Thursday, June 30, 2022

A Thankful Tribute to "Tia Eli"

As these "Sweet Memories" show, 
before being our sons' teacher Elisa was first
a young person in our church youth group; 
our daughters' friend; 
and a companion in pro-life ministry. 

For almost as long as we have lived in Iquique, Elisa Baez Tapia (as well as her mother, Grace) has been a part of our family's life. We had the privilege of watching her first steps in the Christian faith and the joy of seeing her faithful commitment to Jesus and her local church body ever since. Elisa is a sweet servant who delightedly disciples other young women and teaches boys and girls the Word of God. She leads family devotions in her home with her widowed mother and sister, and is a compassionate friend and witness to her neighbors. She diligently studies and applies the Bible to her life and relationships. She is a gift.   

When we returned to Chile after our last furlough/home assignment, schooling as always was a big question mark for us. Our children had just completed a year in US schools that had been exceptionally beneficially for each of them academically. None desired to venture back into education in Spanish in Chilean schools, and we prayed for a solution that would meet the needs in front of us. 

Eventually, "Tia Eli" became the answer to that prayer. 

Educated in two separate Chilean universities (the first unfortunately went bankrupt which forced students to transfer to the second) as an English teacher, Elisa had very good fluency in the language. Due to circumstances outside her control, her final thesis was pending and she was not yet able to apply for a full-time position in a local school. However, in 2019 she was in need of a job and we were in need of a teacher! Together we discussed options that might meet our mutual needs and budgets, and a plan was formed.

Through 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade and 7th/8th grades (as student needs varied) she carefully accompanied Ian and Alec through their schooling. She adjusted to curriculum changes, and created Spanish lessons and music (guitar) classes for the boys. When COVID-19 came along and Chile caved into never-ending quarantine, she utilized virtual means to connect with the boys each day for their classes. It wasn't especially fun for anyone, but there were still smiles and occasional laughter because Eli truly loved her students! As a mom, that quality was more valuable than all the rest put together. I knew that Eli prayed for our sons and cared for not only their academic but also their spiritual and social well-being.

With the arrival of the Fisher family in 2020, our home school numbers grew! We're so grateful that God orchestrated a rental home for them just two houses away. Ian and Alec were joined in Eli's classroom at our house by cousin Nathaniel, while older brother Owen joined cousin Benjamin under Aunt Terri's tutelage in their home. Aunt Terri also applied her educational background to choosing new and interesting curriculum for all the students, and Eli flexibly adjusted to these new materials. Classes became more interactive once quarantine restrictions were lifted. Fun moments were had, especially when experiments were being attempted!

And then Silas became a student.

A fan of Tia Eli's since infancy, he joined the ranks of her students when the pandemic effectively closed down his preschool. Once-a-week video calls with his pre-Kindergarten teacher did not suffice to continue his learning, and something needed to change. So with the help of the free "Easy Peasy" homeschool learning site, Eli began to dedicate a part of her day to Silas. Always full of energy and eager to follow in his brothers' footsteps, he began to grasp concepts by leaps and bounds! Through the summer months (January/February) before starting 1st grade in Chilean school, they continued working on his reading and math skills so that his new teachers were very complimentary of how well prepared he was upon arrival!

Today was our sons' last official day with Tia Elisa as their teacher, as we prepare once again to depart for a year of furlough/stateside ministry. I did not want to let the occasion pass by without writing down these words of reflection for a dear friend who day in and day out, Monday through Friday, for four years was a part of our lives! Many times there were days when Eli and I did not even see each other, often because I was working at FLORECE (which was a significant aspect of our decision to find a teacher to help with our children's schooling in the first place.) Other times I was working from home on the third floor while she taught on the first, and we both were busily occupied carrying out our individual responsibilities. Eli's trustworthy presence in our home made possible not only the education of our children but also the flow of ministry for Pedro and for me in a way it otherwise could not have happened. 

The greatest reassurance was knowing this wasn't sacrificing our kids' education but entrusting it. Eli took her job seriously ... prepared diligently ... taught and laughed ... listened and prayed ... and made our children feel valued and loved. At different times during the year she would plan special surprises for her students such as a meal at her house with finger foods she and her mom prepared. Or she would arrive with some kind of treat in hand to start their day off with a smile! Sometimes in addition to teaching, she was our childcare provider for date nights and even an overnight getaway or two. When I was feeling overwhelmed or inadequate by parenting challenges that presented themselves, I knew she truly cared for the child in question and would sincerely pray for that child's well-being without judgment. 

Words can never sum it all up but -

All this to say, an enormous THANK YOU 
to a very special teacher, counselor, sister and friend.

God bless you.

Un Buen Compañero (A Good Classmate)

Yesterday was the last day for Silas at the Chilean school where he began 1st grade in March of 2022. After a unique yet positive pandemic Kindergarten experience mostly with a single classmate, Isabella, he was over-the-moon excited to be surrounded by other children. We chose the Academia Nerudiana, just a few blocks from his former school, having never met another parent whose child attended there. The factors for our choice revolved mostly around our priority of Silas' continued Spanish language acquisition; at a small school; which was close to home.

And he had a great semester. We were initially uncertain with his unusual schedule running from 1:45 to 6:45 PM (after dark this time of year!) But in the end, it allowed Silas to do homeschool in English with Elisa each morning and he excelled, developing his reading and writing and even beginning his multiplication facts. This relaxed our expectations for his Chilean school, which we later learned focused more on integration than academic rigor. His small school had a wonderful family feel and teachers truly called to working with special children.

At our first (and last) parent/teacher conference, we were happy to hear from Profesora Hilda that Silas was well-loved by his classmates and she described him as having great "empathy" for them. What better quality could we ask for? Meanwhile at home, Silas often would pray for each of his teachers, his school director, the "inspectors" who stood and welcomed students at the door - all by name - before bedtime. 

He loved "religion" class. In years' past at other Chilean schools our older children attended, we opted out of this in order to avoid any confusion for them. And while we had some interesting discussions and explanations with Silas this semester, overall his excitement revolved around songs and Bible stories that celebrated Jesus. He also loved PE class (or Phys Ed, as he preferred to call it!) Quite uniquely, this particular class was held from 8:00 to 10:00 AM on Wednesdays - with regular classes that evening as well. It was an early and LONG day!

A special memory from this semester was the school's 21 de mayo celebration for Chile's "Mes del Mar" (Month of the Sea.) The highlight of the month is celebrating Captain Arturo Prat Chacon, a Chilean lawyer and naval officer and national hero of the War of the Pacific. He was a gentleman soldier who valiantly led his troops and boldly sacrificed his life while boarding an enemy ship during battle in Iquique's port. Both Silas and another student wished to play the role of Prat in their class presentation, so the teacher did cachipun (rock/paper/scissors) to determine who it would be. Silas later excitedly told us, "The teacher said no one could cry about the result. I didn't think I would win, but I did!" We delivered him to school in the uniform that Tia Catalina carefully crafted, and Silas got a smile from ear to ear when the inspectora greeted him, "Bienvenido, Capitan Prat!"

These screenshots from the WhatsApp chat for Silas' first grade class are sweet, because the parents of several students and his teacher expressed good wishes and kind words for him. One little girl said she liked it very much that Silas was in the class, and several little boys expressed that they would miss him very much. His teacher said she was glad they met! Silas was teary as we left school for the last time yesterday, but we are thankful for this positive experience in his life and look forward to what God has in store for him in Michigan this fall.

Friday, June 10, 2022

My Little Boy After All

Originally, there were two. 

There were two, for one tiny little baby with spindly arms and legs sprawled in the heated bassinet of a Jacksonville hospital neonatal intensive care unit. Each morning after crossing the street from the Ronald McDonald House where I spent the night before, I replaced the soft, quirky donkey next to our premature newborn son. The other would return to sleep with me, theoretically absorbing my scent to gently imprint this new mother's aroma on his little brain and heart.

Seventeen years later, he still kept it next to his bed until the day he departed Chile. 

That day, as we unloaded his bags in the parking lot of the Diego Aracena International Airport outside Iquique, he reached into the trunk to unzip his suitcase a final time. My eyes fell on a familiar object carefully tucked inside. One soft, quirky donkey peeked out at the tall, gangly boy in the sunshine. I didn't quite cry, but I won't deny this mother's heart jumped at the sight and the million memories with it. And then I smiled at the tenderness of knowing this big boy will always be my little boy after all.

Monday, June 06, 2022

The End of an Era

In two months we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of our family's arrival to Chile.

We crossed the threshold of the Santiago airport on August 24, 2007 with three children in tow: Eva, age 6; Isabel, age 5; Owen, age 2. (This photo was taken en route to Chile on our unplanned 48-hour layover in Canada.) Over the next decade God would graciously double our number of children, but this trio was the original gang of Garcias to set foot first in Santiago, and then in Iquique on January 6, 2009.

Which makes it so hard to believe that in just this one four-year term, we will have sent all three "permanently" off to the United States. I put "permanently" in quotes because only God knows what the future holds! But for the foreseeable future, Chile will no longer be their home.

Despite the fact that Owen will live with us his senior year on our furlough stateside, his early departure tomorrow (for summer ministry at Miracle Mountain Ranch) while knowing he won't be returning to Chile after furlough has precipitated a lot of emotion for us as parents. Surprisingly, my often less-than-sentimental husband has been the one to initiate a number of conversations about it. I suppose this throws me a bit off-balance, as I've learned to depend on his being the sturdy one in these situations! But it also deepens my appreciation for my husband who is a father who profoundly loves and cherishes his children, even if he doesn't always express it through many words.

This picture was taken during our first couple of weeks living in Iquique. How grateful I am for the memories of raising these three kiddos and their subsequent siblings here. It's not always been easy - in fact, there has been quite a lot of heartache and imperfection along the way. The Iquique that our children are leaving is not the same city to which they arrived, although the need that prompted us to serve here is the same or even greater. Yet isn't that how life is? Not static nor stationary but moving ever forward to destinations sometimes of our choosing and sometimes not. 

Most importantly, we can trust the Conductor who delivers us safely to each station and stays by our side through it all.

Tomorrow closes an era in our family's life in Chile. But the same God Who first brought us here will continue to lead each member of our family, each step of the way as we allow Him. My heart's desire for my children is found in a song from yesterday's church service. (It was coincidentally Owen's final time playing bass guitar as part of "Pipe y los Gringos," our affectionate name for the music team comprised of Felipe Olivares; our sons Owen, Ian and Alec; and nephew Nathaniel.)

For a long time I searched for
A reason to live
Amidst a thousand questions
Your love replied to me

And now I see the Light
And I'm no longer afraid
Your kingdom came to my life
And now I live for You

I will sing of Your love
I will surrender my heart before You
You will be my passion
And my steps will be guided by Your voice
My Jesus and my King
Of Your great love I will sing

Surrendering to the Kingship of Christ and passionately pursuing Him is the greatest path a person can take in life on this earth! Whether in Chile or anywhere else in our world, I pray all my children will find in Him the purpose for which they were created and a fulfillment their whole lives long.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Throwback Thoughts on Adoption (2014)

Today I found this essay on adoption that I wrote on September 29, 2014. 

Posting it today with a picture of our kids (the "Fab Five") from that time.

“You have already earned yourself Heaven!”  A well-meaning admirer once gushed over our unusual family here in Chile. With five children in a culture where family size seems to be dwindling, we are already an anomaly. Add to that our adoption dynamic and the multiracial makeup of our family, and we rarely go out in public without raising a few eyebrows. Living in a country where “political correctness” is not a societal norm, we have experienced our share of interesting comments and questions!

Raising a multiracial family in Chile was something we wrestled with during our preparation to reach the mission field. How would Chileans respond? We guessed correctly that our then two-year old son would be greeted as a cute curiosity. This was confirmed the minute we set foot in the country and the customs agent leaned out her window at the airport to exclaim, “I’ve never seen one so little!” We learned to joke about the “paparazzi” who would whip out cell phones and snap pictures without permission. When two more handsome sons joined us from Haiti, “Are they real brothers? I’ve always wanted one like that! Was it hard to adopt? I’d love to, but ..” were frequent conversations started by strangers in the grocery line.  Sometimes questions were so intrusive that in response, we struggled between protectiveness toward our children and being the “nice” missionaries no matter what.

We love the family God has given us and thank Him for it. We tell our children on the good days and on the tough days that our family is a glimpse of Heaven. Not because of our behavior (or lack thereof!) But because one day "every tribe and tongue and nation" will worship in perfect unity around the throne of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are so blessed that we don't have to imagine what that is like. As a family we get to experience it right here on earth.

However, at times we may also get to experience pain. It sometimes hurts that our children have to take to the front lines as they step into Chilean schools where no one else looks anything like them. This year our nine-year old son started alone at a school of 700 students where all eyes were on him. As parents, we want to protect our children, yet we can only walk beside them. We cannot walk inside their skin. How we cherish the fact that Jesus has already done so, coming to this earth as a member of a race that throughout history has been targeted for bigotry, oppression and destruction. We cannot always understand, but He always can!

Perhaps the most common question we hear about our family is “How?” But the better one would simply be, “Why?” The truth is that we pursued adoption with no loftier purpose than to form a family and fulfill our love for children. Yet God has allowed our adoption to be a visible expression to the people of Chile of His love for them. Answering the question “Why?” allows us to share that they, too, have a Father waiting with open arms. They, too, can be adopted and given a forever family. Pray with us that many Chileans will respond to His loving invitation today!

Friday, February 25, 2022

Heavy, Humbling & Hopeful

This season of life is heavy, humbling and hopeful.

It is a contrasting combination of spiraling sentiments that leaves me winded and wondering many days. Absorbing and observing, thinking and praying, feeling the weight of others' uncertainties as well as my own. Sharing and bearing burdens here and there, near and far - some days shuddering under the sorrows of shattered dreams and expectations.

During our ministry here in Chile, years ago there was one prior season that felt this way. In the aftermath of great tragedy, we found ourselves alone and buffeted by one unwelcome surprise upon another. "You couldn't make this stuff up," we often mused in disbelief and discouragement. It was in this season that our sending church supplied our need in an incredible way, by investing in plane tickets and the opportunity for Pedro's parents to come alongside us for three very special months. We have forever been grateful.

This time, we are not alone. Although circumstances - lockdowns, restrictions, illness, barbs of our unseen Enemy - often contrive to make us feel that way, I am thankful that we have alongside us teammates committed to the same goals and with whom we share the work of ministry.

We are completing our third term and fifteenth year of ministry in Chile, with thirteen of those years in Iquique. As of last year, not a single teammate with whom we began our ministry in Iquique remains here with us. (They continue serving in new locations where God has placed them.) Yet God has faithfully called new members - from Canada, the US, Chile, Venezuela and Ecuador - to work together in planting and strengthening the "Iglesia Bautista de Fe" church. I love how our church planting team reflects the diversity not only of our local church, but of the universal church - believers of every tribe and tongue and nation who have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ!

There is much work to do, and we are learning together. A variety of cultures can sometimes mean a variety of opinions, though I am grateful that more often than not our goals and decisions are unanimous. A variety of individuals means a variety of personalities and that, too, can require maturity and patience and being willing to put on another's lenses to see through his or her perspective. 

For instance, North American culture values productivity; while South American culture values time invested in relationship. Generally speaking, as North Americans we are accustomed to having financial resources readily available and prioritize a professional job well done despite the cost. Specific to our situation, many of our South American colleagues have learned to live on less and weigh the spending of each dollar (or peso, in our case.) 

Uniquely, on our IBF church planting team made up of five North American and four South American adults, only one member is actually Chilean! And with the ongoing tidal wave of immigration to our city, Chileans currently make up a minority of our church family as well. Some days it feels confusing - weren't we called to Chile for Chileans? But our commission from Christ is actually far broader. We are to go into ALL the world and preach to the WHOLE creation! Praise God, He is placing this ministry right in front of us.

There is truly not a single day where we feel that we've got things figured out. Even after fifteen years, we are still learning, still making mistakes, still grateful for God's grace in light of our own inadequacies. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Corinthians 4:7) Thank you for praying that the power of God will shine brightly through every one of our cracks and that in His strength we will remain faithful and accomplish much for His kingdom and glory!

Monday, February 07, 2022

Celebrating 21 Years with Eva Grace

Dear Eva,

How is it possible that more than two decades have passed and that your 21st birthday is already here? How can our "squishy" baby (to borrow your brother Silas' favorite term!) ... affectionate toddler ... enthusiastic preschooler ... artistic grade schooler ... horse riding teenager ... now be a grown woman spreading her wings far from home?!

There are such tender memories in these photographs. I love looking at them and remembering the sweet and precious moments of your childhood years! I miss them. Yet Daddy and I are so proud of the person you are becoming through God's sustaining grace in your life. We have watched in awe and sometimes through tears as you have persevered in adversity, overcome fears, tackled new challenges and discovered the passions and gifts God has given you.

In this year of your life, it has been a blessing to watch God provide three separate jobs doing what you love (caring for animals!) From the "Critter Corral" at Miracle Mountain Ranch; to the "Goat Team" lead at Center Grove Orchard; and currently helping customers make wise animal care decisions at PetSmart, with a personal rabbit business in the making also! 

God has also used your experience helping to care for a baby brother to be an encouragement to your Aunt Nina with newborn baby Thea and her sisters! We know this has been a year of much transition and change, but we are so proud of how you continue to grow daily in your understanding, efforts and relationships. Even though your lives and schedules are much different, we're also so glad that you and your sister Isabel could be close to each other this year in Iowa.

Although it's hard for us to be far away from you on such a special day, we are thankful for family members celebrating you sweetly! Our birthday greetings are sent this year from the tiny town of Camiña in the Atacama Desert. We all love you, Eva! Happy 21st Birthday to our Mother's Day surprise.

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Sayings from Silas

Our six-year old son Silas' mind never stops whirring, with his words following close behind. This is a collection of some of his commentary that brings us laughter, surprise, and sometimes poignant parental pride!

There is a pharmacy we pass every time we leave the house. One day Silas happened to notice the logo displayed on the pharmacy sign. "Mom, why would you take medicine from that place? That medicine gives you TWO MORE arms!! Jesus doesn't want that!" 

He went through a season of talking to his brain. "Brain, did you see that? There's our house. Let's wash our hands, Brain. Brain, let's play a different game?"

He's grown up hearing Mommy and Daddy exchange the nickname "Sweets." When Pedro was gone from home for several weeks, one night at bedtime he assured me, "It's okay if you call me Pedro. Or Sweets!"

Once upon a time I explained to Silas about the Precious Moments figurine entitled "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" that's on my dresser. It pictures a baby on a cloud and reminds me of our baby Eden in Heaven (miscarried July 2006.) He found it again one evening and started lining up pretty objects on a shelf, including the rose he made in pre-school. He said it was a "buryment" for Eden. He even included books that he thought she'd like to read since he, too, is learning to read.

Awhile back, Silas asked Pedro if we had prayed for him to be born. Pedro explained that we had prayed for a child but that Silas was actually a big surprise because we thought our prayers were already all answered with his five older siblings! Silas listened and responded with great animation, "And then I "spawned" from nowhere!"

One morning in church, both the "Kid Spot" and sermon were on the topic of angelic beings as described in the Bible. Later Owen, Silas and I were in the kitchen and I was explaining to Silas that God allowed certain men such as Ezekiel, Daniel and John to have visions of Heaven and write about what they saw. He promptly responded, "And there was one more! Stephen!" Owen caught my eye in surprise but Silas really loves his Bible stories and often startles us with the knowledge he has absorbed. Indeed, Stephen did see Heaven and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. May Silas' heart always stay tenderly in tune with Bible truths!

Several months' ago we received the good news that Silas' best friend Emilia would be visiting Iquique with her family for a few days. On the way to school, Silas was very happy. He exclaimed to Pedro, "My wife was lost! But now she's found!" (Ever since a preschool fashion show in which they starred as bride and groom, he is convinced she is truly his!)

One morning, Silas asked Pedro if he was related to David. It seemed very important to him. Pedro explained that as Christians we are related spiritually, but alas! we have no biological connection to Israel's famous king. 

"God could have stopped the baby killing." This was Silas' out-of-the-blue, matter-of-fact statement the Sunday after Christmas. Each year we watch "The Nativity" as a family, and apparently he had been mulling it over. "In the beginning of the movie [King Herod's slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem] ... God could have stopped them." Nothing like a deep theological discussion about God's omnipotence and sovereignty, man's choice, and the certainty of judgment in eternity with a six-year old!

I wish I had an automatic recorder for so many curious, humorous, holy and outrageous statements from Silas. But for now I will share these and say how much we love and enjoy him.

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Ian is 14!

Dear Ian,

On your birthday, I posted this to Facebook:

What do we love about Ian? As we circled the table and each answered this question, we heard:

- because he is sensitive and compassionate

- because he is patient

- because he plays with me

- because of his positivity

- because he is creative

- because he works hard with a good attitude

Today we celebrate Ian's 14th birthday and we are so thankful for him! ❤️

What a joy it is to be your mom and see your growth day by day, year by year. I still remember the 9-month old baby Ian we first met in Haiti and spent a week getting to know. I picture the 16-month old Ian who was learning to walk the next time I came. I smile at the 22-month old Ian on my final visit to Haiti who I described as being gentle and easygoing and a comforter to younger babies. In fact, those qualities still remain evident in the young man you are becoming and we love you for them!

For your primary birthday gift this year, you requested a paintball experience. I'm not sure who was more excited, you or your dad! Eight of you geared up to go: you and your brothers Owen and Alec, Dad and Uncle Dave, your cousins Ben and Nathaniel; and our friend Felipe. From all accounts, it was a highly successful outing - lots of refills and lots of paint was splattered! - and everyone had great fun.

For scheduling reasons paintball preceded your birthday by nearly a week, but on your actual day we celebrated with a pile of pizzas from the brand-new Papa John's in Iquique and the company of your cousins. A unique gift we happened to find in a store outside Zofri was a miniature house architecture kit, and that consumed much of your day as you focused on figuring out the intricacies of building! One thing Daddy and I have always observed and admired about you is your ability to focus long stretches of time on an activity that truly interests you.

Ian, it's been a lot of fun during your 13th year of life to watch you develop in many ways, not the least of which has been your work ethic. From working as an assistant to don Guillermo, our city's longtime itinerant knife sharpener, to washing our cars at Daddy's request and then having Uncle Dave and our neighbor ask for your services!

It's also been a blessing as your mom to experience your kindness and empathy, patience and smiles. I will always remember the night our family was riding home from Pica in a dark car and I was crying silently over a certain situation, when you reached over and gently held my hand in comfort. What a gift that was for me, and I pray God continues to mold you into a man of faithful, gentle love for others.

We love you, Ian! Happy 14th Birthday!!

All my love,

Birthday Posts by Year:

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Silas Turns Six

Birthday party #1
Dear Silas,

Well, your 6th birthday was one to remember! You enjoyed not only one party, but two. And due to extenuating circumstances, we broke from tradition and did both a "real" party and a family one! For a boy who loves birthdays, we may never top this year in your book. But as always, we hope you felt loved and seen and celebrated in this month of October that God sent us you.

The reason we did a "real" party on your birthday had a lot to do with the kids in this picture. We tried to explain it to you although you may not have truly understood, but five of your guests were from one big Venezuelan family that moved to Iquique not long ago. In fact, one of the little girls was just passing through on her way to yet another place with her parents. They are a family that lost their original home because their country is going through a very hard time, and where they live here in Iquique is not a very nice place. Everyone lives together in little cramped rooms, and the children do not have a yard or patio in which to play. For this reason, we thought it would be nice to invite them so they would have a time and place just to have fun. Tia Solange kindly let us use her house where a trampoline was set up in the front patio and balloons, tables and chairs lined the carport.

In fact, a few days earlier Tia Solange also went with Mommy to the big Agro in search of all the trappings and treats for your party. Birthday parties in Chile have certain important traditions, such as balloons, cake, take-home containers for cake, piñata, candy to fill the piñata, bags to collect the candy from the piñata, decorative plates, candy to fill each child's decorative plate, guest gift boxes, candy and soda and salty snacks to fill guest gift boxes. Good thing Tia Solange knew! She loves you and we always remember gratefully that she was on shift in the operating room the day you were born.

I hope you know, too, that you have the BEST big brothers. I love this picture of the three of them patiently hanging out while waiting for your party to start. Ian came early with us to blow up LOTS of balloons. All the boys helped carry chairs and even collect piñata candy for the babies. There wasn't a whole lot for them to do because the trampoline company only allowed smaller children to jump, but Owen, Ian and Alec still showed up to celebrate you!

Of course, Daddy also was a great help as our chauffeur who picked up cake and pizza and people and then got everyone home again! When the time came to sing Happy Birthday, he prayed for you and your life. We wanted our guests to know that God is so very important in all of our lives, and every birthday we celebrate is because of His goodness and grace! Around this time, four more friends arrived to your party and we were so happy to have Tia Carola and Maya, Tia Luisa and Meme with us for your birthday. They are very special to our family.

You were so eager to open your gifts, but to your chagrin Mommy kept trying to hold you off until after your guests went home. You may not have understood why at the time, but knowing the reduced circumstances of the other children I wanted to be sensitive to their feelings and I encouraged you to hand out the gift boxes to them instead. I do like this tradition of giving to birthday guests because hopefully it helps teach generosity!

Birthday party #2

Silas, your second birthday party was at home when the Fishers returned from their travels and Aunt Terri could make you her promised multi-layer banana cake with cream cheese frosting once again. You are much loved by your aunt, uncle, cousins and also Tia Cata who joined us for our family festivities! Your favorite #6 balloon was recycled for this celebration and your brothers and friends graciously played repeated rounds of your new games with you, including the crazy monkey game that had players shrieking and laughing! 

Happy 6th Birthday, Silas Eben Garcia! We are so glad God sent you to our family and pray that you will continue to have a sensitive heart to His Word. I cherish your enthusiasm to read your Bible stories nightly and to sing songs about Jesus. May each new birthday allow you to grow in your knowledge of Him and may you follow Him your whole life long. We love you!

All my love,

Thursday, September 02, 2021

This {Odd} Beautiful Life

Sometime this past year, our five-year-old Silas and I first watched The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The movie is almost ten years old, but I can never clearly recall if I saw it before this time. There is a vague memory that perhaps I chose not to watch it originally because the theme felt too tender. Perhaps then it was still too close to wounds that time had not fully healed. Or perhaps we had yet to come full circle in parenthood, having gained the perspective to acknowledge our fumbles and failures with some laughter and grace.

Whatever the case may be, watching it with Silas was sweet because of his innocent awe and delight in this story which weaves realistic emotion with fanciful imagination. Having personally faced the heartbreak with which the plot opens, I can attest to the actors' believable portrayal of the raw emotions of infertility and the grief of missed parenthood.

Tonight we watched this movie again for the now umpteenth time. I found myself admiring the relationship of the husband and wife whose marriage withstands the harsh winds of loss. It feels like they are two against the world, alone in their mutual sorrow but united by hope in the face of the impossible and improbable. I can relate to this as well, looking back on our own winding journey of joyful peaks and bitter valleys along the way to welcoming our children. There are losses that only Pedro and I know, as well as moments of heart-bursting exhilaration that only we two share.

"Look, Mommy, it's me!" Silas exclaimed excitedly the first time he saw the film. It was an honest mistake: indeed slender Timothy with his brown hair and eyes and sudden appearance mirrors our own surprise child! Whereas the interviews behind cold desks; the sense of having to earn an approval that others achieve naturally; the nervous uncertainty of being deemed "worthy" of parenthood were all too real reminders of the adoption process we went through time and time again. At least seven times that I can recall, Pedro and I and our home were "studied" to determine our aptitude to become and/or remain parents (pre- and post- placement.) Yet I would do it all again for each and every one of our precious children.

"It's okay to be different. A little weird, even." In the story, Timothy is not like other kids in many ways but he is better in all the ways that count: honesty, kindness, sacrifice, gentle humor, friendship and faithfulness. As I was writing this post, I came across the picture and quotes included above. I appreciated and wanted to remember them. Sometimes a movie can be more than just entertainment. It can remind us of some important things in life. Personally, it reminded me of all God has done to answer our prayers and dreams not just for one child but six - "exceeding abundantly above all that we [could] ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20.) And it reminded me of the treasure I've been given in the man who has patiently hoped and jumped hoops and held babies and toddlers and now big kids and college students with faithful commitment and love. Finally, it reminded me just how precious is this {odd} beautiful life God has given.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

50 Years Together - Pedro & Kathy (Our Dad & Mom)

Today is the 50th wedding anniversary of two very special people.

One of the great blessings of my life was marrying into the Garcia family and witnessing first-hand the joyful love of my parents-through-marriage, Pedro Garcia Jr. and Kathy Garcia. I have seen up close their example of choosing one another time and again, of persevering hand-in-hand through trials, of serving the Lord and others faithfully, of embedding laughter and affectionate love into every day. 

I know that it hasn't always been easy. I have heard my mother-in-law's testimony of growing up without a father's love and example in the home and of learning to love and respect and truly welcome the leadership of a husband. I have witnessed two powerful personalities willing to grow in understanding and patience and compassion with one another. I have learned how laughter lends lightness and enjoyment to even an average day together. I have seen mutual submission and the depth of relationship and trust that it brings.

Their life and love in marriage have been a testimony to us. We've learned that in the stormy days and sunny days, there is one anchor for a Christian couple and that is Jesus - loving Him, trusting Him, serving Him together. We've seen that life together is the adventure we're willing to make it, whether it's jumping off a mountain one after the other on parapente or starting from scratch in a new location in our golden years. We've benefitted from the fact that parents and children can become friends and even double date for fun!

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for showing us how beautiful half a century of wedded bliss can be. We wish you many more happy years together, and look forward to celebrating them with you. HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY!!!

Friday, July 30, 2021

Sundays with Silas

Sometimes I pause and reflect on what an uncommon experience Silas has had when it comes to Sundays and more specifically, church on Sundays. In his short five years of life, he has run the gamut of different circumstances. 

He arrived to our modest 70-person Iglesia Bautista Misionera in Iquique as a newborn, spending Sunday services first in arms and then in a bedroom-turned-sala cuna with two or three other children through his entry into toddlerhood. At 19 months old, he transitioned to the United States and visited multiple churches on furlough before spending most of his time in the 2's and 3's class at Grace Baptist Church in Lancaster, PA where he fully enjoyed the spacious room with its toddler-sized chairs and tables and lots of little friends each week.

At 2 1/2 years old, he returned to Chile and the Iglesia Bautista de Fe church plant where he soon found himself dividing his Sunday mornings between Bible lessons and crafts at a folding table in the front patio of a community center, and the playground just across the street with a handful of MKs and few Spanish-speaking peers. It was here that the trio of "Sergio, Santiago and Silas" was born as he met two Venezuelan boys that continue to be his great buddies.

And then at 4 years and 4 months old, the world upturned when COVID-19 hit and suddenly Sunday in-person services were no more. Instead, we began "attending" English church by way of Vimeo and YouTube and truthfully it was initially refreshing to experience family worship in this way. But time went by, lockdown dragged on, and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ was fragmented by the inability to meet. 

It became clear that something needed to change for the health of this fledgling body of believers. So Zoom church began on Sunday mornings, and now 5-year old Silas was adrift while his parents and siblings were busy with music and ministry online. Hence the picture of him on an exercise ball taken last Sunday! He literally bounces between the living room, schoolroom (our Zoom filming location) and back patio while the rest of us try to focus on our responsibilities.

Eventually, a "Spot Infantil" was added to the Zoom service so that each week the children received a short Biblical object lesson geared towards their level of development. But the longer sermon time was still lost on Silas, until recently when we discovered an English children's church online that he can watch simultaneously on the television while the rest of us focus on cell phones and laptops. Not ideal, but at least it's something. 

With the exception of two short weeks at the end of 2020, in Iquique we spent an entire year and a half unable to gather in person on the Lord's Day. Finally we are again able to do so but with such strict limitations on location and number that even our little group of 20-30 believers cannot meet indoors. So following the example of missionary friends in similar straits, the beach became our gathering place! Yet another new Sunday tradition for Silas, but one which he undoubtedly enjoys.

At present we continue to have a shortened Zoom service in the morning at 11 AM, followed by our in-person gathering at Playa Brava around 3:30 PM. It must be admitted that the children gain little Bible teaching at this time because the distractions of sand and surf are just too great! But hopefully they are seeing the importance of fellowship - so important, in fact, that the discomforts of lugging chairs and supplies and braving bitter cold winds in this season are secondary to singing songs of praise and worshipping God together.

It will certainly be interesting someday to hear Silas' recollections of this season in his young life, if he remembers it at all. For now, I am trying not to worry about the next season coming soon. In mid-2022, our family should return to the US for a year and I am a little nervous about how this free-spirited, very active, abundantly-verbal-with-limited-filter, third-culture kid is going to react in the churches we visit!

But if there's one thing I know for sure, he will keep us laughing. 

All of these pictures were taken on the same day  (last Sunday) and reflect the busy, bubbly personality of this fun-loving, youngest-of-six child. From bouncing on the ball in the morning, to working up a sweat on the coldest of Iquique winter afternoons with his buddies, to finally clean and cute in his recycled jammies at bedtime ... Sundays with Silas are always memorable!

Sunday, July 04, 2021

A Day in the Life (of a Missionary Wife)

Let's start with true confessions from a flawed human being who sometimes (read: often) fails to smoothly coordinate all the balls I should be juggling in the air. The night before the events of this post, after a strenuous day of walking long city blocks on multiple errands followed by impromptu dune and rock climbing at the beach with our boys in the evening, all I wanted to do was "veg." Of course, my sons were all too happy to join me in this activity. On a whim after Silas went to bed, Ian and Alec and I decided to watch a suspenseful children's series made up of 25-minute episodes. We were hooked until 1 AM when a text from Pedro announced, "You need to send those boys to bed" and I dutifully replied, "Must. Solve. Mystery." Needless to say, we were up awhile longer! 

Which would have been all fine and dandy if the next day wasn't one of my days to work at FLORECE. Hence the true confessions from a tired human being who started the day running late and skipping devotions rather than fresh and fully charged for a day of ministry. I am just keeping it real because it's way too easy for pictures and posts to present a perfect panorama that really isn't. (Or maybe it is, and I'm the only messed up missionary wife out here!)

Normally on a Thursday I pick up two of our volunteers, but one was out with a sprained ankle and another caught a ride downtown with her husband. So I felt a bit more relaxed with time, which in general isn't a good thing for me when I actually need to get stuff done. Thankfully only one volunteer beat me to FLORECE and miraculously (which sounds like an exaggeration but only barely!) found an actual parking spot right in front of our building to comfortably wait. Soon two, then three, then four of us were present and able to begin the day with prayer. No matter the craziness that may precede gathering in our reception area and bowing our heads together, this is always such a sweet time of joining our hearts in surrender and purpose before the Lord!

Our first client who rescheduled from her normal Tuesday appointment was punctual as usual, and the day's calendar was comfortably full. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we currently accept two clients per hour between 10 AM and 4 PM so as to fulfill spacing and cleaning requirements. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, one by one cancellations began to reveal themselves either by way of WhatsApp messages or simply no-shows. In the end, only three of seven scheduled clients came. We've learned to accept those who arrive as divine appointments and trust the rest to God in prayer. Nonetheless it can be disappointing for the volunteer counselor who has come prepared and hopeful to serve her clients and spends the long day seeing none. 

Because it was the first day of the new month, we all pitched in on paperwork, counting numbers and printing forms and catching up on general odds and ends. I always appreciate the camaraderie and company of these dear women of all ages and walks of life, united in a common cause to share the gospel and serve women and their children, born and unborn. Often in the down time significant conversations take place about family and ministry and God's work in our lives. I smiled today overhearing a Titus 2 moment as a decades-married, mother-of-five volunteer shared her testimony with another volunteer who is a newlywed professional seeking God's will concerning the timing of future motherhood. Some days the ministry is as much about the women who come to serve as those we expect to serve!

It is special to currently spend the Thursday shift at FLORECE with my sister, and occasionally to stop at our favorite fresh fruit juice stand for a pick-me-up on the drive home from downtown. This time it was refreshing cold strawberry lemonade which hit the spot. Arriving home around 5 PM to our neighboring houses was not the end of the day, however! Both of our homes welcome small groups for prayer meeting at 7:30 PM on Thursday nights, and we each had "full houses" (so to speak, as the size restrictions due to COVID-19 are still quite rigid) scheduled. Because at least one of our guests comes straight from work, Pedro had planned ahead with a satisfying one-bowl meal we could easily share around the living room. 

As we gathered prayer requests in each home, we sent them to the church group's WhatsApp chat so that the groups could pray for one another. In this way we are unified even while we have been unable to meet in person as an entire congregation for so many months. The past two weeks have seemed to deepen the confidence of those who attend to open their hearts to one another, and the times of prayer have been tender. We hope and trust that God has been honored during this long season of striving to find the "right" ways of ministering in the midst of quarantines, rules and uncertainty!

For the first time this Thursday, Pedro had asked Ian and Alec to prepare songs on their guitars as they do each Sunday. Casting from his cell phone to the TV screen, he led our small band of brothers and sisters in a short time of singing before and after prayer. It wasn't until several days later that I learned the government recommends only four people maximum - separated from others - sing at a religious service due to COVID-19 concerns. Somehow, I cannot see how this honors the Sustainer of our health and lives who is worthy of all our praise.

I recount this as a memory of a day in the life of a missionary wife (me.) How thankful I am for God's mercy and grace in light of my many shortcomings; His strength in response to my weakness; the meaning and purpose He provides to my efforts and existence. Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness! 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Happy 19th Birthday, Isabel!

Dear Isabel,

Your 19th birthday found you far from us, but surrounded by the love of family in the United States. Just two short weeks after leaving us in Chile and reconnecting with your grandparents, cousin and sister stateside and starting your first "real" job at camp for the summer, you stepped into the last of your "teen" years and we are so proud of you!

Aunt Jenn prepared homemade chicken pot pie at your request and you were celebrated with not one, but two cakes (at both the Rubins' home and Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop's house!) We were happy to tag along via video call to sing "Happy Birthday" and watch you open gifts. Though it's always been a challenge to shop for a girl who's not much into shopping, you do love t-shirts with clever statements and hopefully enjoyed the pro-life and faith/medical themes on a couple we chose. I also added a jar of candy as similar as possible to what you love at home in Chile (the lemon-and-orange, fruit slice, hard kind!)

fun times with cousins
Sissy, we celebrate 19 years of knowing and loving you and look forward to all God has in store for you this year and in the years to come.
I miss your presence, laughter, spicy humor and company each week at FLORECE and for the occasional "chick flick" that your brothers and Dad can't quite appreciate. I miss seeing you with your nose in a book or flipping pages on your Kindle reader, and trying to keep up with your requests for more reading material! I miss seeing you snuggle with Silas, play with Sophia, and lead Nathaniel on shopping outings to Lider. But in the midst of the missing, I am so happy that you are experiencing a fullness of life right now fulfilling kitchen duties at camp, meeting new people weekly, making friends, enjoying your cousins, breathing fresh air and soaking in sunshine and returning to something like "normal" this summer stateside.

And I am praying for your next steps, coming soon! Arriving at college, reconnecting with your Garcia/Starkweather family, setting up your dorm room, adjusting to new studies and schedules and making new and hopefully lasting friendships. I am so glad that Daddy will be with you in just a few more weeks to see you settled and give you all the hugs for us both. 

Happy 19th Birthday, Isabel Hope! You have kept us on our toes and taught us so much with your strength and resilience since you were just a little girl. I am so thankful for the privilege to be at your side through a NICU stay, more doctors and therapists than we can remember, multiple MRIs and watching you overcome just about every "can't" that came your way. You are brave and strong with the help of the Lord and I pray you will remember and look to Him every single day for the rest of your life. 

I love you!

Birthday Posts by Year:

18th Birthday - Isabel
17th Birthday - Isabel
16th Birthday - Isabel
15th Birthday - Isabel
14th Birthday- Isabel
13th Birthday - Isabel
12th Birthday - Isabel
11th Birthday - Isabel
10th Birthday - Isabel
9th Birthday - Isabel
8th Birthday - Isabel
7th Birthday - Isabel
6th Birthday - Isabel
5th Birthday - Isabel