Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Wonderful Whirlwind, Part One

These past three and a half weeks in Michigan have been what I might call, a "wonderful whirlwind." The Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary defines a whirlwind as "something that involves many quickly changing events, feelings, etc." and I think that sums it up pretty well! It has been a special time of reporting to churches, reconnecting with friends and family, and remembering our love for all things Michigan. We have enjoyed the wide open spaces and beautiful parks and the sight of deer in the vast open fields of green and gold. Our kids have drunk Vernors ginger ale and devoured Koegel hot dogs and marveled at buttery Michigan sweet corn. This post is an attempt to remember the many special moments of these busy - but blessed - few weeks!

Week 1: July 18-24

On Sunday morning we said our goodbyes to family after a wonderful week of vacation together in the Poconos. A long day in the car led us to our hotel in Maumee, Ohio where we attempted to relax (and stay safe!) in a pool with some rowdy young guests before ordering pizza and heading to bed in preparation for the next day's travels. On the top of our list the following morning was Tim Horton's coffee and donuts for breakfast, not having savored this treat for nearly five years! It was exciting to cross the border into Michigan and begin recognizing exit names and road signs as we drew closer to Flint and Lapeer. We paused in the former for another long-awaited treat - Qdoba's Mexican Grill, which holds special memories for us from the times we took our young girls there on pre-field travels many years ago. It was memorable on this occasion because not one, but two people in line offered us coupons for our large family to make the meal more affordable and this was much appreciated!

pit stop on the Ohio turnpike

Qdoba's did not disappoint this crew

Greg and Debbie Jones were our hosts during the weeks we were in Lapeer, and these generous souls did something really incredible for our family: they moved out of their house so that we could move in. We had never even met before, yet they chose to bless us in this amazing way so that our family could be "comfortable" while staying in the area. "Comfortable" would be an understatement! Their home truly became truly a haven for us as we traveled to churches, yet could return and relax in such lovely surroundings. Many a whiffle ball game and wagon ride for Silas took place in the Jones' yard, and with their blessing we were even able to host friends on several occasions and reconnect in this way. In fact, that first Monday night in Lapeer we welcomed Pedro's cousin Jared and his family to the Jones' home and it was a joy to catch up with them and have room for our combined eleven children to spread out and play!

Garcia cousins reunited

That first week in Lapeer was a busy one, with Vacation Bible School at our home church on Tuesday and then two days of VBS at a supporting church in Mayville on Wednesday and Thursday. On Tuesday, Pedro and our kids also went to a birthday party for some cousins so it was a full day! Wednesday we were at Mayville and perhaps because it is a small country church and similar in "feel" to our own church in Iquique, our boys really clicked there and quickly made some friends. We were sorry we could not be in two places at once, as we would have loved to allow them to participate longer and especially in the Friday night carnival that was planned. On Wednesday we enjoyed lunch at the pastor's home after VBS and it was encouraging to talk with Pastor and Mrs. Reece about their faithful years of service for the Lord and the experience of raising a large family while in full-time ministry. That evening, we returned for the Wednesday night meeting at church and had the privilege of sharing our ministry update for the first time this furlough. I say "we" but in reality it was Pedro alone who could speak because I had literally lost my voice! The church hosted an ice cream social after the service and the kids had a great time running off their sugar high with races and games in the yard between the church and pastoral home. The next day Pedro dropped our kids off to VBS followed by an afternoon of swimming at the Reece's home. This was a tremendous blessing for us because it allowed me to rest at home while feeling unwell and Pedro to invest a good day of study in preparation for weekend ministry, all while the kids were having such a great time as well!

Friday was a fun and full day also. Our boys were back at church in Lapeer for VBS and excitedly returned home with a bunch of candy and stories to tell! We had the privilege of hosting longtime family friends Mr. and Mrs. Anthony for lunch, and then being hosted ourselves for a delicious dinner by the Jewell family in their home. In both cases it was so special to revisit shared memories and become current on family/work/ministry/future plans/etc. We are so very grateful for the friendships God has given us, many of them right here in Lapeer from our earliest days as parents and beginning full-time ministry. Saturday gave us the opportunity to see even more familiar faces as we attended an open house for Lyndi Shepard. Our kids were excited to be back by "their" house, the neighboring home rented to us by the Shepard family during the first half of last furlough. All in all, it was a rich and full first week in Michigan with many experiences to remember!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Family Vacation: Moments to Remember, Part Two

What I love about family vacation is a characteristic that - in my opinion - is simultaneously the best and most difficult part of the tradition. Bringing separate families together into one is the best part of family vacation! And, bringing separate families together into one is the hardest part of family vacation! Regarding the latter, invariably throughout the course of the week there will be moments where the choices or habits of one family will at least somewhat frustrate another. But concerning the former, there are far more moments when it is truly sweet for our children to experience what is means to be a smaller part of the larger whole: in this case, a member of the "Christian" family.

These pictures are snapshots of some of those moments. For instance, our daughter Eva has recently initiated an interest in collecting coins. She has especially been intrigued by the unique quarter created for each of the 50 states since returning to the USA. When she told this to her Uncle Dave, he spent time introducing her to his own coin collection. To her delight, he also gifted her a collector's book for the state coins so she could keep track of the ones she gathered throughout this furlough year! These are special moments I cherish of connection between family members. 

Speaking of connection, this trio has had one since they first met and my-oh-my can they still cackle and chatter like nobody's business when they get together! It usually takes only one trip in a car with these three together for a parent or aunt or uncle to realize that perhaps other riding arrangements are best for the driver's sanity! Sometimes they need a little adult wisdom inserted into their wild dreams, but for the most part they are pure energy and imagination and joy. Ian, Alec and Kendra, I am glad you have one another!

I love that on family vacations, our kids learn that there are other adults who care about them. Sometimes this is learned through laughter as games and teasing are shared. Occasionally it is learned through correction (never fun, but sometimes necessary even on family vacation!) Perhaps they may not realize this until they are older, but it can even be learned through the everyday meals prepared for them. After all, who wouldn't feel loved by Uncle Mark's perfect pancakes made to order (with or without chocolate chips) and Uncle Pedro's tremendous tacos for breakfast? 

Making group memories as we try new things together as a family is also a highlight. Many years ago, that meant descending deep into caverns under the earth with small children and babes in arms. This time, it meant heading to a family-friendly amusement park on a hot summer day and spreading out in different directions in twos and threes and fours to experience the rides and thrills. I loved seeing the joy and excitement on Sofia's face when she rode bumper cars with cousin Isabel. It was adorable to watch cousins Silas and Kai on toddler rides together. And convincing Mom-Mom to splash down the Skloosh with us was just too much fun!

For several of the kids, making memories meant going strawberry picking with Uncle Dave and Uncle Mark which was a brand-new experience for some. For the girls, a day shopping at the outlets and sipping frozen smoothies for Isabel's birthday was a fun opportunity (followed of course by cake and ice cream with the whole gang!) Several of the boys enjoyed a day hiking at a beautiful park, and all of the boys made countless "memories" around video games and the ping pong/air hockey/pool tables, respectively! Also at different times, different groupings of cousins visited the self-proclaimed "World's Largest General Store" which was an interesting diversion. Family memories become sweeter when they are shared, and thankfully there was a lot of sharing going around.

As parents, I think we would all agree that seeing our children become closer cousins and better friends will always be one of the dearest aspects of family vacation. Whether it was splashing in the pool or sweating in the sauna; watching a movie on tv or making one together on the tablet; scavenger hunting or hunting for another snack; hugging or wrestling; all the moments of companionship made for a caleidoscope of happy memories.

And these are the moments to remember.

(Read Part One)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Thank You for Holding the Rope

The illustration was not original to my father; it was first used, figuratively, by those men who stood behind missionary William Carey as he departed for India in the year 1793. But on July 16, 2006 it was our home church in Lapeer, Michigan which stood behind our young family as we prepared to depart first for one year of language school in south Texas, and then on to the country of Chile. The yellow rope my father held was long and strong, soon to be cut into foot-sized lengths for those who wished to participate in this symbolic farewell.

The commitment by our sending church was to "hold the rope" for us as we headed to Chile, remembering that we were an extension of their ministry around the world. In its original context, the idea was that of a few men "going into a deep, unexplored mine" and doing so with confidence in the commitment of those left behind to never let go of the rope that held them. At our commissioning service, many made that commitment to us as well. Their length of rope was to serve as a visual reminder to pray and support our family across the miles and years.

Truthfully, I had all but forgotten these details until I had the privilege of speaking to the ladies at our home church last week as we began our furlough ministry. One of the women organizing the tea had enthusiastically told me to watch for something I would remember. As our time together began, she held up her length of yellow rope and shared the story of my father's challenge to the church. What a humbling moment to hear from her and others that they had faithfully "held the rope" and prayed for our family these past eleven years.

This post is my attempt to express the deep gratitude we feel for a home church whose support
has faithfully gone the extra mile in the face of every need our family has encountered in life and ministry.

All those years ago, their support was prayerful, financial and physical. We still remember how in our final days of packing and sorting, labeling and storing, many families watched our children for long hours and provided meals at the end of tiring days. When we came back to the States for our first furlough in 2012, we were welcomed to a home that had been lovingly furnished by our home church with all that our family could need - from beds and toys to a pantry stocked with weeks' (if not months') worth of food. When our return to Chile the following year coincided with a difficult time in the life of the church in Iquique, our home church sent us reinforcements (literally!) by funding a three-month visit by Pedro's parents to support and encourage us in the ministry.

I know that my husband personally has been blessed by our home church pastor's availability and openness to talk through situations we faced in our last term on the field, and especially his concern for our needs as we anticipated returning for our second furlough this year. There was no hesitation on our pastor's part when we relayed our desire to live near my parents in Pennsylvania in response to my dad's health concerns, even though this meant our time with our home church in Michigan would be incredibly short. He graciously made our needs known to the congregation and as a result we were blessed with a year-long loan of an eight-passenger vehicle by one family and the use of a beautiful home by another family during our weeks in Lapeer. Once again we were greeted with overwhelming generosity through an overflowing pantry and gift cards to anticipate anything our family might lack.

Now our few short weeks here have flown by, but they have been so rich in friendship and fellowship. It has been a joy to share meals and special moments with so many families and friends both old and new, and we are forever grateful. Thank you, First Baptist Church of Lapeer, for being a home church that is truly a "home" for our family. We rejoice to see God using your ministry locally and around the world, and we consider it a tremendous privilege to be counted as one of your own. Thank you for loving us long and loving us well. Thank you for faithfully continuing to "hold the rope" for us!

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Deliver Us from Discontent

It was more picture perfect than a postcard. The full white moon poised proudly in the pale evening sky with waves of white clouds wisping upwards towards it, driven by the breath of the wind. Behind the clouds the receding radiance of the sun still gleamed. The freshly-cut grass all around glowed green and well-tended houses stood strong and tall on large lots of land. On top of all this beauty we were observing on our drive home, we had just come from another breathtaking view at the home of friends. Theirs was a vista of wide open fields, towering trees, and gentle deer dotting the horizon just beyond their front steps.

"It is no wonder people in other parts of the world think that the United States is the land of opportunity," I said to my husband as we appreciated the scene around us. "Most people around the world cannot even begin to imagine this much space, much less owning a beautiful house and land like we see here. It is honestly like a dream."

A grumpy voice interrupted from the back seat. "Yeah, and we are the missionary kids who live in the car, and get out of the car, and visit churches, and live in a little box behind three big gates!"

This unexpected and unhappy comment pricked my heart. It was not my intention to foster discontent in my children with my remarks. In all sincerity, however, I must admit to having sensed it lurking even in corners of my own heart as we admired so much beauty and plenty in our passport country during these early weeks of home ministry. 

Backpedaling now, my husband and I sought to reorient our child's perspective by citing the warmth of relationship in our host culture and the privileges we've been blessed with while living there. Our facts were sound and somewhat acknowledged by the child in question, but I was reminded of several things. First, the power of words and the need for care in using them. Second, the depths of my children's hearts and the importance of consistently testing for transition turmoil they may feel but not express. And third, the draw towards discontent that lurks in every human heart and the importance of an eternal perspective.

This beautiful place may seem like a dream, since that is exactly what it is. Our life here is "just a vapor," God's Word tells us in James. Or as C.S. Lewis described his Narnia, it is just "... the cover and the title page" which precedes what God has prepared for those who know Him. Deliver us from discontent, Lord, and grant us hearts of gratefulness for that which is given during our time here. Allow us wisdom to guide our children through the phases of furlough and the big feelings that it inspires. And may we see this world from your perspective with its needs and our responsibility to reach the lost "while it is still called today!"

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Family Vacation: Moments to Remember, Part One

Where to begin to record the moments that made this family vacation so special? It was not any one firecracker moment (bear with me, I am writing this post on the 4th of July!) but a series of simple scenes that tenderly made a up a whole week of wonderful memories. Like the one captured in the picture below, a short window of time when my dad, Silas and I were waiting for other family members to finish their rides at Knoebels and Silas in his stroller and Pop-Pop in his scooter shared a quiet connection. It was meaningful for two reasons: first of all, Silas has yet to get to know his extended family and was being understandably shy with everyone (except cousin Kai!) this week. Second of all, for a very long time Pop-Pop has resisted riding a scooter but on this occasion of family vacation he did something he'd never wished to do in order to keep us all together. And that brings tears to my eyes. 

In keeping with the picture above, the two photos below also captured sweet moments of Pop-Pop with his granddaughters. I can't help but think of the little poem about walking with Grandpa which says, "I like to walk with Grandpa, his steps are short like mine. He doesn't say, 'Now hurry up!' He always takes his time ... Most people have to hurry, They do not stop and see; I'm glad that God made Grandpa 'Unrushed' and young like me." Although Pop-Pop isn't walking in either picture, he is taking his time with Sofia at lunch and Eva on the deck and they are blessed with his "unrushed" company.

Now Mom-Mom, on the other hand, has a hard time sitting still. (Unless she is immersed in a good book and that did happen during family vacation as well!) These pictures taken at the Crayola Experience are special because not only was it the first time we visited there, but it was something that Mom-Mom had always wanted to do and several of us got to make that memory with her. It was a madhouse with multiple floors packed full of kids and our own crazy crew of cousins anxious to take it all in, but we survived! 

On our way to the Crayola Experience, I was able to drive with Mom and have some time to talk about the ways her and Dad's life is changing. She didn't try to sugarcoat or exaggerate their reality: it can be hard, but it is what it is and God will see them through. I cherish my mother's faith in her Heavenly Father and the privilege of seeing it fleshed out year to year, in different countries and circumstances and seasons of life yet unwavering in trust and devotion. And lest I get sappy and sentimental at this point, let me insert one of my favorite pictures of Mom from family vacation which highlights another reason we love her: that wacky sense of humor! But below that unforgettable scene, yet another which is a perfect illustration of why so many other people love her. Mom invests in people's lives, especially those of other women through relationship and mentoring and Bible studies and example. (Not that she, Terri and granddaughter-in-law Carey were doing anything deeply spiritual at that moment other than awaiting the outcome of the cousins' scavenger hunt - but you get the idea!)

And speaking of the cousins' scavenger hunt, they begrudgingly looked at Aunt Steph's camera before the dramatic dash began:

To be continued ...

(Read Part Two)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Family Vacation: Grandkids Then & Now

It's not a perfect comparison, because a couple of grandkids (and Mom-Mom!) are missing from the first picture and two were yet to be born. But it presents the passage of time, and illustrates the importance of making these family vacations happen with the precious time we are given. Treasuring the moments shared and the memories made five years ago, and today!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The First Days of Furlough

I really wanted to post some thoughts before the early memories of furlough got jumbled and forgotten. It is just hard to find the time and space to write! This is a rundown of our first several days in the United States, recorded for posterity.

Tuesday, June 6: Arrive to USA (read this post)

Wednesday, June 7: Pedro flies to Detroit and drives back to PA with brother-in-law Mark; Ian and Alec stay in Ephrata with Pop-Pop and meet our neighbors; Eva, Isabel, Owen, Silas and I go with Mom-Mom to the older kids' school in Lancaster to pay tuition and have an impromptu tour followed by Friendly's for lunch; boys play over at the neighbors' for an hour; dinner at home is Domino's pizza with the grandparents

Thursday, June 8: Drive to Delaware to renew drivers' licenses and obtain vehicle registrations; mega shopping at BJ's with my sister Jenn; cousins hang out and Owen spends the night and goes to a Blue Rocks baseball game

Friday, June 9: Drop off Ian, Alec, and Isabel to Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, PA with Aunt Jenn and cousins Kendra and Juliana; take cousin Micah along with Owen, Eva and Silas to visit Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop at Calvary Homes and eat in their cafeteria; shop at Walmart; dinner at home with the DW gang is Papa John's pizza

Saturday, June 10: Packing, packing, packing and cleaning on a hot summer's day before traveling for five weeks; reward kids' effort with Dairy Queen Blizzards; find a table and chairs for free on the side of the road; early to bed and earlier to rise

Sunday, June 11: Up at 5 a.m. to finalize packing and cleaning and leave the house by 8 a.m. to head to church in Delaware; great to be at Faith with Rubins and the grandparents; lunch (Chinese) at Rubins' house before setting off for the a week of family vacation in the Poconos followed by an extended ministry trip to Michigan (will not return to our "new" home in PA until July 17 at the earliest!)

Happy 15th Birthday, Isabel Hope

Dear Isabel,

I hope that as the day of your birthday draws to a close, you know and feel how much you are loved. Fifteen years is a wonderful milestone to celebrate! Today that celebration included twenty-one of your family members in the midst of a warm and wonderful family reunion in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Your "Happy Birthday" song was bellowed out in multiple-part harmony with as much gusto as you could ever have wished.

As promised, you opened your first social media account on your 15th birthday which was something you had looked forward to for a long time. Now a whole new world of communication and careful choices lies before you. We look forward to watching you learn to discern and develop your friendships, especially this year that you are a long distance away from many of them. We are thankful for some of the special friends God has placed in your life who encourage you in your walk with Him!

Isabel, God has given you a heart of courage and compassion. We praise Him for the privilege of being your parents! It is a joy to observe first hand as you grow in those character areas and continue to become the woman He has designed you to be. We are confident He has an amazing future planned for your 15th year and many years beyond!

We love you, Isabel Hope!


Birthday Posts by Year:

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

From Huayquique to Walmart in 32 Hours

I couldn't help myself with this alliterative title! Huayquique (pronounced "why-key-kay") is the beach nearest to our house in Iquique and although we technically were not on the beach just prior to flying, we were pretty close. Truth be told, we were in a small rented apartment several streets and sixteen stories above Huayquique the five nights before leaving. Our final view of the city was captured in this picture taken the morning of June 5th (click to expand):

the south side of Iquique between Cerro Dragon and Playa Huayquique

And what a morning it was! A last-minute run to the Zofri for a new car battery, medications for our dog Whittaker who was staying behind with friends, a visit from Elisa to do the girls' hair in preparation for travel, zipping up the final suitcases and setting the apartment back in order. Several of our kids squeezed in one more short visit with their Spink MK "cousins" (our colleagues who truly went the extra mile to help us with childcare, painting and moving in our last few days in Iquique - thank you, thank you, thank you!) The clock was ticking and the stress levels rising when we finally got all eight passengers, fourteen suitcases and nine carry-ons packed into two cars and headed for the airport an hour behind our planned schedule. 

waiting in the Iquique airport for our first flight

Yet God was good to allow us to be checked in with zero problems and even a minor delay with the arrival of our plane was a blessing! Little did we know that our first experience of hurrying to a flight was setting us up for what would be the theme of our entire trip home. There were many more blessings and surprises in store.

Because our bags were checked through to the States, we arrived in Santiago with only our carry-on luggage and promptly proceeded to the ticket line to receive our boarding passes for flight number two. All three legs of our journey had been purchased via a travel agent and through the same national airline. We knew a six-hour layover awaited us in Santiago and had promised the kids a fun dinner at Johnny Rockets in the international terminal. What we had not planned on was the rush to the airport without a proper lunch, so we had splurged and purchased some sandwiches on the Iquique to Santiago flight. That light lunch turned out to be a saving grace very soon!

in line at the Santiago airport

Just as we reached the head of the line of passengers, a airline representative approached us. "Is anyone traveling to Miami?" she asked. When we replied in the affirmative but explained we were on a later flight and there were eight of us traveling, she immediately alerted her team via walkie-talkie and proceeded to offer us a flight on a partner airline which departed three hours earlier than our scheduled one. Seriously?? Being bumped to an earlier flight was something we'd never considered! There was just one problem: our third and final flight, we'd learned shortly before leaving Iquique, had been bumped back by five hours. We were disappointed and dreading the long layover in Miami after a tiresome overnight flight, and our kids were especially unhappy about missing their planned lunch reunion with cousins. But what if this new flight could connect to an earlier departure from Miami? That would be our determining factor in accepting the offer, we decided.

travel buddies!

And so began an endless hour of waiting, being escorted to an empty counter and biting our nails as we watched the woman in charge fielding call after call on her walkie-talkie, taking her employees to task, urging on the change of tickets, ordering that our fourteen pieces of luggage be found and returned to us for check-in with the new airline. She had so many irons in the fire and not only ours, so I began to feel very anxious that she might cancel our original reservation and not be able to follow through with the new options, and particularly with an earlier connection from Miami. Our kids were troopers but they were getting tired and hungry as we watched the woman pace from one crowded end of the counters to another. Hope had almost been lost when to our wonder and joy she announced that a connecting flight had been found and we would arrive at our final destination - Philadelphia - by 9:45 AM, nearly eight hours earlier than expected!

Pedro and the kids had been praying as I talked to the agent and we prayed again to praise God for His amazing provision. Then we waited some more! It took a long time for the luggage to be found and we had to be checked in by 7 p.m. in order to be allowed on the new flight. With just 10-15 minutes to spare, we were escorted to the new airline counter with our mountain of suitcases. We needed the eight of us to be seated together and weren't sure how that was going to happen so late in the game. But the kind attendant not only seated all of us in the same row, but she also interspersed a couple of empty seats to make the flight even more comfortable! Again, amazing! Looking at the clock, she urged us to hurry as we needed to make it through international police and onto the plane in record time.

As I said, the kids were troopers. Despite their tiredness they pushed through and kept trucking along. They waited patiently as our eight passports, permanent residency cards, and their six birth certificates were reviewed by the PDI agent before we were sent on through security. After clearing security, they hurried along with us to join the last passengers boarding the flight to Miami. We were screened again and our carry-on luggage checked before finally setting foot on the plane. To our delight and surprise, the aircraft was brand-new and not full at all in our section! Individual screens with remote controls and endless movies and video games wiped away all weariness from our older kids (imagine that.) Hungry tummies were soon filled with supper service, and at least one can of Dr. Pepper was given a welcome kiss after 4 1/2 years away!

Silas was not quite a fan of airline seats and even less of airplane seatbelts. But he, too, enjoyed a few minutes of watching vehicles race on his little screen as he grabbed an imaginary wheel and daringly drove along! Thankfully, he fell asleep fairly soon and got at least some rest amidst tossing and turning throughout a short night. By 4:30 a.m. were were landing in Miami and gathering our group for one final push to the end. Navigating new digital passport checks for eight people (one of whom the machine resisted photographing over and over again!); watching the clock as the customs computer crashed and had to be tediously restarted (no fault of the agent who was as nice as could be); struggling to move our luggage mountain yet again and grudgingly paying ten bucks for two carts to push them all just around the corner and onto another conveyer belt. Then hurrying through multiple elevators, escalators and trains; quick bathroom stops; and long hallways to finally arrive at our last flight in the nick of time! Only it, too, was delayed (due to lightning) and that final flight always feels the longest. Every one of us fell fast asleep through most of the final air miles to Philly.

reunited with the Rubins

Uncle Mark and cousin Matias were waiting for us in the luggage terminal, where many hugs and smiles were exchanged. Pedro quickly took a shuttle to the rental agency for what turned out to be another waiting game to pick up a rental van. But at last we were on the road again, this time for family time and steak and sub sandwiches with the Rubins in Delaware! Cousins caught upon the latest news and games and who is taller than whom, while Pedro and Mark set off to set up cell phones and debit cards. Squeezing a lot into little time, we eventually had to hit the road again for the final drive to our furlough home in Ephrata, PA (about 1 1/2 hours' drive.) There we were met by the gracious owners of the home and our own sweet Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. After a house tour, signing the rental contract, unloading suitcases and a short while to talk, it was evening and the day was drawing to a close.

Together we drove to Wendy's for spicy chicken sandwiches and the entertainment of the newest in drink technology, a touchscreen machine which allows the customer to choose from myriads of combinations which fascinated our children! Mom-Mom was the instructor and we were glad that we were almost the only customers that rainy night as we certainly must have been a spectacle. Our kids held out the small soda cups in wonderment, exclaiming over the fact that a small size in the States is practically a large size in Chile. It was a fun memory laced with the final adrenaline of our long voyage. We said our goodbyes outside the restaurant and got lost on our way to Walmart, finally asking directions of an Indian gas station owner who chuckled and cried, "Ho-ho! Walmart shopping!" before pointing us in the right direction.

Walmart shopping at 10 o'clock

Call us brave or call us crazy (we've heard both!) but there were some items that had to be purchased before morning. Our kids eyes were wide as they beheld the vast options before them, but our best efforts were made to keep everyone focused and restrict wandering to extraneous aisles on this particular visit! Pedro was ever so happy to find ready-made half-n-half creamer. Eva was quick to ask for cheese sticks. Owen wanted Lucky Charms cereal. Bagels were a must-have item. Because Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop had already thought ahead, we had no need to buy Pop Tarts but they were definitely on the kids' list! Although the bulk of our time was spent among less exciting toiletry items, the sheer volume of possibilities was amazing. Best was buying an over sized bar of deodorant for about a third of the price we would pay in Chile! Sometimes it is in the "little things!"

Announcements were made that the store was closing at 10 p.m. and that was our cue to finally draw this day to a close. We had one moment of hilarity when while putting groceries away, a child held up the hefty Jimmy Dean sausage package and thoughtfully observed, "This is a big pâté!" (We hastily assured said child it would NOT taste good uncooked on bread!)

Despite protestations, Mommy insisted on showers after our long, stinky travels and the last of us dropped into bed after midnight. The next day would start early for Pedro, who had a scheduled departure around 6 a.m. to head back to Delaware and then the Philadelphia airport with brother-in-law Mark. Together they would fly to Detroit to receive a vehicle and drive it the ten hours home to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, a school visit and massive unpacking topped the to-do list at home - because the following day, we would hit the road again!

For such is the life of a furloughing missionary. From Huayquique to Walmart in 32 hours, and to many, many more destinations beyond. But we serve a mighty God who has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. As a family, with Him, we face each new adventure together!

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Today Was a Tough Day

When I was growing up on the mission field, we never returned to the same house twice after furloughs. I credit my parents with somehow creating a positive acceptance of this, as I only recall the anticipation of visiting the homes they would find to rent and searching out bedrooms and paint colors and the like. It was always an adventure and one that in my memories was exciting and fun! 

It was on the other side (stateside) that we had a place of permanency which played an important part in our sense of security. Grandmom lived in her house for over 40 years and it was the house we grew up in before heading to Chile, and returned to for furloughs and college and in the earliest years of marriage. It was hard for us when she had to let it go.

For our kids, it has been somewhat the opposite. Both sets of grandparents have moved, either since we left for Chile or our last furlough (or both.) Instead, it has been the home we rent in Iquique that remains their constant. There are many times when we feel our growing brood has maxed out its limited capacity and we've even overheard their wishful thinking for broader room assignments. But at the mention of a move our kids unanimously cry, "No way!" 

So we remain thankful that the owner has been gracious these eight years and especially for his willingness to allow us to sublet on the years we must return to the States. We left the home with basic furnishings in the hands of a realtor last furlough, and this time God has allowed it to be a temporary landing place for friends in between houses of their own. For the past weeks we have been working diligently as a family to clear out our belongings and prepare for their coming. Today was the big move-in day for them.

I didn't expect it to be such a trigger for a couple of our children, considering it was their own friends moving in. But one tearfully told me that it felt bad to see someone else's belongings in "our" house, and to hear people now referring to it as "theirs." Another had previously expressed multiple times an unwillingness to go on furlough. Today after helping with the move the response changed to, "I just want to leave now." 

They have been troopers through a long haul, but they are tired. They have been working hard right alongside us to sort, pack, clean and prepare, but emotional weariness has now set in. Today was a tough day. And tomorrow being Sunday still holds most of the final goodbyes.

Our oldest is having an especially hard time saying goodbye to her faithful companion: our dog, Whittaker. She spent all afternoon with him at our colleagues' house to protect him from the moving fray. Her instructions for him have been carefully relayed to the teenagers who will be living in our home. They have been written down in an e-mail as a reference in case details are forgotten over time. But she hates that she can't communicate with him that she is leaving, and why. Tomorrow is their last walk together, and I am sure more tears will be shed.

We are so grateful for colleagues who have welcomed our kids over several days and many hours to provide a place of distraction and downtime in this final push to the end. Their MK "cousins" will face this very same scenario next year upon our return. It never gets easier, but the various ages and stages of our children cause them to react to the reality differently. We need much wisdom and compassion to place ourselves in their shoes and understand their difficult feelings. Our greatest example is Christ, Who placed Himself in our shoes and left His own home for a time to do the will of His Father. May we learn alongside our children to do the same!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Between Two Lands

Today on the way to church I summarized for our children a story I recently read on another missionary blog. I told them it was a story for missionary families like ours. They listened intently as I spoke:
"There are two lands, and a missionary family like ours comes from the Land of Blue to the Land of Yellow. They love the Land of Yellow and enjoy so many things about it and the ministries they do there. But they always stand out as different: they are Blue, in the Land in Yellow. Over time, however, what happens when Blue and Yellow mix? The missionary family becomes Green. They are not quite Yellow but they are a lot more like Yellow than before. And then they have to go on furlough, like we do ... and there are lots of things to look forward to. But they are not Blue anymore. Which means they are different in the Land of Blue, too. And being different, and feeling different, that is normal. And it's okay. Besides, Green is a great color! It's the color of growth. We like Green, don't we?"
From the back seat I heard a mumbled chorus of something akin to agreement, and then from one child a frank reply: 
"I would rather be Yellow. But I guess Green is okay."
I understood exactly what he meant and what he felt. Having spent much more of his life on the field than in his passport country means he identifies much more with "The Land of Yellow" than "Blue." Sometimes being a mother of MKs who is also an MK is a blessing, and sometimes it is a bane. The blessing is knowing the ultimate richness of a life lived between two lands, with treasured memories and friendships in each. The bane is remembering the painful path which must inevitably be traversed to reach that realization. It is the comprehension of the heartache that one's child is only beginning to face and must ultimately confront alone. Bane or blessing, it is my prayer that he will embrace the beauty of Green - and the blessing of his two lands!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Furlough Dreams {Not What You Might Think}

My body tensed with anxiety. It seemed to be happening in slow motion, this long stumble towards a potentially debilitating fall. In my dream, the danger loomed over an imaginary pregnant client from FLORECE. In real life, it was the middle of the night and my 18-month old was twisting and turning on the mattress where we lay! For the past several nights Pedro and I have been sleeping on the floor of what was previously our daughters' room (now newly painted and awaiting its next occupants) while our bedroom becomes a storage area for furlough. Last night, I arrived at Bible study around 8:00 p.m. and returned home after midnight. By 1:00 a.m. I was wrapped in blankets and ready to drift off to dreamland. Little did I suspect what my dreams had in store!

While occasionally Silas will grant us an uninterrupted night's sleep, recently he has been cutting teeth and not eating well so I wasn't surprised by his need for a bottle last night. In the middle of the night, he will often groggily snuggle between us and drink it down half-asleep. Normally he goes back to bed and all is well. Last night, however, played out differently. Silas woke up from his bottle while we both continued to sleep and he proceeded to toss around and crawl off and on the mattress and over and around our sleeping bodies (perhaps the mattress being on the floor added to the novelty!) In any case, in my tired state I was completely disoriented by his gymnastics which in my dreams played out as an urgent and clearly dangerous situation for an unsuspecting mom-to-be.

Needless to say, I was all-too-happy to accept the opportunity to sleep in awhile longer when morning finally did come and Silas set off to play in daylight hours with his brothers. Unfortunately, sleep did not equal rest! The weird dreams continued and so did my anxiety. In my next dream, I was supposed to be ordering airplane tickets online for a conference. I continually was interrupted by odd events which caused me to feel more pressure to complete the purchase. When finally I did, the total amount was higher than it should have been and I realized I had purchased five tickets instead of just one! Feverishly but to no avail I searched the internet for ways to cancel a credit card purchase. I perused the connecting flights and tried to determine if I could re-sell the tickets to someone who might be traveling those routes. I kept looking at the name of the conference which in my dream was called NES-FAM, trying to figure out what it meant. All I knew was that the FAM stood for family and it was supposed to be a pro-life conference. (Note: This week in real life I looked into pro-life training conferences to possibly attend on furlough, plus I watched a sweet NEStle commercial on adoption. Apparently NES-FAM was the result!)

In the end it was a relief to wake up and re-enter the real world. It was not such a relief to re-visit the piles of odds and ends that still need to be sorted, packed or stored and to wind my way around boxes and bins in the rooms of our house. But it did bring perspective to my odd dreams! Furlough dreams are not always what you might think. Pedro once told me that after packing up for our last furlough and traveling to the States, he would jolt up in bed in the middle of the night having been awakened by an intense fear of forgetting something important. I guess last night was just my turn. 

I will conclude by saying this: I am thankful. I am thankful for the privilege of living this crazy missionary life, wild dreams and sleepless night and all. I am thankful for the precious people God has placed in our lives in countries far apart on the globe, both of which we are privileged to call home. I am thankful that the pain of saying goodbye on either end of this trip is a reflection of how richly God has blessed us with relationships that make saying goodbye difficult. 

And today I am very thankful that whether in my dreams or in my reality, there is Someone much greater than me in control of all the details of our lives - both here and there, coming and going, in routine and transition. As Psalm 121:7-8 sweetly says, "The Lord will keep you from all harm - he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore." Thank you, Lord, and Amen!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Fifteen Days

This week, my husband spent three days painstakingly scraping, filling and repainting two bathroom ceilings as well an entire bedroom. I spent three days walking circles around my own bedroom trying to figure out where to start. (This is only a slight exaggeration.) The truth is that if it weren't for Pedro's packing and directing the "troops" (aka, our children) we would not be able to depart this house, ever. However, over twenty years of marriage we have worked out a fairly equitable system of labor division that plays to our individual strengths. So while he hoists the heavy stuff, I plow through the paperwork required to get eight people legally out of one country and into another (and into schools and summer activities and soccer programs and family vacations and twenty-three churches and maybe even into the Ark itself!)

Today, for instance, Pedro and the boys broke apart our bed and stored the bigger pieces while moving our mattress to the floor of the former girls' room which will be where we rest our heads until leaving. They emptied one storage area of our stuff and helped our friends who are moving in after us to refill it with their stuff. They took down the futon and stored its wooden pieces while leaving the mattress as additional seating in the living room (so that we subsequently had no less than half of our children asking to sleep there tonight! Novelty is everything.)

Meanwhile, I needed to catch up with client files at FLORECE since my colleague Pam is still on furlough and my colleague Kim is in the States meeting her brand-new, beautiful first grandbaby (congratulations, Kim!) So I spent the morning reading, making more to-do lists of things I must organize before leaving the ministry, calling volunteers to clarify questions I encountered and making sure shifts were covered for the week. Then I stopped at the grocery store for a few items including rotisserie chickens so that we could warm up yesterday's rice and Mexican beans and enjoy them with homemade tortillas our girls made with Grandma Garcia's recipe (yum!) I returned home to tortillas on the comales and a clean table waiting to be set. Can I just say that our kiddos have been such great troopers through all this?

While lunch prep was going on, I began a Whatsapp conversation with our former pediatrician who now lives in Santiago. I needed her expertise in order to address a nasty scrape Owen got while skateboarding yesterday, which today was oozing yellow goop. (Oh, the joys of boys!) Thankfully she didn't think it was serious (it seems to look worse than it really is) and hopefully it heals before we head "home."

So after a wonderful and wild lunch with six very wound-up children, I settled on my project of the afternoon which was designing our new prayer cards. Since we are hitting the ground running with church visits, we felt these should be ready and waiting when we arrive stateside and that was my goal today. It was time-consuming and I think I drove my husband a little crazy requesting his constant feedback on the process, but it is with a happy sigh that I can now check one more thing off our furlough to-do list. And with fifteen days to go, every check mark counts!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

We Were Going to Run Away (A Mother's Day Post)

It was the season of school and seminary and second-shift work weeks. It was the chapter of late-night date nights and grocery shopping at the 24-hour Walmart in the wee hours of morning. It was the crunch time before moving far away to a year of unknowns and saying goodbye to the good friends we had made in our newlywed years of marriage.

And it was the countdown to crying through one of the hardest weekends of the year. 

Even now, Mother's Day is still a weekend of mixed emotions. By far and large it is one of joy and gratitude. But I still remember. And my heart aches for so many, including ones I dearly love, for whom it is a weekend of overwhelming sadness.

As I was considering the words I would share in this post, I ran across the picture below. I was surprised by how my emotions still connected, completely understanding even after so many years and experiences apart. Wounds heal, but scars remain. Truthfully, I do not want to forget because forgetting endangers my compassion, appreciation and my gratitude.

Sixteen years ago, we were going to run away. We even had running away buddies, good friends eager for a change from the hectic pace of life we shared juggling school and work and future plans. Their reasons for going were not the same as ours, but we equally anticipated farm fresh breakfasts and clean air hiking and great conversations and memories made. For us, it would replace the still sadness of sitting alone as hugs and flowers flowed to the mothers around us at church on Sunday morning. It meant taking control of a day that in years previous had taken control of us. It was, as I said, running away.

But GOD! He came running toward us instead.

With one phone call, every plan changed and hopes deemed impossible hovered close enough for our hearts to touch. And then touch them we did in the form of a soft, sweet bundle of baby girl. Sixteen years ago, we'd never heard of cocooning and so we did what seemed only natural and headed to the one place we'd been out of place every Mother's Day weekend for several years before. We walked into church four days after learning of our daughter's existence and less than 48 hours after having her placed into our arms. Most people did not even know she had arrived. It was surreal and feels, to this day, like a dream.

Why did our dream come true while so many others still wait? I cannot and do not and never will know the answer. This I do know, that in our fallen world joy and sorrow are inextricably mixed. My joy at becoming a first-time mother through adoption was through the sorrow of a birth mother who made the most profound and sacrificial choice for her child. Mother's Day for me is a reminder of saying hello; for her it is of saying goodbye. This Mother's Day, some moms will enjoy lunches with their daughters and phone calls from their sons and yet other sons and daughters will spend the day with only a memory of a beloved mother who has gone Home. There will be missionary moms who FaceTime with children at colleges far away, and moms of missionaries who cannot recall the last time their child's furlough coincided with this special holiday. There will be mothers at hospitals whose babies have yet to come home; and others at gravesides of little lives cut short. There will be mothers estranged by no choice of their own and others as a result of choices they have yet to own.

And there will be those outside looking in who wait and hope and long to one day join the ranks of those called Mom. 

I know, because I was one of them.

Joy and sorrow. Sorrow and joy. How do we celebrate in light of this? I believe the answer is found in Solomon's wisdom: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." If our season is joy, we should rejoice. If sorrow, we must sorrow well. But we should not stop there. We should also enter into each other's season, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

This Mother's Day, I give thanks for my precious Mom whose sacrificial parenting and selfless love shaped my understanding of motherhood. I give thanks for my beloved Mother-in-Law whose consistent training and loving discipline developed the man whom I am privileged to parent alongside. I think of our Grandmothers who were and are strong, brave, sweet and faithful women of God. I honor five amazing women whose love first held and carried the children I will be blessed to hold in my embrace on Mother's Day. And I carry in my heart and prayers the women whose arms may feel so empty this Sunday morning. May the God of all comfort be their comfort on this hardest of days.

To each and every Mother in our life:

You are seen.

You are loved.

May God bless you on this Mother's Day.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pitchin' In for Furlough Prep

Today was a furlough prep kind of day. Lots of leftover tasks from daily living, like painting over the graffiti from months ago. (Good thing we had some of the "Orange You Happy" left over from remodeling after the earthquake!) Plenty of prep work for bigger projects, like taping up the bedroom before the painting begins (eight years in this house and third color for this particular room!) Odds and ends of mundane to-do's such as washing, drying and folding laundry and making a home cooked meal for the first time in three days. (I was pleasantly surprised by my 12-year old son volunteering to be kitchen helper by grating carrots, slicing tomatoes and washing lettuce for me!) Miscellaneous moments to organize clothing for our upcoming family photo shoot. (We need new prayer cards with 18-month old Silas added to the crew.)

My husband is a master at organizing the troops and though he pushes them hard, he rewards them amply as well. (He bought the boys doughnuts on the way home from prayer meeting tonight, a rare but favorite treat!) We think it's funny that the kids are all calling tomorrow a "free day." In other words, no furlough prep - only school. (Considering that any other time the phrase "free day" and "school" would never share a sentence!) We do make an effort to balance work and play. They will be having friends our tomorrow as well, after a week of diligent effort.

This evening my teenaged daughter lamented, "This morning I wanted to go to the States. Tonight I don't want to leave. Why is my brain so messed up?" To which I could only reply honestly (and tongue in cheek), "Welcome to the roller coaster. You are an MK. MKs have messed up brains. I should know!"

Furlough prep, this crew is gonna take you down! (At least after we all have a good cry. And maybe curl up in the fetal position or play some mindless video games to ease the stress. You know, the mature and spiritual way of handling things, ha!)

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Today with My Loves

We got no packing done today. Not a box. And that is enough to send my stomach into knots except that regardless, today was a good day. It was a full day. And it was a day spent with my loves.

Pedro headed out very bright and early to arrive a vehicle body shop by 8:00 A.M. The windshield on our minivan has a long crack 3/4 of the way across, and we cannot pass inspection without it being replaced. However, the metal frame around the windshield is rusting and we cannot replace the windshield without first repairing the frame. (What comes first, the chicken or the egg? I digress.) Last week, he was given a quote of 160,000 pesos (close to $250 USD) for the frame repair without counting the cost of the windshield. 

Today's body shop was our last resort for a better price, and thankfully they offered to do the frame job for only 50,000 pesos (around $75 USD.) Ministry opportunities come at unique times, and this morning the family who runs the business asked Pedro to come into their office and pray for them. As a result, he also was able to ask some questions about their spiritual background and encourage them to renew their commitment. Always expect the unexpected!

By 9:00 A.M. he returned home only to depart again, this time taking me, Owen, Silas and Isabel. On Mondays and Fridays our friend Elisa comes to do homeschool with Ian and Alec, so we left them studying hard and Eva preparing to tackle algebra. The purpose of our trip was a 9:30 A.M. doctor's appointment for Isabel. It was a marvelous example of a TII (This Is Iquique) moment when Isabel and I hurried into the building, rode the elevator to the 10th floor, stepped out the sliding doors five minutes past our appointment time ... into a completely dark waiting room. We beat both the receptionist and the doctor into the office!

Eventually we did see the doctor and upon conclusion returned to the street corner where Pedro had dropped us off and where we regularly purchase homemade chicken salad sandwiches on fresh marraquetas for the equivalent of $1.50 USD. We discovered these during my all-too-frequent visits to the doctor's office and blood lab during my pregnancy with Silas, and have been faithful customers ever since! With belated breakfast in hand, Isabel and I walked several blocks to the park where via Whatsapp we managed to uncross wires of confusion regarding our pick up location, with Owen happily acting as Daddy's mouthpiece. (I chuckle when I write "managed to uncross wires" because that park is yet another TII poster child with an astonishing tangle of electric coils just dangling over the sidewalk waiting for an accident to happen!)

Crossing town for a second time this morning, Pedro dropped off the kids, picked up his computer, and the two of us again headed downtown. After multiple circles looking for parking, he dropped me off at FLORECE while he continued the search. Since it was not a workday at the center, the plan was for me to catch up on paperwork and Pedro to prepare his Sunday School lesson in the quiet office. Unfortunately, despite driving several times through the nearby intersection without a working streetlight it didn't dawn on me that the electricity might be cut at FLORECE as well. Another TII moment - thankfully, the computers were charged!

An hour or so later, the power did return and it was just in time for the first of two FaceTime calls I would receive from my sister Jennifer in Pennsylvania. Today, along with my mom and a realtor, she was scheduled to visit two houses for sale. The long story short is that Pedro and I are praying about purchasing a multi-family property near my parents, one which will allow us to rent out a part of it to cover mortgage and reserve another part for our family or either of my two sisters' families to use while on our furloughs. It is a big, scary, exciting decision and we appreciate our family stateside investing time and energy into this search on our behalf! The second house today was a great possibility but we need wisdom as we carefully consider all ramifications and financial considerations. The most urgent need for this house currently relates to my oldest sister Terri and her family who are on pre-field ministry and recently had to relinquish their rental home due to the owner's son returning. In August, they will need a place to stay and we are hoping that somehow we can have a property in place to receive them.

Just an interesting tidbit. In Chile, there is a saying that when you take a spill or a fall somewhere, you "bought the terrain" or "bought the house." My darling mother unfortunately did fall at the second and preferred property while climbing up the steep cellar steps. We all concluded that it would be oh-so-nice if this particular Chilean saying would really come true!

Our long-distance tour ended just in time to transfer Elisa from our house to her next job and Owen from our house to his weekly discipleship with his MK "cousin" Josh Spink. Then, having been gone all morning and with no lunch prepared, we piled the rest of the gang in the van and headed to the food court in the mall. Much to the surprise and delight of Ian and Alec, their parents actually caved to their pleas and purchased a few minutes of playing time on a Happyland card. Silas was happy to join in the entertainment, and Mommy and the girls were glad to escape on a shopping expedition meanwhile. The goal was to find the boys matching shirts for Saturday's upcoming prayer card pictures shoot, but sadly we were unsuccessful. (We did find a pair of sandals at 70% off for Silas to wear in the States in summertime, so all was not completely lost!)

And again we went home. Our kids then turned around and promptly left, walking to the neighborhood park and participating in an after-school exercise class with a PE teacher and a group of students they had happened to see walk by our front gate. Stretching out on the couch for a little rest turned into a full-fledged nap for me when they took their time returning (which could be why it is 2:00 A.M. and I am up writing this post!)

Quickly the evening progressed and kids returned, showers were taken, once was eaten, Silas was successfully entertained through bathtime by brother Ian and rocked to sleep by sister Eva, and family devotions were held. On Sunday a visiting preacher spoke about the testimony of Apollos in Acts chapter 18, and we returned to those verses to discuss how qualities of Apollos' life could also be applicable and important to our own. Knowing the Scriptures, having a bold witness, being teachable, seeking to bless and encourage others, and remaining humble were among the topics we discussed and I hope were a challenge to each of us. The kids were attentive listeners and we closed our time in prayer for the house decision and especially for Aunt Terri and Uncle Dave at this transition time.

Finally, we cuddled on the two couches and watched a favorite family show together. It is one that alternately has us on the edge of our seats and/or cackling with laughter, and tonight I just soaked in the giggles and gasps and enjoyment of sharing the drama with one another. Among six children it can sometimes be difficult to find common ground, so it is extra sweet when everyone is on the same page and drawn into the emotion together. When it was over, there were hugs and kisses for Mom and Dad and a happy half a dozen sleepyheads drifted off into dreamland. Nostalgia nudged me as the house grew quiet, and on Facebook I wrote:
"If late at night while your children sleep you find yourself teary and dipping into the very last handful of your very last bag of chocolate chips imported from the States, it might means that four weeks from today you are leaving on a jet plane. Just saying."
I am thankful for today with my loves. In the midst of the crazy, a day of constant movement but also close companionship was precious. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of today and the hope of tomorrow. Thank You, Lord, for family!