During our first eight years on the mission field, we were uniquely blessed. My parents, Jim and Gail Christian, served as missionaries in Chile for sixteen years until returning to the States in 1998 to serve in pastoral ministry at their sending church. Their church then graciously granted the opportunity for them to visit Chile almost on an annual basis for ministry purposes. This translated into the wonderful gift of our kids seeing their maternal grandparents nearly every year - even while on the mission field! This was certainly not my reality growing up as an MK, so I treasured it all the more.
However, in 2013 my dad was diagnosed with MSA (Multiple System Atrophy.) The long trip to Chile became more challenging and exhausting. At the same time it grew apparent that he would be retiring from ministry out of necessity rather than choice, further adding to the difficulty of travel from a financial standpoint. A sweet chapter of our life (enjoying my parents' visits) was drawing to a close just as a new grandbaby (Silas) came along. Our next furlough wasn't scheduled to take place until he was close to 1 1/2 years old. But as I mentioned in part one of this post, God in His goodness allowed Eva, Silas and I to take advantage of a wonderful fare sale and travel to the States ourselves. I am so thankful!
My mom and my sister Terri met our late-night flight in Philadelphia and drove us to my parents' new home in a Christian retirement community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Our older children have many sweet memories from Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's home in Delaware, but Silas' will all be made here instead. They now live in a complex of lovely little homes in a warm Christian environment, yet a piece of their (and our) hearts will always be just across the border!
A unique characteristic to my parents' community is the variety of ministry opportunities on-site. One morning, Eva accompanied Pop-Pop to his prayer group. To our amusement, they returned with the story that an elderly lady had inquired if she was his wife! Another evening, Silas and I spent time with a group of ladies who gather to hymn sing with my mom as pianist. To their fascination, Silas was bundled into his baby sling and sound asleep during part of our visit. One sweet yet forgetful woman kept repeating, "It looks like you have two babies in there! Is it one? Or two?" When he awoke it was to a roomful of adoring smiles. A retirement community doesn't lend itself to many babies, so he was a delight everywhere we went!
Speaking of delight, however, Silas made it clear he was not delighted by the colder weather up north! A quick run to the grocery store one crisp night resulted in his screaming up one aisle and down the other after being shocked by the brisk walk from the car. Apparently shopping in general is not his favorite activity, even if it includes a delicious lunch at Friendly's and the wonderful assortment of outlet stores that Lancaster offers. I like to think that in the picture below Silas was sharing his woes with Pop-Pop (who wisely stayed home) after a full day of store hopping with the ladies!
One very special opportunity we had in Pennsylvania was an appointment with photographer Kim Winey. What she titles as "real life. your life." sessions are unscripted, at-home interactions between family members caught on camera. As a result of her time and talent, we were blessed with some beautiful images and memories of Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop together and with each of us. Initial feelings of awkwardness gave way to moments of laughter and warmth, and resulted in pictures we will treasure forever!
It was a treat to spend time with my sister Terri, nephews Benjamin and Nathaniel and niece Sophia. It was also wonderful to see my Aunt Joann (pictured below) - and not only because she brought some of her world-famous chocolate chip cookies! During her visit we enjoyed a concert by Robert and Joyce Hayes and Dr. Bill Welte of America's Keswick that was hosted by the retirement community. Our time together was short, but sweet.
The Sunday we spent in Pennsylvania allowed us to visit my parents' new church in the morning, and participate in Vespers at their community in the evening. It was a privilege to share in special music, as I was asked to sing and Mom played (just like old times!) A hilarious memory not to be forgotten was encountering a live bird in the meeting room when we went to practice that afternoon. Chasing it down the hallway and into the laundry room, I stood guard outside while Mom tried to call for help from someone in management. Eventually a brave soul took the challenge of facing off with the panicky bird and succeeded in detaching the window screens and shooing it outside. We got a lot of giggles out of that silly scenario!
All too soon, our visit came to an end. On our way to the airport, friends were invited to stop by my parents' longtime church in Delaware to meet Silas and say hello. What a blessing to see so many familiar and caring faces! It was there we said our goodbyes to Aunt Terri and the cousins. We were graciously chauffeured to the airport in the church van, and outside of security bid our farewells to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. It is never easy to walk away, but we look forward to the next time we say a sweet hello. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of this very special visit!