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2012: The Practice Run

Today I decided to try out a New Year’s Resolution.  I’d hate to give it a go tomorrow for the very first time only to fail so early in a fresh year. No, I decided I’d rather add it to my tally for 2011.  So today…

I went for a jog.

Now, typically I have a very firm “no jogging” policy. It’s been in place as long as I can remember. I don’t run unless I’m being chased by a pack of wild dogs or the police.  Just common sense, if you ask me.

This strategy was not common sense for my high school basketball coach, who met with me in his office at the beginning of each season to discuss “where I was at.”  What follows? A lot of questions about my off-season training, shoe shuffling and stuttering from me, a few statements that were supposed to inspire or scare me, several direct comments that I was pitifully out of shape, and me skipping happily away.  (I do not have rules about skipping.) 

Nevertheless, I played hard because I love basketball and I do also run when I’m trying to beat tiny, blonde girls from Lexington. After playing entire games back-to-back nights, my coach said kind things about me in the paper like “that was all heart.” I think he was trying to nicely say “she didn’t train at all.” I say it was less about heart and more about my steady diet of Hot Tamales, but whatever.

This fall, though, I had a devastating experience. I signed Billy and myself up for a 5K Scavenger Hunt. Purely focused on the scavenger hunt and not at all on the 5K part, I trained not at all.  When “go” was shouted, I took off running. 

I learned two things: I am no longer 17.  And that my heart has aged accordingly… along with my lungs and legs.

So I walked most of the 5K with my dear husband, who politely strolled with me, though I know he was secretly thinking, “I can’t believe we have to stay with our partner”… in more ways than one.  That day I made a decision: I will not sign up for another 5K. 

But today, I got the urge to be a bit more in shape and the dog needed to exercise and I’m not a member of a gym… so you can see where this is going.  I pulled out my jogging shoes I purchased about seven years ago and have walked in nearly every day since.

All in all, the experience was fine. I was almost hit by a texting bicyclist, but besides that… uneventful. I mean, I couldn’t breath, but I think that’s par for the course.

Will this be a New Year’s Resolution?

Let’s not get carried away. I think I’d rather try this at a less pressure-packed time than January. But it was fun-ish, so we’ll see…

What are your resolutions? Do you also hate running? There's gotta be at least one....

For My Daughter On Her Birthday

I’ve started and restarted this post several times, so sure I knew what I wanted to write, but utterly unable to craft it on paper.  My daughter is one year old today.

I am so joyous and delighted in her little life and personality.  I am utterly exhausted and thrilled to have survived the longest year of my life.  I am deeply honored to be her mother.

For some unknown reason, my reflections on this auspicious day spilled out in poem-ish form:

My dearest Gabriella:

You have opinions and ideas and a fierce independence.
You are a strong girl, and I love that about you.

You laugh when the dog gets in the bathtub and you smile all the time.
You have a spunky sense of humor, and I love that about you.

You are exuberant and wild with enthusiasm, kicking your legs in excitement.
You learned to dance before you learned to walk, and I love that about you.

You have insatiable curiosity and intense concentration when examining something new.
You explore every facet of the world, and I love that about you.

You wave to strangers and don’t miss a beat of what’s happening around you.
You always make people smile, and I love that about you.

You suffered with me… through my short temper… my craziness… and my inexplicable crying. 
I survived with you… through your short temper… craziness… and inexplicable crying.

We laughed a lot, danced dances and sang songs, and we traveled together across the globe.
It’s been a hard year… a good year.
 
Happy Birthday, my little one.  
Happy Birthday, Ella!

Listen, stay alert, stand tall in the faith, be courageous, and be strong. Let love prevail in your life, words, and actions. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (The Voice)

Traditions of a Bicultural Christmas

I’ve almost never been able to sleep on Christmas Eve. Even in young adulthood, I was too excited.  I would wake up several times during the night and then burst into my younger sister’s room at the earliest hour she had previously agreed to in order to wake her up.

It turns out that Billy also wasn’t sleeping much on Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, either because this is the time of the major Christmas celebration in Latin America.

The 24th is a busy day, and Billy’s family would spend the daylight hours traveling around the city visiting family and friends, wishing them good cheer. Then, everyone waits together until midnight, ushering in Christmas Day with hugs and kisses and… of course… fireworks.  After these celebrations, presents are opened and a festive Christmas dinner awaits. 

Around 3am, Billy would fall into bed.  I would wake up about two hours later.  So now, like all couples, we have merged our family traditions, and in this case, cultural celebrations for our bicultural Christmas.

The other day on Facebook SpanglishBaby asked families which they celebrate… Nochebuena or Christmas Day? A lot of folks responded “both” and I think we are moving in that direction. 

Last year, we ate our Christmas tamales, albeit at 6pm rather than 2am, and attended the Christmas Eve service at church.  We then waived our inside-the-city-limits-approved sparklers before heading to bed at a reasonable hour.  Christmas morning we enjoyed a special breakfast (my preference over a turkey dinner), read the Christmas story, and opened gifts together.  It was a fun merger of two families and two cultures.

What traditions have you chosen to include in your celebrations? If your family is multicultural, how have you merged different cultural practices? And if your bicultural life includes Latin America, I pose the same question: Do you celebrate Nochebuena, Christmas Day, or both?



Advent: Celebration

What does it mean to celebrate the arrival of the Christ?

Our culture has decided that the Christmas celebration includes lavish gifts, choral productions, and lots of baked goods. We toast and dance at wedding parties. Athletic celebrants dump water on coaches, tear down goal posts, scream and shout. At graduations, we toss our hats in the air.

I like these images. 

Some of my favorite life memories involve arm waving and some form of the phrase “whooo hoooo.”  But as I reflect on celebration this Christmas season, none of these expressions resonate with my heart about the arrival of the Christ child.

Instead, I am reminded of quieter moments after all our wedding guests had departed and Billy and I drove away sharing our amazement that we were married and grateful to begin this journey together. More recently, my daughter’s 1st birthday party was a joyous celebration, but I found myself cuddling her in stolen minutes, whispering my love and delight. There’s something beautiful about celebrating the relationships within the events.

Intimacy…thanksgiving…delight.   

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherd returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:16-20)

There’s a lot of celebration in these verses. I imagine there is a lot of hugs, arm waving, singing, and the like.  But then there’s this one, quiet verse. Mary is gathering everything and keeping it in her heart. 

This final week of Advent and last week before Christmas, I wish you baked goods and dancing and whooping and hollering.  But I also wish you intimate moments with Christ, whispering all your gratefulness and heartfelt affection.  May we celebrate the beauty of our relationship with Christ and we reflect on the arrival of a newborn baby.  

How do you celebrate the arrival of Christ? 

All of this year's Advent series:
Week 1: Expectation
Week 2: Patience
Week 3: Contentment
Week 4: Celebration

My Dream Life as a Juror


Jury Summons.

It was bound to happen. I mean, I thought I had moved frequently enough to avoid such a call to duty, but I guess my time in Atlanta has been long enough to move me to the top of the list. 

I have actually always really wanted to be on a jury.  I used to go with my students in LA to sit in on court cases.  Yes, you know how they say like “the people vs. your mama”? Well, it turns out everyone except your mama is part of the prosecution team, so you can just walk in and have a seat in the back.  (Now, in LA, I think they have different protocol when its, say, “the people vs. Lindsay Lohan.” I don’t think they let just anyone in….)

Anyway, it probably goes without saying that the whole situation is very un-TV like. The characters are much less “I-used-to-be-a-model-until-I-got-this-gig,” and more “ok….so I looked at this case about 5 minutes before I walked into this room….”

But what is unbelievable is the painfully detailed and slow question asking. I once watched a phone company representative grilled over the minutia of looking at someone’s cell phone records.  C’mon, people! We all know what it means to look at someone’s phone records. We have at some point – whether by choice or by accident – watched an episode of CSI.

So it was this kind of painstaking question-asking that created great suspense and drama in the courtroom of Judge Ito (in case you’re wondering… yes, from the OJ Simpson trial). 

“What did you do next?”
“I walked outside.”
“What did you see?”
“A blue Oldsmobile.”
“Was anyone inside?”
“Yes.”
“Could you see them?”
“Yes.”
“Who was inside?”
“Johnny.”
“Where was he sitting?”
“In the driver’s seat.”
“What happened next?”
“I picked up a crowbar off the ground.”
“Which side of the car where you on?”
“The passenger’s side.”
“What did you do next?”
“I walked around to the back of the car.”
“Are you referring to the trunk of the car?”
“Yes.”
“What happened next?”
“I asked Johnny to pop the trunk.”
“What happened next?”

“JUDGE ITO!”

Yes, that’s right. A juror began shouting in the middle of this blow by blow account of walking through a warehouse parking lot with a crow bar. 

“I think I’m going to throw up!”

Judge Ito shooed her out of the room and quickly called a recess.  Sadly, our group had to leave, so I am left to wonder what was in the trunk, what happened with the crowbar, and what happened to Johnny.  But I soon may not be left to wonder what it’s like to be on a jury.

Given my fanatical love for the movie Runaway Jury and taking students to visit about six court cases, I have constructed the following expectations:

I expect to be sequestered.

I expect to hear defendants being referred to by their “street” names, which I will think is totally inappropriate.

I expect someone to shout “Objection!”

I expect to have my life or the lives of my loved ones threatened.

I expect phrases like “beat me with the trophy” and “I jumped on my scooter and got outta there!”

I expect my phone records to be accessed.

And I expect to disrupt the trial by shouting and running out of the room.

I guess I should call these my “hopes and dreams” rather than expectations because the form I had to fill out asked me what car insurance I have.  Still…. keeping my fingers crossed that at some point I will receive a note with letters cut out from magazines.

Unfortunately, this particular jury summons comes at an inopportune time. I guess if it seems like I'm going to be chosen, I can just mention that I love to blog and if listening to a trial is all I'm doing for a month, that's what I'll be writing about... 

Have you ever been a juror? How did it compare to your expectations? Did you witness things that surprised you about the justice system? 


Advent: Contentment

I am used to celebrating Joy on the 3rd week of Advent… you know, the special pink candle and all…  But this year, I am drawn to a focus on contentment, which I think might be the quieter sister of joy.

Where happiness seems to be something we are endlessly pursuing, joy and contentment hold a steadfast quality that I deeply desire.

I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, which could be described as a sociological memoir about marriage. Something she wrote resonated with me deeply about life in general and this topic of contentment. 

In a world of such abundant possibility, many of us simply go limp from indecision.  Or we derail our life’s journey again and again, backing up to try the doors we neglected on the first round, desperate to get it right this time.  Or we become compulsive comparers – always measuring our lives against some other person’s life, secretly wondering if we should have taken her path instead” (p46). 

But in another book, the good ‘ole Apostle Paul tells us, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phil 4: 11-12) And that secret is…

No, Paul doesn’t really say. Oh… wait. The next verse is the one that reads, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)

Maybe I thought it’d be more complicated. Maybe I want it to be more mysterious. Maybe I don’t fully understand what it means in its simplicity.  What I really wanted was Paul’s 5-Step Plan for Contentment.  So… I created my own.  Well, it’s only Sarah’s 3 Suggestions for Seeking Contentment through Christ.

Thanksgiving

I know… that holiday’s over, this is supposed to be about Advent. But sometimes I notice that when I’m looking ahead a lot… expecting… that I forget to look around.  This Advent season I am becoming aware of some specific elements in my life for which I am thankful. Some of them, I am realizing, have replaced things that I thought I wanted instead, and I find I have spent more time mourning that loss than giving thanks for the newness around me. 

 Fixed Focus

The difference between the Gilbert and Paul quotes above?  One is focused on looking at self and other people while the other is focused on Jesus.  I want to keep my eyes so firmly fixed on Christ that I do not doubt the directions where He has led me because I see He’s leading someone else somewhere different.

Asking

Maybe I shouldn’t have written anything else in this post except the Philippians verse and this question: Have I ever asked God to help me in my contentment? If Paul is telling us the truth, then God will give us strength to know this quiet peace of being content.

I pray contentment for you this Advent… whether materially, relationally, stationally, or any other context that ends in –ly. And if you have other additions for our “Suggestions for Seeking Contentment through Christ,” I’m all ears!    

If you are keeping up with this year’s Advent series, here are past posts...
Week 1: Expectation
Week 2: Patience

Or continue on to Week 4: Celebration

Ode to Coke

Coke is kind of like my syrupy-sweet nemesis… maybe “frenemy” is the word I’m looking for. 

I love it and I hate it. 

I love it because… well, it’s delicious.  It’s all fizzle-y and soda pop-y with bubbles and sweetness.  (I should definitely get a gig copy writing for the Coca Cola corporation.)

I hate it because… well, it does nothing good for me, my waistline, or my teeth.  Even if the Coke museum practically guarantees you’re basically drinking a glass of water with a little sweetener in it, I’m not buying it. 

My travels in Central and South America have assured me that I am not the only Coke-lover in the world.  In fact, Mexico is hailed as the country with the highest per capita consumption of the drink. 

Still, just because the bright red can made it across the border doesn’t mean everything is the same.

Temperature

Imagine my surprise one hot summer in Guatemala when the guy behind the counter asked me if I wanted my Coke cold or room temperature.  Um…. room temperature Coke? Um… no, gracias. 

Fancy Factor

Argentina kept Coke in the fridge, but ice was a little trickier to come by.  When we requested it, it might be carried to our table in a silver bowl with scalloped tongs.  In our own apartment, we acclimated to chugging chilled Coke from wine glasses. Now home in the States, I have missed swirling Coke around in a sophisticated cup.

To Go

When we pulled over at a roadside restaurant driving through rural Guatemala, Billy was overwhelmed with glee ordering me a coca para llavar (Coke “to go”).  Since restaurant proprietors receive money back for returning the glass bottles, they naturally poured my Coke into a plastic sandwich bag and gave me a straw. 

Coke = Coke

I’m from the South, where “I’d like a Coke” can naturally be followed with the question, “Which kind?”  Because Coke can mean Coca Cola classic, but it can also mean Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Cherry Coke, or even Pepsi.  It’s a substitute for other regional terms like soda, pop, or carbonated devil juice.  You’ll rarely catch Billy drinking anything other than the real thing, but after four months in Argentina, I couldn’t wait to drink a big cup of Dr. Pepper… with ice. 

So my relationship with Coke continues. I pseudo gave it up for a while, but since I had a baby, I’ve been on a steady IV drip of sugar and caffeine.  I think Coke and I are set for the next 18 years. 

Advent: Waiting Patiently

This toy is neat.  Hmmm… I think I’m a bit thirsty.  Yes, that’s it.  Hello? Mom?  I’m a little thirsty.  Yes, my throat is dry… it’s actually becoming parched.  

Mom.  Please intervene quickly.  My mouth is dry as a desert in July.  Bring milk.  Bring it quickly please.  I think I’m in the early stages of dehydration.  Yes, my skin has lost all elasticity.  I am so thirsty!  

Bring milk!  MOM!  DO YOU HEAR ME?  Maybe if I start banging stuff.  Thrashing around?   

MOM!! MILK!  MILK! MILK! I CANNOT LIVE ANOTHER MOMENT!... [choke. gasp.] End Scene.

When I started praying and asking where to focus this Advent, waiting patiently kept coming to mind.  But I have nothing to say about patience because I possess absolutely none.  My daughter did not come by her stellar theatrics accidentally.  That gift was from me.

But watching her escalate from content to desperate in five seconds flat has also made me wonder what God must see when He looks at me.  It also causes me to reflect on what He might desire of me when it comes to waiting patiently.

Silence

For crying out loud… would you please stop crying out loud? I am preparing milk as fast as I can scoop and level! Sometimes I want to explain to my daughter that I am in the process of meeting all her needs beyond her wildest dreams, but the whole experience would be a lot more enjoyable if she could just chill out and stop screaming for a moment. 

When I feel desperate for an answer from God, I make a lot of noise.  I pray passionately, begging God for a response.  I talk with my peeps, weighing every angle and detailing every possible action and reaction.  Maybe I should stop talking, see that God is working, and wait patiently for His results. 

Stillness

Even if my daughter were silent… the arching back, the supersonic flapping arms, the flailing that usually ends with banging her head on something… these motions still convey all her anxiety, her panic, her desperation. 

My wringing hands, my tears, my obsessive hair twirling probably don’t align with Scripture that says to be still and know that I am God.  My body betrays my inability to wait patiently hanging onto trust that God will arrive in my situation.

Awaiting the arrival of Christ this Christmas season, I desire to wait patiently.  I am seeking ways to incorporate stillness and silence even though I am sometimes feeling desperate for Him to show up, to hear me, and to respond. 

How do you wait patiently on God?  How do you make space for still silence in the pace of your life?

See the first in this year's advent series here. Continue to Week 3 (Contentment) here.  

The Simple Drama of Black Friday

“Sarah… will you be crazy with me?”

Who can say no to that question?

Especially when your husband is smiling at you with big brown eyes promising you the same romance and adventure as when he asked you to marry him….

And that’s how I ended up at Wal-Mart at 1am on Black Friday.

I’ve never really “done” Black Friday before… except once… when my family was staying in a hotel across the street from a shopping center. I vaguely remember sitting on the floor of an electronics department at 5am or something trying to decide about a camera.

If there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I’m indecisive, which does not bode well for a person on Black Friday when quick, bold ACTION is required. This year was nothing different as I was fretfully debating our purchase of a TV all the way to the store. After all, aren’t “my kinda people” supposed to “Buy Nothing” on Black Friday in silent protest of all things materialistic. Are we even supposed to own a TV at all?

I preemptively established a code word “Avocado,” which I informed Billy could be loosely translated two ways. If he heard me shouting it faintly from behind, he should assume it meant “Stop walking so fast and turn around.. I’m being trampled by a mob!!!” If I’m bellowing it loudly while chasing behind him towards the check-out line, my meaning is “Don’t be that crazy! Why are you buying such a big TV? Avocado! AVOCADO!”

The parking lot was packed and when someone crashed into the cart return while trying to beat us to a parking space we weren’t even planning to pull into, I knew it was going to be my kind of night. The energy was palpable and new friends just a “Can I borrow your sale paper?” away.

Stores have really gotten a handle on the whole mob scene, though, so it was less “let’s-race-to-electronics” and more “please-wait-in-line-here.” That’s fine… it gave me the opportunity to pick up some diced tomatoes while Billy stood in line.

It was during my store-wide browsing (which was impeded by the maze-like line routes set up all over the store) that I learned we were in line ONLY for the bigger TV of the two between which we were debating. I scurried back to my husband who had moved up in line.

“How is this possible?” I asked him since they had yet to start selling people TVs. He gleefully detailed how the masses can’t follow directions and when they were handed a ticket, they rushed layaway only to be told they must return to line. Billy took advantage of the foolishness of mobs to move closer to the front.

I responded with my news that we were waiting for the bigger TV and maybe we should change lines because don’t we value simplicity and shouldn’t that mean a small TV or should we even really be here buying a TV at all?! AVOCADO! He looked at me, held up a slip of paper and dismissively said, “I already got a ticket.” Case closed.

We were now in line behind a woman who can only be described as an SNL sketch of a Wal-Mart customer… frizzed out perm, NASCAR t-shirt and all. To hear Billy tell it, she was also wearing a sweat band, jogging in place, and frantically warning the layaway rush mob of the error of their ways. I can neither confirm nor deny this.

Calmly and orderly, we were eventually awarded our TV and allowed to pay practically pennies for it at checkout. Billy did leave me alone with it while he went to acquire cables. When someone rushed me wanting to know how much I paid for it, I felt fear I might get punched, elation of the drama of it all, and moral ambiguity about if this was God telling me to give it away. I was not punched, nor did I pay it forward.

So now we have a new TV. I believe I was disdainful of it for the appropriate amount of time before I have decided to embrace it fully. Because let’s be real… it’s simply awesome.
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.