Monday, September 22, 2014

Lovin' Life at Los Lobitos

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Purpose, a Place, and a Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Where Do We Start to Meet the Need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Love You Enough to Risk Breaking Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Surgery for Alec

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

This time around, it was Alec's turn.

Alec beaming with anticipation

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

all set for surgery

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

love this precious smile

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

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

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

oh-so-hungry after surgery!

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

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

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

celebrating a successful post-operative check up

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

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

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

In the Not Knowing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

One Comment Was All It Took

He was already less-than-thrilled by the selection for family movie night, simply because it was not his turn to choose. However, he eventually relaxed and enjoyed it with the rest of us until that sudden unexpected twist in the plot. Once again a loaded adoption quote thrown into a movie script ambushed an otherwise mellow evening. 

Arms crossed and pouting, he flung himself up the stairs at the film's end. I found him in our third-floor bedroom, facing off with his daddy and demanding to see papers that proved our relationship to him. "He wants to know about his 'real' family," my husband said drily as we exchanged a knowing look. Our son never uses that term, but it was the one he had just heard in the movie. 

For the next three-quarters of an hour, I pulled out files and pages of documentation. Adoption decree; revised birth certificate; nurses' charts from his weeks as a preemie in the NICU. His birth mother's full name, which he asked that I write on a piece of paper for him. He wanted to see her signature (which I did not have.) None of this had been hidden from him; in fact, not too long ago we had been looking at birth family pictures and talking adoption. At the time he had only seemed mildly interested. Now, he was riled up and insistent.

We have always tried to make adoption an open topic in our family. I am pretty certain none of our children feel it is "taboo" although perhaps they are not always comfortable initiating the conversation. I try to do so in order to keep that door always open. I believe it is their right to know and own their story. Nonetheless, it throws me for a loop when at least-expected moments adoption is inserted awkwardly into something like a feature film. Couldn't movies come with a warning so we could mentally prepare our kids?

Perhaps I over-analyze or am overly sentimental, but I don't think so. I just feel bad that our kids can't enjoy a engrossing storyline without having a bucket of water thrown in. Because at least on this night for our son, one comment was all it took.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

This Crazy, Lovely Life

It was nearly midnight when Pedro and I dropped into chairs in our living room and said, "Where did this day come from?!" And what a day it was. Pedro was up early to study. I slept in until he received a call asking him to accompany one of our deacons to Alto Hospicio. He was still gone when I left with the three boys shortly before 10:30 for their martial arts class. While they were in class, Pedro returned home to gather the girls and head to church for a 12:00 meeting with our youth leaders. The boys finished; we ran home for a change of clothes; then I joined the meeting. At 1:45, I slipped out with Eva and we made it to the house just in time for her 2:00 piano class. Pedro and the other kids arrived with (take-out) lunch in hand, which was quickly enjoyed before Isabel and Owen's 3:00 guitar lesson. Meanwhile Pedro returned to church for prep time, and at 4:45 the kids and I also drove over for a 5:00 English worship service. Upon its completion, Pedro headed home to drop off the kids with a babysitter while I waited with our pastoral colleagues for another couple to join us at church for a 7:00 counseling session. We finished at 10:30, I took our babysitter home, and as mentioned at the beginning of this post it was nearly midnight when Pedro and I dropped into chairs in our living room and took a breath of this crazy, lovely life He's given us.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Twelve Years of Celebrating Isabel Hope

Dear Sissy,

I may wake up the morning of your birthday without recognizing the person sleeping in your bed! :) What a fun surprise for you today to have the opportunity to do something you had wanted to try - straightening your cool curls. You are beautiful with your "new look" but I had to post both of these pictures because you are also gorgeous just the way God made you. I was secretly so proud of you when after six hours you smiled at the sight of yourself and obviously enjoyed the change, yet made it clear you weren't aiming for it to be a permanent one (much to the surprise of your hairdressers!) I love that you have enough confidence in who you are to experiment, but also to value your individuality.

As you are turning into a teenager right before our eyes with just a year to go to hit that "magical" number, I know that sometimes you experience frustration or embarrassment. This is the age of wanting to fit in with everyone else and be liked by your peers. One day it is a super fun stage of life, and the next it can be very hard. You might find this difficult to believe, but I get it. I really do. In fact, so many characteristics you demonstrate remind me of myself at your age. Enjoying reading, having a strong opinion, being feisty and funny. In other ways, though, you are uniquely you. I love observing you and being your mom!

As usual your birthday gifts are not the kind that can be wrapped, but rather involve others and making memories. I'm so glad your good friends have returned to Chile and we can spend your special day together. I'm looking forward to the day when God makes your dream come true and we can go to Haiti for your birthday! He has such great things in store for your life as you continue to learn about Him and trust Him and love Him. I pray that your heart will always and forever be wholly His.

We love you, Isabel Hope Garcia! Have a very happy and wonderful 12th birthday.


Birthday Posts by Year:

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

Sunday, June 01, 2014

What I See on a Wednesday

"I'm not sure I should have you wait here while I bring it out," she says, scanning the dark street in front of her solid four-story apartment block. We both squint suspiciously at the lone man standing alongside a nearby dumpster, apparently waiting for a late-night cab. Not for the first time I consider how colorful these Wednesday night drives can be. I also feel a twinge of guilt that after retrieving her package, I will be quickly driving away. Meanwhile she'll be carefully locking the wooden entry doors behind her before reaching her own room with its relative safety next door to Iquique's Agropecuario (fish and produce and everything in between) market.

The usual anticucho salespeople are missing from their corner as I pass by. My other passengers have commented before that they think the little metal sales cart is actually a front for other, less-healthy indulgences - after all, who buys shish kebabs on a deserted road at 11 p.m.? I'm not really sure. 

I am even less sure when I realize my final companion and I have gotten so busy talking that we've missed our usual turn. Now we are passing by tight groups of grim men on dimly-lit streets who stare unsmilingly as we pass by. She shivers and says, "I don't like this road. I think there is gang activity here." I think we each silently breathe a sigh of relief when her doorway is in sight. Last week, she reminded me to go ahead and turn left at the light (despite the street sign saying not to.) The streets to the right are riskier at night, or so she says.

Making sure my doors are securely locked, I turn left. A couple of blocks away, I count the prostitutes at the intersection. Last week there was only one. Today there are four, in the tightest of short skirts and scant shirts. Every time I feel the same thing: sadness. They are immigrants, and I just can't believe this is what they came here for. Nobody dreams of this for a better life ... do they?

The downtown market is still open to late-night customers drinking fresh fruit juices and eating churrascos and completos. This is where the buses pick up passengers at this time, traveling north to Arica or crossing over to Peru and Bolivia. Occasionally one or two full-length bundles in a doorway reveal the already-sleeping homeless. Elsewhere light lingers from bars where men bunch around beer and a fuzzy tv screen for company.

Stopping at the final streetlight before exiting downtown makes me uneasy. Often the self-proclaimed window washers are already drinking and surly with one another. But just a few yards away, light floods the avenue as I turn onto the Cavancha beach tourist stretch. A huge neon screen flashes the latest events or sales pitches in town. Cars are backed up in the far right lane, turning towards the garish invitation of Iquique's casino.

It may be close to midnight, but the BMX and skate park still have a few active participants. Earlier, on the first part of my drive, students had spilled out of one particular school and it was explained to me that night classes were offered for high school equivalency there. Each week we also pass a brass band practicing on the street with only the street lamps for illumination. Nonetheless, they play with gusto!

Once my friend from downtown was at my home on the south side of Iquique. Nearing my (fairly) quiet street, I remember her words. "It's like another world here," she said. I can certainly see her point as I turn the key and slip inside the high, safe gates of my own home.

It's what I see on a Wednesday.

Friday, May 30, 2014

M is for Multifaceted and Missionary Heroes

I am reading an excellent missionary biography about a turn-of-the-20th-century Englishwoman. She left home and country to bounce on the back of burros, hike hairpin highland trails, tangle with tribal traditions, love and lose family and friends - all for the sake of the Gospel in over sixty years spent in India. Her story inspires me. Her strength amazes me. Her sacrifice convicts me. 

But it also confuses me.

You see, my life looks nothing like hers. We share the same title - "missionary" - but that is exactly where the resemblance ends. I have to admit this fact makes me a bit uncomfortable. It sends me to do some soul searching. And it challenges me to consider my daily choices in life and ministry.

This past week as a missionary, I did what I once considered real "missionary" things. I led a Sunday night ladies' Bible study entitled "The Titus 2 Woman." I oversaw a Wednesday night counseling course for future pregnancy center volunteers entitled "Self-Confrontation." I proofread my husband's sermon. I prepared our church bulletin. I prayed with a hurting woman. I phoned a shut-in.

But I also did things that never made my traditional "missionary" list. I worked as a realtor, finding an apartment for a displaced family in our church. I tried my hand as a housekeeper, making beds for newly-arrived teammates. I became a babysitter, watching five extra children so our colleagues could get settled. I showed up as chauffeur for errands that needed to be run. I pushed paperwork for financial and legal business that had to be completed.

Ministry comes in all shapes and sizes, and I've learned there really is no "missionary" list. I have realized - at least in our experience - that it's much more about going with the flow than sticking with the plan! In fact, being multifaceted is one of the things I love best about our life on the mission field. Come to think of it, "multifaceted" just may be another quality that my life shares with hers!

So perhaps the resemblance doesn't quite end at the title "missionary." Yet I still have a very long way to go in my understanding of strength, sacrifice and commitment for this life to which God has called us. Something tells me this new hero of mine never struggled with the temptation to waste time on Facebook or Candy Crush. Since she didn't have electricity, I doubt she stayed up later than advisable and regretted it with a short temper in the morning. And I am quite certain she rarely let an opportunity with her children slip through her fingers, since her missionary sacrifice required heartbreaking five-year separations from her beloved son and daughter.

The Bible tells us that our lives are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses." (Hebrews 12:1) I am grateful for biographies such as the story of "Granny Brand" which allow me to be a witness to a missionary life well lived. And I pray that I will consciously live my life, first of all unto the Lord, yet aware that others are witnesses to it as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Alec's 21 de Mayo

Four years ago, big brother Owen had the privilege of raising the Chilean flag at his school's parade in celebration of the 21 de Mayo commemorating Chile's most famous naval battle and the heroics of Captain Arturo Prat. Back then, his little brothers had only recently arrived home from Haiti and watched the parade from the comfort of their double stroller. But time certainly flies and this week Pedro captured these great pictures of history repeating itself as Alec also raised the flag (he attends the same school Owen did, while Ian attends another.)

Alec has made such great strides since he entered the school last year in pre-Kindergarten. He now speaks Spanish and is a smart student who looks forwarding to graduating Kindergarten so he can move on to "big" school with Owen next year in 1st grade. He walks into the classroom every day just as seriously as he ever did, but we know he enjoys himself and has made good friends. He looked so handsome this day as a little sailor among sailers!

I had to include the picture above because although I have no idea what Alec was thinking at the moment, this is a classic Alec face! He has the most handsome smile in the world but he definitely has an "Eeyore" side which surfaces daily these days. Perhaps his biggest struggle is accepting his place in the world as the youngest in the family when he desperately longs to do anything and everything his older siblings do. Alec has strength of will and determination which we pray he learns to allow God to use in His life in positive ways.

What a joy to see our youngest child growing and maturing, as bittersweet as it is to realize we are bidding farewell to the tender stage of life which the pre-school years have been. Pedro also recorded a video of Alec's last 21 de Mayo march. This is the fourth and final year to watch one of our boys standing tall in this cute little parade. You'll find Alec at the very end!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Grateful for His Gifts

We had high hopes and some trepidation for the changes being made in our family this school year. We had no time to analyze those changes before an earthquake rocked our world and life turned topsy turvy for awhile. But now that things have settled down (literally and figuratively!) it has been rewarding to realize the overall positive effect of the changes on our day-to-day family life

I'll be the first to admit that there are times when I chafe at being "tied down" to the house with two children schooling at home. Yet even that has proven a blessing in the sense that it has forced me to examine my heart and my priorities regarding my family. I still fail regularly at recognizing that the value of this time helping my girls is just as worthy as all the other "ministry opportunities" in my life. But I am learning, and appreciating the daily time we now spend in each other's company during such an important stage of their lives.

I am also appreciating the freedom the girls and I can have when we organize ourselves to make up or work ahead on school. Last Monday, we headed out the door before 8 a.m. and walked our feet off around Iquique, tending to bloodwork, doctor's appointments, eye doctor's appointments, replacing a bank card, clothes shopping, and having breakfast and lunch together. By the end of the day we were exhausted but I was so grateful to get it all done and have the flexibility in our schedule to do so.

Little by little post-earthquake, our children have resumed extra-curricular activities as well. Several are free of charge. Ian's cooking class and Owen's handball class are included in their schooling fees. Training at the track - initially for Owen, who is now joined by Daddy and Isabel and twice a week by his Australian friends! - is also free. A Saturday morning Aikido (Japanese martial arts) class is close to free for our three boys, thanks to an acquaintance of Pedro's who is their kindly instructor. Saturday afternoon music lessons - guitar for Owen and Isabel, piano keyboard for Eva - were also offered at less than half-price by a generous friend. Eva's riding lessons twice a week cost us in a month what it seems some lessons cost by the hour in the States.

Last year, with the five kids coming home at five different times and homework sometimes lasting until bedtime, this would all have been impossible. And there's a chance that next year, things could change again. For now I am simply choosing to be grateful for His gifts. As a child growing up, there were things I dreamed of being or doing that didn't happen for one of two reasons: finances or fear. I think the latter was more the culprit than the former - my own fear of failure and of embarrassment. Now I wish I had given it a try, and I hope that by allowing our children to experience new things they will develop greater confidence and discover their true talents and interests. As I told my friend Erin yesterday, "It is a privilege when we are able to let them explore different things ... not always possible, but my heart's desire is for them to find their God-given bent(s) and pursue them fully in the future for His glory!"

Thank You, Lord, for being the Giver of good gifts. (James 1:17) Thank You for being the perfect example of a generous Father. (Matthew 7:9-11) Thank you for counting the hairs of our heads and for caring about the dreams of our children's hearts! (Luke 12:7)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

That's Just the Way God Is

It was a oft-repeated theme in our recent prayer letters and prayer requests: Please pray that we can find a house for our soon-to-be-returning missionary colleagues. In a post-earthquake economy, Iquique real estate prices had skyrocketed from their already-high average. Many people - even those whose homes had not suffered physical damage - were fleeing apartments in search of very limited single-family dwellings. Houses which five years ago rented for $700*, before the earthquake were costing over $1,000 and after the earthquake could generally not be found for less than $1,400. 

Cost was a primary consideration, followed immediately by size. We were searching for a minimum of four bedrooms for a family of ten (two parents, eight children.) Daily I scoured three major websites and the local papers but it was as though homes with more than three bedrooms had never existed. Finally a 4-bedroom apartment appeared and we visited it "just in case" - but it was not a viable option, especially not on the 17th floor with a $1,200 price tag. 

I reminded our children (and myself!) that our own arrival in Iquique had been similar, with nothing available until after non-refundable plane tickets were purchased and just a few weeks before departure - yet God provided. Meanwhile I was fighting frustration and discouragement. We were far from alone in our predicament, with hundreds rendered homeless and the government just beginning to provide housing allowances for others to begin their own searches for housing. Often I would call multiple numbers to receive the same message: "Already rented." "Not available." "Sorry."

This past Friday, I did not do my usual morning search because of special programs at school. Later, while preparing lunch I took a break to sit down at the computer. Before opening the real estate page I prayed: "Lord, please drop something in my lap right away. Please let this be the weekend we find something." I clicked on the rental and immediately saw this listing at the top of the page:

There was no picture, but the description took my breath away. It claimed "five bedrooms, two bathrooms ... living/dining room, furnished American kitchen did not suffer any damage from earthquake." The cost was doable, and at $900 was far less than expected given current circumstances.

I may have whispered another prayer as I dialed the number, fully expecting a negative response while harboring hope for a miracle. To my surprise and delight, the realtor was at the house when I called and agreed to return at 5 PM when Pedro and I could meet her for a walk-through. Since we had nowhere to leave our kids, we decided they could assist us with a child's perspective of this potential home for their MK friends. However, when the realtor seemed overwhelmed by the number of us and the news that our colleagues had even more children, I second-guessed that decision. Little did I know God had a purpose in their presence!

My exact words to our colleagues after the house visit were these: " ... not a "wow!" house but definitely a "this could work" house. And considering the current situation, I'd say a "let's do this" house. :)" Earlier that day, we had received funds and permission to secure a place sight unseen for them if the situation called for it. Pedro and I briefly conferred and agreed we needed to move forward with this option. However, it was not quite as easy as our saying "we do."

I sensed hesitation on the realtor's part, whether due to our foreigner or large-family status. She made it clear that others were interested in the house as well and the final decision would be hers. I did my best to present a convincing case, providing financial paperwork and offering recommendations from the owner of our colleagues' former home and/or our own. When we departed, however, I could not say with certainty that she would choose us. She said she would call the next morning to let us know. All we could do was continue to pray.

So it was quite a surprise when my phone rang at youth group just a couple of hours later with the news that the realtor had indeed chosen us! I didn't ask why, just gladly made arrangements to meet at noon on Saturday to sign papers and pay the down payment, realtor commission and first month's rent. Several of our church ladies were interested in joining me and I was glad to have fresh pairs of eyes to confirm this big decision before money exchanged hands. At our meeting the next day, they asked questions I would have overlooked and even managed to procure a commitment from the owner to reimburse our colleagues for painting in areas that were left undone.

But the icing on the cake was revealed as our meeting wound down. The realtor told me that she had gone home to a cousin's house after we met on Friday. Her family asked how the house showing had gone, and she mentioned that she might be renting to an American family. She described us and her cousin exclaimed, "I might know them! Wait a second." She then retrieved her cell phone and showed the realtor a picture (presumably of our boys) and said that we were customers of her mother's empanada shop. She said we were great, trustworthy people! Had we not taken our kids, perhaps this connection would never have been made. And had we not been consistent in our attitudes and treatment while doing such a mundane thing as purchasing empanadas, perhaps we would have lost this opportunity.

I loved pointing out to our children that not only does God answer prayer, but He is such a personal God that He does so in perfect ways that involve our own life circumstances right now. In fact, it was neat that after speaking to our colleagues' wife about the house possibility she went back to her Bible reading and "happened" to be right in a passage that talked about God providing birds with their nests (let alone providing homes for His people!)

What an awesome and mighty God we serve. To Him be all the glory and praise!

*approximate currency conversion to USD