Thursday, April 08, 2021

Happy Birthday to Teenager Alec


Dear Alec,

You are one of five cousins who turn the same age within a seven-month span. As the second-to-last birthday, some years you wait more anxiously than others to reach that special milestone! This was certainly true for your 13th birthday. It gave you plenty of time to have some specific expectations by the time April 8, 2021 rolled around - and it was our joy to try and make those come true for you as much as possible!

Unfortunately, we were unable to fulfill your request to have a dress suit made by our friend and stellar seamstress Tia Catalina (since lockdown meant she could not buy material to do so, and also limited any use the suit might get before you outgrew it!) Nonetheless, you showered and put on your best outfit to look the part of the handsome young adolescent you are. Then you humored me with a photo shoot, taking advantage of our neighbors' unique portones and painted outdoor walls to do so!

Another special request was for the delicious chocolate cake made by a Japanese acquaintance in Iquique. We had purchased it twice before - for Silas' 1st, and Eva's 18th, birthdays. Unlike previous years, this time the icing was white with sparkly blue accents and a blue fondant label stating "Happy Birthday, Alec!" Although your birthday once again took place in quarantine, with family for neighbors we could again enjoy the Fishers' presence and this year Felipe joined us, too.


One reason for Pipe's presence was our weekly church music practice held prior to your celebration. We had been hiding your gift ever since the Sharps left Iquique, having purchased from Uncle Jon his like-new electro-acoustic guitar and amplifier. We had no way to wrap it but Ian draped everything in towels for you to uncover, which was rather humorous. Daddy and I are very proud of how much you have progressed in playing guitar and even leading the way when Pipe is not able to be with us on a Sunday. God has given you a special ability and we hope you continue to enjoy serving Him in this way!


Sweet son, we are so glad that God gave you to us as a "bonus baby" from Haiti all those years ago. You are His unique creation. Keep following Him! I can't wait to see what God has in store for our book reading, guitar playing, deep thinking, brilliantly smiling son Alec Stephen! Daddy and I love you. Happy 13th Birthday!

All my love,

Mom

Previous birthday posts:

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Dear Daughter, I Admire You

So many years had passed but memories still flooded back as the occupational therapist warmly ushered us into her bright, busy office space shared by two other colleagues. Though it was our first meeting, her pleasant and confident demeanor reminded me of similar professionals who'd come before in your eighteen years of life. 

I quietly listened and observed her line of questioning as she attempted to compile a comprehensive study of your daily habits and lifestyle and struggles occasioned by your diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy at just nineteen months old. It had been so long since we rehashed the story with someone new and you have come such a tremendously long way that it took both of us brainstorming together to recall some details. In so doing, I was struck with such gratitude and admiration and the bittersweet acknowledgment that we stood on the brink of your biggest life transition yet with college just around the corner.

As we discussed your early challenges I could picture the feisty toddler fighting to keep her balance and take strides to keep up with a sister just sixteen months older. So many times the slightest brush of one of us by you took you right off your feet! Then you were casted and fitted with the first of many pairs of AFO's - plastic leg braces in pretty pastels and feminine flowers or butterflies but which you didn't particularly appreciate. I remember therapists in Michigan, and Texas, and Santiago, and Iquique from your age two to nearly ten years old. 

And then you outgrew both AFO's and therapists - or at least so you stubbornly thought - and the last eight years have been achievements entirely your own by God's grace and help. As I heard her questions and your responses, emotions of wonder and guilt and gladness and a touch of worry wrestled inside me. I recognized just how many small, daily ways you learned to make adjustments for limitations you faced - primarily in strength, endurance, and the fine motor skills required for activities such as tying shoes, buttoning pants, putting on makeup, doing your beautifully curly (and complicated!) hair. Even more so, I realized how rarely you'd expressed a need for help and how much I had taken for granted without knowing the extent of your efforts to succeed.

Perhaps some of the details were driven into forgetfulness along with the many head-butting sessions we survived as mother and daughter with strong opposing opinions on so many subjects! Your dad and I realized early in rearing you that we had to choose our battles or we would be in constant war. Yet we also granted this very tenaciousness was God's gift to help you overcome the hurdles that were inherent in your cerebral palsy diagnosis.

Dear Daughter, I admire you. Your courage and compassion and charisma have enriched our family in countless ways. I still see you insisting on training at the track with your brothers and running the races with your age group because if there was one word you couldn't accept, it was "no." I remember the arguments about soccer on a concrete court and why we didn't feel it was safe, which devastated you until finally our stateside furlough provided a grassy green field to don a uniform that you held onto forever. When you could have withdrawn or rightfully excused yourself from certain chores or challenges because of exhaustion or fine motor tremors, you instead pushed yourself to succeed.

Even now, you are determined to pursue a career path that will not be simple and that will demand all the focus and energy and commitment you can give. You've never been one to back down in the face of difficulty (though Shakespeare nearly pushed you to that point!) and I will strive to worry less and cheer you forward with much prayer in this new and exciting season of your life. Put Jesus first in everything - your daily routine and decisions, your studies and friendships, your future goals and aspirations - and know that He alone is your trustworthy guide!

When you were a little girl, casts were carefully molded by qualified professionals to create an orthosis uniquely designed for you. Many times that support was invisible under clothing - but strapping them on daily provided the safety and stability you would need. Dear Daughter, if you daily strap on the Word of God and walk in step with your Savior - He will be that safety and stability for you now. Know that Daddy and I love you greatly and will be celebrating with our little "Cheetah" every step of the way!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

On Baptism & Allegiance

Huayquique Beach - March 19, 2021

It was a beautiful and blessed night. 

Despite rushed circumstances due to the government's Thursday announcement of lockdown resuming Saturday, nothing could mar the joy of witnessing faithful obedience. On Friday, Roismar and Rosaida chose to publicly proclaim Christ through baptism. From Venezuela and from Cuba, respectively, each came to Chile in search of a better life and more importantly found their eternal life in Jesus. What joy! 

It was a night perhaps quintessentially "Iquiqueño." Literally dozens upon dozens of cars lined the potholed pavement alongside Huayquique beach. Even if the next day hadn't been the beginning of quarantine it might have resembled this by virtue of being a Friday, but on this occasion the crowds were exaggerated. Still, at the farthest end our small church plant family found a quiet spot somewhat isolated from other pockets of people to set up camp with a toldo and two folding tables and chairs and blankets and food for fellowship. The common Iquique scents of sea breeze and marijuana wafted by as we navigated sand and bits of broken glass from previous partyers to celebrate this moment set apart.

Maybe that last sentence sounds a bit odd. But there is little neat or tidy about ministry in Iquique.  

In fact, even as I absorbed the joy of the evening I was struck by bittersweet memories. Earlier as we had proceeded at a painstakingly slow pace down the crowded lane, a car intent on attempting an impossible parallel parking job ahead of us forced traffic to a stop. My daughter's voice turned my attention to two attractive young women sitting on a cement stoop just a few feet away. "Look, Mom! It's Josefina." (Name changed for privacy.) We called out and she turned her head, flashing the familiar smile that once graced our dining room table each week. It has been years now since she was the "extra daughter" that we loved to welcome at home, at church, on family outings to the Los Verdes and Playa Blanca and Arica and Santiago. She has moved on, and though our relationship would still be characterized as friendly there are no longer any common threads that bind us. The six-pack of beer between her and her friend was evidence that her priorities are quite different now.

I still remember a concerned conversation my husband and I had when she was a young teen. She was gentle and humble and kind with a beauty we knew would dazzle one day. "What happens when she realizes she is beautiful?" we wondered. With no father in the picture and a mother here again, gone again who bounced through relationships most of her growing up years, we knew the odds were stacked against her. Yet her tender love for God as her Heavenly Father was precious and we prayed it would withstand the temptations we had seen so many other teens succumb to in this city. Unfortunately, at least for now it has not. Calls and messages and invitations politely ignored eventually evolved into this silence which is only broken by the rare sighting and accompanying smile.

As we gathered with our kids and church families for the baptisms, one of our sons pointed out that there was an actual swimming pool where Huayquique Beach ends. I told him we knew of it because it belongs to the Chilean Navy and we were able to use it once for baptisms when service members attended our prior church. More poignant memories surfaced in the telling, because it was then that the exuberant J.P. was baptized. First his wife, then his step-daughter and then he joined the church fellowship but eventually every one of them fell away. A longtime owner of a colorful restaurant known for its supersized churrasco sandwiches, J.P. still greeted us warmly when we had occasion to visit. Tragically, last year the restaurant which included his residence burned to the ground with J.P., his daughter and nephew inside. Was his baptism a true step of obedience after a sincere salvation? Only God knows, but I pray that somehow it was. 

Perhaps the most unforgettable memories which surfaced at Huayquique were of the aftermath of the last baptisms our former church held there in March of 2014. After a beautiful celebration of eight believers taking this public step of obedience, the church family enjoyed an afternoon of food, fellowship and fun before disbanding and heading home. However, a group of teens and adults still remained when a 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit and tsunami alarms began to sound. Little did we know that it was only a precursor for the 8.2-magninute earthquake that was to come two weeks later! 

As I was writing this post and looking back on pictures of that day, I was again struck with sadness that two of those baptized I described as "a young brother and sister who have been attending our church this past year ... [t]heir parents are committed Christians and very involved in different ministries." Today, only their mom remains a faithful follower of Jesus. Conversely, I wrote of a "daughter and mother who faithfully attend despite the challenge of being a family which is divided by religion." These two by God's grace remain strong in Christ and continue to preach to their loved ones who have yet to trust in Him.

Last night, I felt the joy of serving in this city of so many people and so many needs. I was reminded of the beauty of baptism and its public declaration of allegiance and obedience to Jesus Christ. Last night, I also felt the sadness of seeing many fall away over the twelve years we have lived in Iquique. We have truly observed the "Parable of the Sower" as told by Jesus in Matthew 13. Yet we are called to continue to sow the seed and rejoice when someone "hears the word and understands it." It is my prayer that these will indeed bear fruit and yield "in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty" and that we will have the awesome privilege of bearing witness. Please, Lord, raise up a mighty harvest of saved souls and faithful disciples in Iquique!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Laughter Is the Best Medicine (Again)

Oh, how I love having hilarious sons in my home! 

I have to give credit where credit is due, because their dad is pretty funny himself. More on that later! But lately it's been Silas keeping us in stitches with his expansive explications and five-year old footnotes on life. Such as a recent opportunity to play with a new friend named Juan de Dios one evening. Afterwards as Pedro prepared him for bed, he asked his friend's name. Silas confidently stated, "Oh, I think his name was ... Jesus de la Cruz!" When we dissolved in laughter, Silas lost not an ounce of self-assurance and congratulated himself, "Well, at least I got one name right!" I guess he meant the word ... "de?!"

Today, however, it was my 6-foot-something, 3-weeks-shy-of-16-years-old Owen. After lunch as five of us crowded into our confined kitchen, he mentioned that he had a question for me. Immediately I craned my neck to make eye contact in our close quarters and he protested my proximity. "Mom, Mom, Mom! I'd rather talk passively. You don't have to get up in my face like that!" I laughed and said that's what I miss in Covid times, the "passive" conversations I used to have chauffering the boys in the car to and from basketball where they could more comfortably talk to the back or side of my head while I kept my eyes on the road. 

Still, I teased Owen and grabbed him for a neck hug before he could run away. In turn, he passionately asserted, "Mom! This is you. You are so intense!" and in overstated fashion bent halfway down to my eye level. Eyes bulging just centimeters from mine in elaborate exaggeration, he rubbed his hands together in dramatic delight over an imaginary intense conversation.

a random yet happy picture of togetherness at home
It's one of those things you probably have to see to appreciate, but it led to peals of laughter and the reminder that laughter really is good medicine! And if so, we've been well medicated today. Returning to the subject of their dad, this morning at the end of family devotions I called for hugs all around. Pedro was wearing an undershirt and just setting foot on the stairs to retrieve more formal attire. Rather than lose the moment, I insisted that he didn't need a shirt (meaning, of course, the more formal attire) for hugs.

That was all it took for uproarious comedy to ensue as he retorted, "Oh, really?!" and tossed his undershirt aside to the consternation of his appalled children. They squealed and protested and attempted to hide under couch cushions - all in good fun - but in the end none could escape Daddy's bare-chested embrace. In the meantime, we split our sides in laughter and it was a great way to start the day smiling. 

As I was preparing this post, I realized I had written a prior one with the same title and thought I would share it again: Laughter Is the Best Medicine. Another story of sweet, silly sons and the joy they bring! I am so grateful for the privilege of sharing life and laughter with Pedro and the children God has given us. We are blessed.

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Variety of Our Days

 "Sometimes I can't believe the variety of our days." My husband's words drifted to me across our bedroom as evening fell and we each sat at our respective computers in the corners we call our "offices." I understood exactly what he meant, having started the morning with an 8 AM pick up of a mother and daughter from church to deliver them to the airport (with a "minor" hiccup when my car battery died between arriving and loading their bags!) After being rescued with a vehicle switch by my husband, I made the half hour drive each way out of town while he got children up, dressed, and in school mode. Silas' jardin called to ask him to delay arrival because the keys to the school gate had been forgotten, so in the end both of us returned simultaneously and had to do the "car dance" to get parked.

For the next few hours, he delved into sermon preparation while I started laundry, read a bit, handled correspondence by email/WhatsApp/Messenger (which often feels like a full time job) and worked on promotional materials for FLORECE before picking up Silas at 12:30. The plan for the older kids this Friday afternoon involved the boys helping missionary aunt Noni to film her daily drive downtown as part of her furlough presentation preparations, then enjoying sandwiches and fresh fruit juices from our favorite La Ecuatoriana, and finally earning a few bucks providing a car wash for her bright little Ford Fiesta. 

Meanwhile, Pedro and Silas and I headed down to FLORECE for a scheduled lunch appointment at 2:30 with the wonderful Christian architect who designed its remodel, along with her husband and two sons. Six-year old Max and five-year old Silas hit it off with high energy last time they met, and today was no exception. Delightfully roly poly baby Santiago was all smiles as we chatted over lunch. The purpose of our meeting was a continuation of the previous Friday's endeavor to visit the three neighboring properties and request permission to measure them. We'd managed two, but had one more to go. Really two, because as we had learned in our investigation of online appraisal paperwork there were side-by-side structures measured and valued as one. Long story short, we were allowed in one but not the other so we are still stuck and will have to make a third visit to the real estate conservator office to request further information. 

We learned that our friends were headed to the grocery store to obtain food boxes for two immigrant couples they had met selling candy on the street, and we were happy to be able to offer them already prepared boxes we had at FLORECE. One of the women is pregnant so we included our flier and hope to make contact this week. Silas fell asleep on the ride home, which included a stop at a Western Union provider to send payment to the friend-of-a-friend Venezuelan graphic designer who has been working on our church plant logo this week.

And thus we found ourselves back home in the evening, winding down the day and considering all it held. This past week included multiple tramites and ministries including visiting the Conservator, the Internal Revenue Service and the Municipality; starting Silas back to in-person school; trips to FLORECE for my regular volunteer shift and for Pedro a scheduled counseling session one evening with a client's boyfriend who did not show; multiple meetings both in person and by Zoom; marital counseling with friends starting at 10 PM one night at home; a live Facebook interview about FLORECE which also began at 10 PM a different night; music practice; a video call with a young lady serving God across cultures; airport runs for friends at the front and back end of the week.

Our days do have variety, and sometimes can be overwhelming but never boring. I pray with the Psalmist that God will "teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Learning to Read

 

At home, we are working with Silas on learning to read in English. Thanks to a wonderful resource called Easy Peasy Homeschool, we were introduced to McGuffey's Eclectic Primer and the idea of learning to read by sight even before jumping into phonics in depth. I'll be the first to admit that teaching my own child to read terrifies me, but Silas has such a desire to learn and demonstrates such enthusiasm and insistence that it has been exciting.

He is only on Lesson 4 but each day he has been introduced to four new words and several new sentences. He practices online and then we write in this little book. Throughout the day, Silas takes the book to multiple family members to practice reading the new and old words. Thankfully, he has longsuffering siblings! I am thankful for the joy of guiding and watching him learn.



Tuesday, March 09, 2021

One Year Later. Take Two!

I wrote a message to Silas' pre-K teacher on Wednesday, March 13, 2020 excusing him from school for a reason I now can't recall. The day before may well have been his last in-person day because by week's end all school children had been sent home due to COVID-19's arrival in Chile. Many - if not most - remain at home nearly a year later, and Silas was one of them. 

Starting Pre-K in March 2020

Until today! Today Silas with a whopping ONE other classmate reentered their preschool (out of six who are currently signed up to return.) While it has never been a large jardin, typically it was made up of four classes of ten or more students. Sadly, during the long time it stood vacant the jardin was vandalized with most items of value stolen and also flooded when a pipe burst. How well they can recover remains to be seen. To be honest, we recognized that it may not be a quality experience academically this year and we will certainly be supplementing in English at home. But we are nonetheless hoping that A) getting out of the house and B) being immersed in Spanish daily will be worth it for our little "Silo Bilo!"

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Celebrating Eva's 20th Birthday

Dear Eva,

As I type this, it is past midnight in Chile and so here it is your 20th birthday already! You are our first child and the one God chose to experience all of the many "firsts" that position entails. Today is one more "first" as you cross the threshold from your teen years, and as always I can hardly believe it to be true. 

I say "hardly" but actually I can believe it, because this year we have witnessed so much growth in you as you hesitatingly spread your wings and flew from our home "nest" to student life at the Ranch and are learning to stand on your own two feet with your family far away. We miss you but we are so proud of you!

God has been with you every step of the way and we know that will continue to be true in this new year of life. There are so many adventures yet in store in the coming months - finishing your year of studies, working on camp staff, moving to Iowa, looking for your first job and praying/planning towards starting a veterinary technician degree program in 2022. Remember that all God asks of you is to stay close to Him and His Word and He will direct your paths as you trust and obey Him.


Eva, you are not with us for your birthday but each of us still stated what we love about you! I recorded the videos, Isabel and I found pictures and she patiently edited a video that we hope will bring a smile to your face on your birthday and show you how much your family loves you. We have another surprise coming your way with some on-campus help and we hope that makes your day special also.

Happy 20th Birthday, Eva Grace! We love you and God loves you even more!

All my love,

Mommy





Birthday Posts by Year:

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Jarring Juxtapositions

17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 

18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 

20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 

21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 

22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

(Deuteronomy 24:17-22)

In the morning, these are the straightforward statements I read in my Bible. I recognize their original context as God-given directives through Moses to the children of Israel just before entering the Promised Land after forty years of wilderness wanderings. I reflect on the moral principles that still apply today, troubled in my spirit that what seems so clear in Scripture now feels so confusing. 

Our city has always been a city of immigrants. We've met men and women from most Latin countries - Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico. Our missionary team is comprised of citizens from the United States and Canada. We've had Australian friends come and live among us for several years. There is an old and recognized Croatian community in Iquique. And the Zofri (free trade zone) draws business owners from Pakistan, India, China, Taiwan, Nepal, and other nations.

Today, however, Iquique is experiencing an immigrant crisis such as it has never seen before. Waves of desperate men, women and children are weaving their way thousands of miles from Venezuela through neighboring countries until reaching Chile by way of Bolivia. We cannot fathom the conditions that drive them to take this risk, nor can we envision the solution to so much need. We can only see the result, which is hundreds of people arriving daily to Iquique and stumbling upon the realization that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The truth is that Chile itself is a nation with great need. There is both rich wealth and and depressing poverty. In part, it was these vast socioeconomic disparities that drove the nation to a social uprising in October 2019 that ended with a decision via national plebiscite to rewrite the country's constitution. Then came 2020 and COVID-19 with its strict constraints and fearfulness which left thousands without work behind closed doors. From May through December, our city of Iquique experienced a full lockdown for 140 days. This was followed by weekend lockdown for 78 days. After only 13 days off any lockdown at year’s end, the city returned to full lockdown on January 4, 2021. 

Outside the professional classes, only a select few retained jobs and income throughout the pandemic. Some were laid off with partial pay; but others found themselves suddenly penniless and panicked. A great number of people in Iquique work informally, cleaning homes for a daily salary or selling food and wares on the street. Many work in service industries that were shut down. The inability to leave home meant the inability to earn money to pay rent and put food on the table. Schools shifted to online education, but many families did not have access to multiple computers for multiple children, nor printers and stable internet.  

Even more stressful, "home" for hundreds in our city meant one single rented room in a houseful of other rented rooms. Lockdown within four walls will always be a challenge, but when those are four literal walls it creates an entirely oppressive existence taking a heavy mental and psychological toll. 

In time, we observed the creativity that characterizes Chile as those who were able adapted to these circumstances. Restaurants added delivery services, with many people borrowing or repurposing motorcycles or bikes to earn income in this fashion. Goods were bought and sold online, although the limits on official permissions to leave home sometimes made acquiring these challenging. Single parent homes continued to be especially taxed as virtual schooling required a parent's presence and even those who might have otherwise found some form of employment, could not do so. 

And so it continues until today, but into these circumstances now enters the host of humanity that are the Venezuelan refugees. While Chilean citizens and permanent residents are confined to their homes, busses full of immigrants arrive daily and unload into municipal schools turned into temporary COVID-19 housing. After completing fourteen days of quarantine, these same immigrants are turned out into the streets to apparently fend for themselves. On street corners, mothers huddle with their children while fathers beg for a coin or offer a lollipop in exchange (certain organizations donate bags of lollipops for this purpose to solicit a more positive response.) Beaches which have been declared off limits to Chileans in lockdown have become littered with lives in limbo, often entire families in a little tent they have somehow acquired. Occasionally police intervene to clear them away, but where do they go next?

Iquique's once-welcoming community is in conflict. There are those who continue to show compassion in word and deed, but more and more anger is being expressed as residents of the city feel trapped in a COVID-19 cycle that they attribute to these travelers. The government restrictions which often chafe like a churlish game of chess involving people's lives, lend themselves to increasing frustration against local and national authorities who seem to clamp down on citizens but loosely open their borders to foreigners. Those who have struggled to get by all these months decry the free food and housing authorities provide the immigrants, asking how these funds appeared and why they are not allocated elsewhere. Emotions sizzle and people suffer.

Outside of politics and preferences, what then is our moral responsibility? If it is not to question the "how" someone got here but to quell the desperate needs right in front of us, what does that look like while contained by lockdown? At what point does the call to compassion supersede legal constraints? When physical needs are so intense, how do we meet them but still move beyond to the all-encompassing spiritual need of the soul for Jesus Christ? And if our ability to help tangibly is just a drop in the bucket of vast burdens for so many suffering people, does it make a difference at all?

These are just some of the many questions that cry out for answers as we seek to make sense of our part as God's ambassadors to His image bearers who profoundly need Him. Elsewhere in Deuteronomy it says, " And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." (10:19) In the New Testament we are urged to "show hospitality to strangers." (Hebrew 13:2) It is easy to read and easy to say, but when at 9:30 PM you are told that a Venezuelan family of five in these days of COVID-19 has crossed the border and been dropped off on a street corner with nowhere to go then what do you do? When two Venezuelan women - one pregnant and having health difficulties - with seven children between them contact FLORECE and claim to have completed quarantine and been relegated to the streets, how do you respond?

These are jarring juxtapositions. The simplicity of Scripture next to the devastation of a nation dispersing its inhabitants; the morality of ministry versus the quandary of quarantine; the crisis and protocols of COVID-19 against the question of personal protection. In addition, the complexity of conscience when working as a team whose positions on all of the above may or may not coincide. It is not simple or easy. We pray, seeking wisdom and harmony and courage and discernment to do what is right. In this dark time of confusion, may the Light of the World be our bright guide!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Tired Thoughts

Tonight, I am tired. I am weary. I am sad. I feel lonely, though surrounded by a houseful of family. I am troubled and frustrated with the unfairness of life. I am wishing for the old normal, before Covid and quarantine and complicated questions of conscience. I am longing for freedom and a simpler time that feels so far away.

The day has run through my fingers like a rapid current, one thing after another. Family devotions, teenage angst, printing preschool materials and shopping the feria and grocery store (for longer than the allotted two hours on my official permission, I'm sure!) Eating a meal my husband prepared. Calling my parents. Finishing notes for one meeting before logging on to another. Searching for standards to steer this uncharted path of personal convictions and government guidelines and so many needs all around us.

My husband's day has been even longer than mine. When one meeting ends, another call comes in. Correspondence quickly compounds and he's juggling hats and adding another item to the calendar we've pinned on the bedroom wall. It hangs right over my monitor so I can try to maintain a semblance of sanity when some things feel so out of control.

I wish I were more organized. I wish my house was neat and clean and meals were planned and that I would homeschool to perfection. Instead I have glimmers of gladness when something goes right, and close my eyes to the chaos of scattered socks and paper piles and laundered linens waiting to be stored. My Christmas tree still stands at attention nearly a month after the holiday's gone by.

I am thankful for God's patience and need it (and Him) so desperately each day. Why He chose me and why He trusts me is outside my understanding and I can only contemplate His method of using the foolish things to confound the wise, and the weak to confound the mighty (1 Corinthians 1:27.) I am certainly the former in each case!

Tonight I'll pray myself to sleep asking Him for forgiveness and faith for tomorrow. Every new day is a gift and a blessing from God, one in which He gives us our "daily" bread so that time and again we are called to trust Him. He is worthy of it all, and so much more.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Precious Prayers

 "I want to pray like what you prayed, Mommy!"

Silas and I were snuggled in his bottom bunk after bathtime and bedtime reading of The Jesus Storybook Bible. Tonight's story was that of the apostle John on the island of Patmos when he is given the vision of Jesus in Heaven.

"Dear Father, Please take away the Covid from Iquique ... and the United States ... and the other places. Please forgive my sins and save me ..."

My heart thrilled at his tender words. I had prayed for all of our children, but he made his prayer personal. Though I know only time will tell his true understanding at the tender age of five, I also know (as I told him afterwards) that God loved Silas' prayer tonight, and God loves him so much.

"Mommy, when we go to Heaven will we see your baby that was in your tummy?"

And so our conversation continued remembering those who are waiting for us along with Jesus - grandparents, a sibling and several cousins, the child of friends and so many more.

"And Tia?? Tia --" He searched for the name of his dear Tia Isabel who went Home to Jesus last year.

Yes. Tia Isabel, too, and "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord." (Romans 10:13)

Thank You, Jesus, for precious prayers!

Monday, January 18, 2021

Faithful Thoughts, Family Talks

I want to remember today.

It wasn't a special day other than it was a Sunday in quarantine, and to me those have always been special. Unlike dozens of previous Sundays enjoying online English services, however, this was our second Sunday coordinating and broadcasting a simple Spanish service for the Iglesia Bautista Fe church plant via Zoom.

Our three older boys were pulled out of quarantine retirement less than a month ago when Iquique celebrated its long-awaited transition to Phase 3 of Covid regulations, freeing weekends for the first time in nine months. This freedom did not last long, allowing us only two weeks of outdoor, in-person church services (of 25 people or less) before our city was propelled backwards into Phase 1 of a renewed full lockdown. It served the good purpose, however, of Owen and Ian and Alec dusting off their guitars and being recalled into "music ministry."
They are smiling in this picture because I asked them to smile, not because they are naturally enthusiastic at the opportunity. Still, they practice and play and I hope they are beginning to understand that doing so out of an obedient heart to their parents' request is pleasing to God. Even more so, I hope they will one day play out of an overflowing and increasing desire simply to worship their Savior.

So much has been strange and difficult this past year. We have had struggles and failures, moments of sadness and of sweetness, of discipline and delight, of laughter and of longing for some some semblance of "normalcy to return." Preparing these several songs, singing along with my sons, returning to a routine of worship with our small group of believers even on a computer screen is a blessing.

After church, the now seven members of our family at home gathered in our school/church/dining/everything room to enjoy a delivery meal from our favorite Chinese restaurant. I turned the conversation to today's message from our Venezuelan brother Anthony on Philippians 4:8-9. His opening point had been the tactic of our enemy to go after our thoughts, just as the serpent tempted Eva in the Garden of Eden. One illustration he used seemed to click with our kids. It was the quote that says, "You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair." Interestingly, the evening before we had watched a church service from Grace Baptist Church of Lancaster and Pastor Greg had also referred to our thoughts forming who we are.

We discussed specific example of what this might look like, such as becoming frustrated with someone but not choosing to dwell on all of their negative qualities. Or being offered drugs, but not sticking around to give it a try. We compared it to having an impure thought intrude while on the computer, but not giving in to the temptation to do a search for something we know is wrong.

Sometimes our kids cringe when we try to initiate these conversations, but today it flowed pretty smoothly and it was encouraging to our hearts as parents. We addressed one sad but important topic related to someone choosing to indeed allow a negative "nest" to be built in their life. This was the announcement made public today of the breakup of a married couple we know, whose children had been friends and neighbors with ours when they were younger. Though we were aware of this situation for awhile, we did not feel it was our place to speak of it until today's Facebook announcement "celebrating" a new relationship which had broken up two marriages and left two sets of children without intact parents.

"What do you think the comments on the announcement were like?" we asked. Our kids correctly guessed that the responses had been positive and affirming of the happiness the world's wisdom says the new couple deserves, ignoring the sin and broken vows and fractured families leading to this point. They were sobered at the thought of their friends facing the reality of both their mom and dad with other people and the effect this statistically might have on their peers' own marriage relationships someday.

Random tangents are often characteristic of our family conversations, and this particular discussion spun off into whether Mom and Dad had ever had any big fights. Because we want our children to understand that marriage is made up of two sinners learning to live together and love one another, we shared a new story with them. (They already know the one about Mommy running away from Daddy for an afternoon early in our marriage before kids.) Though I am not proud of it but appreciating the shock value it would have for my kids, I shared how once in a heated disagreement I used a swear word against Dad. To his credit, Dad confessed that he had been in the wrong in this instance - which happened to include our children when they were much younger, although they had no recollection since we had argued behind closed doors. We both acknowledged behaving incorrectly in our own way.

Needless to say, there were some gasps and laughter from our sons and daughter but hopefully they caught the main idea that we are all people in process who need our Savior and His Word every day. I am writing down these memories because I want to remember that sometimes we succeeded as a family in discussing with honesty and camaraderie the very important messages God has given us for this life. There is no one else I would rather share my space and time with on this terrestrial globe than the precious people He has allowed me to call my own!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Christmas Eve & Christmas 2020

Sometimes the changes life tosses our way turn into very sweet moments. Christmas Eve 2020 was for me an example of this. The late afternoon found our family gathered with the Fishers, Sharps and Jenn Taylor around multiple long tables layered with festive red and green cloths in our "schoolroom." Our meal included grilled chicken and chorizos, vegan veggies, keto salads, Chilean rice and Aunt Pam's famous homemade macaroni and cheese. There was an air of acceptance after a year of stressful circumstances. Relaxed humor, reminiscing and companionship lifted spirits around the room.

No one was in a hurry. We took time to clean up at our home while Sharps joined Fishers at theirs. Aunt Noni stayed, hanging out and talking with the kids. Pedro showered after a hot afternoon laboring at the grill and then we all gathered, refreshed, at the Fishers' home for a Christmas Eve service. We sang carols that Noni had printed, having previously requested several favorites from our families. Pedro shared a devotional, followed by a quiet time of reflection and the Lord's Supper. Afterwards desserts were shared in abundance, including varieties of Christmas cookies and a multi-layer banana cake for Aunt Pam's birthday and a chocolate keto cake and singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. 

Later after walking the few steps home, our family exchanged the one gift apiece we open on Christmas Eve. For the past few years, all of our kids have enjoyed the tradition of going an evening to Iquique's famous "feria navideña" with the name of a sibling or parent chosen at random and supposedly in secret. It was most people's guess that COVID-19 would cancel the feria this year, as it had so much else. But surprisingly it did not, though the selection was less broad and restrictions were purportedly in place such as taking temperatures and sanitizing hands and limiting occupancy (the latter not at all well enforced.)

Sissy had Silas' name and "cinco mil" goes a long way with kids' toys of feria caliber. He was over the moon with two foam water shooters, three imitation Lego Minions figures, and a pair of water goggles. Sissy's name was chosen by Owen and she is always tricky to buy for, but she'd given the hint of wanting Iquique mementos to take to college. He thoughtfully bought an Iquique-stenciled miniature leather backpack and a wooden magnet painted with a familiar scene. Owen's name was chosen by Ian and he found a cool combo of sunglasses, cologne and pocket watch in a box for his appreciative big brother. I had Ian's name and was tickled to find a vendor selling LED lighting tape in my price range, with which Ian promptly lined his bunkbed as colorful nightlights! In the same vein, Silas who had Alec's name had chosen a disco ball which bounced bright colors in every direction. Alec had Daddy's name and very conscientiously struggled over his choices, finally settling on a "La U" clock which Pedro appreciated. And Daddy had Mommy's name, knowingly choosing three pairs of artisan dangling earrings from a Colombian jewelry stand where I've shopped often before.

Often we have our daily viewing of "The Nativity Story" on Christmas Eve, but this year we opted to wait until the following day. Regardless, it was a late night for parents with final packing and preparing our traditional oatmeal bake receipt for the next morning but a number of podcasts helped the hours go by.  Christmas Day was overall calm and quiet. Before opening stocking gifts, we took a picture with Eva's red stocking in her honor (and because we were missing her!) Later in the day, conversations took place through video and groups chats with grandparents in the United States and we enjoyed pictures of them modeling personalized shirts we'd chosen for them. Our boys as is customary worked on new Lego creations, and Owen tested out an amateur woodworking set he received as a gift. Daddy patiently pieced together Silas' new tabletop "taca taca" (foosball) set and they enjoyed a few games together. 


It was a different Christmas with the weight of this year and separation from our oldest daughter upon it, but it was meaningful all the same. Every moment, every memory, every treasured tradition is all the more special in this uncertain world. Christ has come, and without Him nothing in this life would have any purpose at all. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Brave Builders & Bonus Babies

"You need a crafting table."

"What is a crafting table?"

"You know what a crafting table is!"

"Silas, listen. You need this and then you put the blue sword on this and look what happens."

"Oh. You can only do blue and not gold in that sword!"

"Let me try doing a golden."

"It's not going to work. I just killed my sheep. I just killed my sheep!"

"It's not doing anything. I tapped it but it's not doing anything. It's just making it spin. There we go! Now I have a blue. Dun, dun, dun, dun, duuuuhhhn."

"Dun, dun, da-da-dun, dun. Da-dun, da-dun-dun-dun-da-da-duuuuhn." (cue Star Wars theme)

If 2020 has kept most people apart, it has somehow drawn these two together. Silas and his cousin Kai video chat almost daily as they build worlds individually and together on electronic tablets. Older sisters and the occasional parent are usually accessories to these interactions, as someone's cell phone is needed. 

Today's conversation may have been the most humorous to date, as the five-year old cousin attempted to dictate letter by letter to the six-year old what he thought in all pre-school seriousness was a code for a "server" (which neither child could actually define.)

"P."

"P?"

"One P."

"P?"

"P with the line and the ball."

"J."

"Yay?"

(Louder.) "J."

"YAY?"

(Even louder.) "J!"

"Oh, J!"


Sweet Silas and Kai, may you always be fun-loving, adventurous, creative cousins! Hopefully sometime soon you will be reunited once again in person. In the meantime, I am happy you enjoy your virtual friendship and forays into the world of imagination under the watchful eyes of many siblings and your parents. I am so glad God sent to our family this pair of "bonus babies!"

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Happy Thirteen, Ian David!

 

As we worked our way around the table of seventeen people, these affirmations of Ian on his birthday sprang forth.

"I love his personality." 

"I love his smile." 

"I love his big hugs."

"He plays with me." (The picture below might give away who said something like this!)

"I love his relaxed demeanor."

"I love that he is happy most of the time."

"I love that he is a hard worker." 

This particular statement is a running joke in our family because it is Daddy's favorite and others will sometimes try to say it first so that he has to come up with another! But it is true that Ian can put great effort into tasks, as we discovered this year during quarantine when he sanded and stained stairs, painted walls, and refinished a sentimental table for some extra pocket money. 

This year for Ian's 13th birthday, we celebrated first with a three-person lunch: Daddy, Mommy and Ian at FLORECE ordering take out from Texas Burgers upon the birthday boy's request. Dining in restaurants became a thing of the past somewhere around March thanks to COVID-19, but as a result new options have appeared and this was one Ian was eager to try. His "Grills BBQ" onion ring topped burger did not disappoint nor did the giant wedge fries that made our hungry growing adolescent one happy camper!

Afterwards, Daddy drove our party of three to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean at the El Morro inlet where the municipality has built wide, curving steps down into the water for residents to enjoy. We smiled at a pair of grandparents who were truly enjoying the sunshiny day as they happily played and floated in the waist-high waters. Daddy watched as Ian and Mom waded and caught the more-than-occasional can of beer that had been callously discarded into the sea, which Ian took the time to throw away where it belonged. We chuckled at the sight he made juggling that wet collection as he wondered sheepishly what people might be thinking!

Back at home, we were joined by the Fishers, Sharps, Aunt Noni and our houseguests Tio David and Tia Valeria to sing and celebrate, open gifts and eat Aunt Terri's now-famous triple layer banana cake with cream cheese icing (first made for Silas' birthday and now your request as well!) You had asked for a Nerf gun and we obliged, which led of course to controlled chaos and laughter as it was immediately put to good use. Your birthday money did not have long to burn a hole in your pocket before you headed to the store in the next day or two for a second weapon to add to your arsenal! But we all enjoyed your joy.

Dear Ian, 

I can hardly believe you are a TEENAGER! I will always remember the busy, cheerful, intense, boisterous, energetic baby boy that God allowed us to bring home from Haiti. At thirteen you are perhaps less intense and a little more calm, but still fun-loving and generally happy and uniquely you. 

Something I have enjoyed with you lately has been listening to you read through The Mapmaker Chronicles and observing how the story has captured your interest and imagination. You love adventure and excitement, music and drama (a current favorite is "The Greatest Showman") and I have no doubt God has something special in store for your talents and interests and abilities. Please have patience with us as we learn alongside you!

We love you, Ian, and treasure your tender heart. Happy 13th Birthday, dear son!

All my love,
Mommy