Saturday, June 15, 2019

Two Abundant Weeks, Part One

On Monday the 20th of May, a day dawned that had been months in the making as my two sisters and I planned to surprise our parents in a special way for their 50th wedding anniversary. On that day, Jennifer and I flew from our respective points of origin in southern and northern Chile to meet at the Santiago airport and continue flying together stateside. I was accompanied by my oldest daughter Eva, who remained in the capital city with friends for the duration, while Jenn's oldest son Matias joined us on our northward journey.

awaiting pick up in the Baltimore airport

Terri and Dave graciously made the drive to retrieve us in Baltimore, even detouring for a Chick-fil-A stop as a "Welcome to the USA!" As always upon reentry, we marveled at serving sizes and the wonder of free refills but we were all most eager to reach Lancaster. After nearly 24 hours of travel, we arrived to find our parents' home empty as they were at a doctor's appointment. This gave us the perfect opportunity to choose hiding places and agree upon secret signals in order to carry out the long-awaited surprise!


We later realized that our parents upon first glance confused Matias with one of Terri's son, thus resulting in less surprise than we had anticipated. But the appearance of their daughters awakened the shock and tears we had hoped for, making all the long months of whispering and waiting so worth it! It was somewhat surreal to sit down to a meal all together after two years (for Jenn) and a year (for me) of separation from Mom and Dad. 

around Mom and Dad's table once again

With the meal pictured above began two abundant weeks lived in fast forward, with so many special moments packed into so little time. Meeting our great niece Josie; celebrating Mom and Dad's golden anniversary with 150 family and friends; transitioning Matias into his home away from home for the next school year; participating in the Fishers' commissioning service; enjoying a family birthday gathering; sightseeing; shopping; and more. Making it bittersweet was the knowledge that our spouses and children in Chile dearly wished to be with us. We attempted to stay connected with them through pictures and chats and videos during each new experience, and cherished their willingness to let us go in their stead. (Of course we also shopped diligently on their behalf, as any good trip to the States requires!)

an outing to Olive Garden with our niece and grand-niece

It was a special treat that several different opportunities allowed us to spend time with extended family whom we don't always see often, even when we are stateside. Early in our visit, we planned a girls'-only outing to Olive Garden and the Lancaster shopping outlets with our niece Carey (married to Terri's oldest son, Jonathan) and darling great- (or as I like to call her, grand-) niece Josie. It was one of Josie's very first outings in her stroller, and she was the cutest and calmest little company as we explored together. Let me just say, bags pile up quickly when sales are great and you are shopping with mothers to five or six children and a grandmother to seventeen! I texted the picture below to my husband in Chile and his immediate response was, "Those better not be clothes!" Oops!


Of course, the highlight of this trip was Mom and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary. Friday, May 24 dawned beautiful and bright with the flower delivery person arriving that morning to deliver multiple bouquets. It was the simplest of these - a full vase of white daisies - that brought Mom to tears. Dad had remembered her bridal bouquet and ordered them as a sentimental surprise. He also whisked her off to dinner at a lovely restaurant they'd heard much about, and which did not disappoint. 


The following day was one long planned and prepared with the help of so many kind hands, including we three sisters but also our cousins, aunt, family, church and neighborhood friends of our parents. First came a professional photo session with Jen Mininger, who having previously experienced her own parents' golden anniversary and more recently the loss of her father, was the gentlest and sweetest person who could have done this for us. She drew stories, songs and laughter from Dad as she encouraged natural communication between him and Mom, capturing tender memories as a result. A smiling family picnicking nearby noted to us that "either they're newlyweds or they've been married a long time!" and gave their best wishes. True to character, Dad was interested not only in his own story by also Jen's and by the end of the session, stopped us to gather around in a circle of prayer for her. 


There are many photos I love from their session, but below are three of my favorite images taken by Jen:


And finally, after the pictures it was back home for brief moments before entering the fellowship hall brimming with people who love them. Family members on both sides, friends from Delaware and Chile and Pennsylvania and places between. Those who were their "flock" when Dad pastored and also teammates in ministry at home and abroad. So many precious people who took time on that Saturday to stop in and express care and congratulations for Mom and Dad's 50 years of marriage together.


Our nephew Matias, Jenn's oldest son, made a beautiful video for his grandparents which was shown at the beginning of their anniversary open house. It was another surprise, made possible by hundreds of slides being digitized after dusty decades of unuse, and brought more tears and laughter.



Our cousin Heather bought the cakes and brought them from a bakery in Delaware in the neighborhood when Dad was born and raised. Our Aunt Joann helped us with purchases and our talented cousin-by-marriage Ana created beautiful floral centerpieces. Mom's friend Nancy who lives in their neighborhood and attends their church, organized so many details "on the ground" while we were far away. Whether in preparation or presence, each person contributed to the overflowing blessings of this day! 

cousin Heather with husband Dave serving behind the scenes
cousin-by-marriage Ana who created beautiful floral centerpieces
Mom with sister Debbie and Melody

When all was said and done, it was with full hearts and tired bodies that we retired to Mom and Dad's cottage with some other family members we see all too rarely. Aunt Deb Lincoln with Aunt Melody and Uncle Bruce Clark (Mom's sisters and brother-in-law) joined us for pizza and post-party conversation and company. Though we had stated "no gifts" on the invitations, our parents received a basket full of cards and thoughtful wishes and generous love shown to them. How evident God's abundant faithfulness and amazing grace was on this day! Yet another reason to be so very grateful.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Across the Sea & History, Part Two

Young W.A. D'Arcy was buried far from home under the piercing sun and arid desert sands of the Atacama. His grave sits high on a hill in the Pisagua graveyard, overlooking the ocean which brought him to this forgotten place. My search for details of his century-old story does not fill in all the blanks, but it proves his existence and that of the ship on which he apprenticed. First, his name on a list from Ancestry.co.uk:


Then, information on his ship. The Largiemore, described as a "Steel Sailing Vessel 3 Masted Ship" was built in Glasgow just two years before D'Arcy's demise. It set to sea on November 2, 1892 and twenty-year old D'Arcy died just eighteen months later. Perhaps he was a member of the Largiemore crew from the very beginning. Regardless, he was certainly under the captaincy of John George Spencer (Master Mariner) who governed the Largiemore from its inception until its sale to Norwegian owners in 1910 (to be lost four years later between Montevideo and Adelaide with twenty-two persons aboard.)


Known for its speed, the Largiemore set a record for a 43-day passage between Rio de Janeiro and Adelaide in 1897, three years after D'Arcy's passing. I found five photographs of the Largiemore online, including a beautiful glass plate negative print by the Samuel J. Hood Studio of Sydney. Apparently Hood "would approach a ship on the assigned tug boat and photograph it as it lay off Sydney Heads. Once the ship reached the dock, Hood would board the vessel and approach the captain to allow him to sell the photographs of the ship to the crew. The captain authorised for the photographs to be paid for by the shipping company and then deducted a fee from the crew's wages." Hood was a creative businessman of his day!

What I would dearly love to see are the documents described in this entry from the Royal Museums Greenwich Collection. In a box buried far from here - under the weight of history and surely hundreds of other similar items - lies a log of the Largiemore including the year W.A. D'Arcy died. It also holds the letters written by Captain Spencer, beginning with the year of D'Arcy's passing. What more might we learn of this young sailor whose only memory is that of a fading marker on a sunlight sandy hill in a hidden corner of the country of Chile?

But perhaps the mystique is maintained by what we'll never know. Perhaps indeed those stories were carried far away "across the sea and history!"

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Across the Sea & History, Part One

History intrigues me. Stories fascinate me. Add a touch of mystery, and I can be immersed for hours, days, weeks exploring the past. I suppose that is why the tiny seaside town of Pisagua, Chile continues to draw me to it again and again.


It's also why the ancient cemetery of Pisagua continues to captivate me. The more recent history there is sorrowful and ponderous and necessary to explore. But it is the more distant unknown that draws me to discover who these people might be that came from so very far away in a time when travel was prolonged and perilous, across thousands of miles of deep and dangerous sea. It is the fact that one day soon these century-old markers preserved in desert dryness will be erased by the merciless sun. 

Each time we visit the Cemetery of Pisagua, there is one grave marker I make a point to see. It startles me that 125 years later, somehow this handwritten tribute under glass has survived when so many around it have been lost to time.


He was only 20 years old when he died. Very far from home, as evidenced by an English-language marker planted in South American soil. Yet his simple memorial holds many clues, and in this modern age of internet and genealogy searches I wondered what could be learned of young W. A. D'Arcy and others whose names yet survived nearby. 


Owen Williams was born August 4, 1888 in Holyhead, Wales and buried under the sands of the Atacama at 28 or 29 years of age. Over 6,000 miles from his homeland, by sea and at that time rounding the southern tip of the continent thus rendering the voyage that much longer. Who was he? How could we know?

 
The final resting place of F. N. McMillan is notable for its carefully crafted wooden cross. An encircled anchor at the top clearly identifies yet another lost sailor. His age and birth date are unknown but his home was remembered as Craicmore, Glasgow, Scotland. He died on March 1, 1906.

As I researched his name, I stumbled onto a blog post entitled "Thomas MacMillan….A Glasgow Lad goes to Sea… and ends up in Valpariso and Coquimbo, Chile." While not the McMillan I pursued, nonetheless the title piqued my interest and the article contained a wealth of information to further my own exploration. For example, I learned that:
Under the Merchant Seamen, etc, Act 1823 (4 Geo IV c 25) Masters of British merchant ships of 80 tons and over were required to carry a given number of indentured apprentices. These had to be duly enrolled with the local Customs Officer. These provisions were extended by the Merchant Seamen Act 1835 (5 & 6 Wm IV c 19) which provided for the registration of these indentures. In London they were registered with the General Register and Record Office of Seamen and in other ports with the Customs officers who were required to submit quarterly lists to the Registrar General. In 1844 it was provided for copies of the indentures to be sent to the Registrar General, and although compulsory apprenticeship was abolished in 1849 the system of registration was maintained.
This explains the reference on W. A. D'Arcy's tomb to his being an apprentice on the ship Largiemore. It may also indicate Owen Williams' lot in life, if the "A. B. Ship Fingal" refers to the same. So much to learn! But, time dictates that I close this post as Part One and continue another day. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Adoption is Gladness and Sadness

Photo by Libby Portraits (2012)

We don't do "gotcha" days.

It's not by conviction, or because we have anything against them. ("Gotcha" days are an affectionate term for the anniversary of a child's homecoming by way of adoption.) We're just not big partiers. We do celebrate birthdays - albeit simply - with a family gathering and presents and cake of the child's choice as well as going round the table sharing what each member loves most about him/or her.

Yet the best days, in my book, are not the big celebrations but the ones where we just do life together. 

Today, for instance, lunch was to-each-his-own leftovers. There most of us were in our narrow Chilean kitchen, scooting sideways to avoid bumping one another as we each created a meal to our own liking. The one constant for all of us as good Garcias was tortillas. Three cast iron skillets were fired up and Ian and Owen did the honor of toasting the flour circles and passing them along. At one point Owen asked, "How many want quesadillas?" and to my surprise began serving his siblings his homemade creations. The mood was congenial and everyone was working together towards a common goal (yes, eating!) and in that moment I was reminded how much I love this family God has given us.

Because that is what we are - family - and as the years have gone by and relationships deepened, conversations about how we came to be are fewer and farther between. We simply are. In moments like this one, I soak in the joy and remember the words of Psalm 113:9. Indeed, God has made this barren woman the joyful mother of children! 

Yet sometimes when we least expect it, reality steals in with the reminder that our family is not like all others. It carries the recollection that though adoption brings great gladness, it begins with sadness. When our children were younger, new stages of maturity and understanding would trigger conversations of this sort. It seems I wrote of them often in those days. Tonight, it was a movie that was unfamiliar to us, looked good (and was) but touched sensitive subjects of family and abandonment and race. It's not the first time it has happened, but it's been awhile.

Tonight my usually boisterous boys retired somewhat soberly to their slumber. My daughter who sometimes prides herself on stoicism said, "Man, I was almost crying in a few parts!" And her sentimental sister whose personal story reflects too closely some of the disappointments found in the film, dropped wet tears on the head of her faithful dog as we discussed big feelings and I reminded her of our commitment and love.

The lasting fear of abandonment, we've learned, can be very real even to a child placed for adoption as a young infant. "Can an adoption be ended? Because people end their marriages." An honest inquiry based on a sad reality. As a mother through adoption, I am so grateful that God's Word addresses even this. In first place, through salvation we are adopted by God and this salvation (and adoption) is trustworthy and eternal. We become not second-choice children but co-heirs with our Savior and brother, Jesus Christ! 


And in second place, nothing can separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39.) Amen!


The story in question tonight dealt with foster care rather than private or international adoption. Truth be told, it did a fine job of poignantly presenting the emotional roller coaster that foster care is. It also allowed me to share a final word of encouragement with my children. In their personal experiences, adoption was not the result of  a lack of love or a rejection of responsibility, but an act of sacrifice and commitment. One of the most beautiful pictures I've seen representing this reality is that of a birthmother placing her child in the hands of an eager mother and father, with Jesus watching over this entrustment with great love. 


"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:13.) I am reminded tonight of the matchless love of the five women who entrusted each of our unique and beautiful older children to us through adoption. I am reminded of the depth and breadth of each of their stories, and the emotions that we have been called to steward alongside them. I am grateful beyond words for our family and even for unexpected moments like we faced tonight. Each day together is a gift.

Monday, April 29, 2019

These Are the Days

"So, have things settled down there a bit?" This question from my mom always gives me pause. Literal pause, as I wrack my brain to remember what has happened in the last 24 ... 48 ... 72 hours - and beyond - when I often can't even recall what I ate for lunch! There is never a lack of busyness in our lives, that is for sure. And in true Latin American fashion, much of it is in response to last-minute changes and challenges which definitely keep us hopping.

When I began this post, I had some examples fresh in my mind. I'm pretty sure they were related to the seemingly endless paperchase for property-related documents for FLORECE, which is now in a temporary lull (so thankful!) Since then those memories have been chased away but new ones have replaced them. No two days are exactly alike. 

As I write, jackhammers are vibrating in my ears like they have countless times since we returned to Chile ten months ago. The soundtrack to our lives has been the demolishing and rebuilding of our neighbor's house. It really makes homeschooling "interesting" (read: impossible) some days. For a while, "life imitated art" as we ourselves attempted a seemingly simple remodel of the parking area alongside our house into a multipurpose room with a roof. I say "seemingly" because the appearance and then disappearance of multiple workmen has dragged out a three-week process into five months and counting. Recently the builders next door breached a section of lightweight wall between our two properties, breaking ours in two while concrete poured through it over our boys' bikes and the newly installed ceramic floor.

Those are the types of unforeseen challenges which can eat up chunks of our days and test our testimony! Frankly, I had to leave the interaction to Pedro because my words would not have been lovely. Only once did I give verbal vent to my frustration - and would again! - as it involved the well-being of my children who were unnecessarily placed at risk. (In that instance, the workers failed to install safety netting as required and thus a hammer hurtled three stories down to the patio where my preschooler normally played.)

Now, the two paragraphs above had absolutely nothing to do with my original intention for this post! Oy vey. Let's see. What I meant to write about was the early Saturday morning airport run that Pedro and I recently took to pick up Allison and Emily, two short-term missionaries visiting us for different and exciting reasons. Allison is creating our first storytelling video of the FLORECE ministry, featuring our friend Catalina's testimony. Emily is testing the waters of Iquique, so to speak, as she considers the possibility of full-time ministry with us (yay!) I also meant to write of the seventeen people we had at our home for lunch yesterday, and the nineteen we hosted the weekend before (including two Americans I "randomly" met after overhearing them speaking English in an Indian restaurant near FLORECE.) I was going to point out that in between running Silas to and from preschool each day and the older boys to and from basketball Tuesdays/Thursdays and Eva to and from riding classes Wednesdays/Fridays and Isabel to her first reponder class Saturdays, we had some extra (but exciting, because we're glad she's here!) errands like taking our new missionary colleague furniture and car shopping and explaining the intricacies of necessary paperwork for every aspect of life in Chile.

I might have mentioned how this morning I had a Skype meeting at 9 AM; then translated for a video interview around noon; and now Pedro and I are headed to a team meeting in half an hour. Or shared some recent disappointments such as a friend's cancer not responding to treatment and a FLORECE client whose decisions have saddened us and most especially the family who invested months in her child's life. Much more happily, I would have described the search for housing and airfare and planning as we have not one but two teams of people coming from the States in what will be the craziest June/July yet in our Iquique history! And also rejoiced that between March and mid-April, a dozen new clients arrived on the doorstep of FLORECE.

These are the days we are living as a family. Sensational. Shocking. Sensitive. And sometimes supernatural, as we sense the Spirit of God moving in ways we cannot always see. There is nowhere else we'd rather be!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Lectures & Fun from My Son

"What are all those tabs, Mom?"

I sat on the edge of the mattress with my laptop open on a tray table before me, while my lanky fourteen-year old sprawled legs, arms and elbows across the bed behind me. He craned his neck over my shoulder and asked his question. Too impatient to wait for my answer, he grabbed the mouse and began to click away.

"What's this? And this?" Three consecutive tabs were from the CollegeBoard site where I had been experiencing frustration for several days as I attempted to register my daughter for her SATs in Santiago.

Next were tabs from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. "And this?" I explained that I was trying to figure out a way for his sister to get a driver's license when she returned to the States for college.

He clicked on an Amazon tab. "What's this book about?" It was a Bible study on confronting cancer, a tender subject newly awakened by news from friend. 

Obviously, my tabs were lacking in excitement for him. 

Giving up on his investigation, he turned to me and lectured. "Mom, you have nothing fun on here! No wonder you are always so stressed."  (Well, Son, this is called working. And "adulting." And real life when you're a parent and grown up.)

It wasn't until much later after I had left the room and returned, that I found a brand-new opened tab on the laptop. At first I was puzzled, seeing nothing but a fresh home page. Then I looked up to where the url code should be. Typed in youthful enthusiasm (read: ALL CAPS) and spattered misspellings were the insistent words: "MOMMY DO SOMETHING FUN!"

So I did. I laughed. My heart swelled with humor and hope for a boy who wants happiness for those around him. May he learn to fuse fun with responsibility and never stop enjoying the life God has given him! And I will try to do the same.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Easter Weekend 2019


It is the Monday after Easter and as I write I am looking into the rearview mirror of our weekend, both literally and figuratively. My family introduced me to this cool feature in our new (to us) van, a drop-down fisheye mirror which allows the adults in the front seats to see all the passengers in the rear. In their defense, not every one of my children realized I was snapping this picture but I still love the togetherness it captures. Also, the reminder of God's goodness as all eight of us are comfortably seated in a trustworthy vehicle for the first time in many months!


The direction of our travels on the Friday afternoon of Easter weekend was to the home of Chilean friends Ricardo and Natalia and their daughter Emilia. The latter is our son Silas' classmate and arguably his best buddy! We'd finally aligned busy schedules for a cookout and time to catch up with one another, and to get to know another young family who attends church with them and whose son Mateo recently joined the other two kids in preschool. The afternoon was surprisingly breezy and cool, but the companionship was warm as we caught up on each other's lives and especially the excitement of Emilia's new baby sister due this July.


The picnic area we used was a small circle set amidst the parking lot of our friends' apartment building. While there was not a whole lot for our older kids to do, I appreciated their supervision of the littler ones on the small play set so the adults could talk, and their allowing me to coax them into yet another picture of our "Sweet Six." At one point, I got a chuckle out of the boys' efforts to entertain themselves when I found them crouched around a game of tic-tac-toe sketched into the sand at their feet! The time with friends ended all too soon, as our family had a prior commitment to another special event. We would be hosting our first Good Friday service with the church plant that evening.


Unfortunately, Silas' hard-played day got the best of him and he literally and inexplicably conked out on the less-than-comfortable stair steps at home after being dressed for church! Nonetheless we bundled him, sleeping, into the car as there was no other option for him that evening. It was the first time our church plant had met in the rented sede in the evening, and the cool night lent a different air of relaxation and expectation to our time together. Several visitors joined us, including friends from a sister church who did not have a Good Friday service planned. We were especially blessed by the arrival of our next-door neighbor, Jacqueline. Our daughter Isabel and new colleague Jenn had practiced a special number together with Isabel on keyboard and Jenn singing. Pedro shared a devotional and closed the service with their song. They did a great job! After the service, our friend Catalina came home with us to spend the night and next day with our family.


Perhaps the nicest surprise of the holiday weekend was the absence of workmen next door, where the demolished neighboring house has been undergoing a busy, dusty, noisy process of rebuilding for the past ten months (with no end in sight.) Thus we were able to enjoy hosting our own chaotic crowd of nineteen people for a Chilean-style cookout with steak, chicken, and sausage on the grill, accompanied by multiple salads and Aunt Pam's classic cheesy potatoes. Our guests were the Sharps; Jenn Taylor; Catalina; the Diaz Castillo family; and two new acquaintances, Russell and Stacey. The latter couple were in large part responsible for this gathering, as I recently happened to overhear them speaking English at an Indian restaurant near FLORECE and reached out to meet them. Each of our other guests were invited due to our commonality in speaking English and a desire to make Russell and Stacey, as newcomers to Iquique, feel welcome. It was a blessing indeed to learn that not only were they fellow Americans, but also fellow believers. We enjoyed the afternoon and evening with so many special friends!


And finally, Easter morning with its beautiful sunshine arrived. Our church service itself was simple, with merely a few meaningful songs sung karaoke-style with YouTube backgrounds. Pastor Jon began his continuation of our study of the gospel of John with the emotional news from Sri Lanka, where three churches were tragically bombed during their Easter services. It was a sobering reminder that just as Christ suffered, so too may His followers. Following the sermon, Pedro then had the privilege of explaining and leading our first Lord's Supper with the new church plant. Our time together concluded with food and fellowship, and multiple conversations taking place as people continue to beautifully build relationships within this small congregation.

After a busy weekend, as a family we had set aside Sunday afternoon for rest and time devoted just to the eight of us. Pedro grilled some delicious chicken to accompany leftovers from the day before. Conversation and laughter spilled around the table, especially in relation to language blunders as we explained the definition of the word "marinated" (which come to find out, sounds awfully close to the word "urinated!") Fortunately, Silas was again quite tired and fell asleep with little resistance, allowing the rest of us to watch a movie I'd long wanted to see and which seemed especially appropriate to the date: Risen, with Joseph Fiennes. 

What I loved best about watching the movie together were the tender revelations of such pain and passion contained in the Easter story. Introducing a fictional character into the well-known scenes of the Biblical gospels allowed us as viewers to see the stories afresh through his questioning eyes. The movie engaged the hearts and imaginations of our children, granting them a deeper understanding of the humanity of Christ's disciples as simple, fearful yet transformed men upon the resurrection of Jesus! I can't think of a better way to end what was truly a tender Easter weekend. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Happy 14th Birthday to Owen

snuggling with Mom
Dear Owen,

I must admit that I am writing this post over a month after the day of your birthday, but I will do my best to record the memories of that special day! This year, incredibly, you turned fourteen years old. How is that even possible? Wasn't it just yesterday that you were toddling around in a diaper and red cowboy boots? I blink my eyes and now your waist is by far higher than my own, with the longest of legs stretched below. But you are still eager to cuddle and try to curl your lanky limbs onto my lap, and that is something I simply love about you.

This year on your birthday, you predictably wanted both oatmeal bake for breakfast and chocolate cake with peanut butter icing for your celebration with family and missionary aunts and uncles. Though I tried so hard to keep the secret up until the day of your celebration, you wore me down and I confessed a few days early to buying the coveted bass guitar you had been saving towards and we would complete payment of as your birthday present. It had been hiding at Uncle Jon and Aunt Pam's in expectation of your big day and since then you have jumped in with both feet, learning to play in the footsteps of your cousin Mati. We are very proud of your efforts!

For your birthday meal with Mom and Dad, you hoped to try something rather exotic but unfortunately our first attempt was unsuccessful due to both a cash-only policy and the absence of what we wanted to order off the menu (TII!) So we ate at the Viejo Iquiqueño instead, discovering for the very first time that there was an optional second floor with a beautiful outdoor view towards the ocean! 

I can't remember the reasons now why your little brother Silas did not make it to the cutting of birthday cake. Birthdays are his favorite but I think he was just so exhausted from all the excitement that we sent him to bed early! So the very first thing on his mind the next morning was, of course, birthday cake and you kindly reenacted the blowing out of candles with his help after he sweetly sang Happy Birthday to you again. God has given you a very special role as big brother not only to little Silas, but also Ian and Alec who look up to you and admire you. I pray that your relationship with each of them continues to strengthen and grow as you all mature and understand what a blessing it is to be family.

Dear Owen, at fourteen years old you are taller than your sisters and nearly taller than me. You've been on a learning curve this year with online school but for the most part have plugged away consistently. Basketball has been a thrice weekly pastime with the Aguilas Negras team, and you've been dedicated to playing guitar (now bass) on our little worship team affectionately called "Pipe y los gringos!" The neighborhood boys regularly come around to call your name and carry you off to play basketball or soccer - or in one strange recent occasion, to join them in doing tricks at the streetlight for coins (insert bug-eyed emoji here, ha!) 

My prayer for you this year is to discover the greatness of God in a personal way in your own life. I pray that Jesus becomes more than a name that you hear at church or family devos or in one of my famous "mom lectures!" I pray that He becomes your closest confidante and trusted friend.

God has given you so many unique qualities, one of which is your ability to connect with people and make friends and communicate with peers and adults alike. The most transforming message you could ever share with others through your life is that you know and serve an incredible God who has done amazing things for you! I love you, my dear sweet Owen and wish you the happiest 14th year of life and many great adventures and joyful experiences to come. 

All my love,
Mommy


Previous birthday posts:

13th Birthday - Owen
12th Birthday - Owen
11th Birthday - Owen
10th Birthday - Owen
9th Birthday - Owen
8th Birthday - Owen
7th Birthday - Owen
6th Birthday - Owen
5th Birthday - Owen
4th Birthday - Owen
3rd Birthday - Owen
2nd Birthday - Owen

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Happy Birthday to My Husband

Dear Pedro,

Perhaps in placing yours and your brother's birthday just one week apart growing up, God was preparing you to share your birthday week with not one but two sons in the future! Once again the April birthdays are upon us, and once again yours gets a little lost in the shuffle even as you assure us of your contentedness with a low-key celebration. This year, you began your birthday on little sleep after a 4 AM wake up call by a child with a hurting ear and a preschool potty training incident at 5 AM. (I am including these details because of how much fun we've had recently reminiscing through would-be lost family memories if not for such little reminders posted through this blog!)

I am thankful for your relaxed acceptance and that you are so easy to please on your special day. I am also thankful that today we unexpectedly connected even without prior planning and in the midst of our own personal craziness (you running a senseless circuit of tramites to relinquish our old van and me chasing down paperwork for the pregnancy center!) Having older kids able to toss together their own lunch, thus allowing us to slip away to a nice meal on your birthday was very special. Your being handed a beautifully decorated "Happy Birthday" platter with a complimentary dessert made for a fabulous finale to an already outstanding order - a seafood trio for you, and an avocado/asparagus risotto with steak for me.

Silas was most preoccupied all day that Daddy have a proper celebration, asking where the birthday balloons and plates and napkins and candles - and most importantly, cake! - might be. He didn't understand that those were not a planned part of today, yet even so God blessed the heart of a little boy just before bedtime when sudden guests brought the gift of a cake on a platter. And all the while Mommy silently moaned and groaned the unscheduled intrusion, his delight and your calm, hospitable response chastised my selfishness while reminding me that God is more concerned with our character than our comfort! Your pleasant welcome and sincere saludos reminded me again why I love you for the kindness you carry in your heart.

Happy 47th Birthday, My Sweets! I am glad that you received birthday greetings from so many who care about you and whose lives have been enriched by knowing you. Your kids and I love you. Thank you for making us laugh, feeding us your fantastic meals, leading our family in morning worship, and with God's help keeping us all together in spite of the crazy life we lead!

This year, I thought I would include links to your prior birthday posts on this blog so that when you wish, you can read them and be reminded that you are appreciated and loved.

All my love,
Stephanie

Birthday Posts by Year:

2007
2008
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2016
2018

Monday, April 08, 2019

Happy 11th Birthday to Alec

Dear Alec,

You are loyal. You are loving. You are smart, and careful and kind. You love your family. You have a great smile! You are many wonderful things and on your birthday, family and friends went around the table sharing what we all loved about you.  

Something else - you are frugal and motivated! These traits were evidenced on your birthday when you were willing to forego gifts to focus on the one big thing on which you've set your sights. Ever since Uncle Kyle visited us in Pennsylvania from Iowa with a certain video game system, your imagination has been captured with the idea of saving up for one of your own. And you're almost there. 

Alec, this year you have tried new things such as running the PowerPoint for songs at church and more recently playing the bongo on our little music team. You've joined basketball alongside your brothers and put many miles on your bike in their company, too! You are growing and learning and it's a joy to watch you.

For your 11th birthday, Daddy and I took you out for breakfast to the Cioccolatta restaurant downtown. It's a bustling little place where lots of business people have meetings over coffee. You looked around at some of the formal attire and said that maybe you hadn't dressed right for breakfast! Our server was very nice and gave you a choice of cake for your birthday. I loved your decision - a delicious panqueque de chocolate. In true Alec fashion, you offered bites to the rest of us to enjoy as well. As we've done at each birthday this year, we pulled out my cell phone to review past birthday posts and be reminded of sweet memories through your childhood. 

Daddy pointed out that last year we had dinner at Red Lobster and we have a funny story from that visit. Our cool dude server said he had a new bike outside and you might enjoy admiring his new wheels. We looked for some amazing motorcycle on our way out, only to see a motorized bicycle instead! Maybe it just struck our funny bone that night, but we still laugh about it to this day.


After breakfast on your birthday, we took a walk around Plaza Prat and there were some unique stands on display! One was a mobile Registro Civil, which I ducked into for a document I needed while you and Dad visited some of the artisan sellers nearby. Then you and I had an adventure climbing onto a mobile earthquake simulator! It was programmed for any and all earthquakes in Chile in the past couple of decades, and the "luck of the draw" for us happened to be the biggest one - a  magnitude 8.8 in 2010. We sat on the shaking cab with a few other men and watched the crowds gaping at us. An unusual birthday outing, but rather unforgettable!

Later in the day, our missionary family joined us for more cake (this time, your choice of cuatro leches) and singing Happy Birthday and a game of Upwords where you and I started as partners but your enthusiasm quickly waned. It was a simple yet special time of celebrating you and starting off a week of birthdays in our family.

We love you, Alec Stephen! Keep focusing on Jesus and He will continue to guide your life and give you purpose each day. You are a special member of our family and we are so thankful that God gave us the privilege of being your parents. 

Happy 11th Birthday!

Love,
Mommy


Previous birthday posts:

10th Birthday - Alec
9th Birthday - Alec
8th Birthday - Alec
7th Birthday - Alec
6th Birthday - Alec
5th Birthday - Alec
4th Birthday - Alec
3rd Birthday - Alec
2nd Birthday - Alec
1st Birthday - Alec

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Bucking or Bending the Knee

December 20, 2018 was a most exciting day. After a whirlwind of divine direction and intervention, I found myself in a local notary's office being cheered on by colleagues while (in my role as FLORECE's director) I was awarded the rights to a property via inheritance auction. It all happened so fast, and in the sixteen days that followed - in between Christmas and New Year's holidays and literally up to hours before departing on a long-scheduled family vacation - we feverishly worked to complete required steps to move the monies generously donated towards this purchase on behalf of the pregnancy center ministry in Iquique. Having delivered the final cashier's check to the judge and being assured by him that the paperwork would be ready to sign upon our return from vacation near the end of January, we happily began the countdown to ownership of the new FLORECE building. 

Nearly three months post-auction, we are still waiting.

My WhatsApp chats with the auction judge's secretary bear witness to hopes raised and dashed, promises made and withdrawn, stories told and tweaked. On January 15, I read: "... We are writing up the public deed, hoping that next week everything will be almost ready to send to the registrar [of real estate]." The following week, on January 21 I was told: "... we only lack certifying the publications in the newspapers of all the auctions, and verifying all the heirs because they are many and we have to verify it with all the registrations of the property together with all the actual possessions." Three days later, I was assured that the lead heir "went to the registrar of real estate to request some copies and then we will finish doing everything hopefully." 

Two weeks passed during which an architect toured the property (newly vacated by non-paying tenants) and drew up building plans we were eager to implement. On February 8 I asked for an update on the public deed but instead received this reply: "... [you] had better come to the office on Monday at 11 in the morning." Due to schedule conflicts I wasn't able to visit the office until the following week, when both Pedro and I sat down with the judge who told us that another heir had died and the paperwork to add his six heirs to the property was taking additional time. (He said they hadn't known of this heir's death prior to the auction; however, in a previous conversation with his secretary, she had told me they did find out just beforehand but could not make any changes at that point.) On this visit, the judge assured us that the paperwork would be ready the 20th of February or possibly a few days later. 

Allowing for the extra days, I wrote to the secretary on February 26 and heard back this announcement: "There is a delay with the registrar of real estate, they indicated to me that the papers will be delivered the 5th of March." Thus on Monday the 4th of March I wrote requesting to be informed immediately when the documents arrived - but no message ever came. I eventually called and was told that the rough draft of the deed would be ready for me to sign that Friday. Four days later on March 8, I again went in person to the judge's office and signed the rough draft amidst evident confusion and discussion between the judge and his secretary over this and the next step. The next step, I was told, was delivering the rough draft to the notary to create the final deed and it would be completed on Monday.

I wrote Monday for assurance that the rough draft was being delivered. This was my answer: "Yes ... I think that around 1 in the afternoon it will be ready to sign at the notary." An hour later, another message followed: "For today I don't think the final deed will be ready." I pressed to know if tomorrow I could sign, and was told: "Yes it could be ... We already talked to the notary this morning ... What happened is that I had to photocopy certain documents."

At that point, I began calling daily. First I was told that there was a final heir who had to be notified by certified mail and given three days to respond. On Thursday, March 14 I asked if he or she had been alerted and this was the reply given: "Yesterday I was waiting for the recipient to notify, but he did not arrive, so I hope that today he will retrieve the documents to notify." I pressed for information, asking who the recipient was and the answer was "I don't know ... the other lawyer has to look into that." I asked for the "other lawyer's" phone number and was told: "The truth I don't have it." 

Frustrated, I insisted that the judge must have the other lawyer's number because they have worked together on this case for so many months. Soon I received a phone call from the judge's secretary who said she had spoken with the other lawyer's secretary, who stated that the final heir was being given until 1:30 that day to appear. Otherwise legal documents would be sent the very next day via certified mail to him or her with a three-day response window. I wrote at 2:30 asking if the heir had appeared, but received no answer.

With tentative hope, the next morning I called to ask again. This time the secretary did not answer her own phone, but handed it directly to the judge himself. The details he shared were different than any we had heard before. "The final heir is homeless," he said. "They have been trying to find him or her for 40 days without success. But, surely it will be resolved this weekend. By next Wednesday you should be able to sign."

Perhaps understandably, I am no longer holding my breath.

The plans made with the architect and builder are on hold; we had hoped to begin remodeling on March 16 but without a public deed in our possession we cannot even receive permission from the municipality to do so. We are told that from the time I sign the deed at the notary, it will go the registrar of public records and possibly take two months for this step. Then, our request for a building permit goes to the municipality and could take another four months. The builder who had a crew ready to go will have to take another job and we hope that somehow his schedule will clear at the same time we are finally ready to move forward. My greatest frustration in all this is not the wait or the delays; had we been told of the timeframe from the beginning then we would have adjusted our expectations accordingly. It is the deliberate misinformation we were given time and again, perhaps in an attempt to save face, that is maddening. 

Just last week, we sent an praise and prayer update via e-mail rejoicing at all God had done to bring about the purchase of this property and to provide an honest and qualified builder in a cultural context where one is often hard to find. This week, my heart struggled to praise. Yet, did any of this catch Him by surprise? I know the answer is no. I also know that superficial struggles disguise deeper lessons that He wants me to learn. Will I buck them, or will I bend the knee? I want to do the latter.

I carry the valuable weight of responsibility for my testimony in the face of disappointment, as I represent a Christian foundation before unbelievers and a personal faith in front of my children. I know that my knee-jerk response this week has not been to "glory in tribulations!" Yet God's Word says that "tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:3-4) I have confessed my frustration to my family and asked their prayers for patience when I feel like boiling over. I have sought counsel to guide us toward proper decisions when pleasing options are placed before us that perhaps might not properly honor God.

There is a beautiful verse in Isaiah that my colleague and co-director at FLORECE suggested we pray together in the face of the messes and delays that have overwhelmed us this week. "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God." (Isaiah 50:10) What a timely reminder that despite the disappointments, God is still in control and we can still trust His perfect plan for the FLORECE property and ministry. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Silas' First Week of Preschool

I'm quite sure this picture will always bring a smile to my face for so many reasons. Of course, first of all because it is our baby boy in uniform for his first day of school and just how adorable is he?!? Second because, well, the hair. Honestly we did bathe him and comb it the night before but bedhead is truly a thing! Ironically, in Chilean preschools the routine is to clean, comb and perfume the student before sending him home so Silas actually returns to us in much neater condition than we drop him off. I ask myself, what kind of parents does that make us? Maybe just tired middle-aged parents with half a dozen kids who save our energies for bigger battles?? (I like to think so.) A third reason this brings a smile to my face is because it reminds me of Silas' older brother Ian wearing the same outfit and posing by the same wall on his first day of preschool six years before (see cute pictures below!) And finally, it makes me smile because it reminds me that God has a divine sense of humor. When Ian and Alec entered their respective preschools, Alec's class in particular had many older and doting parents whom frankly, we found a little amusing. Ahem. Yes, now those "older and doting" parents might just be us. Scripture once again rings true in in warning that "in the same way you judge others, you will be judged" (Matthew 7:2) and now we are probably the amusing ones to the younger generation!

We certainly never expected to be checking off multiple pages of single-spaced útiles (school supply) lists once again, nor joining throngs of parents to shorten hems and take in uniforms on the chaotic first week of school. But as strange as it sounds, there is something heartening about having new faces to greet and people to meet and observing the novelty of learning in another little child. We are so thankful God has given our family Silas to enjoy. Even though the spectrum of completing college applications while still buying diapers is quite an emotional stretch sometimes!




Silas did have two special advantages to starting his school year. The first was having attended a "summer school" at his preschool during the month of February which allowed him to meet the tias (teachers) and a small group of fellow students ahead of time. And the second was his dear friend Emilia, with whom he had several months of play dates at the end of last year with the goal of learning some Spanish before being immersed in it daily. Emilia is her parents' first child and theirs is the novelty of everything being new while Silas is our sixth and ours is the bittersweetness of it all being the last. But it has been special to experience this with friends and we are so glad Emilia was there to greet Silas and soothe him on his first day when according to his after-school report, "I cried for you, Mommy and Daddy!"  Of course, we all got a good laugh out of his teacher's report saying that little Emilia promptly instructed him in her mother's words, "No llores, Silas! Llorando no solucionas nada!" ("Don't cry, Silas! You won't solve anything with crying!") Fortunately, since that first day we've been told he does not cry much for us even though he puts on a half-hearted show each morning at drop off. Apparently he does cry for other things (like a second juice box at snack time) and he was recently reprimanded for standing on tables in the classroom (not my child!) And while his tias say he is "muy regalón" (ie, snuggled and pampered) they seem to say so with affection, which he appears to reciprocate.



All in all, it has been a good first week of preschool for Silas. He starts at 8:30 AM and ends at 1:00 PM. Usually he arrives home ready to relax with some cartoons while his older siblings finish up their studies. Throughout the afternoon he begs for company to play Legos, read books, play Wii or his favorite - go to the park. Somehow he still has more energy than all the rest of us!

We have begun to "meet" the other parents through a WhatsApp group set up by his teacher, and look forward to group activities and programs throughout the year. We hope God will give us opportunities to build relationships and share Christ in the school as time goes by. 

Silas has already shown improvement in his Spanish and eagerly asks us each day, "How do you say (blank) in Spanish?" Recently he asked, "How do you say Spanish in Spanish?" Occasionally - being as he does have five older siblings he loves to parrot - he will ask for a translation of a term (such as the word "stupid") that we deem not necessary for him to learn in his first language, much less another!

We are so thankful for God's good and surprising gifts - like another little preschooler to love and enjoy. Thank You, Lord, for Silas!