stove. It was yummy and fun followed by a kids' movie and crafts and naptime for the littlest and oldest and one of us in between (guilty as charged!) I paid the price of being outdoors when my cough crashed that night, but such is life at warp speed and with those we love. Thank you, Lord, for all Your blessings!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Nurses, Needles & Nearly Losing It

What an unexpected recipe for cultural confusion. Mix pediatrics, panic and productivity with a generous helping of nurses and needles. Season generously with American efficiency. Toss in one missionary mom, three MKs and a rainy afternoon.

Such was the scenario when I took Eva, Isabel and Owen in to a new doctor's office in a new city to fulfill new requirements for their new school (actually, for new state laws) this past week. The three of them needed to catch up on vaccinations and they were not the only ones. Because of Pennsylvania's decision that students would not be allowed eight months bur rather only five days to fulfill immunization requirements, many families like ours were scrambling to find a doctor's office or clinic that could provide them. 

Perhaps this is why the office we chose was so efficient that day, because many patients needed many shots. Or maybe they are always efficient and it was only magnified to me due to delayed culture shock. While in Chile we routinely wait an hour just to be seen; on this day we left the doctor's office less than an hour after we stepped in! Whatever the case may be, I was unprepared for the pace at which we were attended. Before I had filled in two lines of the first page (of a dozen I needed to sign) we were whisked away to an examining room.

By "we" I mean one mom, three kids and three nurses. Seven of us in one small room, and everyone talking at the same time. One nurse for one child, and each nurse asking me for shot records and rattling off requirements while leading her patient through weight and height and eye exams and the like. To make matters more stressful, one daughter had already been agonizing over this moment for weeks and was on the teetering edge of a panic attack. When I was told that my son needed not two but five immunizations despite the fact our mission doctor had confirmed the lesser number, my own blood pressure began to climb. I tried pulling up the e-mail to no avail, called my husband with a terrible connection, and talked down my son from his tough guy stance of, "I'll just do all five at once, Mom!" There was no way I was letting that happen. Meanwhile I was also refusing a certain vaccine for my daughters and signing the foreboding document designed to make mothers feel they are endangering them for doing so.

All I wanted was just a few moments to think! I could hear my own voice getting tense and to be honest these nurses were perfectly nice and just doing their job but they had no idea that I was coming from a place where things never moved this quickly. Of course as my frustration increased so did the accusing voice in my head saying, "Remember you're a missionary! You can't lose your cool!" which is always so very helpful at times like these. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and I think I even said out loud, "I just need a minute. I just need a minute!"

Well, in the end it all worked out even though my frightened child broke out in tears and shaking and hives through the ordeal and we did refuse those extra three shots for Owen (at least for now.) And we met the doctor who is Italian and who chattily told us his relatives fled Venezuela for Chile and have made a good life in Santiago. To encourage my daughter he remarked, "Look at you! You're all broken out in hives! But don't worry, yesterday we had a sixteen-year old in here and compared to her, you are a piece of cake!" (I'm not really sure this had the effect he intended.)

When we finally returned through the rain to the car I looked at the clock and could hardly believe our harrowing experience had lasted only fifty-eight minutes. I turned to my children and announced, "Now THAT - was a cultural collision!" For the life of me I couldn't think of the word I wanted. It felt urgent that I define it. I exclaimed, "It starts with an 'e.' It's not 'expedient' but that's the only one I can think of. Argh! It's driving me crazy. What it the word? What we saw in there, everyone in the same room, doing everything in such a hurry. That is not a Chilean thing. That's an American thing. What is the word?!" 

Thankfully my children know me well enough not to be too worried at my ranting but they could clearly see this verbal puzzle was adding to my stress. Eva in the front passenger seat was trying very hard to solve my dilemma and the angels sang hallelujah when she eventually blurted, "Efficient! Is that the word?"

Yes, efficient. The irony is not lost on me that what I have been guilty of whining for while on the field is the very thing that nearly made me lose it when I came home. It's true what they say - be careful what you wish for! :)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

When God Says No

I remember a difficult season of life when God consistently said, "No." It was a time in which over and over again we gathered courage and hope, only to repeatedly find our dreams unfulfilled. Truth be told, it is a period I prefer to consider in retrospect and would never wish to relive! Only with time as a teacher did I come to realize there was much we learned through God's "No."

More than a dozen years ago, this season revolved around our adoption desires. During a period of many months we had our hopes raised followed by dreams dashed time and again in a vicious cycle. A call from an adoption agency would come, describing a infant's situation and asking us if we would like our profile shown. Our profile was a scrapbook of us - our life and family - and as it went out it felt like holding our breath and asking with childlike expectation, "Do you like me?" 

In response to almost every situation we said "Yes." But every time we said "Yes," God said "No."

It was very hard. In the hours and days between our "Yes" and God's "No," I would picture the child in question and imagine bringing him or her home, daring to imagine this little person becoming part of the fabric of our family. Little did I know that it could and would get even harder when we were chosen and waited out the breathless months of pregnancy only to return with empty arms. Nor did I understand how excruciating it would be to hold a newborn close to our hearts for one incredible week and then be informed we must let him go.

But I believe God did know and understand. I believe His "No" in so many cases was simply a means of protecting us from greater hurt and harm. Because He is sovereign and omniscient and a loving Father, His "No" was meant for our good.

This week we heard His "No" again. Not regarding a child, but still in respect to a dream. It has been our wish for many years to one day own a home. Over the last decade in Chile we have visited several potential properties, prayed hopeful prayers and spoken with almost every bank in town. Because of our status as foreigners and the corresponding red tape, our search has always ended at a closed door. Only now as we prepared for a year stateside did it seem as though the timing might be right to pursue home ownership, albeit in a different direction.

With three sisters eventually ministering in Chile and rotating furloughs stateside, it made sense to consider a place in the U.S. that each of us could call home with our families in respective turns. The urgency of one sister needing a house to rent by the end of summer - coinciding with our return to the States - led us to begin searching long-distance even before then. With the help of modern technology such as FaceTime and Skype, we visited many locations but none were a perfect fit.

Then to put it poetically, it seemed everything fell into place and the light shone green and we signed papers of intention and with fear and trepidation waited for word this week on the outcome of our deferred dream. Just as I had years ago, I dared to imagine what the fulfillment of this desire might mean for our family. We purposely pursued a duplex in order to eventually afford living in one side while renting the other, but I even dreamed about what it might be like many years in the future if we retired there while our own children or grandchildren served God in missions. How sweet it would be to have a place to offer them every time they came home!

There were lots of hopes and aspirations when we finally said "Yes." But, His answer was still "No." The sellers pulled the house off the market and with nothing similar in our price range, we find ourselves in that old familiar place of waiting once again.

Yet even so, all is well. The lessons learned a decade ago still hold true today. We know and we trust that because He was then and is still and always will be sovereign and omniscient and a loving Father, His "No" was again meant for our good. And if history/His story holds true, when His "Yes" does come it will be "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think!" (Ephesians 3:20) 

What a comfort to serve a God Whose "No" can be just what our heart needs to hear.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

My Heart, My Loves

"Do you all know that I love you?" I asked the rhetorical question of my four sons, each busily engaged in his own Sunday afternoon business. 

"Yes, Mom! You tell us all the time," came the retort from my twelve-year old who didn't even bother to turn away from his video game screen.

Then he paused and added, "But ... it's comforting to hear."

Ah, my heart. Sometimes they do listen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

One Really Big Week

It's past midnight and I really should be sleeping, but in the seldom silence of our home I am suddenly struck with the realization of what a really big week this has been. Tonight we nearly went out with a bang when Ian took a serious tumble from a bike or scooter. I never did sort out which means of transport was the culprit as I hurried outside to join five adults and twice that many children gathered anxiously around him on the asphalt of the alley beside our home! Our new neighbor Matt was the hero who kept Ian calm and still as his wife and son quickly gathered the supplies he requested to stop the bleeding from Ian's mouth (having pierced his teeth deeply into his tongue) and to wrap his forearm once it was determined to be unbroken and apparently not sprained.

When a short while later our family was gathered around the dining room table (with Ian nearby on the couch), I felt a deep sigh of the soul to realize we were all here, together, in our "home," with new routines beginning to fall into place and having survived the ten weeks of travel and craziness that brought us to this first week of school which our oldest three confronted with anticipation and trepidation but finished strong and well. There are many unfamiliar challenges still before us but our faithful God continues to sustain us. As we look back at the fears and angst of the huge unknowns prior to furlough, we are in awe of how the Lord answered our prayers in ways far better and beyond our limited understanding of our family's needs.

This past Sunday we began our big week by attending Sunday School and the morning service at my parents' church. This is where we plan to attend on the weekends we are home from furlough travels. I was personally very encouraged by the pastor's message on lessons from the life of Joseph and their relevance to the challenges we face individually and as a nation today. I was also encouraged by the fact that Silas stayed fairly calm in the 2's and 3's class once his initial tearfulness wore off! Each of our other children seemed to enjoy his or her age group and we are hopeful they will develop some good friendships this year. I love that this church is very multicultural and that my sons have classmates of similar racial backgrounds. This is so rarely our experience in Chile and in many churches we visit stateside, that I truly count it as a blessing! Something else I consider a blessing is this church's emphasis on ministering to those recovering from addictions. Pedro and I share the desire to use our time stateside to become better equipped to serve when we return to Chile, and one area where we see a tremendous need in Iquique is that of counseling those caught in the vice of addictions. We are excited that Pedro especially may have the opportunity to plug in and learn more about this area of ministry while we are here.

The privilege of sharing Sunday dinner with Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop is not taken for granted after 4.5 years away, so we enjoyed a visit to Friendly's restaurant after church. Later in the evening we were blessed with one "last hurrah" of summer by an invitation to the camp where the owners of our furlough house serve on staff. There the kids (and Mommy!) all had the opportunity to ride a horse under the watchful eye of some youthful instructors and needless to say, this made everyone's day! Afterwards we enjoyed some ice cream and conversation with Mike and Yara in their home on the camp property. Again, we are so thankful for how God orchestrated every detail of our furlough needs, providing a wonderful place to live when our first situation fell through. A town we'd never heard of has quickly felt like home and as evidenced by the opening paragraph of this post, God has also placed wonderful neighbors in our path. To God be the glory!

On Monday morning we relied on our big kids to share "Silas duty" as we connected via Skype with our Iquique field team for a lengthy but enjoyable meeting to catch up on current ministry and goals. God continues to do exciting things through FLORECE and we are extremely thankful for our teammates who are overseeing the many minute details of researching requirements to come up to code for the purpose of offering ultrasounds in the near future. At the same time we are praying together for the purchase of a permanent home for FLORECE and challenged by how God continues to propel us forward in unexpected ways! We are also looking forward to new ministries as teammates step out of our prior church ministry into formal church planting and we are eager to serve alongside them when we return.

After lunch on Monday it was time for Eva, Isabel and Owen to attend orientation at their new school. Pedro accompanied them for his first tour of their campus and they all returned with glowing reports. (They even had a chance to observe the much-touted solar eclipse through welding glasses while they were there!) This visit provided the opportunity for them to walk through their schedules and discover where their classrooms were located, as well as to meet some teachers. While the girls returned somewhat more relieved and eager, it was Owen who came home recharged and so impatient for the next morning to arrive! We packed school supplies before bedtime and Pedro stayed up late preparing ingredients for his famous "breakfast tacos" to energize the new students in the morning and send along for lunch. Long past his bedtime Owen shuffled downstairs unable to sleep from his nervous energy. Since Owen had a cold anyway, Daddy dispatched him back to bed with a dose of Nyquil which served the dual purpose of stopping the sniffles and sending Owen into dreamland!

Tuesday morning dawned bright and early, with school departure at 7:15 AM. Pedro drove the big kids to their first day and returned with an amusing report of the differences between the siblings, with little brother Owen darting energetically in the direction of his classes while big sisters Eva and Isabel moved much more slowly and uncertainly towards theirs. My heart was so nervous for them! Meanwhile we had another commitment on the schedule, as Ian and Alec were scheduled for a walk through their new school with the principal at 12:00 noon. This was perfect timing because they were quite disappointed to not be starting classes along with their older siblings. Again we were so impressed by the school and its organization and friendliness and the opportunities that lie in store for our younger boys. We trust they will have a great year, too!

At 3:05 PM we were dutifully present for the first day's dismissal and ready to hear all about the experiences of our trio of new students. We had a wound up sixth grader, a happy but tired ninth grader, and a pleasantly surprised but somewhat overwhelmed tenth grader. Lots of stories were exchanged and we were all ears. We headed over to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's house so that they could hear all about the first day of school as well! Special treats awaited the kids and it was sweet to share this memory with the grandparents after so many years of being apart. 

And so our week marched on! As situations arose, we exchanged e-mails and phone calls and began to open avenues of communication with teachers, all of whom have been wonderful so far. We knew that the distances between classrooms and buildings might prove to be a problem for our daughter with mild cerebral palsy, though it turned out to be the sheer number of students and jostling on the stairs that made movement difficult for her. The guidance counselor was very helpful and proactive, providing her an elevator key and letting teachers know she might need additional time. Her favorite class by far has been choir, as she loves music! Our son has been nothing but delighted with his new friends and inspired by his teachers although by the end of the week he recognized what we knew would be a struggle, his English reading and writing which has been delayed through his years in Chilean school. This troubles him and we need to seek the best way to help him catch up and succeed. He has also surprised us with a keen interest in learning an instrument, and is now signed up for band and trombone! Our daughter who was used to setting her own schedule with online school is struggling a bit with expectations, homework, etc. but despite being the most fearful and resistant to change closed the week on a hopeful note. She has made friends and is delighted with special classes in photography and wildlife/fisheries! In the end, this is as new to us as it is to them. A learning curve stretches ahead for all of us as we learn the ropes of new schedules and expectations, but we are confident God has brought us here and has great things in store.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Weight of History

"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, 
and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." 
Luke 12:48 (ESV)

Our family recently spent one week in beautiful New Bern, North Carolina. Since our lodging was outside of town, we frequently drove in to stroll the centuries-old streets and marvel at mansions and historic homes such as the one pictured below. Most structures had markers indicating their age and the family name of the original owners, some from as far back as the 1700's. It was incredible to imagine living in such luxury hundreds of years ago, and my curiosity was piqued regarding the story of this place. One of my thoughts as I observed the size and grandeur of the homes was, "They must have had slaves to maintain these back then." Sadly, a bit of online research quickly proved me right. I learned that at one time New Bern was the largest city in the state with its original wealth obtained through the trading of goods and slaves. Interestingly, in the early stages of the Civil War it was the capture and occupation of the city by Union troops that protected so many physical structures from damage so that they can be enjoyed today. The Union occupation also led to a fascinating situation with the slave population. Nearly 10,000 escaped slaves converged on the area for protection, leading to the creation of a refugee camp at New Bern. After President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation even more freedmen arrived and little more than a decade after war's end, the city had a majority-black population.

After the war and slavery ended, the city rebuilt and prospered for a number of decades on the lumber industry. In the late 1800's, free black communities blossomed with churches, fraternal associations and businesses. Four black individuals were even elected to the United States Congress. And then, history turned. For over half a century - sixty-five years to be exact - the tide of white supremacy in New Bern rushed back against its black populace. In 1900, the state of North Carolina passed a constitutional suffrage amendment deliberately disenfranchising black citizens and blocking them from any involvement in the political process. In addition, segregation and discrimination were enforced through racist laws which placed black men, women and children at a disadvantage in every way.

Like many southern cities, New Bern has a complicated history of beauty and ugliness. Today, at least on the surface, it is the beauty that one immediately notices. I would love to go back and explore more. Only now as I researched information for this post, did I learn of some fascinating historical figures in New Bern from the era of segregation: the "Rhone Sisters," as they were known. Charlotte Rhone overcame tremendous roadblocks to become the first black registered nurse in her state and the first black social worker in her county. She and her sister Carrie are also remembered for raising funds to build a hospital for black people; a hotel for black travelers; and a library for the black public - each of which was otherwise denied their segment of the population at the time. I only wish we had known to visit the buildings which celebrate the legacy of these two women!

The truth is that this post is not intended as simply a study of one historic town. It is rather meant to reflect on a confluence of thoughts and situations that occurred around the time of our visit. On our drive to New Bern, I read Benjamin Watson's excellent book entitled Under Our Skin. Written to expand on a Facebook post he shared in response to the 2014 events in Ferguson, Missouri, in this book Watson thoughtfully, eloquently and honestly shares the reality of life as a black man in contemporary America. He also reaches back into the stories of his grandparents to clarify the history that has left its mark on the hearts and minds of black men and women in today's society. As a committed Christian, Benjamin tempers his observations with Biblical truths and exhortation. I cannot recommend this book enough for the reader who is willing to visit its pages with an open mind and heart. 

As I read I was reminded of how far we have yet to go as a nation as it relates to race, and to be honest I arrived at our vacation location with some concern about how our multiracial family would be received at a timeshare in a southern state. The first afternoon at the pool, my heart sank as I looked around and saw no one who resembled us at all. I cautioned my kids about manners and mentally braced for a week of "best behavior" reminders as I felt all eyes might be on us. To my relief and delight, the next day at the pool we encountered a blend of many cultures enjoying the water together! I observed Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern families swimming together and it truly made my heart smile. This alone reminded me that though we have far to go, we have also come so far.

And then suddenly, shamefully came Charlottesville. In the sneering, jeering faces I saw the evil that set the wheels of oppression in motion so many years ago. I felt the shuddering sadness brought on by undeniable evidence that my children's world is still home to such hatred. Yet conversely, I also felt flutters of hope. Quickly countering this evil came words of concern, compassion and commitment. Those words encouraged me that there are those who recognize the weight of history and will not allow this to happen again. There are those who realize that "to whom much was given, of him much will be required." And they have courageously spoken out to say: Not on their watch! Not in their city! Not in their generation! 

This isn't the kind of post that can be wrapped up neatly with a bow. Life in a transracial family is beautiful, redemptive and reflective of Heaven in that one day "every nation and tribe and people and tongue" will worship the Lamb together regardless of any difference in skin color or ethnic origin. But life in a transracial family can also be messy, as we wade through our own ignorance and privilege to understand the challenges our children must be prepared to face with both gravity and grace. Lord, give us wisdom! is our heart's cry for our family, our Church and our nation.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Many Are the Plans

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, 
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand."
Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

It was a picture perfect day as we left New Bern behind after a wonderful week of family vacation, and joined the summer traffic headed south on Interstate 95. Despite being up since 5:30 a.m. it was not until several hours later that we successfully completed packing, check out, connecting with an oil distributor to buy a couple quarts for the van, refueling and a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and a sweet beginning to the day. So it was 9:30 a.m. when we began driving and two hours later we pulled off for what was meant to be a quick potty stop at the Cumberland County rest area outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Unfortunately, our van chose to take an extended "rest" at the rest area. It still had power and fuel and was not overheated. We headed to some shaded picnic tables to snack on sandwiches just in case it was the latter, but it still refused to start when we returned. Pedro pulled up some info on the internet and scoured the owner's manual, trying recommended diagnostic procedures to no avail. He made the tough call to have the van towed. We all took turns entertaining Silas and Owen sweated his way through a few skateboard tricks while we waited.

When the tow truck driver arrived, he kindly attempted a few tricks of his own to see if anything could be accomplished with our van before pulling it away. Eventually there was nothing more to be done and since he could only take two additional passengers, Pedro dialed up an Uber driver for the rest of the gang. It was my first experience with Uber, and I hesitated to take our baby and four more children in the car without my husband and with someone I didn't know. In the end, Owen and I rode with Josh (tow truck driver) and Pedro stayed behind to meet Gary (Uber driver.) I know it sounds silly since we didn't know the tow truck driver either, but he had been working alongside my husband for about half an hour and seemed a trustworthy guy!

Numerous people observed our efforts with the van during our extended time (2+ hours) at the rest area. Just after Owen and I left with the tow truck, a kind African American family approached Pedro. "We see you are having a bit of trouble," they remarked. "We want to help out." Pedro assured them it was not necessary but they pressed a generous cash gift into his hands. What a humbling yet beautiful experience of being blessed by perfect strangers!

During our half hour drive with Josh, we learned that he is hard-working, married father of three kids who works three jobs to provide for his family. He spent ten years in the military with most of that time at nearby Fort Bragg and some time in both Korea and Iraq. He shared that he grew up extremely poor, which is his motivation for meeting the needs of his wife and children. We heard interesting stories from his towing experiences, everything from pulling a submerged boat out of water to a full 18-wheeler out of the ditch! He told us how he will always stop in support of policemen who have to pull someone over at night, to add his lights and protection to the scene. It was obvious that his work is more than just a job and that he often goes out of his way to help people in need. In fact, he was towing us on what was supposed to be his day off! Probably Owen's favorite story, though, was when Josh shared what he does on Friday nights. Apparently there is a dirt racetrack nearby where even boys Owen's age can race certain kinds of vehicles. If that doesn't spark a little boy's imagination, I don't know what will!

We reached the car repair shop just after Pedro and the rest of the family arrived. Their Uber driver, Gary, turned out to be a very nice man with interesting stories of his own from his Uber experiences. He is writing a book and said now our family will be featured in it, too (with names changed for privacy, of course!) Gary kindly called ahead to the closest hotel for reservations in case our repairs could not be completed immediately. He stayed until making sure we were all settled for the moment. We certainly experienced "Southern hospitality" at its finest with both of our drivers, and we are very thankful for God's orchestrating every detail!

It was 4 p.m. when we took a break from waiting to walk over to a nearby pizza place which came highly recommended by our tow truck driver. For the record, our kids while not perfect had really been troopers all this long while! They tore into the garlic knots (delicious btw!) and two huge pizzas like nobody's business. Regrettably, at this time the call came from the vehicle shop informing us that the needed repair was a new fuel pump for the van. They could get to it first thing in the morning and hopefully would have us on the road by 1 p.m. on Sunday. With no other choice, we called to confirm the local hotel rooms for the night and also to inform our Jacksonville hotel that we would not be using the suite we had reserved (unfortunately, already paid for and non-refundable.) I was quite aware of our older kids observing our calls and reactions. I wanted them to remember less of our concern over finances and more of our confidence that God was still in control despite unexpected changes to our plans. We talked about how He had watched over us and provided in many ways throughout the course of the day.

We returned to the repair shop to re-pack our bare necessities for the short hotel stay. The mechanics were ready to move the van inside for the night, so we assembled two adults; six children; two suitcases; two computer bags; one carseat; one stroller; one pack'n'play; and one cooler onto the grass between the shop and a McDonald's restaurant. I'm sure we made quite a sight! Pedro again pulled up his Uber app and this time found one option: a nice BMW which could carry four passengers. All the boys except Silas took the first trip with the luggage, and the driver then returned for the remaining four of us. It was quite interesting chatting with Nancy who as it turned out is from Bogota, Colombia. She married a military man and moved to North Carolina four years ago. She said it is nice here but "very quiet!"

Nearly thirteen hours after our day began, we settled into two hotel rooms and relaxed awhile in the pool before beginning to wrap up the evening. Throughout the day we had observed how different children responded differently to the pressures and challenges that occurred. Silas reached his breaking point and succumbed to sleep in big sister Eva's arms in our dim and quiet room while his siblings finished a movie upstairs. Eva in her tiredness felt overwhelmed with homesickness, especially for her familiar house and the warmth and snuggles of her dog. I questioned the "why" of today and wondered if we fulfilled any unstated purpose God had for us in it. I wished for some amazing story of having led someone to Christ through this unexpected detour, but that simply wasn't the case. This morning, Pedro did have an opportunity to pray with an elderly gentleman staying at the hotel. He and his Thai wife live in Thailand but are here because his 43-year old daughter (a wife and mother) is dying of cancer.

Perhaps we will never know why our plans changed, but we do trust in God's prevailing purposes. It is my hope and prayer that we have responded correctly and reflected Christlikeness as we relate to others, recognizing that it is within our own family that we are most challenged to do so! Today is a new day and just like yesterday:

"This is the day that the Lord has made; 
let us rejoice and be glad in it." 
Psalm 118:24

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Week of EMC & Etc.

Our missions agency loves acronyms. The one for this week was EMC: Essential Missions Components, an appropriate title for five interactive and idea-packed days of training in the art of planting churches cross-culturally. Gone is the singular, traditional church planting model and in its place are various effective strategies which depend on ecosystems and culture and many other important factors that are discussed in small and large groups each day.

This training is open to veteran missionaries and pre-field missionaries who have reached 50% of their needed monthly support. In our case, we took the training five years ago but Pedro had the privilege of participating as a table facilitator this time around. What made the opportunity extra-special, though, was that both of our colleagues-to-be in Iquique (the Fisher family and Jenn Taylor) were in attendance, along with the Wenger family also headed to Chile. Whoo-hoo!

While the adults filled their heads with knowledge, a parallel program was offered for MKs. STAMP is the acronym which stands for Student and Teen Adventure Mission Preparation. Our kids participated in 2012 and we loved it so much that we sent them back again! This time they got to be with their Fisher cousins and other future teammates. It was really special that some of the leaders this year were former MKs who went through the program and are now young adults serving the Lord.

Silas and I were the only ones left out of the program - by choice, since we didn't find it necessary to further "traumatize" him with another week of nursery! Unfortunately, I quickly discovered he was as much (maybe more?!) traumatized by the departure of his siblings and being left alone with Mommy all day! But in the end, we had company on several days since both Alec and Ian took a turn being sick. On Monday, my mom joined me and helped with Silas while I completed the registration for Ian and Alec at our local public school. Tuesday the girls stayed home to meet with the guidance counselor at the Christian high school they will be attending, and Alec (who was sick that day) kept Pop-Pop company while Mom-Mom met the girls and I and Silas for the appointment followed by some shopping at the outlets. On Wednesday, Ian was home sick but felt well enough by early mid-afternoon for us to travel to the mission headquarters for dinner with the Chile families:

Early in the week on an evening of heavy rain, we discovered water leaking through the exhaust ceiling fan in the bathroom and realized it was coming from a leak in the roof and through the attic. So early Thursday morning, I welcomed the repair crew who worked on a different section of roof and Friday I met the slate repairman (a very nice Amishman.) Eva stayed home with me Thursday and we headed to the grandparents' in the afternoon to enjoy BLT sandwiches and Aunt Joann's chocolate chip cookies and a visit to the thrift shop in my parents' retirement community. By the end of the week our crew was incredibly zonked in the evenings, and no wonder!

However, we received wonderful news on Thursday morning! Pedro's sister Nina and her husband Kyle welcomed a healthy baby girl in Iowa on July 27 and we so look forward to meeting Chloe Noel Starkweather. Silas was rather enraptured by her pictures on my phone. I couldn't help snapping a picture of my "baby" as we enjoyed photos of our new niece, realizing once again how very fast time flies:

We finished the EMC week having dinner at Cracker Barrel with our future teammate Jenn (also known as "Aunt Noni" to our kids) which was delicious but a bit stressful with a big crowd and busy toddler. Silas and I drove out in anticipation of seeing the older kids' closing program, a creative presentation featuring Owen as a boxer fighting "Fear," "Money" and "Discouragement" (impersonated by several other MK boys, including his cousin Ben) to the soundtrack of "Eye of the Tiger" - but with new, Christian lyrics! - which was meant to encourage the missionary parents on their continuing journey through deputation, or pre-field ministry. Unfortunately they presented earlier than expected and I was so disappointed to miss it by just twenty minutes.

I know my husband was blessed and encouraged by spending time with our Chile teammates and reviewing the church planting principles with those who will be working alongside us, hopefully in the near future! He also appreciated getting to know other missionaries from other fields, and I am glad he had this opportunity for a "shot in the arm" even though I know it was tiring for him at the end of the long days.

Now it is Saturday, and we are packing once again to begin a 7-8 hour drive to North Carolina and eventually on to Florida.

"Saddle up your horses" ... the adventure continues!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Not Perfection but Reflection

Our toddler was finally napping and I was otherwise alone in a quiet house when the tears came. They were prompted by this article - "3 Reasons Traditional Parenting Doesn't Work With Kids From Trauma" - and a host of other pressures, not the least of which was our non-stop schedule for nearly seven weeks straight. Of course that was when the phone rang. I wiped my tears, took a breath and carefully tried to modulate so that my voice would not give me away. After all, isn't putting on the good face what the missionary life - especially furlough - is all about? (Note: Please realize this question is tongue in cheek!) 

As a child of missionaries having grown up in the fishbowl of ministry among other families like ours, I have seen firsthand the damage done by pretending everything is okay when it is not. I have walked into timebombs of family dynamics and been shocked to see that behind the scene of the pleasant preacher are simmering spousal disputes and angry glares across the dinner table. I have watched in heartbreak while some fellow MKs throw away everything we were taught together because they lost faith in their family and consequently, in their family's God. 

While our family was by no means perfect, I am so thankful that my parents never pretended to be so with us. We used to tease our mom that she was "too" sensitive to guilt, always feeling bad for things that most people never thought twice about. (Now I minister alongside a missionary wife much like my mom, and wish I were more like them both!) One of the things I respect most about my dad is that I saw him change over the years he parented us. Somewhere along the way he learned to let go of preference issues and lead us with both conviction and compassion. When faced with how to react at key moments in my growing up years when I struggled and failed, he responded with truth and love. I can honestly say the behavior of my earthly father prepared me to trust my Heavenly Father in the trials and testings of life, for which I am forever grateful.

This is perhaps is why it is so painful to be the one responsible for what is called in today's lingo a (hashtag) parenting fail. Earlier in the week I snapped after an exhausting day of dysregulation by a "kid from trauma" (to borrow from the aforementioned article's title.) Immediately I was contrite and ashamed, and only because God is good He allowed my blowup to be redeemed into a much-needed, honest and tender conversation between a pair of siblings and myself. I apologized to each of my children, not just the two involved, because as a parent my failure affects them all. Over the next few days I read the book Born Broken and shed many tears. I recognized that my challenges are so small compared to what many adoptive families are facing through no fault of their own, but as a result of early childhood trauma with its shattering repercussions.

Reading the book affirmed my resolve that this year we must seek help that is not available overseas for our children. We have already begun educational testing for one son whose early malnutrition in Haiti forever altered his brain and responses. He is smart, funny and sweet but simply learns differently than others and we need to help him reach his full potential. We have also made contact with a Christian counseling service for a daughter who has always struggled with anxiety but has become increasingly debilitated by it in the face of so many huge life changes. I cannot always understand what she is going through. Often I fail the test of patience. But I do understand the language of words and she gave me permission to share a poem about her struggles:
"Error ... Error"
For the last year or so this word has been thrown at me.
When I talk to people and try to explain my problem, their eyes glare with the words: "That's not right." Their arms and hands say: "You are wrong." Their heads shake with embarrassment, their lips curve out repeatedly: "Error, error. How you think is absurd!"
I want to think straight and logically, but what is logic? Synonyms are: having or showing skill in thinking and reasoning. 
Well, I clearly don't have that when panic stricken! I can't even think.
When I am panic possessed (I say "possessed" because it controls me), everywhere I look is fuzzy, bright, sometimes almost in slow motion it seems. All I am focused on is finding a familiar face or someone I can trust. Panic attacks are debilitating.
Every day I am faced with a moment where I choose between trusting God or letting fear consume me. I want to trust God and some moments are better than others.
My daily test is when I am in the shower. I know it's stupid to think people will leave me, but how about God? I struggle with assurance of salvation. I know Jesus has me and my feelings don't determine that, but when my heartbeat speeds up and my thoughts run free I forget that. I think Jesus will come to take His followers, and leave me. Now that is absurd. Jesus I need you, I believe, help my unbelief. Help me, God. This is an every day, almost every hour prayer.
I'm getting to the point where I am merely surviving a day. I wonder if I can get through tomorrow. God has a purpose for this. Sometimes I think ... (beeeeep.) You don't want to hear what I think; however God is good and He has a plan.
She first read me the words out loud, and I felt both pride and wonder that she had expressed so clearly what she was feeling. My heart also sighed with regret knowing there have been times when mine was one of the faces stating, "You are wrong." Reading her poem happened last night. Following that there was a long-distance phone call from a friend spilling burdens across the miles and ending after everyone else was sound asleep. It left me unable to sleep (but awake to serve Silas his middle-of-the-night bottle!) And then there was an early a.m. wake up call of a child banging the bathroom door to hurry a sibling along. All in all it was the perfect recipe for a tearful morning and the reminder that God does not ask for my perfection as a parent, but my reflection - of Him. 

As I wrote that last statement, my thoughts turned to a hymn I've not heard in a very long time. Thomas Chisholm's words are those of my heart today. May I learn to be more and more like Christ as a parent to the precious children entrusted to me!
"O to be like Thee! full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinners to find.
O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee!
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness; 
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart."

From Michigan to M.E.

Sunday, July 16 was our final Sunday in Michigan during our summer "tour." We stayed up late packing as much of our belongings as possible into the van the night before, but still rose around 5 AM to finalize cleaning and organizing the lovely home we had enjoyed in Pentwater. We encouraged the kids with the promise of a good breakfast (okay, drive-through at McDonald's) on the way to church. North Casnovia Baptist Church is another church which is dear to Pedro from his growing up days and he always looks forward to being back on familiar roads and seeing old friends. We enjoyed our brief visit and afterwards Pedro shared that a special encouragement was being greeting by a new family to the church who said they had seen our family on the missionary display and had been praying for us the past two years!

It was one of those "catch-22" afternoons where there was not enough time to return to the home where we'd been staying due to distance, but there was too much time in between the morning service at one church and the evening service at another. We opted to take a little longer with lunch and then look for a park where the kids could run around a bit. Unfortunately, they were not really in the mood for running - I think we all felt we'd been doing enough of it for the past month! So we set up some folding chairs and settled in the shade near soccer fields where we could hear Spanish spoken by the players and just rest for a bit. I snapped a few pictures before we piled into the van again.

We were encouraged to meet two new pastors at our evening church in Howard City, both of whom have young families and a vision to reach their community with Christ. Something unique that I appreciated about this church's missionary display is a wall with individual plastic frames where prayer letters can be updated for people to read at any time. Below each one is the missionary family's name, photo, and where they serve:

Following church, we hit the road a little later than planned and didn't arrive at our previously scheduled hotel in Ohio until past midnight. After a short but refreshing night, we took advantage of a quick breakfast offered there before settling in for our long (7+) hour drive to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Right on the heels of our Michigan travel came our mission agency's annual M.E. ("Missionary Enrichment") Conference which we are required to attend every five years. Last furlough, all our kids got sick with the stomach flu the first day of the conference and were unable to attend at all. So we were especially looking forward to the experience for their sakes, knowing that rubbing shoulders with other MKs from around the world would be a blessing to them. The conference began Monday evening with dinner prior to the first session. After my confusion about nurseries led to a lot unnecessary running around, I barely made it only to be summoned 5-10 minutes later to care for a crying Silas! Oh well. I enjoyed providing an extra pair of hands to all the sweet little MK babies that night, and the next day we transitioned Silas into the toddler nursery where he did a little better over the course of time.

Our children did indeed make friends from around the world and had a great time during their morning and evening sessions. Pedro and I were personally encouraged by the many testimonies of ministries on different fields, and by opportunities to interact one on one with other missionaries and hear how God is using them. On Tuesday we were invited to participate in an interview onstage ourselves. I was very nervous but God graciously guided our words and it was a privilege to share about the ministry and needs in Iquique!

Although our afternoons were free on Tuesday and Wednesday, as crazy as it sounds we still couldn't just let down. Instead, on Tuesday Pedro and our kids visited with Pop-Pop so that Mom-Mom and I could drive together to Delaware where we needed to pick up a vehicle and items left for us by the Rubins when they returned to Chile. And Wednesday we spent our free time looking at houses with a realtor who has been helping us over the past months long-distance. Together with my two sisters, we have been searching and praying about the possibility of Pedro and I purchasing a home near our parents where we can take turns living while on furlough. It has been a challenge to find something adequate within our budget, with pressure mounting because Fishers traveled all summer on pre-field by faith without a home to return in August.

Nonetheless, the M.E. Conference was uplifting to our family and we are glad to have been able to participate. We packed up Thursday morning and proceeded to part ways - Pedro and five kids "home" to Ephrata (finally!) while our son Ian and I headed to our mission headquarters near Harrisburg. There Ian would begin his first of two days of educational testing with a missionary to Hungary. Cheryl has two earned masters degrees and her doctorate in education, but we had no idea of her ministry until recently! Ian met with her on Thursday afternoon and again on Friday morning, about a 55-minute drive each way to/from our home. On Saturday, Pedro and I met with Cheryl and with Anna, an occupational therapist (and adult MK) also headed to Hungary, for the results of their evaluations. Both were very helpful to us as parents as we seek the best options for our son in the future. Meanwhile our kids enjoyed some more time with their grandparents (see picture of Pop-Pop with the boys below!) We are so grateful to God for orchestrating this important opportunity for our sweet Ian.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Wonderful Whirlwind, Part Four (2 of 2)

Week Four: July 9-15 (continued)

We arrived at the house on Tuesday and on Wednesday evening, we drove the two hours to a supporting church in Hastings. To make more pleasant the fact that we'd be driving two hours each way (after having driven three hours the day before!) we first stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. Of course with Daddy's Mexican heritage there is always serious critique of the food, but this place passed with flying colors. All the kids gave it a thumbs up, and it was a good start to the trip.

A couple of hours later, we surprised the kids with a visit to a Krispy Kreme donut factory in Grand Rapids. Of course, that was a hit as well. (Don't tell anyone, but they pleaded to stop again on our way back home and we just couldn't say no. We only hoped there had been a shift change so no one recognized us coming in for the second time the same day, ha!)

Because the church we were visiting also had a summertime ministry of backyard Bible clubs going on elsewhere, it was a small group of mostly older adults who gathered for our update that evening. To our surprise since he has struggled with clinginess this furlough, Silas reached out to one elderly gentleman in a wheelchair and climbed up in his arms. He took another "grandma" by the hand and walked with her. I think he had his own ministry of encouragement that night! The gentleman who led the service had himself been a CEF missionary, and the people in attendance had good questions for us after the presentation. One dear lady faithfully sends our family birthday, anniversary, and Christmas cards on behalf of the church. She wrote us ahead of time to ask if we could use some of the grocery dry goods she receives and cannot finish on her own. On the drive home after church, we shared with our kids how important God's "senior saints" are to missionary ministry. Without a doubt they are His great prayer warriors on behalf of many missionaries, our family included. This is both encouraging and humbling to us!

Thursday was our one day without any scheduled activities, which we enjoyed as a family at home. I even worked up the nerve to go kayaking on the lake with our kids. It was sadly obvious what a rarity this was when Alec could not believe his eyes! He later told me we should do this kind of thing as a family more often and concluded with, "Mommy, do you know that I love you?" Melt my heart!

On Friday we had been scheduled to go to Muskegon for a luncheon visit with a supporting church pastor and wife, but they came to us instead with Subway sandwiches and freshly baked cookies in hand. What a treat! We were grateful because this allowed us a much more comfortable time and place to converse, especially because Silas napped the entire time. It was such an encouragement to both listen to what God has been doing in their church ministry and share what He has been doing in Iquique. I had forgotten that this pastor's wife grew up in the same camp ministry where my grandfather spoke each summer, and she knew my mom's family well. God makes such neat connections! It so happens that this camp also has a ministry to recovering addicts. We have come to realize there is a great need for us to be equipped to biblically counsel in the area of addiction because it is such a problem in Iquique, and as a result of our conversation we hope to follow up on some leads for literature and training to that end.

A very special reunion was scheduled for Saturday with our dear friends Phil and Shirley. (I shared some of our friendship story with them in posts from 2007 - click here and here.) We were to meet for a picnic near their home, but due to a unexpected funeral scheduled that day their time was somewhat limited. It turned out to be a sweet blessing to invite them to come to us and have the privilege of preparing a Chilean meal for them! Due to her multiple sclerosis, Shirley has progressed to using a walker and explained that they have not had a chance to "do something like this" for a long time. It was a joy to bless them with dinner on the porch overlooking the water and to reminisce about many great memories we've had together. Phil and Shirley hosted us overnight in their home as a young family just starting pre-field ministry with our two little daughters, and have been wonderful friends ever since. We thank God for them!