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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Celebrating Ian's 7th

Dear Ian, 

Yours is the lone birthday in our immediate family at the tail end of the calendar year, and sometimes the wait is so painful for you.When your big day finally arrived on December 9, we wanted to be sure you felt special and celebrated! We started out by calling off school and heading out to a birthday breakfast with Mommy and Daddy at the Cioccolata restaurant overlooking the Playa Brava beach.

You are growing so fast and your appetite is growing along with you, so we treated you to the house special with its big piece of lemon pie, cup of fresh fruit juice, hot tea, two fried eggs with fried ham, and four slices of buttered toast. You made most of it disappear! (Little did we know this would come back to haunt us later, ha!) It was fun seeing you and Daddy in your matching dress shirts and listening to him tease you about the "Barbie tricycle" he insisted you would be receiving on your birthday. You weren't quite sure what to believe!

Ever since Aunt Terri's visit last year when Alec was able to accompany our visitors on a boat ride, you have been reminding us that you wanted a turn. So we surprised you by picking up two of your friends, Kylie and Kristi, to take the hour-long loop around the Iquique harbor. Unfortunately, the wait was long and once the ride was finally in motion we discovered that you suffer from seasickness! To relieve your symptoms, the captain invited you to help him turn the wheel and guide the boat into calmer waters. It didn't help much and we were all relieved when the long-awaited outing was over. I am sorry that aspect of your birthday did not turn out as you had hoped, but it certainly was memorable!

We enjoyed one of your favorite foods for your birthday lunch - empanadas made by Sra. Leticia in various flavors (chaparritas with hotdogs and cheese for you and Alec; espaƱolas with sausage for Sissy; mexicanas with spicy meat for Daddy; fried cheese and chicken for Owen; steak, cheese and tomatoes for Eva; and chicken, chard and cheese for Mommy.) Then came birthday gifts! And finally, your very own bike! - after weeks and months of pleadings and reminders. You impressed us all by teaching yourself to ride a bike without training wheels at school this year. Mommy and Daddy were happy to surprise you in this way.

Your sisters kindly took you to the cancha to practice riding your bike, and later in the evening we enjoyed having your teacher and her son over for supper and cake. Your third meal of the day was another favorite - taco salad - and though we couldn't find strawberry cake, you seemed pleased enough by one with cherries! Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop called to wish you Happy Birthday, and Grandmom and Grandpop even sang along with us via Skype on the computer. They said it felt just like being there. :)

Ian, we hope you know that you are loved! This year has held many challenges for you. Sometimes they made you sad or frustrated, although one of the qualities we most love about you is your overall joyfulness. Next year will be a new experience for all of us as you begin to home school and discover new things God has in store to teach you. We know He has a very special plan for your future and look forward to seeing it unfold in your life. Happy 7th Birthday, Ian David!

All my love,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

It Starts with Each One of Us

"Stop right away. Put your hands in the air, like this. Don't move. Don't argue, even if you know you haven't done anything wrong." I read the tragedies in the news that lead me to these conversations with my children.

We talk about gun safety, even though we don't own one. What do you do if you find a gun? Never. Touch. It. Call an adult, immediately. We talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This week in our town, two young men were gunned down on the soccer field where my son has often played. There was no reason. It was 4:30 AM. If only they had been home, in their beds, safe. We talk about making eye contact, looking honest. We talk about being suspected, misunderstood. How sensitive these conversations are! To talk things through without creating fear or frustration, or forming unfounded biases in our kids. We remember positive examples, godly friends who are trustworthy men in uniform.

Yesterday evening my husband was listening to Albert Mohler's daily news briefing. He on one side of the room, me on the other and our son in the middle with a bedtime snack. Our son glanced up and caught me looking at him with teary eyes. Without a word, he stood and came to sit beside me and hold my hand. He had heard and was weighing the words of the broadcast. I told him that people respond in different ways to these stark realities, but we have to seek the way of God. Does He want us to walk around scared? No. Angry? Bitter? No. Wise, careful and forgiving? Yes. But it's not easy.

His response brought emotion into my throat. Head down and tracing crossword puzzles, without looking directly at me which is his modus operandi for sharing the deeper things of his heart. "I'm scared every day at school." It's tricky to pull out details without pushing too hard and closing him off. Turns out the big kids (high schoolers) make him nervous. He recounted two instances in particular. One of these involved a red-headed girl calling him a Chilean expletive. I kept my calm for him but later told my husband how I would love to grab her red curls in both of my hands and give her a lesson for messing with my son! Only we both knew I wouldn't because just as I teach him to forgive, I must also.

I told him, honestly, that sometimes I feel bad for him and sometimes I am in awe of him. I feel much has been expected of him as only a 9-year old boy. To go alone into his new school, the only one who is "different." No, he told me, there was a boy in a wheelchair. He was different, too. He graduated this year. And he was voted "best classmate!" We talked about what it might have been like for that boy when he first came. The stares, the questions, maybe even the taunting. Yet he opened everyone's hearts - and that is exactly what my son is doing as well. For every one person (and thankfully there have been very few) who is unfriendly, I encouraged him to think of all the friends he has made. I tried to explain that because of his friendship, they will now look kindly instead of warily at the next boy or girl they meet with his skin color. He is making a difference.

As his mom, there are times I want to protect him in a bubble. Homeschool him and keep him at arm's reach every day. He wishes it, too. But we would be doing him a disservice by not preparing him to courageously live in the real world which for him, may be much harder than for some others. Even so, I encouraged him to remember that he does not go out there alone. Every day my prayer for him is to remember that Jesus is right by his side, to feel His presence with him in every situation.

Often I reflect on my own childhood. I grew up in the same country, but in a different world. I cannot remember a single conversation where my parents spelled out how I should act in the presence of a police officer. But it was not for the reason some might assume. Certainly we were taught unconditional respect for any adult and especially those in authority. Additional conversations were irrelevant for one specific reason: we were raised in a dictatorship. The police were a branch of the military who carried machine guns and stood on street corners. For better or worse, we minded our p's and q's and dotted our i's. We didn't live in fear, but we functioned with careful respect. 

Perhaps that is the crux of the matter. Respect - for position, for authority, but most importantly for the simple fact that we are all human beings created equally in the image of God. Romans 12 has been on my heart this week, particularly these verses: "Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other." (Romans 12:9,10 NOG) Indeed, what a wonderful world that would be. It starts with each one of us.

Friday, November 07, 2014

November Is National Adoption Month

In the United States and a few other countries, November is National Adoption Month. While Chile is not yet one of those countries, it is our deep desire that believers here would also count the cost of committing their lives and opening their homes to children in need of forever families. It is not much, but I am doing a personal adoption "campaign" on F*cebook by creating cover photos that highlight adoption throughout this month. I have also been collecting short videos and creating a P*werPoint presentation on adoption to share with our local church. We have done similar things in the past and we have also personally accompanied two families from our church to informational meetings on adoption, but we have yet to see anyone here personally take that step. (Someday!)

We recently had the opportunity to speak to the social worker in charge of our city's local adoption branch.  She shared with us the great need for families open to children with special needs. Her definition of special needs was anything "organic" that cannot be fixed - it could be as mild as limb differentiation or something much greater. It might also include Down syndrome. She stated that just last year they were searching for parents for an 18-month old with DS who had been in care since birth. They also had a little girl who - after exhausting all national and international possibilities - had to be placed in a special-needs group home when no parents were found for her. She will not have the opportunity to be adopted again. Heartbreaking.

This social worker said it is very hard for Chileans to consider special needs adoption. Since we have found that many misunderstandings about traditional adoption still abound here – though thankfully that is gradually changing – it is easy to believe she is right. Encountering a family that is willing to consider a special needs adoption, she described as “magical” for social workers in Chile’s adoption system. The adoption process for special-needs is the same but streamlined and prioritized, and the pool of children is nationwide. In each case, adoptive parents set their parameters according to what types of special needs they feel capable to handle.

The video above is beautiful, isn't it? Can you imagine if a family like this sat down with the social worker from SENAME? It would be absolutely unbelievable! But such is the power of God which enables average people to do uncommon things for His glory and the good of His children. 

I loved what my husband had to say after our meeting with the social worker. Many times people relate the adoption of children to our adoption by God. Yet Pedro reflected that really, it is special-needs adoption that most closely illustrates God's love for us. "For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8) - not once were perfect and whole, but while we were broken and defeated God extended His love and mercy to us. Through Jesus Christ, He offered not only the salvation of our souls but also our adoption into His family as "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17.)

Not everyone is called to adopt, but we can all minister to the orphans in our world. With our prayers; our financial support of orphan ministries and/or families in process of adoption; our presence and friendship in the lives of adoptive families who may struggle through the process of restoration with children whose early history was so very hard. While adoption may still be a new concept in our church, I am thrilled that just last month we began what hopefully will become a monthly ministry to a local children's home. Puppets and playtime and snuggles and snacks with twenty-four beautiful kids ages 2-7 blessed us even more than them.

November is National Adoption Month. How will you play a part?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Uncovering Memories (A Post for My Parents)

"Then I saw your dad, and I knew it was going to be okay." 

I was listening to my friend share her story of unexpectedly encountering my parents on a very difficult day, as she and her husband prepared to board a flight back to the States for the funeral of her father-in-law. She told me that just seeing my dad gave her a sense of peace. "He's such a big guy, you know, and then he wraps you in a hug and everything is better. And his puppy dog eyes! They just make me melt." 

I smiled as I listened and reflected on how much I love hearing these memories about my dad. Later when I was alone, I cried happy-sad tears because I love and miss him so much and am so thankful for the gift God gave me in both of my parents.

My friend's story isn't the first I have heard along a similar vein. While on furlough, a woman in my mom's Bible study shared about attending the funeral of an unsaved family member. She and her husband, being the only Christians, felt very much alone. "Your dad was having back troubles and couldn't drive. But he still came! He laid down as best he could in the back seat, and your mom drove all the way. As soon as they arrived at the funeral, we felt like we could finally breathe. Your parents are so special!"

I have a lifelong friend whose own father died when she was young. One day foolish boys at our school played a prank that turned painful when it involved pictures of her father. My dad was then the school administrator and rose up in righteous anger in her defense, enacting stern and appropriate consequences for the perpetrators. "Your dad will ALWAYS be my hero!" she tells me to this day.

One of my former teachers, now also a lifelong friend, echoes those words. She came to our school fresh out of college and my dad gave her not only a chance, but encouragement and wise advice on teaching and life. After her own dad died, she leaned on mine for comfort and counsel. She also loved and looked up to my mom. I love hearing her memories of them.

The song "Find Us Faithful" speaks of uncovering the memories of our parents' lives. How thankful I am to uncover these when I least expect it, such as yesterday's conversation with my friend. And sometimes those memories are too good not to be shared. Love you, Mom and Dad!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Processing Life

(Note: This little post is just an effort to process life through writing. Sometimes taking a step back and seeing things in black and white helps to frame the good, bad and the ugly!)

I stare blankly, my mind whirring on empty. Unsuccessfully I try to conjure images of who/what/when/where relates to the question I've just been asked. All too often this is my response when trying to remember what happened only one, two, or three days ago! Life of late feels just a little too crazy.

Every weekday morning starts similarly. 6:00 AM, Pedro rises and starts moving the rest of us. 6:30, boys roll out of bed and start getting breakfast, uniforms, school bags. Our morning girl Eva may or may not decide to go ahead and start her online school around this time. Her sister Isabel will certainly cover her head with pillows and try to cling to dreamland. By 7:20, Pedro departs with Owen and Ian which leaves Alec to finish any lingering homework and play Legos or watch Clifford (in Spanish, to "practice" for school.) Around 8:00, Pedro returns to make coffee before heading to church while I leave with Isabel to exercise at the stadium. Either Pedro or one of Alec's big sisters walks him the few blocks to Kindergarten at 8:30. The girls and I eventually reconvene at home where we all do our respective schoolwork (Eva - 7th; Isabel - 6th; Stephanie - counseling coursework.) Except for Tuesdays, when I have ladies' prayer time at 8:30 AM at church. At 12:30, 12:45 and 1:00 schools end for Alec, Owen and Ian. 

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Pedro picks up our girls and Alec first at home, collects Owen at his school; then gathers five or six other children at three separate locations. He accompanies this group of kids to the stadium for track & field training with Coach Anibal. Meanwhile, I drop Ian at the Spink house to do homeschool with Aunt Kim for an hour, then head back home to cook lunch and await my hungry crew's arrival around 2:30.

Our evening schedule is also a bit bonkers. On Monday nights at 7:00, the boys have soccer class. On Wednesday and Friday evenings at 5:30 PM, Eva has equestrian class. (Whenever possible, I try to squeeze in reading for my classes during these sports events.) On Tuesdays at 4:30, the boys and Isabel go to Kids' Club at Spinks' house. On Wednesdays at 4:00, Owen has handball class. (Pedro drops him off, then often uses these two hours for visitation.) On Fridays at 4:30, the boys and Isabel have basketball class. For the adult schedule, on Tuesday nights at 8:00 Pedro has discipleship. On Wednesdays at 8:00, Stephanie has class with the church ladies. On Thursdays at 7:00 Pedro has Bible study; at 8:00 he and the girls go to prayer meeting. On Fridays at 8:00 is youth group. 

And that's just Monday through Friday! It doesn't even include weekends with their many church commitments or other "miscellaneous" stuff - or many of Pedro's commitments, which I can't always keep track of. Some days are unpredictable. One recent Tuesday I had ladies' prayer time at 8:30 AM; picked up one of our college girls for breakfast and accountability at 10:00 AM; got Ian from school at 1:00 PM and bought empanadas for the crew at home; took three of our kids to Kids' Club at 4:30 PM; used that time to take to lunch one of our teen girls who has been somewhat adrift of late; picked up the kids at 6:30 and then headed to soccer (an event which has since been eliminated because - well, crazy is just crazy!)

I write endless lists on notebook pages, church bulletins, and slips of paper to try and organize this crazy life of ours. Upcoming events include today's visit to a local orphanage; next week's track meet; the following weekend's ladies' annual ladies' retreat. Next month I travel to the Santiago for a medical visit. Kindergarten graduation for both of our little boys, and a birthday for Ian are just around the corner. A third trimester test schedule is the bane of Owen's existence at the moment. Twice this week we have had late (10- or 11-o'clock p.m.) deliveries of items we agreed to store for a family displaced in April's earthquake. In the midst of it all I feel so much pressure to complete my studies but guilt when I hole away from the kids to do so. How to find a balance between it all?

Lord, help me to center on You in the midst of the craziness of life. Help me to seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness. Keep me focused on Your purposes and Your Person. And when too much becomes too much, let me let go of anything less and simply hold fast to You!

"But I trust in you, Lord; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hands ..." 
(Psalm 31:14-15a)

Friday, October 17, 2014

It’s a {Colorful} World

Oddly enough, my son’s school celebrates Mother’s Day in October. No problem, I am more than happy to receive a handwritten card and some special loving no matter what time of year! Thus yesterday evening I pulled my high-heeled boots out of hiding and proudly escorted my handsome boy back to his big, city-block-wide school building.

The size of the school is worth mentioning because parents were told to enter on one block, and students on the other. Unfortunately, we parked on the parent side and walked around to the student side only to be sent back to the parent side together again! And while the school itself is a good school, the neighborhood is not the greatest. On our return trek Owen was nervous, because each way we had to pass a very angry, drunken man screaming on the street corner. He was a crash course in Chilean swear words and happened to be positioned just a few feet from the gathering crowd of parents.

While his wails came at us from one direction, we soon got an earful from the other. Owen and I were standing next to a father with a young son. The son stared at Owen and began talking to his dad in a very loud voice. “DADDY! LOOK AT HIS SKIN! THAT BOY HAS DIFFERENT SKIN! HIS SKIN IS DIFFERENT THAN US, DADDY! WHY IS HIS SKIN LIKE THAT? IT IS BLACK, DADDY! IS HE DIRTY? DADDY, HIS SKIN! HIS SKIN!”

Ugh. I often wonder how many times my son has bravely stood silent in the face of such commentary when I am not around. We both knew the boy was immature and not purposely being unkind. I put my arms around my son and kissed his beautiful face, looking at the other boy and trying to smile. The boy’s dad encouraged him to talk to Owen but the little boy refused. I asked Owen if he knew what an ambassador was, then explained that he was an ambassador to so many boys like this one who didn’t realize God made people in many more colors and varieties than they had ever seen.

Finally we were allowed inside and immediately Owen was whisked away back to the student side. After a program of live entertainment by students and (very! very! very!) loud invited singers, we moms were reunited with our children who proudly treated us to a beautiful tableful of yummy goodies. When everything was nearly over, Owen and I walked back to our car with a classmate and his grandma. As we climbed aboard and pulled into the street, another interesting sight appeared before us. Out of the gloom a man materialized on the corner, gesturing wildly and shrieking. He too was apparently drunk, with an unkempt gray beard and pale bare chest. But his most striking feature was a black eye patch which gave him the impression of a misplaced sailor roaming the big city.

It’s a colorful world we live in. Some colors are beautiful, like my son’s glistening skin or the purple hues of an ocean sunset. These I love to gaze upon or spend an evening enjoying their company. But other circumstances color our world dark and gray, such as poverty and drunkenness and homelessness. We see these so often in our city that they sometimes draw only a glance as we become desensitized to human tragedy. 

Our challenge is to remain engaged and caring in a culture gone awry. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Matthew 9:12) May we see this colorful world through the eyes of the One whose palette first brushed it into pure life, and Who will one day renew its pristine beauty.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cherishing Faithfulness

One morning last week, my mom and I talked life and ministry over the phone - she at her home in Delaware, me on my couch in Chile. I listened as she shared recent challenges and encouragement God had placed in her path. I could picture her with her groups of ladies on Tuesday mornings and Tuesdays evenings and in her Sunday morning ladies' class. All my life I have witnessed my mom's faithfulness as a teacher. To children as an MK school teacher and Sunday School teacher; to young adults in teacher training; to adult women in ladies' groups at church and conference settings.

I sat under my mom's teaching as an elementary school student; as a young teen training for summer ministry via five-day clubs; and as an older teen taking night classes for teacher training at our mission seminary once upon a time. Then came college and marriage and years of long distance. On occasion, Mom came to Chile and spoke to our ladies here. And this past furlough was especially sweet as it allowed me the opportunity to participate in one of my mom's weekly ladies' Bible studies at her own church in the States.

One thing I appreciate about my mom's teaching is her sincerity. She would be the first to claim she is not polished but those who hear her, hear her heart. She carefully prepares and she is creative, often using visual aids and object lessons. I know there are times she feels inadequate, yet she rests in the promise that "His strength is made perfect in our weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9.) I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that dozens, if not hundreds of women have been blessed by her ministry over the years. 

As I listened to her share with humility and enthusiasm about a recent experience in one of her Bible studies, I had tears in my eyes. She spoke of what could have been an awkward moment with a visitor, which God instead turned into the perfect avenue to share the gospel. It was not about her; it was all about God. And I was struck by how much I cherish my mom's faithfulness. She has done ministry for decades, but God's working never grows old for her. She is still in awe of those moments when she can sense His Spirit moving a way she never anticipated.

How thankful I am for the example I was given in my mom! She is not perfect but she is tenderhearted, forbearing, generous and kind.  Most of all, she is faithful. There are so many areas I wish I better reflected her. But I know that what I am truly admiring in her is her reflection of Christ.

 Thank you, Mom, for being faithful. I love you!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Crazy Life with Boys

Life with boys is never dull. And having three boys (with two older sisters) certainly makes life an adventure! Of course, some adventures are more romantic than others. Who doesn't swoon over handsome little men with homemade swords and shields? I love to see our swashbuckling trio of musketeers exercising their imaginations to create fun moments of play together. It is cute to watch the younger brothers' wide-eyed fascination and respect for their older brother's abilities. And it is heartwarming on those occasions when Owen's benevolence extends to both Ian and Alec (although more often than not "three's a crowd" and one little brother ends up on the outs.)

Fortunately there is some rotation of favorites and eventually all three brothers play together once again. When it is just the two of them, Ian and Alec continue to have the rambunctious (I personally refer to it as "tiger cub") relationship they've always enjoyed. Last Sunday I subbed for their class at church and after the lessons, craft and songs we somehow ended up with a line of little boys - with mine leading the way! - doing tumbling feats on the foam puzzle floor. For better or for worse my experience with little boys has led me to decide that as long as no one is getting hurt, why fight the inevitable? I'm sure you can tell by their smiles below that Ian and Alec felt the same way.

And then there are moments when boy antics test even the patience of a saint. Which, for the record I am not. There are those times when a mother pulls her hair and screams - inside her head, of course - "Why now?! Why here?!" Such was my experience this week outside the grocery store, after my youngest two and I had enjoyed an unusually peaceful and cooperative stroll through the aisles and had contentedly returned to our van. (This good spirit is important to note because without it, I am quite sure my reaction would have been less than stellar.)

I unlocked the car and had Ian and Alec climb in while I unloaded groceries into the trunk, where I was met by the friendly cart lady who seems to enjoy conversing with me in the parking lot. No sooner had she begun asking me her latest question on U.S. current events, however, than Ian stuck his head out the door and said Alec needed me right away. It so happened that having my back turned for two minutes resulted in a bleeding nose in the back seat. Since I had just witnessed the camaraderie between the two of them in the grocery store, I was sure it was just an accident. Unfortunately my acquaintance deemed it her duty to berate Ian. 

"You shouldn't do bad things! Don't you know God will abandon you?!" she scolded him. I grimaced as I dug for Kleenex, tried to wipe Alec's blood, and wedged myself between the woman and Ian, who by now was bent over crying from the reprimand and awful thoughts of God's abandonment. Trying not to be rude, I managed to edge her out of the way while gently pushing his clutching hands off me and sliding the door shut. Meanwhile I thought of all the theological untangling I needed to quickly do before my poor son was traumatized. 

Frankly, I was annoyed and already had the car running and ready to pull out before the Holy Spirit pricked my conscience and I found myself tugging out a tract for our now-departing friend. My son has me to explain God's truth to Him, but what about her? She had tears in her eyes when I reached her. "You don't know the problems I have," she tearfully stated, going on to share some personal details of her family's current struggle. Acknowledging that truth, showing compassion, handing her a tract while cars pulled in and out around us and my son bled in the car, was all too surreal. God only knows the why and if any good will come from such an uncomfortable and unexpected moment. Thankfully He is the One in control!

All I could think of later was, this is my crazy life. My crazy life with boys!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lovin' Life at Los Lobitos

Pictures from a beautiful day spent with our children. What a joy to breathe in the ocean breezes; traipse up sand dunes; and howl at sea lions! After an extremely hectic time, this day off from school and life was so needed. I hope our kids remember these moments together. What a blessing we have been given. So thankful for our little family!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Purpose, a Place, and a Person

(Note: We are in the beginning stages of earnestly seeking a location for a proposed crisis pregnancy center and family counseling ministry in Iquique. Recently we visited the "perfect" location, only to find a story waiting to be told.)

Whatever I had expected, it certainly wasn't her.

A slender, pale woman with hair dyed but fading, she was coiffed and elegantly dressed in a demure dark suit and polished heels. She was somewhat soft-spoken and nervous; almost awkward, yet conversely knowledgeable and firm. She wasted no time on pleasantries but swept us immediately into and through the property we had come to inspect. Every detail of its history was personal to her: it was her family home, built by concrete blocks she, her brother and parents had themselves fabricated by hand. The house was inaugurated on Chile's fateful 11th of September 1973, she told us and along the way she added that it was but one of many properties their family had owned throughout the city of Iquique. None were purchased from banks and never did they miss a payment so as to jeopardize their ownership; it was not in their nature as Croatians, she said. 

She was obviously proud of her heritage, mentioning several times that they were original immigrants, descendants of Croations, and very religious as their heritage dictated. No one had died in this house, she informed us, and after every new tenant the priest had been called to purify it from any lingering uncleanness. Christ on the cross hung in every room, and it was a house of prosperity. It we were to buy it, we would certainly prosper as her family had done. Not one word was coated with sugar or salesmanship; it was simply her sincere understanding of the world in which she lived.

Unfortunately, her world has no room for recent immigrants and she regretfully shared her views on a past president's opening the borders and allowing the newest wave of "delinquents" to enter the city of Iquique. "It's best to pretend they don't exist," she said earnestly, "and to simply pray, all the time." Little did she know that those very people are ones for whom Christ died to save and we seek to reach through this ministry!

We departed with mixed emotions. The property in almost every way was "perfect" for the future crisis pregnancy/family counseling ministry we envision. The cost was fair by Iquique standards. The owner created in us compassion and concern. So very different from many of the future clients we might entertain there, yet equally lost and alone. There is a tremendous work to be done. Only GOD knows how and when and where He will allow it to take place. Please pray for us!

the location we are dreaming of for the center (priced at 140 million CLP or $238,000 USD)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Where Do We Start to Meet the Need?

It was a very last-minute call, from one busy mom to another. Our friend's daughter had the opportunity to join classmates at a nursing home downtown, but she had only just been informed that day and she was already committed to a prior activity with her son at the same time. Would we be willing to go? 

It has been missions month at our church. We've focused this year on our "Jerusalem," this city of Iquique. Throughout the month, God has placed new information and potential opportunities in our path. This seemed like one of them. We had heard of the "grandparents' home" (as it is called here) especially in the wake of the earthquake. Sadly, many of the abuelitos spent weeks in a makeshift shelter at the local stadium since their home was damaged and in the tsunami danger zone. Youth organizations took turns spending time interacting with them, according to our local newspaper.

Our children learn so much from new and sometimes stretching situations. Our little boys were wide-eyed and timid as they looked around at abuelitos with distant eyes, wrinkled hands and in one case, missing limbs. Alec was full of questions. "Will I get old like that someday? Why are their hands like that? Why does she talk that way?" Both he and Ian were shy about responding to invitations for kisses from the grandmas, but eventually they worked their way around the circle and brought great joy to several of these lonely ladies. 

Owen didn't approach much, but when he did I was grateful for his serious and respectful responses to the questions he was asked. He, too, politely kissed the grandmas goodbye when the time came. Later in the car he said, "That one grandma told me her dad was black with blue eyes, and then he had surgery to become white." We assured him that she was just very confused. She had also claimed Pedro as her son and as we were leaving said to me, "Mommy, take me to eat!" The kids had followed me curiously as I walked her to the cafeteria and found her a seat.

One woman seemed younger and more alert than many others, and she had Pedro's ear for most of the time we were there. Eva stayed close beside her daddy. Their new acquaintance was full of commentary and seemed genuinely delighted at our visit. Our friend's daughter had brought colorful Christian booklets from church and she and Isabel shared them with this lady and other residents. Pedro also provided a tract with the address of our church. It seems that anyone is welcome to come during visiting hours in the morning or afternoon by prior arrangement, so we hope to return with our young people and perhaps some special music to share.

There are so many needs around us. Where do we start to meet them? Perhaps by simply being available when the next call comes. In my flesh I resisted rushing to get five kids ready and out the door to pick up our friend's daughter and get to the nursing home that afternoon. But as is always the case, we were blessed to be a blessing. We received more than we gave, being convicted toward greater compassion and ministry wherever the needs are found.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Love You Enough to Risk Breaking Your Heart

I love this picture. It was taken after an exhausting and emotional weekend in which we expected too much of you and could give you too little of us - and yet for the most part, the five of you handled it all with patience and grace. On this particular Monday we took a day off school and life to head to the beach with its rocks and waves and wind and wide open spaces. Afterwards we enjoyed a yummy lunch of steak sandwiches and burgers and delectable Ecuadorian fresh fruit juices. You humored me and posed for this picture. 

I love this picture so much because I love you. And it is because I love you that I have shed so many tears this week behind closed doors, in the silence of the car when I'm driving alone, out loud when sharing my requests at our weekly ladies' prayer time. As far removed as we are from the United States while living in Chile, even so this week the burden of current events landed fair and square in our living room where we sat eye to eye with you and tried to share the facts framed in something other than fear.

But I love you, and sometimes I am afraid. I am afraid of shattering the beauty I see when I look at you - all radiant energy and spontaneous laughter and carefree joy. I am afraid of breaking your heart, of robbing your innocence, of stealing your self-worth with my words. Do you understand what we are saying when we tell you that immediate obedience can be more than just doing what is right, what the Bible teaches, what God asks? When our voices quiver and we say, "For you, obedience can mean the difference between life ... and death." When we try to explain that simply because of the color of your skin, you may not be afforded a second chance?

I love you, and I love our family. I hope you hear me and believe as I do, that our family is a glimpse of Heaven. Not because of our behavior (or lack thereof!) But because one day "every tribe and tongue and nation" will worship in perfect unity around the throne of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are so blessed, we don't have to wait. As a family we get to experience that unity here on earth, but along with it we may have to experience pain. Like any parent, we want to protect you from all pain though we are learning that we cannot. We can only walk beside you. Even that feels insufficient when I know I can never walk inside your skin.

I love that our Savior did what I can never do. No, He did not come in your skin but He came as a man "despised and rejected, acquainted with grief." He came as a member of the race that throughout all of history has been targeted for bigotry, oppression and destruction. My greatest prayer is that you would know and cling to Him, wherever life takes you and whatever comes your way. I will fail you, but He never will. I will be incapable of understanding, but He will understand you completely. I will feel hopeless as I have this week, yet He will always offer endless and eternal hope. Indeed, He is our Hope!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Surgery for Alec

Same place, different patient. It is strange considering how far and wide life has taken us, yet somehow this hospital in the capital city of Chile has now cared for three generations of our family. My dad, sister, nieces and son have all had surgery in one its pristine pabellones. Three of my sister's children - and another on the way - have been born under the reassuring care of a well-trained team of its pleasant professionals. Being a patient here is a privilege granted by virtue of international health insurance, and one deeply appreciated with a side helping of guilt (having walked beside so many others who depend on the flawed government system alone.)

This time around, it was Alec's turn.

Alec beaming with anticipation

Our heels clicked on gleaming tiles as we entered the brand-new admissions room with spacious swivel chairs, soft mood lighting and copies of the clinica's own monthly publication encouraging a healthier lifestyle. Alec was all smiles as he anticipated the next day's events while I processed his pre-admission paperwork. Having Mommy all to himself and experiencing the solo limelight for the first time was exhilarating for our child #5! :)

all set for surgery

Despite being awoken at the crack of dawn the next morning and riding sleepily through darkened streets for his 7 AM hospitalization, Alec's grin continued to glimmer as he donned his ocean-themed hospital gown and admired his very own I.D. bracelet. Since there were no beds available in the pediatric unit, we were tucked away in a corner of the adult floor where the nurses on duty were thrilled to see a child for a change! Alec's first nurse turned out to be a Christian woman who attends a church where my childhood friend Anita is the pastor's wife. She was eager to take a picture with the little patient to show everyone the following Sunday, and Alec cheerfully agreed.

love this precious smile

For this particular child of ours, nothing could spell delight more than a television screen all his own (presumably since as the youngest, he rarely gets to call the shots!) He happily watched a children's channel after we had spent some time praying and talking together about his faith in Jesus. Soon we were wheeled away to surgery prep, where a nurse and anesthesiologist explained the upcoming procedure. Thankfully, Alec remained calm and interested. (He also tried to broker a deal for a candy if he didn't cry!)

tired but entranced by his "own" t.v.

Alec was tickled to receive a warm and fuzzy pair of knee-high, dolphin-decorated white socks to keep his legs warm in surgery. I instead received an unflattering sterile cap and gown which allowed me to accompany him into the O.R. and hold his hand during the minutes it took for him to fall under the spell of the bubble-gum scented gas mask. I prayed as the doctor saw me out the door and as I headed back to our room to wait with stiff cup of Starbucks coffee for my phone to ring with news of the surgery.

oh-so-hungry after surgery!

Just as promised, the surgery only took around an hour and it was a sweet relief to find a very sleepy but otherwise comfortable little boy. Alec only woke long enough to whisper, "Mommy, is it okay if I sleep a little?" (an unheard-of request at normal times!) Eventually, though, we were wheeled back to the room and when he finally regained some energy it seemed to be all directed at FOOD! The hospital nutritionist visited our room with menu choices for lunch, dinner and the following day should we remain. In advance of lunch, she ordered jello and yogurt which Alec hungrily gulped down with his eyes glued again to the television. I hadn't realized that he and his cousin Juliana had exchanged conversation about the food in the hospital, but apparently he was really looking forward to it after their talk!

His expression doesn't show it, but Alec enjoyed this wheelchair option at a mall two days after surgery :)

In the early evening, Alec's surgeon visited and gave us the all-clear to head home. Our nurses tried to convince us to spend the night instead, as they hated to see their handsome patient go! One of them had just recently started working again after time off for the birth of her own son, and seemed to want to spend time with us. Inevitably, however, a wheelchair arrived for dismissal and once again camera phones documented Alec's brief but welcome presence on their floor.

celebrating a successful post-operative check up

Five days after surgery, Alec was checked out by the surgeon for post-op visit and declared in top shape. In fact, the surgeon's actual words were, "This is a beautiful belly button! I did a great job." :) 

Big sister Isabel accompanied us to the hospital on that rainy night and we celebrated the good news with strawberry smoothies and grateful hearts. To God be all the glory, because while we praise Him for a talented doctor and excellent care, we know it was the Great Physician who truly held Alec in his hands!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

In the Not Knowing

The large auditorium was packed with people. Voices were hushed and tears were shed. As a newlywed wife and unfamiliar with the ones we had come to see, I stayed close beside my husband as we approached the front of the church where each visitor paused and then solemnly proceeded.

I have never forgotten the mother and child I saw so still and pale in that casket. Such a perfectly formed infant, seemingly safe in the arms of the woman who had so anticipated his arrival. I myself knew that anticipation and the crushing disappointment of infertility that had preceded it. I could not wrap my mind around the loss this picture represented, yet I knew - I knew - that indeed that infant and his mother were safe, both in the arms of Jesus.

What I didn't know was how this could be part of His plan.

That morning, a choir of young people sang. Students from the Christian school where both the widowed husband and wife had taught, this moment would be indelibly impressed on their hearts even more deeply than on mine. They sang songs I knew and believed, yet which never were put to a harder test:
I know God makes no mistakes // He leads in every step I take // Along the way that's leading me to Home // Though at times my heart would break // There's a purpose in every change He makes // That others would see my life and know // That God makes no mistakes
God is too wise to be mistaken // God is too good to be unkind // So when you don't understand // When don't you see His plan // When you can't trace His hand // Trust His heart
This week, I have felt again the not knowing. It isn't doubt that He is good, nor that He will bring good even from tragedy. It is just that - a not knowing - "Why?" Two Jesus-loving, family-loving mothers were taken home suddenly and soon. Both had inspired countless people through their example of joy in the Lord and overcoming challenges. One had not allowed even a degenerative disease to keep her from the mission field. The other had opened her home and heart to children with many medical needs. Each had beautiful families representing Heaven where people of "every tribe, and tongue and nation" will worship together. One left behind a loving husband and four young adult children; the other, a devoted husband and fifteen children under the age of 18.

In a tribute written by a friend to one of these women, I was reminded that "we are all here for only a short time - make your days count!" Though I don't know why some lives seem to be cut short when they have so much yet to offer, I do know that I am to offer what I have while I can. I want to leave a legacy for Christ as they have done. May He help me to greater boldness, faithfulness and love and may my life be a testimony to His grace!

Please continue to pray for the families of Karen Coppola and Jenny Groothuis. They will be greatly missed by so many.