Friday, October 28, 2016

And Then We Met {Happy 1st Birthday, Silas!}

Dear Silas,

One year ago today, we set eyes on each other for the very first time as the doctors lifted you from my womb and the nurses placed us cheek to cheek for one swift moment. It felt surreal. But in that moment, after months of holding our breath and praying for the best, by the grace of God you were here.

It was hours after our quick acquaintance that you came back to us. Those hours you spent resting in an oxygen tent and I spent with your Daddy, waiting and watching the clock and writing to loved ones about your arrival.

It was the greatest relief when finally the nurses brought you to my room and Daddy and I could take turns simply holding you and marveling at your existence. It was a very quiet but sweet time, gently watching as you tightly slept through your early hours of adjustment to the outside world.

The next day, your brothers and sisters and Aunt Jenn and cousins Micah and Kai all came to see you. We arranged for a photographer to take some pictures as you and your siblings met for the very first time. Excitement, nervousness and wonder filled the room as each one took turns holding you. Only big brother Owen held back, choosing to cautiously observe you for several days before carefully extending his arms to such a tiny bundle!

After one more night in the hospital, we were able to take you home. Again, it felt surreal after so many months of waiting and wondering to finally have you with us. As the days went by we all spent a lot of time watching you, holding you and enjoying your sweetness. And for twelve whole months, we haven't stopped. 

Today is your one-year birthday and your entire family celebrates with you. Your surprise arrival has truly been a gift to all of us. Your sisters light up with tenderness when you are around. Your brothers find such delight in making you laugh, in teaching you tricks, in keeping you in a constant state of entertainment as much as they can. Daddy and Mommy have learned all over again about sleepless nights followed by morning snuggles.

We have enjoyed learning your expressions, your quirks, what makes you laugh and (nowadays) what makes you mad! It has been a rich, full, exhausting and thrilling year alongside you. We are so glad God allowed you to travel and meet your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in the United States during this year. And yesterday we celebrated your first birthday a day early with your missionary "aunts," "uncles" and "cousins" in Iquique. You are such a loved little boy.

We thank God for your life and pray that you will come to know the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior at a young age. We trust and believe He has a tremendous future planned for you. We love you SO much! Happy 1st Birthday, Silas Eben Garcia!

All my love, Mommy

(L) October 28, 2015  (R) October 27, 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sweet on Silas

Silas in the arms of each of his siblings

"Look at him! He's so CUTE!" "Mom, did you hear what Silas did today?" "Look at Silas! Look at Silas!" "Check out what Silas is doing!" "Hi, Silas! I love you!" All these and more are precious words exclaimed over and over these past eleven months in our home. Ever so sweet, they are words expressed not only by Mom and Dad but even more frequently by Silas' five older siblings. To say this little baby is adored by his big brothers and sisters would be quite an understatement!

Isabel feeding Silas on a family visit to the beach

On a recent visit to Chile, my sister Terri had the opportunity to observe our kids over a period of time and in several different contexts. Later she remarked, "I think it's neat how much your older kids seem to really enjoy Silas." Thankfully, this is so true and I thought it would be special to write down some of the ways the Fab Five are truly "sweet on Silas!"

Owen on "Silas duty" at the airport last summer

Since Silas came, our new nickname for big sister Eva is "the baby whisperer." On those occasions when he is fussy and squirmy and needing to sleep, we call on her calming talents. Often she will turn Silas to face her, wrap his legs around her waist, and he will just lean forward and fall asleep. He never does that with Mommy and Daddy! Silas undoubtedly feels very comfortable in Eva's arms. Although she has her typical big-sister moments of aggravation when baby brother gets into her things, for the most part Eva delights in Silas' newest achievements. Over the past months she has often urged me, "Mom! Write this down in his baby book! Silas is doing something new!" (Unfortunately, so far there is no baby book ... this is, after all, baby #6!)

Silas resting peacefully on Eva during a brief season of sickness

Isabel is a big sister who likes to play, not only with Silas but with his brothers as well. She can be silly and giddy with them sometimes (which they all love) when she doesn't have her nose stuck in a book - or her Kindle reader, as the case may be! Isabel's nickname is Sissy. Most recently, she has taught Silas to do a high five which is adorable. He lifts his chubby little palm to hers and then claps for himself afterwards with a huge smile on his face! 

Alec and Silas keeping one another company at home

Owen has been in charge of teaching Silas such important things as the football roar and making him believe he has great power over his big brother. Owen will crawl close and tease Silas into "hitting" him, then flip backwards with tremendous showmanship as if baby brother had the power of the Hulk himself. Not surprisingly, this garners great delight from Silas! (And a bit of trepidation from his parents who hope Silas doesn't try his newly discovered "powers" on other unsuspecting small children!)

Alec and Ian enjoying new playground equipment with a very happy Silas

Speaking of delight, Ian can boast of obtaining the best belly laughs from Silas. The child could truly have a future in theater and loves to perform all kind of silliness for the joy of hearing his baby brother giggle. One of their favorite games involves Ian pursuing Silas on all fours and growling with gusto the closer he gets. Silas finds this absolutely thrilling and hilarious!

Ian entertaining Silas (and the photographer!)

Many mornings, Silas is awake before his brothers and sisters and anxiously awaits their arrival downstairs. At times he even stands at the baby gate and bellows up eagerly in hopes of some response from sleeping siblings. To his chagrin, it is mostly ineffective but eventually the first to appear is usually Alec. He goes straight to Silas with arms extended and is a loving protector of his little brother. Alec will often dash to close doors, secure gates and quickly grab Silas when he is headed for danger. He relishes the role of older sibling and is a great helper!

once the Fab Five, now the Sweet Six

As I watch my older children with their baby brother, often the thought comes to mind that every baby should be loved as much as he is. There is something so beautiful and bountiful about the sweetness they pour on Silas. I have learned more about loving by watching my "Fab Five" truly become the "Sweet Six!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

{Busy} Yet Beyond Thankful

FLORECE volunteers and missionary appointee Jenn Taylor

It was a busy, busy, busy (did I say BUSY?!) week. It was the week before officially opening FLORECE, with so many final details to coordinate and complete. On Sunday evening (September 25th) almost our entire volunteer staff was able to be present for the final training session of our current series, this time held in our training room at FLORECE. Our evening included an important time of questions and answers with Luisa, a lawyer friend who had offered her expertise, and a practical time of running through a client's visit so that we could all be on the same page regarding procedural matters.

legal workshop with attorney Luisa

Normally I am not one to be publicly emotional, but found myself close to tears as we prepared to end our time together. I reminded the ladies of how long and far many of them had come in the past three years of learning and growing towards pro-life ministry. We applauded two of our volunteers for their commitment to this most recent recent training series which lasted sixteen weeks. Wilma, one of our quietest and most tenderhearted ladies, did not miss a single class. And Catalina missed only the first one due to being out of town when we began. That is faithfulness!

practical training and observation

It was not the first time we had circled the reception area as a group to pray, but this time the weight of hope and expectation was upon us as we came before the Lord together. What a precious time it was. It is so humbling to be a part of this ministry, particularly to lead this special group of ladies who are stepping out in faith into something completely new and unfamiliar in Chile. To GOD be all the glory! We trust in Him to see us through.

words of challenge and encouragement

As I mentioned, it was a BUSY week! Knowing in advance that one of our teammates would be traveling out of town, with my husband's blessing I set aside Tuesday as a full day for me at FLORECE - covering first my own shift in the morning, and filling in for her afternoon shift. Other volunteers came and went according to schedule, but Catalina remained with me throughout the entire day. By closing time we had a list of things that needed to be purchased before Saturday, so we quickly headed to the Zofri mall before it closed and completed our errands in record time. All told, I left my house around 7:20 in the morning and did not return home until 10:20 that night. I am so very grateful for my family's patience and support through this transition!

counseling room mural in progress

We continued to push through many details as the week progressed and our official opening day on Saturday, October 1 approached. Friday was the final day to tackle what remained but there were no regularly scheduled shifts. Nonetheless a small group of us went to work, and I was blessed by the tireless efforts of my sisters in Christ who poured their dedication into tying up loose ends and making FLORECE look as beautiful as possible for those who might walk through its doors. 

Bebe Boutique in progress

Elisa carefully touched up some painting that needed a little TLC, working from morning to evening to get it completed. Maria patiently painted the door frames to our counseling rooms in the morning and again while corralling her busy four-year old son after she picked him up from school. Catalina spent hours painting beautiful flowers in our client bathroom and later applied her sewing skills to create a decorative yet useful finishing touch for that same room. At the end of such a busy week, I was beyond thankful for our wonderful ladies and their tangible commitment to the FLORECE ministry!

(L-R: Maria, Catalina, Elisa)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Adoption Conversations: Evolving and Revolving

Science is a favorite subject for our two homeschooling sons, both currently in 2nd grade. But recently Ian emerged from the schoolroom after watching the day's lesson and exclaimed in his own unique way, "Don't ask me anything! I don't want to cry again!" (In other words, asking to be asked why he was crying.) Surprised, I followed him back to the video screen and spoke with both boys about what had just happened. 

It turned out that their lesson that day had been on earthquakes, which in and of itself was no novelty due to our living in a very seismic country and experiencing strong movement on a regular basis. However, on this occasion the teacher had specifically shared details and photographs of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Both of our Haitian-born sons - then 25 and 21 months old - were still in their orphanage when the earthquake took place and we have spoken of it numerous times. We've also shown them excerpts from a news report filmed at their orphanage shortly after the earthquake, in which they are both specifically featured. Yet for whatever reason, seeing the images in the context of their school day was startling to them. Nor could either of them recall having seen the news report when I reminded them of it. It was as if they were hearing their story for the first time six years later.

We spent awhile that morning reviewing their lesson, its pictures, and then watching the news report again together. Ian and Alec were both very animated about wanting to return to Haiti to help in some way. It was an unexpected opportunity for what felt like a second-generation adoption conversation. We've had so many talks with the older three kids but it isn't a subject our younger boys raise often. However it reminded me that these conversations will constantly be both evolving and revolving, and it is important to be prepared, available and willing to go over the same information as often as requested according to each child's needs.

Fast forward a couple of months, and this evening the boys were chatting nonchalantly while working at the dining room table. In the midst of a completed unrelated conversation, Alec suddenly brought up the topic of their birth moms. Again it was an unscripted and meaningful opportunity to share a piece of their stories with them. It also turned out to be a reminder that their understanding is limited by their age and worldview awareness at each stage! One of the boys seemed to not understand that a baby could be born to an unmarried man and woman. He said, "So my birth mom is like Mary?" (Cue a theological discussion of conception via the Holy Spirit!)

What a privilege and responsibility it is to hold our children's histories and hearts in our hands. May God enable us to always share wisely, wholly and well the precious pieces of each one's early story even as He writes the chapters that are now unfolding, and those still to come!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Beginning to Blossom {FLORECE}

"Mom, how did you choose the name FLORECE?"  My son's question gave me a reflective pause in the midst of a bustling week of preparations. The word "florece" in Spanish means "to blossom" and by God's grace, the FLORECE Prenatal & Family Counseling Center has indeed "blossomed" in its final few weeks before opening to the community of Iquique. What has been beautiful to observe is that not only has the physical property itself been pruned and prepared, but the vision and commitment of our volunteer ladies has also flourished as they see this longtime dream come to fruition.

Some of our volunteers can trace their beginning interest three years ago to a pro-life conference held at our church in June 2013. Eight months later in February 2014, ten women traveled to Peru for a training conference and to visit a functioning pregnancy center first-hand. In the years since then, around thirty women have participated in some form of training. Some have stayed and some have gone, yet our core group has invested hours upon hours in studying, learning and growing to be ready for the opportunity that is now before us. 

For the past three weeks, the training that was only theoretical for so long has been transferred into practical application as our volunteers began fulfilling their weekly scheduled hours in the downtown FLORECE property. We are currently experimenting with a four-day-a-week schedule. This gives us a total of seven shifts with fourteen women committed to serve, generally in groups of three. While we are not yet open for clients, we are practicing exactly what it will look like when that happens very soon! Walking through the process, reading our literature, and role playing with one other has allowed us to see what works smoothly and where we need to make changes on forms and procedures. Safe to say, it has been both thrilling and nerve wracking as we realize our own limitations yet choose to trust in God's promised enabling.

It is in this context that I have truly seen our ladies "blossoming" into women of purpose, prayer and partnership with one another and the Lord to fulfill His purpose through FLORECE. It has been a powerful reminder of our roles and identity as the Body of Christ. None of us has all the knowledge or confidence or ability to carry out this ministry alone. Together, however, we instruct, encourage and challenge one another to step out in faith to serve the women and families of Iquique with God's love and in His name. To God be the glory for what He has done and WILL DO!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Welcoming the Fishers, Part Two

As much as possible, Dave and Terri were willing and desirous of being used in ministry during their ten days in Iquique. Because Terri already speaks Spanish, she had the advantage of being able to jump right in and so she did! Despite weariness from travel, she stayed up late the night of their arrival to participate in an ESL Bible study. The next day she taught the ladies of Iglesia Bautista Misionera and was an impromptu judge for their culinary competition. On Sunday, Dave shared his heart briefly with the church and was warmly welcomed. 

Terri teaching the ladies at Iglesia Bautista Misionera

our colleague Jon Sharp had fun taking a picture of Dave speaking and Pedro translating on Sunday morning

In true Iquique style, our team meetings have become late night affairs. Dave and Terri experienced this on Monday night (hopefully the yummy snacks including torta de merengue de lucuma helped make up for the lack of sleep!) It was encouraging for us to hear their testimony of God's work in their hearts and lives to bring them to this point. We trust it was also encouraging for them to learn more about His work among our team members to direct us now to the FLORECE ministry and in the future to another church plant.

Dave & Terri in front of the FLORECE prenatal and family counseling center

Northern Chile cannot be truly appreciated without a visit to the "interior." This implies a drive some distance up and beyond the coastal mountain range into the desert itself. One popular destination for those in our region is the tiny oasis town of Pica, known for its thermal springs and citric fruit trees. Because our colleagues Jon and Pam Sharp had yet to visit since arriving in Iquique earlier this year, on Tuesday they joined our family and the Fishers for an overnight trip. Our first stop was of the archaeological sort, to the pintados (geoglyphs) left by ancient civilizations on the desert mountains. The kids really enjoyed braving the piercing sun alongside their Aunt Terri and Uncle Dave!

Garcia kids with Aunt Terri & Uncle Dave at the final stop on the walking tour

the "pintados" - geoglyphs on the Atacama hills

Ian and Alec with Uncle Dave

Two small but clean and accommodating cabins welcomed us to Pica. After a lengthy wait, we enjoyed a delicious meal at a local restaurant before settling down to rest from the journey. Tired as the adults were, the kids still had energy and enthusiasm to visit the legendary thermal cocha and eventually they convinced the men to accompany them. It was a decision regretted by some when night fell and they climbed out of the warm water into the frigid desert night air! Pica was only a brief visit, but a memorable one. Perhaps the highlight for the guys was a quick drive up a mountain to see the brilliant stars against the pitch-black backdrop of what has been called the world's clearest skies.

Silas with Uncle Dave and Uncle Jon

a group picture on our little plot of land in Pica

On Wednesday's return trip to Iquique we stopped in the town of La Tirana to visit and photograph the Catholic church there. It is a shrine for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who pay yearly homage to their "Virgin of La Tirana" in the month of July. This tiny, desolate town has no other claim to fame other than its ornate cathedral which stands in stark tribute to lavish faith. Statues of various saints lined the walls, and on this day Saint Lorenzo - the patron saint of miners - was poised on a candle-encircled display at the front of the sanctuary. Nearby statues of Jesus portrayed Him as either the small child of His revered mother Mary or the suffering Savior bleeding on the cross. Across the street from the church, relics could be purchased for a price. For us it was a somber place where ritualistic religion and pagan tradition blended to create a false hope of salvation. Human works can never fulfill what is found solely in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in His cross and resurrection!

a view towards the front of the sanctuary
this ornate stained glass window displays a traditional dance to the Virgin Mary and Christ child

Although Dave and Terri's primary purpose for their trip to Iquique was ministry-focused, definitely a side blessing for our kids was to spend time with an aunt and uncle they do not see often. In between the next few days they spent getting to know our other missionary colleagues, we cherished the moments we could spend together as a family. Our boys were thrilled by a movie night with Uncle Dave, and the whole gang spent one evening down at Cavancha beach exploring the artisan crafts and enjoying crispy hot churros with powdered sugar and manjar. On the Fishers' last day, a final round of fresh fruit juices preceded saying goodbye and heading to the airport.

Uncle Dave with nephews Owen and Ian

Aunt Terri and the gang enjoying fresh churros at Cavancha

Uncle Dave's fresh fruit blend was the first to arrive

It was a bittersweet ride to drop the Dave and Terri off at the Iquique airport knowing their hearts were torn between reuniting with their children back home and returning to Iquique with God's timing yet unknown. As Terri later wrote in their prayer update, "Suffice it to say ... that our hearts are now firmly entrenched in Iquique and we long for the day that we can return and be actively involved in the ministry there to which God has undoubtedly called us and uniquely gifted us."

a family "selfie" to say goodbye

We thank God for the privilege of sharing a heart for ministry and specifically for Iquique with members of our own family. For many years, Dave and Terri were personal supporters of ours as we prepared and departed for the mission field. Now God has called them not only to "send" but to "go." Please pray that His perfect timing and provision would allow them to see their own support needs quickly met and their return to Iquique soon realized! It was a privilege to welcome the Fishers here.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Welcoming the Fishers, Part One

The first words out of my brother-in-law's mouth were not those I expected to hear. "Wow ... This is beautiful!" he exclaimed upon his initial glimpse of the landscape outside of Iquique's airport. Suffice it to say that a typical newcomer often does not have the same reaction! Our vast, dry, vegetation-less desert can sometimes strike despair into an unsuspecting heart. In fact, on our own survey trip to Chile's north in 2003 I distinctly remember stating, "This is the ugliest place I've ever seen!" as our plane descended upon its dusty surface. (Thankfully, the Lord has since changed my heart to fascination and appreciation for the unique terrain that surrounds us!)

amusing cross-cultural experiences begin right outside the airport doors - P.E.E. actually stands for "point of emergency contact!"

Thirteen years after that life-altering survey trip for us, it was our privilege and joy to welcome my sister Terri and her husband Dave on their own trip to survey and get to know the city of Iquique. God has placed it on their hearts to join our team in ministry here, and we are so excited for them to do so! While pre-field ministry (formerly known as deputation) can sometimes seem endless, we hope and trust God will see fit to swiftly raise up faithful supporters in the coming months.

Terri with teammates Pam Sharp and Kim Spink (plus the many marvelous Spink and Garcia MKs!)

Dave with teammates Jon Spink, brother-in-law Pedro and nephew Owen

A welcome to Chile would not be complete without the warmth of an asado, so our team greeted the Fishers with a cookout the day of their arrival. Many more delicious meals would follow, in part to satisfy Terri's longing to reconnect with the flavors of her childhood growing up in this country. Other flavors were new and uniquely characterize our corner of the world, such as creamy mango lecho (a milk and mango smoothie) and other fresh fruit juices which we enjoyed on more than one occasion.

The purpose of Dave and Terri's trip was to observe firsthand the ministry in Iquique and understand better how their gifts and abilities can be used by the Lord alongside our team in this city. Also, a priority was to visit a school providing special education to determine what is available for their daughter Sophia's needs. In the latter case, it was a blessing for me to be able to accompany my sister to the Los Tamarugos educational center. It was also eye opening for both of us. 

The humble building formerly belonged to the Chilean Air Force and shows signs of age and wear. But it was neat and clean and more importantly, a warmth of commitment and spirit shone in the faces of the small group of professionals who work there. Even without a prior appointment, we were welcomed to tour the facility and speak with the acting director who gave us information that both challenged us and nearly brought us to tears. The facility is partially funded by a non-profit with some government support, but still has significant material needs. Their sole school vehicle makes three runs to pick up students each morning and each afternoon. Among other things, we learned that Chile has far to go in accepting and providing for individuals with special needs. Most parents, we were told, still hide their children from society. Others have been abandoned. Several of the students come from children's homes overseen by the government, where they suffer bullying and lack of care appropriate to their needs.

We left with a heavy burden for this school, its needs and the young lives it serves. My sister left with a confirmation in her heart of the purpose God has for Sophia. We are both more than certain that He will use her to touch many lives in her own special way here in Iquique!

To be continued ...