Wednesday, August 05, 2020

This Wasn't the Way We Envisioned Goodbye

This wasn't the way we envisioned goodbye.

If plans had stayed in place, you would have experienced a wonderful summer with your grandparents in their home. You would have learned what it was like to work your first real job. You would have opened a bank account, gotten a driver's license, and celebrated a graduation open house with your cousin in PA.

If plans had stayed in place, we would have sent you off with goodbyes well said. We hoped to have a fancy dinner, pretty dresses, friends and family who've loved you all your years in Chile to join us. Your MK friend Andrea would have come to spend a week, or at least a few days, in Iquique as planned. Instead, you will slip away with only a face-to-face farewell with one dear Chilean friend and others by way of phone or video.

If plans had stayed in place, we would have had one more family trip together. We would have flown south and you would have gotten a chance to see your cousins' new home and enjoy the beautiful scenery and river and fulfill the dream of all three families (Fishers, Rubins, Garcias) vacationing together in Puerto Varas. You would have had one more cousins' treasure hunt at the very end.

If plans had stayed in place, you and Isabel and I would have kept our reservations and had one last girls' getaway at a hotel. We would have gone out to eat and watched movies and even completed a short class together. We would have taken mother/daughter and sister pictures together.

If plans had stayed in place, we would have had one last professional family photo shoot with Hernan. I had hoped it would be on Cerro Dragon as a memory of this unique landmark in the city where you were raised. I regret not doing it sooner because I wanted the photo to be as recent as possible and maybe even to lose some weight first (how ironic is that post-quarantine and all your yummy desserts!)

If plans had stayed in place, both Daddy and I would be flying together to the States to take you to school. We would say goodbye to you together, just as we first said a breathless hello together in Mr. Casey's small office at Catholic Social Services in Scranton nineteen years ago.

If plans had stayed in place, we would be there for parents' orientation weekend with you rather than having to take you a week early. We'd meet the other parents of your classmates and get a formal introduction to what this year has in store for you. Daddy would do the six hours of driving each way so that I could (probably) just cry my way home.

If plans had stayed in place, you would already be gone.

But because plans did not stay in place, we were given three more months with you. Because plans did not stay in place, you were not far from us in another country when the COVID-19 crisis erupted. Because plans did not stay in place, you had time to finish school well and more time to focus on the next step. Because plans did not stay in place, you made and re-made your lists to perfection. (And you made and re-made strawberry shortcakes, iced sugar cookies, zucchini cakes and even spaghetti - with Dad's secret ingredient! - for the enjoyment of your family.) 

Because plans did not stay in place, you asked for and God provided a weekly Christian counseling appointment that has given you voice and tools to face some of your struggles. Because plans did not stay in place, as a family we were able to study about Heaven and sing together in worship each Sunday. We "met" Pastor Dave and were encouraged through his daily Bible studies on YouTube for many weeks. Because plans did not stay in place, we reconnected with extended family more regularly and sweetly as we met weekly for family devotions. 

Because plans did not stay in place, Silas spent more time snuggled up with you listening to music on your bunk bed and creating Sunday School crafts with your help. Because plans did not stay in place, your brothers enjoyed playing you in chaotic competitions of Dutch Blitz. Because plans did not stay in place, our girls' getaway for a weekend was exchanged for a month-long trip together as we all go to the States. Because plans did not stay in place, Daddy asked for your favorite recipes and is spoiling you with your favorite meals before we say goodbye. 

I am thankful to trust in a sovereign God who is bigger than any of our plans. (Proverbs 19:21) He is a loving God who puts our tears in His bottle. (Psalm 56:8) He is a hope-giving God with good purposes for our lives. (Jeremiah 29:11) He is the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our afflictions. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) He is the God who formed us and knows us and is with us always and everywhere. (Psalm 139) He is the God who will "watch between you and me, when we are out of one another's sight." (Genesis 31:49)

This isn't the way we envisioned goodbye, but it's the way He did. And for that - and for you - I am very thankful.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Recording a Friend's Reinvention

Recording a friend's reinvention. That might describe today's rewarding errand as I delivered donations to FLORECE while also taking time to assist Catalina in the final step of an important project. A self-employed and talented seamstress, prior to COVID-19 Catalina rented her own workspace and shop in Iquique's "Feria Persa" where a steady clientele kept her comfortably busy from month to month. With lockdown, however, she lost not only her location but also the liberty to interact with others and the availability of materials to ply her trade. Using fabrics she had on hand she did the next thing she could, which was create colorful face masks when wearing them first began. 

The landscape of her livelihood shifted in the pandemic and may never be the same. Ever courageous and clever, Catalina in her mid-60's now finds herself on a learning curve to create and master an online presence through social media. One way she hopes to do so is by earning a scholarship through SERCOTEC, a organization in Chile which seeks to empower "micro" businesses and entrepreneurs. Today's assignment was to produce a 90-second video of Catalina presenting her project idea and designs and explaining specifically how she would use any funds awarded.

One of her novel ideas is an attractive woman's scarf with a mask attached which can be revealed or hidden as the wearer wishes. She gave me her first prototype as a going away gift to Eva. This was especially meaningful because Catalina graciously invested herself in our daughter for a season. When Eva was younger, she would regularly spend time at Tía Cata's shop learning to sew alongside her. They even made miniature outfits for Eva's toys. Because of Catalina's patience and delight, sewing is something Eva enjoys to this day.

Catalina and Eva in 2015

It was a small thing, recording and uploading the video and helping a bit with her new Instagram account. But so worth it to see my friend's smile and hear her relief at accomplishing this application on time. Catalina is not only a seamstress and a friend, but also a committed volunteer and our live-in caretaker at FLORECE. In fact, the donations I brought were ones she coordinated to receive and will carefully distribute as she has done all throughout this crisis. As I was carrying in the bags before she realized I had arrived, I could hear her worshipful singing on another floor of the building. I can only hope that in twenty more years I might have the tenacity and tenderness of this dear woman of God! What a blessing she is to all who know her.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Creativity in Quarantine (Silas)

One of the challenges of quarantine has been keeping a certain busy 4-year old entertained in more creative ways than simply watching television or playing video games. While we've not been entirely successful, there have been some colorful moments that I managed to capture and wanted to record from this time. 

Aunt "Noni" gave Silas this little canvas and easel early in our stay-at-home orders. He had great fun mixing the colors for his robot and dinosaur masterpieces! 

Often sisters and brothers were pressed into service as artist's assistants. It was particularly memorable when Sissy did so because art is not her "thing" but she humored her little brother with a happy heart and big smile regardless. 

March turned to April, and April to May when Silas' giant flower pot was a Mother's Day gift that he was very proud of. It was also in May when Eva helped him create this brontosaurus in a tea box as a gift to his friend Emilia. They had several drive-by gift exchanges before lockdown shut down even these visits. 

One day recently, Silas was eager to use new paint and we gave him an abandoned box as his canvas. His brown apron was a bargain $500 peso find at Líder among the school uniforms that never had a chance to be sold this year due to COVID-19. With his brothers and sisters doing school and a cool, cloudy day his creative juices ran dry fairly quickly. But at least it made for a cute picture! 

I wonder what Silas' recollections will be of this season in his young life. Hopefully when he looks back, he will see there is always some beauty to be found. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Counting the Memories of Quarantine

4 months, 11 days. Nineteen weeks. 133 days. This is how long we have been under a state of emergency in Chile. 

2 months, 15 days. Eleven weeks. 76 days. This is how long we have been under quarantine/lockdown in Iquique.

Is it strange that it all feels almost normal now? Still our kids will often ask, "What's going on tomorrow?" and I will look at them cross-eyed as I reply, "The same as yesterday, today, and every day!" We are creatures of habit and truthfully, we are blessed to have already been in the routine of homeschool schedules that keep us moving forward daily. Admittedly, our days start about an hour later than before. School begins at 10 rather than 9 and family devotions at 9:30 rather than 8:30. Getting everyone out of bed is harder when it feels like there is nothing exciting to look forward to!

But I do look forward to each day with our family. Especially now with Eva's departure drawing so near, gathering the eight of us together for devotions, for mealtimes, for sweet Sundays in quarantine is precious to my heart. Lockdown has finally resulted in more faithfulness to certain routines that sometimes got lost in the rapid shuffle of schedules in and out of our home in the faraway time before pandemic.

I'd like to remember the many mornings our boys made themselves "breakfasts of champions" frying up frozen hamburger patties and eggs. The kids spread around the couches eager for another episode of Pastor Dave's teen Bible study on YouTube. Working through our prayer list of supporting individuals and churches, missionary colleagues and family members, unsaved friends and acquaintances, church plant families and urgent needs (often COVID-related.) Our disappointment when those studies ended and turning to a study on Heaven for family "Sunday School" which led to lovely conversations and expectations of what is to come! Eventually beginning The Insanity of God which has been so eye opening and hard to read without crying some mornings. Catching glimpses of growing compassion as our children discover that life outside the comfort of our quarantine is so much harder for so many people.

The scale will not soon let me forget the food of quarantine: Eva's iced cookies, zucchini cake, banana muffins, crazy cake, peanut butter cookies, and apple pie (surely I'm forgetting other delights!) Pedro's mixed grills and homemade coleslaw and our family's "discovery" of baked potatoes for seemingly the first time. Aunt Terri's multiple version of banana cake to spoil Silas, and her delicious keto broccoli soup. Owen's efforts to perfect his no-bake oatmeal chocolate cookies, and his pleas for Domino's pizza when restaurants reopened for delivery only. The joy of our favorite Chinese restaurant reappearing for Sunday afternoon lunches at home. The discovery of fideos salteados con pollo from La Cucarda Morrina and the comfort of fresh fruit juices and sandwiches from La Ecuatoriana.

Though we tightened and loosened and tightened again the allowable schedules for gaming and electronics, I recognize that quarantine connected us to our gadgets more than ever. In some ways for the worse and others for the better, but the latter was certainly true with our weekly family devotions by WhatsApp and then Zoom with the Garcia and Christian aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Seeing each other's faces, hearing updates from young adult children, being encouraged from God's Word by Pop-Pop and Grandpa and uncles. In addition to gathering us for team meetings, Sunday nights with IBGV and Friday nights with IBF women, Zoom eventually became a tool for MK games like "Pharisees" and the grandly named NCBTMKFFH ("Northern Chile Branch MK Family Fun Hour!")

Bedtime in quarantine took on the routine of Silas going down around 8 PM with Mommy and Daddy taking turns so one parent and the older siblings could enjoy some television time. Apparently we are drawn to sitcoms about geniuses and underdogs, with a healthy dose of humor and some mystery and adventure for good measure. After the state of emergency was declared but before lockdown ensued, Eva and Isabel and Aunt Terri held "Hearties" parties sometimes until after curfew with a quick run between houses under cover of darkness. When that was no longer an option, we did a superheroes movie marathon week before settling into a new series that everyone could enjoy. Laughter releases tension, and even these memories of winding down together at day's end are tender.

I had high hopes of weekly family game nights which didn't exactly materialize, but there was that one endless Monopoly game and a few rousing Apples to Apples contests. Qwirkle was a favorite for a time, especially with Pedro's addition of a made-up jingle which Silas of course latched onto (much to his siblings' chagrin!) I think we managed to gather kids for one Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride: Europe game each. And recently, there was a very rowdy Dutch Blitz extravaganza that was a whole lot of fun! Of course, I should not forget the countless rounds of Memorice with Silas - the quarantine purchase that took on a life of its own early in our stay-at-home days, with Daddy naming each person whose face stared up from the circular cards. One of Silas' favorites was "Noni" (named for missionary Aunt Jenn because of the shape of her glasses) and "Greenie" (his preferred color.) There was pink-haired "Eva" (a reminder of when his sister colored her hair with best friend Meme.) And with great flair he would announce in a faux accent, "Italiano!" whenever the dark-haired man with his fancy mustache appeared.

But my very favorite day of quarantine very quickly became clear: Sundays were sweetest. They deserve a post all of their own, which hopefully will come soon. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Happy 18th Birthday to Isabel

Dear Isabel,

Your 18th birthday delivered such a dilemma for you this year. How to celebrate and try to feel happy when you - our social butterfly - had your wings clipped by quarantine? Many half-joking, half-serious laments preceded your special day as you considered what the reality might look like. Our plan if quarantine was lifted was to imitate Daddy's birthday celebration with an adults-only luncheon at Aunt Terri's (now that you qualified for this group!) ordering take out from a favorite fancy restaurant. Alas, quarantine was far from lifted and you were the first of our family to be celebrated "only" by the eight of us within our four walls.
However, you exceeded expectations with a remarkably good attitude in the face of disappointment. Perhaps this was your first "adult" achievement! It was certainly a blessing to observe as your mom, especially when I added to the comedy list of errors by ordering your panqueque de naranja from our "cake guy" rather than Jumbo and it resembled not at all the cake you desired and had whipped cream which startlingly you do not like. I'm happy you were able to get a permiso to meet Kari at the grocery store on your birthday and take crazy masked pictures that will probably be way more memorable than any party I could have planned!

I do hope that a certain surprise on your 18th birthday was a blessing to you. I know that it blessed me as I planned and prepared it for you. This year, we asked many people who love you to write letters on your birthday. You heard from your sister, grandparents, cousins, birth family, missionary aunts and uncles and cousins, and special friends from different seasons of your life. As I transposed the words from e-mails to dressed-up documents (for presentation's sake) it was beautiful to read how each person recognized special traits in you that make you uniquely and wonderfully you.

Isabel, I love your giggle + grit and your feisty spirit + fabulous style. I love your big dreams + bold determination. I  love your fearlessness + friendliness. I love that you love mysteries and reading and we can enjoy the same stories. I love that you have risen above too many difficulties and disappointments to take "no" for an answer unless God makes it utterly clear to you. I am expectant and excited for what He will do in and through you, if you give Him first place in your life.

You are 18 years! Our fun-sized; risueña con rulitos; watch out world; senior class of '21 birthday girl. Happy Birthday, Isabel! Daddy and I love you very, very much.

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

17th Birthday - Isabel
16th Birthday - Isabel
15th Birthday - Isabel
14th Birthday- Isabel
13th Birthday - Isabel
12th Birthday - Isabel
11th Birthday - Isabel
10th Birthday - Isabel
9th Birthday - Isabel
8th Birthday - Isabel
7th Birthday - Isabel
6th Birthday - Isabel
5th Birthday - Isabel

Monday, May 25, 2020

Day by Day: May 25, 2020

Monday, May 25, 2020. It has been 69 days since Chile's president declared a 90-day state of emergency and the initial sheltering in place began in Iquique. It has been 10 Sundays since we last gathered in person at the south side Iglesia Bautista Fe and the downtown Iglesia Bautista Gracia y Verdad church plants. It was 2 months ago today - but it feels like a lifetime - that we escaped Iquique as a family to breathe in the fresh air at the Los Lobitos beach. And it was 10 days ago that an official quarantine (a.k.a. lockdown) began and even walking two doors down to the cousins' house for weekly family devotions became illegal.

Speaking of which, I am very grateful that God saw fit to bring my sister and her husband and three children so close by for these difficult days. I am thankful He allowed their container of home furnishings to clear customs and be delivered just over a week before Chile's state of emergency began. If it weren't for back-and-forth visits for Spanish classes and video games and television series marathons and family meals during the first 60 days, my kids would likely have felt the stifling pressure of solitude much sooner. Even now, Terri and I can coordinate our police passes for grocery shopping and drive together for our three hours of "freedom," which is a blessing! But I do regret that their family's early months of transition to Chile have not allowed them to truly explore and build relationships, learn the culture and practice the language as they would have otherwise.   

This week has been declared a week of vacation from school in our home. Our daughters finished 11th and 12th grades, respectively, in the past couple of weeks (hallelujah!) The timing of Eva's departure to the States and the steps towards starting school at Miracle Mountain Ranch in September remain hazy. Isabel interviewed with OneLife - Lancaster last week to investigate that option after graduation next year. Our three older boys each have a book report due before officially closing this school year, and some transitional assignments to complete between now and August when they join their cousins Ben and Nathaniel under the tutelage of Aunt Terri. We are painting the schoolroom (and by "we" I mean my talented husband with his half a dozen helpers!) The house is all topsy turvy with furniture moved hither and fro and ten boxes of food awaiting permission for distribution to families in need. Silas is spending way too much time watching "You's Tube" and craning his neck at video games over his brother's shoulder.

Today with great expectation I started the day with a new "to do" list and succeeded in fulfilling very little of it. I did, however, expend energy and tears listening to an emotion-filled song entitled "Suitcases" written by a TCK which somehow captures all the feelings. I have been nostalgic of late as I search through pictures for a graduation video for Eva and for a teacher's retirement celebration. So many happy moments with our young children and dear friends now separated by time and distance and life. I am thankful for each one. 

Later I will add pictures to this post but for now I will simply hit "publish" and record another small snippet of our family's existence in these unexpected times.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Day by Day: April 22, 2020

Wednesday, April 22, 2020. It was my high aspiration when all this began to keep a daily journal of life in the midst of COVID-19 changes and restrictions. Perhaps it goes to show that human beings can adapt to most anything given this entry comes after more than a month of hashtag #QuédateEnCasa" (Chile's slogan for sheltering at home) and doing so feels almost normal. 

Today like most days of late, I began with listening to Pastor Ross Shannon's daily devotional on Facebook Live. Then I quickly did a voice recording reading chapter 30 of Elizabeth George's book Proverbios para el corazon de la mujer and sent it to multiple women via WhatsApp. Next I headed downstairs to join Pedro and the kids in watching Pastor David Doran Jr.'s teen Bible study on YouTube. While the kids and I finished up with prayer time, Pedro hurried upstairs for an online task force meeting. I purposely did not shower but dressed in yesterday's clothes because grocery shopping was scheduled for today! (Today's shopping was not primarily for our family but for giveaway food boxes.) 

Initially due to safety reasons and later the requests that no children and only one person per family enter the stores, for the past month I have only shopped with my sister or another adult friend. Technically our daughter Eva is an adult, but she has no desire to go anywhere the coronovirus might be. Isabel, on other hand, has struggled with being homebound and today I decided that at 17 years + 10 months she is close enough to legal adulthood and an outing to the supermarket might do her mental health some good.  Inviting her resulted in the additional perk of rousing her to a state of attentiveness for our morning family devotions, ha!

Our list was relatively simple and in some cases, limited by the store to only five of the same item such as liter boxes of milk, kilo bags of rice and/or beans, cooking oil, and clorox gel for cleaning. We also purchased boxes of oatmeal, cans of peaches and tuna fish, spaghetti noodles and tomato sauce, and boxes of teabags. Our giveaway boxes include all of this plus canned peas, flour, sugar, liquid hand soap, and occasionally other items if we have special requests (today one box contained frozen chicken, dish soap and eggs as well.) Unfortunately our first grocery store did not have canned peas and with two liters of milk per box, the allotment of five would not stretch sufficiently. So we delivered our first purchases home and proceeded to a second grocery store nearby.

This is our grocery story routine. First, we try to arrive promptly in the morning. Our nearest store previously opened from 8:30 AM to 10:00 PM but now opens from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. During busier hours, a long line can form as the store limits the number of customers inside. Today we arrived around 9:25 AM and thankfully there was no wait. Second, we wear masks (cloth ones made by our friend Catalina that we wash afterwards) and we use clorox wipes to clean the handles and all around the cart before beginning to shop. Third, a guard at the store's entrance sprays our hands with alcohol gel and takes our temperatures by pointing a thermometer at our heads. Fourth, we rarely pay in cash anymore and we sorely miss the students who used to bag groceries for tips! Getting everything on and off the belt and packed makes the experience lengthy and laborious in comparison to more carefree times. Fifth, upon returning to the car we use clorox wipes to clean our hands, purses, debit cards, steering wheel, and whatever else is nearby. Then, when we deliver the groceries to the house our assembly line of kids use clorox wipes to disinfect the outside of every item before it goes inside. Sixth, at home we spray our shoes with Lysol and leave them in the sunshine while heading inside to shower and throw clothes and masks in the wash.

After many weeks of wishing to go to the store, Isabel admitted it was not nearly as fun anymore with all of the above to endure! But I was thankful for her company nonetheless and later in the day she helped me pack the giveaway boxes and joined me and Pedro to deliver them (another chance to get out of the house!) Before we did so, however, Pedro made his trademark slow roasted whole barbecue chickens on the grill to add to our deliveries. We also enjoyed lunch as a family and some down time in the afternoon. Later at night, we enjoyed some delicious homemade pan amasado made by Chris Ruz while we watched a couple of season two episodes of Scorpion. (Although watching the genius team save the world from a fast-multiplying infectious disease of unknown origins was somewhat disconcerting given the times in which we are living!) Finally, before bed I watched Bonnie Truax's "In This Together" video including clips Isabel, Ian and I had submitted about life in Chile under COVID-19 conditions which were edited along with testimonies from around the world. There is a measure of comfort in knowing that from Australia to India to Chile to the States, our lives are similarly reflected in these strange new customs and routines that will not last forever.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Happy 15th Birthday to Owen

Dear Owen,

Your 15th birthday was certainly not as any of us might have envisioned. A state of emergency in Chile had begun shrinking our world and taking away those things outside our home that you enjoyed (mainly basketball!) Thankfully, your cousins newly arrived to Iquique provided the novelty of their presence and a hearty supply of pizza still made for a joyful celebration. Además, Aunt Terri's chocolate cake with peanut butter icing was just what your heart desired!

We all got a chuckle out of Silas' gift to you. With a great deal of enthusiasm, your little brother gave you some evangelistic tracts, toys that actually belonged to Ian, an occasional Lego or loose coin, and a Learn to Read book. He looks up to you and he certainly loves birthdays!

Owen, it has always been a pleasure to be your mom and that continues to be true even on the days of adolescent blues and the highs and lows of ánimo that this season of life entails. I love your humor and your crazy height that has me guessing just how far up I'll have to look at you once you are all done growing. Listening in on your conversations while you animatedly play video games in the schoolroom gives me a glimpse of your personality and passions and I love that, too.

I observe that you are not one to share your deepest and most serious feelings, but I pray that you will trust those to God - and someday, to people worthy of your confidence who will give you wise counsel. I pray that you will grow into a confident, compassionate and creative man of God who uses his gifts to bless others and glorify your Maker. I am excited for all God has in store in and through you if you will commit your way to Him now and always.

I love you, Owen Santiago Garcia! Happy 15th Birthday, sweet son.


Previous birthday posts:

14th Birthday - Owen
13th Birthday - Owen
12th Birthday - Owen
11th Birthday - Owen
10th Birthday - Owen
9th Birthday - Owen
8th Birthday - Owen
7th Birthday - Owen
6th Birthday - Owen
5th Birthday - Owen
4th Birthday - Owen
3rd Birthday - Owen
2nd Birthday - Owen

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Celebrating Pedro's 48th Birthday

Dear Pedro,

It's possible that no birthday has characterized the compassionate, caring man you have become more than this one. It was a day that carried such heavy sorrow and responsibility, yet you did not once complain or focus on yourself. I am thankful that in the midst of tears and tiredness, with the help of Terri and Dave we could set just a few moments aside to remember the gift of you.

The night before your birthday, we slipped away for prayer and presence with a dying friend. We did not know it was our last goodbye to dear, sweet Isabel who deeply valued your ministry and relationship with their family. The news reached us in the wee hours and I wept my way through the night as you fitfully slept. The morning of your birthday, a request reached us to help another family with a need that took us downtown on a masked errand in this still new-to-us era of contagion and COVID-19. The afternoon of your birthday, you drove to deliver a meal to our grieving friends; and the evening of your birthday, we joined them in a small gathering to honor Isabel's life. We were asked to share some words, which was such a privilege to us.

This picture was taken in the brief recess of your birthday when for one short hour we sat as adults and friends and family around the Fishers' new dining room table with a takeout meal from a favorite restaurant and Terri's delicious homemade broccoli soup as an appetizer. Two doors down, the cousins enjoyed spaghetti and camaraderie and some shelter from the sorrow as they kept one another company through their own lunch.

My dear Sweets, your birthday gift was to have been a getaway together and we had even found a great deal at one of the hotels we like most. But that, too, was taken away due to the world's current crisis. So "Happy Birthday" may not seem like the best words to wish you on a day that held so many emotions but I do wish you all the happiness you can hold - because I love you and am so blessed to be your wife.

All my love today and always,

Birthday Posts by Year:


Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Happy 12th Birthday to Alec

Dear Alec,

The circumstances surrounding your 12th birthday were certainly nothing we could have ever imagined. Last year, we went out to a restaurant and enjoyed the unexpected opportunity to ride an earthquake simulator in Iquique's central plaza downtown. We were among lots of people in both places, and we welcomed our missionary family into our home to sing Happy Birthday later in the day.

In contrast, this year the whole world (without exaggeration) shockingly shut down due to a previously-unknown virus called COVID-19. In Chile, your birthday arrived a few weeks after a state of emergency was declared and residents were urged to shelter at home. Fortunately, your Fisher cousins were able to join us so that at least you had some extra smiling faces around the table!

Through it all, you have been remarkably even-keeled. Perhaps it is because you tend to enjoy being at home and surrounded by predicable patterns. You are a year older and year stronger, especially since you've added a daily round of push-ups to your nighttime routine! In fact, one of your birthday presents was a pair of push up bars to ratchet things up a notch.

School continues to be an enjoyable challenge for you, even as mid-year we look forward to working together with your cousins in what we call the "new schoolroom." You are flying through those assignments you can do on your own. We are proud of you, Alec, as you use your abilities to do your very best and move forward academically!

Among your many good qualities, you are a justice seeker (admittedly sometimes weighted in your favor!) and a rule follower. You can be counted on to quietly get moving on your chores and often as the first one in place with the proper "accoutrements" (as Daddy would humorously say) when it is time for family devotions or other scheduled events. Thank you for that, Alec! I love knowing that you will always willingly and warmly have a hug for Mommy when I ask and that you genuinely appreciate our family. In fact, out of everyone you are often the one who suggests doing something together like a game night or an outing (before the current circumstances) and that makes you all the more sweet and special.

Happy 12th Birthday, Alec Stephen! We are so glad you are our precious son. We are so thankful God chose to send us not one, but two beautiful baby boys from Haiti ten years ago. We can't imagine life without you! Keep your eyes always on Jesus Who loves you so very much!

All my love,

Previous birthday posts:

11th Birthday - Alec
10th Birthday - Alec
9th Birthday - Alec
8th Birthday - Alec
7th Birthday - Alec
6th Birthday - Alec
5th Birthday - Alec
4th Birthday - Alec
3rd Birthday - Alec
2nd Birthday - Alec
1st Birthday - Alec

Monday, March 30, 2020

Uncertain Days but a Certain God

Monday, March 30, 2020. In this strange and unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, emotions can turn on a dime. Sometimes it's necessary to just let the tears flow. Today was a full and busy day, albeit we never stepped foot outside our own gate. Our family activities were plentiful between homeschooling and phone calls, correspondence and paying bills and making sure six kids were fed. All the way to 8 PM when we finished a spaghetti dinner around the table while video chatting with family members in Florida for our recent weekly Garcia devotions on Monday nights. Uncle Mateo even led us in reading Psalm 34 and choosing our favorite verses to turn into a family song! It was a time of togetherness and laughter, a warm and welcome closing to the day.

Towards the end of our family time, our dog's barking alerted us to a visitor at the gate. It was our new next-door neighbor asking for Pedro. Only later did I learn he had come with an astonishing gift, a box of 3M N95 Health Care Particulate Respirator and Surgical Masks for our family. That gift was the dime on which my emotions turned, overshadowing an otherwise pleasant day with the fear those masks represented. I felt surprised and grateful for a stranger's kindness while questioning why these neighbors chose to give them to us (are they afraid we are not careful enough? is it our proximity to their home?) and also feeling guilty that we now have something my own sister in southern Chile cannot obtain and which even many medical professionals reportedly lack. My tears began to fall then and harder still after hugging my unusually quiet and sad fourteen-year old an early goodnight.

Other factors came into play, such as my husband's whispered words about the need to prepare contingency plans which meant considering real and scary possibilities as they might occur in our country of service during this season of sickness. And then I read a blog post which overflowed into more weeping for someone I don't know in real life but I've often felt as if I do. Another missionary family, another country and continent of service, but one whose story in some ways mirrored our own with the wife's background as an MK and their experience of transracial adoption and similar ages and years of ministry on the mission field. They faced the same sudden onslaught of COVID-19 life changes in their context with the huge difference of a mandatory repatriation that gave them only four days to pack up their entire life and leave.
Garcia Praise: Based on Psalm 34 
The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.  I sought the Lord and he heard me and delivered me from all my fears.The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the person who goes to him for safety.My soul makes its boast in the Lord. Let the humble hear and be glad.Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces will never be ashamed.The angel of the Lord encamps around them and defends all who fear Him.  The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help.  He rescues them from all their troubles.
My tears subsided because as nighttime fell, our life did not come to a halt and our children still had needs and there were responsibilities to fulfill. Knowing I must fight fear with truth, I read the verses we had chosen earlier from Psalm 34 and was reminded that though these are uncertain days, we are sustained by a certain God. He knows the number of our days and the needs of our hearts, and we can trust Him.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Breathing Deep at Los Lobitos

Wednesday, March 25, 2020. This was before beaches were officially declared off limits and police check points were established exiting the city of Iquique. We were itching for fresh air and a change of scenery even while a bit nervous due to the days of seclusion and so much uncertainty. There was a a solemn spirit among the kids that needed some respite. So along with the Fisher family, we loaded our matching black and white vans and drove south to the beach that has provided us escape many times during our years in Iquique.

We frequented Los Lobitos with three small children on Tuesday "family nights" in 2009:

And took friends there on multiple occasions our first year in Iquique:

We celebrated baptisms with the IBM church in 2010:

Then revisited with Grandma and Grandma Garcia when they stayed with us in 2013:

Pedro took the boys camping there in March 2014:

And we breathed in the fresh air once again in September of the same year:

But it had been quite awhile since we had returned to this spot which is so beautiful in its natural state yet sadly often trashed by the humans who visit it. Pulling off the highway and descending the winding sandy road to the shore, we saw a couple other small groups of twos and threes with the same idea as ours. They were on the beach and so we "social distanced" away from them to the rocks which were our desired destination. The weather was comfortable and the waves were magnificent. The rocks beckoned to be climbed and by the end of our time we were rewarded with a beautiful setting sun. Best of all, everyone's tension melted away in the comfort of God's creation.

Sadly, it was our last visit for the foreseeable future as restrictions began to tighten and we await the freedom to return again. For now, these pictures serve as a reminder of a lovely evening and the love of our Heavenly Father who created such beauty for us to enjoy. Thank You, Lord!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Day by Day: March 24, 2020

Tuesday, March 24, 2020. This day was an adventure in many ways. After picking up sterile gloves and Cata's handmade face masks from FLORECE, Jenn Taylor and my sister Terri and I drove to Unimarc to obtain groceries for a mom in need. It was not our usual grocery store but centrally located between FLORECE and the home we needed to visit. Arriving a few minutes before 10 AM, we were at the front of a line waiting to be permitted entrance after the early hours for senior adults ended. Terri waited in the car as Jenn and I were waved through by a guard offering a squirt of alcohol gel at the door. Our list was basic: beans, oil, potatoes, carrots, bananas, eggs, milk, and clorox gel. Thankfully, we were able to find all but carrots and clorox gel and the young mom was so grateful. After delivering the items, we proceeded to additional shopping. We tried to be careful to wipe off cart handles with clorox wipes and disinfect hands with alcohol gel regularly. Upon returning to our homes, each of us showered and washed our clothes as we have been advised. It was only afterwards that I watched a video encouraging grocery items to be wiped clean before storing as well! Fortunately my own items were few and easy enough to pull out of cabinets to do so.

Besides shopping, the second big task on this day was attempting to contact LATAM Airlines to reschedule our long-planned Garcia/Fisher/Rubin family vacation to Puerto Varas. This was the biggest disappointment for our children so far. Plane tickets for family members had been purchased back in October during an airline sale on faith that Fishers would make it Chile in time (and praise God, they did!) Though we'd initially held out hope that our trip could go on as planned, the past few days had made it clear this was not going to happen as airlines first shut down international and then national flights. We'd been told that due to the overwhelming number of flights being cancelled, we had to wait until 48 hours before ours to make any change.

And though LATAM had created a webpage intended to allow travelers to make changes themselves online, not surprisingly we only achieved error messages by this means. So I reached out by online chat and at 3 PM I was number 1,059 in line! I decided to let this run its course but after three hours I was frozen somewhere in the 400's with no end in sight. Finally, I made a phone call with little expectation that I would reach an agent anytime soon. Unbelievably, I quickly found myself talking to a woman named Gladys who would soon become my personal hero. I didn't realize it at first, however, because almost immediately we ran into a roadblock that threatened to derail our hopes completely! She insisted that we were already checked into our flights and for that reason no changes could be made. I insisted that I was looking right at my computer screen and we were NOT checked in. Based on prior experiences, it would not have surprised me in the least if she had dug in her heels and our opportunity to make changes would have ended then and there. But she didn't! She put me on hold instead. Again, based on prior experiences, it would not have surprised me one bit if our connection ended and I never made contact with an agent again. But it didn't! Not only did she not shut us down or cut us off, but she invested the time and effort needed to get the glitch solved on their end and to walk us through rescheduling our flights from March to October. 

jokingly "crossing our fingers"
I was so desperate not to lose this angel of an agent that I called my sister Terri to come over and my husband to come downstairs so that she could change their flights (in total, our family had three separate reservations) while we were still on this one call. At the very end of our nearly hour-long conversation we lost our connection, just as Gladys was making the final changes to the last reservation. Eeek! Holding our breath, we waited for the confirmation e-mail and/or a callback - BOTH of which came. I am not exaggerating when I say this felt like a miracle, because we live in a country where customer service is truly "not a thing" (to put it gently!) Thank you, God! Even though I never "tweet," I tried my best to write a glowing few words about Gladys in hopes LATAM would recognize this patient and gracious agent and of course I thanked her profusely as well.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Day by Day: March 23, 2020

Monday, March 23, 2020. One of my first messages this morning was a helpful one from our colleague Jenn correcting a mistake (wrong name) in my late-night blog post from Sunday. She was also excited to share that the first video of a new devotional series we will be posting to the IBGV Facebook page was online. Each day we will publish a Scripture passage to be read at home with follow up questions, and a video of one of our leadership team reading the accompanying devotional story. It is a brand-new page and we are a teeny tiny group, but our desire is to provide tools that direct people to God's Word during these troubling times.

I received on Monday a message from a young mom we care about, written with heartbreaking embarrassment to confess her family was scarce of food and had been without work for many days. A plan was quickly made for Jenn, Terri and I to make a grocery store run the next morning after picking up sterile gloves from FLORECE and homemade masks from Catalina (since none are to be found in stores anymore.) Chile's minister of health announced 746 coronovirus cases.

At 8:30 pm Chile time, we had our first four-way WhatsApp chat with our Garcia family (two phones at our house in Iquique and one each in Florida at Mateo and Raquel's house, and Mom and Dad's house since Nina and Kyle were unavailable due to his work schedule.) Dad/Grandpa shared the devotional and it was special to catch up "face to face" with our loved ones even though we write messages on our family chat most days. We were able to see the new work space being created by Mateo and Raquel in their home to continue schooling their students online, a tremendous responsibility that they will carry out wonderfully.

An unfortunate sour note on this night was a impassioned message posted publicly to our basketball club's WhatsApp group. In it a mother pointed fingers at two children for having come to see her son when all the children (according to her) were supposed to be quarantined. However, an official quarantine was not in fact in place, and the two children were our son and his friend whom we had continued to allow to ride bikes carefully in the nearby neighborhood for fresh air and sunshine. The boys had been following instructions not to go into any homes but lacked understanding that other kids might not still be allowed the same freedoms. It was a teachable moment for all us, though one we might have preferred not to experience!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Day by Day: March 22, 2020

Sunday, March 22, 2020. This was a special day. The first Sunday where it seemed everyone we knew both in Chile and the United States was "attending" church from their living room via online services. Personally, we were very blessed by the caring and careful planning of the pastors from our sending church in Lapeer who prepared various videos and e-mailed an order of service to all the church members. With the help of a Kindle fire stick, some printed lyrics and a cell phone we followed along through the call to worship, pastoral prayer, Bible reading, songs of worship and Pastor Ross' sermon on the crucifixion of Christ and the beauty of our Savior whose concern even in the most crushing and painful moments of His life on earth, was for His people. I shed tears at various times from sheer gratitude at the grace of receiving pastoral ministry to our family even across such a great distance. Both Pedro and I were encouraged by our children's singing and attention to the service. I felt profoundly grateful remembering the visiting team from First Baptist last year and particularly the connection it created for our children with Pastor Ross, which was evident in their attitudes today. 

After the first service, Isabel wished to watch the sermon from Grace Baptist of Lancaster where my parents attend and where we put down roots on our last furlough. It was again an encouragement to see Pastor Greg and hear his challenge to serve others and not ourselves. His message was practical and convicting for such a time as this! Another message I listed to was our colleague Jon Spink's devotional directed to the south side Iglesia Bautista Fe church plant, and his wife Kim's encouraging thoughts for the ladies. We had a fairly quiet afternoon with a takeout meal of Chinese food to support another family-run business. This family is actually Taiwanese and their oldest son is currently in Minnesota on a student visa, stranded far from home and loved ones as classes are suspended and the COVID-19 crisis runs its course. In the course of the afternoon I checked Facebook and found myself weeping for missionary colleagues choosing to remain in their field of service as we have, but whose lives are apparently in such greater jeopardy due to their limited physical resources in a third world country where they pour themselves out in a small medical clinic and seminary.

At 7 PM, we made our first attempt at a virtual Bible study with the few individuals besides ourselves who make up the fledgling Iglesia Bautista Grace y Verdad church plant on the third floor of FLORECE. We had invited a couple of other friends to join us but discovered to our dismay that the WhatsApp group video chat only allows four phones to be connected. This caused some scrambling but everyone was good humored as we figured things out. Perhaps next week we will try untangling Zoom's kinks (this week two of our number were unable to log in properly.) As simple a connection as it was, my heart was blessed to see and hear from Maithe, Yessica and Cata for the hour we gathered together. Afterwards, the Fishers invited us to their home for freshly baked sweet treats: chocolate chip bars, Lithuanian apple cake, and chocolate oatmeal no bake cookies (the latter by Owen.) We watched the time carefully as today was the first night of our 10 PM - 5 AM curfew enforced by the Chilean military. While we were together, reports came in of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Iquique. True to fashion as has been the case particularly in the past year of bitter division in Chile, harsh words and accusations quickly began to fly over Twitter and WhatsApp as the man's personal information was disseminated and it appeared probable he had lacked care and placed multiple other people potentially in harm's way. Iquique's proud status as the only region without confirmed cases crumbled and fears emerged. I stumbled upon convicting words written by a woman named Sarah Bourns and shared nearly 3,000 times on Facebook which summarized everything so well.

We’ve all been exposed.Not necessarily to the virus(maybe...who even knows🤷🏼‍♀️).We’ve all been exposed BY the virus.
Corona is exposing us.Exposing our weak sides.Exposing our dark sides.Exposing what normally lays far beneath the surface of our souls,hidden by the invisible masks we wear.Now exposed by the paper masks we can’t hide far enough behind.
Corona is exposing our addiction to comfort.Our obsession with control.Our compulsion to hoard.Our protection of self. 
Corona is peeling back our layers.Tearing down our walls.Revealing our illusions.Leveling our best-laid plans.
Corona is exposing the gods we worship:Our healthOur hurryOur sense of security.Our favorite liesOur secret lustsOur misplaced trust.
Corona is calling everything into question:What is the church without a building?What is my worth without an income?How do we plan without certanty?How do we love despite risk? 
Corona is exposing me.My mindless numbingMy endless scrollingMy careless wordsMy fragile nerves. 
We’ve all been exposed.Our junk laid bare.Our fears made known.The band-aid torn.The masquerade done. 
So what now? What’s left?Clean handsClear eyesTender hearts. 
What Corona reveals, God can heal.
Come Lord Jesus.Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow begins a new week. I do not know what it holds, but I do know Who holds it. And for that I am so grateful.