Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Poem for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2017

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

-Stephanie H. Garcia

Friday, November 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Happy 2nd Birthday, Silas

Dear Silas,

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

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

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

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

All my love, 

Birthday Posts by Year:

Silas' 1st Birthday Post

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Teaching Us to Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Happy 1st Anniversary to FLORECE

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

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

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

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

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

FLORECE's 1st Year Statistics:

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Writing Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Walk by Faith

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Life at Warp Speed {& in Collages}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Nurses, Needles & Nearly Losing It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

When God Says No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

My Heart, My Loves

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

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

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

Ah, my heart. Sometimes they do listen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

One Really Big Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Weight of History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Many Are the Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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