It's past midnight and I really should be sleeping, but in the seldom silence of our home I am suddenly struck with the realization of what a really big week this has been. Tonight we nearly went out with a bang when Ian took a serious tumble from a bike or scooter. I never did sort out which means of transport was the culprit as I hurried outside to join five adults and twice that many children gathered anxiously around him on the asphalt of the alley beside our home! Our new neighbor Matt was the hero who kept Ian calm and still as his wife and son quickly gathered the supplies he requested to stop the bleeding from Ian's mouth (having pierced his teeth deeply into his tongue) and to wrap his forearm once it was determined to be unbroken and apparently not sprained.
When a short while later our family was gathered around the dining room table (with Ian nearby on the couch), I felt a deep sigh of the soul to realize we were all here, together, in our "home," with new routines beginning to fall into place and having survived the ten weeks of travel and craziness that brought us to this first week of school which our oldest three confronted with anticipation and trepidation but finished strong and well. There are many unfamiliar challenges still before us but our faithful God continues to sustain us. As we look back at the fears and angst of the huge unknowns prior to furlough, we are in awe of how the Lord answered our prayers in ways far better and beyond our limited understanding of our family's needs.
This past Sunday we began our big week by attending Sunday School and the morning service at my parents' church. This is where we plan to attend on the weekends we are home from furlough travels. I was personally very encouraged by the pastor's message on lessons from the life of Joseph and their relevance to the challenges we face individually and as a nation today. I was also encouraged by the fact that Silas stayed fairly calm in the 2's and 3's class once his initial tearfulness wore off! Each of our other children seemed to enjoy his or her age group and we are hopeful they will develop some good friendships this year. I love that this church is very multicultural and that my sons have classmates of similar racial backgrounds. This is so rarely our experience in Chile and in many churches we visit stateside, that I truly count it as a blessing! Something else I consider a blessing is this church's emphasis on ministering to those recovering from addictions. Pedro and I share the desire to use our time stateside to become better equipped to serve when we return to Chile, and one area where we see a tremendous need in Iquique is that of counseling those caught in the vice of addictions. We are excited that Pedro especially may have the opportunity to plug in and learn more about this area of ministry while we are here.
The privilege of sharing Sunday dinner with Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop is not taken for granted after 4.5 years away, so we enjoyed a visit to Friendly's restaurant after church. Later in the evening we were blessed with one "last hurrah" of summer by an invitation to the camp where the owners of our furlough house serve on staff. There the kids (and Mommy!) all had the opportunity to ride a horse under the watchful eye of some youthful instructors and needless to say, this made everyone's day! Afterwards we enjoyed some ice cream and conversation with Mike and Yara in their home on the camp property. Again, we are so thankful for how God orchestrated every detail of our furlough needs, providing a wonderful place to live when our first situation fell through. A town we'd never heard of has quickly felt like home and as evidenced by the opening paragraph of this post, God has also placed wonderful neighbors in our path. To God be the glory!
On Monday morning we relied on our big kids to share "Silas duty" as we connected via Skype with our Iquique field team for a lengthy but enjoyable meeting to catch up on current ministry and goals. God continues to do exciting things through FLORECE and we are extremely thankful for our teammates who are overseeing the many minute details of researching requirements to come up to code for the purpose of offering ultrasounds in the near future. At the same time we are praying together for the purchase of a permanent home for FLORECE and challenged by how God continues to propel us forward in unexpected ways! We are also looking forward to new ministries as teammates step out of our prior church ministry into formal church planting and we are eager to serve alongside them when we return.
After lunch on Monday it was time for Eva, Isabel and Owen to attend orientation at their new school. Pedro accompanied them for his first tour of their campus and they all returned with glowing reports. (They even had a chance to observe the much-touted solar eclipse through welding glasses while they were there!) This visit provided the opportunity for them to walk through their schedules and discover where their classrooms were located, as well as to meet some teachers. While the girls returned somewhat more relieved and eager, it was Owen who came home recharged and so impatient for the next morning to arrive! We packed school supplies before bedtime and Pedro stayed up late preparing ingredients for his famous "breakfast tacos" to energize the new students in the morning and send along for lunch. Long past his bedtime Owen shuffled downstairs unable to sleep from his nervous energy. Since Owen had a cold anyway, Daddy dispatched him back to bed with a dose of Nyquil which served the dual purpose of stopping the sniffles and sending Owen into dreamland!
Tuesday morning dawned bright and early, with school departure at 7:15 AM. Pedro drove the big kids to their first day and returned with an amusing report of the differences between the siblings, with little brother Owen darting energetically in the direction of his classes while big sisters Eva and Isabel moved much more slowly and uncertainly towards theirs. My heart was so nervous for them! Meanwhile we had another commitment on the schedule, as Ian and Alec were scheduled for a walk through their new school with the principal at 12:00 noon. This was perfect timing because they were quite disappointed to not be starting classes along with their older siblings. Again we were so impressed by the school and its organization and friendliness and the opportunities that lie in store for our younger boys. We trust they will have a great year, too!
At 3:05 PM we were dutifully present for the first day's dismissal and ready to hear all about the experiences of our trio of new students. We had a wound up sixth grader, a happy but tired ninth grader, and a pleasantly surprised but somewhat overwhelmed tenth grader. Lots of stories were exchanged and we were all ears. We headed over to Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's house so that they could hear all about the first day of school as well! Special treats awaited the kids and it was sweet to share this memory with the grandparents after so many years of being apart.
And so our week marched on! As situations arose, we exchanged e-mails and phone calls and began to open avenues of communication with teachers, all of whom have been wonderful so far. We knew that the distances between classrooms and buildings might prove to be a problem for our daughter with mild cerebral palsy, though it turned out to be the sheer number of students and jostling on the stairs that made movement difficult for her. The guidance counselor was very helpful and proactive, providing her an elevator key and letting teachers know she might need additional time. Her favorite class by far has been choir, as she loves music! Our son has been nothing but delighted with his new friends and inspired by his teachers although by the end of the week he recognized what we knew would be a struggle, his English reading and writing which has been delayed through his years in Chilean school. This troubles him and we need to seek the best way to help him catch up and succeed. He has also surprised us with a keen interest in learning an instrument, and is now signed up for band and trombone! Our daughter who was used to setting her own schedule with online school is struggling a bit with expectations, homework, etc. but despite being the most fearful and resistant to change closed the week on a hopeful note. She has made friends and is delighted with special classes in photography and wildlife/fisheries! In the end, this is as new to us as it is to them. A learning curve stretches ahead for all of us as we learn the ropes of new schedules and expectations, but we are confident God has brought us here and has great things in store.