Advent: Please Come

I recently received this postcard in the mail from Hope International.

Pretty, right? 

Well, it’s been haunting me.

I mean… I guess you could say the word “haunting” is a bit extreme. But I wouldn’t.

I can’t stop thinking about that word… you see it.. the tiny one they almost hoped you wouldn’t notice: “long-expected.”

In preparation to write this Advent post, I was reading my first Advent post from last year, and I thought to myself, “But I feel almost the exact same way now… a year later!” That gnawing that something is about to change… that something has to change. Actually, one big difference this year is that I know some things will change whether I like it or not. 

How do I keep my hope in God when sometimes it feels like I’ve been waiting for forever?

Come, thou long-expected Jesus.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. When I looked up “hope” in my little God’s Words of Life topical Scripture book, the first one listed was Romans 5:3-5:

Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

I don’t like to read a verse about “hope” that begins with the word “suffering.” But it’s a fascinating chain of development.

The last couple of years have included some unique challenges for me, and sometimes I have felt like I’m suffering. In those moments, I focused a lot on putting “one foot in front of the other,” which I sincerely hope was perseverance because it would move me down that progression towards hope.

I know God has worked on my character in these years, but that realization just makes me angry. Because sometimes I don’t want to acknowledge the value and the growth birthed out of the difficulties. Sometimes it feels more validating to say “all this was just pointless suffering.” Then I get to feel sorry for myself. When I recognize growth, I have to jump on board and say, “God, what do you want to teach me?” Booo…. I mean… um… that’s beautiful.

But I am struck that the end result of suffering, perseverance, and character is not victory, reward, or answers. It is hope.

Come thou long-expected Jesus. Hope of all the world thou art.

Do I want suffering, perseverance and character that leads to hope? Or do I more often desire the eyes-tightly-shut-fingers-crossed hoping that leads to what I think I want in a particular circumstance?

“I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” (Isaiah 49:23)

I want hope. I know I do. No matter how long we are awaiting the long-expected Jesus to show up in our circumstances, in our relationships, or here on earth again, I want to rest in the hope that doesn’t disappoint.

The season of Advent is one of my favorites. And I love to step back and reflect on what it means to be expecting and hoping for the arrival of our Savior this Christmas season. How do you find hope when you have been waiting for a long time? How do you prepare in expectation for the arrival of Jesus?

Next Advent post: Peace

My Best Holiday Advice

Alright, so I know just enough Spanish to be dangerous.

A conversation starts off swimmingly. They ask where I’m from, what I’m doing in wherever place we are, and about my family. They may even crack a simple joke and I’ll laugh.

Usually after I giggle at something, someone says, “Oh, she does know Spanish.” They think I know what’s up. Let me assure you, I do not.

But every conversation takes a noticeable turn. While talk about the weather, family, and the immediate surroundings (you know, the vocabulary lists from Spanish 1 & 2) happen in slow, clear Spanish, something soon changes.

The “real talk” begins…. the gossip, the hearsay, the opinions, the dramatic updates. Suddenly, the talk is low, words are murmured, expressions and body language heightened, and the rapid-fire speed of Spanish is off the charts! This is where my language skills become truly dangerous.

I can read tone and gestures well enough to know this is the “good stuff.” I can catch enough words usually to follow subject and context. But details are completely out of reach. I walk away knowing something may or may not have happened to so-and-so and we may or may not feel such-and-such way about it. Dangerous.

Naturally, when I am alone with my husband later, I beg him for details. And I get… nothing. Sometimes he doesn't know what conversation I’m referring to. Are you kidding me?! Other times, he’ll nod and go “oh yeah,” summing up a thirty minute gossip fest in two sentences. No, thank you.

It therefore became necessary for me to collaborate with Billy on a symbol. Nothing dramatic or flashy… just a quick little gesture that says, “Whatever is being said right now, REMEMBER IT and tell me later.” Because apparently… he wasn't reading that message in my eyes when I was clearly saying the same thing.

So why am I telling you this? You may not often find yourself in a second language gossip situation. Well, I have learned that it is also helpful in all-English settings. The following is a nearly exact exchange Billy and I have had (names have been changed to protect… well, me):

Me: Hey, what was Brad telling you tonight? It looked kinda intense?

Billy: (Confused expression) What are you talking about?

Me: After dinner?

Billy: I don’t know. We were just talking.

Me: Seriously? I walked by and there was some hyper gesturing. You looked at me with a panicked expression like something serious was going on? (Billy maintains silence and a puzzled look.) You guys were facing the window? You were standing on the side? Really? You don’t remember?

(At this point I care very little about the alleged conversation. I just don’t want to walk away feeling like a crazy person who imagines drama that was nothing more than “What do you think of Coke Zero?”)

Billy: No idea. I think he said he was busy at work. I’m not sure.

Thus, it occurred to me, another perfect moment for the “symbol of remembering.” I realize I may come across as somewhat nosy and trifling in this post, but I prefer to frame it as “interested” and “caring.”

The holidays are approaching and you, like me, may not be able to keep up with all the various conversations happening in a bustling house. May I suggest a personalized “symbol of remembering”? Collaborate with your networks… friends, spouses, nieces… and you’ll be able to keep up with everyone this Christmas!

Alright, confession time. And please do not leave me hanging. Am I the only one wondering what other people are talking about? How do you keep up with conversations you can only partially follow… whether language or location are your barriers?

Giving Tuesday: Mission Year

Giving Tuesday. Have you heard about this?

Thanksgiving is becoming the holiday that keeps on keeping on. First, Black Friday, which has been popular for years. And although I didn’t appreciate it creeping in so early on Thanksgiving this year, I did enjoy having completed my Black Friday festivities and falling into bed by 2 am day of. 

Small Business Saturday is a very cool idea supporting local retailers. I like it! Then you have Cyber Monday, which basically meant I was archiving my inbox all day long… And now…

Giving Tuesday.

I think this is a pretty swell idea. Of course, I work for a non-profit… so a national day promoting donating towards non-profits should float my boat a little.

For this special Giving Tuesday, Mission Year is offering some exclusive deals, and I want to share them with you. (Let me add my honesty disclosure making sure I’m clear that I do actually work for Mission Year.)

We decided to partner up with some good friends and make you an offer you can’t refuse. For this Giving Tuesday, a donation of $200 goes to support the good work of four… read ‘em FOUR… organizations supporting peace and justice around the globe. These are things I care about.

First, we’ve connected with Word Made Flesh and their work with Sari Bari in India. Sari Bari says, “Our mission is to offer freedom to women who are trapped in the sex trade and to provide opportunity to women who are vulnerable to trafficking. We do this by providing employment in a safe, loving environment, where women are trained as artisans.” What cool work! 

So for Giving Tuesday, we’re giving away $40 gift cards to Sari Bari for the first fifty donations of $200 or more. Along with the gift card, you will receive a handmade ornament from Refugee Beads, which provides jobs and community for refugee women in the Atlanta area. (Mine is already on my tree, and it's pretty much amazing!) You’ll also receive a bag made by Plywood People from upcycled billboards from the street. Again, jobs with dignity are being created for those who need them most.

Finally, you will of course be supporting Mission Year, an organization that I think is pretty swell. We place young adult volunteers in urban neighborhoods across the country to serve and support community organizations, to partner with local churches, and to reach out in their neighborhoods. Our ministry allows us to be partners with so many amazing organizations and to see on-going, long-term change happening in our neighborhoods. 

So that’s my spiel for today. I know it’s a little different from what I normally write on this blog (I mean, I don’t normally suggest you give money). But I feel like this work connects deeply with my love for the marginalized. Many of our partners, including some of these in our Christmas gift pack, are working directly with immigrants, which is near and dear to my heart and, I imagine, yours as well.

You can take advantage of Mission Year’s exclusive Giving Tuesday offer by clicking here. Thanks so much! (And if $200 is too much… I get that… you can pick and choose some of these gifts for smaller amounts as well.)

The One Where We Tie the Knot

Back in June, I wrote a post entitled “How I Met My Husband.” Somewhat unexpectedly, that initial story developed into a six-month saga of our dating and engagement and the different ways that immigration played a part. We were especially honored to be featured in a 5-part series on the G92 website.

So here we are, officially the 20th post of this story, and it’s our wedding day!

I had wanted to incorporate some Guatemalan traditions into our wedding, but Billy kept telling me that the weddings in Guatemala City were very similar to US weddings. The only idea he offered was for our entrance to the reception. It involved my father breaking a pinata filled with rice over our heads. I decided, well, no… we would not be doing that.

We did, however, incorporate the Guatemalan tradition of visiting each table for toasts, rather than the select, public toasts. It was so fun to hear from our friends and family and connect with each group, even if only for a brief moment.

Billy’s parents and friends from home were sorely missed, though we made sure to call his folks from the reception.

The day was beautiful. We were so excited to be married. It was the start of a grand adventure!

Of course, on our wedding day, Billy was still an undocumented immigrant. So there will still be a few more posts in this series as we tie up those important loose ends.

If you want to catch up on all the posts about how we met, click here. Or move on to the next post, Petition for an Alien Relative

How To Be Festive (aka "Set Something on Fire")

After last year’s incredible Black Friday experience, I of course had to return this year. Two years straight I have not had to fist fight anyone. Slightly disappointing, but probably for the best.

It’s been a great holiday weekend, and all this celebrating has got me thinking about firecrackers. Yep. Because it seem like every good party in Guatemala involves a show-stopping, heart-damaging round of fireworks.

One of my favorite stories from Billy’s childhood involves these very explosives. He tells it that he was three years old, but I cannot believe a toddler was wielding firecrackers, so I’m going to change it to eight. Much better… an eight year old wielding firecrackers.

It’s tradition in Guatemala, on the morning of someone’s birthday, to awaken them in the awesomely terrifying manner of setting off fireworks outside their bedroom window. Naturally, young Billy wanted to give this raucous gift to his father on the anniversary of his birth.

One small problem, though. Instead of igniting the party outside his father’s window… he instead opened his parents’ bedroom door, tossed the cracking, popping, exploding presents into their room and slammed shut the door.

Happy Birthday!

No one was hurt… or I promise I wouldn’t find this story so funny. But the bedspread was burned and the story will follow Billy to his grave.

While in Guatemala last month, it happened to be Billy’s father’s birthday again. So adult Billy set out to redeem himself. We agreed there’d be no early morning show since Ella would still be sleeping.

Sure enough, minutes after Ella woke up, Billy was whispering to me, gesturing, and generally confusing me because I had not been thinking about firecrackers all morning and had promptly forgotten what he was doing. It didn’t matter, though, because he soon returned from his clandestine errand, informing me that his master plan was a dud. He couldn’t get them lit.

Never fear, though. He would not be thwarted. Without warning, he soon unleashed an audio avalanche of firepower. Unfortunately for Ella, she was on her back having her diaper changed… not exactly where you want to be when Armageddon begins.

But we survived and the celebration was all the merrier.

I hope your holiday weekend has been festive, exhilarating, and mildly terrifying. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. What are your traditions? Any Black Friday drama?  

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Thank You For This Cookie

Can I tell you what drives me crazy about children my child? (I won’t bring the kiddos you love into it… I’m sure they never do this.)

The perfect example was this past weekend as we attended our second of what I believe will be four Thanksgiving celebrations. I noticed too late as I directed Gabriella’s attention to the sliced apples platter that it was right next to the cookie tray. “Cookie!” she exclaimed.

“After you eat some dinner, you may have a cookie,” I told her. And I was true to my word. After she ate the sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and corn casserole that make up an awesome Southern Thanksgiving, I went back and got her a cookie.

She dove in face first, scraping the chocolate off with her teeth. I mean, how else would you eat a cookie?

But then… something happened. She looked up and discovered Billy had a brownie and ice cream. She held the cookie to the side and grunted and gestured for a taste of her Papa’s dessert. He obliged and she joyfully consumed bites of deliciousness.

Leaving the party, cookie still in hand, she nibbled away. But getting into her car seat, she spotted a piece of apple pie we were taking home. That’s when the whining and crying began. Did I mention her cookie was still in her hand?

So naturally, I began to lecture her about gratefulness, greediness and discontentment. If I’d been on my Bible game, I should’ve referenced the Parable of the Workers in Matthew 20. After all, hadn’t I given her the cookie I promised her?

But of course, as I was trying to talk some sense into my two-year old, I heard God laughing. Yes, part of that was probably because I was hoping to reason with a toddler. But the other half was because I knew I was talking to myself.

I am notorious for getting something I think I want and then seeking something different. I may get something good, but I find myself wanting more and more. In short, I can forget to be thankful.

This Thanksgiving, I can’t shake that image of a wailing toddler with cookie in hand, crying over the missed third dessert. And I am reminded to be content and to be grateful.  

Do you find yourself forgetting to be thankful? What reminds you to give thanks?
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