Monday, May 25, 2020

Day by Day: May 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Day by Day: April 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2020

Uncertain Days but a Certain God

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Breathing Deep at Los Lobitos

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

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

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

We celebrated baptisms with the IBM church in 2010:

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

Pedro took the boys camping there in March 2014:

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Day by Day: March 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 23, 2020

Day by Day: March 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Day by Day: March 22, 2020

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

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

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

We’ve all been exposed.Not necessarily to the virus(maybe...who even knowsšŸ¤·šŸ¼‍♀️).We’ve all been exposed BY the virus.
Corona is exposing us.Exposing our weak sides.Exposing our dark sides.Exposing what normally lays far beneath the surface of our souls,hidden by the invisible masks we wear.Now exposed by the paper masks we can’t hide far enough behind.
Corona is exposing our addiction to comfort.Our obsession with control.Our compulsion to hoard.Our protection of self. 
Corona is peeling back our layers.Tearing down our walls.Revealing our illusions.Leveling our best-laid plans.
Corona is exposing the gods we worship:Our healthOur hurryOur sense of security.Our favorite liesOur secret lustsOur misplaced trust.
Corona is calling everything into question:What is the church without a building?What is my worth without an income?How do we plan without certanty?How do we love despite risk? 
Corona is exposing me.My mindless numbingMy endless scrollingMy careless wordsMy fragile nerves. 
We’ve all been exposed.Our junk laid bare.Our fears made known.The band-aid torn.The masquerade done. 
So what now? What’s left?Clean handsClear eyesTender hearts. 
What Corona reveals, God can heal.
Come Lord Jesus.Have mercy on us.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Day by Day: March 20 & 21, 2020

Friday, March 20, 2020. Beyond a doubt, one blessing of the coronavirus epidemic has been the outpouring of digital resources being made available free of charge to families staying home. For our family, one particular recommendation received early in this experience has been of special encouragement. Friends from our home church posted on Facebook about a nearby pastor in Michigan who would be teaching a Bible class for children each morning and teens each afternoon. Pastor David (we have yet to learn his last name) wears a sweatshirt, baseball cap and a bushy beard, and he presents Biblical truth in straightforward and challenging yet interesting fashion with a white board and a marker. Having tried out both the children's and teen's class earlier in the week, on Friday we gave each of our children a notebook and started back at lesson one for teenagers. I took notes right beside my kids! My heart rejoiced at this utterly unplanned opportunity to dig deeply into God's Word and disciple our children in Truth with the help of this previously-unknown-to-us pastor.

Once again on Friday, Jenn and I headed downtown to meet with the cabinet maker who this time assured us of a 10:30 meeting. I was so tired, having stayed up past 2:30 AM reading and recording several chapters of Elizabeth George's book, Proverbios para el corazon de la mujer, to share with our FLORECE volunteers and ladies from church. To our surprise as all schools are cancelled, the traffic around Cavancha beach was quite slow. As it turned out, a nice orange Jeep had crashed a heavy cement light pole and was causing a back up. Something so average as a fender bender felt incongruous for some reason. When we reached FLORECE, the cabinet maker's card was tucked in the door and he was nowhere to be seen. Frustrating was an understatement as call after call to his cell phone went unanswered. Later we learned he had left it behind in the company truck, and eventually we did connect and all turned out well. We had the chance to speak of deeper things as he queried us (especially Jenn) as to why we would leave our comfortable homes in North America to live in Chile. He told us how he once "adopted" a young Mormon missionary whose living situation in Iquique was so poor that he barely had enough to eat and practically slept on the floor, earning the gratitude of the young man's family who later sent him pictures of the "mansion" and land of plenty he called home.

It was on Friday that the announcement was given to close all restaurants, discotheques, bars, etc. at midnight to curb the coronavirus. Already many people were staying inside so this was not surprising, but we knew it would hit small businesses hard. One family-run fresh juice and sandwiches stand is a favorite for our missionary team. Jenn and I stopped for a quick lunch and then I ordered fresh juices for my entire family, which Pedro drove over to pick up with Ian and Alec. Sitting outdoors in the broad daylight as practically the only customers felt conspicuous when normally we'd be lucky to find seats, but we wanted to provide some income for the shop while we still could. From La Ecuatoriana, Jenn and I headed to the south side Agro fruit and vegetable market where we squeamishly admitted if we caught the virus anywhere it might be here. But at the same time, fresh produce was a must for good health so we just tried to shop quickly, use hand sanitizer and wash everything well when we got home. While we were out and about, Pedro delivered yesterday's groceries from Terri to our friend in need and he had also been busy trying to help a retired American doctor find a way home to the States sooner than later. On Friday afternoon, Pedro and I worked on a short video for a supporting church who had requested an update on the situation in Chile (with a few bloopers along the way!) We also played some board games with Owen and Alec - Dutch Blitz and Ticket to Ride New York. On Friday evening, Owen was invited to go for a walk and a sandwich with Pipe and we said yes, in my case fighting some nervousness about germs but recognizing our son's need for a positive friendship in the light of this week's disappointments.

Saturday, March 21, 2020. In an effort to avoid crowds, Terri and I visited the Lider supermarket a little after 9 AM only to find that many items (loaf bread, liquid soap, etc.) had still not been stocked. But thankfully, we found what we needed. And thankfully, in a land that loves fresh bread we found plenty of it even when the other shelves were empty! One significant change for Chilean culture, however, was that the fresh bread was already bagged, weighed and labeled rather than allowing self selection as was always the custom. I returned home to another family devotional time followed by the unwelcome announcement (to our children's ears) of an overdue house cleaning day. Living room closets, piles of papers on tables, all the inordinate amounts of "stuff" that needed to be sorted and in many cases, thrown away. To encourage some enthusiasm, I happily discovered a couple of Steven Curtis Chapman's earliest recordings on YouTube and found that 25+ years later, I could still remember most of the words! Thus my advice to my children was: Choose your music wisely. I am grateful for the ministry of a musician whose Biblical foundations make decades-old songs still relevant for today, and who has been faithful even having gone through the fire.

Pedro spent a good chunk of time on Saturday once again helping our friend Ron. They drove out to the Iquique airport, only to find that Ron's flight had been cancelled. Then it was rescheduled for early Sunday morning, but his international flight was not until Monday night and he was told no hotels were available in Santiago. Pedro learned that Ron's internet had been suspended due to his pending trip and his adult children back home were frantic for word from their father in light of the current crisis, so he was able to add a son-in-law to WhatsApp and be the go-between for communication which greatly alleviated the family's concern back in the States. As evening fell, we acquiesced to Isabel's request for driving practice and the three of us headed out to deliver a piano keyboard to Christopher and several Story of Hope books to individuals joining us Sunday evening for our Bible study online. Unfortunately, a miscalculation early in the drive resulted in a flat tire in front of Sra. Isabel's house! We went inside and it was so nice to see our friends but I was nervous the whole time and carefully kept my distance because of concerns for her health due to her cancer battle. We requested a ride home from Solange who lives across the street and took a different vehicle out to complete our errand, stopping again at Solange's to help her with a computer and printer problem before returning home around 11 PM. Our neighbor Juan was waiting when we arrived and only half-jokingly reminded us that we were supposed to be staying close to home. When we said we'd been helping a friend, his first question was: "Is she sick?" to which we reassured him it was only her printer that was ill!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day by Day: March 18 & 19, 2020

Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Starting the day with a trickle of running water which came to an abrupt stop, was not an encouragement in this time of necessary hand washing! Thankfully, our mysterious water cut lasted only an hour (especially since we had planned to host guests this afternoon.) An ever-present concern are the single women in our lives, and today we had what might be the last opportunity in a while to host our missionary friend Sharon from Alto Hospicio for lunch along with our colleague Jenn and the Fishers. In the morning, Pedro and Eva braved the Lider grocery store for some final items. The crowds there had greatly multiplied in response to President PiƱera's declaration of a "state of catastrophe" to come into effect at midnight. Again a cloud of uncertainty seemed to hover, with Jenn confessing that she hated the thought of going home alone and finding quarantine had taken effect in the morning. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a lunch of barbecued chicken accompanied by rice, papas con mayo, beet salad and coleslaw. Over lunch we discussed upcoming travel plans with their strong possibility of change. No sooner had lunch ended than Sharon learned her April travel was canceled and we confirmed next week's vacation flights were also suspended.  In light of the tragedy unfolding worldwide, our loss of plans was small but our hearts ached for our children (Fisher, Rubin and Garcia cousins) who had been joyfully awaiting this reunion for many months - especially five-year old Kai, who crossed out each day in a countdown to our arrival in Puerto Varas. Following the links on the airline's web page led only to error messages rather than resolution. And so life turned on a dime in the age of coronavirus, but we take comfort in our caring God who is never caught by surprise. 

The total number of diagnosed people in Chile drastically spiked this day by 103 new cases overnight. With the sense that tomorrow might hold new restrictions, a oft-discussed outing to see the night stars was put into action for those interested (which turned out to be Pedro, me, Terri, Jenn and Silas while Dave attended a meeting and the rest of our combined kiddos opted for vegging out at home.) With lyrics from Casting Crowns encouraging our way, we crested the mountain to Alto Hospicio and Beyond in search of an out-of-the-way pull-off to spy the stars. To our dismay, we discovered that clouds had shifted to cover them. We turned around and gave it one more try, exiting the highway and bouncing down a dusty, corrugated road to nowhere. Our headlights eerily glanced off a pile of garbage including a baby doll and rocking horse as we piled out of the van to start our survey. Patience finally bore fruit when a breeze blew gaps in the clouds so that glimpses of the galaxy blinked above. A sleepy Silas woke up around this time and found himself a bit unnerved, but eventually relaxed to enjoy the beautiful view with us. It was a powerful moment of pause in the midst of this peace-stealing pandemic, and a window of time well spent.

Thursday, March 19, 2020. This was to have been our last day at FLORECE for awhile, with Jenn and I planning to meet the cabinet maker to discuss custom-made storage for the third-floor classroom. Thanks to the arrival of the Fishers' container, a large donation of craft supplies is awaiting organization for a proposed "Life Skills" class to be offered to our clients and community. Unfortunately, the meeting which was "definite" in our minds was a "maybe" in his (TII) so we left after several hours with our task unfulfilled. I spent the time in contact with several individuals, including a family we knew was without work from whom we requested a list of needed items in order to be of some assistance at this time. In the end, my sister went to the grocery store first and provided them, which was a big help and blessing. I also compiled a list of bulk cleaning supplies to be purchased from an importer friend from the Zofri for our family and colleagues. This proved to be a timely blessing when the Zofri decreased to half days and then totally closed within 72 hours! A notable "forward" received this day via WhatsApp was up close video of "handwashing" by someone wearing surgical gloves and using black paint instead of soap. The point was to demonstrate how it takes some time and attention to make sure the entire surface of one's hand is clean. Silas saw this and it made a great impression upon him! He quickly became a much more conscientious hand washer as a result.

A highlight of Thursday took place at 8 PM with a three-way WhatsApp video call between my parents in PA, Rubins in Puerto Varas, and Garcias with Fishers at their home. Pop-Pop Christian shared some stories even his daughters had never heard about times of unease and worry in his lifetime.  One entailed a Boy Scout trip where he and some companions were left alone in the dark near what seemed to be a raging river, but in the light of day turned out to be something far less frightening. The other highlighted his experience of being appointed a "Polio Pioneer" along with his entire class and other grade school children nationwide who became the guinea pigs for a new vaccine to fight this crippling disease sweeping the United States and striking fear into people's hearts, much like today. We were reminded that God is still in control and He is still faithful. We can trust Him. Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop led us in the Steve Green song, "When I am afraid, I will trust in Him, I will trust in Him, I will trust in Him ..." It was a blessing to see one another even if by way of cell phones and television screens.   

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Day by Day: March 16 & 17, 2020

Monday, March 16, 2020. On this day, the cacophony of COVID-19 rattled Iquique. What appeared far off began knocking over the weekend at Chile's front door and today spilled over into a Stage 4 national response (when yesterday's 75 cases of coronavirus multiplied into 156.) Our bohemian burg of Iquique was startled into supermarket lines and stores cleared out of hand sanitizer, alcohol and face masks. Grocery clerks peered over the lining of the latter and accepted payment with gloved hands. An air of solemnity and uncertainty could be sensed over the city as schools sat silently and evening fell much more quietly than usual.

In our home, a bored four-year old unable to attend preschool was constantly underfoot. He accompanied Mom and Dad in the morning to the grocery store, where an encounter with "Aunt Noni" led to his receiving a small painting project which joyfully filled a full fifteen minutes of his afternoon. ;) I dropped off multiple bags of school supplies to his preschool while receiving a handful of assignments for him to complete at home in the coming days.

Our fourteen-year old was hit hard with the news of basketball practice cancellations and the almost-certain likelihood of a long-awaited family vacation being suspended. Some fresh air and a evening climb up Cerro Dragon (the world's largest sand dune within city limits which is located in Iquique) helped to dispel some of the sorrow for him, but meanwhile I shed a few tears over the same disappointments and under the weight of anxiety's cloud. I video chatted with my sister Jenn in southern Chile, and with my parents in PA.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020. From 156 to 201 cases reported in Chile on Tuesday morning. On a more positive note, free online resources multiplied into dozens of open tabs on my phone and laptop to pursue opportunities for our children who will likely soon be stuck at home. One of these proved to be a wonderful way to start our day, as a pastor in Michigan launched a daily Bible study for children (AM) and teens (PM) which we watched for family devotions. Also, Owen made his sister Eva's day by surprising her with homemade no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies he had concocted the night before!

Pedro and I joined our colleague Jenn Taylor at her apartment for a planning meeting focused on FLORECE and the IBGV downtown church plant. Ironically, just over the past weekend our team gathered for two days of longterm planning which all seemingly went out the window with the arrival of COVID-19. Jenn's beautiful new five-year planner begged for a coat of whiteout for the month of March! After the meeting, Jenn and I drove downtown to gather items from FLORECE; return an order mix up to an office goods store; and visit an accountant with a few questions. The day ended with a long wait in a nearly empty doctor's office for a daughter's bloodwork results, and a quick stop outside a friend's apartment to deliver another daughter's homemade essential oils cream.

Monday, February 10, 2020

God Will Make a Way (in Iquique)

I couldn't believe my ears. It's an overused phrase but the exact truth. Literally, my jaw dropped in both shock and laughter because after the morning I had it was unfathomable. Was God sending heavenly encouragement in such a high stress moment? Or a slap upside the head to change my bad attitude?? Either way, He had my attention.

That sticky summer Monday morning in Iquique I had been summoned to the regional hospital emergency room for a follow-up appointment with a young female surgeon. She had kindly seen me the week prior when a slight fever created concern after my gall bladder surgery in Santiago the week before that. My four hours in the public hospital were a rather shocking (and educational) contrast to the forty-eight comfortable hours I spent in a private clinic, and I was not too keen on returning. Nonetheless, I had the best of intentions as I began the drive downtown. I also had all car windows down as I fruitlessly sought cool air. What I found instead was a traffic jam.

Problem #1: It was the date for the re-attempt of the PSU, Chile's annual required test for graduating seniors to determine their possibilities for higher education. Already the test had been delayed for over a month due to the social crisis. Then the first attempt was sabotaged by protesters and students were sent home from test locations for their safety. In order for this second attempt to succeed, police set a perimeter around testing locations. I was unaware of this and found myself re-routed at every turn. Driving downtown is challenging enough that I usually follow a few strict routes from point A to point B, but this experience was point-less! I found myself frustrated by the driving situation and also on behalf of the students (several who were classmates of our daughter) caught in the middle of this ongoing national mess.

Problem #2: Our public hospital is overtaxed and undersupplied. The waiting room has few seats and is always overflowing. There is no air conditioning and most people find the open-air ambulance bay a cooler alternative during the hours of waiting. I had visited and taken people to the hospital but this was only my second time being attended. I had also been given the unusual instructions of bypassing check in to let the doctor know I was there for a follow up visit. How to do so was a bit of a mystery, but my friend who works at the hospital suggested giving the doctor's name to the guard in charge of the doors between the waiting room and ER. Unfortunately, the guard raised a suspicious eyebrow and informed me he had never heard of a doctor by that name! Obviously, since I had just been attended by her the week before I knew I was right and he was wrong. But just how to convince him of this fact without making him even less willing to help? He unenthusiastically dialed a number which confirmed the doctor's existence, then to my dismay proceeded to the front of a long line of waiting people to ask the receptionist what to do with me. I seized the opportunity provided by his absence to tag a passing nurse who took me directly back to the ER and the doctor while the guard was still talking. The doctor acknowledged my arrival but asked me to hold on as she was the only doctor on duty, so I joined the ambulance bay crowd for about the next hour. As I was about to nod off to sleep from the warmth and the waiting, the doctor reappeared and guided me through the hallways until she found an available bed to check my sutures and write me a script for one more test.

Weaving through crowds and vendors and buses and taxis on foot until I reached my car several blocks away, I again found myself entangled in detours with exasperation rising as I tried to reach the clinic where the test could be done. If it wasn't police barricades, it was construction. And it wasn't just me, but dozens of other vehicles squeezing down narrow side streets trying to reach main roads. Did I mention it was sticky and hot with no air conditioning? It was after so much frustration and feeling like I was fighting my way through a concrete jungle that I found myself stopped at a red light. And it was there that the sound reached my ears.

"God will make a way, where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me ..." The words in English floated from a loudspeaker on the sidewalk and through the open window of my little car. People were walking to and fro and cars were honking and vendors hawking their wares, but this one solitary man was playing his violin. His bow on strings was accompanying a song I had never heard publicly projected in Chile outside my own home (and even that was decades ago.) Not to mention it was in English in a Spanish-speaking country! After a hot, frustrating morning of grumpily trying to "make my way" through rerouted streets with my blood pressure and disgust rising at every turn, it couldn't have been more ironic yet fitting.

A part of me wanted to laugh and cry and said, "I get it, Lord! Thank you for showing me You see all this and You care!" But to be perfectly honest, another part of me wanted to say, "Ok, this is cool and all but I do not want to change my mood! This is not how I wanted to spend my morning and it has been hot and stressful and I want to stay grumpy!"

I wish I could say the heavens opened and angels sang and my heart grew happy in that moment. That would be a tidy, encouraging ending to this story but it isn't exactly true. The light changed, I continued in traffic, and my next stop was another comedy of errors. But I didn't forget the moment at the stoplight and the music that seemed meant just for me. It continues to be a reminder that God cares about the little details of life and the way we respond when things don't go the way we want them to. Nothing catches Him by surprise as it does us, and He can be trusted to work even "in ways we cannot see." Praise Him!

Friday, February 07, 2020

Happy 19th Birthday, Eva

Dear Eva,

This year's birthday was a beautiful, bittersweet day as we celebrated your 19 years of life. The day began with (finally!) having your senior pictures taken by our friend Hernan at a beautiful white sand beach and on the classic cobblestones of Paseo Baquedano. I'm so glad I could share this experience and admire the many smiles he skillfully drew from you during the session. You are a beautiful young lady and it was special to spend this time together outside of our normal routines!

Next, we drove to the peninsula and Daddy joined us for a parent/daughter lunch date at your new favorite Korean restaurant. We had the whole lovely place to ourselves. I was impressed that you even tried some of the unusual (for us) appetizers that were included with the meal. You ordered your favorite beef plate and everything was delicious. It was a sweet time which we ended with this cute father/daughter photo. The look on your face with this kiss from Daddy just says it all!

In true "TII" (This Is Iquique) fashion, it just so happened that on your birthday we had the unwelcome surprise of no water in our neighborhood for most of the entire day! Thus, party plans underwent a last-minute change. Aunt Pam and Uncle Jon kindly reserved the meeting room in their condominio and your friends and family all gathered there to snack and celebrate. Classics such as Pizza Metro and Empanadas Dese Un Gusto were on the menu. As usual, Silas was all too eager to "help" blow out your two candles - a "1" and a "9" - on your two cakes!

You asked for chocolate cake and this time it was Daddy who made two of them - even without running water - while we were on the senior photo shoot. Never forget how much your father loves you! He selflessly serves our family so many times, and your birthday was no exception. Even though cakes are not his specialty, he kindly offered to do this and I hope it is something you will remember. 

I cherish this final picture because it represents so many people who have been a part of your life in Chile and who care deeply for you. Obviously your parents, brothers and sisters and this year even your newly arrived Fisher cousins and Aunt Terri and Uncle Dave. But also your missionary family - Uncle Jon and Aunt Pam Sharp, Aunt Noni, and the Spink family whom you have known for nearly as long as you can remember. And finally, Meme's family who love you so dearly and have been your friends since the 2nd grade! It meant so much to have them all join us and to hear each one share what they love you about you.

With so much sweetness, there was only a single note of sadness on your birthday - the knowledge that next year you will not spend it with us. Eva, nineteen birthdays of celebrating you have been a delight and privilege for Daddy and me! And of course, we will celebrate you no matter where you are but we realize that God has brought you to a time and place where you will soon step out on your own. We are anxious to watch and see the unique future He has designed just for you. Always know that we love you so very much and that God loves you even more. Happy 19th Birthday, Eva Grace!

All my love, 


Birthday Posts by Year:
18th Birthday - Eva
17th Birthday - Eva
16th Birthday - Eva
15th Birthday - Eva
14th Birthday - Eva
13th Birthday - Eva
12th Birthday - Eva
11th Birthday - Eva

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Christmas 2019

This year, we have our six children ages 18, 17, 14, 12, 11 and 4 years old at home. No longer is everyone clamoring to wake at the crack of dawn to open presents on Christmas Day, especially now that we've added a Chilean-style evening meal and later night on the 24th. Instead, Owen asked if he could play video games should he be up before us and several of the kids actually had to be called from bed to start our morning celebration!

As per tradition, Christmas morning breakfast is chocolate chip oatmeal bake. Two full 9 x 13 pans, both of which will be absolutely bare by the next day at the latest! Unfortunately our growing number of children and their love for this dish means that Daddy's favorite (egg bake) no longer fits in the oven. We joke that it will be back on the menu when our family size decreases, but it is a bittersweet thought because next year that reality begins with Eva's departure to the States to study. This was never far from my mind as Christmas approached, and caused me great consternation when we were seemingly unable to find the kids' six matching stockings with their embroidered names on her "last" Christmas at home. But Ian and Alec saved the day (thanks to some encouragement from Dad!) by digging into the bodega and finding these sentimental treasures.

Normally I would have all the stockings filled and lined up on the couch the night before, but opted to wait for morning since Isabel had loaned her room to Tia Cata and was spending the night downstairs. She and Ian were my observers as I lined up six bags of gifts with their corresponding stockings and wondered if I shouldn't just leave them that way. But they eagerly urged me to take the time to put each wrapped item into the stockings even though they would just be returning to the bags again, because tradition! and fun! So I acquiesced and finally they were all stuffed and photographs were taken of the six stockings and six children as we began our celebration by reading together the Christmas story from Luke 2.

Inside the stockings, Do-It-Yourself slime and bouncy balls were a hit this year with the boys, and the girls seemed to enjoy their grown up wallets (especially Isabel's whose design was her own trademark cheetah!) The trademark triangular shape of a Toblerone gave itself away before the wrapping was even torn. I grew up with the tradition of every stocking gift being individually wrapped so as to make the unwrapping more fun, and Pedro humors me by helping me with this tedious task (times six!) But I did catch him trying to wrap two Skittles packages in one this year!

Usually we would pause after stockings and sit down together to breakfast, but our later morning meant the oatmeal bake was not quite done. So instead we designated Silas as official gift deliverer and allowed him to hand one to each person in the room before we took turns (sometimes by birth order, sometimes randomly) to open them. Another tradition in our family is for us as parents to give three gifts to our children in recognition of the number of gifts given by the wise men to Jesus. One is usually bigger or more expensive than the others. As our kids get older, these decisions get harder (and more costly!) This year's gifts included a "go-pro"  style camera, a (deeply discounted) cell phone, a video game controller, a mechanical keyboard, and a couple of gym memberships. Always in my heart I hope our children feel both loved and also content. I know that our three gifts may be less in number or cost than what some of their peers receive, but living on the mission field I also know that their three gifts may be much more than other children will see on Christmas. We have even met believers in Chile who purposely do not exchange gifts because they wish to focus solely on Christ, so I am sensitive to this as well.

Thankfully, contentment seemed to be an overall sentiment as the nine of us gathered for breakfast and quietly scattered to enjoy the novelties of the day. Silas was overjoyed to have a very patient Tia Catalina helping him to figure out and/or build his toys. When lunch rolled around, Pedro had created a delicious turkey soup from leftovers. In the afternoon, I chauffered a friend whose car was malfunctioning to a lunch activity at the home of missionary friends. And in the early evening, we video chatted with my side of the family who were all gathered at the Fishers' playing a life-sized Jenga game and enjoying a Christmas meal together. It was a delight to see great-niece Josie at eight months standing and smiling!

Our night ended with a trip to the theater for our older boys to see the new (and last) Star Wars movie as part of their gift from Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. Since Pedro preferred not to potentially fight crowds on Christmas and Tia Cata is a film fan, she and I got to accompany Owen, Ian and Alec to the 9 p.m. showing (which turned out to be quite uncrowded after all!) Instead Pedro and Silas, Eva and Isabel enjoyed a funny family movie at home. The boys and I dropped Tia Cata off at her place and drove carefully home, avoiding the oceanfront drive at Cavancha due to tires burning at a manifestation there. We discussed the movie and the manifestation, finding paralells in having to be alert to potential danger on dark downtown streets and also alert to dangerous ideologies hidden in Hollywood movies that are contrary to God's Word. I love impromptu conversations like these and always hope they plant seeds of wisdom in our children!

It was a Merry Christmas. It was full of fun and family. I am thankful for the birthday of Jesus. And I am thankful for His great gifts. Foremost, salvation. But also, family. May these written memories serve as a reminder of sweet times shared.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Christmas Eve 2019

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2019 were summer days, warm in both temperature and holiday spirit. Our celebrations were relatively small and simple but thoughtful and memorable in their own way. Pedro gave of his time on the morning of the 24th to accompany Richard, a Bolivian friend, to the Zofri in pursuit of needed car documents. He then returned home to roll up his sleeves and make turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies and gravy for our Christmas Eve meal. Meanwhile Silas went to pre-school until noon and at pick up time, we delivered presents and a card he had personally colored to all the teachers at his jardin. From there we drove to Aunt Pam and Uncle Jon's house for a gift exchange and to wish Aunt Pam a Happy Birthday!

No sooner had we returned home than our friends Pedro, Isabel and Luisa were at our door delivering a surprise to us! A huge mango milhojas cake called "Torta Amor" was their demonstration of love to our family this Christmas season. Not only this, but two days prior Luisa had orquestrated the appearance of one of Iquique's favorite traditions to our doorstep when a "Pascuero" truck delivered candy and a personal gift from "Santa" to Silas.

The clock was ticking towards the time our invited guests were to arrive for dinner at 7 p.m. when I left home to finalize a few last gifts. One of my stops was the Christmas market, where I met Eva and Ian who walked up the hill to join me. From there I briefly paused at the house to exchange Eva for Silas, then drove downtown to pick up a previously ordered mango cake which we would now be passing on to another family since we had no need for two cakes, however delicious they might be! With cake in possesion, we proceeded to FLORECE to retrieve our friend Catalina who would be spending Christmas with us for the second year in a row. And then, we drove back across town to the home of the Spink family to deliver gifts and the cake since we knew they would be having a large group of people for Christmas lunch the next day.

Around 7:15 p.m. we returned home to find our friend Richard (from Bolivia) and Dr. Ron (from the States) already waiting for us. A retired doctor, Ron owns an apartment down the street from us and spends three months a year in Iquique to escape winter. This was his second year with us and we had already learned to expect delicious contributions to our Christmas Eve meal! His American-style potato salad, Chilean-style pebre, delicious guacamole and especially his sweet potato casserole did not disappoint. Pedro's turkey was tender and moist and we enjoyed a wonderful meal in good company, ending with a couple of Christmas word games at the table.

While our food settled, we gathered in the living room to sing three Christmas carols to guitar accompaniment provided by Owen, Ian and Alec. They learned "Noche de Paz," "Al Mundo Paz" and "Alla en el Pesebre" this year and had already played for a Christmas outreach downtown and at the new church plant, so they did a great job! Our final song was "Happy Birthday" as we lit candles on the mango milhojas cake and celebrated the birth of our Savior Jesus. The trick candles on the cake were not planned, but brought some mirth to the occasion! Afterwards we took turns sharing a reason why we love Jesus, and it was a blessing to hear from each of our family members and three special guests. (Silas' testimony was a bit theologically confused as he thanked Jesus for everything from Creation to Santa Claus, but he was definitely grateful!)

Later that evening when Richard and Ron had returned home and Pedro was just about to head to bed, another visitor arrived. I had run into Francisco at the Christmas fair and learned he had nowhere to spend Christmas Eve, so invited him to our 7 p.m. meal but somehow the time had not registered and he arrived at 11:30 instead! He and Pedro had a leisurely chat while the rest of us per annual tradition watched "The Nativity." Though no Hollywood movie is perfect, this one is rich in cultural context and humanity and always reminds us that the birth of baby Jesus was not clean or comfortable or easy, yet life changing for the entire world.

One other memorable part of Christmas Eve was having two sets of neighbors stop by with gifts for our family. This was significant because our children had very much wanted to continue our family tradition of handing out homemade sweet treats to our neighbors this year. I felt overwhelmed at the thought, and asked if each of our oldest would make the cookie he or she knew best how to do. Eva made sugar cookies, Isabel made marshmallow cheerio treats, and Owen made chocolate oatmeal no-bakes. They did such a great job, and then I organized decorative trays which we delivered with a Christmas note from our family in which we introduced each of us by name. Maybe it was stating that our children had made the cookies or explaining that we were North Americans with Iquique in our hearts or just sharing our names, but this year is seemed that our neighbors responded more and one family went as far as writing their own personal note with each of their names. As it turns out, their last name is Garcia, too! And the young adult son who made and delivered some delicious cupcakes seemed to enjoy practicing English as well.

We were far from alone in staying up so late since Chilean tradition is to open gifts at midnight. Ours is still to do so on Christmas morning but when the movie had ended and Francisco had gone, we did open one each from our family name exchange. Last year we exchanged names and one night all together went to the Christmas fair with a designated amount to be spent by each person. It turned out so well that everyone wanted to do it again, and I absolutely loved observing my kids thoughtfully choosing for one another and then delighting in what their siblings found. We ended the night on a joyful note and headed to bed well in the wee hours (2 a.m. for me!) with happy hearts for Christmas morning!

For posterity's sake, here are the gifts chosen by family members for one another:

Pedro had my name and bought me a pretty pink and cream straw hat for all the times he has to remind me to stay out of the strong Iquique sun. I had Eva's name and gifted her a beautiful shawl with llamas and other Northern Chile designs to keep her warm with memories of home when she goes stateside to study next year. Eva had Daddy's name and gave him a new big "La U" coffee mug and matching keychain, since his previous big mug broke and this is his favorite Chilean soccer team. Isabel had Ian's name and bought him a pair of sunglasses and a big tub of glittery slime because she knows her tactile brother well, and he loved it. Owen had Silas' name and with a little help from Mom bought Silas a stuffed "Forky" (from Toy Story) and an electronic Minions toy that scoots around the floor while playing a repetitive tune and shining colored lights everywhere like a disco ball - a huge hit with his hyper little brother! Ian had Owen's name and purchased a requested gold chain and a little Fortnite pillow for his brother's "comfort" while gaming. Alec had Isabel's name and gave her a pretty purple watch and $2 mil with a note inviting her to purchase matching earrings. And finally, Silas had Alec's name and added a bracelet to his collection and bought him a big black and orange digital watch.