Sunday, November 01, 2015

Valuing the Miraculous, Part Three

It is a joy to share that our son Silas Eben Garcia was born at 1:13 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 in the Chilean city of Iquique. He weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces and measured 18.9 inches long.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for answered prayers surrounding his entrance into this world. My hospitalization for his birth was the first in my life, and I had many fears regarding surgery via cesarean section. The more I read of possible complications, the more I began to specifically pray for God's grace and protection regarding each of these. I did my best to lay each concern at His feet over and over again before Silas' birth day, and I give Him all the glory for hearing and responding with mercy!

The night before Silas was born, my sister flew into town with her 10-month old and 11-year old sons. Her presence and help with our children at home allowed us the peace of mind to say goodbye to them the next morning and focus on what lay ahead. We arrived at the medical center close to 8:30 a.m., having pre-registered the afternoon before. One of my prayer requests was for the availability of a private room so that my husband could remain with me the entire time. The day prior we were told to ask the day of the surgery, and at first we were told there were no single rooms available (but possibly within a couple of hours.) However, when the receptionist called to confirm this, she was told there was already a room reserved under my name! We never learned how this came about but chose to praise God for this first example of His mercy on such a momentous day.

Another tremendous blessing was having a close friend from church hired as a surgical assistant at the medical center a month or so before my cesarean. The day of Silas' birth, she was able to switch to our operating room and accompany me even during the prep time while Pedro still had to wait outside. It was calming and encouraging to know there was a familiar face concerned for my welfare and explaining what was going on around me.

As silly as it may sound, I was nervous about everything from having an IV inserted to (especially) the epidural anesthesia. However each of these procedures while not fun, proved to be bearable. The anesthesiologist was the only person I encountered who was gruff and impersonal, but even so he did his job quickly and well. Possible negative reactions to medications was another concern, but at the most I experienced itchiness from the morphine. Keeping mental track of each of these answered prayers helped focus me on God's faithfulness in the midst of what frightened me. Also, singing or humming songs about Him reminded me that He was in control of what was happening. One song in particular that came to mind the morning of my surgery was "Lord, Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary." I had not heard it in years but it helped center my thoughts at various times during the day. I did experience shortness of breath during the cesarean which tempted my heart to panic. But God was present and faithful even then.

My number-one prayer request was for Silas to be born healthy and strong. The hours we waited for him to be brought to us stretched long as he needed some initial help with oxygen and testing due to his unexpectedly "big" (for a 37-week old) size. Yet God answered those prayers with a healthy, calm baby who is so much beautiful than we could even have imagined!

Certainly one of the greatest answers to prayer of all is that Silas even exists after 17 years of diagnosed infertility and as a sweet surprise we did not even know to continue to ask for (already being abundantly blessed with our "Fab Five" at home!) And along with that, I am reminded every moment of the amazing gift that my husband is to me and to all of our children. I am reminded through experiencing his prayers, concern, tenderness and care during my pregnancy, birth and now recovery. I am reminded as I watch him handle a tiny new baby with such gentleness and think back on how he has lovingly welcomed each one of our children along the way.

For these and so many other answered prayers, I want to "value the miraculous" and give God the glory. He has been, is, and ever will be a Faithful God!

(Read Parts One and Two.)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Valuing the Miraculous, Part Two

We have experienced much that could be called miraculous as God has added children to our family. 

When every other door but the small, local Catholic adoption agency closed, God brought us our first daughter by way of her birth parents seeking a Protestant couple through them. When we desired to adopt again but had no resources to even consider it, He allowed an unexpected phone call asking us to parent an as-yet unborn baby girl. When that baby girl was born and her Apgars were 0 & 0 after a traumatic birth, God miraculously enabled her to survive and overcome the dire predictions related to her diagnosis.

After our hearts were broken and trampled by later failed adoption attempts, God provided in twenty-four hours the funds needed to say "yes" to a premature baby boy born 1,000 miles away. During nearly two years of heartwrenching delays in an international adoption, He reminded us through miraculous provision that He would make a way to bring our sons home from Haiti. Later despite a devastating earthquake and countless loss of life around them, God did just that on their behalf.

When we were surprised by two faint lines on a pregnancy test nine years ago in 2006, I called my doctor's office 30 miles away (in Michigan) only to be told via secretary that it was too early to get an appointment and to just "wait and see." Doing so led to my miscarriage one week later. Yet when we were surprised by two faint lines on a pregnancy test this past February, my doctor 1,000 miles away (in Chile) responded personally via e-mail with medication instructions to immediately strengthen the pregnancy. This was miraculous to me.

While we waited for an appointment with a local obstetrician, every three days or so we requested bloodwork with bated breath and prayer. God miraculously allowed the numbers to climb and indicate a probability of success with this pregnancy. When the new doctor cautiously confirmed our status through ultrasound but warned of the likelihood of loss, God affirmed His sovereignty by allowing each next stage to stay on track against the odds.

With the exception of the first few months of extreme tiredness, God has allowed me to feel relatively well and strong throughout the months. High blood pressure and proteinuria did lead to a diagnosis of moderate pre-eclampsia a month ago and resulted in an increased amount of pills to take daily (eleven!) This also resulted in weekly checkups including blood tests, fetal heartbeat monitoring by a midwife, and visits with my doctor. However, I value the availability of modern medicine and God's provision of our needs. I have lost track of the number of ultrasounds, which are done in the doctor's office sometimes just briefly or more in-depth, and which are not always charged but if so cost a mere fraction of what we would pay stateside.

I do have fears about childbirth, having never experienced it before and never having been hospitalized for any reason in my entire life (though I've had my fair share of ER visits!) But just when the doctor declared it necessary to program the birth at 37 weeks, most likely through cesarean section, God allowed a close friend to be hired as a surgical assistant in the clinic where I will give birth. In all likelihood she will be able to accompany me in the delivery. What a special reminder that He cares for our needs and concerns!

We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary this July. Our infertility diagnosis was made one year into our marriage. Seventeen years and over a hundred negative pregnancy tests later, for reasons that may remain unknown to us this side of Heaven, God has miraculously allowed one more life to be entrusted to our family. For most of the pregnancy it has felt unreal. Even now with less than one month to go, we wake up each morning with surprise and expectation. Planning and preparing has become a family affair with five older siblings accepting, curious and excited to meet their new baby brother. This warms our hearts.

I still do believe a real part of this baby's purpose has to do with the pro-life counseling ministry to which God has led us. Perhaps first-hand experience of the realities of pregnancy was needed for me to adequately encourage someone facing an unplanned child. Years ago as a new volunteer in a crisis pregnancy center, I counseled a single mom who found herself once again pregnant. She was my first client who went ahead with an abortion, which I deeply regretted and which is why I have never forgotten. Her reason for aborting was that the pregnancy so exhausted her she was unable to fulfill her job responsibilities and had been threatened with being fired. She weighed meeting the needs of her already-living children versus continuing the pregnancy and sadly believed she had no choice but the former. 

While I could not agree with this client's decision, I thought I could understand it. But I didn't really, not until the early months of my own pregnancy when I found myself falling asleep mid-homeschooling and stumbling around dazed until my husband rescued me by taking over the children and sending me to bed. The glaring difference was that I did not have to support my family on my own, and I did have a spouse to step in for me on the days when I was running on empty. My empathy was deepened through this experience. If our "unplanned" baby's life is used by God to help rescue others who are unplanned, that too will be miraculous.

(Read Part One and Part Three.)

Monday, October 05, 2015

Valuing the Miraculous, Part One

Recently I have felt the nudge in my heart that means there is something that needs to be written. For much of my pregnancy beyond its original announcement, I have not said a great deal about it. Just this week on F*cebook I posted a 32-week maternity photo only to have a friend exclaim, "How did I miss this?" That same day I attended the monthly parents' meeting at my sons' school and received a similar response from several other moms now that I am showing and they put two and two together. This is why when earlier in my pregnancy a long-distance friend surmised, "You must be the happiest pregnant woman to be around!" I felt a twinge of guilt. In reality, my response during most of this pregnancy has been a reserved one.  

I so appreciated some early reassurance from a loved one who has also suffered pregnancy loss. She described the emotional effects of losing a baby as a type of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) My prior miscarriage was nine years ago and occurred almost immediately on the heels of discovering the pregnancy. At the time my sadness was real but tempered by the fact that we hardly had time to assimilate the news and we still had three beautiful young children (including a 15-month old baby) keeping us very busy. However the fact that the loss had happened and in all likelihood could happen again - as well as the stark reality that in seventeen years a pregnancy had only ever occurred twice - was certainly present in my thoughts and contributed to a guardedness in my spirit about this baby.

At the same time I can honestly say that through the first months of this pregnancy I felt a supernatural peace most days. I believed this was because the pregnancy was so unexpected and the timing so uncanny as we grew closer to opening the FLORECE prenatal and family counseling center. It seemed clear to me that the pregnancy had more to do with God's purposes than ours! Even so, the baby's safety was a daily prayer. On our early visits with the obstetrician, he made sure to highlight the worst-case scenarios due to my health history, seemingly to keep our hopes restrained. Interestingly, the closer we now get to the baby's due date the more confident the doctor becomes and the more concerned I feel. I am aware of the source of my anxiety but know it does not come from God. Daily I am reminded of my responsibility to take every thought captive to Christ and to think on things that are real and true in these final weeks of pregnancy.

Two additional factors have been sensitive considerations for me throughout this pregnancy. Both had to do with the well-being of others whom we love. First, that of our five children who were born "from our hearts" through adoption and whose feelings we wanted to protect and honor during this process. There was a point in the pregnancy when several thoughtless comments brought out my "mama bear" on their behalf and made me want to share less of this baby's news publicly. And secondly, that of our loved ones who have continued to experience longtime childlessness and (even in the course of our pregnancy) multiple pregnancy loss. In fact, guilt was one of my early emotions of pregnancy because I felt we were so blessed with five children and didn't deserve yet one more when those we loved were still waiting. Nor did I want to overshare and cause more hurt to already tender hearts.

Yet this recent nudge in my own heart to write has come from the realization that in the midst of sorting through so many emotions, perhaps I have failed to value the miraculous aspect of this pregnancy or at least to share it for God's glory. Whereas for nearly two long years I journaled hundreds of blog entries about the experience of waiting for our sons from Haiti, in almost nine months this little guy has only had one mention on our blog (and a handful more on F*cebook.) It will take another post but I will write to the faithfulness of God!

(Read Part Two and Part Three.)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

FLORECE is in God's Hands

"You want me to send this off for you? Fine. I'll send it off for you - to be rejected!" Yes indeed, those encouraging words basically sum up our interaction with a functionary at Iquique's branch of the Registro Civil office yesterday. They came as no surprise given the embattled nature of obtaining approval from Iquique's municipal office - the step prior to this one - for FLORECE, the non-profit foundation under which our future prenatal and family counseling center will be birthed. Nonetheless, after waiting nearly two hours and witnessing multiple altercations between other clients jockeying for her coveted attention all morning, one could wish for a warmer welcome!

To express in my limited understanding what our lawyer explained, there are two avenues for creating non-profit foundations in Chile. One requires hiring a notary's representative to attend a formal assembly of members who vote on the board of directors, followed by a legal writ produced and formally approved by said notary (for a fee, of course.) The other also involves a fee paid to an attorney who produces the formal, written constitution - including the board of directors - and then takes it to the notary in company of the president of the board of directors for approval. Both are completely legal, with the latter being far simpler because it involves less moving parts. That being the case, and because our lawyer had previously created foundations successfully through the second avenue, we followed those steps without incident until we sought municipal approval.

"That's not how we do it in Iquique." Never mind that it is a national law, successfully employed in the capital and other cities. In Iquique, the assembly route has always been used and arguing our case for the other seemed an exercise in futility. After several frustrating interactions with the municipal office, our lawyer informed us that we had to wait for their final decision and decide whether to push back through legal means or submit to the assembly route. So it was with huge amazement and thanks to God that on Tuesday of this week, Pedro and I stopped in for an update on the case and were handed the municipality's full approval! "Take this on to the Registro Civil office," we were told and with a hefty packet of signed, stamped and approved municipality papers we did just that the following day.

Once again we were told that we were missing the assembly step. Once again we tried to explain the different route we had taken. Within our signed, stamped and approved municipality papers was a memo directly issued by the mayor of Iquique which contained the investigation and subsequent approval of what we had done. "The municipality does not give orders here!" was the functionary's retort. And then the famous words: "You want me to send this off for you? Fine. I'll send it off for you - to be rejected!" 

At this point we took a breather. Pedro had to leave to pick up our boys from school. I accepted a new list of requirements from her and went back to the waiting area to consider our options. Basically, if we did things her way then an assembly was required. If we sent off the papers and they were rejected, an assembly was required. This would undoubtedly mean months of delay and an added expense. However, there was still the option of sending the papers without her blessing while trusting them into the Lord's hands. I took a new number and waited my turn again. Praying for peace and a polite tone, I respectfully stated that we were going to try for approval after all. Interestingly, she didn't try to argue and simply input our information into the computer. She did make one handwritten notation which I prayed was not a negative one! Then I was given a receipt, told to check on our status in a month, and the now three-hour saga was over. 

(Oh. She did say that if we were rejected the papers would be sent back to the municipality rather than the Registro Civil. And that the municipality never keeps track of their papers. Thus we would never know what happened to our request. There was that final comment!)

So we pray and wait. And wait and pray. FLORECE is in God's hands! 

P.S. - Little did we know that all the excitement of that morning was just a foretaste of the drama to come that night! With an 8.3-magnitude earthquake in central Chile which resulted in a citywide tsunami alarm and evacuation of Iquique and all coastal areas, it was certainly a day to remember.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pro-Life Conference in Antofagasta

"Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." -- 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 (NIV)

with our friends and hosts, the Flinck family

The verses above were a tremendous encouragement to us as we prepared for our first pro-life conference on August 21-23, 2015 in the city of Antofagasta (about five hours south of Iquique.) Neither Pedro nor I felt sufficiently qualified or knowledgeable for what seemed at times an insurmountable task. The weekend prior to the conference, we spent several days away to focus exclusively on studying and compiling our presentations on the various topics we had been asked to address. It was during this time that God spoke to our hearts through 2 Corinthians 4:1-7. 

There is perhaps no greater area of spiritual blindness in our world today than that of human sexuality and its related tragedy, abortion. As Pastor John Piper writes, "Satan is a murderer whose main weapon is destruction and whose main killing field is sexuality." Despite our lack of experience and confidence, we do have the truth of the gospel to share with those who are perishing. And as verse 7 reminds us, though we are just fragile jars of clay it is God's power upon which we rely. Thus it was with much prayer, exhaustion and hope that we packed up our five children and left Iquique for Antofagasta late Friday morning.

Friday night session - introducing FLORECE

Friday night session - Pedro's testimony

The title of Friday night's session was borrowed from John Ensor's book, "Cuestion de Vida o Muerte" (in Spanish, "Matter of Life or Death.") Our goal was to introduce the reality of abortion in the country of Chile and to awaken a spiritual consciousness on this issue. We also planned to present the FLORECE center for prenatal and family counseling. However, we felt it was important for those attending to know our personal story as well. (The conference was attended by members of three different churches, none of which knew us nor did we know them.) We decided to share our testimonies of salvation, infertility, adoption and how God eventually introduced us to pro-life ministry.

In the days before the conference as I reflected on our life experiences, I found myself unprepared for the emotions that surfaced after so many years. This was in part due to a very current event, the undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood and the release of multiple videos revealing their sale of fetal body parts. An article written by a barren woman describing the inconsolable grief she felt as a result of these videos brought back a poignant memory. Early in our own infertility struggle, I experienced these same emotions due to a national news story of a mother who tragically took the lives of her five children. I recalled also the memory of being asked to tutor a pregnant teenager during that season of my life and my adamant refusal. Barrenness led to bitterness and a heart battle with acceptance and submission. God had to do a work in me before He could work through me.

It felt like stepping back into the "shadowlands" to dwell on these things and to share such intimate thoughts with others. I recounted that due to these early feelings, never would I have expected God to lead us to pro-life ministry! In fact, pain was reawakened early in my training as a pregnancy center volunteer when after years of negative pregnancy results, my first glimpse of that second (positive) line was on the test of a client whose baby was unwanted. Viewing abortion videos as part of the training left me unable to sleep some nights, with horrifying images filling my mind.  But eventually it was through the redemptive picture of adoption, and specifically the sacrificial, unselfish choice of our child's birth mother to choose life over death that God began to show us the needs and challenges of unplanned pregnancy beyond our limited perspective.

The response from Friday's sessions was encouraging! One missionary couple with decades in the ministry shared that they had never considered these topics before. A young husband - newly married and a new but passionate believer - expressed how encouraging it was to hear a transparent testimony of struggling with God, yet learning to trust Him and see His hand at work. We thanked God for leading us to share as He had.

Saturday session - The Heart of God and the Responsibility of the Church

Saturday luncheon

Five pregnant moms and one newborn at Saturday sessions

Saturday was a very full day with three sessions, a luncheon and a time for questions and answers. To be honest, we were most nervous about the latter and asked for the questions to be given to us prior to lunch in order to research our answers. We shared on Friday and again on Saturday that we were not "experts" by any stretch of the imagination, but students of the pro-life perspective along with those attending. We confessed that there are hard questions on the abortion issue, but confirmed that God's Word has the answers for all of life.

The first session on Saturday was built from Koukl and Klusendorf's excellent series, "Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-Life Persuasion." We are so thankful to our missionary colleague Evelyn Stone in Peru who has paved the way for pro-life ministry in Latin America, translating materials to Spanish and preparing PowerPoint slides which we were given permission to use. In an intense one hour, I quickly shared the highlights from four different sessions in an attempt to provide scientific, philosophical and Biblical tools for defending the pro-life position. Pedro then spoke on "The Heart of God and the Responsibility of the Church," drawing from both Old Testament and New Testament examples of God's attitude (justice) toward the shedding of innocent blood and His call to merciful ministry as presented in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Lunch was prepared and served by generous volunteers from the Flincks' church. Still in formation, their church meets in what would be the first-floor living room of their home. Throughout the day, this room was transformed from meeting place to eating place and back again! It was a blessing to witness hearts of joyful service, even in these many details. We were humbled and thankful for the privilege of being part of this special weekend in which so many had evidently invested time, energy and hours of preparation.

The question and answer time after lunch addressed weighty topics such as types of abortion; concerns and misinformation surrounding "exception clauses" such as health of the mother and cases of pregnancy due to rape; fetal development; and adoption issues, both specific to Chile and/or our own experience, and in light of Biblical teaching. Afterwards one couple approached to share their personal story of an unborn daughter's diagnosis of being "incompatible with life." Yet God led them to trust the outcome of the pregnancy to Him, and in His mercy allowed their child to be born perfectly healthy against the opinions of the medical "experts." How many more families, they wondered, might experience the same blessing but their unborn children are never given the chance? Another husband asked repeatedly, each time in different words, about the "life of the mother" exception. He specifically requested (in his terms) a "clinical response." We have begun to understand that pointed inquiries like these are a reflection of a personal and often painful experience. Though he did not share further, we hope and pray that our answers (Biblical, not clinical) may have spoken to his need.

With the time that remained on Saturday, we shared a short yet poignant video depicting one mother's post-abortion reality. Pedro then led a workshop entitled "Sexuality Designed by God," and the last twenty minutes or so allowed us to present the final session of "Making Abortion Unthinkable." It was an exhilarating, exhausting day but God was extremely faithful.

Sunday morning - a full house

Sunday morning - introducing our kids

Sunday morning - children's class

Sunday morning - with members from Chilean missionary Pablo Ramirez' church

At Sunday morning's service, two of the three churches joined together for worship and the final session of the conference. We had the privilege of introducing our children (who up to that point had not been present at the meetings.) We also had the opportunity to share the FLORECE ministry again for those who were not with us Friday night. Pedro was asked to preach on the Biblical theology of adoption, reminding us of the joy and responsibility of being called children of God and co-heirs with Christ. During the message, children seven years old and under had their class in the kitchen of the missionary home (the flexibility of church planting!)

A special blessing on Sunday morning was hearing testimonies from those who had been in attendance throughout the weekend. After all the preparation and presentation, yet ever mindful of our human frailty and failings, God used these moments to encourage our hearts to faithfulness in continuing to share a pro-life gospel message. One woman said that as a Christian she had always opposed abortion, but never thought of its consequences to the women who chose it. She admitted never having considered the need for compassionate ministry in light of post-abortion trauma, and said God had convicted her in this area through the conference. Another woman asked us to include miscarriage as part of our presentation because sadly, in Chile the same word "abortion" is also used to describe pregnancy loss. We learned from this to be more careful to differentiate between the terms "induced abortion" and "spontaneous abortion" in our presentation because it is such a painful and sensitive issue. 

Our friend and hostess Kristi Flinck shared that sometimes we get a hint of the spiritual battle that rages around us by the many little things that go "wrong" at just the right time. She knew that for our family, it was a car repair that put us behind schedule and pushed us to arrive hurriedly only an hour before Friday's session began. For her family, it was awakening Saturday morning to a burned-out refrigerator filled to the brim with food items needed to be kept fresh for that day's luncheon. These frustrations remind us to rely on the Lord and trust there is a greater purpose to it all!

Again, we are so thankful for this experience which challenged, stretched, blessed and prepared us. We are grateful to be part of the family of God that extends beyond our city borders. And we are willing for God to continue to use us as He chooses in this new area of ministry, trusting in His "all-surpassing power."

Friday, July 31, 2015

On Ardor & Idolatry (video)

As the above definitions with their accompanying videos attest, there seems to be a fine line between ardor and idolatry. This year in Chile - and especially in Iquique - major events merged on the calendar to force this phenomenon into sharper focus. The night of July 4th as I filmed the two events pictured in this post, I felt as though I were witnessing the worship of two of Chile's top "gods": futbol and la virgen.

While I am as much a fan of Chilean soccer as anyone, the extent to which all of life stops and revolves around it still astounds me. It is perhaps hard to understand as Americans who enjoy multiple sports equally, but Chilean athletes in other areas of competition often point out the discrepancy in resources and support for their respective disciplines. An incident which occurred early in the Copa America which involved a drunken soccer player driving and causing a car accident without consequences on the field (he was allowed to continue playing first string) highlighted what many perceive to be the "god-like" status of these men.

After Chile's victory, fans fulfilled promises they had made in the event of their nation's success. On one televised morning show, a female host dressed only in a Chilean flag proudly paraded onstage. Her male counterpart underwent a flamboyant on-camera haircut fashioned after the aforementioned drunken player. Another female host on the show got tattooed on camera, and a fellow host dyed his hair purple for the occasion.

Despite the hilarity presumed to be associated with these online antics, it is impossible not to notice the common thread of vows made and kept in "worship" of someone or something. In fact on the heels of the Copa America soccer tournament, our northern part of the country geared up for its biggest religious festival of the year. Tens of thousands of faithful worshipers (including a reported 17,000 dancers from both Chile and Peru) packed food, supplies, sleeping gear, costumes and commitments to drive an hour or more into the desert for the week-long Festival of La Tirana

Attending the festival is a strict ritual for many families in our city and surrounding areas. For some like our next-door neighbor, their yearly promise is fulfilled by a quick half-day trip to the chapel in this little desert town, just long enough to saludar (pay respects or greet) the statue representing a legendary virgin princess known as la chinita (the beloved.) For others, their pilgrimage involves participation in elaborate dances, including the most famous which depicts the devil in masks and costumes. All have in common the desire to pay homage to the fabled virgin in return for her favor. In the words of the dancers' songs, la chinita becomes "Mother Mary" and prayers are implored for her protection and blessing.

One picture I happened to see posted from this year's celebration gave me pause. In it, two men sat comfortably in beach chairs overlooking the La Tirana processional. However, they were grinning and giving "the finger" to the camera. What a visual reminder that ritual and relationship are not the same thing! Going through religious motions will never bring us closer to God. Nor will the worship of any person outside of the triune God. Only a relationship made possible by the saving blood of Jesus Christ has the power to transform our hearts and lives.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Being Different: Bane and Blessing

I wonder how many pictures I have of these three cuties in this same location, our small front patio which serves as picnic area, mini futbol cancha, and fair-weather hangout mainly for our boys. This particular photo was snapped yesterday after fresh haircuts, during a quick sandwich luncheon and prior to a lengthy session of five back-to-back well-child visits with our local pediatrician. I could have snapped almost an identical shot today as they fielded their soccer balls and the curious questions of a passerby who stopped to sell small bags of spices at our gate. Where were they from? Were they my children? And so on.

The boys are pretty well accustomed to questions about their heritage, which we hear at least on a weekly basis. Recently a cashier at our local grocery store felt the need to point out (in her opinion) that their color skin wasn't quite the same as immigrant Colombians in our city. The young man bagging groceries asked Owen where he was from and Owen answered, "De los Estados Unidos ... y Sudan!" ("From the United States ... and Sudan!") At the doctor's office yesterday, a teenage girl and her boyfriend had lots of questions about the boys. Where were they from, what language did they speak, were they all my husband's? (Yes, really.) Fortunately the boys are fairly comfortable with these encounters, although the one we ran into yesterday evening was a little more over the top.

As a treat for being relatively well-behaved and patient at the doctor's office, we tried a new ice cream shop behind our local university. Pedro was gathering the last few orders while the rest of us shivered at small round tables in the chilly open-air patio. Ian happened to be eating his ice cream facing the street, when two men walked past and stopped in the doorway. One began talking animatedly to Ian, then walked inside to rub his head and take his hand. Commenting on the color of his skin, the man asked if Ian was Colombian. "No, de Haiti!" was Ian's response. Turning around, the man noticed Owen sitting on my lap. As he came close to us, I could smell the scent of alcohol on his breath. This made me uncomfortable because though he was obviously trying to be kind, it was also evident he wasn't inhibited by the common courtesy of personal space. He rubbed Owen's skin, shook my hand, spoke with us for awhile longer, and found Alec seated in the corner on his way out. Before I knew what he was doing, he had kissed Alec's cheek and rejoined his buddy on the street. Since the boys seemed to be taking it in stride, I didn't make a big deal but inwardly shuddered and wondered (as always) what is the "right" response - confronting a person and making them go away, or showing a measure of grace despite personal discomfort? Assuming that no one is in physical harm's way or being insulted - which thankfully has never been the case - we generally do the latter.

Over the years I feel like I have written often about the "bane" of being different in Iquique, and numerous similar experiences our family has weathered. Which is why looking at the picture at the top of this post reminded me that there are also "blessings" to being different, and it is only fair to share them as well! There was a day recently when the boys came home with three new soccer balls (pictured above.) They had supposedly been handing out invitations for kids' club with Daddy not far from church, so I was surprised to see their new acquisitions. It turns out a man on the street saw them and said he was a physical education teacher with soccer balls to give away! I am pretty sure their being "different" was what caught his eye and led to their windfall. It also explains frequent freebies one or more of the boys will receive. For instance, recently Ian accompanied me on an errand and the owner of the market told me how much she wished she could have adopted a little girl from Haiti after the earthquake. His "reward" for simply being handsome and Haitian was a free lollipop, which he gladly accepted. I suppose those are the sweet moments that make up for some of the others! :)

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Desert Getaway

I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that my dream getaway has never involved endless dusty desert sand; driving instructions that include "turn at the abandoned bus - the cabin is right beside it;" or a last-minute addendum from the owner that there is no hot water and electricity is spotty! So it was with some trepidation that we packed up our five kids for two days on the basis of an online listing and headed for the outskirts of the tiny town of Pica (some 55 miles east of Iquique.) We mentally prepared ourselves for what we called a "mini-ca-venture" ("mini vacation adventure") because were really were not sure what we'd find! 

To our relief, we discovered a simple but cute cabin with our basic necessities - and more importantly, we re-discovered our family togetherness. After a crazy year with startling surprises (i.e., pregnancy) and an exhilarating yet exhausting ten days of non-stop houseguests and activities, we felt an intense need to re-group and clear our heads. And with no electronic distractions, little in the way of entertainment beside what we could provide ourselves, and seven people in a small space, God graciously allowed us to do just that.

My favorite memories of our 48-hour getaway are these:

-snuggling under layers of warm blankets in the frigid desert night (the "cute" cabin had several gaps in walls, floors and ceilings)
-waking up with the sunrise, reading the Psalms and drinking hot milk with coffee next to my Love
-snapping picture of the kids looking cute wrapped in quilts all huddled together (we are not accustomed to cold weather anymore!)

-looking at the amazing expanse of stars on the clearest of nights in the Atacama
-playing board games as a family (Apples to Apples Junior, Ticket to Ride, Monopoly card game)
-listening to little brother Owen beg big sister Eva to play hide-n-seek and kickball (even going so far as to bribe her with a Snickers bar yet insisting this had nothing to do with how much he loves her company!)
-watching wild Nerf gun wars and soaking in the sound of siblings' laughter

-sensing that even unborn baby brother or sister appreciated the family time, as he or she was quite active during this vacation
-appreciating more than ever my husband's self-sacrifice as he played heartily with the boys even while desperately wanting nothing but a nap or reading time
-enjoying the long-awaited kickball game from a distance, photographing pajama-clad kiddos running "bases" around the sandlot on our last morning

It was somewhat amusing/exasperating to note the difference between vacationing with our teenaged girls and our three busy boys. Eva and Isabel would have been totally content to read, listen to music, write stories, and rock in the hammock for 48 hours straight. Owen, Ian and Alec on the other hand, could find no satisfaction if not engaged in some sort of very energetic activity. Admittedly, Mom and Dad would have rather sided with the girls! (In fact, Pedro hinted more than once that we should repeat this "minicaventure" sans children sometime soon.) But we tried to find a happy medium and decided that two days was probably just the right amount of time to balance these extremes in a small environment with few outside options for entertainment.

Pedro and the kids did go to the thermal pools for which Pica is known. The owner of the cabin told us of a larger pool just three blocks away which charged half the price of the more well-known, touristy "cocha." Since hot pools are not recommended in pregnancy, I stayed home in the intense quietness of the cabin and dug into some study for an upcoming pro-life conference, waiting for the report when everyone came home. According to my family, the pools were fun but very rustic (apparently our theme for this trip!) There was a cool pool with minnows swimming in it and a warmer pool as well. But, they had fun and that was the important thing.

Ironically, probably the most memorable part of this trip for the kids - at least what they have repeated most often since coming home - was our institution of what we called the "Haiti rule" (because I was first introduced to this little rhyme when heading to Haiti for our boys' adoption.) Since water was limited and - cold or not! - we didn't want to run out, we made a guideline for bathroom use. "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down!" I know this sounds gross, but we also stuck with the rule of thumb by which most of Chile lives - toilet paper in the garbage can, not the toilet. (I did say this was the "rustic" vacation, did I not?!) Now the kids are oh-so-amused to repeat the rhyme and advocate for cabin rules at home. :)

These were two days that were long overdue. I am so thankful that God made it possible to take the plunge and "run away" just for a little bit. I need His help to keep the perspective of enjoying my family, not just on getaways, but every day in the often tiresome juggling of housework, schoolwork, church-work, and the hard work of relationships. This silly, cranky, colorful, irritable, lovable, imperfect yet exceptional family is a gift from God! Thank You, Lord, for your perfect gifts.

Friday, July 17, 2015

How Our Family Spent This 4th of July

The 4th of July 2015 fell on a sunny Saturday morning in Iquique. By 7:30 a.m. I was out of the house and headed for a medical office downtown to get unhitched from a 24-hour blood pressure monitor (due to pregnancy precautions.) The plan was for Pedro to rally the troops kids and get them clothed and fed while I returned home to shower and change before our 10:00 a.m. meeting time at church. Surprisingly, it worked! - even with the addition of one extra child, the girls' friend Andrea who was visiting from Santiago during her winter break from school.

Our church did not organize the event but joined area evangelical churches for the pro-life march. It was a brand-new experience for most of us! Yet it was encouraging to sense the excitement and commitment of our members who participated. Many joined in preparing banners a few days before the event and arrived to take a stand with other believers on this special day. A group of around forty men, women and children from our church family participated altogether.

While preparing banners, we had discussed using slogans that were unique, positive, and thought-provoking. Our daughter Isabel came up with the statement "FUI ADOPTADA NO ABORTADA" ("I was adopted not aborted") and with the help of some friends turned out a colorful poster which seemed to connect with many observers the day of the march. Eva helped prepare several posters for use at the event and walked that day with a simple but powerful "Choose Life" message. Owen opted for the Spanish translation of a popular Dr. Seuss quote, "A person's a person, no matter how small." And Ian and Alec were proud of their superhero slogan which matched a cute picture of the two of them in hero capes: "Superman was adopted and so was I! Choose Life."

While it is hard to know the outcome of an event like this one in the hearts of bystanders, I know it was a blessing to our family personally and to others who for the first time took a public stand in defense of the sanctity of human life. One of the priorities of the current Chilean president is to legalize (or in popular terms, "de-penalize") abortion and her projected law is under discussion in Congress at this time. Sadly, having witnessed the devastating moral consequences of abortion for decades in the United States, we are all too familiar with the social and spiritual repercussions that approving abortion will have upon this country as well.

Indeed, as we drove home with our tired crew that afternoon my heart was heavy with thoughts of our home country's ever-increasing rejection of God's Word and His laws. One daughter remarked, "But Mom, it's the 4th of July and we aren't doing anything to celebrate!" I reminded her that we generally don't celebrate American independence while living in Chile because it is not a holiday here. But truthfully I felt that even if we were stateside this year, I would struggle to find celebration in my soul. I was reminded again that this world is not our home! How I long for the day when Jesus will be King and every knee will bow to His leadership alone.

Our 4th of July continued with the next big event scheduled for early evening. However team colors, honking horns, tempting smells of cookouts and shouts of excitement filled the air long before Chile's national team took to the soccer field against longtime rival Argentina at 5:00 p.m. Our family pulled the couch closer and connected via internet, spending the next 90 minutes listening in vain for joyful shouts from our neighbors (whose cable connection brings them the action several seconds sooner!) The game ended with a 0-0 tie and since Owen had a birthday commitment with a classmate, he and I drove through the literally deserted city streets listening to the overtime play on the radio.

We arrived to the birthday where lights were dimmed and the family and guests were anxiously gathered around the flat-screen television. It was perfect timing to watch the penalty shots. Amazingly, Chile surged to victory 4 to 1 and the entire nation jubilantly erupted over their first Copa America victory in 100 years. The children and adults at the party hit the streets along with hats and horns and flags to join the celebration. Not surprisingly with mostly energetic boys in attendance, the rest of the birthday was spent in reliving the penalty shots with a brand-new soccer ball in the limited space of the antejardin (front patio.) Additional entertainment could be had in watching screaming fans driving by, hanging out of open van doors, lighting off flares in the streets, honking the traditional tap-tap-tap of victory on their horns. As if that wasn't enough, then followed a fully-costumed Catholic homage to the Virgin Mary, complete with dancers, live music, and lit statues marching down the street.

All in all, it was a memorable 4th of July! It was a day on which to be thankful and prayerful - for life, for family, and for the nation(s) we call home.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

When the Waves of Life Are Crashing

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

Sunday, June 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Mom

Birthday Posts by Year:

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

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

All Differences Aside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

They Are All Our "Own" Children

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

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

Yesterday we made this announcement on Facebook:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Milestone Birthday: Owen Turns 10

Dear Owen,

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

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

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


Previous birthday posts:

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

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Happy Birthday to Alec

Dear Alec,

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

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

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

Love, Mommy

Previous birthday posts:

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