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!
Mommy


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

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Isabel Hope (Class of 2021)


Having practiced the year before with her sister, the senior photo shoot with photographer Hernan and our daughter Isabel was even more creative and just as special. It felt different after months of lockdown and with the addition of face masks and the reduced number of people everywhere we went. We included a new location - Cerro Dragon, Iquique's famous sand dune - which was trickier than expected as we tripped and traipsed up its slippery slope! A pose kneeling in the water also resulted in a bit more adventure than planned, but it was a perfect challenge for our gutsy girl.

Again, I am thankful for this one "normal" experience Isabel could have in her senior year. I am thankful we could capture the many places that make up her memories of childhood and life in our corner of Chile. And I hope she felt beautiful, valued and loved as she truly is.



Eva Grace (Class of 2020)



I am thankful for these pictures of our oldest daughter (and first graduate) Eva. Just one month after these were taken, the world began reeling from COVID-19 and would never be the same again. As an online schooling family even prior to the pandemic, Eva had no classmates with whom to walk down the aisle nor senior banquet or prom to attend. Once upon a time we had hoped, however, to plan a fancy dinner with special friends and have our favorite seamstress Tia Cata make Eva a cap and gown. None of this came to pass after we were almost literally locked into our homes with military-enforced curfews. 

As such, these pictures were perhaps the closest thing to "normal" in Eva's senior year. Though not a custom in Chile, our photographer friend Hernan enthusiastically embraced the idea and made it a fun shoot in multiple locations. It was a special privilege to help my daughter with her wardrobe changes and poses and to witness, I hope, a moment in which she felt beautiful and valued.


Our Beautiful Seniors - 2020 & 2021

Eva Grace (Class of 2020)

Isabel Hope (Class of 2021)

My husband and I used to have a good-natured, ongoing disagreement about the value of graduation ceremonies with all their trappings (he chose not to walk at his college graduation.) So it was to my surprise when he showed a sentimental streak recently and admitted the sadness he feels that our daughters' completion of high school this year and last - both under full lockdown and curfew - went virtually uncelebrated due to these circumstances. 

Maybe we feel it more this year when others have returned to freedom and a measure of normalcy we still lack. Eva Garcia (2020) & Isabel Garcia (2021) - we love you both! Because of limited options in our context, high school was not all that you wished it would be even before a worldwide pandemic. But you persevered and we are so proud of you. We pray that the next season of life will hold much joy and fulfillment as you spread your wings and fly. You are in our prayers always!

Eva Grace (Class of 2020)

Isabel Hope (Class of 2021)

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Trusting in Times of Goodbye

With another child's departure near, it doesn't take much for the tears to flow. 

This morning, it was the simple matter of Isabel going to the grocery store with Pedro. Her official assignment as his shopping companion was being on "Silas duty" (since at a year-plus into pandemic we are one of those boat rocking families that actually takes our young child into the grocery store - with everyone duly masked, temp checked and sanitized, of course!) But the emotion that caught me off guard was realizing it was one of the few final times that this act of our daughter accompanying her dad to the store would take place.


Albeit, it's not such a "simple act" at all in Step 1 of  Year 2 of lockdown. First, both Pedro and Isabel pulled out their phones to go online and visit Chile's "Virtual Police Station" in search of the "Temporary Individual Permission" button. Then they each input their "Unique Password" previously obtained from Chile's Civil Registry Office. This allowed them to register their full name; Chilean identity card number; age; home address including street number, city and region in Chile; and specify where they were going at what time. After accepting the warning that false information on this form would carry criminal penalties, they submitted their forms and received approval beginning fifteen minutes after the listed time and lasting for two hours. Officially, they each have one more such permission available this week.

I have always been thankful for the special relationship Isabel and Pedro share. 

We sometimes reminisce and chuckle that as a very little baby, she had an irritable hour every evening when she would accept a bottle and the company only of Mommy while Daddy suffered her wrathful rebuff. But that soon passed and while she and Mommy survived power struggles many times through her toddlerhood and adolescence, Daddy always knew how to calm Isabel down and exert the patience she desperately needed. Even now in these final weeks, he is the one graciously rising early to humor her requests for driving practice and the one from whom she is requesting a week's worth of favorite meals (or at the very least, his chicken fettuccini alfredo!) I treasure all these moments of the two of them together, knowing we are yet again on a countdown to goodbye.


This already difficult goodbye is compounded by the state of the nation with ever new restrictions to travel. 

Like last year with Eva's departure, we are on lockdown and borders are officially closed with less flights from which to choose. However, this year there are additional requirements that increase already-high levels of stress when trying to travel. There is the required negative PCR test before travel, which in our case requires an overnight stay in Santiago (running to the clinic for the test directly from the airport after a national flight and then departing on an international flight late the following night) because there is no lab in Iquique that promises a quick turnaround. There is the online C-19 form confirming no symptoms or contact with positive persons. There is the required police permission to leave a quarantined region. 

Finally and most foreboding is the new "Extraordinary Request" permission to leave the country of Chile. It states that only for motives that are characterized as "urgent, humanitarian, essential for health, indispensable arrangements for the adequate functioning of the country, or to reside (implied: permanently) abroad" can Chileans or foreign residents request permission to leave the country. Obviously, this permission can be approved or denied. Since requests must be submitted a minimum of 72 hours before travel but are sorted in terms of those leaving soonest, we are not even sure when to make our plea. It is nerve wracking to have tickets purchased and be weeks from Isabel's planned departure without knowing whether our careful plans will be successful. Additionally uncertain is the outcome of brother Owen's role as her travel companion.


Last year, Isabel created a Father's Day video for Pedro. 

The song accompanying sweet family photos was new to us and entitled "Through the Eyes of My Father." The chorus included these words: "I see God in my father's eyes ... A father's like the Father in the way he loves you ... A father's like the Father when he carries you through ..." Today as I struggle to lay down the weight of worry and embrace the bittersweet hope and pride of what the future holds for our second daughter, these words are a reminder to me. Just as Isabel's earthly father has loved her well, so does her Heavenly Father love her (and even more!) and will provide perfectly for her. We can rest in His care!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Family Photos (Minus One)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sunday, April 25, 2021

It feels like deja vu in our home as a new countdown begins to the departure of another dear daughter. Just like last year, we are in lockdown and most of the traditional trappings of celebration are absent. The day Isabel completed her final assignment of her high school career, we celebrated by ordering fresh fruit juices from La Ecuatoriana. There will be no cap and gown or graduation ceremony. But just like last year, the enforced closeness allows us lots of family time we might otherwise have missed. 

More than ever before, weekday mornings are sacrosanct as we gather in the living room to start the day in family devotions and prayer. Wakefulness may not be guaranteed but everyone's presence is required! Just bringing us all together and "setting our minds on things above" (Colossians 3:2) sets the tone for a brighter day. God is always faithful to meet us each morning.

It is rare that a day passes without lengthy time spent around the table at lunch and afterwards in occasionally comical, sometimes serious conversation. At least once or twice a week, games are pulled out and a few rousing rounds of Dutch Blitz, Monopoly Deal, or Pit are played. Sometimes Sissy succeeds in convincing enough of us to engage in Code Names (her current favorite.) More often, evenings end with Mom and kids (sans Silas) scattered about the living room watching something on TV. With a 9 PM countrywide curfew, there aren't a whole lot of evenings options anymore!

Sundays are still special. It has been over a year and in all that time, only twice (in December/January) has our church been able to meet in person on the Lord's Day. That's two out of fifty-eight Sundays. Three other times we were able to briefly and gratefully meet on a weekday. That's five total in-person gatherings in 406 days. But each Sunday since the state of emergency was declared in Chile, our family rises and dresses as though we were still headed to church and "to church" we go! Nowadays it is with our Chilean church family through Zoom. Though it will never be the same as worshipping together in person - it is still a blessing every time. 

With only four more Sundays before we say goodbye to Isabel, once again I am encouraging the family photos that I know we'll treasure when she's gone. They are bittersweet because they are always "minus one" and I feel Eva's absence keenly. But the reality of God's work in our oldest daughter's life away from us is what comforts and assures us that Isabel, too, will be stretched and grow in the shelter of His care this coming year.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Sweet Sixteen for Owen

Dear Owen,

Your 16th birthday fell on a Monday this year and two warm chocolate chip oatmeal bakes came out of the oven to start the week off right! 

To be honest, food was at the top of the list of birthday requests and I like to think this day did not disappoint. 

My homemade breakfast was followed by Dad's homemade lunch, consisting of no less than SIX varieties of pizzas made by hand!

His creations were beautiful with chewy light dough and flavors of pepperoni, chicken, broccoli, peppers, spicy jalapeños, and more.

The preparations began the night before and he spent hours working to present a delicious meal to you and all of us. 

I think you may have discovered by now that your dad's love language is "acts of service" - and in so doing he showed that he loves you well!

Unfortunately, your 16th birthday was spent in quarantine just as the year before.

But as the months have worn on, I have observed you adjusting to our smaller reality while gaining momentum in your studies and still maintaining some of the neighborhood friendships you've developed over the years. 

I have always admired your personality and resilience, seeing in you that initial discomfort with change and lack of familiarity followed by the way you inevitably adjust and thrive.

It's a gift God has given you and one I look forward to seeing Him continue to use in your life!

This summer (mainly June through August) you will be facing yet another change that I trust you will confront with courage and confidence. 

Your sister Eva is the happiest of all, because as a result of this change you will find yourself serving at the Ranch with her in PA.

Your sister Isabel is also glad, because it means you will be her travel companion back to the United States.

The little brother they used to playfully dress up in shimmering fairy wings is now a towering 6'1" bodyguard that makes them both feel safe. 

Where has the time gone? In the blink of an eye you are sixteen and soon you will be starting your second-to-last year of high school.

As a mom, I feel admiration and pride and the bittersweet longing to relive some of your younger years while also being expectant and hopeful for all that God is going to do in and through you as you continue to walk with Him.

I love that you are a a man-child, so big and yet still appreciating and needing us. I hope you know that you can always count on Mom and Dad for anything! There are so many people that love you.

Speaking of which, the picture with your birthday cake makes me smile. Continuing with the food theme, Aunt Terri at your request (and for the second year!) made you the richest, thickest, triple layered chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.

Silas, of course, hovered at your elbow in great eagerness to help you extinguish those sixteen glowing candles. He, too, loves his big brother "Roomie!"

Dad captured your birthday song on Facebook Live and the humorous words you shared afterwards:


Dear Owen, it's a privilege to love you - and we do. Happy Sweet 16th Birthday to you!

All my love,
Mommy

Friday, April 09, 2021

Happy Birthday to Pedro

To my dear husband -

These were my words on Facebook the morning of your birthday:

Wishing my wonderful husband Pedro Garcia III a happy birthday today! 

This man cares generously for our family in so many ways. 

He brings us laughter, order, awesome meals, encouragement, and strength. 

He is a faithful husband, caring father, consistent friend, loving son and brother. 

He is a committed teammate and humble leader. 

He loves and serves the Lord with all his heart. 

I am so thankful to call him my Sweets. ❤️

On your birthday, you chose to make your own favorite meal: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and all the "comfort foods!" Like so many other days, you blessed all of us with your cooking talents and heart of service. I hope you felt the love of your family and how much we appreciate all you do for us!

Pictured are your double cakes - an interesting sesame seed, cream and nuts and jelly concoction that you chose from Jumbo and a surprise gift from Fishers of carrot cake (your favorite!) I also wanted to save the birthday greetings you received from your siblings and nieces. It is special that through our family chat we can celebrate and send love in these creative ways!



Pedro, you are my best friend and favorite companion. I am so thankful to God that through a quarter of a century He has allowed us to know one another, experience SO MUCH together and be sustained by His grace! I'm grateful for laughter, sorrow, miraculous joys, crazy crises, shared friendships, travels and travails, beautiful and precious children and the simple daily routines of family lived side by side. Happy Birthday, my Sweets!

Love,
Steph

Birthday Posts by Year:

2007
2008
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2016
2018
2019

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)