Running with Abandon

I’ve always struggled to understand the concept of “fearing God.” I’ve heard it described as another way to say “respecting God,” but I couldn’t shake the feeling that fear implies being scared. I actually enjoy the adrenaline rush of being afraid, which is why I like suspenseful movies so much.

But the thought of being fearful in a relationship never sat well with me.

This summer we took our daughter to the beach for the very first time. I wasn’t sure how she would react to the ocean. I had eagerly introduced her to the pool only to discover that she clings to me like her death is inevitable and very imminent.

So I wasn’t sure what direction the beach trip would go, but I hoped she would enjoy it as much as Billy and I do. Turns out the beach was, for Ella, the home she never knew.

She found her calling with a shovel in her hand and a bucket by her side. She repeated a newly learned and immediately favorite word: bird. She ran uninhibited… right into the surf.

And then I realized I also hoped she would fear the ocean a bit. Not in a scary, terrified way, but in a respectful, “I-understand-what-you-can-do” way.

And I wondered if that’s how we are to fear God. Sprinting towards Him with wild abandon, but never forgetting His power.

Thankfully for me, Ella would stomp out to about mid-thigh depth before always turning around, arm outstretched, eager to hold a hand. She loved the ocean and she appropriately feared the ocean.

Wait... Did You Just Say You're Illegal?

I have this very distinct memory of riding up an escalator with Billy at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. If you asked me to bet if an escalator actually exists in this place, I wouldn’t put money on it. But that’s where I’m standing, nevertheless.

It was in this moment that he hinted to me that he may not have all the proper, legal documentation to be living and working in the United States.

Our trip to Santa Monica was about our second date, that is if you (like me) do not count when he tricked me into a date. And while I knew very little about the importance of immigration status at that time, I knew that he was taking some risk by telling me, basically a complete stranger.

Standing on that escalator I remember having the thought, “Well, I don’t exactly know what that means. But I hope that if this relationship goes anywhere, he gets that worked out.”

I was so clueless.

Legitimately, I thought that being an undocumented immigrant was a paperwork issue. I’ve always been a pretty organized person, a lover of detailed lists and clean forms. And, thanks to my father, I understand the dire importance of government processes like changing your driver’s license within thirty days of moving because, you know, you have nothing else to do when you first move. Of course, maybe I should wait a few months and try for a better picture.

But I know not everyone is like me. I’ve processed admissions applications for two different employers over the last six years, and I often find that people struggle to complete checklists and fill out all the information and mail papers to the same person who asked for them.

I figured undocumented immigrants had suffered similar organizational oversights.

I had no idea that, for immigrants from countries like Guatemala, waiting lists to enter the US legal can be fifteen years or more. I’ve since heard it said that parents will add their newborns to the list in case they decide they want to travel north when they get older.

I really didn’t know what any of it meant… illegal, visa, green card, undocumented… all I knew was I had met a guy at church named Billy. And he laughed at all my jokes.

P.S. I've been writing a series of posts about how my husband and I met and began dating. If you want to start from the beginning, click here or you can go to the next post about an embarrassing dating moment.

Code-Switching Before Breakfast

My daughter is obsessed with shoes. First thing in the morning, she’s standing in her crib, pointing to yesterday’s discarded footwear and shouting, “Shoes! Shoes!” Yes, she wants them on even before changing out of her pajamas, which believe me, makes that process even more fun.

Recently, I lifted her out of the crib and onto the floor, where she toddled over and raised a baby Croc above her head. “Patos!” she hollered, which I have chosen to interpret as the end of zapatos, or shoes, in Spanish. Loosely, going back and forth between languages is called code-switching.

So far, shoes seems to be the only item she can identify in both languages. She’s pretty good at hola and hello, although she definitely prefers the round sound of hola. All beverages are agua (water), but when you hand her the cup, she responds with “thank you.” She likes to play ball with the doggie and is happy to let you know that her bag of Goldfish is all done.

I’m on the one hand surprised that her English words outnumber her Spanish ones, considering she watches TV in Spanish and stays home with her papa speaking Spanish to her all day. On the other hand, preschool, our family time, and most of her friend time are all in English. 

Though I have no doubts that she will continue to grow in both languages, it is fascinating to watch her development progress. I am continuing to struggle with her delayed vocabulary overall. As she nears nineteen months, it is frustrating to still be experiencing such limited communication.

What I have realized recently, though, is I think it is also annoying for her. At certain points, her propensity towards tantrums has really spiked, and many of them seem to develop out of pointing at some unknown (by me) object and grunting emphatically.

Considering she can understand and follow directions in English or Spanish, it must be difficult for her to not be able to tell us much in either. Not to mention, she is often talking non-stop, so if she thinks she is communicating… I imagine she thinks we are the ones who need language development!

While I still stand by our OPOL decision, raising a bilingual baby continues to be an experiment and one where I often wonder if we are “doing it right.” But then again, I guess that could be said for most aspects of parenting, right?

In the midst of what parental experiment do you find yourself these days?

If I’m Normal, What Are You?

When I used to teach Sociology, one of my favorite articles to have students read was Horace Miner's Body Ritual among the Nacirema. It is the findings of an anthropologist who is studying the poorly understood cultural of the Nacirema people and their significant rituals regarding their bodies. Here is one example:

The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.

In addition to the private mouth-rite, the people seek out a holy-mouth-man once or twice a year. These practitioners have an impressive set of paraphernalia, consisting of a variety of augers, awls, probes, and prods. The use of these objects in the exorcism of the evils of the mouth involves almost unbelievable ritual torture of the client.

Spoiler alert! Nacirema is American spelled backwards. You may have already picked up that he is describing teeth brushing and going to the dentist.

The article is a fascinating and comical example of how our approach in regarding other cultures must be examined. Oftentimes, we carry the assumption that our way is normal, and when we look at others’ practices, they are perceived as ridiculous, barbaric, or just plain weird. 

We can forget that our very place in our culture guides us in our interpretation of words, events, expressions, and more.

How does relative normalcy play out in a cross-cultural marriage? I’ll give you one example.

Preparing for a party, I asked my husband to run to the grocery store to pick up a few items. When I began setting out the fruit, the cookies, and the ranch dip, I turned to him, “Where are the chips?”

He handed me a bag, and my face betrayed my disappointment.

“I asked you for chips, not tortilla chips!” I groaned, putting the lid back on the ranch.

“Wait. What did you want?” he responded. “Potato chips? You asked me for chips, not potato chips!”

Hmmm… what are “normal” chips?

The First (Official) Date

This post stemmed out of the story of How I Met My Husband and then how I was Tricked Into a Date. Click on the links if you'd like to start at the beginning. 

Would you like to grav some coffee?

I didn’t know then how interchangeable the “b” and “v” sounds are in Spanish, so this spelling error in a text message played into my suspicions that I might not be a good fit for an international fellow.

My attempts at humor and sometime unconventional vocabulary are often misunderstood by primary English speakers, so I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I would receive from Billy. While I agreed to go “grav” coffee, I was skeptical about this outing. 

Within days, I found myself with Billy at Starbucks on the USC campus. There was a very specific moment that I recall making a quick joke… the kind of comment that’s more to yourself than anyone because it’s not really funny enough to stand on its own. 

Imagine my surprise and delight when Billy picked up on my commentary and returned a funny reply. Oh dear. This slope is getting slippery…

We soon found ourselves in a passionate argument regarding the location of Rodeo Drive, the shopping district famous for designer shops. I pretty much bottom out in the category of spatial intelligence, so I should not have taken on this challenge. Before I know it, I’m hoping into his Jeep, destined to lose a bet. 

Now if you know anything about me, I’m really not a Rodeo Drive kind of girl. Designer bags and shoes… not really my scene. I have been involved in urban ministries and living among the poor for over a decade. This lifestyle choice had proved problematic when dating since most guys aren’t really looking for downward mobility.

So we pulled up to the fancy shops, basking in all their American Dream-ness and credit card debt, and I thought a thought I’d thought many times when dating: Yeah, this guy is not going to get me. The rubber hit the road at dinnertime. Looking around at the fine dining options, Billy offered me dinner on Rodeo Drive. 

“Or… we could get pupusas!” I offered. 

If you don’t know pupusas, you are truly missing out. El Salvador is known for the pancake-like, thick tortilla, filled with cheese and meat and topped with something similar to cole slaw and hot sauce. I realize this Americanized description may not sound tasty, but don’t write off the pupusa.

It turned out the Guatemalan immigrant with directions to Rodeo Drive had no idea where to find pupusas… in L.A. Thankfully, the white girl from Kentucky knew exactly where to find cheesy goodness. 

Notorious as the filming location of Training Day, for sometimes finding bodies in its lake, and being the reliable spot for fake IDs, MacArthur park is about five miles and three worlds away from Rodeo Drive. Maybe I was running my own little test on Billy, but he passed with flying colors as we walked the sidewalks teeming with recent Central American immigrants manning fruit carts and bacon-wrapped hot dog stands. 

I led him to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we waited the shockingly long time that it takes to cook pupusas. Walking back to the car as dusk fell, he only offered a brief, “Are you sure we should be walking around here?” 

Billy loves to tell this story of how he tried to woo me at Rodeo Drive and then I took him to MacArthur Park. Ironic? Maybe. The perfect picture of our journey? I think so. 

Where did you go on one of your most memorable first dates?

P.S. Click to keep reading about how Billy's immigration status soon entered into our conversations. 

Prayers of the Transient: Part III

This is the final post in my Prayers of the Transient series. It’s refreshing to return to this list - originally scribbled in the quiet desperation of new location loneliness - and be reminded of the areas in my life that, when nurtured, provide me so much life. It’s good to evaluate my current life space and to acknowledge where I may be missing key pieces and to continue to pray these prayers.


In fact, this desire has been on my heart for years. I think the Church has neglected the art and practice of mentoring and discipleship. But it is so important. Some of my deepest transformations have been facilitated through the coaching and guidance of a faithful leader. Still, I have so much to learn and my heart prayer for mentorship continues.


The reality is that I like a little drama… ok, maybe more than a little. If I become this ideal person in my dreams… the one who eats healthy, exercises regularly, works diligently, writes daily, and attends Bible study… I’ll go insane. I need spice. I need adventure.

Like creativity, it took me many years to realize how much these deviations from the norm mean to me. I often like to refer to myself as a collector of experiences. I will join a community garden… and get kicked out. I will live in Guatemala and confirm my husband’s stereotype that American girls are smelly. And I will chase after him in Wal-Mart at 1 am shouting “AVOCADO” - our shopping code word.

If adventures don’t find me, I must plan them… an all-girls rafting trip, paddleboarding at the beach, or even a day at the creek. The expectation and promise of a good story makes it more fun to get out of bed in the mornings!


I will close with this final piece of the prayer puzzle. New seasons of life need me to ask God where I should be serving. Without this component, my life inevitably becomes painfully self-centered. I often quote my mother, who wisely told me as a teenager, “If you are thinking too much about yourself, go out and do something for someone else.”

Some of my greatest challenges and most joyful triumphs have come while serving. Whether it’s handing out chickens to homeless people or planning neighborhood Halloween carnivals, it’s important to find a place to serve in each season of my transient journey.

So there you have it! 9 Prayers for those of us who wander, but are not lost. Every now and again, we just need a few tips and reminders to seek out life-giving elements: meaningful work, physical activity, mental stimulation, creativity, friends with jokes, personal and communal spirituality, mentorship, adventure, and service.

I hope my list has encouraged you and given you new energy to pray for potentially neglected areas of your life. I’d love to hear what you would add to your own list. What activities are important for you as you seek fullness?

Are You Calling Me a Bimbo?

My husband plays weekly on a local soccer league. Each of the teams has the name and jersey of a professional one. Despite his lifelong dedication to Barcelona, my husband proudly sported his Manchester United jersey when he was unknowingly picked up by that team.

A few weeks ago, however, the captain needed to change uniforms, and the team transformed into the Chivas. Imagine my amusement when I showed up at the game to find my husband wearing this jersey.

It turns out that the sponsor of the original Chivas team is Grupo Bimbo, the fourth largest food corporation in the world. Founded in Mexico in 1945, Bimbo Bread became the world's biggest bread production company in 2011.

The word “bimbo” doesn’t really mean anything in Spanish. When I giggled at the picture of my husband jogging around with the word slapped across his chest, Billy wanted to know what it means. I offered an awkward, multifaceted explanation, along the lines that Wikipedia offers.

Lest you think I am making fun of him, I will insert here that his response was, “You should write a blog about that.” So here I am. It also reminded me of a picture I always meant to take in Argentina of the Barfy brand hamburger patties.

Some company names (or slogans) just don’t translate well. What examples have you seen?

What Not To Do When You Take Your Child To Work

There was an article circulating recently called Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. It was a great perspective from a professional woman who has experienced different expressions of working motherhood.

I have also read some terrific responses to that article from other women bloggers. If you are looking for some profound analysis of the role of mothers in the workplace, you will probably not find that in this post. Rather, you will read a very specific example about why this woman (me) cannot have it all.

I really enjoy being a working mom, and most of the time, I believe these two roles are mutually beneficial. However, there are times when these two worlds overlap and there’s not much other option.

When my husband had an appointment and couldn’t find a sitter, we decided I would hang out with Ella for a couple of hours in the middle of the work day. He was going to bring her to my office where we’d share lunch and maybe take a stroll around the block before he returned to pick her up.

Things were going swimmingly as we ate with another mom and her daughter hanging out at the office. Also, Ella found great delight in dumping all my pens out of their cup and putting them each back in. This allowed me to work a little more than I had expected.

It was while I was working that Ella was exploring the office and unbeknownst to me turned on the intercom on my office phone. She then proceeded to position herself next to it while she “did her business.”

Yes, my entire office listened to her grunting over the loudspeaker.

They were also tuned to Radio Mommy when I responded, “Seriously, Gabriella? I just changed you!” Within seconds, co-workers were at my door, laughingly informing me that we were being broadcast live.

Nice. The picture of professionalism.

I am so grateful that I work in a laid-back environment, where we can all share a giggle. But I had the thought that in some places of business these shenanigans would not be received with such grace.

I am appreciative for women like Anne-Marie Slaughter and her honesty that shifts are required for parents in the workplace. Because the reality is there are days when I need to combine my parenting and my employment, and my daughter may or may not decide to broadcast her business over the intercom.

It saddens to me to realize this reality makes it impossible for me to pursue certain career paths, but it also makes me very grateful for this one that I am on.

Has your parenting/work juggling act ever created amusing mishaps?

Tricked Into A Date

This is the follow up to How I Met My Husband. If you didn't read Part I, you'll definitely want to start at the beginning.

So here I stand. Five minutes into my first memory of meeting Billy… and it’s awkward.

I think I responded with, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name.” But I was so embarrassed that I didn’t pay attention when he told me again. This distraction would come back to me later.

After church, everyone gathered for the birthday celebration and Billy had joined the party. He was laughing and talking with the husband of my friend. I signaled over to Billy and asked her, “What’s the name of your husband’s friend?”

“Billy,” she told me. Pause. “Why are you asking?” And so it began…. 

I explained my story, but she wasn’t buying it.

That afternoon, several ladies had planned a movie outing and my girlfriend was included. Her husband joined and wanted to bring Billy. Since I stayed late to help clean up, they waited to give me a ride.

At the movie theater, we waited in line to buy tickets and I chatted with my girlfriend. I would later learn that the boys’ conversation in Spanish included her husband encouraging Billy to buy my ticket. Billy claims he protested, saying it would be awkward. 

He was right. 

It was.

I felt even more thrown when we entered the theater and realized our group had saved us only three seats instead of four. So there we were… the four of us… sitting in a theater together… watching a chick flick.

And suddenly I realized I’d been tricked into a double date.

Now I won’t say that I didn’t flirt with Billy during the movie or have several thoughts about wanting to hold his hand. But that admission would tarnish my innocent, naïve image in this story, so I’m going to breeze right past it. 

After the movie, the other girls left, while my double date party (and my ride) decided to meet friends and hang out. And now we are six… two married couples, Billy, and me. And in a totally unfair power play, we are also headed to a bookstore. The road to my heart passes through a Barnes & Noble.

The married couples talk about married people things while Billy and I chat. I was considering an upcoming trip to Guatemala to learn Spanish and was reading a book about the country’s history. We covered jobs, family, you know… the basics. He was so polite, interesting, and conversational. The unexpected turn of events was becoming surprising after all.

Later, as the three dropped me off at my house, Billy got out, walked me to the door, and gave me a hug. I held back a barely contained, “What is happening?!” when he sweetly asked for my phone number. I really felt like there’s nothing you can say in the moment but “ok,” so he programmed it in his phone.

“I should get yours, too,” I responded.

I would later learn that this answer was interpreted as “I am highly interested. Please give me your phone number so I can talk to you more.” I still maintain that my actual mental process included, “I’m going to need a head’s up if you actually do call me, so let me put you in my Caller ID.” 

Billy argues that we are now married, so I have no case. Point for him.

Want to know what happened next? Click here read about our first official date.

A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.