December 2014 {The Favs}

I was super proactive about not getting overwhelmed this year at the holidays. We decided not to do any traveling. I did all my shopping online and even had it shipped directly to recipients. We even declined party invitations to the point that as Christmas drew near, I moaned to Billy that we had celebrated in no way. Ah, well... you win some and lose some.

Still, we tried to think intentionally about how we wanted to celebrate Nochebuena and Christmas with our kids and friends. It was a really special and relatively joyous month. As always, I am linking up with Leigh, sharing a few favorites from the month.

Pentatonix Christmas Album

I received this CD as a gift (yes, I still listen to CDs), and it has been on repeat in our car. Their arrangement of Hark the Herald Angels sing is amazing. I wish they'd done a video for this one, but you can listen to the song below. I love it. And I hear it a lot because it plays right after their cover of "Let It Go." Even though Ella's not seen Frozen, she loves the song... like, loves it.

Pretty Little Liars

Okay, I didn't even know this show was a thing. Turns out it's like the most tweeted about show ever in the world. I actually just stumbled it upon it, and my December was changed forever. Spencer Hastings is my spirit animal. 

I am, however, disappointed that the show is still on the air because it's still going on. I had to buy some of the more recent episodes and now this mystery thriller will be dragging me along week-by-week. WHO ON EARTH IS "A"? I must know. I almost missed Christmas trying to answer this question. 

Jane the Virgin

I already told you how much I like this new show. But I'm including it because... yes, I liked it in December, too!

The Ugly Christmas Sweater Run

It's true... I didn't really read anything in December because... Pretty Little Liars. BUT I tried not to completely melt into my couch, and had the delightful pleasure of running my first 5K with a friend and her sister. It was festive and fun, and the costumes were everything you could hope for. I gotta step up my game next year!

(Okay technically, it wasn't my first. Once I went to one that turned out to be more a coming-of-age experience. I learned I can no longer just run 3 miles without training. I ran for 20 seconds and then huffed and puffed my way walking the rest. I try to pretend like it didn't happen.)

Chef's Costume

Gabriella is obsessed with dress up clothes. We've got more tutus and fairy wings than any one household really needs, so I wanted to diversify her dress up collection. So for Christmas, she got this adorable (in my opinion) chef's hat and apron. I love it so. 

Maybe I should get one for my dress up box. Because yes, Gabriella came into my room tonight saying, "Mom, this goes in your dress-up clothes" because yes, I have them. And sometimes I let her play with them. Sometimes. 

Stone Mountain Christmas

Our big outing for the holidays was to visit Stone Mountain. It was my first time since I was a small child, and we were excited to see the lights and party with the kiddos. It turned out to be an amazing day!

There was a good mix of things for kids to do. We rode a train, watched a 4D movie, and ate funnel cake. They loved this giant barn filled with soft balls for throwing, tossing, shooting, and sorting. This part was truly the highlight for Isaac since he wasn't being shuffled from stroller to chair to lap and could actually run and play. The night wrapped up with a fun parade and more Christmas lights than you can blink at. Truly spectacular!

Mustard Leggings

Finally, I will leave you with my personal favorite purchase in December. I have this pair of mustard tights that I always want to wear... and Gabriella always wants me to wear. But as a mother of a very busy 18 month old and 4 year old, dresses with only tights underneath are out of the question. Someone is always lifting my dress or forcing me to sit on the floor. Not happening. 

So I decided to replace them with these leggings. Got them in the mail this week, and I will likely order more in other colors. They are super soft and possibly the most comfy pant I have ever worn. Ha! So I'm letting to know in case you're in the market.

UPDATE: I must add a disclaimer to the fabulous leggings after wearing them outside my house (aka with boots on). I am disappointed to report that my boots have picked/rubbed them quite a bit. I don't mind too much because I'll probably always be wearing the boots with them. But since I raved about them, I figure a fair warning is in order as I've never had that happen with other leggings. 

Hope your December was great. Let me know your favorite moments, activities, or pants of the season in the comments! Also, seriously... who else has lost a portion of their life to those Pretty Little Liars?

A Life with Subtitles: 2014

It's 7:00 on New Year's Eve, and I'm already in my pajamas. Between Nochebuena, Christmas, and Ella's fourth birthday, I'm a little worn out on "big moments" over the last week. Somehow it always feels like toddlers are just on the cusp of melting down, so I'm trying to walk that line between "LET'S DO ALL THE FUN THINGS!" and "Let's maintain our rather rigid routine because that keeps everyone from group sobbing."

So even though one of my neighbors has already started firing off his gun, tonight will be a low-key evening. In fact, the kids are already on their way to bed, so I have a couple minutes to share this post.

I like looking back over the blog at the end of the year. It's nice to remember some of the fun we had, and new friends encountered online along the way. The World Cup Wives will always stand out as the Belle of 2014. It started as a joke (or maybe more of a "threat" to our husbands), but quickly developed into one of the most delightful ways for me to jump into the global hype.

So here are a few of the most popular posts from 2014:

Immigration Facts to Shock Friends at Parties - This post became one of the most viewed ever on my site almost immediately. I was really glad that so many folks found it helpful and chose to share it. Some of the feedback was... "angry," but I was reminded that's to be expected. Made me even more grateful for this community of readers that is so compassionate and encouraging. I love you so!

The Not-So-Tragic Mulatto: What Growing Up Biracial Taught Me - Alyssa wrote this post a couple years ago, and I love to see that it's still be read and connecting with others. She has a beautiful story and tells it so well.

How I Met My Husband & How My Husband Came to the States - I've spent a great deal of 2014 re-working our Immigration Love Story series into a book. It's been challenging, emotional, and very exciting, and I really hope to have more developments to share in 2015. In the meantime, I hope these posts continue to be enjoyed here on the blog.

My Latino Husband is White - Ella might disagree with this post since she recently said to me: "You, me, and Isaac have the same skin. But not Papi. Papi's skin is brown." Still, I get new comments on this one periodically, and I think many can relate to the complexity of skin color, ethnicity, and identity discussed.

Why We're Sending Our Kids to Spanish Immersion School - I was delighted to have Bronwyn share her experiences and choices raising global children. She shares an insightful piece on the desire to nurture compassion in her children as they experience being the "other."

The Euphoria Begins - It was the post that started it all. While Billy and Ella were "kissing the badge," I was learning that phrase even existed! (And reading articles about whether it has become an empty gesture is soccer...) It was definitely a summer to remember (despite how hard Brazil may be trying to forget).

And if you are also snuggled in for a chill New Year's Eve and want some more reading material, here are few more favorite posts from 2014:

Usted y Tu y Vos - Someone recently told me they showed this video in a Spanish class they teach. Let me just apologize now as I think our explanation regarding Spanish grammar is flawed at best, but mostly just ridiculous.

We Pray for Reform - This prayer continues to be on my heart as we hope for and pray for and work for just and compassionate immigration reform.

Go For It! The #1 Advantage of Cross-Cultural Couples - There are folks out there who discourage intercultural relationships. Not me. I'm all for it! And I could be biased, but I do think we possess an important edge... ;)

Spanish with Ella - Gabriella made her video debut, which was a treat as expected. What I wouldn't have given to have a hidden camera filming her during this exchange.

I am so grateful for you all who read, comment, email, share, and everything else. I can't believe I started this blog almost four years ago, and I really can't believe how many of you I've met along the way. This year I even got Christmas cards from friends I originally met here on A Life with Subtitles! I look forward to a new year together and wish you all a beautiful welcome to 2015! One more exclamation point for good measure!

How Nochebuena Saved Christmas

Our first Christmas together, Billy and I spent in our apartment in L.A. We could not travel due to documentation issues, so the holiday became a jarring transition into marriage for me. It was my first ever away from my family.

I didn't really prepare emotionally for such a change. Billy had an emergency root canal two days before that Christmas, and all I remember from that first Christmas is falling asleep trying to watch a movie. That and an overwhelming sadness at the lonely holiday experience.

Last week was our eighth Christmas together, but only the second one away from my family. I found myself feeling nervous at the approaching days of round-the-clock parenting and worried that I would again be overcome with loneliness.

Still, it was fun to see Gabriella interested in Christmas more than any previous year. And I was excited to create some fun, family moments with her.

I am a planner by nature, so when an upcoming situation has me concerned or excited, I make a list. I started badgering Billy about each day of the week: which days were we each working, what was our Nochebuena plan, who had said they were coming, what were we doing Christmas morning.

One of the benefits, I think, of cross-cultural marriage is how we are always actively negotiating multiple cultures and the way it influences our expectations. The more Christmases we have spent together, the more we have incorporated traditions from both of our families, from both of our cultures.

Consequently, I do not have the expectation that my kids' Christmas experience will mirror mine exactly as a child. There is ponche and "fireworks" and a festive evening meal. And Billy also anticipates our American traditions of stockings and presents on Christmas morning.

Nochebuena helped me this year as we created our own family Christmas. Billy and I had the opportunity to collaborate on the traditions we wanted to include.

Even though it was strange to celebrate without extended family, the festivities didn't feel lacking because we combining our favorites from both. I was able to bake Chex Mix and serve tamales. It was a nice blend of what we both love best about the holidays.

I know we won't spend every Christmas away from family. But I was thankful for our fusion Nochebuena/Christmas this year and the friends it included. I wasn't expecting to create a childhood replica for my kids. Instead, we fashioned traditions just for them: a bicultural Christmas for bicultural kiddos. And it was joyful.

I hope your holidays were rowdy and peaceful, cuddly and dance party-y. What traditions do you include that were not part of your childhood?

[VIDEO] Make Your Own Rockstar Punch

If there's one thing I've never said about myself, it's "I'm an awesome cook." Still, every Christmas and New Year's I make this delicious hot drink, called ponche, compliments of my suegra (mother-in-law).

It's a guaranteed holiday hit, and I'll show you how easy it is to make in this video. Billy is behind the camera and only says one sentence. Then after filming, he repeatedly referred to that statement as his "punch" line. This is what I'm working with, people!

Here's a quick write-up of the directions:

  1. Boil water, brown sugar, and cinnamon on the stovetop. Find the right measurements by taste-testing.
  2. Add chopped pineapple. You can use fresh or canned chunk pineapple. You may also choose to include peaches, papaya, fruit cocktail, or other fruit.
  3. Add dried fruit, such as raisins or apricots.
  4. Near serving time, add a peeled, cubed apple.
  5. Serve in a mug with a spoon and kindly say "thank you" when everyone tells you how amazing your ponche is.
Note: The liquid often goes faster than the fruit, so you can boil more water, brown sugar, and cinnamon in another pot and add it to your remaining fruit.

Ponche is a common Mexican/Latin American punch, and there are many variations on the theme. Let me know in the comments if you give this one a try!

The Visitors {Advent}

The fire crackles and jumps. I poke it with a stick and watch the embers scatter. My friend reclines on a rock, his eyes drifting closed. The night is still and quiet, save the bleating of the sheep.

My father is a shepherd, and now I join him in the fields. Right now he is walking out on the side of the mountain, checking in on the animals. He never loses any.

I push my feet into the dirt. My sandals are worn and caked with thick dust and mud. I jab at the fire again.

Suddenly, there is a sound. A sheep scurries past. My buddy bolts upright. "What was that?" he asks.

Before I can respond, a bright light bursts forth in the sky! We jump up and turn to see a giant man glowing. I search for my papa. Where is he? I am just about to start running, when the shining man speaks.

"Don't be afraid," he says. "I'm here to tell you good news for everyone everywhere. Today in Bethlehem, God's son has been born! Go and see him. He's sleeping in a manger." Then, just like that, a huge, glowing choir appears and begins singing. They are praising God.

What on earth is happening? And where is my father? We are shepherds - not exactly the first folks to get invited to God's baby's birthday party.

My father runs up, panting. "Did you see it?" I ask him.

"Yes," he replies with hands on his knees. I wait. "Let's go," he says.

I have never seen my father abandon a flock, but I have also never seen a shining choir singing in the sky. We grab our packs and hurry down the mountain towards Bethlehem. For the first time, I notice a bright star shining over the city.

We push through the streets of Bethlehem. Good thing about being a shepherd, I suppose, is people don't like to be too close to us. We smell like sheep and all. I think about God’s son and wonder if we should have taken a bath first?

Thankfully, the angel said he’d be in a manger. Mangers are in stables, and we are acquainted with stables. Suddenly, my father stops. I nearly run into his back.

I look up. We are practically underneath the star. I peaked around my father to see a stable and three women huddled around a baby. I can only see his foot sticking out between them. A woman rests on the ground.

We step inside, and everyone looks up. I worry they will send us away.

A man speaks. "I am Joseph. This is my wife Mary," he gestures to the woman resting. He smiles. "And this is the baby Jesus." The women hand Joseph the baby, and he lays him inside the manger.

My whole body warms and I wonder if I am shining like the man in the field. Without thinking, I drop to my knees. So does my father and the others with us.

There we are, bowing before this tiny baby, the Son of God. It is the strangest and most natural moment of my life. I hear the baby's mother crying ever so softly.

Never would I have expected God to invite me into this moment. It is truly divine. I keep my head down and worship my God and this new infant, God's son.

All posts in this year's Advent series:
1. The Journey
2. The Stable
3. The Birth
4. The Visitors

Global Kid Gift Guide - Christmas 2014

If you're looking for some gift ideas this Christmas, I thought I'd share a few of our multicultural favorites. We try to be pretty intentional about the types of books and toys our kids engage, and I know many of you do, too. I hope these ideas are useful to you. And please add more in the comments. I'm always looking for new suggestions!

#1 - Soccer jerseys

Soccer is truly a global sport, and we've tried to keep our kids outfitted in team jerseys. This can be a great gift for multicultural kids. Here's links to a few popular teams: Manchester UnitedBarcelona, Real Madrid, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, United States, Colombia, Costa RicaGermany, Netherlands.

#2 - Princess Sofia

In general, we actively resist "princess culture" in our house. However, I do have one exception. Princess Sofia has been touted as Disney's first Latina princess. There's some controversy and back peddling around that claim. Still, there's been several articles stating that Sofia's father is from a make believe country based on Scandinavia and her mother's fictitious heritage is based on Spain. So when Gabriella begged for Sofia light up shoes, I said okay.

#3 - Books, books, and more books

Of course we love bilingual books. Here are a few of our favorite Spanish selections:

Board books: Global Babies and Buenas Noches a Todos

Story books: Queen Esther (and Jonah and Daniel) and Guatemala ABCs (they offer other countries, too!)

Bibles: The Jesus Storybook Bible (bilingual)

#4 - Doc McStuffins

We try to include a variety of multicultural characters in our toy box. This Doc McStuffins doctor kit is a favorite in our house. She was also Gabriella's choice for her beach towel.

#5 - Baby dolls

We have a couple dolls around our home, and we've been intentional to include varying skin tones. I don't know exactly which ones we have, but here's one option.

#6 - Flags

I bought our Guatemalan and U.S. flags for some family photos. Of course, the kids had a great time swinging them around and sword fighting. But they can be a fun addition to a multicultural household.

Not pictured:

#7 - Maracas

These maracas have been enjoyed by both of my kiddos. They play music, count, and teach colors in Spanish and English.

#8 - Music

Bilingual CDs are another groovy way to keep two languages in the air. Here's one of our favorite Spanish kids worship CDs.

#9 - Movies

We like VeggieTales in Spanish, and have enjoyed this one and this one.

#10 - Spanglish T-shirts

We don't actually own any of these, but I found them online and wanted to share. So clever and cute!

What would you add to this list of gifts for global kids?

The Birth {Advent}

Image credit: Waiting for the Word

They say that a baby being born is a beautiful thing. I guess that's true. The baby at least. The being born part was different than I expected.

When Mary went into labor, we were still sleeping in Bethlehem, sleeping in a stable. My aunts gave me the job of taking care of Mary. They were looking after the baby, even though he hadn't arrived yet.

I'm just glad to be old enough to help. I dip a cloth in cool water and wipe Mary's face. Her eyes are closed and she is exhaling deeply. I'm not even sure she knows I'm there. But then she opens her eyes and smiles at me real quick.

She asks for water to drink, and I hurry off to get some. Everyone has had different opinions about this baby. But now that he's coming, opinions are just words. My mother rubs Mary's back while another aunt prepares cloth to wrap the baby when he arrives.

It will be soon. We wait all nervously.

Joseph is outside with the other men. Even though he says it's not his baby, he is anxious. He checks on Mary every once in a while, and he looks at her only with love.

Birth is no simple thing. So much can go wrong, and we've all heard the stories. Mothers lost. Babies who didn't make it. No one speaks it, but we are all focused.

With every groan and every pain, the tension in the stable ebbs and flows. We are accustomed by now to the low moaning of suffering. Mary is not dramatic, but we are all aware of the pain around us.

Finally, it is time to push. My aunts hold Mary's hands. I move out of the way. Everyone is breathing with Mary, ready and waiting. Another aunt guides the baby out into the world.

He cries and we all exhale at once. Peace and joy collide as he cries! The pain is not immediately forgotten, but it has been redeemed in this moment. The crying baby has brought relief to us. And he has unleashed an avalanche of delight.

I wipe Mary's forehead again as she relaxes and lets out a tired laugh. My mother cares for her while the aunts pass around the new baby. Jesus, they call him. They count his fingers and toes and rub his soft head. Everyone is laughing and hollering.

Joseph comes in and sits next to Mary. He pushes her hair out of her face and squeezes her hand. Eventually they will get a turn to hold Jesus, but good luck wrestling him from the aunts! Soon they do hand the baby back to his mother, and tears spill from Mary's eyes. She cuddles him close.

We celebrate healthy birth and a strong mother. It is truly a moment of peace and jubilation in our camp. Welcome to the world, little one!

All posts in this year's Advent series:
1. The Journey
2. The Stable
3. The Birth
4. The Visitors

7 Bilingual Kid Movies on Netflix [Holiday Edition]

As the temperatures dip, kids are out of school, and colds rear their sniffling heads, your TV may be on a little bit more. At least in our house it is!

One way I rationalize extra screen time is finding ways to make it educational. We're big fans of PBS shows that promote literacy, science, and social skills. And since bilingualism is a really important part of our family, I am also always keeping an eye out for ways to incorporate more Spanish. TV can be a perfect way to boost my kids' exposure to their second language.

We utilize Netflix a great deal, and they do offer bilingual shows. Sadly, I have not found a simple way to search for Spanish cartoons on Netflix. Even when I changed my daughter's profile to Spanish, this only affected the menus, not viewing suggestions. Therefore, I have done a little research and compiled my own list to share.

5 Reasons to Love Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin. Have you seen it? It’s a fabulous new fall show on the CW. It all starts with Jane being accidentally artificially inseminated. I probably don’t even need to tell you anything more. I’m sure you’re already sold. But just in case… here’s a couple reasons I’m a big fan.

The breadth of language

While primarily in English, the slow also dabbles in Spanish. That basically represents our own household, so I always get a kick out of it. Even better, the show incorporates texting, icons, and notes scribbled on-screen to fill out the story. I love words in all shapes and sizes. 

Gina Rodriguez

She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Jane, and if they need me to vote, I will. (Do you vote for the Golden Globes? Probably not.) But I like her. She offers a great mix of humor and sincerity. She’s believably nice. 

The reality of immigration

In a recent twist, we learned a character was undocumented. I don’t know if they will do more with that storyline going forward, but it was interesting to me how it was somewhat casually introduced. While we were nervous when Billy was undocumented, there’s also the reality that most of the time, we were just living regular lives.


Drama is awesome

Jane the Virgin is based on a Venezuelan telenovela, and it includes every ounce of wild drama I could ever hope for. There’s a long-lost father, a dead body, and a couple overlapping love triangles. Since I can’t live that type of life (too exhausting!), I’ll just enjoy a little more Jane.

Seriously, have you seen this show? Am I crazy to be such a fan?

The Stable {Advent}

Image credit: Steve Wilson

We have finally arrived. Bethlehem. It has been a long journey, but we made it. I look at Mary atop the donkey, alternating between rubbing her very pregnant belly and her aching back. I feel somehow that we have made it just in time.

She asks for help down. She wants to walk. I grab her hands and support her the best way I know how. I am eager to do anything that might help her. It is difficult to see her in this state.

Her pregnancy has been unexpected and confusing. We are still coming to know each other in this role of husband and wife, and the surprise of her pregnancy has brought us together but also, at times, isolated us from others. They cannot relate to our unusual experience.

Together, our family moves through the crowded streets of Bethlehem. The city is bursting with so many here for the census. Chickens are clucking. Merchants hawk their goods. Donkeys and carts push through the streets. I stay close to Mary, trying to shield her and the baby from being jostled or pushed.

We arrive at an inn, and my uncle speaks with the innkeeper. Mary and I huddle near the back of our tired group, keeping eyes on the younger kids playing in the street. My uncle returns with the news that the inn is full. We move on.

This same message is repeated as we move from door to door, seeking a place to stay. Mary is quiet, but I can see in her eyes that she needs to lie down. I feel frustrated that I cannot find a place for her. As the next innkeeper opens his door, I want to shout, “This woman is pregnant with the Christ child! Find her a room!” I want to provide for Mary… and the baby. I want to make her comfortable and ease her weariness.

But the reality is clear. There is no room in Bethlehem. A kind innkeeper takes pity on our road-weary tribe and offers us to sleep in his stable. As I gather straw to place under Mary, I feel ashamed. This is not how I imagined caring for my son… for God’s son.

Hearing her breathing becoming deeper and sometimes more labored, I fear the baby will be born here. I worry I have somehow let them both down, allowing our family to bed in the margins of Bethlehem.

The angel told me that this baby will save the people from their sins. It hardly seems right that such a rescuer would enter the world among the pigs and donkeys. But this baby has already been full of surprises. No one would have expected Mary… or me... to be entrusted with such a responsibility as to raise the son of God.

Maybe God has chosen this place for Jesus to be born. Another surprise. The baby King begins his life in an unexpected place, among unworthy people, and amidst the dusty backdrop of a messy life on earth. As I watch the young cousins snuggle in to sleep, I hold Mary’s hand. Maybe this is just the place God has chosen to enter into the world.

All posts in this year's Advent series:
1. The Journey
2. The Stable
3. The Birth
4. The Visitors

And He Will Be Called Mighty God

Lemonade International exists to partner with local leaders as they facilitate community development programs with the people of the La Limonada community in Guatemala City. Billy and I have been encouraged by and thankful for their work in the capital. I was delighted to join their Advent series featuring the names of God. 

My husband grew up hiking Guatemala's volcanoes. He loves to talk about Acatenango, and gleefully describes it like walking up a mountain of sand. And he never forgets the strong winds - so strong, in fact, that as teenagers, they would jump up into the air and let the wind blow them backwards, landing a few steps down the volcano.

Sometimes I want to experience God as mighty, like that wind.

Trudging up the mountains of poverty, racism, and injustice, there are times I want to let go, jump up, and let God blow me away with strength. The appeal of feeling lightweight amidst all the difficulties is real. I need a mighty God.

Is It Places We Remember... Or People?

I'm delighted to introduce you to Mal for today's World of Wow post. She shares about her travels to jolly 'ole England. (I've only visited London, but it was absolutely wonderful!) Please welome Mal and be sure to visit her blog as well. 

When I went to Liverpool, I never expected to make real friends.

I was sixteen, and people my age had never been very kind to me. But my mom was chaperoning a trip for students from her school to Liverpool for ten days, and I liked to travel, so I wasn't going to say no. I knew going with a group of kids who all knew each other was going to be awkward, but I was going for the experience. I'd dealt with mean peers for years, I could put up with these strangers for ten days if it meant getting to travel out of the country. 

It was an exchange trip, which meant we had host families and would spend all our time with a group of British teenagers. Great, more people to ostracize me. Or so I thought.  In reality, my host family treated me like one of their own from the second I walked in the door. And to this day, they still call me their American sister or daughter.

The American kids.werent great to me. There were times I cried, but what made the difference was how the British kids took me in. They included me, they hung out with me, they genuinely seemed to like me, which was quite baffling for me. They were the first group of guys that I could be around that didnt want to abuse me, which was huge at that point in my life. I quickly came to look at them as my brothers.

Paddy, my host brother, and me, then and in 2012. He came back to North Carolina a couple years ago for his birthday, and he spent a weekend with me at my university. It was a dream. I didnt know when wed ever get to see each other again, and so to be reunited with my brother at the university that felt like home was everything I could have asked for. That weekend was a sweet reminder for the both of us that we are just as much family now as we were on that initial trip in 2008.

Theres one other guy that I didnt realize at the time would come to mean as much to me as he does. Meet Jay.

I actually didnt talk to him as much as I talked to others during the trip, but when it was over, we bonded in a way we didnt in person. We may be several thousand miles apart, but he is one of my closest friends, and we have spent countless hours talking late into the night over the past six years. We cant wait to see each other again, but were just fine until that day comes.

Paddy and Jay are two sweet reminders of just what God can do when we think we have other plans. I was going to Liverpool because I like to travel. Nothing more. In the process, I met people who changed me for the better and are still very dear to me to this day. 

The best part is, I know that distance doesnt change a thing for us. My British family has promised theyll all fly over when I get married one day, and Paddy, Jay, and I all talk enough that those boys are two of the most important people in my life, despite the distance.

I wasnt looking to meet anyone special on this trip in 2008. In fact, I was downright terrified of who I would meet. But God, well, Hes known for doing abundantly more than all we ask or imagine

Mallory (you can call her Mal) is a 22-year old grad student who just moved to New York City from North Carolina. She loves Jesus, watching college football and basketball, and playing music way too loudly. She is passionate about knowing people's stories and has been told by many that there's not a person she won't talk to. She writes over at Beauty in the Breakdown about her everyday life, experiences in NYC, things God is teaching her, and whatever thoughts she just needs to get out. Feel free to come say hi! 

Interested in sharing your own travel post? You can learn more and register here.

The Journey {Advent}

Last year, I wrote a post entitled Crowded Christmas, and I have thought about it frequently over the last year. Since I typically write an Advent series in preparation for Christmas, I thought this year I'd experiment with a fictionalized interpretation based on the ideas of a crowded Christmas. Please read it with a gracious imagination as it is not intended to be a strictly Biblical account. Enjoy!

Image credit: KayVee.INC

Family road trips always sound fun at the start, right? Well, ours was no different. A census had been announced, and we needed to return to Bethlehem, the home of our ancestor David. It wasn’t long before the women were preparing food and packing bags while men readied the donkeys.

I was already quite pregnant when we started out, back when the children still thought the trip would be a wonderful adventure. Now the young cousins take turns being carried, riding on the donkeys, and running around taunting each other. I am grateful for the distraction children offer. Fantastic stories, elaborate games, and impressive fascination at the smallest details.

It is hard to believe I am going to have a child. But then the angel said the baby would be the Christ child. It’s a prophecy too great to understand. 

As we plod along on this journey, I ride the donkey for the most part. But the seat doesn’t shield me from hearing… or seeing. Joseph’s aunt is skeptical about the baby. And she doesn’t mind saying so. She huddles with her sisters and whispers about me. She scowls at Joseph.

Joseph’s cousins are uncertain. They check in on me and bring me water, but their eyes shift nervously as they scurry away again. Oh, how I wish Elizabeth were here with me! They try to be supportive, but she is certain. Elizabeth has heard the same word from God, and she is 100% joyful about this baby.

I rub my belly and glance at Joseph. And I am grateful for him. He, too, is a bit uncertain and confused, but he is faithful. He believes his God, and God told him to believe me. So he stands beside me among the whispers and he never waivers. God bless him.

This trip has worn me out. Never mind the physical exhaustion, traveling so many days. But camping in close quarters, the family pushed together without the typical rhythms of daily life… well, that is tiring in its own way. We are all eager to arrive.

Waiting is hard. Waiting for the Christ child is hard. If this baby truly brings the promised peace and freedom… well, the anticipation is overwhelming. But other thoughts pull at my mind, too. What if I am wrong? What if too much hope has been placed on this baby? What if he’s not the Christ child and I am disappointed? What if his birth only brings isolation and pain? Waiting in the no knowing is hard, too.

So I focus on the children. They are too young to question my behavior or worry about the future. They simply enjoy the wonder of a baby growing inside my belly. They press their hands to feel him kick. They sing him songs and imagine the games they will teach when he is old enough. They teach me how to wait.

All posts in this year's Advent series:
1. The Journey
2. The Stable
3. The Birth
4. The Visitors

Does God Stand with Immigrants?

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 overarching 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

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.


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