Advent: Expectations

Advent snuck up on me this year.  Ironic?  Maybe...  But my hope is that by writing another Advent series this year, Christmas won’t catch me by the same surprise.

Last year, the anticipation of my own Christmas child walked alongside preparations for the celebration of the Christ child’s birth.  When I reflect on that journey this year, I wonder: How can you prepare for or even anticipate something that is unknown… when you actually have no idea what to expect?  I was waiting for a baby last year, but I actually didn’t have a single clue what I was getting into.   

My response is to create my own expectations despite my cloudy understanding.  And I think I do the same with Jesus.  When we anticipate His arrival, how do we wait in expectation without forming our own limited expectations?

This year I find my self in a place of waiting for the unknown.  I sense that something new is around the corner… like aching knees before a rainstorm… but I don’t know exactly what it is.  So we’ve been praying a lot and asking God to show up… to guide… to direct.  But, of course, I have all these preconceptions and directions for God in that process.

So as I reflect on awaiting the Christ child, I wonder how much of self I still must purge from my expecting.  How do I come before God and say: I’m expecting you to BE… in your own time… in your own way… on your own terms…? 

The reality is that if my expectations aren’t met, I am often disappointed.  But the very nature of expecting God includes an element of expecting the unknown, which means I must approach the Christmas season with humility and reverence. 

This first week of Advent as I dwell in expectation, I am simultaneously asking God to remove my expectations.  Expectation should be a posture… not a checklist. 

God, grant me the mercy and grace to wait on YOU this Christmas.    

What expectations do you place on God?  How do you respond when they are not met?  How are you waiting in a posture of expectation this Christmas?

Continue in this year's advent series here.  

Thanksgiving Lessons

The day before Thanksgiving I threw caution to the wind and braved the grocery store. 
After witnessing several moms navigating the narrow, crowded aisles with carts led by a massive, plastic car for two children to drive (have you seen these?!), I made an important decision.

When Ella asks to ride in one of these monstrosities, I will use a proven strategy my parents perfected when my sister and I asked to go to Disneyworld.  I will tell her she’s too little.  I will repeat this mantra until it becomes appropriate to switch it up and tell her it’s for little kids and that she’s too big.  That’s my plan… we’ll see how it all works out…

This was one of my Thanksgiving lessons, but the season has of course, also encouraged me to reflect on what I am grateful for this year.

This year has been a tough one… the adjustment to parenthood, four months outside the country, and several areas in life where I have experienced “unsuccess” (“failure” felt a little too dramatic).  My expectations have been shifting to the point of obliteration. 

I find myself glad to be nearing the end of 2011, yet not sure exactly what to expect for the future.  Still, I know that God calls us to give thanks regardless of our circumstances, and as I appreciate this year, I am grateful for how God has revealed His deep faithfulness.  I have felt connected to God in new ways and through these difficult seasons have experienced renewed positivity and joy, fresh ideas, and greater confidence and purpose in following God.

Give thanks with a grateful heart.  Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His son.  And now let the weak say I am strong.  Let the poor say I am rich because of what the Lord has done for us.  Give thanks.

What are you giving thanks for today?

Photo credit: Dave Di Biase


Bringing Home Baby

This past weekend, two related things happened:

1. I started planning my daughter’s 1st birthday party, which (shockingly!) is only a few weeks away.

2. While looking for a notebook to write in, I came across this detailed log, which tracked every feeding and diaper (including content descriptions) of her first days at home.  Needless to say, this obsessive practice didn’t last long…

These two events take me back in time to eleven months ago when our family made our great escape from the hospital and embarked on parenthood those first, wild days. 

Our stay had been marked with unexpected events that were rapidly chipping away at my fragile confidence of early motherhood.  An unplanned C-section… a daughter who screamed so loudly when hungry that even the lactation consultant was shouting, “Just give her the bottle!”… and a NICU doctor that informed me he could not release my daughter into my custody because I wasn’t feeding her fast enough.

When they finally placed her in my arms, five days after birth, we were ecstatic, disbelieving, and eager to get home as soon as possible… which was perfect timing, since the hospital staff had told us it was time to leave. 

The great thing about leaving the hospital is that they load you up with goodies before rolling you out the door.  Our wheelchair/cart was piled high with diapers, bottles, formula, snot suckers, pacifiers, and anything else “baby” you can imagine.  Still, I felt somehow like I was stealing it.

My adrenaline was pumping as I waited for Billy in the freezing cold.  I was kidnapping my baby and fifty diapers… we needed to get out of here! When he arrived, the nurse helped us load the car.  I hadn’t thought to bring any bags, so loose items were spilling off the cart and rolling on the ground while we tossed duffels, pillows, three bottles, a jacket, one snot sucker, two more bottles, and a thousand other miscellaneous items into the car at rapid speed. 

It turns out we should’ve practiced for this moment because when we laid Ella into her car seat, we discovered we had no idea how to work it.  There were nylon straps, various items that appeared to need to “click” somewhere, ambulances racing past us, and a nurse waiting in the desperate cold for us to finish up.  Finally, I blocked her body from the view of the nurse I was sure would take her back if we proved unworthy, tossed a blanket on top of her, and shouted to Billy, “Go, go, go!” 

We pulled over at a gas station down the street to strap her in correctly.  Ella was fussing and crying out when she suddenly made a sound.  Billy looked at me.  “She just said, ‘Help!’” 

Apparently, spending the first five days with professional caregivers had been okay by Miss Ella. She panicked now realizing she was clearly in the hands of amateurs  who couldn’t even buckle a car seat!  It turns out that her being in the baby nursery had spoiled us as well.  We got home and quickly realized, “This is it… we’re on our own.” 

Thank God for my mom, who decided to give us the first night off so we could recover from the tumultuous hospital stay.  I’m still not entirely sure what happened, but I know I woke up the next day to find an empty crib… my daughter sleeping in a twin bed… my mother passed out on the bedroom floor… and empty baby bottles strewn everywhere.  It was like a scene in a movie… or a little baby frat house.

It has certainly been a wild ride, and I’m excited to celebrate her birthday in a few weeks.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more about that as we get closer.  I can’t believe it’s almost been a year.  Then again, I also can’t believe we made it through that first week.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Strangely… I have had several opportunities to be arrested.  Wait… opportunities?  Is that a tricky way of saying “I-have-broken-the-law-and-not-been-caught”? 

Oh, no. I could never handle the guilt of evading the law. I’m more a “turn-yourself-in-while-crying-hysterically” kinda girl. 

Nevertheless, because I have encountered so many passionate, deeply caring people in my life, they have often made decisions to engage in civil disobedience.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are often cited examples of leaders who encouraged groups to nonviolently disobey unjust laws in a stand of protest against injustice. 

I have never chosen to get involved in these actions, and part of my reason is because some of the opportunities have not been focused on breaking unjust laws, but rather organizing mass arrests of a minor law in order to draw attention to an important issue.  I understand the premise, but I have abstained.

Lately, though, I cannot get away from punitive, mean-spirited state laws passed in Alabama and Georgia this summer.  I think about them often.  (Is this not normal?)  My heart aches that states have chosen to deal with this complex, intertwined, personal issue with such broad-sweeping, bitter strokes.

But I have also started thinking about the unintentional opportunities of these and any future harsh laws. It turns out I may get arrested after all…

Because I will not follow any law that says I cannot welcome the stranger into my home (aka harboring an illegal alien) or drive friends in my car (aka transporting illegal aliens).  The Bible told me to care for my neighbor and to welcome the stranger.

If I have to choose between God’s commandments and man’s… well, I choose God’s.  I try to respect the law, and I am in no way advocating all law be ignored.  Immigration is an issue that does need to be addressed on a governmental level.    

However, I will not check the papers of guests on my doorstep as if that screening will determine how I treat you.  No, I will not.  And if that’s breaking the law… well, there you go…

It is my hope that the “lines in the sand” being drawn by politicians will actually have the unexpected result of mobilizing formerly silent or unengaged peoples in the church to stand up against injustice.  Now we’re starting to have some laws worth breaking!

I might just wait a minute before turning myself in, though…

Photo Credit: Penny Mathews

Lessons from Cross-Cultural Marriage: The Power of the Holy Spirit

The service had ended and I was walking down the church aisle drinking from a water bottle. The people around me chased after their children. The worship band packed up instruments. And a woman stood on the stage giving what I assumed were general announcements in Spanish.

Then my brain translated her saying “the girl that only speaks English.”

Earlier in the evening my monolingual skills had been introduced to the church, so I knew it was me. Confirming it, a boy of about 10 walked up to me and said, “She’s talking to you. Go down to the front.”

Oh, dear.   

Nervously, I walked towards the stage, making frenzied eye contact with my husband who was helping pack up the band.  What I had believed to be announcements, I now realized were prophecies.

Sure enough, the minister was speaking enthusiastically in my direction, and I couldn’t understand a word. Thankfully, a 14-year old boy near me generously translated, which became awkward when he started talking about God blessing my womb.

A couple of weeks ago, I began a three-part series on lessons from a cross-cultural marriage.  Therefore, today I give you…

Lesson 3: The Power of the Holy Spirit

I grew up in churches where the Holy Spirit wasn’t necessarily talked about. I don’t think anyone was particularly avoiding the topic, it just never seemed to come up.  The Holy Spirit did come up the first time I met my future mother-in-law, and it has been a major area of faith and spirituality that I have learned from marrying a Latino. 

Billy has talked me through services where worshipers fell to the ground and he pointed out to me how Godly leaders can guide and direct this activity. He has taught me to listen to prophecies, hold them loosely, and to give glory to God if they are fulfilled because that is the proof that it was from God.  He is emphatic that you do not connive or manipulate a prophesy to become true.  If it is from God, it will be true.

Billy has witnessed modern-day loaves and fishes being multiplied to feed more than is humanly possible.  He has prayed for people with leprosy and seen God decide to heal.  It’s incredible to hear these stories of God’s power, and it encourages my spirit and faith with fresh fire.

When I hear him talk of being in the Spirit’s presence, I am captivated with new longing to know God.  Miracles, prophecies, healings… these are not areas of Christianity with which I am familiar or, quite frankly, often comfortable.  However, I cannot deny that they are Biblical.  And though there are certainly manipulators and deceivers out there, I cannot throw out the baby with the bath water, if you will.

This area is probably one that has been the most transformative, most exciting, and most frightening for me.  I definitely cannot say that I can speak confidently about the work of the Spirit.  I can, however, recommend some books I’ve read: Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala and Forgotten God by Frances Chan.  I will also add that I believe this is one of the most powerful things that the American church could learn from immigrant congregations in our midst.   

What role has the Holy Spirit played in your spiritual walk?  What is comforting or exhilarating to you?  What is unsettling or frightening?

If you'd like to read the rest of this series, start at the beginning.

Corn, Coffee, and the Inspiration of Immigration

Last week I had the fun privilege to speak to group of college student leaders at the NCMSLC conference.  I was asked a question about how to approach immigration at a time in our country’s life where the working poor and middle classes are struggling.

I gave an answer, but as I’ve had more time to reflect, I think I want a do-over.  So here goes…

I don’t really think that the US economic system should shoulder the responsibility of creating jobs for anyone who decides to come here. I’m not saying that I don’t think it could, but I don’t necessarily think it needs to.

Many immigrants I have met would prefer to remain in their home countries.  They miss their families and the lives that they had built at home.  So there is an element international economic development that enters into the equation.

First of all, Americans tend to be very generous, and especially Christians.  So I encourage people to find local organizations creating jobs for local people in Mexico and Central America.  If you know of any, please leave them in the comments. And as I come across them, I will share the information as well.

But we must also take some responsibility for US policies that have actually benefited the US economy at the expense of other countries’ economies.  NAFTA, for example, made it cheaper for Mexican people to buy corn for government-subsidized US farmers than from local Mexican farmers.  Therefore, numerous Mexican farmers went out of business, migrated to Mexican cities, and eventually, many continued on to the States.

You may have different opinions about specific policies and their benefits and challenges, but the simple reality is that if US policies damage neighboring economics, then migration is inevitable. 

One very simple way to counteract this is through Fair Trade products.  Guatemala is a giant exporter of coffee. If we actually pay for our coffee what it costs to brew that cup, then maybe that farmer can survive off the crops he grows in his home country.   

The beauty of just economies is that immigration would become a choice people can make, weighing their personal economic options, and not a survival necessity. 

And lastly, I would add that I love that God uses the metaphor of the Church as a body, each with a different function and role. What I enjoy about sharing with college students is my hope that as I tell my story and start a conversation around immigration that this role may inspire an amazing young leader to harness their specific creativity and expertise to explore new solutions and ways to support immigrants. 

We are a body.

Lessons from Cross-Cultural Marriage: Women in Leadership

It’s not uncommon for English only speakers to throw out the word machismo (or some pronunciation similarity, usually trying to fit “macho” into the mix) when Latin gender roles come up. 

Merriam-Webster defines machismo as an exaggerated masculinity. This attitude certainly exists in subcultures throughout the world, including parts of Latin America.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about. Billy always told me that growing up in the city, his experiences were very different around gender roles.  I welcomed this news since I don’t necessarily fit into the stereotype of a traditional housewife. (Today I googled how to clean an oven after living in this house… and using this oven… for over two years…)

However, my relationship with Billy has made me realize how much I often limit the leadership roles of women, especially in the church.

Lesson 2: Women in Leadership

A blog post from the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals shares how women are playing an ever-increasing role in the Latin church.  I love this quote:

"Hispanic Christians value one thing over the cultural dynamics and stereotypes of the people. We value the anointing. We value the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. More important than gender is the testimony of God. Our people will follow whoever is carrying the mantle regardless of gender," stated Sergio Navarrette, superintendent of the southern Pacific Latin district of the Assemblies of God.

I would never have said that I was against women preaching.  I’m not.  But I am unfamiliar with it, and so my true confession is that sometimes it surprises me and sometimes makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. 

Not Billy. He is familiar with seeing women in leadership roles in church. In fact, on one of our recent trips to Guatemala, he was excited to introduce me to his longtime mentor who we had prayed with over the phone in the past.  I loved meeting her… and hope to get to know her more in the future.

I have appreciated how Billy’s comfort with women pastors and church leaders has pushed me to acknowledge my ambiguity around the issue.  I appreciate that the Latino church can be an example of inclusion and affirmation of the anointing of women.

Another area where my connection to Latino culture has challenged my perceptions of women leaders is in politics.  This year, we spent four months in Argentina, where Cristina Kirchner (pictured above) has been president since 2007.  It was fascinating to see her on TV, regularly addressing the country.

In fact, if you are like me, you may have no idea that other Latin America countries – Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Panama – have all had women presidents.  And I’m not even including Europe, Africa, or Asia (the first woman president in the world led Sri Lanka).

You could say that the US could learn a few things about women in leadership from other countries.  I know I have been grateful for how Latin America has pushed me to think more broadly about the roles of women in church and politics.

To read more posts in the Lessons from Cross-Cultural Marriage series, go to the beginning or read on!   

Word Wars for a Bilingual Baby

At ten months of age, the Backpack Baby seems to be hinting that she might like to try and say her first word. 

She chatters all the time.  Only recently did I realize that these cries, coos, and sputters will eventually be words. 

I have begun to wonder if her first expressions will be in English or in Spanish.  At first, I had imagined it would be English, assuming that she has heard it more at home and outside… that and I often wildly accuse Billy of not speaking enough Spanish to her.

However, lately I have noticed that she responds more when being spoken to in Spanish.  It then occurred to me that I am at work all day while Billy may actually be filling her head with Spanish.  And then there’s the four months of these ten that she lived in Argentina… and the time spent with her abuelos in Guatemala… and of course Sid, El Niño Scientifico.

It’s on.  The contest for the first word in our OPOL Challenge.

It seems, however, that Ella has decided to play it safe in this grand battle.  We think she is starting her verbal journey with “Daisy”… the name of the dog.  Right now it sounds like “Deh-dee,” so we’re not totally sure, but she’s looking at the pup and shaking her legs in wild enthusiasm.

She feels a special kinship with Daisy… they play together, they crawl together, and they lick the same bowl.  It makes sense that she would choose Daisy as her first word rather than engage in her parents’ War of the Words. 

Any other bilingual babies out there?  What were the first words?  Was one language favored at first over the other?
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.