Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Six

The owners of our home in Iquique asked us to have a contractor evaluate the damages and provide an estimate of the cost of repairs, in order to submit a claim to the company which insures the property. Thankfully, our aforementioned risk-assessment engineer neighbor had offered to send over the guy who came to inspect their house so that we could work on this together.

I understood better when the contractor arrived today and pointed out that a shared wall between our (duplex) properties would likely need to be knocked down and rebuilt. Our neighbor wants to do so with rebar and concrete rather than the concrete blocks which have proven less than trustworthy. Could be a bit humorous when the time comes and we briefly share our living spaces!

As I took the contractor around the home and showed him various trouble spots, it was interesting to learn that the house has leaned back at least half an inch and that the problems we initially noted have grown a bit worse. When the house was first built, the owners included an addition to the kitchen and living room. Literally, the connections between the additions and the original structure have separated. The contractor recommended using packing or duct tape to triple seal the fissures until the insurance company comes in person to take a look. That should make for a unique new decor. (Maybe we'll start a trend!)

I have been reminded in recent days that our six-year old son, Ian, has learned a new vocabulary word since the earthquake. It is the word "damaged." I should mention that he seems to be the most affected by recent events, not overpoweringly so but enough that he is the one who needs reassurance when aftershocks come or who often inquires, "What if there is another earthquake tonight?" He also refuses to sleep with his head near the wall in their bedroom which has a long diagonal crack (that matches the one on the outside of the house, unfortunately.)

Ian's way of expressing himself verbally is a little unique, and often we have to interpret what exactly he is trying to say with the words he uses. Perhaps that is why hearing him repeat the seemingly grown-up and previously unknown-to-him word "damaged" always catches my ear and makes me smile. Recently we were delivering a five-year old friend to his home after a play date. From the back seat I heard Ian ask his friend, "Did your house was damaged?" Other times he will see houses as we drive through town and he will ask, "That house was damaged?" I can only imagine what he will have to say when all the fixing up begins!

This evening we had the two little boys soaking in the bathtub (a luxury after a five-day stretch without gas due to an earthquake-induced leak in the neighborhood that ended earlier this week!) Suddenly we began to hear curious sounds coming from their direction. I tried to quietly investigate with my video camera and capture some footage of how Ian and Alec apparently remember the night of the earthquake. Oh, how they made us all laugh - and they were practically pitch perfect, too. :)

Related posts:
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Five
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Four
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Three
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Two
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part One

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Celebrating 9 Years with Owen

Dear Owen,

My energetic, adventurous boy ... how much laughter and life you bring to our home! Sometimes it can be exasperating (how many times did I hear, "Mom! Can I open my presents?!" and who woke me up this morning saying, "Is it time to open my presents yet?!") But many times it is enjoyable (who else gets the whole family giggling at mealtime with impersonations, "Hey! Who am I?!") And always, it is endearing (I love that you still try to fold your long frame into my lap and snuggle!)

Today on your 9th birthday, I wish life were a little more simple and we weren't in the midst of post-earthquake recovery. Then we could fulfill our promise to take you and two friends to Happyland, and I wouldn't be scratching my head over how to bake a cake after the gas company found a leak in the neighborhood and turned everything off three days ago with no restoration date in sight. I wish it wasn't such a busy day with Daddy running one way and Mommy preparing to run another, because it happens to be a very full day on the church calendar.

But someday, son, I pray you will understand that the greatest part of birthdays isn't the cake, or gifts, or games (though those are all great fun!) The greatest part of birthdays is life itself, a gift from God. And it is up to us to choose to use that life wisely, and kindly, and generously, and faithfully.

Today on your 9th birthday, I pray that each passing year will draw you into a closer relationship with your Heavenly Father and Creator. I pray that you will learn to walk - or in your case, run! - in stride with Jesus. I pray that your life will be a testimony of God's grace and power and creativity, and that your energy and joy and spirit of adventure will lead you to greater things than we can even imagine for God's glory.

I love you, Owen! Daddy and I are so thankful for your life. Happy 9th Birthday.


More birthday posts:

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Five

I used to find amusing how prepared Chilean mothers were for that forever-imminent phantom of an earthquake. "I always remind my son to have shoes next to his bed!" was a phrase I often heard in reference to bedtime routines. It was as though earthquake preparedness was imprinted on their parental DNA. "Obsessed" is a word that may or may not have crossed my mind a time or two!

I recall this as I instruct my boys to put on shirts as they head to bed tonight, while I inquire as to the whereabouts of their footwear, and as I turn their discarded sweatshirts inside out and within easy reach at a moment's notice. A 6.2-magnitude aftershock rocked us a bit at prayer meeting tonight, and now I am the one thinking, "You can never be too sure!"

I find myself making mental lists of what we could do better next time. Those cute little head flashlights we give away for birthday gifts to kids? How about seven of those handy the next time the city goes dark! The emergency lanterns with built-in battery-operated radios that many of our neighbors had the night of April 1 now make me drool. Gotta get me one of those! One friend made hanging flashlights for everyone in her house. I like that idea, because we could hang them all in one place for easy access in an emergency.

Today the gas company manually turned off our switch and said not to touch it until they returned. It's after midnight and technically tomorrow now, and they haven't come back. Two calls to the company in the course of the afternoon told me they were supposedly "still working." Since our kitchen stove, hot water, and laundry dryer all function on gas, I am missing it quite a bit (though we did get take-out Chinese food for all our troubles!) 

I asked my next-door neighbor at one point, "Did you get your gas back?" He solemnly informed me that they have never used the piped gas because that is a hazard in earthquakes; they buy gas in containers so they are not dependent on the system. Ooooh. That's smart. Did I mention he is a risk assessment engineer and that they have an extra water tank and a back-up generator, too? I want to be like them in the next earthquake! 

Before heading to bed, I checked to make sure any breakable dishes were somewhere they couldn't be jostled to the floor should it shake tonight. I double-checked that the dog was on a leash since a good tremor can knock open the door to the back patio. I scrolled through the latest seismic reports and listed to the squeaking of the mirror on our dresser through a couple of minor movements. I considered the fact that all blankets have now been restored to their proper places on beds in bedrooms. I wondered if we should always keep a stash in the cars for future earthquakes and nights spent on four wheels.

And suddenly, I realized that I don't sound all that different from those "obsessed" mothers I once knew. :)

Related posts:
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Four
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Three
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Two
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part One

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Four

I'm sorry to say that all too frequently, my poor husband has to remind me: "Steph, we really need to get some food in this house! There's nothing to eat!" Which is why you'll find "groceries" an important part of my gratitude list concerning the earthquake. But there is so much more. I have been wanting to do this since the beginning, to keep a record of the many things for which we thank God throughout this experience. Here I've listed twenty. It's a start.

My Earthquake Gratitude List - 20 Things

1. We were all together when the earthquake hit. It would have been so hard emotionally and logistically to have the kids at school (Owen especially, as he is across town and must evacuate.)
2. We were not in the Zofri mall, where we had been less than an hour before. Nor were we downtown, where we had been less than half an hour before.
3. We very quickly made it home. Just to be in a familiar place around familiar people made such a difference.
4. We lost our dog, but against all odds in the midst of the chaos, God brought him back to us. I consider that a gracious and merciful gift for our children's peace of mind.
5. We had friends join us to spend both nights of tsunami evacuations post-earthquakes.
6. A distanced relationship was reconnected through this experience.
7. New friendships were forged during difficult days.
8. On Monday (the day before the earthquake), we purchased two carts' worth of groceries.
9. On Friday (four days before the earthquake), we purchased four 20-liter containers of drinking water.
10. After the earthquake, a friend from church stopped by with an industrial-sized bag of rice and other dry goods as a gift to us.
11. As such, we had the means to provide a place and food to eat for our family and neighbors in need.
12. Because of prior water cuts, we had stockpiled quite a collection of bottled tap water in 6-liter jugs.
13. Our home was not severely damaged.
14. Our family and friends were kept safe.
15. Communication with my sister in Santiago was available immediately after the quake.
16. Communication via internet was available at the church on the second day, to enable communication with our parents stateside.
17. We now understood why God had not allowed us yet to purchase a home.
18. Had we moved away, we would have been disconnected from the support system found in our long-time neighborhood.
19. Had we moved downtown (as planned, and which still remains a possibility for the future), we would have had to evacuate our home and most likely would not have been adequately prepared as yet.
20. God allowed us opportunities to minister in tangible ways - for instance, loaning our cars to displaced friends for a place to sleep several nights.

Related posts:
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Five 
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Three
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Two
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part One

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Wishing My Husband a Happy Birthday

To my beloved husband, 

It's that time of year again. The week of birthdays, with yours snuggled right in between two others. Last night our house was bursting at the seams with dear friends helping to celebrate our son's special day. I asked if you wanted a repeat of the excitement for your birthday, but as expected you said a quiet celebration was enough for you! :)

It's something I love about you, the fact that you are steady and consistent and predictable (in the very good sense of the word!) You are not about hype or show, but I also love that you can make a crowd laugh with your unexpected jokes and that you don't take yourself too seriously to have lots of fun when the occasion calls for it. I love how these qualities have endeared you to the people of our church, especially our young adults with their tales of Pastor Pedro's "Radio IBM" and the story of the marraqueta yelling "hallullame!"

But I especially love that you save the best humor for us at home. I love hearing you tease our kids in that semi-serious way where others might not know if you mean it or not, but they know their Daddy well enough to tease right back! The day of the picture below, you were sick at home but still took time to play Legos with the kids. You were bantering back and forth as you worked and I wished my picture was 4D so that I could always remember how sweet that moment was!

We have had many sweet moments because of you. And in the hard moments, we have felt safe because of you. I think of how you twice accompanied Eva in the darkness and chaos after the earthquake in search of the dog, just because it meant so much to her. I remember so many times when Isabel cried out at night because of pain in her legs, and you were the one to comfort her. 

Today, on your birthday, I hope you know how much you are loved and appreciated.

I am so thankful to be able to celebrate each new year at your side, and look forward to all the adventures yet to come for our family! I pray that God continues to give you wisdom, patience, and enthusiasm daily through His Word. Thank you for your example of sacrifice, true friendship and joy as you serve Him, our family and others.

Happy Birthday, my Sweets!

Love, Stephanie

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Happy 6th Birthday, Alec Stephen!

photo 2013, copyright Hernan Montero (photographer)

Dear Alec,

Recently you and I spent a morning looking at videos from when you had just come home to us. It was so fun. The memories made you giggle and made me fall in love with you all over again! But I was struck by how much has changed in such a short time. Back then, you mimicked everything Ian said and he often tried to speak for you. Now, there's not a chance of that happening! You are definitely your own man.

You want so much to be able to do everything big brother Owen does. There's a reason Mommy affectionately calls you my "viejo chico!" :) While there are still some areas where you must wait to grow up, you excel in those areas where you can. I love to see you with your homework notebooks from Kindergarten. "Mom, I have homework," you announce in that trying-to-sound-disappointed-but-secretly-happy-and-proud-of-myself voice of yours. You slap your work on the table and bustle about finding pencils without points so you have an excuse to try and operate the big pencil sharpener. With careful strokes you trace your letters, because you are generally a meticulous and perfectionist kind of guy. No amount of hurrying will move you from your slow and steady focus! (This is one of the many qualities that impresses me about you!)

Mr. Serious may be your public persona, but we get the benefit of seeing Mr. Rough-and-Tumble and hearing Mr. Peals-of-Laughter at home. Nothing gets you giggling like Daddy's tickles or big sister Isabel's teasing. And you like nothing better than putting on your "Army guy" costume and waging war with Ian, or trying out your latest Jackie Chan moves on Owen! 

But I am glad that for Mommy, you save your sweet smiles, hugs and snuggles. I am so proud of the smart, sensitive little boy you have become. I know God has great things in store for you! My prayer for you this year is that you will transfer the "head knowledge" you have about Jesus to a true understanding in your heart. That would be the greatest birthday present ever!

Happy 6th Birthday, Alec Stephen! We love you so much.


More birthday posts:

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

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Three

With severe damage to their home, our neighbors two houses down found themselves also providing a landing place for their close friends (a family of three) with their close friend (a single co-worker) who had been staying at a hotel in town. Meanwhile our house had survived surprisingly well and we had plenty of space in our side patio to set up tables. At lunchtime that first day, we joined forces and mealtime became quite an event! Nineteen people gathered for our first community meal. Over the next several days we would have anywhere from fifteen to twenty when we sat down to eat.

And eat, we did. With no electricity and food quickly defrosting, our grill was laden with chicken, steak, sausages, hamburgers, and hotdogs. One day our neighbor prepared a delicious salmon from her hometown of Chiloe in southern Chile. Another day her Japanese friend joined us with her family and we enjoyed several unique delicacies. In a last-minute pinch one afternoon, our neighbor (who is a wonderful cook) whipped up noodles in a homemade red sauce to the children's delight, and a wonderful eggplant lasagna for the adults. The high caliber of our meals seemed quite humorous in contrast to our plight!

On Wednesday night, twenty-four hours after the earthquake, Pedro and four kids took to the second-floor bedrooms while one daughter and I bedded down in the living room. Aftershocks were frequent, but it was a 7.6-magnitude quake that jerked us from our slumber shortly before midnight. Our downstairs has eight sliding glass doors, six of which are covered by metal protective bars which rattle unnervingly when the earth shakes. My husband later told me this second quake was much more frightening to him than the first, because he felt responsible to rouse the kids and get them downstairs to safety. But they were so exhausted from the night before that even such a large event wouldn't wake them! Our daughter later told us that when Pedro pulled her up and commanded, "Get up! Get up!" she thought he was saying, "Did you read the book?! Did you read the book?!" We got a good laugh over that later.

The tsunami alarms wailed again and again we rounded up blankets and flashlights and tucked the kids quickly into cars. Solange and her children joined us, this time accompanied by her husband who had made it home from his job at the mine. We were all so tired that we could hardly make conversation. Thankfully, the alert was called off two hours later and a part of the night was salvaged for sleep.

The next morning, our neighbors' children lamented that they had cleaned their rooms for nothing. Everything was again in disarray. While I had cleaned up the original mess in my kitchen (mostly involving a broken coffee pot, French press, and five kilos of sugar) there were other rooms I had simply looked at and left alone simply because I felt overwhelmed. For that lack of ambition I now felt some measure of satisfaction. But it was back to the drawing board for everyone.

Time starts to blur a little as I try to recall details. We tried to touch base via cell phone with several people. On Tuesday night just after the big earthquake, I had reached my sister in Santiago via cell and let her know our situation. She was our personal news reporter via Facebook from that point on (thanks, sis!) Wednesday we discovered the church had internet and we called our parents via Skype so they could hear our voices and know we were okay. By Thursday we had seen several more people from church, and that evening Pedro and four of the kids made it to church for prayer meeting with a small group of believers.

Thursday night was also the night of a lot of tension in the air. The military had evacuated their families, and someone started the rumor that they had prior knowledge of  a "mega-earthquake" to come during the night hours. It was a strange dichotomy to have so many families at home together in almost a festive-like setting, yet to hear the heavy silence of waiting and watchfulness in the air.

To be continued ...

Related posts:
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Five
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Four
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Two
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part One

Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Two

Our neighbors are animal lovers to an extreme, and it was their teenaged daughter Camila who immediately approached us full of apologies for having failed to stop our dog from running away when the door to the back patio opened (from the force of the quake.) She refused to take no for an answer as she repeatedly offered to take her family's lantern into the darkness of our neighborhood in search of our small pet. Meanwhile our daughter was wailing its loss and all I wanted was to keep our family together and safe, but finally I relented and let Camila, Pedro and our daughter go in search of Whittaker. Over and over I peered down the dark street, willing them to quickly return.

There was much movement and noise around us, as the tsunami sirens wailed while families and their pets hurried up the mountain of sand in front of our house to the "safe zone." The ground continued shaking. Cars honked, sirens rang out, helicopters buzzed loudly overhead, and people everywhere tried to contact loved ones on cell phones.

My boys still sat quietly in the back seat of the car. One complained of a aching stomach, another of an urgent need to go potty. Our house had lost not only power but water in the quake, yet we had stockpiled many gallons of tap water for such a time as this. We weren't sure of the damage inside or if the shaking would start again while we were upstairs in the bathroom, but need overruled fear.

"What if we die?" my oldest son asked. His little brothers, wired on adrenaline, eagerly spouted Sunday School answers about Heaven and Jesus. But when asked, "Have you ever asked Jesus to be your Savior?" they both honestly said no. "Is that something you want to do?" resulted in awkward glances and, "Uh ... I don't know!" Obviously no matter the crisis, they still weren't quite ready in their understanding.

Finally, the search trio returned - not empty-handed, yet it was not Whittaker in our daughter's arms, but a collared cat. She tried earnestly to retain it, but soon learned just how wild an animal becomes with fear and could understand how our dog had run away when the cat fled, too. Instead she kept her hamster close in its travel cage and huddled with her siblings in the comforting light of the open car.

We set up lawn chairs in front of the house and settled in for what would be a long night of waiting. Suddenly we heard a voice calling from the hill about us, "Tia Stephanie!" I recognized the voice but couldn't place it, until we saw Solange and her two children lowering themselves carefully down the slippery sand. It was so encouraging to see the familiar faces of our close friends from church. They stayed with us through that first night. At some point, Solange, my daughter and I walked back to her house for her battery-operated radio and additional cell phones. She lives on a gated street and it was eerie to see it so still and quiet. Only her neighbors were home, packing up their car for a required evacuation to the military safe zone (since the husband is a military doctor.)

Solange bundled up and listening for news reports on the radio
Before night's end, Pedro headed out for another search for Whittaker with our daughter and this time it was successful. I credit this solely to the Lord's love and mercy on our children, considering the circumstances! With dog in hand and having rounded up as many quilts and blankets as we could find, it was decided that our kids and Solange's bunk in our two cars. Both could fold down the third row and actually made for a semi-comfortable resting place. Eventually Pedro headed to the couch with one child, and Solange and I joined the others in the vehicles.

snuggled in for a good night's sleep in the back of our vehicle

Around 6 a.m., the tsunami loudspeaker finally squawked permission to return to our homes. Tired and still slightly stunned, we said goodbye to our friends as they headed down the street. Soon they were replaced by neighbor children from down the street who had come to life after their own long night. My husband left to the aid of a friend and church member who had evacuated the local clinic (barefoot and just recovering from surgery that day!) who needed a ride to seek follow-up medical attention. I rounded up cereal boxes and bowls to serve our kids and any others in sight. Little did I know that providing a place to eat would become our "ministry" for days to come!

saying goodbye to our overnight guests
thumbs-up for a yummy neighborhood breakfast

Reflections on an Earthquake, Part One

If you're quiet enough to hear it, the beginning of an earthquake often sounds a lot like the low idling of a car engine. Which is why, mid-conversation, you might catch someone raised in a seismic country suddenly stiffening and staring intently into space (which is actually an attempt to block out other senses and attune his ears to ascertain if it is a simply a noisy car passing by or something much more sinister!)

If the noise increases and becomes accompanied by the earth's movement, chances are that person will jerk to his feet and then choose one of two options: (a) freeze and wait, possibly settling back down if the movement passes; or (b) bolt from the room at the speed of sound.

Of course, if the person is strapped in his car and stopped at a streetlight with other vehicles hemming him in, there is only a third option: (c) hold on for a wild ride! It was this option that our family was forced to choose shortly before 9 p.m. on Tuesday night (April 1, 2014) when an 8.2-magnitude earthquake rocked our city of Iquique, Chile.

It is rare that our family will venture to our local free-trade mall (the Zofri mall) on a school night, but this particular day had been full of to-do's and among these was the need to purchase a replacement ink cartridge for our printer. Thus less than an hour before the quake hit, the seven of us had been walking these halls which were captured by someone's video at the moment of the earthquake:

We are so thankful to God for allowing us to have departed the mall when we did, and to have made it just two blocks from home when the earthquake hit. Recently a new stoplight was installed at the corner of Av. Bilbao and Av. Padre Hurtado, which has been a source of some annoyance due to the "tacos" (traffic jams) it causes at certain times of day. It was in one of these that we found ourselves at a standstill, when abruptly all city lights went black. "Whoa ... that was crazy!" was all we managed to say before we felt the world beginning to tilt crazily as our minivan began roughly jolting up and down. The movement was accompanied by the roaring sound of the earth and the raucous rattling of nearby metal gates.

There was no place to move, forward or backward, and as I twisted around in my seat I saw our children's wide-eyed faces staring back at me. The boys' and girls' reactions were almost polar opposites, with the former frozen in shock and the latter teetering on the brink of tears and panic. "Pray, Mommy ... pray!" one daughter cried out and so I did, thanking the Lord that we were all together in this moment and asking for His protection over us and all of our friends.

When the shaking temporarily ceased, it was as though we and the cars around us were awakened from a startled slumber into a confused pause: What next? Motorcycles took off first, winding between stopped vehicles while others began to honk madly. An SUV beside us was one of these, and Pedro directed a sharp reprimand for calm at the driver who seemed ready to cause a traffic accident in her hurry to move. Soon the line inched forward and the logjam broke free.

Within two minutes we reached home in the pitch blackness. Our first discovery pushed one daughter over the edge of tears and frenzy, as we realized the doors to the back patio had opened and our dog Whittaker had escaped.

To be continued ...

Related posts:
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Five
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Four
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Three
Reflections on an Earthquake, Part Two

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mountains Fall Down and the Seas Will Roar

"Shout to the Lord" is a familiar worship chorus which in English says, "Mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of Your name." In Spanish, one small word is changed - instead of "bow" the chorus says "fall." We sang these lyrics today as the Iglesia Bautista Misionera gathered on Playa Huayquique for our annual baptism service. Little did we know that before the day had ended, we would experience both of these expressions of creation's power and praise to our majestic God!

This year, we changed location for the baptismal service in hopes of being able to hear better during the devotional portion of the meeting (because the seas certainly do "roar" in Iquique!) Half a dozen sunshades were lined up to provide maximum protection from the desert sun, and a comfortable place to later share lunch and fellowship together. It was a beautiful day to celebrate this special step in the lives of eight new believers.


There were some family connections within the group of baptismal candidates. Christopher and Sofia (pictured above) are a young brother and sister who have been attending our church this past year. Their parents are committed Christians and very involved in different ministries. Tiffany and Cristina (pictured below) are a daughter and mother who faithfully attend despite the challenge of being a family which is divided by religion.

One of the young men who was baptized today was cause for long-awaited celebration. Alexis (pictured below) received Christ several years ago but his parents would not allow him to be baptized until after his 18th birthday (which took place last year.) Recently, not only did he receive his parents' permission for baptism but he has also been given their blessing to study the Bible for one year in Santiago.  Since Alexis is the first member of his family to potentially obtain a higher education, it was a answer to prayer for his father to allow him to delay his college studies for this purpose.

Following the baptisms, most people stayed to enjoy the warm weather and the company of one another. From sandwiches to a grill full of sizzling meat, each family brought lunch and everyone gathered in small groups to eat together. Meanwhile, the children were quite happy to be finally free to roam, splash, and play! I'm sure they enjoyed the sand and surf most of all.


Our daughter Eva invited her friend Maria Isabel (nicknamed "Meme") to join us today. The girls were classmates for several years and we are happy that Meme lives directly in front of church so that she and Eva can continue their friendship. Both started 7th grade this month, which qualified them for youth group! We look forward to seeing them grow not only in friendship but in maturity and faith during this new season of their lives.

Meanwhile Owen enjoyed the company of his newest friends from Australia, and Alec was quite content to believe himself a peer of the youth group as they kindly included him in their conversations and laughter. Ian stayed busy digging in the sand or hitting the waves. Isabel, our newest book-lover, ensconced herself in the pages of a Nancy Drew mystery when she was not in the water or catching up with friends. At one point she was in good company with Antonio who was also engrossed in his reading, and I couldn't help but snap a picture of the two deep in the pages of their respective books.

When the 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit at 6:16 p.m., four of the five kids and I were already home cleaning up from our full day. Isabel and Pedro had just finished loading up some things in the car, and a group of teens and some adults from church still remained on the beach. As if the shaking weren't enough, shortly after began the piercing wail of the tsunami siren. Its accompanying voice over a loudspeaker bellowed, "Tsunami alert! Tsunami alert! Leave your homes and proceed to the safe zones." Obediently, the group left personal items, tables, chairs, sunshades and evacuated immediately. Pedro said as they looked around they could observe puffs of dust where several small landslides occurred ("mountains fall down!")

We were relieved when Pedro joined us at home while people continued to gather at designated safe zones across the city. One of these zones is directly in front of our house, just a few steps up a dirt hill that is the dusty view from our front windows. Eva quickly had her hamster in its travel cage and our dog on its leash and was waiting eagerly at the front door, urging us to join the crowd. To her dismay, we insisted that such a short distance from the house wouldn't make us any safer than staying in our own living room. Ian, too, was unnerved by all the commotion. Usually none of our children worry too much about tremors but I think the tsunami siren and the activity outside were a bit too much this time!

Throughout the night, according to online sources, there were over 50 minor replicas. One or two of these prompted us and the kids out of bed, which made for a fitful night's rest! However, we are simply thankful for God's protection in this earthquake-prone nation and for the fact that our family was quickly all together when everything occurred. Part of living in Iquique means developing an unconscious assessment of what places are safest, and until this year all of our children attended schools above the tsunami line and within walking distance of our house if necessary. That is no longer the case with Owen's new school and it would have been frightening to be separated from him. (Because we were not yet informed as to his school's evacuation route, we chose to keep him home Monday morning until we obtained that information and could be better prepared.)

Certainly this will go down in our church's history as the most memorable baptismal day ever, yet despite all the excitement we were very blessed and encouraged. We thank God for the lives of Sofia, Christopher, Tiffany, Cristina, Alexis, Victor, Caroline, and Nicolas and pray that each one will continue to listen to His voice in obedience and follow Him faithfully!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Back to School: One Size Doesn't Fit All

When we were brand-new parents with kids still in diapers, our friends several steps ahead of us in the parenting journey shared this thought: "You don't have to commit to one educational choice for a lifetime. It's okay to decide year by year what is best for your kids." I am so thankful for that piece of advice which has kept us grounded through many changes in our family's life!

Eva, our oldest at thirteen and just starting 7th grade, is in her sixth educational setting. Isabel at twelve and entering 6th grade, has been in seven different environments. Owen, eight years old and starting 3rd grade, has had five unique schooling experiences. Ian and Alec, at five and six years old respectively and both entering Kindergarten, have "only" had two. I would be less than honest if I didn't admit to the occasional twinge of guilt or regret over these statistics, having had the privilege of attending one great school basically for my entire 1st-12th grade education (with the exception of two schools on separate furloughs.)

All that to say, this week was back-to-school week in the Garcia household. For us, that meant Ian and Alec each returned to his jardin for one final year (we'll have two Kindergarten graduations come December!) Owen started a brand-new Chilean school across town. At home on our dining room table, Eva and Isabel cracked open their books - actually, their laptops! - and began American schooling online.

Our new schedule this year looks something like this: Pedro, Owen, Ian and Isabel pile into the car and depart at 7:25 AM in order to drop Owen off at 7:45. Then, Ian is dropped off around 8:00. This is a half hour before his school starts, but he joins a number of other kids who arrive early and he loves the extra play time! From there Pedro and Isabel head to the track and train with Owen's coach, three mornings a week. (During the summer, Pedro began accompanying Owen to the track and Isabel asked to join the fun for her physical education requirements this year.) Meanwhile, at home Eva tries to get a head start on her studies since as a "middle schooler" she carries the heavier load. And at 8:30, I walk Alec to his school just four blocks away.

But on Wednesday, the official start day of this new school year, all seven of us piled into two cars and zigzagged our way to accompany Owen to his school. By far his drop off was the one making us all the most anxious (well, at least Mommy!) Whereas the little boys would be returning to familiar teachers and classmates, Owen would be facing an entirely unfamiliar location, administration and congregation of students. Two nights before school he expressed his nervousness. As he shared his worries, I could feel mine growing as well. When we pulled up in front of the school that first day, he let me hold his hand as I walked him to the crowded gate (but taking a picture was out of the question - too "embarrassing.") Owen even tried a last-ditch effort at bringing up homeschooling, so I knew he must be desperate! Thankfully, the first day was a short one and just four hours later he was home with a fairly positive assessment of his experiences - and by day two he was naming off his new friends. God is faithful.

As for the rest of the family, Ian was his usual exuberantly excited self on that first day and made a grand entrance by breaking through the crowd of waiting parents and catapulting himself into the play area. His teacher later told me he spent the entire morning chattering up a storm with Antonia, one of his favorite playmates from last year. On the other hand, Alec was his usual serious and stoic public persona while greeting his teacher and classmates. He immediately headed to the shelf of classroom toys and promptly forgot about Mommy. Both little boys had a great first day.

For sure this new school year will hold many adventures. It is a learning and growing time for all of us, parents included! I am thankful for God's provision for the education of our children, and for His much-needed guidance in this and every area of our lives.

Friday, March 07, 2014

The Saddest Place

It was somewhere I never imagined I would be. As the woman in scrubs turned her key to lock the door behind us, we faced a corridor with rooms on each side. Rooms filled with white-sheeted beds and hopeless women - the psychiatric ward of our local hospital.

We had come to speak to someone neither of us had ever met but my companion had been requested to visit. Not wishing to come alone, she - a sister in Christ and member of our church - asked me for my company. After a lengthy walk around the hospital's perimeter and questioning multiple employees, we had finally found ourselves in front of this one-story building with its doorway of painted green metal bars.

The woman in scrubs hesitated and questioned who we were before allowing us to enter. Calling out the name of the person we were supposed to visit, she soon nodded to a woman who - somewhat confused but seemingly pleased - stepped out to greet us.We proceeded down the hallway to a sitting area. Trying not to stare, yet in my peripheral vision I caught glimpses of women lying listlessly on beds, some apparently alert while others appeared completely unaware or uncaring of their surroundings. Through one door a woman lay asleep or unconscious, a patterned bandana shielding her eyes from the world.

Our new acquaintance was curious and eager to speak with us. She shared her belief in God and her hope that with our coming and reading His Word to her, she would finally be freed from this place. Without prompting, she insisted on sharing her story of the traumatic events that had led here here. Her loneliness was evident as she often rested her head on my companion's shoulder and hugged her neck. Her thirst for God's Word was clear as well. I would read a chapter or several verses and pause, only to be urged to continue reading more.

"This is the Word of God?" she asked more than once in her slow, slurred speech. Then she would nod and smile as if reassured, and lean back to listen some more. At one point she asked us to sing praises. As we did she attempted to follow along, always echoing a beat behind.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of our visit was when a mother and father with their young adult daughter approached. I had noticed them before, painfully present with their child as she tried weakly to eat her evening meal. While we sang they sat down nearby and the daughter, obviously wounded in mind and body, attempted with cracked voice and broken memory to sing along. After two choruses she sighed and said she was tired and must lay down. I watched as her parents carefully carried away what must be only a shell of the daughter they obviously loved.

The mindless nuisance of a television soap opera and the senseless singing on a secular station did nothing to encourage the atmosphere around us. It was the saddest place. How could anyone hope to recover there with Christ-less care? We said our goodbyes and left with heavy hearts and a promise to return. Already plans are in place for several of our young ladies from church with hearts of compassion to visit our new friend once again. Whether God is opening a new door of long-term ministry remains to be seen but while we can, we will serve. May Jehovah Rapha be our guide!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Third Father/Son Camping Trip

It is that time of year again! With school literally around the corner (starts Wednesday) and a new weekly ministry commitment (starts Friday) which will curtail weekend schedules, it was down to the wire for Daddy and the boys to take their (almost) annual father/son camping trip. So Sunday evening - after a busy morning at church and an equally busy afternoon hosting eleven people for lunch - my hero Pedro tossed a tent, sleeping bags, swimming trunks, towels, frozen fruit, pb &j's, a jug of water, and various and sundry odds and ends into the back of our blue car while three very excited little boys sat buckled and ready in their seats throughout the process!

Off they headed to Los Lobitos for an overnight of boys-only fun. Arriving at dusk, they quickly set up a campfire (which I think is one of the big thrills for the little guys!) and met their "neighbors." Another camper came by and they were even gifted with empanadas for their dinner al fresco!

Sadly, Pedro remarked that as usual the beach was trashed after a summer of welcoming families to its shores. Among other garbage left behind was, of all things, a refrigerator! Fortunately our boys don't seem to focus on such annoyances and simply enjoy and occupy themselves with digging and swimming and the enthrallment of the outdoors.

Midway through the night, Pedro said the waves were crashing so loudly that he awoke and thought he should check their safety "just in case." Stepping outside in the moonlight, he was amazed by how clear and gorgeous the night sky was with an amazing view of the stars. I am not much one for camping, but hearing his description almost made me want to spend a night on the beach just for that experience!

In the morning, the boys enjoyed another campfire and a young family that was camping nearby offered them water if needed at breakfast time. Once again it was a reminder of how cultural this experience is here in Iquique! So many families opt to spend much of the summer in this way. I called the campers around 8:30 and spoken to Pedro and Owen. My son's little-boy voice sounded extra enthusiastic as he announced, "We are having a GREAT time, Mom!" His brothers couldn't be bothered to leave their adventures to talk on the phone, but that was okay. I just love knowing they are having so much fun together.

Hiking the desert dunes is a "must" on day two of their camping trip. Back at home, Ian and Alec told me it was a "very long way!" And they were tired! They also were excited about finding a "salt lake" and a dead pelican. "Its eyes were open! Like this!" Alec described while opening his own eyes very big and wide for Mommy. :)

I think God rewarded my diligent and devoted husband by allowing full water pressure to be restored just before his return home (after three days without decent showers.) Pedro is an amazing father to our five kids. He is not perfect and just like any parent has frustrating and hard days. But he teaches our children so much by example - how to work hard and play hard and serve God and love others and keep their commitments. I thank God for a parenting partner who daily goes the extra mile for his family!

Posts from previous years:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Into the Unknown

"It sounds like you have quite a few unknowns in your life right now." It was really the only fitting response my mother could give to the long-winded update I had just rendered. Peppered throughout my speech were the words, "At least that's what we think will happen!" and "If things go as we imagine they will ..." and "We really don't know, but we hope that's how it will work out."

The next few weeks and months are indeed like stepping into the unknown. Our daughters will begin virtual schooling via an online academy out of New Jersey. Our son will take his solitary steps into a new Chilean school, without his sisters or any known friend for the first time. I will give a brave attempt to go back to school in pursuit of a masters of Biblical counseling degree. Pedro and I will deliver papers to the hands of a new bank executive with our final plea for a home mortgage. At least that's what we think will happen!

If things go as we imagine they will ... the face of our ministry will also soon be changing. We will endeavor to reach a new cross-section of people for Christ through pregnancy care outreach. We may gain and/or lose ministry colleagues. We hope to transition to a downtown location and ultimately plant a sister church there. We really don't know, but we hope that's how it will work out.

It's tempting to become overwhelmed. It's enticing to consider hiding my head in an ostrich hole (if such a thing exists.) It helps - somewhat - to know that we are not alone, but that several other friends and family members are facing their own uncertainties. But then again, that can make life feel even more unbalanced sometimes.

Thankfully, it's enough to realize we are in His hands. We literally can do nothing to make any of these unknowns happen or not happen. God alone is in control of all things. Meanwhile, we do have much that we can do while we are waiting. May we not grow weary in well doing as we press forward into the unknown but rather let us trust Him Who knows all things - El De'ot, the God of all knowledge -Who even while knowing us, still loves us and cares for us.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sometimes I Just Watch and Smile

We were blessed with a "mini-cation" for two nights this week. One day for ministry planning with our colleagues, another for family time with our kids. Amazing how a fifteen minutes' drive out of town, crisp white comforters and closeness to the crashing waves can change one's entire perspective! A swimming pool certainly helps, too, slowing down our frantic motions and soothing us with gentle rounds of a family-made whirlpool and both silly and meaningful chatter.

One morning I watched as the three boys each awoke. First Ian in surprise at being in a new place and yelping a bit in confusion, which resulted in giggles from his brothers who languidly stretched and began tossing verbal teasing followed quickly by action. In no time pillows were brandished, beds were leaped and arms and legs were locked in the inevitable wrestling of little boys. Big brother Owen still holds an advantage with long legs and quick reflexes, which he uses to maximum potential. Tough-as-nails Alec is a plucky one, though, and holds his ground! At one point a little brother was beating on big brother who allowed it before finally bellowing in boisterous bravado, "Stop. Hitting. My. SIX-PACK!" Then the tangle of confusion began again before Mommy eventually intervened, calling the match for the sake of family and future longevity. :)

At the pool, our kids are happiest. Little seals slipping and somersaulting around its perimeter, teasing and tormenting each other as only siblings can do. I don't often join the fun but had planned to in this instance. No matter how painful it may be to don a swimsuit, the one thing that overcomes the awkwardness is that moment when the kids realize Mommy is actually coming in. Then the screams of shock and delight rival the entrance of any superstar to the red carpet. These are the moments that melt your heart.

We introduced our kids to the game of classic Pit this trip, adjusting it to a more child-friendly level. The shiny silver bell held a tempting fascination for fifty little fingers. "Two! Two! Three! Three! One! One! One!" rang out in a tumbled tempo into the evening air, and I wondered what the handful of other guests must think of our crazy little English-clamoring crowd. The kids loved it, though. The next day, out of a moment of reflection Alec suddenly declared to Daddy, "That game we played yesterday was AWESOME!"

All good things must come to an end, or so they say. Our 48 hours at the hotel went too quickly and not wanting the vacation spirit to slip away so soon, we planned one final surprise for the kids. Lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant, and then ... the new LEGO movie! Never mind that Daddy couldn't keep his eyes open or that Mommy thought, "All that hype over this?!" because the kids - well, they loved it. And as a gift that keeps on giving, the result of investing two hours of our time into their enjoyment resulted in an equal amount of parental rest and relaxation at home. Because as surely the LEGO geniuses planned when they plotted those one hundred minutes of money-making marketing, our kids wanted nothing else but to immerse themselves in building-block imagination when we returned.

I write all of these memories because sometimes I just watch and smile throughout the sweet moments our family shares. This time, I didn't pull out the camera often or try to capture every candid expression I could. But I didn't want to forget the precious experience it was. On our last morning at the hotel, as the kids chatted comfortably around the table while Pedro and I prepared breakfast in the guest kitchen, we shared a hug and expressed admiration for how thankful and happy our children were with such a simple offering of togetherness and time away. I love them all so much, and I am so thankful to God for His grace in giving me my husband and "fabulous five."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

It Just Happened to be Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is not a Chilean holiday. That being the case, I didn't grow up celebrating it except for those occasional times our family's furlough to the United States included February 14. More importantly, my own birthday is February 13, so that date always held more "shine" (as they say in Chile) for me than the day that followed it. According to my husband, his family didn't make much of the holiday, either. Therefore, Valentine's Day has never been that important to us as a couple.

So when I say "It Just Happened to be Valentine's Day" that is exactly what I mean. Because yesterday my husband and I finally got to take a long-awaited and overdue night out together - yippee!! And no matter the date, anytime I get to spend several hours of one-on-one, adult-only, uninterrupted quality time with Pedro is worth celebrating. (Insert heart emoticon here!)

It was so much fun. We talked, we ate, we walked, we squeezed hands in the dark during the heart-stopping suspense of an action film. I had discovered that our city was hosting a five-day festival celebrating Andean culture and cuisine, so we clambered amidst the crowd to observe and experience it for ourselves. Our taste-testing adventure led us to sopaipillas de quinoa, chicharrones de llamo, anticuchos de carne y pollo and boiled corn on the cob. 

Later we played tourists and joined the summer visitors to Iquique on the Cavancha boardwalk where we remarked on the wide variety of wares peddled there. Fifteen-minute chair massages; crispy fried churros; seashell hair braiding; clown and magic shows; real-time spray painting; eclectic clothes and jewelry, to name a few! In five years of living here this was the first time my husband experienced this particular walkway at night and he declared he was content to never do it again. :)

There's no one else I love making memories with as much as this man. Hopefully it won't be too long before we do so again. 

I love you, my Sweets!

PS - We got a good laugh from our feeble attempt at a "selfie" - 
one friend said this picture perfectly captures the idea of having a "better half!" 

Friday, February 07, 2014

Happy Birthday to Our Beautiful Teenager

To my precious oldest daughter on your 13th birthday: 

Dear Eva,

See the photograph below? That is how I will always picture the beautiful baby girl God placed in our arms 13 years ago. I spent hours in that comfortable old recliner, rocking you gently and gazing into your curious little eyes. For so many years I had dreamed of holding my child, but even my dreams could not capture the blessed reality of having a sweet, chubby-cheeked daughter snuggled in my arms and gazing up at me. You brought our entire family such love and joy.

This next two pictures make me smile because we had no idea that little Eva would grow up to be such a devout lover of animals! One of your characteristics today is how much you enjoy animals big and small. It is my hope that you will someday be able to use even your love for "four-legged friends" for God's glory. I pray, too, that you will understand and appreciate how very much God loves you and how every aspect of who you are was carefully chosen by Him when He created you.

I want you to know, Eva, that Daddy and I love you just as much (even more!) today than ever. The teenage years may be a crazy ride, but when has crazy ever stopped the Garcia family? :) We look forward to taking this journey at your side and helping you to spread your wings as you encounter new experiences and opportunities in life and ministry.

God can use these teenage years of your life to teach you, guide you and make you a blessing to others as you keep your eyes on Him! It is our prayer that you will grow closer and closer to your Savior and see His hand at work in every aspect of your life. Cherish your family, your friendships, and apply yourself to learning and growing and using your knowledge to bless others for God's glory - and in so doing this year and those to come will be some of the most wonderful of your life.

We are so thankful God gave us you. We are proud of you and we love you so much! 
Happy 13th Birthday, Eva Grace!

Love, Mommy

Birthday Posts by Year:

12th Birthday - Eva
11th Birthday - Eva