|Overnight rental, Pisagua, Chile (May 2022)|
|Fisher Home, Iquique (Christmas Eve 2021)|
My husband would say he knew a little bit about grilling before coming to Chile, but realized very soon upon arrival that he was moving into "the big leagues" when it came to asados (or parrilladas) in this South American country! An early memory from our first years in Iquique took place at the home of new friends who were parents to a student in our daughter's second-grade class. It was there Pedro learned that the goal of a Chilean cookout was more than just a tableful of cooked meat. Instead, it was about the enjoyment of talking to your friend while standing around the grill, and the friend offering up tasty samples of all the different kinds of meat as the cooking process took place.
In other words, it was as much about relationship as it was food.
Another detail Pedro learned was that Chilean grilling never has to do with hamburgers and hot dogs! A good asado is always a variety of different meats, beginning with the chorizos or sausages. These are typically served first as a type of appetizer. The sizzling sausage is tucked inside a fresh marraqueta (Chilean bread) and garnished with pebre (like a pico de gallo) and mayonnaise. Later, the other meats are typically served at the table alongside Chilean rice and several different kinds of salads.
Overall, the cultural lesson we have learned is that inviting friends to a good asado is akin to offering them a special gift. It is the gift of time; laughter; conversation; and a quality meal that can sometimes be costly but is always a blessing.
Below, from most recent to oldest, I've collected photos of Pedro doing the grilling he now loves in nearly a dozen different places. Midway there is a picture entitled "Dream Fulfilled" which is when he received a homemade grill made out of a 55-gallon metal drum! Not only was this a gift to himself but to countless friends and family who have had the pleasure of being served from it. In fact, service is one of Pedro's "love languages" and grilling is one of the places he speaks it best.
Signed, A Proud Wife
|Vacation rental, Lake Alfred, Florida (July 2022)|
|Overnight rental, Pisagua, Chile (May 2022)|
|Fisher Home, Iquique (Christmas Eve 2021)|
This furlough, we have been surrounded by legacies of faithfulness.
On the one hand, uniquely so because of our constant connection with the Christian retirement community where my parents reside. Once while sharing with Silas the homegoing of someone he had come to know there, we considered how their community was like the waiting room of a doctor's office. Waiting for Heaven - and the Great Physician, God Himself.
Many who live there as their final earthly home spent lifetimes in Christian service. Some share their stories of ministry readily and often, which are a joy and challenge to hear. Others simply continue living lives of quiet and joyful service to those around them. For us "neighbor Nancy" was one of the latter. Her apartment door and my parents' were side by side. Shortly before our dad moved into Healthcare, she was widowed after 72 years of loving marriage. Looking back, we see that even then God was preparing Mom for what would become her new reality as she accompanied Nancy on many visits to her husband in the same wing and across the hall from where Dad would eventually reside.
When Mom - married since age nineteen - began to live alone for the first time in her life, it was Nancy who regularly knocked at her door in the evening to make sure she was doing okay. They shared lunch most days in the cafeteria with a group of sweet friends. Originally Dad, too, was there along with his dear buddy Jack who kept the laughter flowing with his quips and banter. But Dad was sidelined in October and Jack graduated in December to his heavenly home, leaving only the ladies to carry on. And if Nancy was there, they did carry on! Her quick wit at age 93 was astounding and her eyes would twinkle as she teased.
As my travels crisscrossed between Michigan and Pennsylvania, she was always eager to know details because Michigan had been her husband's birthplace and their home for many years. She constantly affirmed my care for Mom by making these visits, and I was so humbled on an occasion she gifted me words of her poetic encouragement and gas money to help along the way. Another time, she thoughtfully gave Silas a lovely wooden car that he treasures as being from her.
It wasn't until listening to a recording of her memorial service, however, that I realized we shared the most beautiful commonality of all. Her beloved children, like most of ours, were God's blessings through adoption. And perhaps because just like we don't often think of ourselves as an "adoptive" family but simply a "family," she had never mentioned this to me in our conversations. Yet what a profound encouragement it was to hear the stories of her grandchildren and children bearing witness to her loving commitment first and foremost to her family. Such a legacy of faithfulness!
This morning, we learned of another heavenly homegoing that touched our family deeply.
We had in fact been praying continually and preparing for the news, but nonetheless the knowledge that a dear family friend no longer walks this earth and his faithful life companion is left alone grieves us, though not as those who have no hope. We feel for Pedro's parents, for their friendship comprised many, many years and shared memories from young married life into retirement. The blessing of their friendship spilled over to us, for which we will be forever grateful. We, too, created unforgettable memories as recipients of gracious hospitality and committed encouragement for as long as my husband can remember and since we have been together. In fact, it was in their home I first met my future in-laws and was subjected to embarrassing questions for the (good-natured) amusement of all!
There are many wonderful qualities I will remember about Mr. Anthony. His work ethic was unequaled. His love for Michigan (particularly U of M) was legendary. His photography was a gift to many. His dry humor could keep you guessing if he was joking or not! The longevity and commitment of his marriage relationship and friendship with his wife was a testimony. The breadth of his generosity, mostly behind the scenes, is likely only known to God. He loved and was so proud of his family. On our last visit less than two weeks ago, even amidst physical discomfort he spoke glowingly of his two granddaughters who were earning their doctorates.
This year on furlough, I was especially touched by Mr. Anthony's warmth toward us. We've always appreciated his friendship yet I didn't consider him necessarily an affectionate type of guy. But he would usually greet me with a hug and I remember one Sunday when I asked how he was doing, he replied, "Much better now that I've seen you!" I will always remember that with a smile.
Above all, what I will forever admire is his life lived to the very end serving God in unwavering support of the local church. In our final conversation, he expressed with great emotion his admiration for our pastors. It didn't matter that they were young enough to be his sons. He nonetheless respected and supported their leadership role in word and in deed. His presence at the church was a given, and not only on Sundays or midweek gatherings. He shared his time and knowledge gleaned through years of experience in areas of accounting and added his wisdom to decision making. For decades upon decades, he faithfully invested in the local church and this is a legacy of faithfulness that can only be measured in eternity. His absence will be felt this side of Heaven, and he will be missed.
I wanted to come up with a shorter, catchier title for this post but this was the best I could do in the midst of packing up our lives once again. This month, we celebrate 21 years of appointment as missionaries sent by our home church in Michigan. Soon we'll celebrate 16 years since arriving to the country of Chile. For the past 10 months we've had the joy of living stateside close to our home church while carrying out the responsibilities of our 3rd furlough.
As we wrap up our time here, we've been reflecting on the blessing of a home church that has faithfully provided practical support. Pedro and I made a list, compiling the ways we have been supported along with a few additional ideas that we hope might be helpful to others.
1. Coordinating Airport Pick-Up/Drop-Off
A missionary family will likely arrive with at least 1 carry-on, 1 suitcase, and 1 personal item per person! Outgoing, the number of suitcases may double or more. Even if family members are nearby or willing, most do not have enough passenger space or trunk capacity. Additionally, sometimes economy calls for arrival at a larger airport farther from the missionary family's final destination. A home church that coordinates airport pick-up and/or drop-off is a huge blessing! It make take a church van or multiples vehicles/drivers. Often missionaries do not have cell phone connection upon arrival, so prior communication about where to meet is especially helpful.
2. Awareness of Housing Needs Prior to Furlough
Every missionary family's situation is different. A few churches own missionary homes. For some missionaries, a family member's guest apartment is regularly available. But for many missionaries like us, where to live on furlough poses an extremely stressful mystery. A home church that is aware of this need and willing to help secure a solution is such a comfort! This furlough through connections thoughtfully explored and coordinated by our home church on our behalf, God provided a missionary home owned by a church we'd never even visited before.
3. Initial Groceries/Gift Cards
We've been blessed by each of these options on different furloughs. Whether pre-stocking an initial assortment of groceries or providing gift cards to area stores, both help financially and practically in the early days of getting reacquainted with shopping at "home!"
4. Assisting with Vehicle/Transportation Issues
Often missionaries do not have a car to drive upon arrival and unlike their countries of service, public transportation is not readily available! Even once they do obtain one vehicle, chances are that members of the family sometimes need to go in different directions at the same time. (In Iquique, we just tell our kids to hop on the bus!) In many countries, missionary children cannot get their licenses due to higher age limits or paperwork challenges. So while older siblings driving younger siblings is common in the States, many teenaged MKs still need to catch up on driver's education. It's also possible that young adult MKs are already stateside for college without vehicles and the entire family cannot fit into a furlough vehicle when they all get together.
Practical ways our family was helped this furlough was a car swap at Christmastime so that our whole family could travel with our college-aged kids to visit their grandparents in Pennsylvania and Florida in a single vehicle. Another was the loaning of a second vehicle for several days when one of us had to travel out of state. People offering to pick up/drop off our teens was helpful. While still on the field, it was a blessing when other adults took our stateside daughters practice driving and helped search for affordable cars. On the tail end of furlough, selling or returning vehicles can be tricky to coordinate and in the past we've been blessed to have help with this detail also.
Especially with younger children, the transition times of setting up/packing up house can be very intense (as with any move.) Playdates or childcare can be such a relief both for the MK and his/her parents, as trust and relationships are developed. In our case this year, we had a broad gap in age between our youngest at home (1st grade) and our oldest at home (12th grade.) There were so many great activities for our teenagers and even more related to our son's senior year, but many of these were not ideal settings for a 7-year old. Friends with children his age who welcomed Silas time and again were a huge blessing to us and to him!
6. Engaging Teen MKs Relationally/Spiritually
A common pitfall for children raised in ministry is an unspoken assumption by others that they somehow have automatic spiritual maturity because of their life circumstances. Truth be told, their life circumstances may sometimes hold them back from asking genuine questions. It's not an easy task in a short span of time, but youth leaders and other Christian adults who show sincere interest, investing time and asking thoughtful questions can play a significant role in the spiritual development of teen MKs. A blessing of technology is the potential to continue that relationship even long distance.
One of the best ways for a missionary family to reengage with their sending church is to connect with members on a personal basis. Whether getting reacquainted with "old" members or identifying new faces, casual greetings or even extended conversations after church aren't quite sufficient. One suggestion we'd offer is that sending churches might help coordinate personal connections on the front end of furlough to help with getting to know people better sooner. Personally we regret each furlough not having been able to practice as much hospitality in our own home as we'd like. In part this is due to so many weekends of travel and the time it takes to "warm up" to life in a new place. We are learning to be creative. This furlough we enjoyed some visitors for breakfast mid-week while our children were in school. Our senior pastor invited Pedro to walk together on Mondays after school drop-off. Our associate pastor and wife joined us for a virtual conference over several weeks. Several families invited us to meals in their homes. We are so thankful for all of these connections!
8. Multiple Opportunities to Share & Pray
Something we appreciated this furlough was the opportunity to share the ministry in Chile not just once but several times in different contexts at our home church. These included combined youth/adult Sunday School; children's church; and Pedro's speaking in a Sunday morning service. It is very special to feel known not just as one of many prayer cards on the wall but to sense that from big to small, church members understand and care about the ministry in Iquique. Even more so, we deeply appreciated the dedicated prayer times for our family and ministry. Our final time of sharing with the church in Sunday School was thoughtfully divided into 15 minutes of presentation; 15 minutes of interview/Q&A; and 15 minutes of breaking up into small groups to pray. What a beautiful encouragement this was to us!
9. Planning a Visit to the Field
It was thrilling for us in 2019 to welcome a team from our home church for a week of ministry in Iquique. There is nothing quite like introducing your mission field in person to those who have sent you and who've supported and prayed for years! Whether a full team or a pastor or family representing the church, these field visits are such a blessing. Furlough is a great opportunity to discuss and plan for future visits and partnership opportunities.
10. Debriefing/Counseling Options
Four or more years on the field is a lot to process upon returning. Often traumatic or violent events occur overseas that might not be common in our home culture. Our missions agency has a built-in debriefing interview which is very helpful to begin outlining all that has taken place, but sometimes a one-time sit-down is not sufficient. We have observed that more options (even week-long, in-depth counseling retreats for adult missionaries and MKs) are becoming available but often they are not accessible either due to distance or cost. Similarly, there are re-entry retreats available to MKs returning to their passport countries for college that are excellent but impossible to attend due to the difficulty of coordinating transportation or finances.
While this is not something we specifically discussed with our sending church this furlough, it is an idea we wanted to add to this list because making debriefing or counseling options available to their missionaries if needed is a very tangible way to help and to encourage spiritual/emotional health and longevity on the mission field. This could look like a love gift to cover the cost of a debriefing retreat, or a list of trusted Christian counselors in the area to assist the family. The latter because sometimes in the course of a term overseas, needs are identified within the missionary family that are difficult to address because counseling resources are not available in their country of service.
In our experience, no two furloughs are alike. However, each can be a learning experience. Because our first two furloughs did not allow us as much time with our home church, this year we tried to be intentional in engaging where we could. We were often away speaking on Sundays, so Pedro joined AWANA as a T&T leader mid-week. I (Stephanie) could not commit because of frequent out-of-state travels to help my parents, but I tried to look for opportunities such as ladies' Bible study, substituting in childcare and attending celebrations where I could interact with others. We sought to not be in a rush to leave after services and to invest in personal conversations.
We are also very thankful for the perspective our home church has demonstrated each furlough. We have been warmly welcomed and thoughtfully embraced for the duration we can be with them. But we have been given the freedom to plan our time stateside according to our family's needs. Last furlough, that meant living in another state completely. We want to express gratitude to our pastors who in the midst of their own heavy loads of ministry, strive to stay sensitive and engaged with their missionaries as well.
This morning a simple memory surfaced by way of a photograph. It was unposed, and none of the subjects in fact faced the camera. A gentle sun was shining and the spray of waves rose in the background. In the foreground, our then-five children were captured in various poses: one son balancing on his roller blades; two daughters standing close together and relaxed; our preschool duo each paused and holding the handlebars of his scooter. All looking at an adult family friend we happened to encounter on his bike ride home from work along the oceanfront path in Iquique called the "Costanera."
My first response was to smile and share the long-ago photo with this friend's wife. Then followed motherly nostalgia, as a decade has passed and the third of our once-little children is soon to leave our family nest. But nostalgia turned to sorrow, and sorrow to grief and loss. Not because time has moved on, which is bittersweet yet normal and good. Instead, because later events stole the innocence of that moment and many others from the hearts of at least two of my children. Today they cannot think of Iquique and their life there in the context of these special memories but rather with regret and loss.
When shock and sorrow overshadow, even sweet moments are swallowed by darkness.
For our children, our family's 2018-2022 term of service began with loss. We returned from furlough to a church plant that was begun during our absence and the expectation that we would lead it in replacement of another missionary family cycling back to the States for their own furlough. This meant not returning to the only church our children had previously known and the friends they had there. At the same time, their close friends and missionary "cousins" were those who were promptly saying goodbye.
Nonetheless, the first year back in Iquique also held some great and exciting things. We welcomed back-to-back ministry teams from the United States, including lots of teenagers that our kids loved getting to know. Family members as part of these teams came to visit us in Chile for the first time. We had brand-new experiences and visited new places. Our children engaged in ministry and practiced new musical instruments. We were joined by a new teammate from Canada. We traveled to a missionary team retreat in Peru where our kids had a blast with other MKs from Spanish-speaking South America.
But then the shock waves started and refused to recede.
First, a Chilean family we were personally very close to was shattered by the husband/father's abandonment. For those left behind this led to years of grief, financial hardship, suicide attempts and eating disorders for a teenage child, breakdowns in health, and children walking away from the faith. One of those children had previously been our child's best friend and that friendship was withdrawn - another irreparable loss, on top of the tragic loss of trust in a respected, purportedly Christian adult.
Next, the country itself imploded. Violent protests, unending marches, tires burning in the streets, vandalized businesses, armed military, nighttime curfews, helicopters flying overhead. For one of our children especially, this led to a loss of felt safety and the distortion of a country once dearly loved.
Then, Covid-19. Suddenly protestors toed the line of any and all government ordinances. Lockdowns, no leaving home except for adults twice a week for two hours at a time with police permissions verified by armed military. Fear-mongering propaganda. Loss of fellowship, community, freedom. Almost an entire year inside our homes and for Chilean students, two years of lost school.
In the middle of this, the loss of our family as we'd always known it because our oldest left home for the United States. So much easier said than done, with canceled flights upon canceled flights and so many unknowns and the distance between us so very far away.
One year later, still masked and continuing in the midst of a pandemic, our second child left home. In the meantime, two additional longtime missionary families also departed Chile. Both of our daughters left during chaotic times but we hoped for a sweet reunion as normalcy slowly recovered and Christmas break beckoned. It was not to be.
Just prior to their return, a wave of supersonic proportions broke upon our lives and ministry. Ugly truths long kept hidden burst out and overflowed their trauma upon all of us. Instead of enjoying our daughters' visit for the holidays, I was comforting someone sobbing and broken who had once been their mentor and friend, now fallen from that pedestal along with those tragically complicit in her heartbreak.
Loss of familiarity. Loss of friends. Loss of faith. Loss of freedom. Loss of safety. Loss of trust.
Loss upon loss upon loss upon loss.
In the animated film "Inside Out" there is a character called Joy and another called Sadness. They along with other emotions live inside the mind of Riley, a tween girl experiencing major life transition as her family moves away from the familiar to live in a new state and city. For the longest time, Riley's memories (depicted inside glass balls) reflected only the happy yellow of Joy. But when the happy memories are touched by Sadness, her blue color spreads to them instead. Eventually the emotions discover that some memories do include both and in fact, first experiencing sadness makes joy then taste more sweet.
What happens, though, when all the happy yellow memories turn completely blue? This is where some of my children find themselves in relation to Chile now. How can I as a parent with compassion acknowledge their hurt, help carry their pain, yet rescue the joyful memories from being lost? I am not okay with the Enemy stealing all that was good and beautiful from their childhood away from us. I don't want to return to the field still under a cloud, yet so much hard still awaits us. How do I prepare my own heart to refocus on blessings even while facing the fray?
I do not want to live in dread but in determination; not in chaos but in confidence;
not in heartache but in hope; not in fear but in faith.
The answer is, and always will be, Jesus. Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:33, "I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
We were never promised a loss-free life. Quite on the contrary, Jesus stated: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:37-39)
What we lose cannot compare with what have and will gain through Jesus. Freedom from sin. Reconciliation with God. Eternal life. A home in Heaven. The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8-11, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
If I find more joy in the memories than in Jesus, my joy is misplaced. Only Jesus is worth the sacrifices and the shocks and the sorrows that overshadow because we currently live in a sin-sick world. Only Jesus can heal the hurts and the sadness. Only Jesus has overcome sin and death, and only Jesus is preparing a place for us in a perfect, sinless, eternal Home. Only Jesus holds me in tearful darkness, and only Jesus is my healing, brilliant Light.
I'm borrowing these final words from Ann Voskamp from her recent blog post:
"For too long we have lived a cheap faith, instead of a costly faithfulness.
We can say we pay allegiance to Jesus, but that is cheap talk; we aren’t paying allegiance to Jesus unless it costs us something.
Following Jesus means a cost will follow.
Following Jesus will mean a cost of comfort, cost of reputation, cost of relationship, cost of status, cost of self, cost of things near and dear, and though it may feel like a rendering in two, any cost for Jesus is only gain for now and all eternity. I’m betting the farm and staking my whole life on the cost of following Jesus is worth it because Jesus is worthy."
How is it 18 years already? Surely it was just yesterday that we received the life-changing phone call about a tiny newborn boy in Jacksonville, Florida awaiting a family - our family. How Dad and I thank God for the privilege we were given that day and every day since!
It has been our joy to walk beside you as you learned to walk, run, swim, jump, kick, throw and however many other athletic movements you've incorporated into these first eighteen years of your life on earth. You've never been one to sit still unless you're sleeping (and you do love your sleep!)
Your 18th birthday landed on a pretty lame day this year. Not only was it a school day but you were also scheduled to take the SAT at school. No sooner had school ended than you had to sit in driver's education class, and on the heels of that we headed directly to Wednesday evening commitments.
Due to construction on the highway, I missed our exit and we had to rush through a fast-food drive through with barely enough time to eat our food. On top of that, Dad was away. At least we managed to start the day with traditional chocolate chip oatmeal bake, if nothing else! And a pair of basketball shoes outside your norm of non-flashy black footwear, but hopefully you liked them anyway.
Our cheerful and friendly server had a hard time believing your age until we finished eating and you uncoiled your long legs to tower over him. "Hey, you grew!" he exclaimed.
It's not an uncommon reaction to the tall, lanky guy you've become. (We guesstimate 6'3" or 6'4".) I have to chuckle every time I realize that once again you've stored something on top of the refrigerator for safekeeping. What's out of reach for the rest of us is in plain sight to you!
This strikes me as a humorous but applicable spiritual analogy to where you find yourself in life right now. Everyone is asking what you plan to do in the fall, and it just isn't clear to you right now. The comforting thing is, God sees the top of the refrigerator. He's got it all figured out and you just need to trust Him and seek Him!
Owen, Dad and I have been your fans for 18 years and we'll never stop! But so much more importantly, God Himself is your absolute biggest fan Who loved you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. As you step into young adulthood, our deepest prayer for you is to invest your life in knowing Jesus and serving your Heavenly Father. This is truly what life is about and where everlasting joy is found.
We love you, Owen Santiago Garcia!
Happy 18th Birthday, and many more!
All my love,
What a year this has been for you! As you turned 15 years old, you found yourself in a different country and school and church with a new peer group who became your friends over the course of a school year in the United States. Looking back on last year's birthday post, I was encouraged to read my own words of hope written to you ("... there will be so many rich experiences and ways that God will reveal His faithfulness to us") and recognize that it has truly been so!
We celebrated your birthday in a quiet but fun way as a family. On our list of things to do was visiting the Longway Planetarium in Flint and watching the new Super Mario Brothers movie. You even humored your little brother with an astronaut picture at the former!
Alec, I often joke that you were our first "bonus baby" because two babies came home from Haiti instead of one like we originally thought - and I am so glad! You make our family more interesting and challenge us to consider more carefully all the "whys" and "wherefores" of life. You look at life from a different perspective but one thing I have really appreciated this year is your growing willingness to observe and listen to others' thoughts and experiences even when they perplex you. Daddy and I believe God has specially created you for a unique and perfect life plan He will continue to show you as you follow Him!
We love you, Alec! Happy 15th Birthday!
All my love,
Compartmentalization. I've often wondered if it is a strength or a shortcoming.
As one author writes, "compartmentalizing is not often a conscious effort, [but] they tend to become very skilled at it." I am the "they" - the TCK, Third Culture Kid, only now a "third culture" adult well into my fourth decade of life and still learning.
As a strength, it means I can often be fully present in a situation especially if it involves people. I am where I am, with whomever I am with, and I am focused on the here and now. Whether counseling clients for hours at our pregnancy center; meeting with other women over lunch or a very late "once;" traveling for a week away from husband and kids to care for aging parents; serving as tour guide to visitors from one of our two countries.
As a shortcoming, it creates tension when I feel unable to multitask and eventually must return to a towering to-do list alongside the needs and expectations of home and family and ministry.
This year of "furlough" has resembled a roller coaster of compartmentalization for me. With trips every six weeks to my parents for focused efforts to identify and resolve needs related to health and aging, my compartmentalization "strength" has served to accomplish much with God's help and the invaluable support of my husband at home. Weekend ministry assignments are compartmentalized as well, set apart from the week's school and sports schedules and carried out with a semblance of consistent rhythm from church to supporting church.
It's in the in between that for me tensions rise, as the arrhythmic array of responsibilities teeter over my head and threaten to topple my fictional control over circumstances and schedules. Paying bills between two countries, personal and parental and third party ministerial. Coordinating appointments, travel dates, children's commitments, speaking engagements, "down time" (what's that?) and looking towards an ever looming return trip with its transitions and emotions and decisions and even silly luggage limitations.
We are five months and counting, as my seven-year old who seems to love numbers reminded me at bedtime last night. Three of us still need to see the eye doctor and get glasses. Three boys still need to take driver's education, and one hopefully will obtain his license. A college decision must be made. Schooling for our return to the field is one ginormous question mark. All of us are years overdue for dental appointments with a professional we have yet to identify. Two young adult children ought to see specialists, but we're told they must first visit their as-yet non-existent, US-based "primary care" doctors. We are seeking one final weekend to travel ten hours each way to say farewell to a daughter we've seen only a handful of times over the course of this year. College-aged kids need summer jobs. The emotional needs of my children, especially those directly consequential to our calling, keep me up at night.
Yet the mercy of God meets me every morning.
The online thesaurus offers only negative suggestions as the opposite of "compartmentalize" but in this case there should be something powerful and positive and all-encompassing because it's a comfort to know His mercy is in all the compartments and every space in between. The lyrics say, "He will hold me fast" and He does no matter where I find myself on the roller coaster of furlough and of life. In His mercy, He multitasks for me to provide "every spiritual blessing in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3) And in His sovereignty, He knows just what we need, when we need it and how He has already planned to make it all happen. I can only echo another aching parent's words, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)
Hey there, birthday girl. How did we get so lucky to have you in our hearts for twenty-two years already?! You were a dream come true in 2001 and you are still a dream come true in 2023. Don't ever forget that. Always remember that you were the answer to so many prayers and God created you according to His perfect, divine purpose and plan.
I love that on your birthday this year, God allowed one of your dreams to come true as you visited the nursing home with your rabbits to bring smiles and joy to the residents there. I never considered that living where you do, many nursing home residents may have grown up on farms or at least around animals that they now miss in their daily lives. I am certain they look forward not only to your bunnies but also to you yourself because of the kindness and personal interest you demonstrate for each individual. This is one of the special qualities God created in your - your affection for the elderly as well as your fondness for four-legged friends.
Eva, these past several months you have demonstrated persistence in your pursuit of full-time employment even when it has not been easy. You have handled the ups and downs of hope and disappointment. You've continued pressing forward towards your goals with God's help. We are proud of you!
Our wish for you on your birthday is that you might continue to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!" (2 Peter 3:18) May this new year of life contain beautiful surprises from your Heavenly Father.
We love you so much, Eva Grace!
Happy 22nd Birthday!
All my love,
This time, it was an anecdote from school. Apparently - not for the first time - our exhausted senior fell asleep in one of his final period classes. Normally one might consider this cause for discomfiture, but not in his case! Quite on the contrary, after his curative catnap he awoke to classmates approaching him with comforting words. "Here, Owen, I took notes for you!"
Not only that, but his teacher caringly added, "I considered waking you up, but it was only a review and I thought you must be tired and needed the rest."
As they say in Chile, “Quién cómo él?!”
Or as Mom-Mom remarked when Pedro recounted this story, "Good thing he's a likeable guy!"
We will miss the ways he makes us laugh when he leaves home, and look forward to some great college chronicles in his future!
"Holding Fast the Confession of Hope" is a blog post I've written with the permission of my dad, Jim Christian. He asked me to preface it with this personal word from him:
“Because of my mental state due to Parkinson’s, I am presently unable to express myself easily. I am sorry for not communicating well to others this past year as I continue to suffer many different manifestations of PD.
I am thankful for my daughters Stephanie, Terri and Jennifer, who desire to care for me as and when they are able; and for my sons-in-law that enable them to come from time to time. I feel blessed to have been able to be with my sixteen grandchildren and two great-granddaughters over these past years.
I am thankful for the prayers of many, and especially for the confidence of our Home in Heaven with the Lord one day.”
"Was there just," he hesitated before finishing his question, "a little boy sitting beside you, right there?"
I was perched on the edge of my dad's hospital bed, facing him as he sat in his wheelchair. It was only the two of us in the bedroom he occupied in the skilled nursing wing of my parents' retirement facility. I tried to keep an even expression as I answered, feeling a twist of regret that in pointing out reality I could be causing a degree of hurt.
"No, Dad, it's just me. Nobody else is here. Tell me, does the little boy always look the same when you see him? Is he blond? Or dark-haired? Maybe he is you as a little boy, or maybe you miss having children around."
Imagined individuals, this recurrent little boy among them, seem to crowd my father's room these days. Unfortunately, rather than providing companionship they create discomfort and even fear. Nights can be especially scary. It hurts to sense the confusion these figments bring. It is a difficult task for Dad to accept that something so very real to him is only in his mind. It is an aspect of Parkinson's we knew little about until now.
Disorientation is another facet of the disease that saddens us. "Does that door lead to the outside?" Dad might ask, pointing to one that is the sole entrance and exit to his room. Or motioning to the closet, "That leads to the auditorium. I had never seen the lower level, but I stepped off the platform last night."
Harmless misconceptions in and of themselves, but observing bewilderment in the eyes of a beloved and intelligent parent is painful. To be able to do nothing to change it and to know further decline lies ahead, devastates the heart.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
I am so thankful that for believers in Jesus Christ, the deterioration of our earthly bodies is preparation for eternity. I am so thankful for the hope of Heaven. Yet we are called to manifest the life of Jesus while we remain in our "mortal flesh" - and this is hard. It is hard to manifest Jesus during the hours of unavoidable alone time, despite the best efforts of loved ones to visit often and even multiple times during the day. It is hard to manifest Jesus when diapers are changed and with them all dignity seems to be stripped away. It is hard to manifest Jesus when your mind misleads you and when the Enemy's schemes assail your soul while your body is at its weakest.
And yet I have seen it done - intentionally, imperfectly, cooperatively - as together Mom and Dad live out the words of Scripture:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
They are holding fast their confession of hope in the promises of God. They are stirring each other up to good works (and good attitudes, as the case may be!) They are striving to exhibit love to the aides, therapists and nurses who attend Dad daily - even in moments of discomfort and sometimes, disagreement. They are meeting together daily in the Word and prayer. Often, they are encouraging one another through hymns of worship.
Even so, tonight I shed tears after saying goodnight knowing Dad faced long, anxious, dark hours alone. Knowing the textbook answers for human suffering as a result of the Fall does not make it easier to watch a parent walk through the valley of the shadow of death - especially when there are long, open-ended years spent in its ever-darkening twilight. It is a reminder for me to pray for my loved one the words of Micah 7:8, "when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me." And Psalm 18:28, "the Lord my God lightens my darkness."
How grateful I am for a faithful earthly father. Because of him, I can trust our Heavenly Father despite not having all my questions answered this side of eternity. And I know that he can as well.
Our family started with two sweet girls, followed by four active boys. Those who told me "boys are different than girls" were proven right. From the very beginning, our boys were energetic, playful, and competitive. Fast forward to the teenage years (for three of them) and in some ways, not much has changed!
This year, Owen is a senior in high school and for the third time in the past fifteen years we find ourselves on furlough/stateside ministry. Having a child complete high school in the US is new to us. Having a male child graduating is a first as well. And having sons in American competitive sports is certainly a unique (to us) experience!
Recently at Owen's basketball game, I was struck by a wave of nostalgia as I reflected on the many and varied opportunities God has allowed me to be a sports spectator throughout his seventeen years of life. Of course, in Chile there was soccer and the picture on the left was his very first team uniform at 4 years old. But there was also aikido; handball; track and field; even one singular experience with sailing! All in good fun and simply for seasons, some longer than others.
Now as his time at home comes to an end, I am thankful for one last season of sitting in the stands and cheering him on. I will readily admit feeling like the least knowledgeable parent in the sports arena. As a newcomer, I'm also anonymous and that makes it kind of fun when I get to overhear things like, "What's his name?" "Owen Garcia." "He's a missionary kid!"
While his height (6'3" at 17 years old) provides an advantage for the game of basketball, Owen's lack of experience playing sports in the United States does make for a challenge. Also, he is playing on a team with several very talented teammates who have been together since elementary school and can naturally read each other's minds and moves on the court each game. However, he is working really hard and it is starting to show.
Something very fun has been experiencing the enthusiasm of the school's student section during home games. I found myself surprised by the loud cheer that went up when Owen subbed into the game this week, and even more so when I realized what the kids were chanting was "OG, OG, OG, OG!" (OG - his initials - is the nickname Owen received from the school soccer coach while playing for him in the fall.) I love hearing the students encourage the team, and observing the players encouraging one another. Seeing the players treat the opposing team with respect and fairness is so important.
To be completely honest, Owen is less than keen on my writing this post tonight. He stated that my blog should be put in an "internet lockbox" because it contains his entire life story (that might be a slight exaggeration.) He asked what motivates me to write here, and I hope someday he realizes the motivation is simply a mom's love for her family. That, and utter gratefulness to God for him, his sisters and his brothers. I write to chronicle a special final season that I never wish to forget.