Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nine Years in Chile

Nine years ago today, our family arrived in Chile for our first term of missionary service. The picture for this prayer card was taken in Texas just a few months prior, as Pedro completed his year of language training and we prepared to set out on this great adventure!

And what an adventure it has been.

God has taught us so much about Himself and His character in these nine years. We've experienced His loving protection and provision, and have witnessed the transforming power of the Gospel in lives of men, women and children in Chile.

There have been mountaintops and valleys, thrills and heartaches, days of rejoicing and days of pain. Yet He has been faithful through it all. The task at hand is greater than ever before as we continue to follow His leading into new and uncharted areas of ministry. We rest in the truth of this verse that hangs on our kitchen wall: "He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Thank You, Lord, for privilege of serving you these nine years in Chile.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blessings in Ministry

This week I had the privilege of writing again for the Breathe Ministry blog with a post entitled: Blessings in Ministry.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction. Have you heard of it? Neither had I until I accepted my friend Luisa's invitation to attend a writer's workshop this week. Hosted through an initiative called Iquique en 100 Palabras and financed by a well-known mining company in our area, the workshop was interesting and informative. Both Luisa and I were surprised at the number of people in attendance, far more than were apparently anticipated. Thanks to a well-placed billboard, I had previously heard of Iquique en 100 Palabras and actually entered a 95-word essay into their 100-words-or-less competition a few years ago. 

However, I have to admit I had no idea there was actually a recognized literary form behind it all. To quote Wikipedia: "Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature of extreme brevity." Since some stories are merely a sentence in length, brevity might sometimes be an understatement! Alejandra Costamagna, the author who led our workshop, gave us a famous example in Ernest Hemingway's six-word story, "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn."  

picture from Iquique en 100 Palabras Facebook page

In Spanish, flash fiction is called the microrrelato or microcuento. Costamagna informed us that it is recognized by several characteristics. Among these are brevity; expressive concentration; ingenious use of language; and sometimes playfulness or absurdity. Titles are meaningful and should complement the story. But what is perhaps most important to the genre is the use of silence or simply, what is left unsaid. Much of the interpretation is left to the reader's imagination. This quality as well as the brevity of the form may be most attractive to today's rapid-fire, social media generation.

I am an observer of people and what drew my attention during the workshop was the broad range of ages represented among those present. Seeing university students next to senior citizens with even a few young teens mixed in, reminded me that everyone has a story to tell. And having the opportunity to do so was apparently important enough to bring this large and varied group together one midweek evening. At the end of the workshop there was a time given for each person to write his or her piece of flash fiction, with the option of having it read aloud by the visiting author. It was fascinating to hear snippets of people's lives, of memories and relationships and heartache and laughter captured in just a few short phrases.

picture from Iquique en 100 Palabras Facebook page

If I was disappointed in anything, it was that the choice of pieces the author had prepared beforehand to share with us were mostly dark in tone. Almost every example was sad, covering such a range of topics as sex, suicide, politics, homelessness, immigration, familial violence and abuse. Interestingly, when we compared notes afterwards both my friend and I had felt the same way. It was a good reminder of the power of words and an encouragement to build up positively through them.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue ..." Might we not say in the power of the "pen" as well? Our words and stories do matter, and it is up to us how we share them. May we find a way to glorify God through both what we say and what is left unsaid, that more hearts would be stirred to find Him.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

“Menú del día” in Iquique

A delightful fact of life in the country of Chile is the lunchtime option of the "menú del día." In Iquique as in other cities and towns throughout the country, shortly before the midday meal you will see handwritten chalk signs appearing in windows or on sidewalks in front of eateries. Prices will vary depending on the fancy factor of each establishment, but most "Mom & Pop" places will offer lunch for an average of $2500 pesos (approximately $4 US dollars.) And by "lunch" they mean fresh bread on the table; soup or salad for the first course; a piping hot second course; and often a small bowl of fruit or ice cream for dessert. Sometimes drinks may also be included, but otherwise family-sized bottles of soda, water or juice can be purchased for the equivalent of another couple of dollars. 

An even more economical option is the "colación" which is often a one-course meal packaged to go. This will usually cost under $2 US dollars and is also fresh, hot and filling.

This week, our family had the opportunity to enjoy a daily menu due to a scheduled power outage which left us without electricity in our neighborhood from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. While it seemed as good an excuse as any to eat out, we also didn't want to break the bank! As they say in Chile, we were looking for the three "B's" - bueno (good), bonito (attractive) and barato (cheap) - for lunch. We decided to try a restaurant just a couple of blocks from the FLORECE building. The price was right, it looked bright and clean and was not too crowded for that time of day.

However, we soon realized we must have just missed the lunch crowd! An important side note to the daily menu is this detail: once they're out, they're out. In other words, only a certain amount of each item offered on the menu is prepared. This particular day the waiter somewhat sheepishly advised us of several options which were no longer available. Thankfully none of our family members had their heart set on anything in particular (because to be perfectly honest, the kids would rather junk/fast food over a daily menu every time!) 

In the end, we enjoyed sliced fresh bread with homemade spicy pebre; the kids began with salads and the adults with a hot soup called ajiaco for appetizers; and everyone had white rice with either pollo al jugo (chicken cooked in its juices with veggies on the stove), pollo al horno (baked chicken), porotos (bean and noodles), or estofado de carne (beef stew.) Besides running low on food, the restaurant was also running low on drink options so our only choice - albeit a healthy one! - was bottled water for the whole family. All in all it was a decent meal but as our children fondly remembered, the last place we ate a daily menu provided a free plate of papas fritas (french fries.) Who can compete with that?!

Oh well. Live and learn (and eat!), Iquique-style.

Friday, July 29, 2016

An Iquique Pharmacy Adventure

example of an on-shift pharmacy in Iquique

This is a rabbit trail before my story's even started, but have I ever mentioned that the 80's never died in Chile? Grocery stores are especially great for reliving musical memories of that iconic era (the longer the shopping trip, the better!) All that to say there's an 80's song somewhere out there with a catchy phrase that goes, "You don't know what you got, until it's gone ... and I found out a little too late ..." which sums up my recent Iquique pharmacy adventure pretty well.

It's an odd but true fact that newborn baby formula is not sold in all grocery stores in Iquique. In fact, the one store that carries the doctor-recommended brand for our son Silas keeps each can in a security device that must be unlocked before purchase. So we learned early on that pharmacies are actually the place to buy baby formula. But, it has to be requested from the pharmacist for retrieval from its safe storage behind the counter.

Now another odd but true fact in Iquique is that although the city never seems to sleep, there is no such thing as a 24-hour grocery store or pharmacy. The closest you can get is the farmacia de turno or the "on-shift pharmacy." Each day, one pharmacy in the entire city of around 250,000 people is designated to stay open through the night. Presumably the pharmacy is listed in the daily newspaper or online to make customers aware should the need arise.

My introduction to this pharmacy phenomenon came on the heels of Pedro's return from a one-week trip to the USA. The kids and I were so excited for his homecoming and welcomed him back that evening with a yummy Chinese dinner. By the time we were done and the kids were headed to bed, it was well past the 10 p.m. closing hour of Iquique's stores and pharmacies. Only then did I realize to my dismay that we no longer had baby formula for Silas! (Epic mommy fail.) My poor husband was so tired and we were hitting dead-ends with our internet search for the on-shift pharmacy. We even posted to our Whatsapp groups and Facebook for help without an immediate response. Finally I drove off in the van to look for a needle in the proverbial haystack.

I had passed two closed pharmacies and was headed towards a third when my husband called. To my utter relief, he directed me to a location just a few blocks from where I was and less than five minutes from home. It could have been such a different story! There are some parts of the city which are just better avoided at night and I had feared ending up in one of them. I immediately prayed and thanked God for His merciful provision. 

While still not a great place to be after dark, the shopping strip where the pharmacy was located was well-lit and at that hour still somewhat crowded. I just couldn't figure out why the metal door of the shop was already sealed and closed! My confusion must have been evident as I stood outside and stared at it, because a passerby told me to knock on a small, inset metal window. The window slid open and voila! a friendly face appeared and my order was taken by a young pharmacy assistant. It felt like a covert operation under cloak of darkness and I couldn't help but feel amusement alongside relief.

What an encouraging reminder of God's provision even in the small details of life. It was also a slight cultural collision that will certainly keep me grateful the next time I have a 24-hour neighborhood pharmacy nearby!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

When a Stranger Asks (Adoption Questions)

It's always fun when an otherwise pleasant family outing is interrupted by random adoption questions by strangers. It's especially fun when those questions are thoughtless, potentially hurtful and asked point-blank in front of my children's faces. 
Woman: (staring at my children as we shopped for clothes) "So, not one of them is your own?" 
Me: (placing my hand significantly on my heart and making direct eye contact in hopes of ending this conversation immediately) "Actually, every single one of them is mine." 
Woman: (not getting the hint and stepping deeper in the mire of insensitive curiosity) "And you love them?" 
Me: (giving each of my kids a pained but intentionally very warm smile) "Of course I love them. Very much."
I guess if I were a glass half-full kind of girl, I would chalk this up as an unexpected opportunity to affirm my children. In public. To a stranger. After all, charity begins at home - or maybe, in the crowded clothing stall of a flea market.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

You Just Have to Reach out Your Hand

It took longer than I expected, but finally the photos from my cell phone were downloaded and then uploaded in semi-organized fashion onto Facebook. Many friends were kind enough to "like" and comment on them, yet one message spoke volumes:
Love your family pictures. Keep posting them. They send a message that so many of us need to see on a daily basis. Myself included!

In light of recent national heartache and struggle, my friend's words reminded me of the hope that I have for the future. It does indeed involve our children, our family, and other families that look like ours. Each of my children is quite cognizant of his or her skin tone. Often they will even compare skin tone with one another. Occasionally they will try to coordinate our family members by who "matches" whom. But the bottom line which goes without saying between us, no matter our shades of skin we are a family and we belong together. I love the picture above of littlest (white) brother surrounded by three doting older (black) brothers. It truly speaks a thousand words. He loves them, and they love him.

After so many years, I truly don't think a whole lot about how our family looks except to appreciate the beautiful "colors of us" (to borrow the title of one of our favorite children's books!) Sometimes I stare at the deep mahogany of Owen's skin and am in awe of how gorgeous it is. I gaze at our "Mexican" baby Silas and chuckle at how fair he turned out to be. I admire the dark pupils of my daughter Eva's hazel eyes and play with the cute curls on Isabel's head. I take pictures of my handsome Haitian sons with their warm brown skin and sparkling black eyes. I hold my husband's hand and enjoy the contrast of my pale complexion against his. Like the painting on our wall (pictured below) we are a colorful cacophony!

My dream is that my children would take this everyday acceptance of living among a multitude of colors into the world and carry on in the same way with everyone around them. I want them to be comfortable and proud of who they are while also enjoying and appreciating the uniqueness of others. Nowadays there are a growing number of families that look like ours. I can't help but hope and wonder how an entire generation of colorful children growing up in harmony side by side could shape their contemporaries' perception of race. My children's brothers and sisters are black and white. But you know what? So are mine and yours. After all, we are all ONE family - the human family. 

By virtue of growing up cross-culturally as an MK (missionary kid), I loved the words of Revelation 7:9 even before we became a transracial family. But now I appreciate them even more. I've told my children that we have the privilege of a little foretaste of Heaven on earth because of our family makeup. Someday, all believers in Jesus Christ will stand side by side with "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages." But we don't have to wait! And honestly - neither does anyone else. Because "you don't have to look like someone else to love them." You just have to reach out your hand.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Please. Just Listen.

There have been so many words written across screens this past week and a half. Blogs. Facebook. News outlets. I've read so many of them. Cried. Sighed. Clenched fists. So many times I've grabbed a pen, or sat in front of my computer and felt the urgency to add my voice but it has seemed like too much. Too much noise. Too much hurt. Too much misunderstanding.

What I mostly wanted to say was, "Please. Just Listen." And though I haven't said it, I have done it. I have listened to stories like Brian Crook's experience entitled "What it's like to be black in Naperville, America." And police officer Chelsea Whitaker's post on "Shopping While Black w/a Badge." I've cried re-reading the 2014 article "Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk" - especially the last story of the 12-year old son who reminds me so much of my own.

I've remembered ugly criticism directed at my child as young as two years old because of the color of his skin. I've lain awake to the awful words of a horrifically racist joke told to us by a Chilean pastor who heard it from a church in the deep south of the United States. My blood has run cold upon recently learning it was a joke based in unfathomable past truth in our country. I've hurt over my eleven-year old son being called the N-word by someone he considered a friend.

I have wanted to say, "Please. Just Listen." Racism is still real. The Bible tells us to "weep with those who weep." Black lives do matter. Yes, all lives matter - but right now maybe the rest of us are finally understanding that black lives are hurting and have been for quite some time. If we are listening. And many are. Such as our pastor in Michigan in his courageous and compassionate July 10 message entitled "A Biblical Perspective on Current Events." Or those who have written thoughtful posts entitled "Spanning the racial divide with authentic love" and "Valuing the lives of all mankind."

Many people are listening. Many people are caring.

I try to remember this when it is easy to become super-sensitive to what others say - or don't say - on social media. When one Facebook friend is so quick to link an article implying guilt about someone who has lost his life, as if the end does justify the means. Or another flippantly tosses a loaded one-liner amidst pictures of an otherwise unaffected life. When one clicks to "like" article after article focused on one view of the issue without evidence of concern for the realities that affect my children and family. When a quote like this one seems to fall on deaf ears: "If we are teaching respect and honor for all people crafted by God's hands, then our children will become protectors and advocates for all people, especially those who are unfairly found victims of a broken, fallen world." (Sally Clarkson)

"Please. Just Listen." I have read the heartfelt words of police officer Merri McGregor. I have worried for our friends who are good, honest policemen. For their families and children, and the danger they now face because of actions not their own. I pray for these friends in uniform. I pray for the families of those whose loved ones have died tragically while carrying out their sworn duties and in defense of strangers. My heart breaks with the words of Officer Jackson who faced criticism in and out of uniform yet loved his city and was senselessly killed while serving it. Recently I prayed for a lifelong family friend at the request of his daughter, as he oversaw a rally in his town. Later I was so blessed by her words in response to the many who prayed:
Thank you for joining me in prayer for our friends, former classmates, former classmates children, public servants, and family! Please spread love to those who are different than you! Spread love to people you don't understand. We all have different eyes... I was raised surrounded by the love of policemen- like family. I have many people in my life who were raised differently. Take a minute to try to understand what it is like to live in someone else's shoes. I want people who are frightened to be able to speak about their fears- when I was young my dad told me about his black friend that told him what it was like to walk around a store and be followed, assumed to be a thief. That is a terrible life to live! At the same time I have my own desires. I'd like to see my dad make retirement as one of the best men on this planet. He retires Dec. 6. Thanks for praying him through another day!
If only we did all take a minute to understand what it is like to live in someone else's shoes, what a difference that might make. I thought of this again when I had reason this week to apologize to a Christlike friend. She graciously forgave me and said, "I'm not easily offended. When someone says something I might take the wrong way, I usually stop and think that he or she has probably had a bad day or something else is going on in their life."

There have been a lot of bad days lately. And a lot has been going on in our nation's life. How might things change if we responded as she did? I believe there is hope for change. "Please. Just Listen."

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: 
Everyone should be quick to listen, 
slow to speak and slow to become angry ..." 
James 1:19

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Marriage in Ministry: Serving Together

Thirteen years ago, my husband and I shared a platform and an overhead projector as we told church after church of the burden God had given us to serve Him on the mission field. While my husband spoke of the hopes and dreams we had for ministry, I slid color transparencies on and off the lighted glass until my turn came to speak and his to switch the snapshots! Even back then our technology was dated, but many times we received encouraging comments from the congregation about hearing from both spouses and presenting as a team.

Memories of those early opportunities to stand side by side serving together are still sweet. I count as one of the greatest blessings of ministry that I can share the same vocation as my husband and work alongside him in a complementary role. The people he serves are the people I serve; the burdens he carries are the burdens I share; the joys that delight and challenges that concern him are mine as well.

As the author of Ecclesiastes says in chapter 4, verses 9 and 10, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

While I write this post, my husband and I are seated at small desks on opposite sides of our bed. He is doing bookkeeping for a new ministry project. I am scanning documents for the same. Our youngest son is sleeping in his crib just a few feet away. Our older children are homeschooling the next floor down. Though I’ll admit there are times I dream of a more structured work environment, right now this is our reality and I wouldn’t change it! It is part of the adventure of doing ministry together.

Recently I read another pastor’s reflection that ministering with his wife had made them better friends. Thankfully, this has been our experience as well. Below are three other ways ministering together has had an impact on our marriage.
1. Being married in ministry has held us accountable. When we prepare together to teach God’s Word on topics related to marriage and family, we must evaluate our own first. Then we must remember that our listeners will be watching to see if we “practice what we preach!”
2. Being married in ministry has kept us communicating. When ministry commitments take us in different directions at different times, it requires us to be coordinate schedules and adjust accordingly. No two weeks are exactly the same, so keeping current with each other is a must.
3. Being married in ministry has never been boring. We joke about this, but it really is true. There have been so many surprises (good and bad!) and unexpected twists and turns in our ministry life together. It is an “adventure” that like any good drama has kept us looking forward to each new chapter together. Yet only knowing and trusting the Author of our story has made this possible.
This week, we celebrated nineteen years of God’s grace and of marriage. Half of those years were spent in study and/or preparation for ministry, and half in the trenches of ministry itself. What a privilege it has all been. Thank You, Lord, for the blessing of a marriage in ministry.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Stepping Up and Saying Goodbye

It would have to happen while Pedro was away. I jolted from bed that Sunday morning to the sound of heartbroken wails coming from the floor below. My daughter Isabel stumbled into my room, rubbing sleep from her eyes and stating that her sister needed me. Doctor Nefario had died.

If you've seen the animated movie Despicable Me, you may remember a curious character called "Dr. Nefario." A one-time villainous scientist turned tender-hearted sidekick, his name was the one Eva chose for the hamster she received on her 13th birthday. Only this pet was anything but a villain. In fact, he may have been the calmest, most easygoing rodent this family has seen (and we've seen a few - here is a link to the story of "Cheese.")

We knew his time was coming, as he slept much more and could barely walk upright when he was awake. But nothing prepares a girl whose heart is so tightly intertwined with her furry friends, and Eva was beside herself with the loss of Doctor Nefario. Eventually she calmed down enough to somberly head for church and she later spent the afternoon with a friend.

So it wasn't until nearly bedtime that we were forced to say our goodbyes to her little hamster. And by "say our goodbyes" I mean that someone was going to have to actually pick him up and dispose of him. Unfortunately, this would normally be the moment Daddy stepped in to rescue his women from their squeamishness and he was not home. So we found a little box and Eva and I stood beside the cold cage. "I can't do it!" she whimpered, looking at me. I cried, "Honey, I'm sorry but I can't either!" 

There was nothing to do but call in reinforcements. And since Owen had informed us all that he was "the man of the house" with Daddy being gone, he was the natural choice. I was so proud of him when despite his own qualms he stepped up to the plate when asked. He, too, stood beside the cold cage uneasily at first. "I'm not sure I can do it," he admitted. But accepting a plastic bag I offered as a makeshift glove, he gingerly completed his task.

By then it was dark out, and we still had one thing more to do. This time Ian stepped up. "I'll dig a hole," he offered. Our tenderhearted boy, he had already told me how sad he was for his sister. With all seriousness he shoveled out spades of dirt and carefully placed the box inside. After patting everything back down he said, "One more thing!" and arranged a heavy rock on top of the little pet's grave. I heard his sister's gratitude in her voice. "Thank you, Ian," she whispered.

That night, Eva's sister Isabel and brother Owen slept on couches to be near her downstairs. (Her little brothers offered to make it a full-fledged camp out, but Mommy declined.) She had been staying in the spare room with Whittaker, our dog who was currently having to wear a dog cone collar (affectionately known as "the cone of shame") which kept him from fitting into his doghouse on cold nights. She felt nervous to be alone, and her siblings stepped up to accompany her. 

What a blessing to this momma's heart! These are the moments I want to cherish, when squabbles and rivalries fade into the background and I see evidence of true sibling love underneath it all. So thank you, Doctor Nefario, for bringing happiness to my girl and togetherness to my gang. You will be fondly remembered.

Friday, July 01, 2016

A Foot in Both Worlds

In our sixteenth year of marriage, my husband's parents lived with us for three months on the mission field where we serve and where I was also raised as an M.K. ("missionary kid.") At some point my dear mother-in-law remarked that it had been most enlightening to observe me in this context. "I think I realize now that you are more Chilean than American," she said.

A traditional Chilean dish similar to a bean soup is called "porotos." As a teenager, more than once I was described as "mas chilena que los porotos" ("more Chilean than the beans!") I love my adopted country and have always taken it as a compliment when it is said that I speak like a Chilean or seem like one.

Yet there is a part of me that knows quite well I will never be fully a citizen of either my passport country or my adopted country. Both places have shaped me linguistically, culturally, emotionally and spiritually. My life is richer by having a foot in both worlds - which does not, however, mean that it is always easy.

And now this same heritage has been passed on to my children as well.

Last week, Chile played Argentina for their 1st place finish in the 100th Copa America (soccer) tournament. I have it on good authority that my eleven-year old son - who was watching the game at a friend's house - raced outside at one point, yelling in his near-perfect Spanish an invitation to chant the traditional Chilean cheer. He was rewarded with rousing voices from surrounding houses joining him for an animated rendition. This is the same son who has taken to calling us "Mamá" and "Papá" rather than Mom and Dad, and who recently made me chuckle by saying his teacher gives them time to "pass over" their tests before taking them. (In Chile, the word "review" is literally "repasar" or "to pass over.")

Most days we live comfortably in the world where we are, but today we felt the tug. My sister and her family, who live and serve a thousand miles south of us (but nonetheless in the same country!) arrived in the United States for their year of home ministry/furlough. We anxiously awaited updates on their travels but when my brother-in-law announced via Wh*tsapp that they were in Delaware with Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop eating Domino's pizza, my kids all groaned and cried, "We want to be there, too!" 

Yet not long ago, one of these same kids announced, "I just want to go on furlough and get it over with, so I can come back!" It is the War of the Worlds in an M.K.'s life. I remember giving my parents a run for their money the year I turned sixteen and had to attend school stateside for one year. Every day when I exited the school van and trudged up the long drive to our missionary house, my mom would greet me hopefully and ask about my day. I'm afraid all too often I threw down my bookbag in disgust and proclaimed everything awful because I wanted to go "home." But eventually I made wonderful friends and memories that I value to this day.

Having a foot in both worlds can throw us off balance on a rough day, but on a good day it reminds us that neither place on earth is truly our home. Jesus told His disciples, "In my Father's house are many mansions ... I go to prepare a place for you." As children of missionaries our hearts may be torn, but Heaven is our final destination as children of God. What a wonderful day it will be when we are finally, permanently, wholeheartedly - HOME!

I Write to Not Forget

A day or two ago there was such a sweet moment in my household that I never wanted to forget. It had to do with something unique and funny that my husband was doing with my kids, that brought me a smile and surge of love for the family I am privileged to call my own.

The problem is, I don't remember what it was.

Multiple times a day and dozens of times a month, I have moments like these. Words my kids have spoken, stories that bring us laughter, ministry moments that touch my heart, experiences we encounter and things I observe at home or out and about in the city where we live. I think, "I need to remember this." Or, "I should write about that." And then, I forget.

It is a long-standing agreement in my family that the missionary life is so crammed full of people and places and experiences and memories that at some point our brains just can't hold it all. My parents and sisters and I agree on this point when yet again someone shares a story in which we all played a part and half of us have to admit, "I don't remember that at all!"

Recently a longtime friend referred to an exchange between the two of us years ago which she has never forgotten. Thankfully she did so in writing, so I wasn't in that uncomfortable position of racking my brain right on the spot to respond. Unfortunately I have since tried to imagine that conversation and for the life of me, cannot recall it.

So I am frustrated, and I am inspired. I need to remember. And to remember, I need to write.

I write to remember.

And I write to not forget.

Recently I have had the privilege of studying the lives of the Biblical patriarchs with a small group of ladies. So many times in their journeys, these men chosen by God would leave a permanent record of some sort to remember what God had done for them. The Jewish people themselves celebrated - and continue to celebrate - many feasts of remembrance according to God's directives to them. So there is a spiritual aspect to remembering, primarily as it recalls God's working in our lives. That is what I want to capture as well.

Help me, Lord, to leave a written legacy not only of the sweet and sentimental moments of life but of the great and small ways You work in it. Thank You that ultimately You are the Author and I am simply the scribe. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Happy 14th Birthday, Isabel!

It was the "gift that kept on giving" ... this year's birthday celebration stretched across three days for our beautiful daughter Isabel. On Friday at teen time there was cake and candles (and Chile's Copa America win against Bolivia!) 

On Saturday at ladies' tea there was cake and candles and thoughtful gifts from the many sweet women at church who care for her. And on Sunday (her actual birthday) there was cake and candles and a cookout and games and family and friends who love her and celebrated the very special person she is to all of us.

"Aunt" Pam made a cherry chip birthday cake. New friends Rodrigo and Emily reserved their apartment complex's quincho for a completada and hamburguesada. The sun disappeared and the weather was cool, but the fellowship was warm!

Dear Isabel,

Happy Birthday to my precious daughter. Thank you for letting me celebrate with you on a mother-daughter shopping trip and lunch out on the town this year! I so enjoyed spending time together and finding the things you needed and desired. It was a special treat to be reminded how God cares about the details of our lives when we walked right into a sale on what we were looking for!

I thank God for your life - for creating, protecting, and molding it into the beautiful young woman you are becoming inside and out. I admire your courage and camaraderie and clear convictions. I enjoy watching you with your friends and witnessing your growth mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I love your quick wit and sense of humor. It makes me smile to see you turning into the bookworm I was at your age! I appreciate your gentleness with your brothers and your growing maturity in areas of responsibility at home.

Our family would be incomplete without you in it! I hope your birthday was every bit at special as you are to all of us. We love you and believe God has great things in store for this new year and many to come. Happy 14th Birthday, Isabel Hope!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

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

Thursday, June 09, 2016

One Heart to Another

The text from an out of touch friend came when my Friday night Bible study was rescheduled, leaving me with an unexpectedly open evening. "When might you have a minute to listen to my heartaches?" was the gist of her plea, and I knew God had shifted schedules for a reason. Over hot chocolate and sandwiches, I simply listened as one hour turned into two and the trials of her life in this season spilled forth. My own words were few yet I hope encouraging. The circumstances facing her could not be changed by our conversation; only God would be able to do so. But for those brief moments I could enter into them with her and pray for her and be with her, one heart to another.


I stayed seated during the bustling transition from Sunday School to church, my seven month old baby nestled and sleeping soundly in the carrier I wore. Lost in my own thoughts, I was startled by a grandmotherly touch on my arm. An older (yet newer) member of our volunteer training course for the crisis pregnancy center stood over me with a nondescript notebook in a trembling hand. "I have been looking for you to talk to you! I did my homework and I need to talk to you. I know I need to forgive, but my life has been so hard ... so many terrible things have happened to me. Can I read you what I wrote?"

We set up a time to meet the following evening. In the privacy and quietness of the empty church, she spilled out a harrowing tale of heartache pursuing her through childhood and into her adult years. Story after story of traumatic experiences explained the frailty and struggles I had often witnessed in her life. How little I knew of her after all these years of acquaintance! My ears were open but my words were few. Through God's Word and His Spirit she had drawn the conclusions that were right and true; I was merely a sounding board for what she already knew. Later as we said goodbye, she held a hand to her heart and said thank you. "This has helped me ... it has brought peace to my heart," she whispered. The simple act of listening, one heart to another.


"I have a scheduling conflict with our Bible study this week," she texted. "Can we meet for breakfast Saturday morning instead?" It would mean an early-morning trip to the grocery store before dropping my two sons off to their weekly class downtown, and coordinating with another friend to pick them up when done. Yet the momentum we were gaining by being consistent in meeting was too valuable to lose. Our third (of four) Bible study ladies could also join us, if her husband and son were able to come also. They would visit with my husband and children meanwhile.

After an emotional late-night meeting with another friend and some restless sleep interrupted by baby's nighttime feedings, my eyes rebelled against opening and my body against getting out of bed that day. It felt stressful, asking my family to please see that the kitchen and dining room areas were picked up and the bathroom clean by the time I returned from the store, class, and picking up our guest. But when conversation flowed around the table and topics of life and death were discussed in light of the Scriptures, and when our study went deeper and sincere questions were raised, I was reminded of the importance of this time spent studying and sharing together, one heart to another.


“Personal ministry is not about always knowing what to say. It is not about fixing everything in sight that is broken. Personal ministry is about connecting people with Christ so that they are able to think as he would have them think, desire what he says is best, and do what he calls them to do even if their circumstances never get "fixed." It involves exposing hurt, lost, and confused people to God's glory, so that they give up their pursuit of their own glory and live for his.” 

Friday, June 03, 2016

A Very Special Visit, Part Two

During our first eight years on the mission field, we were uniquely blessed. My parents, Jim and Gail Christian, served as missionaries in Chile for sixteen years until returning to the States in 1998 to serve in pastoral ministry at their sending church. Their church then graciously granted the opportunity for them to visit Chile almost on an annual basis for ministry purposes. This translated into the wonderful gift of our kids seeing their maternal grandparents nearly every year - even while on the mission field! This was certainly not my reality growing up as an MK, so I treasured it all the more.

However, in 2013 my dad was diagnosed with MSA (Multiple System Atrophy.) The long trip to Chile became more challenging and exhausting. At the same time it grew apparent that he would be retiring from ministry out of necessity rather than choice, further adding to the difficulty of travel from a financial standpoint. A sweet chapter of our life (enjoying my parents' visits) was drawing to a close just as a new grandbaby (Silas) came along. Our next furlough wasn't scheduled to take place until he was close to 1 1/2 years old. But as I mentioned in part one of this post, God in His goodness allowed Eva, Silas and I to take advantage of a wonderful fare sale and travel to the States ourselves. I am so thankful!  

My mom and my sister Terri met our late-night flight in Philadelphia and drove us to my parents' new home in a Christian retirement community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Our older children have many sweet memories from Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's home in Delaware, but Silas' will all be made here instead. They now live in a complex of lovely little homes in a warm Christian environment, yet a piece of their (and our) hearts will always be just across the border!

A unique characteristic to my parents' community is the variety of ministry opportunities on-site. One morning, Eva accompanied Pop-Pop to his prayer group. To our amusement, they returned with the story that an elderly lady had inquired if she was his wife! Another evening, Silas and I spent time with a group of ladies who gather to hymn sing with my mom as pianist. To their fascination, Silas was bundled into his baby sling and sound asleep during part of our visit. One sweet yet forgetful woman kept repeating, "It looks like you have two babies in there! Is it one? Or two?" When he awoke it was to a roomful of adoring smiles. A retirement community doesn't lend itself to many babies, so he was a delight everywhere we went!

Speaking of delight, however, Silas made it clear he was not delighted by the colder weather up north! A quick run to the grocery store one crisp night resulted in his screaming up one aisle and down the other after being shocked by the brisk walk from the car. Apparently shopping in general is not his favorite activity, even if it includes a delicious lunch at Friendly's and the wonderful assortment of outlet stores that Lancaster offers. I like to think that in the picture below Silas was sharing his woes with Pop-Pop (who wisely stayed home) after a full day of store hopping with the ladies!

One very special opportunity we had in Pennsylvania was an appointment with photographer Kim Winey. What she titles as "real life. your life." sessions are unscripted, at-home interactions between family members caught on camera. As a result of her time and talent, we were blessed with some beautiful images and memories of Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop together and with each of us. Initial feelings of awkwardness gave way to moments of laughter and warmth, and resulted in pictures we will treasure forever!

It was a treat to spend time with my sister Terri, nephews Benjamin and Nathaniel and niece Sophia. It was also wonderful to see my Aunt Joann (pictured below) - and not only because she brought some of her world-famous chocolate chip cookies! During her visit we enjoyed a concert by Robert and Joyce Hayes and Dr. Bill Welte of America's Keswick that was hosted by the retirement community. Our time together was short, but sweet.

The Sunday we spent in Pennsylvania allowed us to visit my parents' new church in the morning, and participate in Vespers at their community in the evening. It was a privilege to share in special music, as I was asked to sing and Mom played (just like old times!) A hilarious memory not to be forgotten was encountering a live bird in the meeting room when we went to practice that afternoon. Chasing it down the hallway and into the laundry room, I stood guard outside while Mom tried to call for help from someone in management. Eventually a brave soul took the challenge of facing off with the panicky bird and succeeded in detaching the window screens and shooing it outside. We got a lot of giggles out of that silly scenario!

All too soon, our visit came to an end. On our way to the airport, friends were invited to stop by my parents' longtime church in Delaware to meet Silas and say hello. What a blessing to see so many familiar and caring faces! It was there we said our goodbyes to Aunt Terri and the cousins. We were graciously chauffeured to the airport in the church van, and outside of security bid our farewells to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. It is never easy to walk away, but we look forward to the next time we say a sweet hello. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of this very special visit!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

These Learning Conversations

"Mom, do you think it's strange that [my brother] is older than me, but I know more than him?" 

It was an innocent question asked in front of the brother in question while both gazed with a measure of concentration at their math worksheets. While I wished it might have been spoken in a more private moment, I was thankful as always for the cheerful disposition of the aforementioned brother who took the conversation in stride. He already knew what my response would be due to having had this discussion more than once between the two of us, often in his moments of frustration and discouragement.

"I actually don't think it's strange." This statement surprised the inquisitive eight-year old. He was already familiar with his adoption story and that of his brother, born to different birth mothers in Haiti four months apart but adopted together from the same orphanage by our family. I reminded him of these similarities, but then pointed out an important difference.

"The reason your brother has a harder time learning is because he did not have enough food when his birth mother was pregnant with him and for several months after he was born. Babies' brains are growing during this time and if they don't get the food they need, their brains get hurt. That's what happened to your brother. On the other hand, you always had more than enough to eat. So it's not his fault at all, but this is why he has a harder time learning than you do."

While his brother was nodding his head in fervent affirmation, I referred to a conversation we'd had during school just a couple of weeks before. "Remember when I said life isn't fair?" Both boys acknowledged their clear recall of this paradigm-shifting statement. "Well, this is an example of how life isn't fair. Is it fair that you had enough to eat but your brother didn't? Is it fair that you can learn easily but it's harder for him?" They solemnly shook their heads over this evident inequality.

"The encouraging thing is that even though this isn't fair, we can trust God to use these things in our lives. The Bible says that when we have problems or hurts, God can use us to help other people who have similar problems. So your brother can help someone else like him someday. And in your case, God can use this to teach you patience when you have to sometimes wait for him in school."

He took this last statement and ran with it. "I am patient! There was this one time ..."

As the conversation drew to a close and the boys returned their attention to the math page at hand, they chattered away companionably. I couldn't help but write down some of the things they said.
"Mom, when my brother goes to Haiti for his 16th birthday can I go with him? YES!" (thrilled shoulder slapping and cheering) 
"I want Mommy and Daddy to be with me in all the birthdays that I have in this world." (animated agreement) 
"I want Mommy and Daddy to survive for years and years and YEARS! Imagine if I could survive longer than Mommy and Daddy. I could, but I don't think so." (deep discussion of the probabilities according to eight-year old perspectives)
I love their friendship and enthusiasm. When I am tempted to worry about the future, and the disparities that may grow wider if they continue to be homeschooled together, I am encouraged by the special bond between them and how God can use even these challenges to teach them and mold them. 

As it turns out, these learning conversations are not only for their benefit after all.