The 10 Favorite Posts of 2015

I write a lot of posts. Over a hundred in 2015. So it's fun to look back over the year and recall the posts that were popular or connected most with readers. I hope you, too, enjoy this list - either to catch up on fun posts you missed or to reread favorites from the year.

Most Read Post of 2015:

My Favorite Post of 2015:

The Favorite One with GIFs:

The Favorite Bilingual Kids Post:

The Favorite Immigration Post:

The Favorite Cross-Cultural Marriage Post:

The Favorite Travel Post:

The Favorite Race & Culture Post:

The Favorite Faith & Ministry Post:

The Favorite Multicultural Identity Post:

Thank you so much for reading A Life with Subtitles and sharing posts with others. I'm grateful for the readers here who are so encouraging and funny. You all are living out your own global, mashup, multicultural lives, and it's a joy to swap stories with you!

What were your favorite posts of 2015? Let me know in the comments! I'd love to hear what you enjoyed on this blog or elsewhere on the Internet. If you're a writer, feel free to share your favorite post you've written this year. I need some good reading to start out 2016!

The Double Click: José y Maria, Extended Family, and more

Sometimes time zones, laundry, and the algorithms of Facebook mean we miss each other online. So I'm sharing my recent, favorite links for you to read when you get a chance.

Here's some fun articles to make you laugh and make you think. This week, we're taking a look at TV's immigrant stories, Las Patronas, José y Maria, and more.

My Muslim Problem || Omar Rikabi

I reminded him of my family’s background, and told him I found the joke theologically tasteless and unfunny. My friend said he understood, but “we’re at war,” and as a Christian I should be more concerned with being on “God’s winning side.” This is a problem.

TV's Challenge For 2016: Taking Immigrant Stories To The Next Level || NPR

It's all straight out of the Immigrant Kid Handbook — the other kids finding your lunches radioactive, your name unpronounceable, your parents' rules bizarre, your house otherworldly. For many of us who grew up living these scenes, it's been a delight to watch immigrant coming-of-age stories get the mainstream American TV treatment this year.

Director Arturo González Villaseñor On Telling The Story Of Las Patronas, The Women Who Feed Immigrants || Remezcla

The film tells the story of Las Patronas, a group of women in a small town in Veracruz who help immigrants as they cross Mexico on their way to the U.S. Perched on high-speed trains, the young travelers reach out to grab the bags of food that the women have ready for them. Llévate mis amores skillfully combines interviews with action shots to construct a moving, heartfelt story.

Interracial Marriage And The Extended Family || NPR

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, about 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 were between people of different races or ethnicities — nearly twice the rate from 30 years prior. Though interracial marriage is more mainstream, the unions may still cause tension among family members.

José y Maria || Everett Patterson

This was our Christmas card for 2014, depicting Jesus’s parents in a modern setting. I was inspired by a number of evocative “imagine what it would have been like”-type sermons I heard earlier this year, and also (as usual) by the work of Will Eisner, who so often depicted, with religious reverence, noble individuals enduring the many minor discomforts and petty indignities of urban America.

12 Things Latinos Will Never Say During the Holidays || BuzzFeed

“The holidays are boring,” said no Latino ever.

To Wait: What Spanish Says About Waiting [Advent]

It's sort of strange for an Advent series focusing on language to be written by a person who - for all intents and purposes - is basically monolingual. (Although, my emoji game is strong!)

So I've invited my friend Michelle to write today's post on Spanish. She is bilingual and insightful, and I am so grateful for her perspective as we finish this series on Advent, and prepare for Christmas. I wish your family a wonderful celebration!

For most of my life I have had a negative association with waiting. Perhaps we all do?

Some waiting can be compartmentalized. It has a clear beginning and end. When you choose the longest line possible at the grocery store is it frustrating? Of course, but you know the waiting is temporary. It will end, maybe not as quickly as you like, but no one waits at the grocery store for eternity.

But there are other kinds of waiting. Seasons of waiting that are less concrete, where the feelings of longing and yearning may stretch on for months, or even years. It’s often hard to pinpoint exactly when the waiting started, and even more difficult to explain because there is no guarantee of when it will end.

This is the longing for a spouse when the rest of your friends found theirs years ago and on your better days you wonder when it will be your turn and other days you worry, if.

This is the yearning to become a mother or a father, but each month there is just one pink line on the familiar pregnancy tests that you keep stashed in the bottom bathroom drawer.

This is the waiting for healing, when the person you love most can't fight the cancer that has taken over their body and you are left to care for them and yourself without any idea of how long.

This is the waiting for reconciliation with the sister, or son or best friend, whom you haven’t talked to in years, but pray for every day because you have nothing else you can do.

These kinds of seasons of waiting encompasses all of who we are. The lines between who we are and what we wait for blur. And that is such a hard place to be. I know because I have been there.

A large part of my 20s were filled with elements of waiting; the kind of waiting that is marked by unknowns and fear. The kind of waiting that makes you doubt God and yourself and why life is not going the way you planned. And if you’re not careful it’s the kind of waiting that can paralyze you with worry.

When I moved to Guatemala 5 years ago I sometimes joke that not only did I find my husband, but I also found a new understanding of the verb, “to wait.”

In Spanish, esperar actually means to wait, to hope and to expect.

If you’re a native English speaker you’re probably thinking, hey, those are three separate words how can they all mean the same thing? But stay with me. In Spanish they just do. And you can usually only tell which idea is being expressed by the context.

Take for instance:
Espero que todo salga bien. (I hope everything goes well.)
Esta no era lo que yo esperaba. (This is not what I was expecting.)
Estamos esperando por el bus. (We are waiting for the bus.)

They say when you begin to learn a new language you not only develop a new way to understand an unfamiliar culture, but also  new way to think about your own. Certain words and ideas change connotation in a new cultural context.

The differences and meaning in Spanish are slight. Because you could say “Estamos esperando nuestro primer bebe” and mean “We are expecting our first baby” or “We are waiting for our first baby.” See, they both work!

In English those two sentences have very different meanings. For most people, “expecting” has a positive connotation, where “waiting” automatically assumes a negative one.

Reading the bible in Spanish has also given me a new, dare I say, appreciation for the idea of waiting. In the English NIV translation, this verse reads: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:7).

Now how does the meaning change when I read this verse in Spanish? Guarda silencio ante el Señor, y esperar en él con paciencia (Salmo 37:7).

Is it Wait? or Hope? or Expect?

Do I wait in the Lord with patience? Do I hope in the Lord with patience? Or do I place my expectations in Him? Maybe the answer is yes. All three.

Traditionally during Christmas, Christians celebrate Advent, a season of waiting and preparing for Jesus. Sometimes I wonder how our understanding of Advent and Jesus could be expanded if we also saw this season as one where we are not just passively waiting for Christmas, but actively hoping and expecting.

If you find yourself in a hard season of waiting this year, can I invite you to try something new this final week before Christmas? Whenever you read the word wait or tell someone that you are waiting, try replacing it with hope or expect. Because the Spanish definition of “wait” might just be a more accurate description of the process we move through as we wait, hope and expect.

Michelle is a born and raised California girl who now calls Guatemala home. She and her husband work in community development and are committed to raise a bilingual and bicultural daughter who currently says things like “mas beans.” Michelle writes about motherhood, marriage, and life in between two cultures and countries at simplycomplicated.me. You can find her on instagram | facebook | twitter

My Intercultural Love: Interview on Madh Mama

One phenomenon that Billy and I have consistently marveled over during our years of marriage is the connection we feel to other cross-cultural couples. Regardless of their specific cultural mash-ups, we find there's almost an instant high-fiving when we meet other couples working out marriage mixes.

And it's so fun! After all, we both love other cultures, so we enjoy connecting with new people. And one of the ways I do that is via the Internet.

I recently met Alexandra Madhaven. She is Canadian and met her Indian husband in Savannah, Georgia, so we were practically neighbors for a spell. She writes at Madh Mama and asked me to participate in an interview series she hosts for intercultural couples.

She asks questions like, "What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?" You can read my insightful response: Oh, I imagine us growing old together and laughing at our own private jokes at the retirement village.

To learn more about my underground DJ career, our intercultural island, and that one time I told my MIL I wished someone was dead, CLICK OVER TO READ TO THE WHOLE INTERVIEW.    

How Do You Celebrate Multicultural Holidays? [VIDEO]

Holidays are filled with expectations. Whether good or bad (think Chandler hating on Thanksgiving), most of us have some ideas about how the holidays should go.

When you're in a cross-cultural marriage or multicultural family, you may have an added layer of expectations. Culture influences the foods we eat, the traditions we include, and even the people around us during the festivities.

Billy and I are coming to you via video today, talking about our family holidays. You'll hear some gems like:

*** Billy's first Noche Buena as an immigrant to the U.S.

*** That one time I almost injured an unsuspecting child.

*** And some ways we incorporate both cultures with our kids. (Spoiler alert: Billy isn't thrilled about some of my "adaptations" of Guatemalan festivities.)

If you're reading this via email or RSS, you may need to click here to view.

How does your family celebrate multicultural holidays?

To Wait: What Emojis Say About Waiting [Advent]

Language is always evolving. As society changes and grows, our lexicon expands to cover new topics, ideas, and concepts. Some recent examples: photobomb, grammable, or jeggings. At the end of the day, there is no 'right' way to communicate. Language is simply sounds and symbols that are understood by both parties in order to share a message. 

This year, Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year is an emoji. It's one of my personal favs, the pictograph officially called "Face with Tears of Joy." Since I am exploring the concept of waiting in different languages this year for Advent, today's post features Emojis. Hey, if Oxford can do it, so can we!

What emoji do you use when you're waiting on someone? Maybe the fear and trembling emojis if you're worried something's happened? Maybe the mad and blowing steam one if you're angry? Maybe the elderly woman if you're growing old? Maybe the poop emoji because waiting stinks? Or maybe the praying emoji if you're holy like that?

I don't believe I have a specific emoji on my phone for waiting, although a quick Google search suggests there are some. But a recent experience made me think about emojis and technology and waiting in a new way.

I was actually waiting in the checkout line, minding my own business and checking out Pez dispensers in the shapes of Frozen characters when I missed something really important. I was reflecting on the situation later with my mom, and I heard myself say, "You know, I was waiting. So I was distracting myself."

Distracting ourselves.

Of course emojis allow us to communicate. (And they can be lifesavers in bilingual group texts when I'm never quite certain what is going on. Insert: Pizza Slice, Running Man, Smiling with a Halo) But emojis and texting and Facebooking and pinning and gramming and all the rest can also of course be ways to distract ourselves.

How do you prepare for something as significant as the Christmas story? I'm asking, but I don't have a pat answer for that question. I read something recently about taking time to lay on the floor and gaze at your Christmas tree. Taking a moment to reflect on God's entrance into the human world.

And honestly, I haven't made time for anything remotely like that. And maybe the idea of being fully present in the waiting isn't all that appealing. I'd rather find something amusing or fun or social to do while I wait. Something that helps the time go by. Something distracting.

So maybe the next time I'm pairing a cup of coffee with bulging heart eyes, I can stop for just a minute. Focus. Pay attention. Look around with eyes open to seeing God's presence in the moment.

Maybe emojis can remind us to listen to the sounds and take in the images that God uses to communicate with us.

What sights and symbols focus your waiting attention on Christ? 

Posts in this year's Advent series:
Week 1: Sign Language
Week 2: French
Week 3: Emojis
Week 4: Spanish

The Double Click: Emojis, Advent, and Refugees

Sometimes time zones, laundry, and the algorithms of Facebook mean we miss each other online. So I'm sharing my recent, favorite links for you to read when you get a chance.

Here's some fun articles to make you laugh and make you think. This week, we've got mind-blowing insights into emojis, Advent reflections, and tips for parenting bilingual kids.

10 Things Parents of Bilingual Children Should Avoid || Multilingual Parenting

No matter how proud you are about what languages your children know – never ask them to say something in front of others just to prove they can. I would even recommend diffusing situations where another adult asks your little ones to say something to show off their language skills. If you are bilingual yourself, you know how annoying it can be when someone asks you to “say something.”

Advent Matters || SheLovesMagazine

We don't get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.

Refugees and Me || D.L. Mayfield

How refugees, more than any people I have ever met, have extended the kindness of Christ to me. But also: how razor thin the margins of survival are. How lonely so many feel. How there are families like this everywhere, everywhere, who just want someone to talk with for a little while, they want to drink tea and share what they know. But we have to be close enough to knock on the doors.

9 Emojis That Look Completely Different On Other Phones || Mental Floss

Subtle emotional messages that in person we might convey by gestures, facial expression, or tone of voice can be conveniently summed up with tiny cartoon faces. But different platforms display the same emoji specification in different ways. You might think you’re saying “This is awkward…” while your friend is getting “I am shocked and appalled!”

Why Random Acts of Kindness Are So Important || Scary Mommy

I cried harder, telling her I would pay it forward. She told me to go take care of my dad and my baby, and that would be paying it forward. Then she hugged me tightly and said, “I love you, and the Lord loves you.”

5 Gifts for World Travelers

Who on your list has wanderlust? Our family loves to travel. My daughter's first year, she visited at least five states and three countries! So we have learned a lot about flying with babies.

But whether the persons on your list are family jetsetters or solo travelers, we've got gift ideas for them! Check out five here:

#1 - Passport Cover

Help your world traveler keep their head on straight with this beautiful, leather passport cover. There's a color for everyone! This is surely a step up from shoving your passport in your back pocket. (Guilty!)

#2 - Wanderlust Print

This Etsy print hangs in our living room, and we get compliments on it all the time. It's a twist on a more traditional world map with a modern design and shout out to our friend Wanderlust. Etsy, of course, has a million lovely options. This is one of our favorites!

#3 - Globe & Maps

You can never go wrong with globes and maps for your world traveler. It's like a "Bucket List in a box" to spin a globe and run your finger along the places you hope to someday visit. A search on Amazon or Etsy can also help you find stunning, unique maps of places your traveler already loves.

#4 - Kids Suitcase

If the world traveler on your list is young, this riding suitcase may be a perfect gift! Help little ones catch their connected flight or zip through the train station when they can jump on their luggage and ride through the terminal.

#5 - Airplane Tickets

This is the Big Daddy gift for world travelers. I didn't even know you could buy gift certificates for airlines! But you can. And those people on your list who are carrying the travel bug will flip when they find one of these gift cards in their stocking!

These are five favorite gifts for world travelers. For more ideas (more than 95, in fact), download my Global Gift Guide for the holiday season. It's packed full of our favorites, as well as reader recommendations. From infants to adults, there's a little something for everyone! Download your free copy below.

To Wait: How French Expresses Waiting [Advent]

Language influences how we perceive or understand concepts. Think, for example, about how you may prefer different translations of the Bible for certain verses because the specific words transform your understanding of the meaning.

For Advent this year, I'm exploring the verb "to wait" in different languages. You can read the first post on Sign Language here. Today I'm talking in French. Oui, s'il vous plait.

I took almost seven years of French. I loved it. The fullness of the language in my mouth. The whimsical notions of a European life. It was a familiar language, and yet uncommon.

Then, I moved to Los Angeles and married a Guatemalan. And I've spent the last nine years trying to forget all the French I know.

It's just similar enough to Spanish to keep me generally confused. Once, while working with a Spanish language tutor, I kept triumphantly announcing vocabulary only to have her tell me no. I was getting frustrated (and more baffled) until I realized I was shouting out the French translations.

But in considering the words of waiting for Advent, I returned my French roots. The verb "to wait" can be translated into French as attendre. You may recognize a word in there: attend.

If you read far enough down in the English definition of wait, you will find a similar explanation related to waiter. Wait can also be defined as waiting on someone, or attending them.

In fact, another way to translate "wait" into French is to use the French verb servir. To serve.

As I wait on the Christ child, what does it mean to attend to him, to serve him?

I feel like this is a question best answered at the source. What does God say?
You shall be richly rewarded, for when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink. I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me. I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me. I tell you this: whenever you saw a brother or sister hungry or cold, whatever you did to the least of these, so you did to Me. (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)
We are living in times when others' hunger and thirst is often characterized as "not my problem." When the sick are told they should tend to their own needs. When it's acceptable to say the prisoner deserves any suffering he experiences, including loneliness or death. When strangers are being turned away in the name of fear.

How do we wait on the Christ child this season?

I'm not talking about donating clothes as we clean our closets in preparation for New Year's. I always want to consider these questions in the context of relationship. If I am attending Jesus and he needs a drink, I don't want to assume someone else will hand him a glass.

My heart for immigration draws me to the words of welcoming the stranger. Who are the new arrivals in our country, our city, our neighborhoods? How do we invite them in this holiday season? How do we make room for them at our tables?

Let us consider how can serve others this Christmas as wait on Christ.

Posts in this year's Advent series:
Week 1: Sign Language
Week 2: French
Week 3: Emojis
Week 4: Spanish

To Wait: How Sign Language Expresses Waiting [Advent]

Advent is one of my favorite times of year. And each year, I write an Advent blog series during December. I'll post past years at the end, if you're interested is reading those reflections. 

This year, I'm focusing on the verb "to wait." Advent is a time of waiting. But how do our languages express waiting? Each week, I'm looking at the verb through the lens of four different languages. 

First up: Sign Language.

My son is almost two and a half. And he's obsessed with squeezy applesauce. (I mean, who isn't?) As we waited in line to order our food at Smashburger (which I'm obsessed with), he noticed a pouch of apple-y goodness on display behind the drinks.

He freaked. He started grunting and whooping like Curious George. He started pleading, "A-ppo Saaahhh!" He was pointing with passionate agitation.

"Yes, I told him. I hear you. We are ordering. You must wait." My fingers instinctively wiggled in the sign we've used with our kids for years.

I have been struck by this sign. It's not how I would instinctively think to communicate "wait" non-verbally. I'd likely choose instead to tap my wrist (remember watches?) or stare into space while tapping my foot.

But my non-verbals communicate impatience, where as the actual sign - though stationary - conveys movement. It's active waiting.

As I reflect on Advent, I wonder what it means to wait actively for the Christ child. Actually, I get a bit excited. Activity is my jam. Let's wait for Christmas actively! Let's go to lights displays! Let's see a live pageant! Let's embark on a daily reading plan!

But there's a difference between "being active" and "being busy." 

I was recently considering a packed Advent calendar of my own creation. I'd come up with a family-friendly Christmas-focused activity for every day from now until Christmas. But honestly, just the idea of writing all that down was making me a little bit tired.

So how do I wait actively without just filling the December calendar full of activity? When I think of active waiting, I think of eagerness, not impatience. What does it mean to be eager for the arrival of God?

For me, it means opening my eyes and looking for Christ's presence in the day-to-day. Am I eager to see God's bursting into the human world? Am I looking for that to happen?

Active waiting also speaks to me of preparation. Am I preparing my heart and mind for Christ's birth? What wrongs am I holding onto and refusing to forgive? What sins need to be confessed? What wounds need to be cleaned and dressed so they can begin to heal?

This eagerness and preparation for Christ can actually be lost is we surround ourselves with busy-ness. A crammed calendar or a daunting list of Christmas to-do's (no matter how fun) can distract us from the activity of waiting.

So my hope this first week of Advent is to pause and wiggle my fingers. To wait with meaningful movement that is ready for the baby to come.

You may be interested in Advent series from past years:
2014: The Journey - a 4-part fictional account of the Christmas Story
2013: Advent Rest (one post only)
2012: Please Come
2011: Expectations
2010: Waiting for a Baby
Posts in this year's Advent series:
Week 1: Sign Language
Week 2: French
Week 3: Emojis
Week 4: Spanish
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.