Thursday, July 02, 2015

When the Waves of Life Are Crashing

My most recent writing for Breathe Ministry, entitled "When the Waves of Life Are Crashing," can be read on their website here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Celebrating a New Teenager (Happy 13th Birthday, Isabel!)

our beautiful new teenager
For Isabel's 13th birthday, she had two simple requests. First, a nice meal out with Mom and Dad. So we arranged for a friend from church to have lunch at home with the other four siblings while we took the birthday girl to one of our favorite places for a "fancy" meal. The food, a Japanese/Peruvian fusion, was definitely something new for her! Afterwards we headed to the mall to share some frozen yogurt ice cream swimming in chocolate (much to Daddy's chagrin but the girls' enjoyment.) We hope our beautiful new teenager felt special and grown up and loved as a result of the time spent together. 

a fancy meal for our growing-up girl
Isabel's second request (which we fulfilled the follow day) was a trip to the mall with her friends from church. Being chauffeured and accompanied by Mom and older sister Eva, but left on their own for an hour or so to venture into stores and spend their money, apparently was just the thing for the new teen and her two friends to feel rather grown up. Their last stop was a beauty store for a parent-approved makeup purchase, which promptly led to a makeover session upon our return home!

Isabel with Tiffany (L) and Sofia (R)
The camera Isabel is wearing in the picture above was also a long-awaited gift, so we now have another budding photographer in the home. We thank God for the privilege of celebrating our strong-willed and spunky girl's "official" entrance into her teenage years. But she will always be our cute, sweet little "Sissy!"

Isabel - once upon a time on Padre Island, TX
Dear Isabel,

In honor of your 13th birthday, I wanted to share "13 Things I Love about Isabel."
1.       You have a compassionate soul.
2.       You are brave and adventurous.
3.       You have a great sense of style.
4.       You enjoy being a big sister.
5.       You desire to serve others.
6.       You love to read.
7.       You are your own person.
8.       You don’t take “no” for an answer.
9.       You dream big dreams.
10.   You love to sing.
11.   You have a heart for Haiti.
12.   You have the MK spirit.
13.   You love the Lord.
Being your mom has taken me on adventures I never imagined! I can't wait to see what else God has in store for your life. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and I have no doubt He will use you in mighty ways in this world! Daddy and I love you, Isabel Hope! 

Love, Mom

Birthday Posts by Year:

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

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

All Differences Aside

"Estefani! Estefani!" It was my neighbor clamoring at the gate. She beckoned me outside to the raised metal basket where we jointly put our garbage each night. It was lying on its side, having narrowly missed the front bumper of her vehicle on its way to the ground. Animatedly, she scolded me for having put garbage out too early in the day. Apparently a dog had grabbed the bag and dragged it around the block, knocking down the basket in his messy haste.

Somewhat amused, somewhat frustrated, I felt the need to defend the fact that I had just arrived home from the United States and the garbage being out early wasn't my doing. I knew my husband and kids had just been trying to get the house tidy for my return. With a sigh, I also knew the right thing to do was follow that dumb dog to wherever he had torn apart the garbage and pick it all up. My chattering neighbor walked beside me as we turned the corner onto the busy street of Bilbao. Half a block down my bag lay ripped open, with the golden Labrador nosing through it. He had a collar so this was no case of a stray, simply another cultural example of letting one's dog run loose to wreak havoc on others' property (or worse - as in the case of our daughter's recent dog bite by a neighborhood German Shepherd allowed out of his yard.)

Later when all was said and done, I remarked tongue in cheek to Pedro that "now I know I am back in Chile!" There are so many wonderful aspects of this country, but the dog situation is not one of them. It led me to reflect on those differences I observed on my quick trip to the States, little things that are not really that important but which strike you when you experience them once again.

For instance - big, clean bathrooms. Now I know this isn't true everywhere, but in most airports and other places we visited stateside it was. As a newly pregnant person in greater need of bathrooms that ever before in my life, this was important to me! So it was all the more glaring when upon arriving in Iquique, there was a line for the single stall ladies' bathroom first available off the plane. I opted for the second bathroom available, where a blond foreigner waited hesitantly for the first of two stalls. The other was vacant but she said, "It's not that nice." True, it hadn't been flushed and didn't meet U.S. standards but I had to laugh and reply, "I'm used to it. I live here!"

Secondly - peace and quiet. Again, I know this isn't true everywhere, but in Chile I live in the noisy city and in the States we stay in the suburbs or country. I literally sat in my parents' house and just breathed that first afternoon. No car horns. No construction sounds. No neighbors on the other side of the wall. No late-night parties or loud music. Just ... quiet. I didn't realize how much I needed that break. To be fair, after awhile in the States I miss the city noises! But upon first return, the silence was truly golden.

Thirdly - thick, lush, carpet. This is kind of funny and if we hadn't traveled with an infant (my nephew), I may not have appreciated it so much. But in our corner of the world, everything is ceramic or hard floors. Which makes sense and is fine when you live in the desert where carpets would simply suck up all the dust and never come clean. But with a baby, it is so nice to simply be able to lay him down and let him roll all around without injury! It is also so nice to take off shoes and walk barefoot through comfy carpets. I had nearly forgotten.

I don't know that there is any great point to this post. I just wanted to say it while the thoughts were fresh. In the time it has taken to write, I have been gently rocked by a 4.2 tremor, listened to a passerby loudly singing a love song, hearkened to honking horns, and kept my sweaty sandals on my feet so as to not collect dirt from my shiny red ceramic floor. All differences aside, it is good to be home.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Seventeen days away from my family and the ministry in Iquique, combined with the reflection afforded by the retirement celebration of my parents after forty-one years of faithful service, has renewed my perspective and softened my heart again for the needs and opportunities before us in this city. I am grateful to God for knowing that a release from the pressures weighing upon me was more urgent than I realized, and to my husband for making rest a reality for me by taking on the management of our home and five children on his own.

Yesterday was Sunday and my second full day back. I was blessed to simply sit and observe as my husband ministered, first to a small class of young children and then in the pulpit as he preached from God's Word. Today I listened as he handled phone calls and fielded interpersonal issues in need of resolution with calmness and grace. 

Mid morning we headed to the local health office for our daughter's second-to-last rabies shot, where we ran into a lady from church who called him "pastor." No sooner had her appointment concluded and she departed, than a tearful woman we did not know asked for my husband's attention. She had heard the "pastor" title and requested prayer and his intervention for her college-student son who was just arrested in connection with a political protest gone wrong.

His patient response, words of wisdom and prayer on her behalf stirred my heart with appreciation once again for the man I married and the ministry God has brought us to together. They say "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and perhaps it is true. Certainly it has reminded me of my thankfulness to serve side by side, as I pray God gives us wisdom and strength to fulfill His plans and purposes for these people and in this place.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

They Are All Our "Own" Children

God has graciously blessed our family with five beautiful children - the "Fab Five," as we like to call them. All of our children joined us through the blessing of adoption. Although each child has his or her own unique story prior to arriving in our family, from then on the common bond of adoption has knit our children's hearts together as brothers and sisters.

A few years ago, it first dawned on one of our children that some families had both biological and adopted children. Afterwards that child would often voice concern that a biological child might join our family some day and upset the balance, lording his or her biological status over the rest. My heartfelt reassurance to this child was the prayer I have prayed for several years regarding this very possibility. Sometimes our family felt entirely complete; other times I thought another baby might be nice. Yet always I prayed: "Your will be done, Lord ... but if it will hurt my children, please don't ever let me become pregnant."

Yesterday we made this announcement on Facebook:

This news was as much a surprise to us (after seventeen years of infertility) as anyone! Early on, we shared with our older children and specifically comforted the worried one with the truth of God's character. He answers prayer, and if He chose to send a sibling by biological means then it is for the good of our "Fab Five" and not to hurt them. It has been beautiful to watch concern for self turn to concern for Mommy and the newest member of our family. All the children are now very excited about the brother or sister who will be joining us in November!

I, however, felt the need to write this post because as a mom it is my privilege to protect my children's hearts. I so desire for this to be a precious time for them, and not painful. Yet I am aware that there are certain statements that surface in situations like ours which could easily wound them. Might I gently share some thoughts for celebrating with sensitivity this adoptive/biological scenario?
1. A biological child does not mean we finally have a child of our "own." Whether physically or emotionally, we have labored and wept for each of our children to become part of our family. In some cases, that "labor" has lasted years and spanned continents. All of our children are our "own" - regardless of adoption or biology.

2. We are not finally having a "natural" child. This would imply that our other children are unnatural, which sounds a lot like weird or abnormal. We are having a biological child.

3. This will not be our only "real" baby. All of our kids are pretty real! And all of our kids will really be brothers and sisters. The law says so, their birth certificates say so, and more importantly, our hearts say so.
Perhaps there are other thoughts that could be shared, but these three comes to mind first. Please know we are truly so grateful for those who share our joy! We hope that joy can continue to be shared in such a way as to lovingly include the five fabulous children who first made us parents. Thank you for your love and understanding!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Milestone Birthday: Owen Turns 10

Dear Owen,

No matter how many times I told you we weren't going to celebrate any more birthdays and that turning 10 was absolutely out of the question, somehow it still happened! This year your birthday fell on a busy Sunday, so we opted to celebrate on Saturday instead. It just so happened that on this particular Saturday, you were also invited to participate in a "cross-country" beach event with 1st - 4th graders from area schools. In your book, there could be no better way to celebrate a birthday than by running a race!

Well, you won the race and kept things exciting right up to the end.  We are proud of you! But what I really hope you will remember from your 10th birthday is something more than just a medal or having lots of fun. What I hope you will remember is how God generously loves His children and knows exactly how to satisfy our heart's desires.

Because your day didn't just hold a race. We also wanted you and Daddy to do something fun and different together. Options were limited by our location and your age, but it just so happened that we had learned that week about free sailing classes for kids. The two of you went with your buddies Toby and Karl and had a fabulous time. The thing is, nothing just so happens! GOD is in control of it all. He loves you and made sure you knew on your birthday. We love you, too. Happy 10th Birthday, Owen!


Previous birthday posts:

9th Birthday - Owen
8th Birthday - Owen
7th Birthday - Owen
6th Birthday - Owen
5th Birthday - Owen
4th Birthday - Owen
3rd Birthday - Owen
2nd Birthday - Owen

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Happy Birthday to Alec

Dear Alec,

For your birthday, you asked for strawberry cake; the Lego store; Happyland; watching a movie; and playing Wii. We didn't manage to fulfill all of those requests, but your smile was radiant just knowing it was a day set aside especially for YOU. 

As the "caboose" of the family, your little legs chug along trying so desperately to catch up to your older siblings - especially Owen - sometimes! You want to do everything they do, and do it now. :) Meanwhile Mommy wants to tell you not to run so fast, because these days with you are precious. I am sorry if you feel lost in the crowd or caught up in the shuffle of life at times. 

Alec, you are a joy and gift to us! And we know GOD has fantastic plans to use your careful, smart, observant, bubbly heart to accomplish great things in this world. Happy 7th Birthday, Alec Stephen!

Love, Mommy

Previous birthday posts:

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

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Finding Our New Normal

Almost daily I slip in and out of this little page in the blogosphere and briefly sigh over its dusty state of abandonment. I think, "I should write something" but then fatigue and a million other to-do's trip over my brain which decides, "I just don't have it in me."

Today I received a kind little comment out of the blue, anonymous yet encouraging with the words: "I still check weekly for new stories. :) hope all is well!"

Sometimes it's nice to know one is missed. :)

The truth of the matter is that I still feel that I'm fumbling to find our new normal. Since school started last month, we shipped two off to Chilean classrooms; kept two at their computer keyboards; and one little soul became my own special charge to educate each day. On the first day of school, we snapped these pictures:

While the girls for the most part self-educate, I am grateful but worry if they are truly learning all they need to know. Recently (to their chagrin) we made the decision to invest in an outside math program for them because of our concerns in that area. I have integrated writing assignments and book reports and spelling tests not included in their online program in an attempt to oversee their language and grammar. But when their assignments sit ungraded - because by the time I finish with our first-grade homeschooler, lunch (our main meal of the day) must be made/served/clean up and then there is homework for the two returning from Chilean school - I question whether they are helpful at all.

The differences between our two first-graders is stark. Ian in homeschool struggles with an attention disorder and it would seem, an as-yet undiagnosed learning disorder which manifests itself in his inability to retain information in his short-term memory. Alec in Chilean school has suddenly been thrust into the world of uniforms and taking notes in a separate notebook for each new subject in school. He loves to dress up and thrives on social aspect of school, but is too shy to ask questions in his second language and seems to get overlooked in a classroom of thirty-two students with only one teacher.

Meanwhile, ministry joys and challenges continue. I am overdue in sharing pictures of our pro-life volunteer training conference and recent baptisms. Even as exciting new opportunities loom, we witness how the enemy seeks to sow petty discord among those God wants to use for His purposes. Finding focus and balance between the needs of our family and those of our people can be difficult. Will you pray for us? That we might always remember "... greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world." (1 John 4:4)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

God's Heart towards Those Who Give

Today I share a companion article to my first post on the Breathe Ministry website, an online ministry focused toward missionary and pastor's wives. A story from 1 & 2 Kings led me to consider God's Heart towards Those Who Give.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Best Birthday Gift

Today when my husband answered the door in cargo shorts and a well-loved t-shirt, Marcelo (the man who delivers our drinking water) curiously inquired, "So you have the summer off your job then?" I heard his question through the window and thought, "Oh, if he only knew!" Such is the interesting dichotomy of a missionary pastor's life. Those on the outside of church wonder what exactly it is he does. Sometimes it's even a little embarrassing to think they might assume because my husband is home at times during the day, he doesn't work all that much. On the other hand, they know nothing of his early morning office hours, late-night phone calls, emotion-laden pastoral visits and dedicated times of study and discipleship. 

On this particular Saturday, Marcelo couldn't realize that Pedro had woken before 4 a.m. to do an airport run for a family from church whose daughter suffered a scary accident yesterday. Nor did he know that my husband had afterwards taken only a brief nap before rising to prepare me a delicious breakfast omelet, prior to heading back out to shop for a family from church facing a major move today. In fact, Pedro had only just returned from dropping off needed items to that family when Marcelo arrived with our weekly water delivery. And no sooner had Marcelo departed then Pedro took another phone call which resulted in driving back to the family's home to pick up their children and deliver them to our colleagues' home for babysitting, allowing just enough time for him to sit down with us for a very quick bite of lunch and birthday cake before joining the official moving party at 2 p.m.

Which all leads me to write this post. This morning, very briefly I felt a twinge of temptation to think, "It's my birthday! I want to be able to sit down peacefully with my family and enjoy this day, rather than having my husband rushing in and out taking care of other people's needs." But overwhelmingly stronger was a sense of gratitude for having a husband who cares so much for us - and for others.

So this is for you, Sweets. On my 39th birthday I just want to say that you are the best birthday gift I have been given. I thank God for you and your love for Him, your family and others which you demonstrate in your kindness and service. I love you!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Thank You, Adventures in Odyssey

I love the things our kids say sometimes! I only wish I remembered to write them down more often.

My husband shared a humorous "quote of the day" from our nine-year old son this morning. Pedro was examining a Lego masterpiece by Ian, our seven-year old who had created a house with a "loza" for a second floor. "Good job, Ian! How did you do that?" he asked admiringly.

Without hesitation, big brother Owen jumped in with an answer. "Easy, Dad! He used a colloquialism!" When Pedro burst out laughing, Owen defended himself by exclaiming, "What? Eugene says it all the time!"

To which my husband could only say, "Thank you, Adventures in Odyssey!" :)

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Celebrating Her 14 Years (Eva)

To our animal-loving, song-composing, Odyssey-listening, horse-riding, and always-creative oldest daughter: 

Happy 14th Birthday, Eva Grace! It is such a delight to watch you growing and maturing in heart, mind and body as you enter your second year as a teenager. Daddy and I often shake our heads in amazement that our first baby girl has turned into a beautiful young lady so quickly before our eyes. We have been so proud to see you taking steps of faith this past year such as rising early and beginning your day in God's Word, participating in youth group, and even overcoming your apprehensions to attend camp this summer.

We are also thankful for your helpfulness at home. Though chores are not always your favorite, you fulfill your responsibilities and even impress us with your abilities to quickly organize a room when asked! Sometimes you even have the patience to watch your little brothers for a spell. I should also mention you have learned to make a delicious chocolate crazy cake this year! :)

Of course, this letter would not be complete without recognizing your newest passion which has been a huge part of your life this past year. When you are not riding horses twice a week, you are reading about them, drawing them, playing with replicas of them, talking about them, and even handwriting your own encyclopedia about them! We are grateful that God surprised us with the opportunity for you to explore this area of interest with riding classes offered through the military. It was something we never dreamed of, but God in His goodness gave you this gift. I hope you'll always remember this as an example of His great love for His children!

We look forward to seeing how God leads throughout your life to use your enjoyment of His creatures to serve Him. Always remember that first and foremost, our love and loyalty is to the Creator and Giver of life - and to His Son, whose sacrifice provided a way for our salvation. We love you so much and He loves you even more! Happy 14th birthday to our darling daughter.

Birthday Posts by Year:

13th Birthday - Eva
12th Birthday - Eva
11th Birthday - Eva

Thursday, February 05, 2015

A Heart for This City

Early this morning as he maneuvered our car into a temporary parking place near the extranjeria office, my husband let out a whistle. We were later than planned, but earlier than our last visit two months ago. The office still would not open for another 30 to 45 minutes. 

outside the extranjeria office last September

Even so the line of people already snaked around three city streets, or 3/4 of the way around an entire city block. Perhaps it is the summer influx of foreigners. Our local paper ran a story just this week stating that Iquique is the third most "cosmopolitan" city in the nation, with 30% of last year's births attributed to non-Chileans. Flooding the region in search of stable jobs and a better life, they find a relatively sympathetic system which allows the "regularization" of work documents for those who have managed to enter Chile legally or not.

inside the extranjeria office last September

My husband reminds me that this long line is still better than things used to be. In our six years in Iquique, the extranjeria office has changed locations at least three times. Two years ago when we first began the long process for Ian and Alec's paperwork, Pedro had to spend the night outside the office just to be able to make it inside the next morning.

Although the government website informs us that they boys were awarded their permanent residency in September of last year, our last two visits have been fruitless except to receive yet another stamp extending our wait for another few months. I am so hopeful that today we will finally close this chapter in our lives, but I am not sure whether Pedro will even make it in. Such is life in Iquique.

After being away for a month, the drive downtown and home again felt fresh and so did my eyes for the city. The faces in line at extranjeria represent only one facet of the needs here. "Disheveled" doesn't begin to describe the rail-thin man staggering outside his shack on a street corner in oversized, dingy clothes who tossed a stringy head of hair and waved a wine bottle as I drove past. It was only 8 a.m., and he was only one of dozens of homeless and hopeless we see here every day.

Even those who seem to have it all together, simply don't without Christ. Last night one of our kids' former teachers whom we had seen recently and who seemed to be doing well, wrote a cryptic post online. He recognized having made a weighty mistake and now facing the consequences. His words about "trying to show oneself as a strong person and inside being broken" saddened me very much. 

I felt led to write him and share that our testimony (Pedro's and mine) is that without Christ we would be completely lost every day, but with Him we can daily renew strength and find His forgiveness. I knew Pedro would be willing to talk to him and told him so. This morning he responded in a way we hear all too often in this confused society, thanking me for the good "energy" found in my words. It is not "energy" he needs but Emmanuel, God with us through salvation in Jesus Christ!

the clouds hovering over the harbor remind of the clouded lives of so many without Christ

May my heart continue to break for Iquique, for it is a broken place. My prayer to God is that this year would be a year of reaping, of seeing years'-long relationships finally bear eternal fruit for His Kingdom. He is the God of these people and this place, and I sing along with those words of hope that "greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city!"

Monday, February 02, 2015

Precious Heart, Tender Prayer

I called my nine-year old son back to me as I often do with the reminder, “You didn’t give me my hug!” Feigning reluctance but hiding a grin, he shuffled back to the couch and reached out his long arms. As he we held each other he hesitantly asked, “Mom, can you pray with me?” Of course!

He folded his lanky frame into my lap as I asked, “What do you want me to pray for?” To which he replied, “No, I am going to pray! But I want you to pray with me.”

It was the end of a sensitive evening. He and I with his two older sisters had watched a movie depicting the tragedy and triumph of a group of Sudanese “Lost Boys.” Afterwards we discussed the reality of those experiences and reflected once again on the mystery of God’s allowing our son, born to a Sudanese refugee in the United States, to be adopted into our family.

On the 10th birthday of each of our children, I have sought to fill in additional blanks of their adoption stories as best as I can. The time seemed right to share some of what I have learned with him. He listened carefully and asked questions seriously, with occasional nervous giggles. Eventually we finished and he headed to bed. As he started up the steps, I called him back to me.

Snuggling his face close to mine, he prayed. He thanked God for a good day at church today, and for his sister’s upcoming birthday on Saturday. Then he made a sincere plea. “Please help my birth brothers and sisters know Jesus.” 

Precious heart! What a moment to treasure with my cherished child. I trust we will one day see the answer to his tender prayer.

After the movie, he wanted to see the South Sudan flag. He promptly sketched it in his notebook so that he would remember. A short while later he commented, "If I ever get to Sudan, I am going to take lots of cream!" He was sincerely concerned in one part of the movie where after walking hundreds of miles with little to no water, the little boys' faces understandably looked as though they could use some moisturizer. My sweet, funny O.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

God is So Good, He's So Good to Me

The familiar refrain repeats, "God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He's so good to me."  

That is the fulness of my heart as I reflect on the past month which He so graciously gave our family as a time away from the pace of ministry in Iquique. Many factors came together in such a way that we were able to do something we've not done before and may not ever do again, which was taking this block of time to travel and be refreshed and blessed as a family, with our family. We delighted in meeting baby Kai, my sister Jennifer's fifth child born on December 12. And we soaked in the sweet moments with my parents who traveled to Santiago to meet Kai and spend several weeks with our two families.

As time allows, I hope to share some of the memories on our blog as a place to record them for the future. Our return to Iquique, however, places us in the final weeks of summer and the pressure of purchasing school uniforms, books, and utilities; as well as completing some necessary house maintenance and catching up with church responsibilities while also investing time and preparation into the coming months of ministry. However, it warmed our hearts to hear our children rejoicing to return "home!" Despite having greatly enjoyed their time away, they were cheering as we rounded the corner and they saw Iquique drawing closer. Just for fun we snapped a video of the celebration:

I did want to share the link to a blog post (2015 Team Chile Retreat) by missionary colleagues in Santiago. Brian and Phyllis are ministering alongside the field team there and are an encouragement to many with their gentle hearts of service. She wrote about the Chile field team retreat in which our family also participated during our final week in Santiago. It was truly a time of spiritual renewal and rest for our souls. We are so grateful for those who invested in our children's lives during their separate times of learning from God's Word as well.

Through it all, God is good. We hold the beautiful moments in our hearts and we thank Him, for "every good and perfect gift comes from above." (James 1:17)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

God's Heart towards Those Who Receive

Recently, I was asked to become a writing contributor to Breathe Ministry, an online ministry seeking to encourage the hearts of missionary and pastor's wives. My first post can be found on their website today: God's Heart towards Those Who Receive.