Monday, January 08, 2018

What a {Monday} Morning

At first all I could hear on the other end of the line was urgent, quick breathing and one word: "Mom?!" It was my anxious child, clearly close to panic, alerting me to an unannounced early dismissal from school due to weather and "something about a student with weapons." Immediately my response was an attempt to calm her while asking direct questions until I was certain that the weather was real and the weapons were not! An e-mail from the school soon followed with clarification:
"[Our] Campus went into a precautionary security mode for a short period of time this morning in response to threats via social media. Law enforcement officials have investigated and have informed the school that these threats were part of a national hoax affecting numerous schools.  
The students on all campuses will be released today at 11:30 a.m. due to a winter weather advisory. This early dismissal is entirely weather-related and is not due to the above incident."
A short while earlier, my phone had rung with an automated announcement from our younger sons' school regarding their early dismissal scheduled for 12:20. Thankful for Grandma and Grandpa Garcia's company for Silas while Pedro was in a Skype meeting, I slipped out the door in hopes of beating the icy conditions home with the children. My girls quickly met me but Owen was nowhere to be found when I reached their school. Not surprisingly, it was due to confusion with the sudden change of schedule. Eventually we connected and I gathered their accounts of the morning's strange events as we headed home.

The girls were both in chapel when an announcement was made that precautions were being taken "just in case" and all outside doors were locked with policemen "everywhere" (per Isabel.) The proceeded to their next classes until dismissal. Owen was in physical education class when a teacher "came running" and hurried them to their classroom where doors were locked and they practiced a "mini drill" which consisted of stacking chairs against the door and laying flat on the ground for a short while. Overall it seemed that for two out of three the excitement had mainly been a diversion from the norm. 

But for my anxious child, it was a frightening morning on top of a nightmare-filled night. Added to that was the concern of icy conditions on the roads as we drove carefully back to town. I stopped at the younger boys' school to confirm whether their regular companions would walk home with them, and it was during my brief absence from the vehicle that panic flooded over. I returned to a disgruntled trio, one scared and hurt by siblings' criticism and two frustrated and tired of yet another emotional outburst.

We reached home just a few minutes before Ian and Alec arrived ice-covered yet safe and sound. The silver lining to our crazy Monday morning was having extra time with the grandparents before their scheduled departure this Wednesday! A family movie, yummy dinner, rousing game of Dutch Blitz and warm companionship helped make up for the worries that started the day. Around the dinner table we caught up on our unfulfilled tradition from Silas' and Ian's birthdays with each family member expressing what he/she loved about each of these two brothers/sons/grandsons. It was a general consensus that Ian's smile and happy heart were much admired, as were Silas' antics that bring the whole family together! I asked the kids if they remembered the theme of our morning devotions to share with their grandparents, and we ended our meal with two stanzas of a hymn we'd sung together around 7 a.m. (long before all the excitement had begun!)

What a Monday! What a morning! What gratefulness I have for God's gracious protection over us. Thank You, Lord.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ten Years of Friendship

Once upon a time, in a very hot state on the southern border of the United States, two young families met. One family was composed of a wife who grew up as a missionary kid in Venezuela, her husband who was Venezuelan and a Bible college student, and their three children ages 4, 2 and newborn baby. The other family was made up of a wife who grew up as a missionary kid in Chile, her husband who was American of Mexican descent and a Spanish language school student, and their three children ages 6, 5 and 2 years old.

With both husbands in school and both wives at home entertaining young children; and in humble student apartments with back doors that faced one another across a dry field generously called a playground; the two wives became fast friends, and eventually the husbands followed.

Though our time together was short, the memories made were priceless and ten years later it was a delight to host the Acosta family in our furlough home in Ephrata. Fifteen people under one roof in a three-bedroom house during a freezing winter weekend made for new and equally priceless memories! Playing games on a comfortable dining room table in Pennsylvania with teenage and pre-teen children was a far cry from playing games on the dusty steps outside side-by-side hotel rooms on Padre Island listening for a sleeping baby's cry. 

To our children's dismay we recalled many cute moments of their childhood, including a pledge of marriage between our oldest before they had entered elementary school! No sooner had they arrived than Ramon asked Pedro, "So how many cattle do you want to seal the deal?" I must admit it was fun to see our kids squirm yet secretly I think they enjoyed the good-natured humor. And while it was our goal to reproduce some of the photos we had taken when they were younger, adolescent angst refused such embarrassment and the best I could do was compare the two pictures above.

Thank you, Erin and Ramon, for making the trip to see us and being the flexible, fun, fearless friends we remembered. We are thankful for the time together and for ten years of friendship (and counting.) God bless and guide you as you parent your sweet kiddos and continue to serve Him!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Poem for Christmas 2017

‘Twas the night before Christmas and this year was sweet,
As the grandkids with both sets of grandparents would meet.
Some presents at Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s did start,
Then a candlelight service that spoke to the heart.

Before bedtime, a movie that told the old story
Of how Jesus came down as a Babe without glory
To ransom mankind with His own sacrifice –
For only a sinless One’s life would suffice.

The next day – His “birth day” – we gathered together,
Made memories, shared laughter to remember forever.
With Grandma and Grandpa to watch all their joy,
Six children unwrapped each new gift and each toy.

Traditions were kept with warm oatmeal bake pieces,
And later a trip to see nephews and nieces.
Twenty-one people, a family extended
Through love and through marriage and hearts that were mended. 

Goodbyes being said, and back home Christmas night
We spun one more memory before dreams took flight.
As a family encircled round the lights of our tree,
Each one lifted prayers of thanksgiving to Thee.

“Thank You, Dear Father, for giving Your Son.
Thank You for the Gift that is greater than none.
Yet thank You as well for Your gift from above –
The gift of a family on earth, and their love.”

-Stephanie H. Garcia

Friday, December 15, 2017

My Thoughts for Dad

My dad caught a cold this week. For most of us this would not be a game changer, but it can be for someone like him diagnosed with a "progressive neurodegenerative disorder" such as multiple system atrophy (MSA.) He is uncomfortable and tired but thankfully, that seems to be the extent of its seriousness right now. Nonetheless for me a sudden bump in the road like this one stirred up the troubling "what ifs" of my mind. Perhaps, too, because I have heard of many earthly goodbyes this week as seems often to be the case around the holidays.

Today I read the news of the homegoing of theologian and pastor R.C. Sproul. Immediately I began to see articles and posts expressing sorrow over his death and appreciation for his years of faithful ministry. Many, especially one tribute written by John Piper, were thoughtful and inspiring. There is no doubt God used R.C. Sproul in a wonderful way during his years on earth, and widespread recognition of this fact is well deserved.

As I considered these tributes, several thoughts came to mind. The first was that we shouldn't wait until someone is gone to share how they've touched our lives. The second was the realization that for every well-known Christian minister whose death is publicly mourned, there are many more whose lives and work for Christ will go mostly unnoticed and unsung in this world. And the third was that I should write something for my dad while these reflections were on my heart.

This evening I read a blog written by a husband whose wife also battled MSA. His blog was entitled "Living with a Snow(wo)man" because in his words: "I liken this disease to a 'melting' of the individual. Trying to hang on to the loved one you knew is akin to trying to keep a snowman (or snowwoman in our case) whole. The disease is insidious. Watching the progress is like watching a snowman melt."

Perhaps reading that description while living in the dry desert of Iquique would not have struck me as it did today, having awoken to a beautiful dusting of white winter snow in Pennsylvania. But it many ways it is an apt description. My big strong bear of a dad - who with a sense of adventure crossed the borders of multiple countries during his years of ministry in South America - now shuffles within a shrinking circle of people and places due to his inability to stand for long periods and the constant weariness that is his companion. Looking through pictures today I found one from just over a year ago with a glimpse of his old smile and sparkle in his eye, and I realized that his laughter is something that by and large has "melted away." In the day to day of living, it isn't something we hear much anymore.

How important it is to treasure, then, those fleeting moments when it does reappear - and recently, we had two of those! One was on the evening of Thanksgiving when Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop stayed to watched a children's movie with the grandkids and afterwards my mom in a playful mood twirled around the living room to one of the songs. This brought a smile to my dad's face. And something that has brought laughter to him of late is thanks to some dear friends, the Mullins, who present my parents with a box of gifts to open one daily through the month of December. A lighthearted toy called "Talking Tom" repeats back what anyone says in a high-pitched voice and has created quite a stir among the grandkids and adults alike! When Mom and Dad introduced it to me without prior warning, peals of laughter burst across the living room and my dad was even wiping away tears of delight.

The best lessons I have learned in life have been from my dad and mom. Their example has not been perfect, but powerful. Their faithfulness has not been without heartache and struggle, but by the grace of God they have endured. I didn't always appreciate the lessons at the time, but many have stayed with me throughout the years. Some are almost humorous now such as, "If you say "No" to the first person who asked you to the school banquet, you cannot say "Yes" to someone else. That would be an unkindness. So if you choose to say "No," you choose to go alone." Others clamped down on the fickleness of the teenage years; for example, when tempted to renege on a youth event I was told, "You will not back out of this commitment because you'd rather do something else now. You gave your word; you keep your word." Even as a mother with over a dozen years of marriage under my belt, my dad's words could speak reason to me. I remember writing a searing post in response to a conversation with a pastor in which he shared a highly insensitive story with my husband and me. My dad promptly called down to Chile to say, "I understand how you feel. But I really don't think this is something you want to say publicly in this way." He was wise and he was right, and I deleted that post.

There is so much more to say than I could fit in a single post, and the hour is late. I will write again in more detail another time but I want to end by saying this. One of the most powerful lessons I learned came not from my dad's words but his example. Children see the most "real" side of their parents, the one that is not always picture perfect. (How well I know this now with six of my own!) Growing up, as a young girl I remember times when my dad struggled with his temper. He never lost control but it was there. Yet over the years he became the peacemaker, the mediator, the one whom others sought when problems needed to be solved and differences resolved. 

I witnessed this change in his character and know it came from submitting his earthly clay to the Heavenly Potter. How much of a battle it was, only he and God know. And now, only they two truly know how much of a battle it is for him to live with MSA. But I am still watching his example, and it is still changing my life. I love you, Dad, more than you'll ever know.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Ian Turns Ten!

Dear Ian,

What a big year this has been for you! Without a doubt you are enjoying life to the fullest as you embrace our time in the United States and especially your new school and neighborhood. We hear from your teachers that you are a pleasure to have in class, always happy and helpful and engaged with the activities and people around you. And this is not to say it has all been easy! Earlier this summer you bravely endured some big days of testing and now each school day you face the challenge of moving between special classes at multiple times, but always with a smile on your face. More than once you have come home with a handwritten note from a new friend, evidence that others are drawn to your joyful heart and fun-loving spirit.

Inside our family, there is one sibling who adores your laughter and play more than any other! Your little brother Silas gives you the biggest belly laughs and squeals and can't get enough of your games of growling and chasing him in circles around the house. During soccer season, you were such a big helper with him during the games when you pushed his stroller around the field and kept him entertained when for safety's sake he couldn't be set "free." A favorite picture of the two of you was taken after one of those soccer game mornings:

Your birthday this year was a little different with the actual day spent at the home of our friends, Pastor Jim and "Aunt" Charlene Barnes. But with balloons, confetti and cupcakes you had a wonderful celebration and my favorite part of it all was Alec's admiration when you donned your new headphones to listen to music Daddy had chosen for your little MP3 player. "Ian! You look like you are eleven, or twelve years old!" he exclaimed. And you just grinned in glad agreement.

I am happy that a couple of days later, you also were able to celebrate your birthday with cousins and grandparents! The Garcia and Fisher boys enjoyed bowling together and then we all descended on Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's house. It was wall-to-wall grandkids and a little chaotic but you had your requested strawberry ice cream with a delicious white cake from the Shady Maple bakery. Best of all it was Mom-Mom's birthday, too, so we sang to both of you and then recorded long-distance Whatsapp birthday greetings for cousins Matias and Kai as well!

Physically you are growing up so fast, but I am glad that your heart is still that of a little boy. One of your favorite presents this birthday was a Build-a-Bear you made as Mom-Mom's gift to you. (Camouflage green and dressed in fatigues, you named him David after yourself.) I am glad you still enjoy Legos and cars, scooters and bikes and trampolines. You like to stay busy and you love to play! I hope you never lose your appreciation of simple joys and that you continue to be an encouraging friend as you grow up.

Most of all, I pray that your heart will begin to grasp the great love of God for you - for YOU! - just as He created you to be. I pray you will be confident in this without comparison to others as you seek the path He has prepared for you, but that you also will be humble in recognizing your need for Him.

I love you, Ian David, and am so thankful to be your Mom - from Haiti, to home, and beyond!


Birthday Posts by Year:

Ian's 9th birthday post
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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mid-Furlough Feelings

It is always with great trepidation, with checking and re-checking, that I finally push the button on purchasing plane tickets for our little family of eight. Most recently, after much searching and supplication we found "reasonable" one-way rates for our return to Chile at the end of May. We purchased them in faith, as we still have funds to raise before being afforded financial clearance to depart. Doing the deed, however, seemed to set off sensitivities within our family circle. With the mid-point of furlough upon us, feelings are bubbling forth on each end end of the spectrum.

One of our teenaged girls questioned, "What's the point of coming back to the States for a year just to say goodbye again? That's why I wanted to stay in Iquique!" Our other daughter admitted, "For a long time I didn't think I'd want to return to Iquique, but after talking to [friend's name] I want to. But I just don't want to be stuck there." 

I asked our two third-grade boys how they feel right now about going back, and both said they didn't really want to. These are valid feelings, wrapped up in the current reality they are enjoying of being in a traditional school with great teachers and creative programs and new friends. For our son whose learning challenges made it necessary to withdraw him from Chilean education after kindergarten, going to school is a dream come true. Recently I met with his teacher who had only positive things to say and she remarked that despite his being withdrawn from class for special help up to three or four times a day, "He is always so cheerful and works so hard!" 

In light of this child's situation alone, my own mid-furlough feelings are completely muddled. While homeschool has wonderful benefits and its one-on-one focus is tremendously helpful to him, in Iquique there are no homeschool support groups or co-ops and their MK friends who do homeschool will be leaving for their own year of furlough soon after we return. Here in the States, our son and his brother march off to school excitedly every morning. They love their school and can recite its code of conduct by heart. They think their teachers are beautiful and can do no wrong. They are learning and growing and everyone is their "friend!" The thought of taking that away again makes my heart ache so much.

As we turn the corner toward the second half of furlough, we can't procrastinate on planning and from a family standpoint this primarily means educational decisions which are so hard. We don't feel satisfied with the online option our girls used prior to furlough, as placing them into school here revealed a number of gaps in their learning. So we must find another alternative but they are both in high school and these final few years matter for college. (On that subject, throw in a bunch more big feelings because this foreseeably is our last return to the field all together as a family.) 

As far as our boys are concerned, returning to Chilean school may be an option for two of them but recent changes have been made to the Chilean educational system with major repercussions in our city. Our local paper reported this week that 800 students are without schools for next year at this point in time, and the school that was foremost in our consideration currently has over 300 students on its waiting list. This begs the question, do we spend money on homeschool materials we may not use or save money only to find ourselves without any other options when it's too late?

There are no easy answers to these and many other questions. Our roles and routines will be different when we return to Iquique. My husband is itching to get back and jump into the thick of things. From a ministry standpoint I, too, look forward to reuniting with co-workers especially at FLORECE to see what God has done and watch what He is going to do! As a mom, however, I worry about how it will all work out with our kids' needs and schedules and our adult responsibilities. As a daughter, I am soaking up as much time with my parents as possible and dreading the day we say goodbye. As a teammate, I know that with our return there will be a collective sigh of relief as the workload can be redistributed by our faithful colleagues who have been doing so much this year.

This week I have been in the Psalms during my devotions. There are so many rich truths, but one verse which jumped out to me was Psalm 7:9 which says: "Let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous. The One who examines the thoughts and emotions is a righteous God." (HCSB) What encouraged my heart was that phrase "examine the thoughts and emotions" because it was a reminder that my mid-furlough feelings are no surprise or trouble to my Heavenly Father. In fact, I shared this verse with my children as well to reassure them that God cares about how we feel and He created us with these feelings. And feelings can get pretty big, especially for missionary kids who may feel they have little control about when and where God's will for their parents can take them!

It is my prayer that my children - and their parents! - will learn to continually cry out to God with our yearnings, doubts, hopes, fears, joys and uncertainties. The older I grow, the more gratitude I feel for God's faithful guidance through the stages of my own life - first as a missionary kid, now as a missionary mom. Though each child is unique, I do understand many of their feelings even as I continue to struggle with my own! Yet I am blessed with a broader base of experience which confirms that He has cared for us in the past and will continue to care for us now and into the future. I pray for compassion to meet my children where they are, wisdom to say what they need to hear, and consistency in pointing them to Christ. Lord, may it be so!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Poem for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2017

As daylight dawns this Thanksgiving Day,
In the stillness my soul will quietly say:
Thank You, Lord, for home and for health;
For warmth of family, greater than wealth.
For Your Word which guides us and tells of Your love;
For Jesus, Your Son Who was sent from above
To die in our place on a filthy, hard cross
So that no one who trusts Him would ever be lost.
This message of Hope, passed down through the years –
I thank You for how it brings peace to our fears.
I thank You for purpose to life that it brings,
For perspective it lends to so many things.
I thank You, dear Father, for a Place you prepare
So that when this life’s done we’ll rejoice with You there.
But while we’re still here, Lord, I give You my praise
For the little and great things You send to our days.
Thank You for sunshine, for laughter, for pain;
Thank You for loved ones, for memories to gain.
Thank You for forgiveness and for second chances;
For hugs, conversation and kind, loving glances.
I thank You for this day before it’s begun
The heart of Thanksgiving lies in Your dear Son!

-Stephanie H. Garcia

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fall on Furlough {a/k/a October's Occurrences}

It has been five years since our family experienced a North American fall. And what a fall it has been! My daily planner attests to this and sometimes a picture does speak a thousand words or in this case, describe a thousand activities (at least it felt that way!) in just the past month of October. 

(There was one important and time-consuming event that did not make my little planner but took up a lot of space in our lives and on the large fridge calendar at home. That was the fall play at the older kids' school. Isabel had signed up to help and ended up learning a little bit about building sets and a lot more about running spotlights. She - and we! - learned the most about the tremendous time commitment required for a big high school production, which is a lesson we won't soon forget.)

In October we donated a good amount of time and money to the dentist and the orthopedic specialist. Silas enjoyed his first visit to a children's museum while his older siblings were in school. We celebrated two birthdays (those of cousin Nathaniel Fisher and Silas) and sat through several shivery Saturday morning soccer games. Eva, Isabel and I sang our first number with the Grace Baptist choir and Ian's faithful attendance to children's praise team practice led to his first time singing in front of the whole church as well. At church we enjoyed a potluck one Friday evening and the boys delivered their carved pumpkins to the AWANA judging competition another Wednesday night. Fall leaves were a new favorite activity for Ian and Silas!

Pedro, meanwhile, did a lot of traveling. From October 14 to 22/23, he drove to Philadelphia, PA; flew to Orlando, FL; flew to Flint, MI; flew back to Philadelphia, PA; and drove home. In the middle of all that he squeezed in a quick visit with his parents; a leadership training summit for missionaries; and speaking responsibilities at a missions weekend with our sending church. After only a few days home he drove off to Maryland to speak at a men's retreat which was a challenge and blessing!

I should mention that Ian and Alec experienced two fun firsts at school: a school-wide family reading experience of the fiction book Frindle, and an afternoon of activities at their annual Race for Education. Despite the cooler weather, they continued to relish the independence of walking to and from school with neighbor friends. Every night they brought home the same three homework assignments: math flashcards, spelling words and twenty minutes of reading. Adding to that soccer (mainly for uninjured Alec) and weekly AWANA at church filled their schedule pretty neatly!

At the very front end of October, Pedro and I along with my sister Terri and brother-in-law Dave attended a one-day ministry training entitled "Spiritual Care for the Sexually Broken." This was so helpful for a day and age where sin has broken so much that God created for blessing and purity and enjoyment. We gained insight and tools to prayerfully use in ministry, especially applicable to the needs we encounter at FLORECE. 

We also began October with a special day trip to reunite with one daughter's extended birth family. We are so thankful for a long standing relationship rooted in a shared faith in Christ and love for our child. Over delicious food, sunshine at the park, ping pong games and dart wars - and running after Silas, of course! - there was time to talk and catch up and hopefully look forward to another visit before we return to Chile.

Finally the month ended with what felt like frigid temperatures to our Iquique-accustomed blood, and we spent Halloween night on a search for winter wear in several different stores. Having successfully spent much money (albeit on good sales) and bundled in coats and gloves, we celebrated in fine style. Our first-ever visit to a Sonic drive-in earlier in the month revealed to us that on Halloween they would offer 50-cent corn dogs (a culinary rarity in our family if there ever was one!) and so our kids gleefully devoured these along with excessively sugary drinks at an hour they should have been already in bed. 

But, memories were made! - and so ended a full fall month of family, friendship and fun.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Happy 2nd Birthday, Silas

Dear Silas,

You are now two years old and every bit the tumultuous toddler that age implies! In many ways you have seemed two for a long time already because as you have grown you've demonstrated an intense curiosity in the world around you and an impetuous determination to imitate what you see others (especially your older siblings) do. Whether it's belly sliding down the carpeted stairs or tugging open the fridge to serve yourself some Britta water (albeit against the household rules for two-year olds!) or attempting to unload the dishwasher on your own, you constantly keep us on our toes! A moment with our backs turned might find you perched on the dining room table or pulling laundry out of the dryer or pounding keys on the unlucky laptop within your reach.

The months leading up to your second birthday may have been busy and confusing, but by God's grace you handled them so well. Visiting churches, meeting extended family members and new friends, moving houses, hours in the van, the sudden "abandonment" when your siblings all took off to school and left you alone each day - these are just a few of the changes you have experienced since June! Yet you are fun and sweet and smart and our family's life is crazier and richer because of you.

On your birthday this year it was extra special to have more of our family with us to celebrate, including Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop and Aunt Terri and your Fisher cousins. Choosing your cake theme was a toss up between Thomas the Train Engine and Finding Dory but the latter seemed to have become a bigger favorite (even though you call Dory "Nemo" and I think your favorite character is actually Hank the octopus!) A few days before your party, Mom-Mom took you to Build-a-Bear and you brought home your birthday present which was your new friend Eli the teddy bear. She found a cute little teddy bear coin purse to match him and now you are our resident coin collector who cries, "Eli! Eli!" and claims all forgotten change for the stuffed animal in the house. :)

We love you, Silas, and are so happy God gave you to us as our little "caboose." Happy 2nd Birthday and may God answer our prayers to call you to Himself and help you learn to love Jesus with all your heart!

All my love, 

Birthday Posts by Year:

Silas' 1st Birthday Post

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Teaching Us to Treasure

Ian and Alec's elementary school is doing a school-wide reading program of a children's book named Frindle. As part of their ongoing interaction with the book, they recently received a half-sheet of paper on which to write their first baby/toddler words next to the "real" words they stood for. Unfortunately they alerted me to the assignment on the way out the door for school one morning. On the spur of the moment there was no way I could reach back into the recesses of my aging memory to find an answer! Alec helpfully and hopefully suggested, "Maybe we can watch some videos of us later?" I am so thankful that we do have an adorable collection of videos of Ian and Alec when they came home from Haiti, and even more thankful that we posted them to an online account before both our external hard drive and desktop computer crashed with years' worth of photographic memories back in 2012.

As I reflected on their assignment and the meager recall I have of the older five children's toddlerhoods (without photographic or video assistance!) I thought it was probably time for an update on our littlest - and likely, last - toddler Silas. Dare I say he is our most "grown up" toddler as well? While he can throw a "terrible two" tantrum like any of his contemporaries, his bevy of older brothers and sisters has certainly created a different kind of kid than we've had before!

For instance, we had a very laid-back supper the other night with his older siblings sitting around the living room with bowls of mac-n-cheese in hand. For Silas I prepared a small plate which he promptly tried to take out of my hand with a cheerful, "Thank you, Mommy!" (Or, "Dank oo, Mommy!") He firmly believed that he, too, had the right to sit and self serve with the rest of the gang - and he did not appreciate my impeding him from doing so!

Recently Pedro was away for nine days and that meant full family participation during morning drop-off for the older kids' school. (It is half an hour away and starts half an hour earlier, so usually Pedro does the honors while Ian, Alec and Silas get a little extra time to sleep in.) On many of those mornings I would roll Silas out of bed and into a warm vest while still in his sleeper pajamas, and he would contentedly ride along in the car while chattering about exciting things he saw. "Baloo, Mommy!" he exclaimed over the hot air balloons. "Bih buh!" when he saw the big yellow school buses. "Baaah!" at the water tower which seemed to him a giant ball. But what his siblings loved most was his personalized farewell for each of them ('cool meaning "school.") "Eva! 'Cool. Bye-bye! Dihdy! 'Cool. Bye-Bye. Oweh! 'Cool. Bye-bye!" Later when Daddy returned and Silas no longer went along for the ride, they missed his sweet well wishes.

Although he can say the word "plane," Silas' go-to sound for an airplane is "pfffft." Multiple times a day while Pedro was gone, Silas would ask about Daddy. "Daddy? Daddy bye-bye? Daddy p'ane. Pffft!" It was cute and sweet.

To his maternal grandparents' delight, Silas can now say "Mom-Mom" and "Pop-Pop." Sometimes he gets a little mixed up and Mom-Mom becomes "Mom-Mommy." Last week I bought him a humorous shirt that says, "Warning: I Break Things" specifically for his visits to their house! Mom-Mom has so many craft and decorative temptations that just call Silas' name. But what he really loves is her cookie collection and the water and ice feature on her refrigerator. Needless to say, he requires constant supervision on our frequent visits!

At home, Silas considers himself a full-fledged helper. His favorite pastime is sweeping, followed by putting silverware away. It doesn't really matter to him if it's clean or dirty. After a recent meal, he took his (used) fork and tossed it in the silverware drawer with great satisfaction. He also enjoys flushing toilets, a pastime we attempt to keep at a minimum!

Needless to say, life is anything but dull with our little baby caboose. Hopefully these few reflections will help us remember today's reality years down the road (like Ian and Alec's videos and blog posts do.) Time flies so fast. Thankful for one more toddler teaching us to treasure it while we can!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Happy 1st Anniversary to FLORECE

October 1, 2017 marked the one-year anniversary of the FLORECE Prenatal & Family Counseling Center. What was once just a dream has now been a reality for twelve months filled with joy and tears and learning and growing. It has been a time of watching God work in ways we never even imagined, bringing us clients not only from the city of Iquique but most recently from faraway Cuba! It has also been a time of personal growth in our volunteers as they have been used of God to share the hope of the Gospel and to walk alongside women in some of the most personal and profound moments of their lives.

At their October meeting, the volunteers gathered not only to discuss items of business but to celebrate God's goodness and share testimonies of His work in their lives throughout FLORECE's first year. One of the volunteers made a beautiful cake with our theme colors and decorated the meeting room for their special occasion. With the help of Skype, I even had the privilege of joining them for a few moments long distance and hearing everyone's voices gathered together made my heart so glad!

Earlier that morning, I had been encouraged by the pastor's message at our church stateside. From the challenges recorded in chapter 5 of the book of Nehemiah, he drew a series of applications which I felt related so well to our ministry at FLORECE. First, expect problems to arise when advancing mission. Second, confront those problems courageously centering on God's glory and not your own. Third, be sure your own integrity is intact. Fourth, see life as an opportunity to see God at work. Fifth and finally, make sure your life is motivated by love; controlled by the truth of God; and done for the glory of God.

My only regret is that I was unable to hear the testimonies that the others shared. I thank God for each and every one of the volunteer women He has brought to the ministry. It has not always been easy nor has it always been smooth, but God has used "iron to sharpen iron" and not only have they ministered to our clients but also to one another in some very difficult moments of life this past year. These special ladies are truly serving on the front lines as they shine God's light on the enemy's lies and teach God's truth about hope, repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life and purity.

As our first year of ministry drew to a close, one of our colleagues gathered all the data we had been collecting to give us a clear picture of what was accomplished "by the numbers." We know that God's work is infinitely greater and that the Holy Spirit's work is most often unseen, but nonetheless we rejoice in this evidence that He allowed us to be used in ways far beyond what we could have imagined. To God be all the glory for the great things He has done, and may we remain faithful and available to accomplish His purposes through FLORECE until Jesus comes!

FLORECE's 1st Year Statistics:

New clients - 81
Total client visits - 260
Pregnancy tests administered - 41
Babies born - 8
Gospel presentations - 73
Spiritual conversations - 231
Maternity class sessions - 113
Other Bible study sessions - 90
Days open - 196
Volunteer hours - 4,315.5

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Writing Therapy

(Note: Writing is often my therapy, hence the title and primary purpose of this post!)

It all started with a cough. Not just any cough, but one like I had never experienced before. Throat catching, face turning red, cough after cough with drainage in the throat until it closed and panic set in to draw a breath. Long seconds with tears flowing and trying to calm down enough to suck in air through my nose because my windpipe was otherwise sealed. Soon the cough spread to Eva whose perhaps became worse: deep, throaty, more constant and she literally was living on dozens of cough drops a day. Eva was the first we took to Urgent Care where she was told it was just something "post-viral." Then she saw a pediatrician who echoed the same sentiment (clear lungs, nothing serious.) Finally Owen joined us and he was perhaps the most likely candidate, having struggled in the past with allergies and bronchial obstruction and all things respiratory-related.

For weeks upon weeks this lasted until finally the three of us returned to Urgent Care to request antibiotics whether the doctor (or in this case, PA) believed they were necessary or not. I spent extensive time reading this website - - and personally was convinced that was our malady. The recorded sound of a cough was exactly like Eva's, and I could answer the "quick self-diagnosis test questions" to a T. From the website I learned that given the amount of time that had passed, even if my guess was right there wasn't really any way to diagnose it and unlikely a medical professional would agree unless we had an attack right in front of him/her. My main concern was not getting anyone else sick and according to this website we could curb any contagion with antibiotics, so that was the route we took.

In black and white it doesn't sound like such a big deal, but in living color this cough really did interfere with daily life and it lasted so long that it was quite discouraging. I found that laying down made it worse and I would wake up gagging in the middle of the night, so I slept for quite awhile on a recliner instead. While it is mostly under control, even now Eva and I carry cough drops and will have lesser episodes a couple times a day. Little did I know this cough, albeit troubling, would become the least of our health issues over the past few weeks!

Ian upped the ante with a fall from his scooter on August 26th which resulted in a broken forearm. Another visit to Urgent Care and to date two visits to the orthopedic specialist followed. On September 16th, Owen fell from the same scooter under different circumstances and broke his clavicle. We gave our business to Urgent Care once again and this week had our first of several visits to the orthopedic specialist on his behalf.

Our insurance is rather unique; designed for missionaries and ex-pats, it is wonderful when living outside the United States (no deductible, covers almost everything and they will even pay you a bonus for being hospitalized in a non-US hospital!) But here in the States we are warned to try and avoid the ER at all cost (no pun intended.) The deductible is high as are all related costs. Nonetheless we found ourselves at the ER twice this week with Silas. There are times for caution and there are times to throw caution to the wind; in his case, we would do it all over again because it was just incredibly frightening to see our little toddler go through what he has these past days.

Over the weekend, Silas began with a runny nose and by Monday evening we could feel he was fighting a fever. Unfortunately we did not have a thermometer and it was too late for the store, so we tried giving oral ibuprofen (which he coughed back up) and keeping him cool. At around 3 a.m. he was in bed with us, having finished a bottle shortly before and acting restless/unhappy in his sleep. I woke suddenly to the sound of a retching cough. Quickly turning him over and standing up, I waited for his next breath or cough and it never came. It was dark and I urged Pedro to turn on the light which at that frantic moment decided not to work! I passed Silas to Pedro who rushed him downstairs into the light and stood him up, patting his back and urging him to breathe. He went to swipe Silas' mouth and found his jaw locked. Try as he might, he could not get it open. Long seconds felt like minutes and Silas' eyes glazed and started to roll backwards. I ran upstairs in a panic for my phone to call 911, and just as I returned Pedro succeeded in his efforts and Silas coughed up more vomit. It was one of the scariest moments of our lives, and I think Silas was scared also. He seemed dazed or in shock initially, but when he finally spoke it was to touch my mouth and ask, "Mommy open it?" I think he was referring to what had just happened with his own jaw.

He felt very hot and despite his protests we drew a lukewarm bath to cool him down. I wrote to a doctor friend very early that morning since we do not have a doctor here yet for Silas, asking what we should do. She recommended at the very least some bloodwork and a chest x-ray to rule out aspiration pneumonia. We took him to the ER on Tuesday morning. Two other factors I mentioned to the medical professionals there (just in case they were related) were some "insect bites" Silas had recently gotten and a dark red rash on his lower back at the diaper line. Everyone questioned whether we had changed diaper brands or laundry detergent; the answer was no. The chest x-ray was clear and the attending physician said if it were his own children, he would not deem bloodwork necessary so we did not request it. The final diagnosis was an "isolated incident" but we were told to bring Silas back if his temperature rose above 104 degrees or the rash darkened.

That afternoon I bought two thermometers and chewable fever medicine, hoping Silas would keep it down. He did not and continued to feel hotter as the evening wore on. I returned to the store for fever suppositories (used commonly in Chile) and followed the dosage instructions on the box for his age. Still his fever rose from over 102 to over 103 and in his fitful sleep he moaned in pain and just was not at all himself. We tried cool compresses and nothing brought the fever down, so around 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning I got dressed and drove him to the ER once again. There his fever measured 105 degrees so the doctor immediately ordered medication to bring it down. He also decided to order bloodwork and a urine sample, but this new doctor's first reaction to seeing Silas was to declare chicken pox as a diagnosis. Interestingly the nurse was the same from the day before, and initially seemed surprised by his declaration. I spent several long hours in the ER with Silas very lethargic in between the tests which made him scream in fear and pain (I did not realize they would use a catheter for the urine sample and wanted to cry, too!) Finally we were released with orders to alternate Tylenol and Motrin every six hours and follow up with a pediatrician.

The rest of today was long and hard for Silas. He only has a few spots which he doesn't really scratch all that much. The fever seems to be his strongest symptom but has stayed controlled with medication. Yet he cries repeatedly, "Owie, owie!" and we don't know what exactly is hurting. Sometimes it seems like his head but it also seems that perhaps urination is painful because of his catheter experience. He is certainly not himself and this evening screamed and screamed for Daddy when Pedro left for church and would not be comforted. (He fell asleep almost immediately in Pedro's arms when he returned.) We are baffled as to how Silas contracted the illness because he is at home with us all the time. Also, because of other family members' illnesses and accidents he has not even been to church in the past two weeks (his one contact with other children.)

Honestly, over the past weeks it has been crazy but we have sort of managed to roll with the punches. We've found reasons to be thankful that if God allowed all these things, it is during a season when both Pedro and I have more freedom during the week than we would on the mission field and so we can coordinate appointments and driving and such. I personally am extremely grateful that on the night Silas stopped breathing, I for the first time in awhile did not take Nyquil to help with my own cold because it is very likely I would not have heard him. God has been good and faithful to provide medical specialists and even lots of options for care which we might not have in Iquique. (Note to self: Remember this when the bills start coming, ha!)

Nonetheless, today it felt like the punches connected and I was just so tired and sad. (I'm sure it also has to do with my 3 a.m. wake up the past two mornings!) I began to question why this is all happening to us while at the same time being very aware that our family's "suffering" is so small compared to friends whose loved ones are facing serious/terminal health situations and families who have lost children to recent earthquakes, homes to hurricanes, etc.

As I pondered these things, I received notifications from our FLORECE volunteers of not one or two but three new clients that arrived just today! This, in addition to three new clients who visited the center last week. Hearing that news helped reorient my perspective to one of greater patience and reflection on the "big picture" that perhaps our struggles are but part of a greater battle between good and evil, and with the news from FLORECE I was reminded that God is ultimately the victor!

Lord, I thank You for Your sustaining grace. For Your sovereign protection and provision. 
For your greater purposes and the privilege of playing just one small part in Your plan. 
Please continue to watch over our family and our children - physically, emotionally, spiritually. 
May we seek You and love You more each day. 
Strengthen our passion to share Christ with others and to enjoy His presence in our own lives. 
In His name I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Walk by Faith

This entry was originally titled "Working through Tears" and was partially written in the second half of 2016. It ends abruptly because it is still incomplete. I ran across the draft this week and chose to post it now because while reading it I was struck by two things. The first was how God has abundantly blessed us this furlough year with educational opportunities for our children that provide such a relief from the stress noted here. It's not that challenges do not still exist and in fact we have pursued testing, met with educational professionals and are currently obtaining support in various areas. But the fact that we are not doing it alone is huge. The second was how God met us in the unknowns of opening FLORECE and accomplished above and beyond what we could have ever dreamed, despite our shortcomings and feeling we had no idea what we were doing on many days!

As I read this post, I was reminded of God's faithfulness. I was also reminded that I have a choice in my response to fearful situations that arise. Because when I look at the two major concerns represented here - our children's education and the balance of family/ministry - they are still real issues we will continue to face, especially when we return to the field. A part of me wants to start worrying now and feels frustrated that I have to address schooling dilemmas again in a short time. This part of me wants to stress about how I will re-engage in FLORECE while parenting a toddler and homeschooling kids and supporting my husband so he can accomplish his ministries as well. But Philippians 4:8 tells me this part of me is not choosing the correct response. Instead I must respond instead in gratitude and humility for what God has already done, and in faith and trust for what He is going to do. The same God who solved last year's problems already has next year's figured out. Help me, Lord, to walk by faith!

There is no textbook for educating children on the mission field. Even families serving in the same location with the same options from which to choose may find themselves headed in vastly different directions. And choices are not static. As circumstances and our children's needs change, so may our course of action.  
The five school-aged children in our family have attended a combined total of nearly a dozen different schools from pre-school on forward. Stateside and during our first year and half in Santiago, we had the privilege of opting for Christian schooling in English. Later with no missionary or Christian school in Iquique and motivated by a priority for language learning, we placed our children in semi-private Chilean schools with all education in Spanish. Several years down the road, furlough propelled us back into English and the challenging world of homeschooling. 
Upon returning to Chile we initially rejoined Chilean schools but soon circumstances dictated a change. In the several years since, we have juggled online schooling, homeschooling with and without video curriculum, and Chilean schooling depending on the needs of each child. Along the way we have recognized obvious pros and cons, including strengths developed in Spanish and weaknesses accrued in English. The switches made between languages, learning styles and calendars (Chilean schools run from March to December) have resulted in all of the kids being one grade level behind their American counterparts. 
Beyond question, this area of missionary life is one of greatest anxiety and self-doubt for me. So much so that bittersweet tears have mixed with the enjoyment of seeing beautiful pictures of smiling children on their first days of school stateside. This year, my emotions are heightened with the transitions within our own family and ministry - a sweet baby racing toward his first birthday in October and meanwhile a huge, exciting yet overwhelming opportunity to open the prenatal and family counseling center which will require my commitment outside of the home much more than before.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Life at Warp Speed {& in Collages}

Every time I think about sitting down to create a new post, I am torn between feeling somewhat guilty that I should share something more "meaningful" than simply the crazy reality that has been our lives of late. The truth is that life has been moving at warp speed ever since we set foot stateside but never more than since we hit the school trail! Toss in new schedules, some sickness, broken bones, sports and a missionary conference commitment over a weekend in New England - and even that does not quite sum up what the last three weeks have been like. (See, that's the crazy thing! It's only been three weeks, but it feels like three lifetimes.)

I wrote about the first week of school in a previous post entitled: One Really Big Week. What I didn't know then was that Ian's injury would indeed turn out to be a fracture. The following morning on Saturday, Pedro took Ian and Eva to the Urgent Care in Ephrata to follow up on Ian's arm and to check out a nasty prolonged cough that both Eva and I had. (I figured that if they gave Eva a diagnosis it would work for me, too!) X-rays showed that Ian had tiny breaks in both bones in his left forearm - and yes, he is a leftie. He was splinted and wrapped until we could get an appointment on Monday morning. Eva's chest sounded clear so the PA wrote her cough off as a post-viral cough and said to return in another week if things didn't get better.

Thus it was to Ian's disappointment and somewhat to Alec's dismay that the two of them did not enter their elementary school together on the very first day (August 28.) We were proud of Alec, though, for his courage at entering school alone! Ian's day turned out quite well in the end as he not only saw the orthopedic doctor, but also managed to make a splash by arriving late to his school classroom with his arm in a sling. It was an instant attention grabber and he even had a little girl classmate assigned to help him with his classwork (talk about smooth!)

As the children were finding their footing in their new rhythm of life, Pedro and I were scrambling to fill in some other necessary gaps on their behalf such as scheduling appointments for shots, dental work, vision checkups, etc. Trying to do so in a brand-new context with zero knowledge of the professionals in our area was a challenge. Google recommendations can only tell you so much! I will say that it was a bit embarrassing when the person scheduling an appointment asked, "When was your child's last cleaning?" Kudos to her for not gasping when she heard in reply, "Um, almost five years ago!" (Bonus points for then offering a $99 coupon for checkup, xrays and cleaning all in one!)

Pedro had committed to speak on two consecutive Thursday mornings at a men's prayer and Bible study in the retirement community where my parents live. The first week he was asked to share about how God formed our family through adoption. I was secretly delighted that he was tasked with telling this story, since usually it's presented from my perspective. He must have done a great job because the men insisted that their wives needed to hear it, too! The women were invited for the second week and I was asked to join Pedro in sharing how God formed the new ministry of FLORECE. There's nothing quite like speaking to senior saints who have already lived a lifetime of faithful ministry to their Savior. I struggled to speak through a nagging cough, but it was a blessing to publicly give glory to God for all He has done in our lives as well.

Because we are not super-saints, I must be honest and say that it was a challenge to muster the troops for a weekend trip to Connecticut for a supporting church's missions conference (September 1-3.) Everyone was tired and it was not an ideal time so soon into the school year, but as I reminded the kids and myself: This is why we are here. For my own benefit early in our furlough travels I summarized our purpose in reporting to our churches in this way:

          A - Accountability (from John 3:21 "... so that his works may be shown to be accomplished by God.")
          B - Boast in God (from Psalm 5:11 "... may those who love Your name boast about You.") 
          C- Challenge to serve

What Pedro and I understood but our children did not, was that this church was a hurting church. It was the last supporting church we visited on our previous furlough and on the very Sunday we attended, things unknown to us came to a head and for a time it seemed this church might cease to exist at all. Only over time as outside hands came alongside to nurse a wounded remnant back to health did it appear there might be a way forward. But it was still tenuous and we truly desired to be a blessing if nothing else than with our presence and participation. Of course, in the end we ourselves were blessed just by rubbing shoulders with other missionaries and hearing stories of what God is doing in even remote and closed areas upon this earth!

Unfortunately, my cough and Eva's spread to Owen over the course of the weekend and made for an "adventure" on the drive home. It really was like nothing we've ever had, a sudden coughing and choking that led to gasping for breath or in his case, a fit of vomiting while in the van on the New York highway! Pedro quickly pulled over in the triangle between an exit ramp and the right-hand lane of traffic, and I rubbed Owen's shoulders as he heaved in the misty air. To add to the excitement, a state trooper pulled up behind us and exited his vehicle to check on our status. He was young and solicitous, so we appreciated his concern. Thankfully the rest of our trip was less uneventful!

Labor Day luncheon was with family on Monday; doctor's appointment for Pedro on Tuesday; a hurried trip to Delaware on Wednesday (its main purpose to pick up a new credit card since my number was stolen and used for various gas transactions in South Carolina - another story, another day!); and a doozy of a day on Thursday. I thought of writing a separate post for the latter and entitling it "Coughs, Casts and Cataracts!" Eva, Owen and I went back to Urgent Care in the morning in hopes of a definite answer on our coughs (mine at over a month and counting, not getting any better and sometimes feeling worse.) We left with antibiotics and steroids but no conclusion. At 12:45 Pedro and I had a meeting with the school counselor after which we brought Isabel home, then picked up Ian and Alec early from school so that I could take half of the kids with me to Ian's orthopedic appointment for his new cast while Pedro took the others to soccer practice (which had been thrice previously rescheduled due to rain.) That evening at 7 p.m. was parent night at the older kids' school and I had been planning on leaving our tribe with the grandparents who suspiciously were not answering phones all morning. Come to find out that what I assumed was a standard eye doctor appointment was really my dad's second cataract surgery that day! Mom had forgotten we'd even discussed the kids coming over and everything was crazy but when I apologized she said, "Well, most grandparents get to do this kind of craziness all the time! But we only get to enjoy it for awhile." Bless her!

Just to top the weekend off, they joined us for more craziness on Saturday when Owen and Alec had their debut soccer matches in the recreational league they've joined through the older kids' school. We returned to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's for a last-minute lunch of grocery store fried chicken and frozen french fries seasoned with rosemary and sea salt, accompanied by a very old family recipe our kids had never tried before. They each bravely tasted fried green tomatoes, courtesy of Aunt Terri who had delivered the veggies the day before and thanks to their grandmother's labor of love at the kitchen stove. It was yummy and fun followed by a kids' movie and crafts and naptime for the littlest and oldest and one of us in between (guilty as charged!) I paid the price of being outdoors when my cough crashed that night, but such is life at warp speed and with those we love. Thank you, Lord, for all Your blessings!