Sunday, January 06, 2019

Ten Years in Iquique

Ten years ago today, our family flew into the Iquique airport together for the first time. These pictures remind us of the anticipation and excitement of that moment. They reflect the kindness and welcome of our colleagues at that time, the Hugo Armijo and Alejandro Armijo families. They capture the littleness of our children, just three of them back then. They bless us as a reminder of God's faithfulness which has sustained us through this past decade of both sorrows and joys, successes and failures, hellos and farewells in the city where our hearts have found a home.

As I think back on ten years, I see faces in my mind because ministry is all about people. We have been blessed to know and love and serve countless ones. Iquique is a transient city and jobs bring people in and move them on. We rejoice in those who continue to follow Christ no matter where life takes them, and grieve for those who have "moved on" not physically, but spiritually away from Him. I feel both gratitude and regret for opportunities gained and opportunities lost, recognizing my human failures while enormously thankful for God's sovereign grace. And I pray for ten more years - and beyond! - to serve the One Who is the only true reason for this life we are given. To God be the glory for the great things He alone has done!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Holiday Memories: Christmas 2018

I want to write down the memories from this year's Christmas before they are lost, because in many ways this was a unique and special Christmas for us. It was not a Christmas as we often cherish, wrapped up with extended family we love, because we were in Iquique and they were not. Some years that casts a pall over the opening of gifts because we sense the absence of their presence keenly. Often our celebration becomes inward focused in that sense, but somehow this year God gave us the gift of another perspective. Several aspects of our Christmas were others-focused and these served as a living reminder that it is truly better for our souls "to give than to receive."

I wondered if this might be only my own perspective as an adult, but our children agreed that they had enjoyed this Christmas as well. There was a peace and calm and purpose about it that we all felt, and for which I am so grateful. There are lessons learned in disappointments such as our Christmas two years ago, which in retrospect has served as a reminder for Christmases since then. One of these is to plan ahead for the wrapping of gifts, especially the inexpensive stocking stuffers that are a sentimental part of our family tradition (but multiplied by six children are So. Many. Little. Things!) This year Pedro and I took these items along on an overdue couple's getaway two weeks before Christmas. We enjoyed each other's company, buying final gifts for the kids during the day and at night I wrapped as we watched movies together. We had so much fun getting away together that we didn't mind the extra work, and may even make this a December tradition!

In Chile, the custom is for families to celebrate on the eve of Christmas, December 24, with a big family meal at night followed by opening gifts at midnight. However, many of the people to whom we minister do not have their families here in Iquique. We decided to extend an invitation for that night to a number of people who might be alone, with Pedro cooking a Christmas turkey. Though we invited at least fifteen people, in the end our guests were two and that was perfectly okay! It made us glad to know that others had found company for their holiday, and we enjoyed our visitors Ron (a retired doctor from the United States) and Catalina (a dear friend and volunteer at FLORECE.)

Recently we had a simple roof built over our carport which is in process of being converted into a multipurpose room. We tidied up on the 23rd to host a group of friends for our missionary colleague's 60th birthday, and again on the 24th were able to use the new space for our Christmas Eve meal. It is our goal to use this space for expanded ministry, so it was encouraging to see it put to use this holiday season even in its unfinished state! Our guest Ron spends three months a year (during winter in the States) at an apartment he owns in Iquique, and he is an avid gardener when he is stateside. An unexpected blessing of his presence with us was that he brought some tastes from home, such as fresh cooked green beans and a delicious sweet potato casserole. And Catalina gifted us with a Chilean favorite, homemade leche asada - yum! Desserts were overflowing as our neighbor Jacqueline also stopped by with a brazo de reina cake, and our friend Jeannette brought a tray of tasty dulces chilenos.

Because we started dinner earlier than Chilean custom, we also finished earlier and this gave us time for our Christmas Eve tradition of watching The Nativity as a family (plus Cata who was our overnight guest!) It is a movie which while not perfect, accomplishes more than many in exposing us to the raw realities of that first Christmas and the upheaval and hope God's plan of salvation brought to Mary and Joseph's lives. Silas did not last through the film so he and Pedro retired to bed before the rest of us. Once the kids had laid down, some wrapping still hung over my head but Cata came to my rescue! Together we chatted and wrapped and stuffed stockings until 3 o'clock in the morning. Our kids had already been lovingly warned not to wake us early this Christmas, and Pedro agreed to cook the baked oatmeal casseroles I left partially prepared on Christmas Eve, so even with a very late night there was rest to be had and Christmas morning rolled around pleasantly.

I love the rhythm of simple traditions on Christmas morning. I know we could do better to be more intentional but we do try to slow down and recognize the reason for the day by including a prayer of thanks and building in time to stop amidst opening gifts and share together as a family over breakfast. Traditionally we open stocking gifts first, as this is a cherished memory passed down from my parents. There is nothing earth-shattering in the stockings, just trinkets and combs and candy and silly string for New Year's Eve, but I always have fun collecting these odds and ends and am grateful for the Zofri where things are sold more cheaply por mayor if you buy in quantities of six or twelve.

The night before Christmas, I line the six stockings with each child's name in neat rows on two couches with the twinkling tree between and my heart fills with gratitude for the gift of these I love. (This year Eva asked, "Is this my last Christmas at home?" and I quickly shushed her with the response that we had one year yet to go, because that is a thought my heart cannot handle!) Usually I snap a picture in the peaceful silence before heading to bed. The year Silas was born, he slept blissfully at the end of the row of stockings as our most unexpected Christmas gift yet and this is a photo I especially treasure.

Timing is everything, and before stockings begin it is imperative that the traditional baked oatmeal (with chocolate chips!) be in the oven so that when stockings end we can sit down as a family for Christmas breakfast together. This year we were able to slip outside to our new space still decorated from the night before. It was a beautiful summer morning with a refreshing breeze and a pleasure to still have Catalina with us. The night before to Silas' excitement we had blown candles and sung "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, but this morning we carried out another family tradition which is going around the table to state what each of us loves about the birthday person. We'd not done that before but it was so meaningful and thoughtful and a perfect way to arrest what can sometimes feel like the selfishness of Christmas to focus again on the Person who made it all possible!

When we returned to the living room for gift giving, there was not an extravagant pile under our tree but there was more than enough. Some time ago, Pedro and I decided to give three gifts per child each Christmas to reflect the three gifts given by the wise men to Jesus. Most years they also receive cards with monetary gifts from each set of grandparents, and these go on the tree. This year they also had gifts from Tia Cata and our friend Tia Solange and even a box from Australia sent all this way by our friends the Kays!

This year I thought it would be fun to include Cata in our "three gifts" tradition and each time we handed out a package to our kids, we gave her something gift wrapped as well. Our gifts are simple by some standards but when in Chile our life is so much simpler as a general rule. In Iquique there is no Amazon nor outlet malls and we rarely go shopping just to shop. For me there is also the tension of knowing so many around us who have so little. One missionary mom recently wrote about her family's Christmas in East Africa and aptly described living in the middle of "the world you left and the world you are currently living in."
"Those of us in the middle carry a pervasive struggle in our hearts.  You can’t really articulate it because it’s a kind of schizophrenic leap between guilt and jealousy, gratitude and shame, pitying others and pitying yourself, anger and sorrow, generosity and greed, a bleeding heart and a shocking coldness due to compassion fatigue.  It is a fight and we get tired of living in it often.  We want to enjoy moments and people and things, but it isn’t that simple anymore.  Our highs and delights are tempered, and our pains and sorrows often feel unworthy."

Our girls each received a memento from an earlier trip to Temuco, clothing and spending money (as Isabel is saving to join a medical missions trip again in 2019 and Eva hopes to buy some horse tack for ongoing lessons in the new year.) Silas opened Legos and puzzles and his own miniature body board. Our gifts to the three big boys were simple: Legos, a new watch, and a body board for each of them. Of course, the body boards beckoned to be used immediately and in keeping with the spirit of giving and the mellow rhythm of our day, Pedro and I acquiesced and headed to the beach with the boys while the girls and Cata stayed home to watch movies together. 

The beach was bustling but the breeze calming and the day delightful to spend a couple of hours experiencing the boys' enjoyment. The time off was well deserved as upon returning home we asked the boys to roll up their proverbial and literal sleeves to join us in helping a FLORECE client move into her new living quarters (a Christmas miracle in its own right, as God provided the perfect place at the perfect price just the day before!) Donating our time and efforts on Christmas Day seemed just right. We ended the day catching up with faraway family on video chat and meeting our nephew's girlfriend across the long distance. Indeed it was a different sort of Christmas, but I am thankful to the Giver of good gifts for this special day.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Full and Fulfilling Day

It was a full and fulfilling Saturday, the 29th of December, a day significant for many people near to us. Two family birthdays fall on this day: Pedro's sister Nina, entering the final year of her 20's and expecting child #2 in a matter of weeks, and our nephew Jonathan turning 24 and becoming a first-time dad in the new year. WhatsApp messages were exchanged on our "Garcia's habla" chat with lighthearted banter and funny memes wishing Nina a happy birthday (which she insists is her eternal 28th!) Happy birthday greetings were sent via Facebook to Jonathan, who would be celebrating with extended family at home later that evening.

To keep a holiday tradition and promise alive, I made and served our favorite coffee cake this Saturday morning. After months of loud construction, the unusual silence and lazy morning was inviting us to do something different and meaningful. We piled onto our two couches and found the first chapter of Pastor Greg's sermon series on James through my parents' church's Facebook page, connecting it to our television. "Look! The choir!" exclaimed Eva as we tuned in just at the choir's exit. Mom-Mom's faithful participation and ours last year while on furlough, lent itself to sentimentality. "That was a long prayer," Owen opined as the sermon opened, but to their credit the kids sat quietly and listened in a rare low-key moment of family togetherness invested in something much worthier than another Netflix cartoon.

It was a great way to start the morning and somehow tempered the news that Mommy would be unveiling a summer activities' list to be completed before electronics each day. For the most part, our kids took the news in stride and began checking items off, one at a time. While bedrooms were tackled, I spoke with my parents through WhatsApp video chat and filled them in on the morning's events while catching up on their recent news. Mom shared her excitement about starting the New Year with her new Bible studies, both personally and at their retirement community and church. Several of our kids made cameo appearances on camera in between chores. Eventually we said our goodbyes and I headed to an overdue shower in preparation for shuttling Isabel to her first responder training in a short while.

Eva and Silas accompanied us on the drop-off across town, and we returned home by way of the peninsula (for slushies) and the grocery store (for food items and flowers.) After briefly stopping at the house to deliver the groceries, I drove to the cemetery nearest our home. Silas fell asleep and Eva willingly stayed in the car to keep him company. I carefully crossed the four lanes of traffic to climb the sloped hill to the grassy plateaus dotted with headstones. This cemetery is perhaps the greenest place in Iquique and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It is peaceful and beautiful and sad, and on this day was also crowded with two funeral processions taking turns to drive up the single lane with foot traffic following behind and mournful music playing. On a 29th of December six years ago, our friends and colleagues were marked by tragedy with the untimely death of their young adult daughter. I knew it would be meaningful for them to know we had been here since they now live too far away to come. I was not the first visitor, as evidenced by matching bouquets on either side of the carefully kept marker. Placing ours in the middle, I snapped a picture and said a prayer for our friends before sending the photograph to them.

We'd not been home long again when Eva's search on Yapo led her to a unexpected sale of hamsters and the request for a ride to pick them up immediately, as she and her friend Meme have a breeding program planned out for this summer. I had just enough time to place chicken in the oven and leave it in Pedro's capable hands. It was nearly time to pick up Isabel but the hamsters were on our way, so Silas, Ian, Eva and I departed on this newest adventure. Long story short, we returned with Isabel and not one or two but three dwarf hamsters to Eva's lasting delight! To my delight, Pedro had the rest of the meal prepared but he was off delivering Owen to his evening's activities so we got the table set and served just as he returned.

My to-do list was left mostly undone throughout the day - reports and bills and unexciting but needful tasks still to be completed. I oversaw Silas' bath after dinner and when he fell asleep, so did I. Nothing of earth-shattering significant was accomplished on this Saturday, but time was invested in people and moments of life together as a family. And on this full and fulfilling day, somehow that was simply enough. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Basking in the Silence

It's 1 o'clock in the morning and I should be sleeping, but I can't abandon the cool silence. The general absence of noise (except for the hum of our daughter's fan and the occasional car cruising up Avenida Bilbao) is balm for my battered senses. For months, the clatter of construction next door and now in our own driveway has dominated our days. Trying to teach math and language and corral my children's attention over the screaming of an electric saw and the jarring of a jack hammer (as well as the recently added clamor of a neighbor beating his drum set) makes me want to pull my hair out and scream. As I stated to my sisters in our WhatsApp chat tonight, "My nerves are shot."

So I bask in the silence. 

What am I doing at this hour, you might ask? Scouring Facebook for Marketplace advertisements that might meet the need of a FLORECE client and newborn who must find a inexpensive place to live by a week from tomorrow. Comparing the limited options within her budget with the possibility of finding a combined living situation with another young couple in need of lodging. Alternately feeling hopeful and frustrated with the possibilities before me, as the search at times seems impossible within the financial limitations both parties face.

It was a long, hot, tiring day. But God answered prayer and the morning's busyness was well invested in visits to multiple offices in search of background information on the property we are excitedly pursuing to auction this Thursday for FLORECE! My lawyer friend Luisa generously requested time off work to join me in my pursuits and clarify confusing terms and scan more than half a dozen title documents from the past decade and beyond to confirm everything was in order. It was truly miraculous in our context to enter each building and find minimal wait times so that much was accomplished in a relatively short time. It was our final stop at the bank entrusted with FLORECE's account that we encountered a roadblock that would require several strong conversations and much wringing of hands to remain, as yet, unresolved due to operational mismanagement and blame shifting.

I am emotionally exhausted. This afternoon Silas was exhausted, too, and whiny and needy and impossible after a morning of missing parents and too much electronic stimulation and wanting to play Dutch Blitz with the big kids and Mommy (the game being a desperate endeavor to create something positive out of internet problems and compete with the overwhelming urge for everyone to simply "veg out" and mindlessly succumb to the thick summer heat.) When the clock hands finally ticked past 7 PM, I swept the tired toddler off to bath and bottle and bed for the sake of everyone's sanity! At 9 PM, four of the five big kids set off for soccer and poor Pedro who'd had his own crazy day collapsed in sleep before the allotted time for pick up, which subsequently sent me off into the dark night around 11 PM to gather our "chicks" and friend Christopher.

Yet I am grateful. As she headed to bed, my oldest hugged my shoulders and said, "I'm praying for you to find what you are looking for tonight." Earlier today, my tall son asked, "Do you need a hug before I go?" and bent down to the couch to give me a squeeze before heading off to play at the park. There was a point this afternoon when the other four were washing the car (and one another!) amidst banter and giggles and that always warms my heart. Often I feel like I am selling them short with all my running to and fro, or being too tired to summon relational conversations. Today I literally fell asleep mid-reading questions with my son for his language assignment! Thankfully, the semester is nearly done and perhaps Pedro and I are looking forward to it more than the students themselves.

We had such a special time around the table yesterday after Sunday church and lunch. Belatedly expressing what each one of us loves about Ian (for his birthday) and teasing Daddy about always saying "because he is a hard worker!" and just full out laughing in unison over family silliness. I treasure those moments. They are a respite from the moments of friction and the pace of life that pulls us all in different directions so many times. They are a reminder that we are a team with shared stories and strengths and so much to offer if we allow God to use us together.

And now, I am off to bed in the golden silence. Because tomorrow we will renew our rhythm and the clatter will commence and the missed hours of sleep will be longingly remembered. But also, "new mercies" will be gratefully received. 

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Happy 11th Birthday to Ian

Dear Ian,

These days I look at you astonishment and wonder, "How did he get so big?!" Truly you have shot up this year and grown physically by leaps and bounds. I look at pictures of the tiny, frail baby you once were and praise God for strengthening and shaping you into the strong young man you are becoming! At the same time it is bittersweet because you are still very much a little boy inside and of course, you will always be Mommy's little boy! :)

This year for your birthday, you requested a special restaurant meal with Mommy and Daddy. Your birthday fell on a Sunday, so we planned that for after church but the Saturday before we also invited your "MK grandparents" (as Isabel nicknamed them!) Uncle Jon and Aunt Pam, and also our Chilean friends Tia Cata and Tia Isabel and Meme to join us for empanadas and cake. (Empanadas are one of your favorites, and especially if they are made by Sra. Leticia at the Agro sur - your birthday request was for a mexicana and a chaparrita, I believe!)

Tia Isabel surprised you with two trays of dulces chilenos like alfajores, cachitos and maicenas which were a yummy treat! And for your birthday cake you requested a tres leches from Mr. Daniel whom we affectionately call the "Cake Guy." The candles on your cake gave you a run for your money, but eventually you blew them all out with a big smile!

We teased you a little bit with your birthday gifts this year! Knowing how excited you had been and how you were counting down the hours and minutes until guests arrived and eventually it was present time, Mommy had Owen take this giant box downstairs with strict instructions that you could not touch it (only look at it!) You were dancing in anticipation for a long time! :) But I think the wait was worth it when you unwrapped a new remote control car, one of your very favorite things in the world. This particular model was one we'd seen someone driving at the dirt bike park along the beach, and I was so excited to find it for sale soon afterwards. Uncle Jon graciously accompanied you under the blazing Iquique sun in the heat of day to try out your new wheels at our park nearby!

The next day on your "real" birthday (as Alec greeting you that morning, "Happy 'real' birthday, Ian!") it was our pleasure to take you out to a grown-up restaurant for a man-sized meal. Your choice was lomo a lo pobre, which included a massive steak and two fried eggs with rice, french fries and onions! You were uncharacteristically quiet, probably from the uncharacteristic experience of having both of your parents to yourself with no siblings in competition. :) We hope you enjoyed your time and understand that we love you so much and are so thankful God placed you in our family. As we waited for our meals, I showed you pictures on my phone of when you were a little baby in Haiti. I think what surprised you most, however, was when I read you a poem I wrote for you before you ever came home. 

Ian, you were in our hearts since before you were born. Your name means "gift from God" and that is what you are to our family! We are learning along with you what it means to raise a son with some special challenges but tremendous joy. Happy 11th birthday, Ian David Garcia!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Ian's 10th birthday post
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

Monday, November 26, 2018

Life's Learning Curves {FLORECE}

The baby felt light as a feather and made no sound. With tiny lips pursed in sleep, she did not even whimper for nourishment. Mistaking silence for satisfaction, the naive new mother allowed hours to slip by without attempting to nurse her newborn. "What time did she eat last?" I asked while dropping off a bassinet on Saturday evening, the baby's third day of life. The mother and child shared a single bed inside a dark, windowless room with two other roommates and I was concerned for sleeping safety. "This morning," she replied and I tried not to gasp when math revealed nearly a dozen hours had gone by without a feeding.

"It's very important that you wake her up to eat every two or three hours," I urged. The darkness and stench of the unkempt and overcrowded residence smothered me when I entered, and the airless little bedroom felt hopeless. She was utterly alone with no family or support, nor anything of beauty to welcome this precious new life. "Have you eaten?" I questioned, and of course the answer was no. Without kitchen privileges and still stiff from childbirth, she dared not venture out into the street with her diminutive cargo. My own children were waiting impatiently in our car on a busy street, as this was to have been just a quick visit to our FLORECE client. It was near dusk in a questionable area of downtown, but without nourishment herself the mother had nothing to give her child. "I'll be right back," I promised.

Feeling strained, I drive around the block in search of a legal parking space and issued strict instructions to the children to wait calmly as I went in search of food. I prayed as I walked a half block to the corner and looked in either direction. Another half block to the left, I found a small restaurant offering meals to go. Quickly I carried one back to the cramped lodging and having done all I could for the moment, left the mother and child with concern in my heart.

The next day, I asked a volunteer who lives downtown to check on the pair if possible. She found the situation mostly unchanged and shared the same concerns. On Monday, my husband generously made time to chauffeur (and our pre-schooler patiently tagged along) as we picked up the mom and newborn to complete multiple errands. First we alighted at the crowded hospital for a brief class introducing the free layette that she would receive, then we waited in line under the sun's intense glare to gather the items and deliver them back to the car. Next, we took a number at Registro Civil where the baby's information would be recorded and her birth certificate generated. Navigating the tight streets and traffic took us to our third stop which was the local health service to register the baby and obtain medical appointments for mother and child within the next few days. Finally, as Pedro circled another block I ran into a pharmacy for some items to assist with nursing challenges that had arisen. It was a long, hot summer morning in an non air conditioned car - yet fruitful by God's grace!

We delivered the two of them home but some hours later received an urgent request for help. The mother was reaching the end of her rope and having no success with nursing. The baby was finally crying for food and the mother was feeling desperate. I later learned that she'd seen her landlord toss a pregnant woman out in the street and she feared they would do the same to her if her daughter continued to cry. It took visits to three stores but I found a pump that we hoped would help her, and that evening another volunteer and I arrived at the mother's lodging place. This time we were ushered to a small but neat room at the back of the property where a kindly older gentleman lived. He offered us seats in the tiny space he called home. I was moved by his humble hospitality. While our visit encouraged the client and some progress was made with pumping, it was clear she was becoming emotionally fragile and the baby physically so. In tears I returned home, unsure of how to proceed but certain we had a moral obligation to intervene for the sake of the child.

It was under these circumstances that we stumbled into what we later would name our Programa de Hospedaje Materno (Maternity Hosting Program.) Spurred by the urgent needs of this situation, I called the only place I could think might satisfy the conditions for hosting a new mother and child. One of our volunteers and her young adult daughter (who previously volunteered with FLORECE) did not hesitate to offer a bedroom in their own humble home in response to this need. From that point on, everything proceeded so quickly that it remains something of a blur. The client had some personal items to move with her, so the next morning we enlisted our thirteen-year old son Owen to help Pedro hoist boxes and a couple of furniture items into the back of our faithful old minivan. It was not a comfortable assignment, and certainly eye-opening for him to see the rough circumstances under which so many people live. Awkwardly, as another woman slept under a mound of covers in the same room, I helped Pedro with the final task of taking apart a wooden bed frame while our son stood guard over the van on the busy street. If I had been uncertain about the need to remove the baby and mother before then, the flood of tiny roaches that poured from the screw holes left no room for doubt. It was a physically and emotionally taxing day.

Nor was the move to a new home an easy fix to the situation. Cultural and personality differences often hindered communication between host and client. The kindest of hearts and the best of intentions still resulted in some frustrations and hurt feelings. The lack of a prior plan had us playing "catch up" from the beginning and I recognized that the weight of responsibility was mine to bear for putting this all into play. Yet when the baby's first follow up visit to the doctor revealed a significant loss of weight and her second appointment almost led to a hospitalization, the real need for support continued to be clear.

It is a story with an as-yet unwritten ending. Soon the client by her own choice will transition from the host home to independent living, renting a room with her tiny baby and working long days while the child remains in someone else's care. Did we do enough? Time will tell. Did we make mistakes? Certainly. Was this still the right decision? I honestly do not know how the child would have survived otherwise. I believe the most important question we must ask is: Was God honored by our actions, attitudes and intentions? If we can answer yes to this, then we can leave the outcome in His hands. 

There are many more needs before us. If anything, this experience has only served to confirm our desire for FLORECE to provide safe housing for pregnant moms in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We continue to pray for God's provision for a permanent home which will serve our current ministry and this additional dream as well. He is Jehovah Jireh!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thankful for This Season (Craziness and All)

Someday I'll want to remember the craziness that was our life in this season. This season of juggling six unique kiddos and multiple ministries. Of people in and out of our home for Bible studies, discipleship, music practice and many meals! This season of gladness for God's goodness and sorrow for our shortcomings. Of wondering, "Are we making a difference ... should be doing more ... and/or when should we be doing less?" Of gratitude for what we have (and often guilt for what we have.) This season of seeing God's faithfulness and seeking His sustaining grace. 

Life and ministry are beautiful, and they are hard. It's not always that any one thing is hard but that the pace and pressure of going and being and doing and receiving sometimes seems to careen out of control. Fulfilling and frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting, wonderful and wearisome - on any given day, all of these are true. Let's take today (Saturday) for an example.

1. I rose early and made breakfast smoothies. 
2. I snuggled a sleepy Silas and gave him a bottle.
3. I woke up Isabel for her brigada training.
4. Pedro drove Isabel downtown to brigada.
5. Pedro and I met with the president of the junta de vecinos to discuss church plant rental of sede.
6. We went to Lider (grocery store) to purchase lunch and dinner supplies, and withdraw cash for sede rental.
7. Pedro had a leadership meeting with fellow missionaries via Skype.
8. I drove the boys downtown to basketball and Silas fell asleep in the car.
9. I drove home with sleeping Silas but received a call from Isabel to return downtown for pick up from brigada.
10. I picked up Isabel, dropped her at home and picked up Eva to go to the airport.
11. We collected our new missionary colleague Jenn Taylor at the airport and drove home.
12. Pedro retrieved the boys from basketball and brought them home.
13. Pedro drove back downtown to pick up Richard who asked to borrow our kitchen to prepare a Bolivian meal for Sunday. 
14. Felipe arrived unexpectedly to help Richard with meal preparations.
15. I took Jenn to connect with missionary colleagues and a realtor to see a potential apartment.
16. Pedro grilled out and prepared dinner for our family and guests (11 people total) in our absence.
17. We came home to set the table, eat dinner, and wash dishes.
18. I contacted the owner of an apartment to finalize details for our missionary Thanksgiving retreat.
19. I communicated via WhatsApp with one of the attendees regarding Thanksgiving menu details.
20. I gave Silas his bath and bedtime bottle and snuggled him to sleep.
21. I had a discussion with another child regarding an earlier discipline issue.
22. Meal preparations (including lengthy meat pounding) continued downstairs to a late hour.
23. Pedro drove Richard and Felipe home (to return the next day at 8:30 AM and continue preparations.)
24. I wrote an e-mail update to share prayer requests with our partners.
25. Eva asked to stay up late because her guppy fish was giving birth.
26. Pedro and I went to bed around midnight.
27. We ended our day to the sound of one neighbor singing loud karaoke and another loudly yelling. :)

So I look at this list and I ask myself, "What did we accomplish in ministry today?" I am reminded that oftentimes ministry doesn't fit into the neat little boxes we wish it would. But I know that today we ministered to our church family by following through on the appointment made earlier in the week and procuring an answer for our meeting place. I believe we ministered to our children by facilitating the activities that round out their home education and provide healthy physical and social outlets for them. I trust we ministered to our new missionary colleague by preparing a comfortable place for her to stay and welcoming her to Iquique and coordinating an apartment visit as she looks forward to returning permanently. I hope we ministered to Richard, a foreigner new to Iquique with no real home to call his own, by providing a place to fulfill a heartfelt desire and welcome his friends on his birthday. I also hope that by following through on details for the Thanksgiving retreat, we are ministering to our extended missionary colleagues and that by writing a prayer update we are ministering to our supporting churches and stateside friends

Most of all, I hope that we pleased God with our attitudes, actions and intentions. Ultimately He is the One we seek to serve each crazy day! I thank God for our family and the ways we are stretched and growing in this season. For our girls, who shuffle bedrooms whenever overnight guests some to stay. For our boys, who pitch in to move furniture inside and outside when we unexpectedly host church or 35 people for a birthday meal. Most of all, for my husband who does anything and everything from preparing sermons to preparing meals whenever and wherever needed. I am also extremely grateful for our missionary colleagues who stand in for family and embrace our children as their own grandchildren to teach and mentor in this stage of life. For every challenge, there is an equal and greater blessing. And so I am thankful for this season, craziness and all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

#GodOurProvider #AdoptionIsLove


To concerned cries of "Careful, Mom!" and "Sweets, what are you doing?!" I carefully climbed a chair in the corner to capture this shot of my sweet family. It was Sunday afternoon, and we were in letdown mode after the frenzy of sweeping, setting up and serving our church plant by opening our home for the second week in a row. A lovely side benefit of having church in our home is a clean downstairs in which to relax or hosts guest afterwards! On this particular occasion, it was just the eight of us. For reasons unknown, our children were surprisingly delighted with the simple meal of chili awaiting in the crockpot and that certainly helped to set a pleasant mood. 

As I looked around the table, it warmed my heart to see every chair filled. I thought back to a dozen years ago when the table was purchased. It is a precious memory in and of itself, a time when God provided in a marvelous way as we were striking out on our family's missionary journey. Driving down a winding Michigan lane, we passed a roadside tent with furniture for sale and decided to take a minute and stop. It turned out the owner would purchase the final model of different store pieces to re-sell, so there was an assortment of just about anything and everything. As we talked, he asked questions and learned of our need to purchase affordable household items to ship to Chile. At the time we had only three small children ages five and under and had gone from living for a year in a furnished missionary home to a small rental with just bare necessities. We needed to be free to travel to language school in southern Texas when our final support came in and God said "Go!" Any furniture we purchased would be directly stored and then shipped to Chile at the completion of our training.

With this in mind, the owner walked us through the tent and several other storage rooms, taking note of what might work for our family's needs. We tried thinking ahead to the less-spacious housing in Chile where traditional American-style furniture would be far too large. Reaching the rustic wooden table seating eight in a square when fully opened, it seemed a perfect fit. At this point, however, I thought we were mostly dreaming because I could not imagine a new dining room set and four bedroom sets within our budget! The children's twin beds and dressers were simple yet when it came to our bedroom, he asked us to choose between several beautiful pieces. Finally done, he carefully added up the cost of our choices on paper. He then presented the total to us with the question, "Do you think this will work for you?"

To be honest, we had no idea because we'd never made a purchase of this magnitude all at once. We asked for twenty-four hours to talk and pray, seeking advice from missionary colleagues already on the field to compare with the cost of items available in Chile. Quickly we realize that the owner had offered us an amazingly generous price. This man we had never met before was also a believer and simply said it was a way he could support God's work. To top it all off, he added one more item to our list: a lovely glider rocker made of solid wood. Through three children this had been a dream item as a young mother. I asked the price and his answer was, "This one is free."

Years later, perched in a corner and looking around our dining room table, I remember his generosity although I do not remember his name. We first unpacked our table in a cute little home in Santiago (emphasis on little!) Five of us sat around the table then. Next the table took its place in Iquique. The store owner's generosity has touched more lives than he will ever know, as for nearly ten years this table has hosted dozens if not hundreds of breakfasts, almuerzos and onces for people we love in this city. Eventually, seven of us sat around the table regularly as a family. And now every single seat is filled as we eight Garcias surround the table and call it home.  Because God provided far more than a table. In this month to celebrate adoption, I celebrate that He also provided: a family.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Happy 3rd Birthday to Silas!

It is a fact that Silas loves birthdays. He loves balloons. He loves cake. He loves presents. He loves bunches of people! His face lights up as brightly as the birthday candles and his only complaint when he saw his single #3 candle was, "I want more candles!" (This may have had something to do with attending a party for a friend's 68th birthday the night before, and she had LOTS of candles!)

For weeks prior to his birthday we kept hearing the eager question, "This my birthday?" We had two other parties in the days just before his, which only added to his anticipation (and confusion!) So it was with a sigh of relief and joy last Sunday that we could finally say, "Yes, Silas! Today's your birthday!"

Our festivities began with company for lunch after church. Aunt Pam and Uncle Jon (missionary colleagues) and Tia Cata (FLORECE colleague) joined us for spaghetti lunch, one of Silas' favorite meals. Afterwards Tia Cata provided an impromptu haircut on the back patio for the birthday boy! We allowed Silas to open a couple of presents to ease the anxious waiting until 5:30 PM when our other guests were expected. Meanwhile Pedro and Isabel drove across town for the tres leches cake from our favorite "cake guy" Daniel. On their return they picked up three guests, our friend and babysitter Tia Eli and a FLORECE client who is her temporary houseguest. Sweet, tiny baby Rafaela came with her mother. Silas had already been asking for a chance to hold her and was so delighted when we carefully supported her in his arms!

As is not unusual in Chile, the scheduled time came and went with no sign of further guests. And then all at once about an hour later, it seemed like everyone came at once! Twenty-eight people squeezed into our living room and spilled out the front door. Silas was in his glory, greeting each new friend and gratefully grabbing each offered gift. Perhaps a bit more chaotic than planned, but certainly a sweet blessing to see so many who love him and wished to celebrate his special day.

Dear Silas,

You are three years old! What joy you have brought to our family in those three years. Mommy and Daddy and every one of your brothers and sisters love you so much. You make us laugh with your bright-eyed antics, and surprise us with all you have learned in such a short time! Our home is so much busier and better with you in it. God certainly knew what He was doing when he sent you to us so unexpectedly.

You are only three years old, but we often joke that in your own mind you are every bit as big as your brothers! If they ride bikes, you ride bikes. If they do school, you "do school." Recently you shocked us by naming most of the letters of the alphabet, which we had not even taught you but you caught doing "school" on Starfall while your siblings studied. Perhaps the only "little boy" habit you have yet to lose is your bedtime bottle which you so dearly love (and we cherish the snuggles that go with it!)

Since your last birthday, you have come through many changes with our return to Chile and yet you continue to embrace life and the people you love. You take special care to remember and use names, which always strikes us as very alert and sweet. Your play dates each week with your friend Emilia are precious memories. This coming year will have even more changes as you potty train and enter pre-school and practice your Spanish each day. But what won't change is our love for you.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Silas Eben Garcia!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Silas' 2nd Birthday Post
Silas' 1st Birthday Post

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Day after Day

There's just a handful of us when we begin to sing. I look across the front of the room and my heart smiles to see them: Ian, ten years old and keeping a tentative beat on the bongos; Felipe, college student, friend and guitar teacher to Owen, thirteen years old and carefully picking his way from one note to another; Isabel, fifteen and contributing one-handed chords on the keyboard for added melody; and ten-year old Alec, switching screens on the PowerPoint as our few but healthy voices raise in praise. My husband leads us in singing while next to me squirms Silas, a few weeks shy of three years old and beside him keeping a watchful eye is seventeen-year old sister Eva. This is Sunday morning and bright sunshine lifts my spirits as God's Word is preached and theology creatively taught through the brief hours we meet together.


It's hard to find a time our schedules mesh as I'm home most days homeschooling while she's gone every day, long hours on her feet at a mentally and physically demanding job. It's an endless cycle created by a family financial crisis, leading to early mornings and late nights and little time with her children who hearts have turned spiritually cold and devastated hers. We meet to talk, listen and pray. I have no simple answers to offer, as much as I wish for a magic wand to make all the heartache go away. I know God is here and I know He is able, but circumstances seem so impossible and the daily tension wreaks havoc on her health in every way. How long, oh Lord? And how far might they stray? Yet what steps of faith do You require? We bow our heads in the coffee shop and seek His promises, walking slowly home together towards another week and waiting hopefully for His work to be seen.


And then it's late and trying to create, at the center setting up for a different kind of day. With my daughter and a friend, preparing tables and exploring ideas and yawning when the reloj reaches midnight and my husband sends a text asking, "Are you coming home?" Meanwhile there is still a drive back across town and tomorrow's breakfast dish to prepare before the night is through. But all's well that ends well and the next day is a success, companionable and relaxing and reflecting on the blessing of what we are called to do together as volunteers at the pregnancy center known as FLORECE.


In the morning our hearts are encouraged as we circle the tables for breakfast and watch two testimonies of transformation only God can inspire in broken lives. Imagination and laughter, conversation and cards make the hours pass quickly until I am home at last, only to find Pedro wishes I would join him and the kids and a few others at the beach to finish the day. Over bumpy off-roads and rocky shores we discover the delight of tide pools and starfish against the task of a containing a toddler from fiery flames and slippery stones as dusk falls. It's a beautiful night and lovely way to end the holiday as tomorrow we face school once again.


Facing school is like facing a giant and it's a day when nothing turns out as it should. One child coughing and sneezing and leaving work half done to head back to bed. Another hitting a wall in writing and ignoring it while a dozen more assignments quickly pile. Two more needing uninterrupted help which cannot be had, and the clock striking noon when a scheduled Skype meeting puts further school on hold. A headache brews and yet the day finally ends with smiles around the table, Pedro's Bible study with a searching friend and one tuckered toddler saying, "Mommy, I tired" before his head hits the pillow and he is softly asleep.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

One September Sunday

What a whirlwind of a week swept through our home with Chile's patriotic holidays! While officially celebrated on September 18 and 19, most people enjoyed multiple days off work and children in national schools were given an entire week away from their studies. Although our kids endured a few hours of home schooling during the week, for the most part our family also experienced quite a different rhythm to our days. We hosted multiple cookouts, including a meal with our next door neighbors and another with the families on the leadership team of the new church plant. The latter turned out far more exciting than planned when an offhand comment resulted in an impromptu palm tree uprooting (to be later replanted elsewhere.) Pedro jokingly called this a great team building exercise!

One very memorable day was the Sunday (September 16) before the holidays. I was at the grocery store just after the doors opened at 8:30 AM to pick up some final items for our church fellowship that afternoon. Returning home, I found the usual hustle and bustle of a Sunday morning as our family gathered the many items we are responsible to bring to the rented facility (a neighborhood sede) we use for 3 1/2 hours each week. Songbooks, music stands, guitars, keyboard, computer, projector, toilet paper, bathroom cleaning supplies, hand towels, garbage bags, children's church materials, flannelgraph board, snacks and drinks and other things I have surely forgotten. (Such as hand sanitizer - a welcome item to have when greeted with the unwelcome surprise that the water had been turned off at the sede! We later learned that the municipality of Iquique is responsible to pay the water bill and had apparently decided not to. TII = This Is Iquique!)

Thirty-three people were in attendance, which was an encouraging number given that many people travel over the holidays. We were especially delighted with the visit of our friends Isabel and Pedro to the church plant for the very first time! Recently I encouraged Isabel to read through the gospel of John and invited her to church since we are studying this book in our weekly sermon series. I was so happy she decided to come! After church, since we only have the sede until 2 PM, our fellowship time to celebrate the Chilean Fiestas Patrias was planned at the home of Romo and Solange. There twenty-four of us turned out to eat homemade empanadas, delicious choripanes with fresh pebre, and drink some refreshing mote con huesillo.

It was after some of the guests had already gone home and others were playing a rousing game of Pit that a phone call alerted me to an embarrassing oversight on my part! Nearly thirty-five years ago, Ricardo Araya and his wife Norma worked alongside my parents planting a church in the community of Pudahuel in the capital city of Santiago. The night before, I had learned through a phone conversation with my dad in the States that the Araya family was actually visiting Iquique. I connected with one of their two young adult daughters to arrange a time we could connect with one another. She responded, "Tomorrow after 5 PM." We made plans to meet at FLORECE and all the while I was thinking in my own mind, "Great! Monday after 5 PM is perfect." See my mistake there?! Needless to say, that morning amidst all my running around I had not considered the need to pick up our less-than-tidy home. Thus when Daniela called to say they were waiting for me at FLORECE and kindly offered to meet me at our home instead, I scrambled to find a way home quickly to do damage control before before they arrived!

Despite a less-than-stellar start to our visit due to my confusion with the dates, the time spent together was insightful and encouraging. Ricardo is now a missionary with a Chilean agency and his primary focus is distributing the gospel message in printed form through simple postcard-style tracts designed to coordinate with specific places and events (World Cup, Mother's Day, etc.) A highlight of the evening was making contact with my parents via video chat and allowing the two couples to reconnect after many years. Laughter and memories were shared and it was a sweet reminder of how the Body of Christ extends across time and around the world.

We did also return to FLORECE and it was exciting to share this ministry which captured their hearts, as both girls work in the area of health and desire to serve God through it. They have a vibrant young adult ministry in their church with several in the health services, including a male midwife! We discussed how we might pass on the highlights of FLORECE's volunteer training to be used in their context, and a plan was set in motion to offer an intensive week of preparation this coming summer. It was encouraging to share all that God has already done and the many dreams we have for the future with a family that is passionate about serving Him.

Thanks to my wonderful husband, we ended the evening with a traditional Chilean once and warm conversation around our table. It was a bustling, busy September Sunday but overflowed with blessing!

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Goodbye, August

Goodbye, August. You were a month to remember. Beginning with a full-blown return to school and the arrival of our first-ever visitor from our home church in Lapeer, you brought happy hellos and significant goodbyes. You set a rapid pace and we did our best to keep up! Now we are sliding into September where the sun shines, flags unfurl and kites bring color to our Iquique skies. But before you go, I will attempt to hail a few of your highlights:

1. New School

I have three separate tabs on my computer for the boys' school; girls' school; and one extraneous class the girls are taking outside of their online school. Yet they are all the same curriculum. Confusing? Yes, not a little bit for this non-multi-tasker mother. But we are sort of getting the hang of it. It is hardest for the older ones who have to do so much self-learning and miss the interaction of the traditional classroom setting they enjoyed last year. I am thankful for what is available but share their sadness for what is not. We are working towards a balance, setting goals, flexing when necessary while trying to push towards potential and seeking support to fill in the gaps. Outside school Eva has returned to riding horses twice weekly; Isabel has joined a junior paramedic class on Saturdays; while Owen, Ian and Alec train and compete in basketball three days a week. Silas has happily devoted himself to play dates with his little friend Emilia during three of our school mornings, two of which are currently my days at FLORECE and thus Pedro's days as "educational administrator!"


2. Lucy's Visit

Having only met once, and that in passing in the church hallway for just a few brief minutes, we were both excited yet uncertain about what Lucy's visit would bring. Would we click and enjoy one another's company? Would she find her time and money well invested in coming all this way? Or would we overwhelm/underwhelm her (disappointing perhaps a missionary ideal with our all-too-human struggles?) To our delight, Lucy simply brought sunshine and humor, help and perspective into the early weeks of school with our children. She was the perfect dose of encouragement for them, having been homeschooled herself and even completing the bulk of her college studies online. I think she inspired our kids to think outside of the box and imagine new possibilities for their future, while also normalizing their current school experience. Most importantly, her love for Christ and people was very evident and important for our children to observe in a "normal" (ie., non-missionary!) person that they quickly grew to admire. For our girls especially, Lucy filled a "big sister" and "older friend" role that they both needed due to voids created by changes in our ministry context after furlough. Two weeks flew by, and it was truly sad for all of us to see her go! But we hope she will come back again.

3. FLORECE Ministry

By God's grace we continue to have a steady stream of clients, both old and new, coming regularly to FLORECE for maternity classes, Bible studies and counseling. We rejoice in the births of healthy new babies and the opportunities to share Christ and the hope of the gospel to the women we serve. Many times it is bittersweet as we see more clearly the hurts they carry from past wounds and the precariousness of their current circumstances. Our physical and practical help is limited, so we pray and point them to the One Who is unlimited. In a human sense, it can sometimes feel like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound and yet we are privileged to hear testimonies and witness the gradual, faithful transformation taking place in the lives of those who choose to trust Him. In August, we had several additional ministry opportunities outside of our regularly scheduled hours. One which was highly anticipated and somewhat feared was setting up an informational table at the local public university. However, a group of Christian students covered our time there in prayer and God allowed a number of positive interactions with students and visitors during our hours on campus. It was only after our departure that a counter group appeared, spreading fliers opposing life and promoting abortion among the students. The Christian students were so encouraged by our presence that they hope to have us back on a regular basis, and we have since been invited to another secular university campus as well.

4. New Church Plant

Since returning to Chile three months ago, we have plugged into the new church plant beginning with Pedro engaged in teaching and preaching. We were encouraged when our son Owen chose to pick up the guitar he set aside before furlough and try to learn the worship choruses to help in this area. Our friend Felipe has been a patient teacher. With the departure of colleagues the Spink family (one of the "significant goodbyes" this month) we find ourselves with a greater load of responsibility as Pedro also leads worship and engages in leadership development and prayer with several men on a weekly basis. Overseeing the children's ministry falls to me but I am grateful for several women who have stepped up to share the teaching responsibilities for the two age groups we currently manage. Our "classroom" is the covered patio just outside the doors of the community room where the adults meet, so space and volume control are an issue while the playground just across the street is a life saver! Kari Spink left a hole in the music department with her help on the piano, so Isabel has been doing a crash course on playing chords and hopes to help in this way. Alec is replacing Kristi Spink on the computer to coordinate slides during songs, and Pedro is encouraging Ian to heartily sing and bolster the congregation in this way. Eva is our faithful Silas wrangler, which is much needed on a Sunday morning! There are many details to remember, from bathroom supplies (clean hand towel, hand soap, cleaning items) to craft materials to snacks and extra Bibles, since we cannot leave items at the rented space from week to week. We sense the need to creatively plan outreach opportunities to this community in order to make others feel welcome to join on Sunday mornings and find ways of expanding the ministry throughout the week. There are many ideas but limited hands and time, so we pray for wisdom and strength!

5. Family from Afar

My dad had knee replacement surgery at the beginning of August. It was a hard time to be far away, knowing there was uncertainty about timing and insurance coverage beforehand, and hearing the struggles with pain management and recovery afterwards. My oldest sister's presence was a blessing and yet we wished there was a way to share the responsibility she carried for our parents alone. A tender outcome of this was our children's increased sensitivity to pray for their Pop-Pop, yet the distance between us felt daunting during this difficult time.

6. Fond Farewells

In Chilean culture, it is important to say goodbye well and certainly the many expressions of farewell to the Spink family reflected the love of those to whom they have ministered in Iquique. At FLORECE the volunteers hosted a supper after Kim's final shift on a Tuesday evening. Stories were shared of humorous moments with Kim, as well as thankfulness for her testimony and how it had encouraged each of the ladies. The church plant farewelled the Spinks with cake and pizza after their final Sunday service, and we enjoyed having them for a cookout, game and movie night later that same day. After countless times in which they have blessed us with caring for our children, we were happy to have their remaining five at home with us their last night before departure so that Jon and Kim could complete the inevitable last-minute details. Pedro was one of several men who helped with the airport run and at the time of this writing, the Spink family should be winging their way through the sky toward a year of stateside ministry. They will be missed, but in exchange we look forward to welcoming Jon and Pam Sharp at the end of September!

7. Miscellaneous Moments

Mixed in with scheduled life and ministry are many miscellaneous moments. This month, some of those moments looked like meals with dear friends who are going through difficult times as families. In one case we met halfway between their house and ours at FLORECE one morning for a simple spread of sandwiches, juice, coffee and prayer. Another time we were humbled with a generous meal prepared for us by the very ones experiencing a job need. There is so much more we wish we could do to make things better for those around us who are struggling, specifically with a challenging economy. Another miscellaneous moment meant sitting with a widowed friend who faces serious physical limitations yet is the sole provider of full-time care for her elderly mother with increasing dementia. Again, we talked and prayed and asked how we could do more to help in a difficult and discouraging time. In our miscellaneous moments, we are reminded that "as long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me" [Jesus.] May we be sensitive and faithful to carry out this calling!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

When to Say Yes, When to Say No

It *may* be that I have a tendency to overanalyze life sometimes. It happens under the heading of "evaluation" and could easily slide over into the "comparison" column without intervention. I find it especially challenging with the life we live, one where our family (of eight people) and our home and our ministry and our "office" are often all in the one and the same 1300 square feet of living space. For me personally, my FLORECE days are the easiest in that I go to a specific place for a specific period of time to do a fairly specific job. But my "easiest" days translate into my husband's "hardest" days since the duties of parenting, homeschooling, chauffeuring, chefing, and - if he's lucky enough that the kids finish school early - studying and preparing for weekend ministries all fall into his lap during the 10+ hours I am away from home. Occasionally he might even add hosting to his list if he has the opportunity for a breakfast meeting with a brother in Christ on those days!

There are times when I wish life was so much simpler, and times when I beat myself up for not accomplishing more. The "tyranny of the urgent" is real and exhausting and I struggle with it. When is it important to say yes, and when should I say no? If ministry is about people, how can I not respond in the affirmative when an opportunity presents itself even at the last minute (since that is how it regularly happens in our country of service.) I can cite two instances in just the past week. First, with maybe 48 hours' notice I was asked to set up an informational table about FLORECE at an event where multiple churches in our area would be represented. Since it has been difficult to get into many churches, this seemed like an opportunity I should not turn down. It just so happened to fall on the same day as a full shift at the pregnancy center, so I left home around 8 AM and did not return until after 10 PM. 

The second situation was unique in that a pastor from Santiago gave Pedro's number to a woman from his church who was visiting Iquique to care for her elderly aunt and uncle. It made sense and was more comfortable for my husband if I carried out the communication with her. Long story short, she had to fly home on the same day her 86-year old aunt needed a ride to the nursing home where she would sadly be signing papers for her husband of 69 years (now invalid and bedridden) to move there. I was asked to provide that ride even though I'd never met anyone in the family. It was a Monday morning and a day we try to get a running start to our homeschool week, so even as I said yes I struggled with frustration at giving up that day and conversely guilt over my selfish feelings. 

The more I say yes to people outside our home, the less I can say yes to those living in it. Keeping up with household chores has improved with some added responsibilities the older children now carry; however, laundry is never ever completely done. Meal planning is frequently on the fly and we often "fly" to pick up pizza or empanadas or other yummy, quick, relatively inexpensive but not-so-healthy option. Even as I sometimes feel guilty about taking time away from the kids, I also feel determined that they learn at a young age that life should be less about self and more about service. But I struggle to keep that "one thing" (Luke 10:42) at the forefront of my life and theirs which is the quiet, personal walk with Jesus we need to have as individual believers and as a family. 

This morning we talked about the story of Mary and Martha as we prepared for school. Prior to that I was reminded again that more is "caught" than "taught." As the first big child stumbled downstairs and curled up next to me while I sought to start my day in prayer and God's Word, I hoped he would consider his own time with Jesus today. And in our comings and goings, the ministries planned and unplanned both inside and outside our home, I hope our children see glimpses of God's greater purposes for their lives as well. I pray for wisdom to know when to say yes, and when to say no - and for God's grace to fill in all the places between!

Friday, August 24, 2018

I Blame It All on Kim

I blame it all on my colleague Kim.

As the minutes ticked slowly towards midnight ... 11:54 ... 11:56 ... 11:58 ... I couldn't help thinking but for her I would be ensconced in bed and blissfully sleeping. By way of an earlier Whatsapp message, I knew her to already be there (in her bed) and (I imagined) beautifically dreaming.

At least until her alarm woke her at midnight. Because thanks to Kim, we were both pledged to this late-night "predicament!"

It began, as many memorable moments do, as a dilemma. It was nighttime and Kim, my daughter Isabel and I had just completed our monthly meeting at FLORECE. Although the downtown street was lighted we knew that wisdom dictated a brisk walk to the car with the less time spent on a dim city sidewalk, the better.  However, just before reaching the vehicle we saw an older man several strides behind us lose the contents of his plastic grocery bag when it suddenly split open. Our heads swiveled towards, away, and back again to the scene. Was this a neighbor needing assistance on his way home from the grocery store? Or one of Iquique's many unfortunate homeless, likely under the influence of a substance which rendered questionable the prudence of approaching him?

Of course, Kim reacted first and headed in his direction. I thrust the car keys into my daughter's hand, trusting her to scramble in safely while I joined my colleague at the man's side. "Can I help you?" she offered, and he barely looked up before gesturing that she deposit the contents of the intact bag on the curb so that he could reuse it for half a marraqueta and other indistinguishable items on the ground. We glanced indecisively at each other and I quickly suggested that I might get a couple more bags up the street at FLORECE. Without commentary, the man motioned me in that direction. Hurriedly I returned and handed one bag to Kim. By now the man was more conversant, having clued in to the fact that she spoke English and ordering her in accented tones to "Open! Open!" the bag for him.

He began scooping what appeared to be handfuls of dirt into the plastic grocery bag. With each scoop his animated conversation increased. He told us his job was to "snookel ... you understand? ... snookel" and when I asked if he meant "snorkel" he sniffed and corrected me in his accented English, "You Americans say it that way. I speak British English. You understand? British English! In British English it is snookel." And that was that, as far as he was concerned. His name was Giorgio, he told us with flair, "Giorgio Cohe - o Jorge en español y George en ingles pero Giorgio en Italiano!" and he had traveled the world. He spoke Spanish and English, Italian and Portuguese, and even Hebrew - as he proudly showed us the Star of David dangling on a shiny gold chain around his neck.

It was late, and getting later, so we sought to extricate ourselves graciously from the conversation by explaining that we needed to get home to our families. This didn't sit well with Giorgio who suddenly became incensed and waved his arms about. "Go!" he commanded. "A mi no me gustan las justificaciones!" ("I don't like justifications!") But he pointed aggrievedly at the forgotten bags on the ground. "I didn't ask for help! You said you were going to help!"

Jarred by the sudden change in temperament, we meekly said our apologies and slowly backed away. I don't remember how the topic of prayer even came up, but with a fabulous blend of haughtiness and temper he told us that, "I pray to my friend, Jesus! The thin man! And my prayers go up! But your prayers ..." - and here he bent down to sweep his palms over the dust of the ground - "... they just may go this far! Down here!"

It was almost tempting to chuckle. But as suddenly as his temper flared, it went away (later he told us that an evil wind overtook him sometimes) and he begged our pardon. Extending one hand to each of us, he urged us to make a circle and pray. It was late, it was dark, it was a city street with the occasional car passing by and a few pedestrians coming and going. Yet we acquiesced and stood with our hands in his. Then he fell to his knees for a heartfelt soliloquy. "Oh Jesus of Nazareth ..." he began, as we silently listened. Words flowed from his mouth and it was impossible to not feel pity and wonder at the plight of a man whose appearance and enunciation indicated he once had education, a family, a home. What had brought him to this place in life? Hints of possibilities lay in the statement he repeated several times during the night's long conversation. "So maybe I had one drink," he admitted. "But that doesn't make me a bad person! Even the priests drink wine, and I am better than them."

"You're not Catholic, are you?" he asked at one point. Upon hearing that our families were missionary church planters, he urged us to pray for a large building. "Ask and you will receive!" he firmly recited. "At midnight, I will pray for you," he pledged. "And you will pray for me. Yes? You promise?"

In response, Kim said the fateful words. "I will pray for you. At midnight. I promise!" With that statement lingering in the air, we finally said our goodbyes. We climbed into the van and she remarked, "I guess I will be setting my clock tonight!" 

And while my selfish heart groaned, it also admired the fact that this is just who she is. By the grace of God, a very good and very kind and very honest person. Proverbs 27:17 states: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Thanks to Kim, I got sharpened the night we met Giorgio. And thanks to Kim, Giorgio got prayed for in two separate homes by two separate women at the stroke of midnight. Who knows what answers to prayer might come for him? 

If so, he can blame it all on my colleague Kim!