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!

Friday, December 02, 2016

Most of All, I See Love (Family Friday Series)

One morning this semester, my eleven-year old son had a request before heading to school. "Where can I find the 10 Commandments in the Bible?" As I waited by the front door, he stood at the dining room table and leaned closely over the pages of his camouflage-covered edition of God's Word. Carefully he swept a yellow highlighter over the verses he wanted to be able to find later.

The day before, he had asked another question. "Is there a verse in the Bible that says we are saints?" He wanted to know where that was found, too. In the morning he told me the reason for his interest as we drove through the gray early light toward his school. He and a friend had been discussing things of a spiritual nature, and the friend said it was impossible to access God directly because He is way too great for us. He told my son that was why we needed the saints to intercede on our behalf.

That morning, I found it incredibly encouraging to know my son was having these conversations, on his own, with his peer. I found it incredibly moving that he was asking questions and going to God's Word to know the truth; and that he cared about the soul of another child. 

Jesus said that the first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second, He said, was to love your neighbor as yourself. 

In the past weeks and months of national news and election politics, I have seen many adults failing to apply this law of love. I have wrestled with worries and fears for the well-being of this very child and his brothers because of reckless words flung onto computer screens - words reflecting anything but the golden rule.

It has made me even more deeply grateful for the tender heart of my son.

As I write this, Pedro and I have just spent an afternoon alongside Owen at the year-end cookout for his classmates and their parents. We didn't do much, but I observed much and was again encouraged by the young man I see emerging. I see a young man full of energy and enthusiasm, but also mannerly and mindful. I see a son with genuine enjoyment of his friends and his family. I see an older brother taking a moment to smile and play with a baby brother in the midst of his own boyish antics with his peers. And I see (in a picture sent to me by another mom with obvious Christmas spirit!) my little premature baby now nearly shoulder to shoulder with me and growing way too fast.

But most of all, I see love.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sharing Flyers and FLORECE (Ministry Monday series)

In the cooler hours of late afternoon, one or two FLORECE volunteers will stand at our door with invitations in hand. The desert sun encourages most pedestrians to our sidewalk to avoid the piercing rays on the other side of the street. Occasionally an extended hand will be rejected, but mostly the flyers are well received. Sometimes a passerby will react with a bit of embarrassed comedy, such as the young mother pushing a stroller who exclaimed, "Pregnant again?! Oh no!"or the man who read the words "family counseling"and wryly remarked, "You could have told me sooner. I got separated yesterday!" But more than once, a woman has walked away with her flyer only to return a short while later and request one of our services. Those are the moments that make the others worthwhile!

Other times, the volunteers will follow a wide route around FLORECE to hand out flyers outside multiple schools in that range. Several of us carry flyers at all times, to hand out in grocery stores, on buses or whenever opportunity strikes. This week I was introduced to a professor in the psychology department of a local university who requested information. One of our volunteers, Grace, has a sister who lives next door to an adult learning center where older students can return for their high school degrees. This week, she took a stack of flyers with her to the school and had an encouraging conversation with one of the teachers. She told her of several students with tremendous need for "spiritual guidance" to whom she would give our information. 

Most recently this week, while having bulk printing done for FLORECE I was given a wonderfully encouraging opportunity to share our flyers.

One of the largest and most complicated colleges in Iquique is the Universidad Arturo Prat (UNAP), a state school which each year loses many weeks of classes due to student protests and unrest. This university also has an unusual hazing tradition whereby first year students are stripped of their clothing and belongings, dressed in black garbage bags and pelted with mud and eggs, then sent out on the busy streets to beg for enough money to "buy back"their items. The funds are then pooled to throw a wild party on the beach. Needless to say, the school has students with a wide range of ideologies!

Just outside UNAP is the most inexpensive copy shop in town. Literally, they charge less than half of what other places do so they have a huge student clientele. Unbeknownst to us, the owners are most likely Christians who when I asked to display one of our flyers went the extra mile to get the word out! "Why don't you tape one right here?" the owner encouraged, pointing smack-dab in the middle of the counter where everyone places their items to be copied. (There was nothing else displayed.) "And how about over there on the wall?" Numerous advertisements were taped there, so I placed mine off to the side where there was still ample space. "But what about another one right in the middle?" he urged. "That's where everyone looks."

Just this week, we interviewed a new volunteer who graduated from UNAP and said she had seen some of our flyers there - "on the ground." What an encouragement to instead be given free reign to post not one, not two, but three of them where none should be removed and many young people can't help but see them!

Flyer by flyer, we are sharing FLORECE. We are planting the seeds, and trusting the One Who brings the harvest!

Monday, November 14, 2016

No Other Word But Awesome (Ministry Monday Series)

One of the busiest weeks of ministry with FLORECE was also one filled with the greatest blessings.

Starting a brand-new ministry means a lot of "learning as you go." One of those areas for us was the creation of an application and screening process for volunteers. We found ourselves needing to apply the process retroactively, as the conception and birth of FLORECE had taken several years, with interested individuals joining along the way before we were ever a formal entity. Thankfully, our current group of ladies were gracious and committed to being "guinea pigs" (or as they say here in Chile, "conejillas de india") and willingly embraced these new requirements.

So it was that ministry colleagues Kim, Pam and I found ourselves hearing the personal testimonies of each of our FLORECE volunteers over the course of one very busy week as part of our newly established application process. It was an amazing privilege. During the course of the week, I wrote the following thoughts in my journal:
Such a tremendous encouragement to hear salvation testimonies during our volunteer interviews this week. What God has reminded me through them:
  • He seeks and finds us (placing people, circumstances in our lives at the right moment) 
  • His timing is not our timing, but is perfect 
  • Some plant, some water, God gives the harvest 
  • We never know what word of witness or invitation will touch the right person at the right time - so keep talking! 
  • No one is outside the reach of God's grace - no matter how long it takes or what they have done 
  • God uses crises in our life to draw us to Him 
  • No circumstance of our life is ever wasted if we are willing to let God use it (in this context, especially to help/encourage others) 
  • Keep praying and sharing with those you love 
  • God is always at work, even when we cannot see it 
  • Transformation after salvation is not always immediate; but God faithfully works in us
Every testimony was unique to the individual, but the truths above were consistently woven throughout each interview. Not only did hearing their stories deepen my admiration and gratitude for each of these special ladies, but it also increased my sense of wonder at the sovereign workings of our great God! There is no other word but awesome for the way He calls, connects, creates crossroads, and compassionately and patiently draws His children into fellowship with Him. I pray I remember these testimonies when I am tempted to give up on an individual or to grow complacent about sharing my faith. And I pray God blesses and uses each of these wonderful women who have placed their lives and stories into His hands to be a part of the ministry of FLORECE!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Best Kind of Days (Family Friday Series)

Today held moments of the sort that make the best kind of days. Those moments tucked into a comfy corner of the couch, watching my family interact with laughter and joy. Those moments in the car with my older three, enjoying deepening conversations and silly banter. Those moments around the lunch table when everyone is relaxed enough to sit still and listen, and devotions go well, and thoughtfulness ensues.
Some of my favorite moments from today:
Driving with only Isabel in the car to pick up her sister and brother. Listening to her tale of taking the city bus with no available seats and struggling with balance, only to have one boy nudge another and in an act of chivalry, give both their seats to her and Eva. Talking of trips we've long planned to take together and asking questions about the future. Smiling at her quips and quick wit. Sensing that delicate balance between planning and pushing, when she reminds me in that teenage tone: "Mom! I'm only fourteen!"
Walking through Sodimac with an ever-growing boy who stills let me put my arm around him and sneak him side hugs in public. Exploring the aisles with my three oldest kids and gathering supplies for art projects at home. Deciding to not be uptight or in a rush and allowing them to giggle and attempt the self-checkout, working together to problem solve and even (gasp!) share the entertainment of a hand scanner.
Making my family happy with iced chocolate brownies after Daddy's delicious curry rice at lunch. Sharing a sad but appropriate story related to Psalm 1 and how it applies to us in real life as well as theory. Finishing another chapter in Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends and continuing to hope the message eventually sinks in!
Having my eleven-year old find me coloring a picture and join me. Seeing his creativity as he added dots and dashes for a splash of pizzazz. Telling him how much I like it and having him smirk and reply, "Mom! That's a praise!" And feeling oh-so-happy that he was actually listening to the brothers and sisters book a short while before. 
Interviewing my three boys with thirty-five questions about their "favorites." Observing their trio of different personalities in their attitudes and responses. Finding it sweet that Alec knows Ian so well, helping him fill in the blanks of his own likes and dislikes. 
Watching my husband head out the door to humor our oldest teenager. Knowing he is fulfilling Eva's desire for a witness to the tricks she has been teaching our dog Whittaker. Feeling happy to know Daddy will make his daughter so glad!
Laughing at Silas' newest trick as he sits on Pedro's lap and tries to repeat the word, "Touchdown!" Enjoying the sight of his chubby little arms flying up in the air in an exact replica of Daddy's cheer.
As time marches on and life moves at warp speed, these are moments to treasure. I am thankful for today, and for each and every one of these "best kind of days!" 

(Written on 11.07.2016)

Friday, November 04, 2016

What We Love about Daddy (Family Friday Series)

Daddy and kids after an evening of football on the beach

It was Sunday morning, and the eight of us were driving down the dusty desert highway in our seven-passenger van on the way to the airport. The motive for our trip was bittersweet. We were sending Pedro off for one week of meetings and training with other missionary men in Ecuador. While I was happy for him to have this very deserved time away to be sharpened and refreshed, the kids and I were going to miss him.

Silas has just woken up and missed the memo about the family picture :)

We had just completed a belated round of "What We Love about Silas" in recognition of his birthday. This is a family tradition whereby each person answers that statement as it relates to the birthday boy or girl. Silas had fallen asleep and was blissfully unaware of our sweet expressions of love, but we shared them anyway! I then suggested that - since Daddy was leaving us for a week - it might be nice to send him off with "What We Love about Daddy."

Daddy being silly for the camera on a boys'-only shopping trip

Several of the kids answered, "Because he's funny!" and "Because he makes us laugh." Owen had a list which included, among other things, "Because he makes me waffles every morning." (Owen's idea of waffles are toasted frozen waffles slathered in peanut butter and dripping with syrup!) I think somewhere in there was "Because he plays with us" - and he does, dodgeball in the front patio, football on the beach, frisbee golf on the Wii. If they had thought of it the boys should have said, "Because he reads to us," since they have spent months enjoying Daddy's voice renditions of various characters in the Redwall children's fantasy series many nights before bed. I reminded them they should love Daddy because he's the one who grills out for them - he did it two days in a row this weekend while I was at the ladies' retreat! - and they would be missing that while he was gone.

Daddy and the "Sweet Six" (baby Silas getting his eyes shaded from the sun!)

My answer was simply, "Because he takes care of us." I shared how the night before leaving, Pedro stayed up to season a roast and start slow cooking it in the crockpot so we would have lunch after church on Sunday. I told them how Daddy ground up two containers of coffee, put them in the freezer, and proceeded to give me careful instructions on how to make my coffee each morning since he wouldn't be home to do it for me. I didn't have to point out how he had sternly sat the kids down before we left the house in order to make it clear how he wanted them to help and obey Mommy while he was gone. 

thankful for a husband who makes me laugh and looks out for me

The list could go on, but maybe it should be called "How Daddy Loves Us." Long ago I learned that acts of service is his love language. He speaks it well! Thankful for the husband and father God has given us.