Saturday, July 14, 2018

Returning to FLORECE

with my daughter Isabel at FLORECE (June 2018)

This week included the privilege of taking ten individuals on three separate tours of FLORECE. Though it does not require much time to walk through our center, it is always a joy to do so while remembering and recounting all that God has done! From my personal perspective, the long version of FLORECE's story extends back nearly 20 years to my diagnosis of infertility which led to adoption and birthed compassion in my heart for the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy. Less than a year after our first daughter joined our family through adoption, I was invited to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center in Michigan and witnessed firsthand the impact that love, education, hope and the gospel message could have in the lives of women and their families.

daughters Isabel and Eva entertaining a client's sweet baby

We opened the doors at FLORECE on October 1st of 2016 and not yet two years later, we have had the privilege of ministering to over one hundred women and seeing at least twenty-five babies born. The beginning weeks and months of FLORECE's ministry were exciting yet uncertain and slow as we felt our way forward and trusted God to send the first clients through our doors. When our family departed Iquique for a year stateside in June 2017, our volunteers had seen the first baby born but had not yet experienced the joy of a new spiritual birth among the women to whom we ministered. Now by the grace of God, close to twenty individuals have placed their faith in Christ for salvation! We have the joy of offering Bible studies alongside pregnancy preparation and parenting classes on a weekly basis. Our greatest encouragement is when a woman takes the next step and finds a church home, learning and growing faithfully through the preaching of God's Word and fellowship with other believers. For many of our clients this is difficult due to a lack of support from other family members or financial hardship that requires them to work on Sundays. 

a recent generous donation from a church plant five hours south of us in Antofagasta

To our great surprise but in God's providence, our numbers multiplied with the arrival of one client not from Chile but distant Cuba. We have now added many women from Cuba to our clients representing also the countries of Chile, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. With volunteers from Chile, United States and India, we have quite the international center! Working side by side is a beautiful representation of the body of the Christ and our call as Christians to "go into ALL the world and preach the gospel." It is also a reminder that women all over the world need the hope that only Jesus brings. We are burdened to reach more abortion-minded women before they make that final choice, and to minister to women who are hurting from decisions made that cannot be undone. 

snapshots from our center

Our three biggest prayer requests and needs at this time are additional volunteers; a permanent home for the center; and open doors into area schools. Currently FLORECE is open for two and a half days a week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Additional volunteers would allow us to meet the needs of more clients and possibly consider opening an extra day per week. A permanent home is necessary for two increasingly urgent reasons. The first is simply that our initial funding was sufficient for only three years' rent, and we will soon complete our second year. The second reason is that God wonderfully and unexpectedly provided funds for an ultrasound machine which would allow a window into the womb and undoubtedly invite many more women to consider life and hear the gospel. However, our current facility does not have the necessary space to outfit a room that will meet legal/medical standards for the country of Chile. 

The third need - open doors into area schools - fulfills our vision of reaching a far greater number of abortion-minded women than those who simply walk through our doors. I once heard pregnancy center ministry described as putting the pieces back together after someone had jumped off a cliff, while pro-life education in schools seeks to rescue young people before they jump from that precipice. We had a tremendous experience entering several schools last year with a one-time message but our desire is to build relationships with a number of institutions that would allow us several weeks (or months) of interaction with students. We hope to build rapport as we teach not only the sanctity of life concerning the unborn, but also valuable tools for pursuing healthy choices and relationships in their lives. Should a crisis occur, we trust God would lead them to FLORECE because they know we truly care.

There are overwhelming needs and opportunities all around us, and so many hopes and dreams yet to be realized. Returning to FLORECE has provided a time of reflection on all that God has already done. And it has fueled renewed purpose to be used of Him to reach as many people in as many places as He will allow! We seek His guidance and strength to be wise and faithful each and every step of the way.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Today We Remembered

Our receptionist at FLORECE was puzzled. "There's a birth date on the list for this month but I don't recognize the name." Neither did I, so I asked her for the client file. Understanding dawned as I studied the counselor's notes about a young teenaged couple coming for a pregnancy test and asking pointed questions about abortion. The counselor is one of our most experienced and compassionate, and I knew she would have invested her very best efforts in a difficult scenario. The fact that a return visit never occurred and the contact telephone was no longer in service (or perhaps falsified from the beginning) gave every indication that their minds had already been made up. So sadly, today we remembered a birthday that never was. All I could think of was this video. Some choices can never be undone, nor ever forgotten. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

"You Can Do It!" (Part 2)

When I was young and naive, I loved reading fiction and worried little about its relationship to reality. Now older with a more sober understanding of the world, I appreciate biographies and the encouragement I find reading stories of people who faced difficulties and overcame by God's sustaining grace. This two-part tale is not an epic one (though it felt of epic proportions when our family was in the midst of it!) Rather it is a reminder that God does carry us over mountains and to the other side. My challenge is to acknowledge His presence when the pressure mounts, in the moment rather than a month later when the dust has settled. I am thankful for His undeserved grace.


(Link to Part 1.)

The Miami airport was warm and humid as we gathered our personal items, collected the stroller and strode out into its vast expanse. Unfortunately our  national flight dropped us off light years from the international terminal we needed for the next phase of our journey. We walked ... and walked ... and walked ... and still could not find our proper location. Overhead we saw a transit train and hoped it might take us to our gate. Up we went ... and down we returned ... because our destination was nowhere to be seen. The clock was ticking and we knew that one boarding pass (mine) was still missing, thus making it imperative that we find a ticket counter to get it issued. Finally we realized there were doors to our left that exited the national terminal and directed us towards the gate we needed. Even so, we faced another very long trek to our intended location. Everyone was tired and some of the kids struggled to keep stride as urgency pushed us onward. Our surroundings began to look familiar and with a sinking feeling we confirmed that another dreaded security point awaited us. However, our one missing boarding pass was imperative to gain entrance.

Just outside of the security lines we finally found our airline counters. By then it was nearly time to begin boarding our international flight. I flagged an agent who after hearing my dilemma, directed me to a line that said it was for crew members only. Pedro and the kids collapsed in a corner while I waited ... and waited ... and waited. Something was causing a roadblock up ahead. Meanwhile some of the kids needed bathrooms and the baby cried for a bottle but no one wanted to move until that precious piece of paper was in hand, knowing we'd need to sprint for security once it arrived. I flagged another agent who informed me that check in was already closed for our flight. Insistently I replied that there were eight of us traveling, seven had their passes and I was the mother and had to travel with my family! She led me to the front of another line and spoke to the next available ticket agent.

Finally I was at a counter, and God graciously placed a woman behind it who knew what she doing and who assured me - as I worriedly glanced back and forth between my watch and waiting family - that we would be okay. Not only did she reissue all of our boarding passes, but she also took the time to print the ones we would need for our final leg from Santiago to Iquique. Thankful, tired yet still stressed as security loomed before us, I gave the family a thumbs up and we headed toward the line. By this point it was nearly 9 o'clock at night and Silas was at the end of his rope, crying brokenheartedly for a bottle we could not give him because liquids were not allowed. As we pushed our pile of belongings through the x-ray machine, again there were items separated for review and by now our flight was boarding. Dear Isabel tried finding milk for her brother but nearby restaurants were closed and not even a little market carried the now-precious resource. I wish I could say I felt supernatural peace in this moment, but my emotions - as his shrieks echoed through the forced wait for inspection while the minutes ticked before our plane left without us - felt like a time bomb ready to explode.

When the last item was screened and we sprinted around the corner to our gate, I could have laughed if I wasn't so entirely drained. My first thought was, "Of course! This is a Chilean flight." Because there in front of us, despite boarding time having passed and departure looming, was still a long line of people waiting nonchalantly to get on the plane. No one seemed stressed or in a hurry except our sweaty family with the screaming child. Thankfully we were ushered on quickly and as we passed the pleasant flight attendants saying "welcome aboard" I pleaded immediately for a bottle of milk. We stumbled through the process of finding seats, with one (Owen) separated from the rest but content to make new friends with whatever seatmate he might find. (In fact, on our long trek through the airport he had regaled us with facts about the man he conversed with on the flight before!) There was some confusion with Pedro's assignment but eventually he landed on the aisle next to a traveling couple and across from him was Isabel in a row of strangers. Behind her sat Eva, Ian and Alec and across the aisle and slightly behind them in a corner set of two seats I tried to calm Silas (who was devastated when his coveted bottle came and was too hot to drink!)   

And then the plane took off ... darkness fell ... and ever so slowly, nerves wound tightly on edge began to loosen as Silas eventually fell asleep, his siblings contented themselves with the novelty of individual screens to play games and watch movies, Pedro crashed into well-deserved deep slumber and the white noise of the humming engines became a lullaby that would last for the next eight hours.

Compared to the first two-thirds of our journey: landing in Santiago; passing immigration and customs; gathering all of our luggage, rescanning it, riding up the elevator and returning it to an agent on the main floor; walking through one more security line where no shoes, jackets or electronics must be removed; and waiting to board our final flight was a breeze. We were tired but adrenaline served its purpose upon arriving in Iquique and the details of those first few days are recorded in another post! All that remains to say is that yes, "You Can Do It!" but only by God's grace and strength. May I remember this next time plans crumble, problems collide and pressures commence! Thank you, Lord, for bringing us safely "home." 

Monday, July 02, 2018

"You Can Do It!" (Part 1)

When I was young and naive, I loved reading fiction and worried little about its relationship to reality. Now older with a more sober understanding of the world, I appreciate biographies and the encouragement I find reading stories of people who faced difficulties and overcame by God's sustaining grace. This two-part tale is not an epic one (though it felt of epic proportions when our family was in the midst of it!) Rather it is a reminder that God does carry us over mountains and to the other side. My challenge is to acknowledge His presence when the pressure mounts, in the moment rather than a month later when the dust has settled. I am thankful for His undeserved grace.


a picture of a quiet moment during packing days
At the top of the stairs, I did a double take when I saw the words written in large Sharpie print on a full-length mirror. "You Can Do It!" the mirror cheered. It was my teenaged daughter's attempt to spur our family on as we struggled through the final stressful days of packing our furlough home in Ephrata. If there is one regret I carry as a missionary mom, it is the emotional strain our children undergo (right along with us) in the days ramping up to and immediately following our family's major life moves. Though we try to intersperse lighthearted moments in the midst of pressure-filled days, inevitably there are times of failure when words spill out in frustration and expectations are unclear or unrealistic. This transition in particular felt heavy, with such a positive year for our children behind us and many unknowns ahead. But with Isabel's words reflecting hope, we pushed on and were carried by the prayers of many from one country to another on June 29-30, 2018.

The night before we left (Monday) we spent one final evening with the Fisher cousins and Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. We would see everyone but Pop-Pop again the next day before departure. After our meal, we gathered the grandchildren around to hear his words of farewell. He shared how when he and Mom-Mom left for the mission field so many years ago, he did not understand what his father felt saying goodbye. Now he understands all too well. He tried to explain in simple words that he could be somewhat changed the next time our kids see him, due to the illness he is battling. And he assured each one of his love and prayers even while we were far away. Needless to say, tears were shed and hearts were heavy as we headed home to one final push of packing before the next morning's mayhem.

Mom-Mom in true fashion saved the day for us by rolling up her sleeves and coming to tie up loose ends at the missionary home in the wake of our departure. Other friends had kindly offered to come help but she said she could do it - and maybe it was her way of staving off sorrow with sweaty hard work! We felt badly but she insisted and so we said tender farewells and left her there, armed with cleaning agents and a to-do list as we drove off with the Fisher family in two vehicles towards the Baltimore airport. There at the curb we unloaded our crazy amount of loot: sixteen full-size suitcases, eight bulging carry-on suitcases, and eight personal items plus a diaper bag and stroller. Practicality won out and goodbyes were said quickly to Aunt Terri, Uncle Dave, Benjamin, Nathaniel and Sophia who had been such a sweet part of our furlough year as we enjoyed living just twenty minutes apart for the first time ever!
a picture just before the adventure began

Fortunately, with the aid of luggage carts and a couple of strong young sons eager to push them, we made it quickly to the nearby counter and began to lift suitcases onto the scale. This is where things began to crumble, as bags which were perfectly weighed at fifty pounds or under on the home scale seemed to have gained a pound en route. While sometimes this isn't an issue, on this morning the agent felt pressured to be a stickler because her supervisor was somewhere nearby. (How do we know this? Because towards the end of sixteen bags, she whispered that he had gone downstairs and she wouldn't worry about the last few!) 

She was kind but firm, encouraging us that "just a little" needed to be taken out of this bag or that. "How about a pair of jeans?" she asked at one point as we crouched, sweating and stressed, zipping and unzipping, crowding the path that other passengers must navigate around us to their own luggage counters. Obviously she was not the mother of a teenaged MK girl and little did she know the story of those jeans or the pursuit of the perfect pair to take back to Chile where there would be unavailable for another x amount of years! So we pulled out pants with worn hems and a hand-me-down hoodie I would have liked to keep, and one daughter's sandals purchased in Chile and able to be replaced there. The agent gave us bags to hold them but already maxed out with personal item allotments we had little choice but to discard what didn't meet the weight allowance. It was not a stellar way to begin nearly 24 hours of travel, and already-fragile emotions began to fray.

Finally check in was done, with one strange occurrence. While boarding passes for all of us printed neatly for our first flight (Baltimore to Miami), the system printed all but one boarding pass for the second flight (Miami to Santiago) and none but one for the final flight (Santiago to Iquique.) Little did we know this seemingly minor detail would ratchet up the pressure at our next stop! At the time we were just glad to move on to the following step - airport security - which we had tried to talk over in advance with our children and we all dreaded. Unfortunately, one teen affected by the loss of personal items at check-in reached an early breaking point. Struggling with bags in the security line led to a rush of tears. A kind stranger tried to help and little brother Silas in his stroller was exchanged for the bags, as he was easier to maneuver and his eager curiosity helped take the edge off an emotionally charged moment.

Airport security on US soil is a strict routine: Take off shoes, take off jackets, take out electronics. What we didn't anticipate was the agent saying each child had to hold his or her own passport. Since a passport is basically worth its weight in gold, our kids do not normally handle them and most didn't even know where to find their own picture. Not only that, but as the pile of eight blue books was handed from one to another it was dropped to the floor and nearly caused cardiac arrest for one overwrought mother. We tried to direct our tribe to the less-busy lane but needless to say it felt like we were "all thumbs" trying to give instructions, oversee opening and closing and lifting and pushing, juggling the baby and stroller (an unwieldy thing that also had to be folded flat and miraculously squeezed through the machine) and making sure everything and everyone made it through.  Of course it would have been impossible for so many items to survive without scrutiny, and one or two of us being called aside for inspection made the process even more chaotic. (Humorous note to self: Fetal models are an unusual carry-on item and will always get questioned!) 

Finally, however, we were all through. Bags were reorganized, shoes replaced and tied, boarding passes in hand and hungry bellies ready to be filled. We filed through the halls to our gate and tried to make an organized pile of belongings, then six went off to find food while two remained on luggage guard duty. I was happy to be one of them. A blessing at this point in time was the request for passengers to relinquish carry-on suitcases to the luggage hold free of charge. They would be sent all the way to Chile (no need to pick them up in Miami) and create significantly less hassle lugging them onto the airplanes and through the connecting airports. Thank you, Lord! By the time we had checked them in and everyone had eaten, it was time to board the first flight. One down, two to go ... (To be continued in Part 2.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

When a Month Feels Like a Year (And That's Not Necessarily a Bad Thing)

We are closing in on one month home in Iquique. It feels exponentially longer than that! That is not a bad thing, simply the days and weeks have been so busy with such a broad variety of activities and commitments. With mixed emotions I recently realized that in our 3 1/2 weeks in Chile we have probably had more non-family members in our home than we did the entire year we were stateside! Part of that is culture and shorter distances and living shoulder to shoulder in a city context.

In addition to catching up with our nearby friends and neighbors, we've had a surprising number of visitors in these short weeks. This has been fun while serving the additional purpose of spurring us to finish tasks at home in order to host others. Pedro was glad to reinstate his trusty old charcoal grill and prepare a send off for Bonnie and Trin of, who graced our city with their presence (and our home with their paint brushes!) during their travels around the continent of South America. He also enjoyed the role of tour guide for them, taking a well-deserved break from endless house projects to drive to the town of Pisagua (which they later described in a colorful blog entry.)

Two other friends who visited Iquique this past week hold a close connection to this very blog, as we "met" one another through it. Raquel found us through the blog as she was completing a year-long missions trip around the world. Although she was raised in Iquique she did not come to know the Lord until her college years in the States, so she was unfamiliar with evangelical churches in the city. Her initial contact with us was to request a ride to our church when she returned for a visit with her family. We enjoyed getting to know her that Sunday several years ago, and have kept up on her life through Facebook and e-mail since then. She completed her studies, got married, and returned this month with her new husband to fulfill some family obligations and introduce him to Iquique.  It was great to reconnect and be able to assist them in some small way. A highlight certainly was taking them on a tour of FLORECE, as both have tender hearts for ministry and for children. We look forward to seeing how God leads them in the future!

Our Australian friend Vikki also found us through the blog. Our very first communication dates back five years ago as she and her husband and two boys were preparing to move to Iquique. Soon they became dear friends, attending our church, sharing play dates, putting the kids in sports together, etc. I admire Vikki so much for her tenacity and spirit of adventure. She did not allow a language barrier to keep her from developing relationships with the women of church, or becoming a well-known customer bartering for vegetables at the local market. She boldly marched to her own drumbeat, refusing to bow to the status quo but somehow managing to do so with kindness towards all. And when God rescued her life from a deadly brain aneurysm in the midst of a stressful move from Iquique to Santiago, she demonstrated faith, grace and strength in the scariest of trials. We were so sorry to see her family go, yet enjoyed our visits back and forth within Chile while they lasted. Now they are returning permanently to Australia and we are thankful they made time for one final trip to our home before saying goodbye!

In addition to visitors, our weeks have been filled with multiple trips to hardware and grocery stores; resuming a schedule of ministry at church and FLORECE; slowly shaping the house back into a home; paying bills and hanging curtains and setting up phones and buying mattresses and even ordering a new debit card after mysteriously losing it just a week after arriving home. All this, amidst the cacophony of daily hours of jack hammering as the house next door is demolished down to the ground! With our kids on vacation from school, perhaps the hardest part has been establishing a solid routine for family life and we hope that another month from now we will have found a new normal in that regard. One night last week we took a break just to breathe some fresh air as a family and walk along the boardwalk at evening time. We bought cheese empanadas from one vendor and churros from another. Silas ran happily back and forth, excited to finally have some room to stretch apart from his not-frequent-enough walks to a nearby park.

It's been a long month, but a good month. There have been high moments and low moments, moments of stress and of laughter, of finding our place and remembering our place in this corner of the world. But I think I can honestly write that we are glad to be back and busy in the things God has called our family to here in Iquique, with open hearts and hope for all He has in store! 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day 2018

(originally posted to Pedro's Facebook page)

To my husband: Even before we were married, through our experiences together with migrant education and inner-city youth ministry, I observed your genuine concern and kindness towards children. I knew you would be a great dad - I just didn't know how great. Thank you for loving our kids through the sweet and the hard, the play and the work, the baby stages and the growing up. Happy Father's Day to the man who makes life with our "Sweet Six" more than I could ever have imagined. 

I love you! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sweet Sixteen for Isabel Hope

(L-R: Elisa, Eva, Isabel, Valentina, Kari)

Dear Isabel,

Your "Sweet Sixteen" birthday was an all-day affair! I hope that in every way you enjoyed your special day, from having a friend (Kari) spend the night after soccer the evening before to watching long-awaited I Can Only Imagine until 2 a.m. the morning of your birthday. I hope you felt loved with your daddy making his spicy chicken and curry rice; your friends Elisa and Valentina joining us for lunch; and your sister personally choosing you a special gift. I hope you made happy wishes blowing the candles on your panqueque de naranja cake, and that welcoming home your little hamster "Jammie" will always be a fun memory. I hope that having more friends - Sofia with her parents Tio Romo and Tia Solange, and Luisa and Sra. Isabel, Bonnie and Trin - come to celebrate you for a second round of gifts and Metro Pizza was a joyful way to end your day.

Back when a curly-haired baby girl entered the world so dramatically, I could never have imagined that sixteen years would fly by so quickly. I can still picture you and Eva in your tutus as toddlers and your piecing together long sentences of words before the age of two. You've always known your own mind and made sure to express it to others! You are our fierce and funny "Sissy" and life with you is always a great adventure. Hold tightly to Jesus and I know He will amaze you with all He has planned for your future together with Him! Daddy and I love you so much. Happy 16th Birthday, Isabel Hope!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

15th Birthday - Isabel
14th Birthday- Isabel
13th Birthday - Isabel
12th Birthday - Isabel
11th Birthday - Isabel
10th Birthday - Isabel
9th Birthday - Isabel
8th Birthday - Isabel
7th Birthday - Isabel
6th Birthday - Isabel
5th Birthday - Isabel

Monday, June 11, 2018

Timing a Furlough

Someone asked a question about the timing of our return to Chile, specifically as to why we left the States before the kids finished their school year. I realized this may have been something we explained in our e-mail prayer letters more thoroughly than on the blog. Basically, one main reason boils down to residency requirements in Chile. In order to not lose the permanent residency obtained with "blood, sweat and tears" over several years, we had to be back inside the country before 365 days were completed. And while an entire school year could fit inside this timeframe, we also had to take into consideration that the majority of our supporting churches were 9-12 hours away from where our children would be studying. This meant arriving a couple of months prior to school in order to visit as many churches as possible during the summertime before classes began, and scheduling others on long weekends during the school year. (For additional reading: A Wonderful Whirlwind, Parts: One, Two, Three, Four (1 of 2) and (2 of 2).)

Even so, we might have been able to adjust by a week or two except that it was a high priority for us to overlap at least one week with my sister's family's furlough so that our entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins!) could spend one week together on vacation. The last time we were able to do so was in 2012, so it was a reunion five years in the making. Since our family was arriving to begin one year in the States just as my sister's was departing after completing one year, it was a tight scheduling squeeze but so worth it! (For additional reading: Family Vacation: Moments to Remember, Parts: One and Two.) 

Just for fun, I looked up pictures of the grandchildren with their Pop-Pop and Mom-Mom in 2012 and 2017. Sweet memories!

Timing a furlough is not an easy task, as there are so many variables to consider. We talked, prayed, researched, planned and ultimately trusted that God would work all the details together - and of course, He did. What an amazing year it was and we are so thankful for the many people and places and events that will forever make up the tapestry of our memories!

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Stumbled Upon Memories

an "empanada" break for our deserving crew on a Saturday setting up house

An e-mail from our children's school in the States urged us to download their report cards and transcripts within the next few days. As I completed the process this evening, an attempt by my kind husband to instruct me in the use of the computer's "cloud" led to a letter I'd quite forgotten. The day Silas was born, I left it in care of my sister to be read with the older children after we left for the hospital. I am pasting it here for posterity's sake, along with a picture from today. On October 28. 2015 I could not quite imagine how little Silas would change our family dynamic but now I can see how he fits right in the midst of us and adds his own little spice to our life! 

October 28, 2015

Dear Eva, Isabel, Owen, Ian and Alec:

It’s hard to believe, but today we finally get to meet your baby brother Silas. It has been a lot of fun to listen to the five of you count down the number of days until his arrival! Every time it made me smile to hear your excitement and enthusiasm. Daddy and I are so thankful for each one of you. We also want to say thank you to each of you for helping out in so many ways to get ready for Silas’ arrival. We know it hasn’t always been fun and there have been some days with lots of work to do. But we can truly say it has been a Garcia family effort to prepare for baby (and Aunt Jenn’s visit, which we know you are already enjoying!) We love you all so much.

As we get ready to meet Silas for the first time, I thought it might be neat to tell you about the first time we met each of you! Eva, we met you for the first time in a stuffy little office of an old stone building in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Daddy and I were waiting nervously on hard wooden chairs until the door opened and in walked a social worker with a sweet little bundle in her arms! She said, “Here is your daughter,” and handed you to me. After that, the little office seemed like the most beautiful place in the world and we could not take our eyes off you! Isabel, we actually “met” you for the first time before you were born. I remember giving your birthmother a hug and thinking I was also hugging you! But the first time we met you after you were born was in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania when you were about twelve hours’ old. You were hooked up to all kind of tubes and wires and machines, and we couldn’t hold you but we could gently put our hands on your little leg or arm and talk to you. It was amazing and scary all at once, but we thought you were the most precious baby in the whole place!

Owen, we had to drive all through the night and fly through the day to get to you at the hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. We actually spent the night before meeting you in a little apartment with an empty crib and could hardly believe you would be in it soon! When we were taken to meet you in a little room in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit of the hospital in Florida, you were so tiny and also hooked up to wires and machines. But we got to carefully hold you and I cried tears of happiness!

Ian and Alec, we “met” you through pictures before we ever got to meet you in person. We thought you got cuter and cuter with every picture we saw! We flew to Haiti when Ian was nine months’ old and Alec was five months’ old. It was a long trip with lots of problems to finally get there. We were picked up by the orphanage truck and to our delight and surprise, the two of you were waiting inside! We were so excited and took turns holding you as we bounced around the pickup truck (with no car seats or seat belts) on the way to our hotel. Then we got to spend a whole week with you – playing, swimming, resting and eating together. Those were special days!

Today will also be a special day, but we want you to know that every one of you has an unforgettable special day in our hearts. To celebrate, we are leaving some sweet treats with Aunt Jenn! Enjoy them and remember how much we love you. Also remember to pray for Mommy and Silas! We will see you soon!

Love, Mommy and Daddy

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Mind and Heart of Christ

"Isn't there supposed to be a 'honeymoon phase?' I think I skipped the 'honeymoon phase' this time." These were my words during a rare moment when my husband and I were alone this morning. ("Alone" being a relative term - we did have a sleeping toddler in the car!) We were returning from our second trip to the Agro, an overflowing market covering multiple city blocks in a downtown area of Iquique. The first trip had been to locate and measure potential dressers for our boys' bedroom; the second, to put money down on them and hopefully have them delivered as promised later in the day.

The Agro is a fascinating place. You can find so many things at a great price if you're willing to dig in and look around. One whole building is dedicated to secondhand American clothing brought in by container ships in huge bales of garments. Another has everything from knock off soccer jerseys to kitchen utensils to furniture to slot machines (lots of slot machines, as if people in this section of the city had money to spare!) There is an entire section of fruits and vegetables with great prices and variety. But like so much of Iquique where it never rains, the Agro is grimy and dirty. You can feel the dust under your fingers and see the dirt beneath your heels. The spiritual filth feels tangible as well, with exhibit A being the dingy motel renting rooms by the hour right in the middle of the market and exhibit B being an overheard conversation between two men discussing women as if pieces of meat.

Jesus looked on the crowds and had compassion. He saw them as sheep without a Shepherd. Today my skin crawled and I shuddered at the crowds. How can I call myself a missionary when the sight of an unnaturally powdered and withered face on a woman with vacant expression made me turn away, and the peddlers at street lights earned only my frustration? How hardened is my heart that recognizing the faces of beggars after a year away brought me exasperation that they continued in their circumstances, rather than concern for their souls? 

I need the mind and heart of Christ. Jesus touched the lepers. He put His fingers on the eyes of the blind man. Recently we were given a challenge by the pastor of the church we attended stateside. It was to prayerfully consider the words of an old hymn on a daily basis. Today, they serve as a reminder and challenge to me:

May the mind of Christ, my Savior, Live in me from day to day, By His love and pow’r controlling, All I do and say. 
May the Word of God dwell richly, In my heart from hour to hour, So that all may see I triumph, Only through His pow’r.
May the peace of God my Father, Rule my life in everything, That I may be calm to comfort, Sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me, As the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing, This is victory.
May I run the race before me, Strong and brave to face the foe, Looking only unto Jesus, As I onward go.
May His beauty rest upon me, As I seek the lost to win, And may they forget the channel, Seeing only Him.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Garcia Goodbyes

I treasure this picture of our family devotions the morning of Grandpa and Grandma Garcia's departure from Pennsylvania. For the second time during our furlough year, they had given us the gift of their presence for three weeks. On this occasion, one of those weeks was dedicated to watching their six grandchildren while Pedro and I traveled to California. Now it was time to say goodbye for what might be up to five more years before our entire family would be together again (although we are trusting God to provide a reunion sooner!)

Tight hugs were exchanged all around as the older kids prepared to leave for school that morning. Ian and Alec had an extra hour with the grandparents, and Silas the honor of accompanying them to the airport in Harrisburg.

We are so thankful for the precious family God has given us, and the memories made during our time stateside. During this particular visit, Grandma was working through some health issues and carefully watching her diet. As a result, she introduced us to places we'd not yet found such as farmer's markets and health food stores. She also shared our kids' passion for "KC Warehouse," the hidden gem of inexpensive assorted items for sale in an old building behind our house!

Grandpa Garcia filled our house with laughter as always. One of his wishes during his time in Pennsylvania was a trip to Gettysburg. We took off on a beautiful day and while the three older boys stayed with their Fisher cousins, the rest of us headed to the Gettysburg Visitor Center. We viewed the film, cyclorama and museum, then used a phone app to follow the battlefield trail in our vehicle. Twice we walked through living history sites where men and women dressed in period clothing shared stories from those moments in history. We ended our day quietly at the cemetery where President Lincoln gave his famous address. As someone who has worn the uniform of his country, Grandpa Garcia greatly appreciated the day's events. It was a sweet privilege to make these memories as a family. 

Several of our kids enjoyed rousing games of Dutch Blitz with Grandma Garcia during her visit. She had patience and energy for endless rounds on many occasions! Often she, Ian and Alec would use their extra time in the morning to play together, either Dutch Blitz or sometimes the Rubiks card game. Happy memories!

Having granted Grandpa's Gettysburg wish, we had the pleasure of fulfilling Grandma's desire to see a musical theater production at Sight & Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Brand new this year, the presentation of Jesus was an amazing representation of His life, ministry, death and resurrection as recounted in the Biblical gospels. With stages on three sides and exceptional talent, the words and music and message were inspiring and humbling. Another amazing memory!

Tears were shed at the Harrisburg airport on the day of departure, although you might not see them in these pictures. Whoever thought to put rocking chairs outside of security for the comfort of passengers and those seeing them off, was a genius! Silas was especially gleeful as he climbed in his own seat next to Grandpa while Grandma finished her final healthy drink before the trip.

We watched as they cleared security after warm hugs goodbye, then slowly made our way to the parking garage and into our maroon Beast and headed towards home.  We are so thankful for sweet family moments to last us until we meet again.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

First Few Days

I am writing a bit out of order, but wanted to record some of what these first few days back in Iquique have been. Our flight landed around 10:45 AM on Wednesday, May 30. Amazingly, every piece of expected luggage was on the carousel and we pushed five full carts out of baggage claim to greet "Uncle" Jon Sharp who was waiting for us amidst multiple clamoring taxi drivers. Climbing the sloping path to the main airport drive led us to Romo and Solange with our white van awaiting passengers and Mario with his minivan prepped for luggage. It was great to see familiar faces. More of them greeted us as we pulled in front of our house where the entire Spink family was anticipating our arrival! Our kids were happy to see their kids and luggage, laughter and loudness soon spilled throughout the house.

Car seat laws have been tightened so we were very grateful for Mario's repair work on our van with its built-in child restraint seating for Silas. Romo drove as Solange and I chatted while Silas, Eva and Isabel for the most part quietly watched out the windows on the drive home. At one point Silas noticed the ocean and said, "Mommy! Water!" When I explained it was the ocean, he responded: "Da fishies in dere!"

While we were grateful for so many offers of immediate assistance, exhaustion and overwhelmedness won out and we bid farewell to friends in favor of a family lunchtime and naps for some. We were blessed with lunch options from the Sharp and Ruz families which made life much easier. I can't remember why now but Pedro still made a quick grocery run which was a bit of a chore. Emotions began to run high on all sides due to tiredness, clutter, lingering sadness from goodbyes and the sheer volume of work ahead of us. The children chafed at the idea of diving into the work of preparing our home in Chile after having just finished the work of departing our home in the States. 

One huge blessing that awaited us on our return were newly painted bedrooms for our children, thanks to a kind couple currently visiting in Iquique. Figuring out the configuration of beds and how to fit four boys into one room and where to find all the pieces of the household puzzle was too much for my weary brain. We decided to accept the Spinks' offer to have the kids over so they at least could enjoy an escape from pending projects, with the exception of Owen who could not be wakened from his afternoon slumber which allowed him needed rest and an escape from the still-raw emotions of fresh farewells. When colleagues Jon and Pam stopped by in the early evening, I felt I was struggling to string two words together. We collected sheets, sleeping bags and pillows and once the children returned, our entire family collapsed for the night with Pedro, Silas and I taking the living room floor (on a futon mattress.)

We all slept in on Thursday morning, then Pedro and the boys attacked the back patio to make room for storage which would be unloaded from the third floor later that afternoon with help from both "Uncle Jons" (Sharp and Spink.) We met the workmen tearing down the house next door which explained the loud noises prompting Silas to say, "Mommy! I scared! Boom, boom, boom!" At one point Eva, Ian, Alec and Silas walked up the hill to the friends' house where our dog Whittaker awaits retrieval (a happy reunion!) Meanwhile I had a lengthy conversation with our longtime neighbor Jacqueline in which she echoed the unfortunate statements we had been hearing about the rise of crime in Iquique. Both our home and another neighbor's were broken into in December, and both her daughter and the daughter of the friends staying in our home were each robbed of their cell phones in our neighborhood last year. It was a reminder to be increasingly cautious and wise. After lunch, we met the kind couple who painted our house and were able to thank them for their gift! And when the afternoon unloading was done, five of our six kids again headed to Spinks' house while Pedro and I made a quick trip to the mall to price washing machines. Isabel chose to visit with her friend Sofia and rejoined the rest of us after we had enjoyed a delicious Mexican meal with the Spink family and two friends from church, Felipe and Rodrigo. I appreciated a few moments to catch up with Kim. Back home we all fell exhausted into bed once again - in my case, only to startle awake at 1:30 when a sneak peek through our front window revealed a stranger tapping on our gate as if to gain our attention. I did not respond but felt uneasy and prayed for safety as I tried to sleep once again.

Friday was a day of setting up bedrooms, with Pedro and the boys doing a great job on their room to the point that Silas joined his brothers and even the Lego table was unearthed! Isabel's bed was dismantled and replaced with a bunkbed and her room rearranged to her liking, while Eva continued her dogged efforts to discard old stuff and arrange new stuff in her own new space. Both girls were excited to have their own rooms for the first time ever. In the afternoon, we drove to the Zofri mall and to Ripley downtown to price washing machines and mattresses. With time to spare before a promised return to our favorite Chinese restaurant when it opened at 8 PM, we stopped in to visit our dear friends the Diaz Castillo family. Over chips and Coca Cola we reminisced about their visit to us in the States this past February. We continue to pray for Isabel as she fights cancer with determination.

My own bed welcomed me for the first time that night, and Saturday morning began with coffee and fresh bread and a blog post. It was a day full of errands, from Pedro's much-needed haircut at the Agro Sur to Senora Leticia's famous empanadas for lunch. Our sweet friend Elisa had called the night before to spend her free day with us and arrived in the early afternoon to stay with the kids while we visited Jumbo, the central Agro, Ripley, a carpentry shop, and the Lider near the mall over the course of several hours. At Jumbo we were blessed to find a floor model washing machine that was much cheaper than any other we had found online or in person. At the central Agro we priced dressers needed for several children and at Ripley we discussed new mattresses also needed by several of them. The carpentry shop was closed but we recorded the contact information as we are in need of a new sink cabinet in the kitchen. Lider provided cleaning supplies, toiletries and diapers but were were chagrined to realize we had made the "rookie" mistake of going on a Saturday night when it was teeming with people. Eventually we made it home. Pedro and Isabel drove Elisa to her next destination and returned with dinner, a giant "pichanga" of meat, sausage, onions, eggs, fries, avocado, etc. and a couple of churrascos with garlic mayo and avocado in case anyone was still hungry! Pedro ended the long day by installing both washer and dryer (my hero!)

Miscellaneous other things to mention: our cell phones are successfully connected to the our local Chilean company Entel but the data function refuses to work; Owen has enjoyed playing far too many hours of video games online but the positive is that he's connecting with cousins; Silas seems to enjoy wandering through piles of belongings, especially when every old toy seems wonderfully new. Video chat has allowed us to connect with family back home and little by little we are reconnecting with friends here. All around us there are physical tasks to complete, but also reminders of the spiritual needs which have brought us here to Iquique. There is SO MUCH still to do, but we are taking it one day as a time as we tackle these first few days!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Visiting Chloe (Iowa Girls' Trip)

My sister-in-law Nina is so gracious that she times the major events of her life to coordinate with our furloughs. In 2012, she was kind enough to get married while we were stateside. And in 2017, she gave birth to her first daughter Chloe just weeks after our return to the USA! Needless to say, this adorable first cousin on the Garcia side was welcomed with open arms by all of us. Unfortunately, Nina and her husband Kyle live in Iowa and distance did not allow for a great deal of time together. We first met Chloe for a short while during New Year's week when our Garcia family gathered in Pennsylvania. 

Thankfully, Eva, Isabel and I had one extra opportunity to spend time with Kyle, Nina and Chloe at the end of April. With the additional objective of visiting Faith Baptist Bible College as a future schooling option, we flew out over a long weekend for a campus tour. Uncle Kyle and Aunt Nina are both graduates and live close to the school, also hosting a college Sunday School class in their home each week, so they were definitely rooting for the girls to choose Faith! 

It was great to see some familiar faces from our sending church in Lapeer at FBBC. Jeff and Julie Shepard provided the rental house we enjoyed for the first half of our home assignment in 2012, and our kids have fond memories of their family. Several of their daughters have attended this college with very positive experiences. Two were on campus the day of our visit, so it was neat to interact with them and see how God is leading them to areas of future ministry! It was also fun to run into a former Chile MK who is in his first year at the school. While our girls didn't make any decisions that day (and we didn't expect them to) it was encouraging to consider a positive option that would be close to family.  

Another highlight of our trip to Iowa was visiting with veteran Chile missionary (now retired) Bonnie Abbas, and her sister Sharon. "Miss Bonnie" was my wonderful English teacher in junior high and high school. She truly encouraged me as a writer and student, and her lessons in both school and Christian life have stayed with me. In fact, it was largely due to her example that I chose to study secondary education English in college. Her long, faithful years as a single missionary were also an inspiration! It had been many years since I saw Miss Bonnie last and it was my first opportunity to meet Sharon. We enjoyed a delicious Mexican meal together at a restaurant halfway between their home and Nina's. It was a joy to reconnect, albeit for a brief while. 

Even the travel on our "girls' trip" was fairly enjoyable despite multiple airplanes and layovers along the way, as we experienced the Chicago airport for the first time and tried some new flavors of pizza and fresh fruit juices while we waited. Being just three of us, we had some good conversations and relaxing times reading side by side and listening to music. At Aunt Nina's we watched multiple episodes of our favorite mystery show together, and on the night Uncle Kyle had off work we had a family movie night. It was sweet to spend time with Nina and see her home and church and the life God has given her in Iowa. On Sunday we attended her church and that evening we participated in an after-church college social at the pastor's house. They live in a very small community so we were able to stroll Chloe from one house to the the other on a lovely evening with a beautiful full moon.

Of course, Chloe was a highlight of our visit and we spent lots of time cuddling and coaxing and enjoying her happy heart and beautiful smile! We even got to "babysit" and took Chloe on a trip to Dairy Queen (with careful instructions from her mommy that she was not to get any bites of ice cream!) and Walmart. She is such a sweetheart and we will miss seeing her grow up in person but love all the updates Nina posts on Whatsapp and Facebook. We are so happy for their little family and appreciated the time with them so much!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Squeezing in the Memories

On Tuesday of this week, Ian and Alec had a presentation at their elementary school and were blessed with the presence of their parents, siblings, cousins, aunt and uncle and grandparents to observe and applaud their efforts. Afterwards the whole big group of us piled around the half-packed living room for a few minutes of chatting and snacking on a new variety of (accidentally) flourless chocolate chip cookies made by Eva. 

Later that same night, Eva and Silas and I took Mom-Mom to two pet stores in search of new pets, specifically two betta fish in remembrance of Eva's special project at school this year. We ended the evening back at the grandparents' house where Silas immediately toted the big basket of Thomas train pieces into the living room; turned on Tom the talking (recording) tomcat; and lit Mom-Mom's electric candle so he could sing Happy Birthday to people at random. Meanwhile Eva carefully designed aquatic habitats complete with rocks and plants for red-finned "Robbie" and lilac-colored "Lily."

On Wednesday, Pedro and Silas spent time with Pop-Pop (something involving Chick-fil-A?) while Terri, Mom-Mom and I joined Aunt Joann for our second and final "Christian girls" get-together before leaving. Hearkening back to a tradition from last furlough, we first shared a buffet lunch together at the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant. Then we enjoyed their newest musical theater production titled "The Home Game," a modern-day adaptation of the Prodigal Son story with an Amish twist. Though our times together have been few, it is always sweet to see Pop-Pop's only sibling and always bittersweet to say goodbye.

Aunt Terri's day continued well into the night when she picked up Eva and Isabel after school for a evening out with her nieces and daughter-in-law. The girls were treated to a grown-up meal at Olive Garden and then went "shopping" at the home of a LuLaRoe distributor! Thanks to video chat, I was able to give opinions on a few items but with Aunt Terri's expertise they came home brightly and happily outfitted. It was perfect timing for a pick-me-up before the final days of school.

Thursday (yesterday) Mom-Mom picked up the older kids from school and took them to her house where Eva clarified instructions for the betta fish, and Mom-Mom sorted through jewelry to pass on to both granddaughters. Meanwhile Owen strangely went straight to bed. (Later we learned it had been an emotionally draining day of early goodbyes at school.) When time came to bring them back home, we invited Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop to stay for dinner since a yummy Mexican meal of rice, beans and pork tacos was already underway - thanks to Pedro!

And then, not wanting the beautiful summer evening to end and with the excellent excuse that it was also their 49th anniversary, we carpooled with Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop to Rita's for some Italian water ice and gelatis. 

There are just a few days left before our departure for Chile. And we are squeezing in the memories.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Adoption is Loss and Redemption

This year I was blessed to join a group of ladies studying the Biblical book of Jeremiah. Known as the "weeping prophet," Jeremiah speaks often of heartbreak. Yet time and again in his writing, words of hope burst forth in the midst of sorrow. God's holy character is clearly seen but so is His amazing mercy! 

In one such passage which also prophesies the coming Messiah, Jeremiah uses the stirring phrase "beauty from ashes." Ashes in ancient times were put on one's head as a symbol of mourning.  In some Bible translations, "a crown of beauty" or "a beautiful headdress" is used to illustrate the complete transformation God gives to His people as He turns grief to gladness.

There are unforgettable moments in life when we are privileged to bear witness of this transformation. 

Over the last few weeks and specifically last Sunday, this has been our experience as our oldest daughter has reconnected with her birth family. Seventeen years ago, Pedro and I experienced the beauty of adoption out of the ashes of sorrow, pain and sacrificial love borne by a young couple who chose us as their daughter's parents. For us, our ashes of infertility instantly became the beauty of family. For them, it would be many more years before this beauty was seen.

Adoption is loss and redemption.

The ripples of loss are felt by the birth mother who labors to bring a baby into this world; holds her as long as the hospital stay allows; and achingly considers which parents might best fulfill her hopes for this precious child. They are felt by the birth father who spends years questioning whether his child will harbor resentment for the choice he helped to make. These ripples extend to the birth grandmother who annually bakes a birthday cake in honor of the granddaughter she held only once, and to the birth brother who learns of his sister's existence when he is nearly an adult himself. And notwithstanding the joy, love and belonging found in the only home she has ever known, this loss is still felt at times in the heart of the child who wonders how her story began. 

To truly celebrate adoption and honor it as a loving choice, we must first acknowledge the reality of loss. Only then can we rejoice in redemption - that wondrous exchange of uncertainty for knowing; of longing for holding; and of tenuous hope for joyful fulfillment. It is hearing the words, "You have given her everything I ever hoped for." It is the bittersweet weight of awe and gratitude that God would have granted such a privilege to us, and thus far enabled us to fulfill expectations by His grace and mercy alone.

We are so thankful that in His perfect timing just before we returned overseas, God allowed this reunion to take place. We are so thankful that He answered years of questions and brought healing to wounded hearts. We are so thankful that He sees the past, present and future and does all things for our good and for His glory. We are so thankful for losses redeemed, and beauty reclaimed from ashes. We are so thankful for adoption!