Wednesday, March 22, 2017

FLORECE Means "to Blossom"

Hot. Hushed. Hollow. These three words could well describe the days at FLORECE during the summer months of January and February in Iquique. While we *thought* we knew the reason - tourists arrive, locals leave for vacation - it nonetheless tested the edges of faith at times with worrisome "what ifs" about the effectiveness and future of the ministry.

And then came March. With still a week to spare before month's end, the thirteen new clients who have arrived equal over half of our total number of clients in the first five months of operation! It has been nothing short of breathtaking ... exciting ... overwhelming.

It is hard to keep track as the number seems to grow daily, but we currently have at least seven ongoing studies taking place with clients on a weekly basis. A good number are prenatal classes, as we have found this to be a "niche" where there is a felt need among the women we service. We are happy to provide information that gives them confidence and preparedness for delivery, while also having regular opportunities to introduce God's personal involvement and care for their baby's health and their own lives also.

In the month of February, our first "FLORECE baby" was born. This was a special boost of encouragement to our team of volunteers during the slow months, a reminder of 1 Corinthians 15:58 to "... stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always gives yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (NIV) Our client gave birth at 5:45 AM and by noon was sending us a text and a picture of her beautiful baby boy. What a blessing!

In addition to prenatal classes, we have Bible studies and individual counseling. Each situation is unique and much wisdom is needed. Often we feel inadequate and must cling to the confidence that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV) It is God's Word and His Holy Spirit who do the work in hearts. We are just privileged to be His vessels!

In the past weeks, God has reminded us of so many truths both positive and negative. The latter: What tremendous needs and painful stories are hidden in the souls around us. How many people have been hurt by those they perceive as representing the Church, leaving us to hear "I believe in God, but not the church" in multiple client interviews. Yet the positive: Individuals who wouldn't dream of darkening the doors of a church are walking through FLORECE's doors. Volunteer counselors who thought they "couldn't possibly" are finding that they positively can, by God's grace and through His Spirit! What seems hopeless one day is made reality the next. Only GOD!

FLORECE means "to blossom." As we witness this brand-new ministry bud and unfurl, we are awed at God's faithfulness. We have yet to fully see what this bloom will finally be, but left in the hands of the Creator it can only become more beautiful. To God be all the glory.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Summer Beach Mornings

In the summertime, Iquique beaches are awash with tourists. It is good for the economy of our city, which over the past couple of years has been uncomfortably jarred by a sharp downturn in the mining industry. But it creates a different dynamic to beach outings! It is a struggle to simply find parking or a sandy corner to call one's own. 

In an effort to avoid the crowds and the crushing heat of midday, this summer Pedro devised a new schedule for trips to the beach with our kids. Sometimes he, Isabel and the older boys would jump in the waves for just an hour or two at the end of the day. Other times, we would slather Silas in sunscreen and all hit the beach in the early hours of a Saturday morning. With comfortable beach chairs and a coffee thermos in hand, these were the only times Mommy ventured to join! Eva is not a beach bum but she enjoyed a Saturday morning or two of model horse photography on the beach as well.

On one occasion just before school started, Pedro set a new record by taking the boys and their friend Christopher to the Cavancha beach extra-early. It was still dark when they dove into the waves at 7:30 AM. Crazy to the rest of the world (except the occasional surfer in full-body wetsuit) but it made a very special memory for this young crew! 

In addition to these quick trips with family, our beach-loving kiddos were treated to multiple outings with other friends and their families. Living in Iquique, it is not unusual to hear: "Mom, so-and-so invited me to the beach this afternoon. Can I go?" Since there are few other healthy options for free time, we are usually glad that they have the opportunity to do so.

But for Mommy, summer beach mornings and these kind of memories will always be most special:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Present in Pisagua

What was your favorite part of camping in Pisagua with Daddy this year? Alec's reply: "That we could watch the stars." Ian wasn't sure, but definitely liked the beach ... and the hike ... (and frankly was too engrossed in an electronic car game to coherently answer the question at the time I asked!)

Well, I didn't go on the camping trip to Pisagua with Pedro and our three older boys. But what I liked best about it was that my wonderful husband took care to photograph their adventures and pose this terrific trio multiple times for Mommy's benefit! Although we have been to Pisagua on numerous occasions, camping there was a first. Despite being a small and somewhat forgotten town, Pisagua's beach is pleasant and there is an area for camping complete with (rustic) showers and toilet facilities. And as the picture below will verify, Pedro made sure to consider all eventualities when packing our van for two nights away!

When it was all said and done, the boys set up a campsite complete with two tents, a toldo for shade, chairs, coolers, and even a grill to top it all off. They eventually had neighbors at the campsite and one evening even shared choripanes with a retired couple from France who were touring South America in a vehicle they had shipped over from Europe! That same couple introduced them to strawberries dipped in lemon juice and rolled in sugar, which our boys raved was absolutely amazing.

When asked about his favorite memories of the father/sons trip to Pisagua, Pedro said he had always wanted to do a camping trip there and had also wanted to do a camping trip of more than one night. Admittedly camping is a test of his organizational skills, so he described making a "huuuuge" list of all the things they needed. Because the boys were "super pumped" about leaving, they were a big help and the only thing their crew forgot was dish soap! (Which they later bought in Pisagua. Never fear, somewhat germaphobic Mom!)

A couple of unknowns were how to go about reserving a camping spot and what the camping spot might cost. They had been told to ask in the municipality of the small town of Huara which oversees the even smaller town of Pisagua, but tried a couple of different places to no avail. Finally they decided to do it a lo chileno and just showed up at the site. It turned out to be a good decision. The caretaker enjoyed their company and conversation and the grilled food Pedro shared with him at dinnertime. In the end, he charged them only 2.000 pesos (the equivalent of $4 USD) for the entire three days, two nights!

Pedro confessed to being "super tired" after those two days, but they had a great time. One day they hiked to a point which overlooked a colony of sea lions. They saw a lot of beautiful things. The boys loved the beach and spent long hours playing in the water. They tried out a number of different beaches and determined that "all beaches are not created equal!" The caretaker told Pedro about one isolated beach which cannot be reached by car and where people can be dropped off by a local fisherman to be picked up later at a predetermined time. The boys didn't try it this time - but maybe next time! 

Conversations with several inhabitants of Pisagua also directed them to some local treasures, such as a swimming hole carved out of the rock which they boys enjoyed after a day of hiking. They visited a location where boys were jumping off a cliff into an ocean cove. Owen was keen to try it but to his chagrin, Daddy decided that it was better to be safe than sorry because the ocean currents were still rather strong. (Thank you, Daddy!) Another local treat they uncovered were homemade ice pops with flavors like coconut, strawberry, chocolate and plum. The latter turned out to be the boys' favorite, and they indulged in this treat 4-5 times (buying double for the long, hot trip home through the desert!) Of course at only 250 pesos or 38 cents USD each, they could afford to enjoy all they wanted.

One afternoon they went up over the mountain to go exploring and discovered that a dry riverbed we had seen on previous visits was now flowing with fresh water! It was kind of a crazy adventure getting there because to go up over the mountain they had to drive our big minivan on a small dirt road. It reminded Pedro of a Michigan winter because just like with snow, there were parts of the path drifted over - but with sand! He knew he would have to speed up at points so that his tires would not get stuck in the drifts, but any slide to one side could be potentially dangerous. Coming back was even worse because they ran into other vehicles headed in the opposite direction which forced them to hug the side of the mountain. All in a day's adventures!

Pedro posted several sunset pictures on Facebook during their time away, and each one was more beautiful than the next. Every evening they were provided with three hours of solar lighting from 9 pm to midnight, and afterwards the stars were brilliant. "And then when it got dark, it was dark!"

I may say this every year, but I am deeply grateful for the memories that Pedro creates with our sons on these trips which began when Owen was around 4 years old. The adventure, laughter, new experiences, and shared stories are treasures of their boyhood that I hope they will carry with them all through life. Exploring God's incredible creation on the Pacific coast of the world's driest desert is a gift not everyone can experience - nor is finding the flowing "streams in the desert" that bring the Bible literally to life. 

Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of fathers, families and sons!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Setting Off for Santiago

It was a different summer for our family this year, especially when the time came for our annual trek to Santiago for medical appointments. Knowing that "the cousins" (our affectionate title for my sister's family who lives in Santiago) would not be there due to their furlough in the United States, we were lacking our usual landing pad while visiting the capital. But thankfully, we were able to reconnect with some special friends in their stead. This was a girls + baby Silas visit only (more on the big boys' adventures in another post!)

We actually arrived and departed to/from the home of our dear Chilean friends Cristian and Betsy. To my chagrin, I later realized we took no pictures together on this visit! (But pictures from their 2013 visit to Iquique can be found here.) Our greatest entertainment came from seeing their son Santi and our Silas getting to know one another. Santi, like Silas, was a happy surprise baby and his twin sisters are college-aged. So sharing space and toys with a toddler was a bit of a stretch at first, but in the end Santi did quite well. He has trouble pronouncing the letter "S" so it was sweet to hear him calling for "Tee-lah!" However, most of the time he couldn't even remember Silas' name and just constantly inquired, "Como se llama el amigo?" ("What is the friend's name?") Too cute.

One highlight of our time with the Ormeño Oyarce family was the opportunity to visit their church's Spanish school for Haitian immigrants. There has recently been a tremendous increase of Haitian immigration to Chile, and many have arrived to the community in which the church is located. What is special about this is the fact that we attended this church while commencing the process to adopt from Haiti. Our friends accompanied us in prayer and support through the ups and downs of nearly two years of waiting, with Cristian and Betsy even investigating the possibility of adopting from Haiti themselves. So the seed of concern and care for the Haitian people was planted long ago, yet now God allowed it to blossom into a ministry which grew to 60+ students (they had to close registrations!) What a blessing to see it first-hand!

After a couple of nights in San Bernardo, our medical appointments began and led us to stay with Australian friends in Lo Barnechea (another suburb of Santiago on the other side of the city, close to the hospital we regularly visit.) It was a joy to reconnect with Paul and Vikki Kay, with whom we shared many special memories during their time living in Iquique. We were so sad to see them go when Paul's work transferred them to Santiago! Our only disappointment on this visit was not having our boys along to catch up with theirs, but Toby and Karl seemed to enjoy our girls' company nonetheless. They introduced Isabel and Eva to berry picking outside the parcela where they live, to new games and many books!

Our appointments took us away for much of each day, but we enjoyed returning to the lush green grass and beautiful flowers around their home in the evenings. Vikki graciously provided healthy, yummy meals for us and even babysat Silas during one morning of doctors' visits. Our visit would not have been complete without a competitive round or two of Ticket to Ride, so we made sure to include that as well!

Having paid our dues to multiple medical professionals over several days, we returned once again to San Bernardo where we enjoyed two fabulous experiences. The first was eating Betsy's amazing pastel de choclo, a meal which has become a traditional gift she generously bestows on us when we are together (she even brought her own corn in a suitcase to Iquique once just to prepare this favorite dish!) And the second was an invitation to the amazing man-made lagoon and beach in these pictures. It still boggles my mind that someone built this beautiful paradise in the midst of clustered cookie cutter homes in something like suburbia!

I should give honorable mention to other enjoyable aspects of this visit to Santiago such as: frappuccinos at Starbucks and sweet honey biscuits and spicy fried chicken at Popeye's (neither establishment exists in Iquique); a lovely evening with missionary colleagues Dave and Ruth Ann Rogers and their daughter Andrea; and meeting Austin and Kayleigh, a young couple serving at the missionary school short-term. Santiago is never lacking for things to do and we always make good memories, but we were happy to return home to Daddy and the boys after a week away!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 7, 2017 (Eva's Sweet 16)

Dearest Eva,
As your 16th birthday approached, it carried with it the weight and wonder of how the years have flown by since you were our tender, squeezable toddler girl and our kind, inquisitive little girl and now you are our deep thinking, always dreaming teenage girl whom we love very much. I am honored that you entrust me with so many of your words, thoughts, hopes and fears. I hope that no matter how old you grow or how far apart we may someday be, you will always know the love and concern and dreams of our own that Daddy and I have for you. Our greatest dream is that you will fall in love with Jesus, in other words that He will be your Champion, your Confidence, your Confidante, the Fulfiller and the Fulfillment of your deepest desires.
It has been a joy to watch you discover hidden talents this past year or so, especially that of writing. You have a special voice that transmits through the written word and I look forward to how God will speak through you as you learn to hear from His Word and apply it to the situations of your own life and that of the characters you create.
It has also been a wonderful blessing to observe your personal study of the Bible and a growing sensitivity to applying what you’ve learned to your relationships with others. I know it is always hardest to do so in our own family with whom we rub shoulders day by day, but I see in you an increasing willingness to accept responsibility and seek reconciliation and I pray to that end for your heart and sibling relationships.
       Recently I read this quote and it resonated with me as a mother: “To my children … if I had to choose between loving you and breathing, I would use my last breath to tell you … I love you.” I have made so many mistakes as a mom in your 16 years, and I know I will still make more. But I hope you will always know how much I love you. Happy 16th Birthday, Eva Grace!
All my love, Mommy

Birthday Posts by Year:

15th Birthday - Eva
14th Birthday - Eva
13th Birthday - Eva
12th Birthday - Eva
11th Birthday - Eva

Monday, February 06, 2017

Countdown to the Coaster

Sometimes a dark, quiet room with a rocking chair is just what the doctor ordered for a heavy heart. At least I found it to be so when I retreated to its shadows to shed a few tears during my Friday morning shift at FLORECE last week. Weighty to-do lists for family, FLORECE, and our upcoming furlough overwhelmed my mind to near paralyzation and a private timeout seemed imminently in order. Alone in the silence, I breathed deeply and prayed for peace and strength.

It surely won't be the last time I do so. 

The ticker above this post is a countdown to June 5, the day Pedro and I pack ourselves and our half a dozen precious children onto a plane headed first to Santiago, then Miami, then Philadelphia en route to almost a year's "home assignment" on United States soil. In other words, it is a countdown to the coaster.

As noted in the image above, according to the Cambridge dictionary one definition for coaster (or roller coaster) is this: "A situation which changes from one extreme to another, or in which a person's feelings change from one extreme to another." If that isn't a definition of a missionary's furlough, I don't know what is!

A colleague once noted that a year's furlough is like going to Disney for a day and trying to squeeze in every single ride. Imagine the preparations, the hurry, the waiting, the anticipation, the exhilaration, the anxiety, the joy, the let down and the weariness when all is said and done - and yes, I'd say that's a pretty apt description.

There are many wonderful things about furlough ministry. (Four years ago, I wrote about several of them in a blog post entitled "Finishing Furlough.") Already family members have expressed their gladness at seeing us, and of course we are overjoyed to see them as well. Supporting churches have begun to respond to our invitation for scheduling and we have been reminded of the blessing of the Body of Christ both here and at "home." While our children's emotions fluctuate regarding the upcoming change, they often chime in with requests for favorite restaurants and fond memories of places they vaguely remember. Our wishlist of places to visit includes Florida, New York City, California, Texas, the Creation Museum, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens, Legoland and Washington, D.C. (to name just a few in no particular order.) The enormous potential for Christian events is alluring: Christian conferences on marriage, adoption, pastoral ministry, missions, counseling, family; quality Christian camps; dependable Christian children's programs such as AWANA or Word of Life. So many things we don't even realize we miss until the options are laid out before us, and then the sheer variety is overwhelming. (Did I even mention Christian bookstores? Oh my!)

And then there's reality.

To get from point A to point B means traversing the treacherous terrain of pulling up stakes from ministries, schools, home and people's lives. It means the nitty gritty details of packing up a house that's been well lived in for four years and sorting, cleaning, repairing, pitching, storing - all while life goes on around you, and six children's souls need tending and their minds need educating. It means praying for people to fill in the gaps we leave behind in ministry, and for some kind soul who will comfort our daughter by giving her dog a home. It means finding a renter, sending e-mails to unknown schools seeking scholarships, counting ahead the years and realizing this is the last time our daughters will be stateside with us before college and that means feeling the future is far too close and scary for this momma's heart. (It also means adding college tours to an already packed calendar of "Disney rides.")

Sometimes, it also means a few tears are shed in a dark, quiet room. But, oh the comfort of knowing the God Who calls us to this coaster is also counting those tears and collecting them in His bottle! (Psalm 56:8) And He is worthy of the wildest ride. So even as I countdown to the coaster, I cling to His promises. "The One Who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

First & Last Photos {2016/2017}

They chattered their way through the door, giggling with excitement to find Silas unexpectedly awake and awaiting their return from the New Year's Eve fireworks on the beach. "The first picture of 2017!" And the festive mood was such that complaints were at a minimum and smiles were at a maximum. Happy New Year 2017 from the Sweet Six:

Just a few short days before, on an impromptu family shopping trip to the Zofri mall we encountered an enormous, decked out Christmas tree. "We need a picture!" Which they begrudgingly accepted but found themselves inevitably grinning at Daddy's antics behind the camera. How we love this crazy crew! Merry Christmas 2016 from the Sweet Six:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Last Day of This Year

At the table yesterday, our family exchanged thoughts about what we have seen God do in the year 2016. 

As we mentioned various events of the past twelve months, it was with increasing surprise and awe that indeed so many big things had happened in such a relatively short period of time. We considered that the year began with the frightening and life-threatening brain aneurysm of a friend. In God's providence He chose to heal Vikki, which was a tremendous answer to prayer. Yet months later our extended family stateside would lose Pedro's Aunt Rachel under similar circumstances. It was a difficult time to be far away and we will miss her.

It was a year of many trips. Our whole family traveled to Santiago at the beginning of the year and from there to Lima, Peru for two mission-related conferences. Five of the eight of us traveled again to Santiago for two surgeries a few months later. Silas, Eva and Mom flew to the States to visit grandparents in May and Pedro flew stateside in June at the invitation of a new supporting church. In October, Pedro traveled to Ecuador for missionary meetings.

Our missionary team experienced important changes. We received both new teammates and special visitors this year. Jon and Pam Sharp joined us as teammates in Iquique in January. Over the course of the year we welcomed visits from Dave and Terri Fisher and Jenn Taylor who are on pre-field ministry in the United States and Canada, respectively, and will hopefully join us in Iquique in the next couple of years. We had visits from our area administrator and regional director as well, enjoying time with them and their wives.

There were many answered prayers in 2016, and blessings upon blessings.

In January the Iglesia Bautista Misionera transitioned to permanent Chilean leadership after being birthed and nurtured through its early years by a team of missionary families, including our own. The months that followed have been ones of learning the delicate balance of letting go and staying available. We have rejoiced at new growth and have witnessed God sustain His people even through a financial recession affecting many dear families. We praise God for His faithfulness. 

In February God literally threw open the doors to the FLORECE prenatal and family counseling center by providing the place we had long prayed for in an ideal location at a realistic rental cost. Along with the property came months of preparation and many more answered prayers leading up to and beyond the ministry's official opening on October 1, 2016. Though we still have much to learn and far to go, God has guided us each step of the way. We have great hope for the future as we trust Him to fulfill His purposes through FLORECE.

Certainly these are only glimpses of a much greater number of events the year held, but enough to give clear evidence of the sovereign hand of God over the last twelve months. We hold to that hope and trust in His enabling grace as we enter 2017, a year of tremendous change and challenge for our family. As we prepare to pause our lives of the past four years in Chile and pursue one year of "home assignment" (aka furlough) in the USA, we face the near future with faith in the One Who has always proved faithful.

Thank You, Lord, for a "Happy New Year."

Friday, December 30, 2016

Glimmers of Gladness

In spite of the disappointment referenced in my earlier post, there were certainly "glimmers of gladness" in our celebration as well. These pictures capture some special moments shared on Christmas Day. One of my favorite sights are the stockings lined up - not by the chimney, but on the sofa in order from oldest to youngest child. This year on one of our expeditions to the Zofri, we discovered a stocking that perfectly matched those of Eva, Isabel and Owen (originally purchased at the famous Bronner's Christmas Wonderland of Frankenmuth, Michigan!) I had the best of intentions to have Silas' name embroidered on it prior to the holiday but the stocking was misplaced and not unearthed until after the celebrations had come and gone. Oh well! Since Silas didn't seem to understand what was happening anyway, I don't think he minded at all.

Speaking of Silas, he was quite engrossed in his siblings' affairs though he seemed slightly baffled by what was going on. It wasn't until Owen unwrapped a Rubiks cube that Silas' eyes lit up and he swiftly snatched at the recognizable object. It always amazes us how he is so aware of the things his older brothers and sisters like to play with. Big for his britches, indeed! :)

I don't have pictures of the brother/sister gift exchange that was new to our celebration this year, but I soaked in the moment when it happened. Two siblings who struggle to show appreciation and affection for one another hugged in impromptu gratitude and made my heart smile. It worked out that the girls had the boys' names, and two of the boys had the girls'. This made shopping interesting but meant that a little extra time and understanding had to go into the choices made. I accompanied each child on his or her excursion through the store and to the checkout counter and was fairly confident of their decisions, but seeing the gladness and sweetness on Christmas morning was something extra special.

Another "glimmer of gladness" on Christmas Day was our children's church program, always a tender reminder that the story of the Child is often most loved and best represented by children themselves. It wasn't until Owen appeared on the scene that we understood why the kids were so adamant we turn around and retrieve the forgotten "Duck Dynasty" beard at home. He was an elderly shepherd with a stiff back and shining grin who shuffled eagerly to the baby's bedside! Ian was a handsome Angel Gabriel, and Alec a well-dressed wise man bearing gifts for God's Son. Sadly, Silas had to turn down his role of baby Jesus because we were quite sure he would never stay still for young Mary, but a visiting 4-month old was able to aptly fill his shoes instead.

The afternoon of Christmas Day was a quiet one. I snapped pictures of the three older boys looking so bright and beautiful in their shirts and smiles, and of mischievous Silas looking dapper and diapered with a hint of wrapping tape on his chubby little thigh. Eva went to her friend Kari's house to name newly arrived Christmas fish. Isabel joined her friend Sophia's family at the beach. Ian played with a neighbor friend until the boys and Daddy took off together for a little while (less than a week later, we can't quite remember where but think it may have been to play basketball at the cancha!) 

Thanks to technology, we FaceTimed with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents in Delaware. And when it was all over, the day was done and we were together and God was, and is, and always has been so faithful. Grateful for these "glimmers of gladness" and the One to Whom we owe it all!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

When Christmas Disappoints

It wasn't the Christmas I dreamed of. In fact, to be perfectly honest, for me it was a disappointing Christmas. In the days or perhaps weeks prior to December 24 I had muttered the mantra, "We've got to wrap presents. We can't leave them for the night before this year!" Only for Pedro and I to find ourselves after the kids went to bed on separate floors, he wrapping stocking stuffers in the living room and I wrapping gifts in our third-floor bedroom near a sleeping baby. (Oddly enough, the baby did sleep despite the loud stretching and snapping of tape and slicing of gift wrap with lights turned on nearby!) From time to time we crossed paths as I carried down a handful of presents. There was one rewarding moment of mutual appreciation as Pedro and I discovered that each of us had tuned in to the same movie on Netflix. A reminder that despite two floors' distance, we were connected after all. But then there was the sticky summer heat, and the bum knee, and then increasing weariness and the clock unapologetically inching. all the way. to 4 o'clock. in the morning. Sigh.

At 5 o'clock the baby woke and so did we in a stumbling daze to give him a bottle and settle him back to sleep. At 6 o'clock an army of elephants stomped up the stairs (aka, the five older siblings) in imminent delight of discovering Christmas gifts under the tree. I handed them Silas and mustered the strength to join them downstairs where they sat in semi-darkness and and filmed themselves singing "By low baby Jesus, born on Christmas morning" to their baby brother's sleepy-eyed amusement. I hadn't the heart to wake Pedro and so he missed the opening of stockings and the round of sibling gifts, the latter a first-time tradition this year. Later he expressed sadness at having not seen the kids exchange what they had chosen for one another, and remarked on the pointlessness of wrapping all the gifts only to not see them opened.

We did eventually wake Daddy and the kids seemed animated and happy at their Christmas morning, a fact we capitalized upon when leaving them to play and heading back to bed for a couple more hours' sleep. I failed to produce the expected and longed-for Christmas tradition of baked oatmeal with chocolate chips for breakfast, as the recipe must be made the night before and our "night" was altogether too short to do so. Instead the children enjoyed fresh thick pieces of moist brazo de reina cake (a jelly roll with manjar/dulce de leche inside) which had been a gift from our neighbor. Speaking of neighbors reminds me that nearly a week after Christmas we have yet to produce our annual trays of American goodies as gifts for them, yet another disappointment.

So many topsy-turvy realities in our life right now as ministry and family roles and responsibilities have been juxtaposed  and interchanged and days slide into weeks and changes loom large and so, Christmas came and went like that. And in the midst of it all, perhaps bleeding emotionally into the weariness was the knowledge of so many hurting this time of year. We tried teaching the kids' carols and the stories behind them on days leading up to our celebration. We spoke of our "Christmas gift for Jesus" and followed through on our plans. We enjoyed a turkey dinner on the 24th with friends who also were in town without extended family. That night before Christmas, we read the Story and recalled the Reason for it all. The day of Christmas, we enjoyed watching Ian as Angel Gabriel and Owen as a bearded old shepherd and Alec as a brightly turbaned wise man in the church Christmas play. Later at home, we introduced the kids to the classic Dickens' A Christmas Carol to their curiosity (and some consternation!) There were good and happy moments in the midst of it all, too.

But somewhere, somehow, I feel that we missed something more. And so I pray this new year will allow us to follow the star and truly seek a better Christmas, starting from our hearts.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Week for the Weak (Ministry Monday Series)

(Post written Sunday 12.18.2016)

What a week it has been. This time last Sunday I was leading the monthly volunteer meeting for our FLORECE ladies when Catalina handed me her phone which had been silently ringing. (It turns out my phone had been also, with multiple missed calls.) My husband was trying to reach us with the news that Solange - our friend and FLORECE volunteer who had stayed home that night to finish her thesis due Tuesday - was on her way to the ER with stroke-like symptoms. Kim and Jacqueline immediately left the meeting to meet Solange and her husband at the hospital while the rest of us began to pray. I reached the hospital after the meeting ended to change places with the other ladies and remained until we learned that the MRI had come back clear and Solange was being sent home with a diagnosis of acute glaucoma.

The next morning, I accompanied Solange to an 11 a.m. appointment (or so we thought) with the ophthalmologist. She was in a great deal of pain when we arrived and she provided her information to the secretary. Unfortunately we were informed that patients were seen on a first come, first served basis. To make a long story short, her pain increased as we waited and when the doctor measured her eye pressure it was at a whopping 52 (normal being 12-21.) He applied multiple medications via eyedrops and sent her back to the waiting room, where her symptoms went from bad to worse and she became sick and faint. A second check up with the doctor ended with orders for hospitalization to get her symptoms under control and we left around 1:15 p.m.

In God's providence, my daughter Eva was dropped off to me from her algebra class just as we headed to the clinica where her help was indispensable since there was absolutely no parking area to deliver a patient who could barely stand on her own feet. She escorted Solange to check in and by the time I returned they were joined by Solange's husband, Romo. At 3:30 p.m. a room was made available and we eventually kept quiet company in the room while Romo ran numerous necessary errands - dropping off the doctor's excuse to Solange's workplace, purchasing medications, etc. - and Solange drifted in and out of awareness while enduring intense pain.

It was a privilege to provide a measure of support to our friends, and I was proud of my daughter for her patience during silent hours of waiting (neither of us having had lunch and finally arriving home around 6 p.m.) Once home, we welcomed Romo and Solange's son and daughter for food and games until their dad was able to pick them up around 11 p.m. and they could all get some rest.

And so the week continued! Tuesday morning started early with a 7:30 drop off to school for Owen, and a busy FLORECE shift with volunteer training and counseling sessions and home for lunch followed by accompanying my friend for a few more hours at the clinica in the afternoon, then having the kids again for pizza and company until their dad could make it home.

Several more FLORECE shifts over the next few days, more doctor's visits and medical errands with Solange, end-of-the-year school and church activities, regularly scheduled prayer and teen meetings, and surprise visitors to church today culminated our week with eight guests in our home for lunch. With some ingenuity, a spare patio table, two tv trays and a stool as a table top, the sixteen of us enjoyed Chinese food and very loud, live musical entertainment from the pascuero truck that stopped just outside our house right as we sat down to eat. When the adult guests had gone, they were replaced with two neighbor children joining Ian and Alec for animated play and mad dashes towards the street whenever the next truck came by. Another unexpected visitor came in the form of a newly arrived and hungry Colombian man asking for food or money. Pedro prepared a sandwich and spoke with him at length, sending him in the direction of the barbershop where our boys cut their hair and the owner represents and assists the immigrant community in Iquique.

It was not a week for the weak ... and yet it was. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul wrote these words given to him by the Lord in the face of his own weakness: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness." This week, we experienced that sufficient grace and even had the privilege of being an extension of it while ministering to a friend in her physical weakness. I received that grace in the counseling room of FLORECE while feeling overwhelmed and inadequate by my own human weakness. When we are weak, God is strong and glorified. Thanks be to God for His faithfulness! "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

New Thespians in the Theater

This post is woefully overdue but serves to record a fun chapter in Ian and Alec's life experience up to this point. This year for the first time, both boys began homeschooling together. It has been, as one might expect, quite the adventure.

There is a whole other post waiting to be written on the topic of their homeschooling journey, but one thing we determined at the outset was the need for the boys to continue to have exposure to Spanish on a regular basis (in addition to church.) An ideal opportunity seemed to present itself with a Saturday morning theater class. The duration of the class was three months and culminated with an onstage presentation by our young thespians. 

Many times we wondered how it was possible for the teachers to harness the explosive energy we saw in the interesting mix of children they directed each week. But the final result was an enjoyable, creative, age-appropriate and zany - most of all, zany! - performance that we attended with our family and MK "cousins"/friends Kristi, Kyle and Joseph Spink.

Each child in the theater class was able to pick his/her character and the script grew out of their own collective imagination. Alec chose to be a superhero named Incredible (not to be confused with the Disney character Mr. Incredible, mind you, even though both are dressed in red from head to toe!) Ian was super thrilled to be an airline pilot and only wished he had the entire outfit (jacket included) to play his role. Thankfully, in the nick of time our friend Ruthie - whose dad and granddad actually are pilots - loaned him an authentic pilot's cap which added just the finishing touch he needed.

Because Alec's personality tends towards a more serious side, his dashing superhero debut generated laughter and cheers. The loudest may have been from his exuberant friend Kylie who also happened to be seated closest to the camera!

The play's director determined that having a bilingual actor for a pilot was just the thing since Ian could presumably recite his lines in Spanish and then state them in English. In reality this was a little harder for him than they thought, but when he did translate during the play it generated another cute comment from Kyle. "Oh, how sweet!" she exclaimed. "He did that just for us to understand!"

All in all, these newest thespians certainly did enjoy the theater. Nowadays they are applying their talents to the monthly children's presentations at church. Who knows what the future holds? Let the encores begin!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Revisiting the Revista de Gimnasia

We first discovered the phenomenon of a "revista de gimnasia" during our initial foray into Chilean education in 2009. That year, I summarized its purpose in a brief blog post entitled: Annual PE Program and shared videos of the routine performed by Isabel and Eva.

(As a side note, let me just mention that the red Jedi cape worn by Eva seven years ago is the gift that keeps on giving! It was the same cape worn by Alec in his debut theater performance this past June, and almost daily on our boys' current Star Wars kick.)

In 2010 we enjoyed another revista de gimnasia with the girls and eventually Owen joined the mix as well. When the girls transitioned into home schooling and Owen into a new Chilean school, the tradition continued. This year just may have been the most lively of all. If nothing else, our son certainly enjoyed himself as evidenced by the big grin on his face throughout much of the routine!

Owen was pretty tickled by his outfit which was handmade with love by Tia Grace, one of the talented seamstresses who attends our church:

Prior to his official performance, he entertained us all (but especially baby brother Silas) with multiple practice renditions at home. Finally the big day came and our entire tribe piled into the school gymnasium to cheer Owen from the crowded audience of family members and friends.

His class did not disappoint and I'm sure no one came away from their musical number without a smile. We're thankful for a happy memory for Owen to take away as we head into furlough next year and he leaves this school and these classmates. Enjoy the show (video below!)

Friday, December 09, 2016

Happy 9th Birthday, Ian David

Dear Ian,

I have a confession to make. This post is actually being written on December 28th (though I will post it to the blog on your actual birth date, December 9th.) The funny thing is, it is a pretty good representation of what actually did happen for your birthday this year. There is a saying that we like to use for many situations: T.I.I. = This Is Iquique! And our plans for your birthday certainly fall into that category. For the past three weeks we have been trying to get to the brand-new bowling alley and every week we have been told that in another week ... a few more days ... for sure on Wednesday (today!) it would be open. Unfortunately, that did not happen. But you have been a wonderful sport and even as I write this you are enjoying an unexpected beach afternoon with Daddy, Alec, Isabel and your friends Kylie and Kristi in lieu of what was originally planned. Your happy heart is one of the things we all love most about you!

On the actual day of your birthday, we once again enjoyed your choice of a delicious strawberry cake and opening your presents. You are always so exhilarated about presents, practically wiggling off your chair in anticipation. And I love that no matter what you receive, you express delight and joy. This is an aspect of your childhood that I hope you'll hold onto forever! I am certain it is one reason why your baby brother Silas loves your company so very much. Everything is more exciting with you.

This year, you have grown so much physically and are big and tall and strong. You've worked hard at school with numerous different teachers - not only the ones on your video curriculum, but with Mommy and Daddy and Tia Ely and Aunt Pam on many occasions. In fact, that is what Daddy said he loved about you when we went around the table this birthday - the fact that you never give up! It is another wonderful quality God has built into your heart.

One of your favorite games is charades. Drama should be your middle name, whether it is on purpose or for fun in a game or just a natural reaction to everyday life! I look forward to seeing you use your creative gifts for God's glory as you grow older. This Christmas, you were a wonderful "angel Gabriel" in our church program. I am so proud of you, and love you so very much.

Happy 9th Birthday, Ian David! You are a blessing to our family.

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Ian's 8th birthday post
Ian's 7th birthday post
Ian's 6th birthday post
Ian's 5th birthday post
Ian's 4th birthday post
Ian's 3rd birthday post
Ian's 2nd birthday post
Ian's 1st birthday post

Monday, December 05, 2016

A Time of Dedication (Ministry Monday Series)

On December 1st, exactly two months after the official opening of the FLORECE Prenatal & Family Counseling Center, we celebrated with a special time of dedication. Our invited guests were pastors and wives from eight different churches (with five of the churches able to attend.) The purpose of the event, as stated in our letter of invitation to each pastor, was to provide greater understanding of the ministry of FLORECE by visiting our location and foremost, to pray together in unity for the blessing of God on this new commitment to Him and the community of Iquique. 

L-R (ladies) Grace, Natalia w/Emilia, Stephanie, Catalina, Kim, Andrea (men) Pedro w/Silas, Jon

We couldn't have done this event without our volunteers. For both the pastoral dedication and our volunteer training a few days prior, Maria prepared her homemade basil mayonnaise and red pepper chicken salad for invited guests. Kim baked three varieties of American sweet treats as a finishing touch for the morning's refreshments. With a full work schedule as a surgical assistant at a nearby clinic, Solange asked for a window of time off and showed up early to prepare gift bags for those in attendance. A day after completing a challenging national college entrance exam, Andrea volunteered to help in whatever way was needed. Natalia, a full-time mom, brought her young daughter Emilia and came prepared with coloring books and activities to oversee any children needing care. Grace, who in recent weeks has covered numerous extra shifts for a volunteer colleague on vacation, was willing to give her time yet again to serve. Catalina meticulously oversaw cleaning and upkeep, rearranging furniture up to the last minute and waxing floors to a beautiful shine (then making sure everything was back in place when we were done!) 

Solange organizing gift bags

our faithful ladies preparing refreshments

It was a special blessing to welcome our friends David and Kristi Flinck from Antofagasta. Their church plant hosted our first pro-life conference in August of last year, and has since supported FLORECE with their prayers and generosity. Most recently, they took the FLORECE ministry on for monthly financial support and they are the first church outside of our home church to do so! David also blessed us with his photography skills and provided a wonderful visual record of the day. Our program was purposely brief, including a PowerPoint presentation answering the questions: "Why a prenatal and family counseling center?" and "What is FLORECE?"

presenting the ministry of FLORECE

presenting the ministry of FLORECE

Following the presentation, we wanted to especially emphasize a time of prayer with the pastors. Gifts were later given that provided resources for sharing the pro-life message, including John Ensor's book Cuestion de vida o muerte which powerfully shines the light of God's Word on the issue of abortion and the Church's appropriate response.

time of prayer for FLORECE

time of prayer for FLORECE

gifts for pastors and wives

We concluded the morning's events with a "tour" of the FLORECE building and a time of refreshments and fellowship. Our volunteers waited at each of the different rooms in order to provide an explanation of what kind of ministry takes place in each one. We hope that having this time to explore and ask questions was beneficial to each of our guests and allowed them to visualize what happens during a day at FLORECE.

counseling rooms

bebe boutique

Afterwards, it was encouraging to hear from several of the pastors and wives in attendance. One wife said, "I am so glad my husband got to hear this. I really think it helped him to understand and he will support this ministry!" One of the pastors had previously been involved in social work through a government program. He offered to share a training course with our volunteers on the subject of drug prevention. We gladly welcome additional tools to apply Biblically in counseling situations!

We thank God for the privilege of serving in this ministry, and sharing it on this day with others. We trust that He will work through these pastors to share the vision with their churches and personally pursue compassionate ministry in the lives of women, families and unborn children. We give God all the glory for the great things He has done and will continue to do!