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?

When Bilingual Babies Get Sassy

Billy recently traveled with the kids to visit his parents in Guatemala City. In what I can only imagine was a harrowing day of multiple flights with a lap child and a talkative toddler, one hilarious story stood out from his experience.

While chillin' in Fort Lauderdale during their layover, a man decided to chat it up with Ella. (First mistake?) He asked her, "Are you going to Guatemala?"

Ella looked at him. "No, no," she said. "I'm going to wat-te-mah-lah." I imagine at this moment he probably stared at her dumbfounded. Naturally, she continued. "wat-te-mah-lah is Spanish. goo-ah-tay-mall-ah English."

When Billy recounted this moment to me I was giggling hysterically and horrified in the same moment. "What did the man say?"

Thankfully, this U.S. gentleman was gracious and laughingly conceded, "Yes, that's true." He then asked Billy if she was bilingual and offered some super encouraging words about that endeavor. 

Ella has also zeroed in on my monolingualism recently. If she hears me speaking any Spanish, she asks me to stop because you don't speak Spanish. But then she keeps asking me, "Do you speak Spanish?" so the verdict's still out.

Putting her to bed, I called her Gabriella. She responded, "Mom, don't call me Gabriella in English. Only in Spanish." Pause. "Say it in Spanish, Mom." So I garbled the r's and the ll's because I can't pronounce them correctly in Spanish. But she nodded approvingly. 

Bless her little bilingual heart! Trying to figure all this stuff out with a papa who tries to speak solely Spanish to her, but also speaks a lot of English. And a mom who says she only speaks English, but occasionally busts out the Spanish, and is often the gringa with the accent. Good times!

5 Guatemalan Goodies You Definitely Need

I was doing a quick Amazon search for a Guatemalan flag, and I came across some of the most amazing and surprising items. Everybody most certainly needs a couple of these patriotic items.

#1 - Outlet Cover
I mean how awesome is this? A flag for your electrical outlets! Plug in a fan. Turn on your hair dryer. !Vamos!

#2 - Pot Holders
Nothing helps you take hot things out of the oven like this Guatemalan flag superimposed on a brick wall.
#3 - Apron
And while you're in the kitchen, why not throw on this flag apron? Seriously, why not?
#4 - Flask
If you need a flag flask, I've got your number. Go patriotic!

Because everyone needs boxing gloves, and everyone needs them with flag flair!
What incredible, patriotic items have you found online?

4 Tips to Support Multicultural Families at the Holidays

In our little home lives a multicultural family. When it comes to holidays, we have always been intentional about merging traditions and creating our own festivities for our kids and ourselves. Billy brings his Guatemalan favorites, and I include my family's US traditions. 

But when we celebrate with our extended families, we know they do not need to accommodate our fusion traditions. As I’ve been preparing for this year, though, I realize how much our family has adopted and supported our holiday multiculturalism. I am so grateful for family that has welcomed our cross-cultural marriage. 

I know I lucked out in the family department (on both sides). Except for one year, I think we have always celebrated Christmas in the States, and our family has enthusiastically embraced our multiculturalism. Here are a few ways we have felt supported and loved by our extended family at the holidays.

Let the games begin!

Word games can be a little more challenging for someone with English as a second language, and games relying on US pop culture references can present a similar challenge for folks who’ve immigrated. We like to play games when we’re all together. So my family graciously keeps their eyes open for new number-based games or others that we can all enjoy. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Trying new foods

We typically find tamales for our Nochebuena celebration on Christmas Eve. I have been so blessed by my family jumping in and trying the new food with us. The first year, I remember my sister’s husband looking at dinner and saying, “I’ve never had a tamale before. This will be interesting!” He dove right in. 

Incorporate traditions

My mom has always been super thoughtful and taken note of the Guatemalan elements we like to include in the festivities. She is always the one who remembers to buy sparklers, which is our city-approved substitute for Guatemalan firecrackers. 

Include in-laws

Latino culture tends to be a little more far-reaching in their definition of family, including everyone’s in-laws as part of the group. I love that. After my in-laws were repeatedly denied visas to come visit us here in the States, my parents applied for their passports and joined us for our one Christmas in Guatemala. It was such a cool chance to introduce our parents to each other and celebrate the holidays all together. 

I often write about how cross-cultural marriage affects me and Billy and our kids, but I also recognize that we did not marry in a vacuum. (That sounds weird… and dusty.) It’s such a blessing to experience the ways parents and grandparents and siblings and cousins and everyone has loved us and the uniquenesses we bring to our families. I hope our experiences help your extended family celebrate multicultural traditions together!

What are traditions you appreciate in your family celebrations?

An Unconventional Driving Tour of Vietnam

I'm so lucky to have Becca Stanley as my blog friend AND my down the street friend. I met her in both worlds about the same time. Every now and then she mentions her "work trips to Asia," and I'm excited she wrote more about those experiences here. You can read more of her writing at her beautiful blog, The Stanley Clan.

When I went to Vietnam, I never expected to love it so much.

What seems like multiple-lifetimes ago, I used to travel to Asia several times a year for work. Visiting bustling trade shows and towering factories, picking out the perfect pottery and glass designs. For those of you who know me and my life now, this might seem like such an incongruous picture that it’s hard to believe. I completely agree. 

But indeed, my dad and I would spend two weeks (twice a year) visiting several countries in the far east. It amounted to an exhausting and grueling timeline including much time in airports and taxis, leaving little-to-no time for sight-seeing. Most of what I experienced of Thailand, India, China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam was from the windows of cars flitting from our hotel to factories and giant convention centers.

When our plane landed in Vietnam, I didn’t know much about the country or what to expect. Now though, every time someone asks, I will tell them it was my favorite place we visited. I loved (and simultaneously also feared) driving chaotically down roads lined by shacks, houses, old buildings, junkyards and barbed wire fences. Everything lies inches from the busy road. Scooters (the preferred mode of transportation) weave in and out with amazing precision, along with a decided lack of attention to road signs, lines in the street, and even the direction of traffic. Loud honks signal bikes to get out of way of cars, and even louder honks signal cars to move aside for trucks.

The shacks lining the streets house small shops hawking wares which I cannot even imagine anyone here needing: beautiful clocks next to brightly colored backpacks and Adidas t-shirts; gleaming wood furniture and sturdy safes (to hold what valuables I wonder?) Carts vaguely reminiscent of hotdog stands offer corn on the cobb and fresh fruit; women squat on street corners in traditional hats, unidentifiable smells wafting from their waffle makers and kettles. 

We pass an old man sewing with an antique sewing machine on one street corner. A surprising number of these stores offer internet connection. We weave in and out of small roads reminiscent of alleyways, our driver expertly laying on the horn and rarely stopping for such inconveniences as red lights. We pass chairs set-up stadium style in cafes and large empty rooms filled with hammocks. I try to imagine it: sleeping in a hammock surrounded by 27 other people, in the 96 degree humid-heat, amidst the constant honking and distinctive scents of this place.

Every so often we pass a guard in his uniform - his stiff clothing and rigid posture in stark contrast to the chaos of his surrounding citizens. Likewise, we will sometimes pass a lush, beautiful garden surrounding an even more lavish home - always flying a large Vietnamese flag on top. Despite the oppressive heat and squalid conditions, the Vietnamese people seem irrepressible. 

On every street I see women carefully and proudly sweeping out their crowded storefronts, while children walk hand-in-hand through the dust and swerving scooters - eating ice cream cones cheerfully. And when I walk through the factory, trying desperately to ignore my impending heat stroke, wearing a Vietnamese hat, the women nudge each other and giggle loudly - before pointing to my hat and telling me they like it.

I repress the urge to ask the driver to stop so I can wander the streets with my camera to my eye. It’s impossible, of course, to capture the spirit of the place in pictures or words. Maybe a video could translate the loud chaos and cheerful life that oozes through the decided smog.

I no longer travel for work, something for which I am both glad and occasionally disappointed. With a six year old and a three year old at home, leaving for two weeks on a whirlwind trip across the world seems distant and impossible. Though if I’m honest, sometimes I wonder if my remembrance of the chaos might pale in comparison to our own chaos these days.

I’m learning to embrace life on the floor making puzzles and picking up scattered goldfish. Helping with Kindergarten homework and editing pictures late into the night in front of Blacklist. Life certainly leans less glamorous, I suppose. But I am content with where God has our little family right now, and I am grateful for the lessons I learned by traveling. For knowing there is a vast world outside of Atlanta. Cultures and people who work hard and long, who live a life so foreign to mine that it can be hard for me to remember how we all sit under the light of the same moon. 

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

7 Gifs for 7 Years of Marriage

Today Billy and I celebrate seven years of marriage. Wow.

I was looking at him with the kids yesterday and thought to myself, "Man. I didn't even know these three people eight years ago. Who knew they'd mean so much to me?"

Here are some fun gifs to represent a few lessons we've gleaned over the last seven years. I fully expect that the next seven will shift, confirm, or obliterate these altogether.

Don't worry about the toothpaste.

"Do you squeeze your toothpaste from the bottom or the middle?" This question sparked a conversation during our pre-marital counseling. How do you handle those tiny (and completely infuriating) little annoyances?

 Billy's response: Buy two tubes of toothpaste.

To some extent, we've tried to keep that general attitude towards stuff that's not all that important. (Except oh my goodness, why do you have to get out a new cup every time you want a sip of water?????)

Apologize often. Forgive quickly.

I'm still working on this one. But sometimes I float into the sky and watch myself. (Normal... yes?)

I see when I'm picking fights or being ornery. Then I ask myself, "Seriously. What purpose does this serve?"

Usually it's best to slam on the brakes and apologize. The quicker the better. And let's love each other with swift and full forgiveness.

Don't worry about date nights.

I know. I know. Everyone's always telling married people to schedule a weekly date night. Boo.

Maybe I'm weird, but I find that advice stressful. It's just... logistics. I don't have the energy.

Dates are good. We love to plan activities and go out. And it's important that we hang out together regularly.

I just can't do it weekly. Besides, we also love to watch Everybody Loves Raymond together while we fall asleep.

Experiment. Rinse. Repeat.

Remember those logistics? Once we had kids, the details of life somehow multiplied exponentially.

We had to start calling family meetings. Seriously.

As responsibilities starting landing willy nilly or slipping through the cracks, we needed to huddle up. We coordinate childcare, spilt to-do lists, go through the mail, yada yada.

And if something's not working... if one person is overwhelmed with housework or child shuffling or anything else, we try to readjust. Family meetings have helped us avoid a lot of arguments.

Get up early.

Okay, you do not need to get up early. But that has worked well for us.

We like to have a few moments of peace before the calvary is up and shouting. We drink coffee. We connect. We dream. Or we're just silent together in the same room.

Learn the team cheers.

If I had a dollar for every time Billy has said to me, "I support you 100%," I could own a gazillion goldfish. It's always so encouraging and empowering to know you've got someone in your corner.

Find a giant Rice Krispy treat.

On a road trip with friends, we stopped at a gas station. Billy and I discovered this gigantic Rice Krispy treat.

I don't recall the specifics, but we started telling jokes and giggling in the corner. A friend just looked at us and said, "I'm glad you guys crack each other up."

I like private jokes and shared adventures in marriage. While we love socializing with others, it's also fun to remember we have a relationship that's just us.

What has worked well in your marriage or those you admire?

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