Does God Stand with Immigrants?

November 24, 2014


At church we sang Chris Tomlin’s “Our God.” I love this song, and I can’t help but get some goosebumps as we celebrate the bigness of our powerful God.

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?   
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?

It was three days after President Obama’s executive action offered relief to many immigrant families. And after years of riding the waves of jubilation and defeat in the journey for people-centric immigration reform, I thought, “Yes, God. If you are with us, then nothing can stand against.”

Because I tend to think in video montage, I sang the song while images of justice and celebration scrolled through my mind. Relief for poor people. Immigrants sharing a meal with a no fear of deportation. People dancing in the streets. Because… our God is on our side. 

But then I stopped. I didn’t write this song. In fact, it’s super popular with Christians everywhere. Some of the same Christians, in fact, who I see posting on Facebook about English-only or how hospitality is not important. The first person to call me a “low life” on the Internet was the relative of a Christian university connection. And I wonder, “How can we all stand together and sing that God is with us?”

I’m not talking about politics. Not everyone has to agree about how every issue is addressed. Personally, I wish Congress had taken action. But I stood in Washington and listened to politicians basically say that while they agree immigration reform is important, they would rather pass the opportunity because playing games was more important.

But I’m referring to an overachieving theology that favors the poor and the least of these, that stands alongside those people in the margins of society. When I sing Tomlin’s song, I know other Christians are singing it, hoping against the very justice and celebration that dances in my movie-like mind and inspires my gratitude to God. 

And sometimes, in my weaker moments, I wonder if I belong in the Christian community. I wonder if God really is on the side of personal gain over the plight of the poor. If God revels in revenge and violence. If God quietly accepts oppression, rather than standing beside those on the outside crying for justice. 

But in my better moments, I have hope. I read the Bible and see Jesus favoring the poor and touching leapers. I see God working through Esther to protect the vulnerable. I see God rescuing Israelite slaves.

And then I remember that I don’t want God on my side. I want to be on God’s side. And what I read in the Bible keeps showing me time and time again that God stands in the margins.

So I celebrate a win for immigration reform. I celebrate an executive action that allows families to stay together and vulnerable people to have some peace and protection. I raise my hands and say, "Thank you, God."

And I will probably stay off Facebook a little more than normal. 

Killing Off the Myths: Bilingual Kids At A Loss for Words

November 21, 2014


One of my biggest fears about raising bilingual kids was that I'd heard about the likelihood of a language delay. Well, that and being left out. I was very worried about being the monolingual one out.

But a language delay made me nervous. I was so eager to have conversations with my little girl, and she was constantly frustrated that her points and grunts and tantrums weren't communicating her ultimate message.

In fact, around 18ish months, I did consider going English-only for a while because I was so eager for her to talk. She seemed agitated, and I wanted to give her every possible avenue to be able to communicate.

I had also read an interesting heads up in a book on bilingual parenting. It said kids entering school may appear to have limited vocabularies compared to their monolingual peers. This "deficit" could cause teachers to encourage us to drop the second language to build up her first.

The book asserted that, in actuality, bilingual kids would have an equal vocabulary in total, but words may be divided between the multiple languages. A monolingual encounter then may make the child appear to know fewer words. That small piece of advice stuck with me, and I tucked it away for a rainy day.

So I was prepared for language delay and a quiet building of two vocabulary sets that, on their own, may seem below age level.

Nope.

In our case, that's not what happened at all. I wouldn't say Ella was an early talker, but she was not noticeably late. More shocking to me, though, is that she knows all. of. the. words.

I can't ever imagine anyone telling me that she's not speaking enough in English. Seriously.

In fact, it's not uncommon for folks to comment on how communicative/talkative/articulate she is. Now, I recognize that her dual vocabularies have not grown equally. And the few times she does start speaking in Spanish sentences, I've heard her switch mid-way to speaking English with a Spanish accent. (ha!)

I'm not worried, though. I know that her Spanish is developing and growing, and we're continuing to foster it. We are a predominately English-speaking household living in an English-speaking community. I know her Spanish will take some extra nurturing.

But I am relieved that the concerns I'd read about, including language delay and limited vocabularies, have been minimal to non-existent in our experience. If you're out there considering bilingual education or worried about the effects on language development, I just want to encourage you that it doesn't always mean a delay or limitation for every kid.

And honestly, even if there is a short delay or it takes them a little while longer to fill out their word bank, these seasons quickly pass. Growing kids is kind of like boiling water, in my opinion. And (especially with the first-born) there is a lot of watching, waiting for each stage to emerge.

Barring some unique circumstances where there are some delays that need attention, most kids really do come right along. Everyone simply moves at their own pace. Don't give up on that second (or third or twelfth) language because you're worried it'll take longer. It's totally worth it! And in our case, the surprise was that it really didn't delay at all.

Have you worried about raising bilingual kids because of concerns you've heard?

When Bilingual Babies Get Sassy

November 17, 2014


Billy recently traveled with the kids to visit his parents in Guatemala City. In what I can only imagine was a harrowing day of multiple flights with a lap child and a talkative toddler, one hilarious story stood out from his experience.

While chillin' in Fort Lauderdale during their layover, a man decided to chat it up with Ella. (First mistake?) He asked her, "Are you going to Guatemala?"

Ella looked at him. "No, no," she said. "I'm going to wat-te-mah-lah." I imagine at this moment he probably stared at her dumbfounded. Naturally, she continued. "wat-te-mah-lah is Spanish. goo-ah-tay-mall-ah English."

When Billy recounted this moment to me I was giggling hysterically and horrified in the same moment. "What did the man say?"

Thankfully, this U.S. gentleman was gracious and laughingly conceded, "Yes, that's true." He then asked Billy if she was bilingual and offered some super encouraging words about that endeavor. 

Ella has also zeroed in on my monolingualism recently. If she hears me speaking any Spanish, she asks me to stop because you don't speak Spanish. But then she keeps asking me, "Do you speak Spanish?" so the verdict's still out.

Putting her to bed, I called her Gabriella. She responded, "Mom, don't call me Gabriella in English. Only in Spanish." Pause. "Say it in Spanish, Mom." So I garbled the r's and the ll's because I can't pronounce them correctly in Spanish. But she nodded approvingly. 

Bless her little bilingual heart! Trying to figure all this stuff out with a papa who tries to speak solely Spanish to her, but also speaks a lot of English. And a mom who says she only speaks English, but occasionally busts out the Spanish, and is often the gringa with the accent. Good times!
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