The Top 10 Posts of 2016

I'm a big fan of year-end favorites lists. There's so much content on the internet, it's hard for any of us to keep up with every post, status update, or newsletter. So I love to see the highlights, and I hope you enjoy these favorite posts from A Life with Subtitles.

The 5 Most Read Posts from this year:

#1 - Do You Live In A Good Neighborhood?

When Donald Trump started talking about all the terrible neighborhoods in our cities, folks who read this article assured me he was not referring to my neighborhood. But that's because of how I describe where I live. I paint a fuller picture. If you just wanted to look at crime rates and graduation rates and property taxes (I pay about $30/year), you'd know my neighborhood is exactly the kind of community most people avoid. But I'd still call it a good neighborhood.

#2 - 5 Reasons You Should Never Listen To Hamilton

Well, we still are. No regrets!

#3 - Stop Licking the Fireball!

This piece is one that resonated with many readers during the election season, and has stayed on my heart and mind as I try to figure out how to stay informed, while also staying active and engaged in the issues that matter to me. I want to know what's going on in Aleppo and with immigrant and refugee communities in our country. But I also know I that some of the hate and vitriol online can paralyze my heart.

#4 - The Ups and Downs of Raising Bilingual Kids

This post almost summarizes every post I've ever written on raising bilingual kids. It amuses me that it mentions New Year's Resolutions as here we stand on the doorstep of another New Year. We've been up and down a bunch even since this post was written!

#5 - When My Kids Insist on Being Generous

We are approached regularly in parking lots by folks asking for money or assistance. There is always a guy or two waiting at our exit ramp holding signs. We have a fella who regularly knocks on our door and asks to rake our leaves. It is an ongoing conversation of how we raise our kids to love well in a hurting world.

The Post Loved Round the World:

#6 - 101 Spanish Shows on Netflix

Okay, I left off one of the real Top 5 from 2016. But that's because it's so closely related to this post, which gets waaaaaay more views every single month than anything else I've ever written in my whole entire life. That's because if you Google "Spanish Cartoons on Netflix" or "Spanish Shows on Netflix," you get me! So lots of folks find their way here for these lists. If that was or is you, nice to meet you!

A Few of My Personal Favorites:

#7 - My Marriage to an Undocumented Immigrant

The opportunity to write for Christianity Today was such a fun part of 2016. (Even if it did mean a lot of strangers decided to tell me how Christians shouldn't love people who broke the law.) I was honored that they allowed me to tell this story about immigration, as well as a piece on visiting immigrants in detention. (Something else Christians apparently aren't supposed to do? I think I'm reading the wrong Bible!)

#8 - 17 Faces Anyone Who's Tried to Learn Spanish Will Immediately Recognize

You know I love any opportunity to make a list of GIFs. Buzzfeed is my jam!

#9 - Why We Need Different Friends Now More Than Ever

If I ever wrote a piece I'd characterize as my mantra, this one is probably it. I think it may ring even more true in 2017.

#10 - My Life As A Copa Wife

This one was just fun to write. And I love all things World Cup Wives. If you love someone who loves soccer, you may just love the World Cup Wives, too!

These are some of the reader favorites and my favorites from this year. I hope you enjoy them, too! What was a favorite post you wrote or read online this year? I'd love to read it!

My 10 Favorite Books in 2016

I do love to read. And I love to share about the books I've read. So without any further ado (and in no particular order), here are 10 of my favorite reads from 2016.

#1 - Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

This mix of comedy and sociology is perfect to talk about dating and romance in the modern age. I learned a lot, and I found so much of his research and perspective thought-provoking. So much relates to how technology has impacted all our relationships, not just romantic ones.

#2 - Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I haven't stopped talking about this book. Set in rural Kentucky and Ohio, Vance unpacks the regional, familial, and class culture of rural white America. It was super eye-opening and helped put into words things I've known or seen but haven't been able to articulate.

#3 - Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle

This book is not new, but I read it for the first time this year. (Actually, I listened to the audio book, which Father Boyle narrates... awesome.) It's simply so good. And inspiring. And heart-warming. And convicting. All the ingredients of a great book.

#4 - Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders by Chris Hoke

Similar to Tattoos, Hoke writes a memoir about his life serving among predominately Latino gang members. But, of course, he has a unique perspective and his beautiful writing is often quite deep and thought-provoking. I definitely recommend!

#5 - Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

I expected to hear about Noah's comedy career and rise to fame, but the subtitle is very true on this one. It's full of stories from his childhood in post-Apartheid South Africa. I learned a lot about South Africa, and Noah writes stunningly about shifting between cultures. One reason I loved the audio book was hearing him switch between languages and accents.

#6 - Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brené Brown

This is a book I will read again. I'd tried to read some of Brown's books in the past, but had struggled to connect. This one, however, clicked with me right away. What probably stuck with me the most is recognizing the stories we tell ourselves, particularly in a situation where we experience pain or rejection.

#7 - Dream Things True: A Novel by Marie Marquardt

A YA novel about a mixed-status couple? Yes, please! This novel follows a high school couple that deals with immigration issues when the boy discovers his girlfriend is undocumented. Marquardt's second novel comes out next month, and I'm super excited!

#8 - In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

Guerrero's story is so heart-breaking and an immigration tale that many have never heard or considered, so I recommend diving into her story. While in high school, she returned home from school to learn her parents had been deported. But she stayed. No one ever checked up on her, and she was a U.S. citizen, so she stayed and finished high school before becoming a Hollywood actress.

#9 - Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book revolutionized my creative life. It made me think so differently about what creativity is and how to cultivate it in a healthy life. It was encouraging without any "follow your dreams" or "live the live you imagine in your mind" kind of stuff, which is not really my cup of tea... mostly because I have bills to pay.

#10 - Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by Lauren Graham

I wasn't going to include this one because it was a total guilty pleasure. But I absolutely loved it! Sometimes you're afraid you won't like the celebrity behind your favorite characters, but Graham was so classy and kind and funny. It was a delightful read. And I loved all her behind-the-scenes of GG, but also her acting and writing career.

Well, there you go! I hope you may enjoy a few of these as we head into the New Year. You can see everything I read in 2016 on Goodreads.

So what was one (or more) of your favorite books this year?

P.S. This post includes affiliate links, so if you purchase through a link, you support A Life with Subtitles. Thank you!

A Christmas with Subtitles

I love the holidays. Hype is my love language, and the month of December is like a sugar-rush on a roller coaster. Whoo hoo! Of course, it can also all be a little nauseating.

If you’re like us, you may be planning both a Noche Buena bash and trying to squeeze in a Christmas Eve service where your children can hold a burning candle high above their heads. Combining traditions across cultures is fun, but also busy.

Over my years of blogging, I’ve written a lot about navigating multicultural holidays and what this experience has taught me about family and faith. Different perspectives have a way of impacting our viewpoint.

So today I’m sharing a few of my favorite Christmas posts over the past few years. I hope you, too, can enjoy a Christmas with subtitles!

How Do You Celebrate Multicultural Holidays?
In this short video, we share how we’ve incorporated traditions from our different backgrounds. Spoiler alert: Billy mocks some of my “adaptations” of Guatemalan festivities. Also, I have no idea why we start out the video so sad, but then we talk about fireworks and everyone is happy.

How To Make Ponche
If you want to be a holiday rock star, boil brown sugar and water together and serve it as a beverage. People will fall at your feet. I seriously get so much affection for this Guatemalan holiday drink, so I’m sharing the easy-peasy recipe with you.

Croweded Christmas: A Nativity Different Than We Imagine?
This is one of my favorite Christmas posts of all time because considering cultural assumptions about this important story blew my mind. I’ve never thought of Christmas the same. This perspective was also the inspiration for my story-based Advent series.

Coming Home with Tamales in Tow
There’s really no such thing as “coming home” for the multicultural family. I feel most aware of this at Christmas. At the same time, this unique perspective helps me sense a special connection to the very baby we celebrate.

7 Bilingual Kid Movies on Netflix [Holiday Edition]
It’s great having the kids home for the holidays, but I’m not going to lie, that often means a little more screen time in our house. If you’re looking to flex their bilingual listening skills or are needing options for Spanish-speaking guests, here’s a quick go-to list!

I hope you are yours are enjoying the holiday season. And if you make that ponche, let me know how your people decided to honor your efforts!

Community Across Divides

"GraceTable is a space for sharing stories about food, faith and how these things connect us to the world beyond our front doors." I just love that, don't you?

I started reading GraceTable earlier this year, and I have appreciated their focus on hospitality. We all need a little more hospitality in our lives!

Many moons ago, I shared a meal at a shelter for U.S. deportees in Tijuana. I have never forgotten that experience, and I think often of those men - and the scores of other immigrants separated from their families. In this guest post, I offer some thoughts and practical suggestions for opening our homes and tables and inviting newcomers to our country into our lives. 

95+ Global Gifts for Anyone and Everyone

If you're busy making your list and checking it twice, you may be looking for the perfect multicultural gift for the global citizens in your life.

With the help of readers and friends, I put together this Global Gift Guide with over ninety-five ideas, including:

     * Unique, bilingual clothing for kids
     * Experience-based gifts for culture lovers
     * Fun, global prints for the home
     * Diverse books for young readers to adults
     * and more!

To get your free copy of the Global Gift Guide, sign up below!

When My Kids Insist On Being Generous

My daughter’s class made care packages during the holidays last year. I’d received the email requesting a $3 donation, so I knew they were putting together bags of snacks, water, and basic toiletries. I also knew the next step was that I would help her give this bag to someone.

It was interesting to hear my 4-year old explain the project. She described the bags they’d made for “people who didn’t have those things” or “for lonely people.” She consistently referred to the tote of goodies as her “kindness bag.” I appreciated her teachers’ attempts to discuss this complex topic with a room full of question asking preschoolers. 

Our family has lived in a poor neighborhood my daughter’s entire life, and we have been involved in urban ministry and community development along the way. Still, her enthusiastic desire to “go find a lonely person” was challenging. For the obvious reason that it’s uncomfortable to walk up to a stranger and hand her a bag of toiletries and snacks. But also because we wanted to be very careful we would not sacrifice the dignity of another person in order to educate our own child. 

The truth is, I hoped my daughter would forget all about the kindness bag. But the mind of a four year old can be remarkably fixated. So, one chilly evening in December, we piled into our car with the sole purpose of finding someone in need of snacks and lotion. 

In the mix of cleaning up dinner and zipping coats, my husband and I had quickly hashed out three guidelines in hopes this exchange could be positive for all involved. Here’s what we came up with:

1. We wanted to give appropriate items.

Before we left, I opened the bag. It held a lot of miniature lotions, a bottle of water, pretzels with cheese, four shower caps, and other items. I plucked out most of the shower caps and a package of dental gauze. And we added more food items from our own snack stash. (With two young kids, snacks are our lifeblood.)

2. We wanted to foster a relational exchange.

It was important to my husband that we not pass the bag out of a car window. So we drove to places in our neighborhood where people are often asking for help. When we saw a couple folks at the freeway exit ramp, we parked and walked to meet them. We also prepared our daughter to introduce herself and ask others for their names.

3. We wanted to leave space for others to say no.

I’ve witnessed “aggressive givers.” There can be an attitude that suggests whatever and however I want to give is better than nothing, so others should accept it and be grateful. While my daughter really wanted to give away her kindness bag, I wanted her to know it’s not all about her. (An ironic lesson we must learn in generosity, no?) We helped her share that her class had made this bag of snacks and things and then to ask the man if he would like it. We left room for him to say no.

So how did it go? Well, the trio of adults by the exit ramp started by asking if we were okay. Then, one of the men held up a cardboard sign to us, so my daughter introduced herself and asked his name. He offered a fake one, which was was obvious by the laughter coming from the others.

The woman leaned over to me and asked what she was selling. I explained that my daughter’s class had put together a bag of items to share. “Ah, for the homeless,” she said while nodding knowingly.

“Sergio” handed my daughter a dollar (he must have also thought she was selling things) and accepted the bag. Then, the woman and my husband recognized each other from years ago when my husband managed a local thrift store. They exchanged pleasantries before she asked him for .75. Since he was still holding Sergio’s dollar, it was an obvious - if amusing - offering.

We said our good-byes and headed back towards our parked car a block away. As we jogged across the exit ramp, my daughter held my husband’s hand in front of me. She turned her head and shouted, “I’m happy!”

Of course, my mama heart was full. But it was also conflicted.

I found myself thinking about the woman’s comment: “Ah, for the homeless.” The men and woman we met were smart. They knew our outing was a lesson in giving for our daughter. In fact, they may have shared their own care packages when they were children.

I wrestled with familiar questions: Are we really helping? Are we being kind? How do we teach our children to share? How do I foster on-going, age-appropriate conversations on poverty and generosity?

I’m always interested to hear how other parents are teaching their kids about generosity while also affirming the dignity of those around them. We are still learning. At the end of the day, my hope is that we shared a moment with our neighbors and our children that affirmed we are all part of a community that includes folks without a place to stay and preschoolers with too many shower caps. And I hope that in the process, the people we met were happy, too.

Why Emily Gilmore & I Need Body Shipping Cash

Oh how I've loved the Gilmore Girls. Well, actually, I used to not like them at all. The first few times I saw that show I was like absolutely not. But then something clicked, and I fell in love.

So I was all up in that bandwagon for the reboot on Netflix this Thanksgiving. In fact, my mom and sister and I had the fun chance to binge watch and snack together while our our menfolk gifted us a day of childcare. And my girlfriend gave me this perfect shirt for the occasion.

Overall, I'm still not sure how I felt about revival of the double G. I hate to say I was disappointed, but maybe I was a little. I still loved Lorelai, and I am getting a kick out of reading Lauren Graham's memoir right now. But grown up Rory was not my fave, and Sookie was noticeably absent for me in certain places. Emily stole the show, I think, and her journey into widowhood was probably my favorite storyline.

One of my favorite exchanges between Emily and Lorelai involves Emily telling Lorelai she wants to go to Washington State to die because "they let you do that there." But, she tells Lorelai, she'll need to ship her body back to be buried. However, she's discovered that this practice is incredibly expensive. So, she announces, there is an envelope labeled "Body Shipping Cash" in the drawer for this purpose.

Is it weird to say that this conversation felt familiar? First, let me explain. I had a brief moment in time where I was kind of a "will-pusher." Basically, I was obsessed with getting everyone I knew to create their Last Will and Testament. 

People love being pressed on this issue, by the way. If you ever find yourself in a conversational lull, just ask if they've drawn up a will!

I also began pressuring Billy to share with me his final wishes. To say he hated me peppering him with these questions would be an understatement. But I felt like I should know. Then he announced he expected be buried in Guatemala... near his family. Oh.

Hmmm... so are we going to be buried together? And if so... in what country? The thought that I might spend the afterlife in Central America had never occurred to me. At the same time, it seems only fair if we live our lives here in the States.

Conversations of this somber nature can quickly turn silly. And soon Billy was instructing me to cremate him and sprinkle his ashes over Israel. Oh for the love. I actually do not have an envelope of body shipping cash laying around. 

For those of us with our hearts in many places, the question of home may follow us until even our final moments. It's something I had never really considered before.  

Living across cultures, making different choices than where we came from. These small decisions throughout our days add up to a life that constantly looks a little different and doesn't easily fit into any box. (Even a coffin.) 

Of course, conversations about our final days make all of us a little squirmy. I am in that same camp. I don't relish talking about wills and burials and all that jazz. That's why I like to hash it all out in one outlandish exchange that involves a lot of exaggerated humor. Thank you, Gilmore Girls, for always showing us how that's done! 

I Married an Undocumented Immigrant

Talk about immigration continues to swirl in the news. The need for sensible, comprehensive reform remains. And broken policies and tone deaf rhetoric impact immigrants across the country.

We are family that has walked through the immigration system, and we continue to share what we experienced and what we learned along the way. Our hope is that others might come alongside immigrant neighbors and participate in community that values and welcomes the stranger.

Today, I'm sharing a few things I learned about the immigration system while Billy and I were dating. I was also transformed by the experience of compassion as defined by Henri Nouwen. It's a privilege to write about these lessons that have stayed with me ever since. I hope you'll click over and read!

Here's a short preview:

I knew very little about immigration when I met my husband. I’d grown up in the Bible Belt South, and it always seemed like a faraway issue that didn’t really affect me. I had general ideas that sneaking across the border wasn’t a good idea. But mostly I liked exploring cultures and thought legal immigration was beneficial. When asked about the topic in a job interview, I summed up my stance this way: “I don’t really know much about it. But if I had to choose between a closed border or an open border, I’d lean toward more open.” That was the extent of my immigration knowledge.

When I started dating Billy, who is from Guatemala, he made two confessions early on. One, he had come to the States to participate in an international singing contest and had been the lead singer in a hardcore Spanish, Christian rock band. And two, though he had entered the country legally and via airplane, he had overstayed his visa and was now an undocumented immigrant. He also informed me that his only pathway to legal status was to marry a U.S. citizen. If you think that’s an awkward conversation to have in the first months of dating, well, you’d be exactly right.

How This Election Is Taking Me Back To Basics

My daughter came home from kindergarten talking about the mock election held at school that day. I noted her "I voted" sticker displayed proudly on her uniform.

We haven't discussed the election with her really at all, so I was curious her take on it. "Who did you vote for?" I asked.

"I can't remember her name," she mused. And I smiled. She has no idea the use of a feminine pronounce gives away her ballot choice.

Even amidst all the chaos (and regardless of any opinions), it is not lost on me that my daughter is growing up at a time when a woman is running for President. It is still a fact that stirs my emotions and blows my mind a little. I wasn't sure I'd see it in my lifetime.

My daughter also doesn't know there was a time when women weren't even allowed to vote. Seeing my gender represented in the presidential race has made me think about this progression several times this past year.

First Time Voting Is A Valuable Reminder

In another area of election firsts, 2016 is Billy's first time voting in a national election. He became a citizen in 2013, so this race - again, amidst chaos and regardless of opinions - has been special for us. (We tried out Facebook Live for the first time to chat about this the other night. You can click here to watch it. And yes, we're sideways for the first couple minutes because technology.)

I've been thinking about all those who have opportunity to vote in this election thanks to hard fought battles in our country's history. I'm also thinking about those who are impacted by our government, but cannot participate: children, undocumented immigrants, legal permanent residents (green card holders), citizens with felony convictions, refugees that have not gained citizenship, and probably more folks I'm not aware of.

It is such a privilege and responsibility to participate in democracy. A perspective that feels a bit lost amidst all the chaos and opinions. But for me, this election has pushed me back to recognizing and appreciating these basics. I have not been inspired by our country in the past months (years???) of this campaign. But I am deeply connected to the privilege and responsibility of voting.

The Unsung Power of Day-To-Day Civic Engagement 

And I'm also reminded how active engagement in democracy is more than one day every four years, and often hits much closer to home than Washington D.C. I saw this in action recently in our own community.

The Atlanta Beltline is a massive city project and "among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment programs currently underway in the United States." It's a really cool development creating a network of parks, walking and biking trails, and light rail circling downtown.

My neighborhood is right along its path. However, in the initial plans for development, there was not a planned access point for our community. We live in a neighborhood that is traditionally overlooked, so it's not all that surprising, though I wish that weren't the case.

But here's the thing. My community is super engaged. We coordinated email campaigns and let them know we are here. Our local coffee shop offered to host the next planning meeting, which organizers described as their highest attendance of all time. We showed up and we spoke up.

Current designs now include an access point from the Beltline to our neighborhood. Planners said they "heard the most noise" from our community. Yeah, they did. And while we know we will need to continue to show up to stay included, I am encouraged to see how committed neighbors can make a difference.

Here We Go!

So my encouragement to you this election week is to go back to basics and keep perspective. It is a privilege to vote, if you are able. So vote. And it is a responsibility. Consider those whose voices are absent from our voting process.

And don't let November 8th be the end all be all of your civic engagement. Stay involved on local and national levels, advocating for your community, your family, and the marginalized.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. 
- Margaret Mead

Why We Can't Dismiss The Little Differences

In your day-to-day life, who is seeing everything from a different cultural lens? 

I have often shared little differences between my husband Billy and me that impact our day-to-day. Many are influenced by the fact we are from different places and backgrounds. We can't distinguish between lemons and limes. We have disparate ideas about how to greet people. We even confuse each other when saying "next year." 

Minor hiccups that stem from our cultural differences.

This week, we had the opportunity to share at Gabriella's school about our identities and navigating life together. I told a story I've shared here before of a time when we were hosting a party. 

I sent Billy to the store to buy chips while I continued setting up for our guests. When he returned, I eagerly reached for the chips, but my triumph quickly changed to disappointment when I saw what he'd purchased. 

"Awh, man," I said, holding up my ranch dip. 

"What?" Billy asked. "Why do you have that? Where's the salsa?"

"I asked you to get chips, not tortilla chips!"

"Wait. What did you want?" he asked before nodding. "Oh, but you asked for chips, not potato chips!"

I love this story because I feel like it so clearly illustrates the general state of our marriage and of many cross-cultural friendships. Our assumptions are often in question, and we work together with a lot of grace and humor to figure out how to eat carbs and party together. 

Sometimes people try to tell me that these examples are not a big deal or that people put too much focus on culture. I will agree that a lively debate about whether limes are unripe lemons is not the intercultural communication wizarding of the U.N.. But I believe it still holds value.

This quote in a New York Times article, "Foreign Spouse, Happy Life," sums it up nicely: 
Anyone who risks a life with someone outside of his in-group — not only across lines of nationality, but also those of religion, race and class — becomes a participant, whether he knows it or not, in a global experiment in developing empathy. The awareness and negotiation of small differences add up to a larger understanding about the complexities of the world.
We are all working to navigate our global world. And as my muse Daniel Tiger says, "Keep trying. You'll get be-e-tter!" Figuring out what kind of chips our partner is requesting is practice for future cross-cultural interactions. 

We learn to ask questions. We learn to be more specific. We learn to be flexible, roll with the punches, and keep a strong sense of humor.

All these little differences are helping us build up our cross-cultural muscles. And that's important. Because sometimes conversations on multiculturalism or diversity can feel overwhelming, especially if you've spent much of your life in a monocultural environment.

But starting with friendships and working out all the quirky ways culture pops up is not to be dismissed. This practice helps us get more comfortable and more confident and will lead us to greater risks and wider hospitality. And when it's time for that big, multicultural party, we'll be sure to offer a wide variety of chips!

Where do you see these moments of practice in your life?

Stop Licking the Fireball!

My three-year old sat on the steps, licking a Fireball. And sobbing.

I love the fiery, hot red candies, and I've gotten my daughter hooked on them, too. However, Atomic Fireballs have become a bit of an issue in our house as of late.

Gabriella begs for one, then takes about two hours to carry the bleeding candy around the house, smearing red onto non-red things and occasionally tasting it and over reacting in her need for water. However, she seems to mostly enjoy the experience.

My son. Not so much. There he is, licking and crying. "It's so spicy!" he sobs. And there I am, begging him to stop eating it.

Oh, kids. They make me laugh. But I also see myself in the foolishness. For me, this election has felt like the equivalent of licking a fireball and sobbing. Anytime I watch the news or scroll Facebook, I'm left crying on the steps, wailing, "It's so spicy!" Then I go back for more.

Last weekend, we spent our Fall Break at the lake thanks to the generosity of some friends. It was hands down the most relaxing time our family has ever spent together. Books and cuddles on the porch. Swimming and learning to kayak. (Long live the South and your warm-enough-to-swim Octobers!) Headlamps and nighttime explorations. And an adult coloring book that soothed everyone from ages 3 to grown up.

I was reminded how much I need breathing room, especially in this ugly political season. And how intentional we must be sometimes to create that space in our busy, noisy day-to-day.

And when it comes to politics and all the hatefulness that has been expressed, I need to stop licking the fireball.

To be clear, I'm not advocating burying one's head in the sand. I value democracy, and I think we should seek to become informed voters. But I will admit that much of what I read on the Internet (or God forbid, the comments section) goes beyond what I need to know to vote. It's a slippery rabbit hole. And some of it was never intended to inform anyway.

Whatever is cluttering your mind and heart these days - whether the election or something else - consider ways you may be inviting that spicy burn over and over when you really don't need to. We cannot avoid our individual problems or our societal challenges, but we can acknowledge when we need space to disconnect from the constant bombarding of that which pains us.

And as far as the next month is concerned, may we be intentional about stepping back when we need to. May we guard our hearts and pay attention to what is flowing from them (Proverbs 4:23). And may we offer prayers - not for our political agendas to be achieved - but for how we may act and engage in a world that has revealed how much it is hurting.

17 Faces Anyone Who’s Tried To Learn Spanish Will Immediately Recognize

There's nothing quite so daunting or exhilarating than trying to learn a second language. You're never quite sure what you're saying. You could be on the mark or incredibly offensive. Of course, even if someone tries to let you know, you may not understand them!

I have put together some of my favorite GIFs detailing the emotional rollercoaster of speaking Spanish. It includes gems like this:

I'm also excited because I decided to publish my post on Buzzfeed, the mother ship for GIF-related posts. The way Buzzfeed works is you can post "community posts" and if they get enough traction, Buzzfeed will decide to feature it. 

So I'd love for you to check out the post on Buzzfeed and if you like it, please share it! Thanks so much!

When A Third Language Is Like A Slap In the Face

My daughter is learning Chinese. Every day at school, she spends one hour singing songs, playing games, and learning vocabulary. I sat in on her class one day, and it was incredible. I watched her raise her little hand and gleefully translate from Mandarin to English. And I was blown away.

And then I was like, what on earth?

We've been trying to get our kids to speak Spanish since birth. And they rarely do. But now, I hear myself hollering, "Stop fighting about Chinese!" from the front seat of the car while the two of them bicker about make believe dialogues Gabriella has created in the back.

I feel a weird mix of utter amazement that my kid is learning three languages, and how proud of her I am, and how wildly awesome the human brain is. But I also feel frustrated, and just a touch like I've been slapped in the face.

Why can't my kids be arguing in or about Spanish? (Bigger question: Why can't they just stop arguing altogether... or at least for six consecutive minutes?) But why does Spanish so often feel like a chore or a fight when Gabriella will eagerly sing me Mandarin songs or watch YouTube videos from class next to me on the couch?

So I had to step back and really think. And I actually have a few ideas why she's more engaged in her Chinese language learning. And thinking through these 5 reasons has also given me some fresh thought about how to re-engage her in Spanish once again.

#1 Technique

Often, the ways we're using Spanish is functional. We practice how to ask abuelita for breakfast when she's babysitting or how to talk about the day on video chat. Chinese, on the other hand, is fun. It's silly songs and robot bodies with Hello Kitty heads.

Check out this list of 101 Spanish Shows on Netflix and let the bilingual binging begin!

#2 - Expertise

In our house, Gabriella is the Chinese master. Billy (and to a lesser extent, me) is trying to learn along with her, and he's constantly asking her questions. She's already miles ahead of us all. Compare that feeling with the frustration she experiences when she tries to understand Billy in Spanish or attempts to communicate, but can't find the words?

#3 - Community

We know other bilingual English and Spanish kids. But every day at school, she gets to practice Chinese with twenty-two of her favorite classmates. Social motivation is huge for Gabriella, and she loves being along for the ride with all her péngyǒu (friends).

#4 - Culture

Gabriella recently asked if we could go to a Chinese restaurant and eat Chinese food. She's learning about culture at school, and she's fascinated. I've always been intentional to include Guatemalan and Latin American culture in our life and home, but I forget that, to her, American-Guatemalan cultural heritage is "normal." So she wants to explore something new, which is fun and interesting.

#5 - Consistency

Oh, language learning consistency. And as much as we try, we are simply not consistent with Spanish. Which means Gabriella gets excited for a minute ("We're going to always speak Spanish at dinner!), but then interest wanes when we get out of practice. And it prevents her from advancing as we're always starting back at the beginning, it feels.

Where do we go from here?

I'm thrilled Gabriella is learning a third language. But I do worry it will eclipse her Spanish skills in the long run. And while there's not much good that can come from fretting about that, I can learn from her incredible Chinese teachers and consider how we can reignite her interest in Spanish.

How can we make it more fun? Where can we help her achieve a sense of accomplishment? How can we incorporate community into the learning experience? Are there new ways we can engage culture? And can we develop more consistency to help her grow? (I already have an idea the answer to that last one, but we'll keep trying!)

Do We Need To Be Rescued from the Life We Always Wanted? {Giveaway}

It has been book palooza around here lately. I've been so excited to share with you about Embrace and Assimilate or Go Home, and now I get to add a final gem to this fall's trifecta of awesome! This week, my friend Shannan releases her first book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted.

I met Shannan at the Festival of Faith and Writing, where we were housemates and stayed up late eating ice cream and sharing stories about living in unconventional places and loving across cultures. I asked her three questions about her writing and her new book, and I hope you enjoy "meeting" her as much as I did. For extra delight, I'm sharing a free copy of her book to one lucky reader at the end!

Q: Can you introduce yourself to readers who've not visited your blog?

Absolutely! I'm Shannan Martin, wife to my jail chaplain husband, Cory, and mom to four quirky kids. I blogged for almost eight years as Flower Patch Farmgirl, and now I'm just regular ol' me, living life and writing it down. Five years ago, God thrust my family into the adventure of a lifetime, in which our safe, cozy, pretty, American Dream life was turned upside-down.

As you can imagine, it's a very long story... In short, we sold our dream farmhouse, moved to a shabby neighborhood in a nearby city, transitioned out of "impressive" jobs in federal politics, and found our faith come alive on the wrong side of the tracks, where we see God's goodness more clearly than we ever had before. Jesus chose low places, and we are discovering the thrill of doing the same. 

But it requires the ache and burn of surrender, which so far hasn't become second-nature. We're still us, wearing different lenses. We couldn't have imagined how beautiful and simultaneously unsettling and difficult life would become when we began to walk toward the pain around us rather than away from it. But I can look you in the eye end promise - I'd never go back.

Q: You are mama in a multicultural family and your family lives cross-culturally as well. How has living across cultures impacted your worldview? 

All four of our kiddos, ranging in age from 8 to 22, came into our hearts through the complicated, breathtaking gift of adoption. Each of their races and stories are beautifully unique. We began our adoption road after we faced unexplained infertility, but I now see that God was preparing us for something so much bigger than just the immediate building of our family. (Of course he was!) 

I know now that as my heart opened to the belief that families are built outside of biology or genetics, I was learning deep truths that would carry me through the changes headed my way. It helped me understand that my kids aren't actually "mine," and that we are all better when, as Mother Theresa said, we draw a wider circle around family. 

Over the years, our family has unofficially "adopted" many others into our homes and hearts, and we truly are better together. I'm extremely honored to have a window into the greatness of God and his compassion and love in creating a world rich with differences. 

I love learning about the birth cultures of our kiddos. I love celebrating with them. I love the way it has allowed me to more clearly see the cultural differences of our new community as something to truly cheer about. Diversity is the MAGIC! 

On the flip-side, having a twenty-two year old African American son with a heartbreaking history has split me open to the pain of racism flooding our cities and streets. We cannot love what we cannot know, and quite honestly, part of my "knowing" came quite easily to me through the love of my children. But I cannot encourage people enough to build friendships outside your race/socioeconomic status/religious tradition/political belief. It's the only way to begin to grow together.

Q: What is your hope for Falling Free? What do you hope readers take away? 

My deepest hope is that those who read will walk away with a more luminous sense of how freeing it can be to lose oneself for the sake of God's kingdom. We get to be less. 

We are invited into the cozy comfort of being smaller, of having less, of not being in control all the flipping time. We get to think outside the traditional box when it comes to how we view community, parenting, and even (especially?) church. 

Everyone's story looks a bit different, by God's brilliant, perfect design. In Falling Free I'm sharing my story. But I believe deep in my bones that God has written stories for each of us that we cannot begin to imagine. The first step toward living those stories is opening our fist around the things we cling to, and beginning to really trust that we were never meant to be in charge. THAT, my friends, is freedom.

My copy of Falling Free is on the way, and I can't wait to dive into Shannan's beautiful words, wise insights, and genuine humor. It releases tomorrow, September 20. To win a copy, enter the raffle below!

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I Saw Jesus in Detention

A few months ago, Billy and I organized a group from our church to visit men at Stewart Detention Center in south Georgia. It's the biggest immigrant detention center on the East Coast, and it is run by the private prison group CCA (Corrections Corporation of America).

Our visit came a couple weeks after our church had mailed Father's Day cards with the hope of encouraging and remembering those separated from their families. It's difficult to find appropriate greeting cards in such painful circumstances.

Through these experiences and our church partnership with El Refugio ministry, I've learned a lot about immigrant detention over the last few months. In light of the federal government's declaration to reduce private prison contracts (but not privatized immigration detention centers), I wrote a piece called "I Saw Jesus in Detention" being featured on Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog:

A few months ago in the early morning, I joined a group from my Atlanta-based church on a two-and-a-half-hour drive down I-85 South to the Stewart Detention Center, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country. Some of the immigrants detained in the facility had requested visitors, and so our church responded. I tried to imagine—who would be so lonely as to ask a stranger to meet with him? Someone living in a very isolated place. Stewart is located in Lumpkin, Georgia, a rural town near the border of Alabama. Many of the center’s residents have been transferred from other states—some as far away as California—and as a result are cut off from family, legal representation, and support networks.

When our congregation asked about the purpose of our trip to Stewart, we relied on Christ’s invitation in Matthew 25:36: “I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Of course, this wasn’t prison exactly. It was immigration detention. Maybe that’s why, when we arrived, I was unprepared for the distinctly prison-like look of the facility.

P.S. In case you missed it, I also wrote for Her.meneutics in June, a piece entitled "My Marriage to an Undocumented Immigrant." You can read it here.  

That One Thing We Need To End Poverty

"Now, if you could boil your experience down," he began, inching closer to me in his metal folding chair, "and name the one thing that would make a difference in your neighborhood, what would it be?"

He was referring to my year in Atlanta with Mission Year. I  had lived in a marginally maintained shotgun house in a poor community. I had taken the bus anywhere I needed to go. And I'd lived off a $70/month stipend while I volunteered at a local middle school. Now, I had come home, was preparing to return to college for my sophomore year, and was still trying to figure out how to answer the haunting, post-missions question, "How was it?" Now there was this.

How would I solve poverty? And with only one arrow in my quiver?

I hemmed. I hawed. I mumbled something about resources. I looked away, confused and discouraged at my own lack of a solid solution. I remember he caught my eye and said, "Money? That's the answer?"


I probably remember that question a couple times a year. Over a decade of studying poverty and living in poor communities, and I still wrestle with answers. And sometimes I feel angry. Like seriously, what is it? What is that one thing?

Last week, my friend Leroy Barber released his latest book, Embrace: God's Radical Shalom for a Divided World. As I tearfully watched the book's trailer, I thought about that question again.

The answer is relationships. Community.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to me. Shane Claiborne says it well in Irresistible Revolution, "I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”

Issues are huge and overwhelming and intimidating to tackle: poverty, mass incarceration, immigration, education, health care. But when people reach out across divides to interact in truly authentic and genuine relationships, the conversations are different.

I was especially moved as Leroy described how the people of Israel were being called to seek good for the people who destroyed them. God the Restorer is relational and always invites us into community.

I can honestly say in my own life that I have rarely been moved to action by statistics, Facebook arguments, or political rhetoric. But my passion for change, reconciliation, and justice has stemmed from hearing stories on front porches, watching the day-to-day lives of my neighbors, and listening to the hurts of people I love. Relationships inspire change. They move the needle.

The message of Leroy's book resonates so deeply in my own heart. And a fun little side note for ya, I have an essay in the book, talking about cross-cultural marriage. Because there's not a more fun way to reach across a cultural divide than to just marry into the family, right?

Enjoy the trailer here, and you can order your own copy of Embrace here on Amazon.

How have relationships across divides impacted you? 

Can We Offer Rest To Weary Immigrants?

If you drive two hours south of Atlanta, you can find a small town called Lumpkin. It's a rural, south Georgia community with few amenities and one giant immigration detention center.

A few months ago, Billy and I drove down with volunteers from our church to visit with men being held in the facility. These detainees had requested visitors through a ministry of hospitality called El Refugio, the refuge.

We had no agenda. Just a simple response to the call to "remember those in prison as if you were there yourself" (Hebrews 13:3). I hope if I asked to be visited, someone would come.

As you might expect, the conversations that transpired ministered as much to our group as I hope we offered the men with whom we spoke. It was a powerful experience.

Since that visit, I've been doing research related to immigration detention for a couple of articles I'm writing. The world of privatized immigration detention (a cash cow for several prison corporations and not included in this week's declaration of soon-to-be-ending contracts) can be an icky place. How do you increase profits when your income is based on other's suffering?

In the midst of pain and injustice, El Refugio stands out in their commitment to care well for detainees and their families. One of their chief ministries is their hospitality house. Down the street from the detention center, it offers a place of rest and refuge for families who have traveled to visit loved ones. Food and accommodations are provided free of charge to these families.

Recently, I received an email that El Refugio has a need to replace mattresses in this house. And they've asked for help. I wanted to share about this ministry here on the blog because I know many of you have a heart for immigrants. This ministry is a tangible way to come alongside families walking the lonely journey of immigration detention. If you'd like to support their work, please click here to give.

I can't wait to share more with you about what I've learned and experienced in the world of immigration detention. May we all continue to pray for justice and reform for our immigrant neighbors.

How Life Got Flipped - Turned Upside Down

One of the best things in the world? Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Even better? Getting books in the mail! 

Today I received my pre-ordered copy of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield. I am so excited to jump into this collection of essays on how life got flipped, turned upside down. And I'm even more pumped to introduce you to the author in today's interview. Read on, friends!

Q: Can you share how you got involved in refugee communities?

So from a young age, I always wanted to be a missionary in a far-away country, to do good things for God, and change the world. When I was 19 and attending Bible college in Portland, Oregon, I started volunteering with recently arrived Somali Bantu refugees from with the intention to practice my missionary skills on them. 

It quickly became clear that I would not be converting them anytime soon due to language barriers and the extreme challenges they faced when navigating every-day life in America. I got sucked into their community, both because of the magnitude of need they were experiencing, but also because I was entranced by their culture and community and the ways they revealed America to me.

Eventually, because of my years of relationship with them, I began to question the easy narratives I always had about my country, my culture, and my religion. Though I never ended up converting any of my friends, my own relationship with God was revealed to me (and ultimately strengthened).

Q: I'd love to hear some background about the title of the book and what it means to you?

When I first met my refugee friends, it was clear that one thing we had in common was that none us fit into a secular, individualistic Western world. As someone who wanted to be a missionary, I had long struggled with religious fanaticism--desperate to please God and to be of some use in the world. My friends were both ethnic outsiders and also religious outsiders in a country that is kind to neither. 

It seemed like everywhere we went we were being asked to tone it down or change who we fundamentally were in order to fit in--to assimilate or go home. The tragedy for refugees, however, is they are people for whom their home was lost to them, and it will never be recovered. 

From my friendships with refugees, they taught me how to move forward in a world that doesn’t seem to have a place for you, and I will forever be grateful for that.

Q: Your book write up includes the sentence, "The more I failed to communicate the love of God to my refugee friends, the more I experienced it for myself." Can you offer an example of where you saw God's love at work?

Living and working within refugee communities for the past decade has opened my eyes to the realities people on the margins of American culture experience. There is so much pain and suffering in the world, and I have heard so many stories from my friends. 

Eventually, I had to grapple with inequality and injustice and my own privileged place in the world, which brought me into conflict with God. I had to ask all my questions, to get out all of my despair, and I had to fail miserably at the one thing I thought I could do (convert others) in order to get to an authentic place in my relationship with God. 

Ultimately, I realized that there is so much work to be done in the world in order to see the upside-down kingdom come, but it doesn’t make God love you any more. You already are known and seen and loved, just as you are.

Q: We hear talk of the "refugee crisis" and the challenge of immigrants coming to this country. What's one thing you wish people knew about refugees settling in the U.S. for a new life?

Refugees are distinct from immigrants in that they cannot return to their home and their country, no matter how much they would like to. They have been forcibly displaced by trauma and are struggling to come to terms with their new normal. 

While the global refugee crisis can feel overwhelming, I encourage everyone to seek out already resettled refugees in your neighborhood, city, or state. The biggest need refugees have (and honestly, I think this applies for most American families too) is that they are extremely culturally isolated. They need friends! 

Many of my refugee friends and neighbors come from cultures where community and hospitality is the norm, and yet most of them have never been invited inside the home of an American. This is an easy way to make a difference! Contact your local refugee resettlement agency (I recommend World Relief, Catholic Charities, and Lutheran Family Services) and ask for ways you can serve the families on a long-term basis.

So I'm diving into my copy of Assimilate or Go Home. Want to join me? Get yours here!

5 Reasons You Should Never Listen to Hamilton

Image credit: Rollingstone.com

Everybody was talking about Hamilton. It kept popping up in my newsfeed, and everyone was bugging out. I was like, what on earth is happening? A musical about the founding fathers? Not sure that's in my swing zone.

I have a quasi-strict "no chain mail" rule for watching movies, but tights and powder wigs runs a close second. So like most popular culture trends, I simply ignored it until I randomly encountered it on my own.

I'm not exactly sure what happened. But I was headed on a three-hour solo drive to meet my parents and pick up my children, so I downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack to my tablet and thought, "Maybe I'll check this out on the drive."

It. was. captivating.

I knew literally nothing about the show, so I was taken aback by the pop/rap/hip hop sound of the musical. I kept thinking, "I've never heard white people sing like this!" I mean, these are white people, right?


"The reason 'Hamilton' works is because there is no distance between that story that happened 200-some-odd years ago and now, because it looks like America now," says writer and creator Lin-Manual Miranda. "It helps create a connection that wouldn't have been there if it was twenty white guys on stage."

I couldn't stop listening on that road trip. I had to find out what happened. Even though it's history (and maybe I should know?), I was drawn into the story of ambition, betrayal, and passion. And the music is simply exquisite.

Still, with all this wonderful-ness, there are some real drawbacks. Here's 5 reasons you should never even approach the soundtrack to Hamilton.

#1. You will feel like a terrible parent.

I let my kids listen to a few songs. Huge mistake. They are obsessed. My five year old daughter came to breakfast saying, "I just can't stop thinking about the name Alexander Hamilton." And my three-year old son requests it every single time we get in the car. He also giggles anytime they mention Peggy.

But this is not a toddler-friendly soundtrack, folks. I did find this "clean" version on Amazon Prime, but clearly my definition of clean is different than others'. It's no Kids Bop.

I'm working to ween them off of it and have even introduced other musicals to no avail. So I spend a lot of driving time suddenly lowering the volume and asking my kids, "Did you see that? Oh, you missed it." They probably think I have a disorder.

#2. You will wear out your Googling fingers.

Once the final note had been sung, I needed to know everything there was to know about this historical story and the musical version. My Google search history is like a show program: Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton musical.

One incredible interview - and the first place I started - is this one on CBS News Sunday Morning. And then, of course, one must watch Carpool Karaoke.

#3. You may feel worse (and also a little better?) about the upcoming election.

Digging into history is an eye-opening experience. Alexander Hamilton had deeply significant influence on the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Federalist Papers, which are still used to interpret it. So it's interesting to get to know him better.

And I wouldn't say the musical glorifies nor vilifies the founding fathers. Rather, it paints a more complex picture that shows a mix of civic responsibility and personal ambition, democratic process and backroom deal making, honor and scandal. Sound familiar?

I guess we can be glad dueling is not as popular as it once was?

#4. You will question whether you have a creative bone in your body.

Hamilton feels flawless. The story is so compelling and tightly written and the music gives you goosebumps. Not to mention, the way Miranda weaves narrative and musical themes throughout is stunning.

As someone who likes to write, I was like, "Welp. That was amazing. I will never write again." But actually, the more I've read about Miranda, the more I recognize the hard work he's invested in his craft to get to where he is, which is actually encouraging.

I love when he says, "Making words rhyme for a living is one of the great joys of my life. That's a superpower I've been very conscious of developing. I started at the same level as everybody else, and then I just listened to more music and talked to myself until it was an actual superpower I could pull out on special occasions."

#5. You will find yourself lovingly gazing at $10 bills.

Recently, I was responsible for counting up a wad of bills from a fundraiser. Suddenly, I realized I was just sitting and staring at my new BFF A. Ham. If someone had walked in the room in that moment, it would've been awkward.

But he and I have spent a lot of time together this summer. And I've thoroughly enjoyed it. If you're considering listening for the first time, I hope you enjoy it, too. But if things unravel, I did warn you. 

Are you a Broadway person? Have you listened to Hamilton? What's one of your favorite Broadway shows? (Bonus points if you say Newsies!)  

101 Spanish Shows on Netflix

Whether you're trying to learn Spanish or living in a bilingual household, watching TV in Spanish can be a big language boost. It can help you learn to listen to Spanish at a real-life, everyday pace and introduce you to new vocabulary and slang.

We are raising bilingual(-ish) kids, and that's what got me first looking into Spanish cartoons on Netflix. It turned out to be a bit more tricky than I anticipated to locate which shows had Spanish audio available.

Then, my mother-in-law came to visit from Guatemala, and she, too, wanted to watch shows in Spanish. But she wasn't as interested in my list of cartoons. Finally, I thought, "This is a ridiculous. I need a big, bad list of all the shows in Spanish on Netflix!"

So I made one.

Well, maybe not all the shows. I stopped at 101. But I searched for a broad cross-spectrum of programs and movies across all ages and ratings. I wanted to always be able to find something, whether the kids were watching cartoons or we were having a family movie night with my mother-in-law.

And because it is my lifelong mission to help people watch more TV, I wanted to share this list with you!

I'm delighted to present 101 Spanish Shows on Netflix, which is now available for immediate download. Inside, you'll find a comprehensive list of programs in Spanish for every age and taste.

Genres include:

>>> Cartoons
>>> Family sitcoms
>>> Romance movies
>>> Dramas
>>> Action movies
>>> Kids' programs
>>> and more!

I added instructions to help find and switch your audio settings. And, I shared a few tips I've learned during my quest that can help you find more shows in Spanish going forward. (I've almost gotten to where I can guess if a show will have Spanish audio before I look. Should I add this to my résumé??)

So without further ado, here is 101 Spanish Shows on Netflix! Happy Spanish Netflix binging!

Why We Choose Hate

Recently the tragedies have felt non-stop, right?

We've been hit from the left and the right, at home and abroad. And I've been amazed at how difficult it is for our society to offer a humane response. Someone dies and there are shouts of "He deserved it!" People are hurt and others respond, "Told you so!"

The week that Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers were killed, I felt an overwhelming desire to light candles, to gather with others and grieve. But I didn't. I felt somewhat uncertain about how to proceed, how to enter in to a collective mourning.

I think a lot of people feel this way. Or at least that's my assumption based on social media rants.

When I worked with college students in L.A., we visited worship centers for major religions every semester. I accompanied these trips half a dozen times, and one takeaway has always stayed with me. I was intrigued by the ways physicality was a player in so many of these services.

With the Buddhist monk, we sat on small cushions on the floor for the duration of his entire talk. (I was always inwardly very dramatic about my inability to sustain this posture.) There was genuflecting at Catholic mass, and I watched women in brightly colored clothes bow on their rugs at the Islamic center prayer service.  

I tried to find similar physical rituals in my own Christian tradition and couldn't land on any. Sure, we might raise our hands during a worship song or stand and sit when asked by the pastor. But overall, rituals do not seem to play a major role.

I see our lack of ritual emerge again when our country or our world experiences tragedy. There does not seem to be a collective outlets for grief and sorrow. So when left to our individuals devices, we turn to anger and hate.

Why? This quote from James Baldwin hit me square between the eyes: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Who really likes dealing with pain? No one I know. So when we can avoid it, we do. And so we ignore grief and sadness and stay in our camps, clinging to hate and anger. It feels easier sometimes. But the pain is still there.

No doubt more tragedies will find their way to our doorsteps or to our news feeds. And while anger and outrage can certainly be justified, may we also pay attention to the pain and sorrow present in our hearts. May we allow ourselves to grieve together as one step on our way to healing.

The Ups and Downs of Raising Bilingual Kids

Someone recently commented on this post from January about goals for raising bilingual kids. Remember January? That magical time of year when we think we can do anything?

And now it's July, and I'm like, "Oh, are we still raising bilingual kids?"

In just over two weeks, my oldest will start kindergarten. Everyone is hyped. (Except Isaac because he already senses he is being left behind, and he promises me, "I can be 5!" I had to tell him it doesn't work like that.)

At her new school, she will take an hour a day of Mandarin Chinese. One hour a day! For the next nine years.

On the one hand, Billy and I are totally amazed and psyched at this unique, global education. On the other, we bemoan the eventuality that her Mandarin is going to bypass her Spanish. Suddenly, there's a twinge of failure in the air.

Do you ever feel like that in raising bilingual kids? Or parenting in general? Like this has not unfolded the way I expected. 

But then yesterday, I overheard Gabriella carry on an entire back and forth conversation with Billy in Spanish. It was simple and short. But it was coherent, and she was making the effort. And then I felt suddenly proud. It's never too late to learn a language, and apparently five is too early to throw in the towel.  

Probably every 6-8 months I write some version of this same post. Realizing for the gazillionth time how hard it is to cultivate the minority language in our kids' lives. Celebrating wildly the glimmers of hope and language success. And acknowledging once again that this is the long game - like most aspects of parenting - and we must recommit, refocus, and journey on. 

So last week when my daughter asked if she could watch her cartoons in English, I was like nope. Because we're revisiting our New Year's hopes and dreams, and if there's one we can definitely do it's watch TV in Spanish! 

In an effort to make watching Spanish TV even easier, I've put together a list of 101 Spanish Shows on Netflix. It includes cartoons, sitcoms, drams, and movies for all ages. You can get your copy of the list here.


Big cheers to all those raising bilingual kids or becoming multilingual themselves. It's a long game, but we can do it!

A Few of My Favorite Things {June 2016}

It's been a few months since I've shared some of my favorite things. We're at the beach this week, which is certainly something I'm into, so I thought I'd compile a June list of fun! I hope you find something you can enjoy as well (seriously, these apples...), and I'd love to hear some of your favorite things in the comments. Here we go!

An Apple A Day

They say it keeps the doctor away. They don't say the apples can't be slathered in almond butter, dotted with chocolate chips, and sprinkled with coconut! This is my latest obsession. The kids love it. I've decided it's a health food. Even if the Pinterest recipe calls for dark chocolate chips and unsweetened coconut (which I can't seem to find), and I'm taking liberties. It's practically like eating raw kale.  

Fizzy Delight 

Let's be honest. It was only a matter of time. If you've followed my "What I'm Into" posts over the last year or so, I've been inappropriately obsessed with sparkling water. To the point that people sometimes tag me on Instagram when they drink it. I really should be getting paid from these companies, right?

Anyway, Billy felt our "sparkling water budget" was getting a little much. So he bought a Soda Stream. Personally, I don't add any of the flavored syrup thingies. Just fruit. Lots of lemons and limes. A couple raspberries. It's a bit of a learning curve to get the carbonation just right, and I thought I was going to lose an eye or a hand the other day when I "overdid it" a bit. But I'm getting there!

Favorite Instagram

Because June has been all about Copa America. Also, I keep getting messages "we just saw your family on TV" thanks to Fox Sports 1 plucking this gem out of the interwebs to add to an Argentina highlights reel. Billy was certain this twist of fate would mean he'd get to meet Messi. So far, that has not happened...

A video posted by Sarah Quezada (@sarahquezada) on

Road Trippin' Reads

I've spent a lot of time in the car in June. Gabriella and I went on a "Girls Road Trip" to North Carolina to visit my dear high school friend and her sweet babies.

Then, we drove to Kentucky to frolic with family and check "Trampoline Park" off my bucket list. Which, by the way, was incredible! I thought I would be sore for days, but I wasn't at all. Only happy. After that, it was on to Chicago. Because Copa.  

All that driving means lots of Audible for me! (If you want to try it, click here and get two free books to get started!) I listened to I Let You Go, which is a suspense novel. There's definitely a surprising twist that shifts what you thought was happening throughout the book.

And now I'm in the middle of Enrique's Journey, thanks to many of you recommending it to me! It is the story of a teenage boy who travels from El Salvador to the U.S.. I thought I knew quite a bit about child migrants and some of the challenges they face. But the book has painted a much deeper and more nuanced portrait of a family than any news story has the time or space to capture.

It was written by a journalist and unpacks this real family's experience. It's not an easy book because of the subject matter, but it's been eye-opening and important for me to read.

Next on my list is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes and Seeking Refuge to understand more about the global refugee crisis.

Favorite Posts

Here's some terrific articles I've read online this month:

When Charity is just a Band-Aid - I tend to feel rebellious when people refer to something as a "must-read." So I'm just going to say don't read this one at all.

#IAmAnImmigrant - This video highlights Immigrant Heritage Month and the challenges of mixed status families. I'm sad to report that the Supreme Court decided not to decide, which means DAPA stays frozen. 

A Unified Church Is Gospel Witness - Christena Cleveland writes, "In a society rife with racial conflict, US evangelicals are in a unique position to build cross-cultural bridges." I believe that's true, and I hope evangelicals step up.

Here's some things I wrote in June:

My Marriage to an Undocumented Immigrant - I shared some of our story on Christianity Today's Her.menuetics blog, as well as how the American Church is a mixed status family.

Seeking Shalom for the Immigrant - If you're into podcasts, I did an interview with Osheta Moore at Shalom in the City. She asks some great questions about immigration, and it was a joy to speak with her. 

2016 Multicultural Summer Reading List - I put together a free download of multicultural books for you to check out this summer! You can download the list here

As always, big shout out to Leigh Kramer for hosting this monthly link-up. I'd love to hear some of your favorite things from June!

2016 Multicultural Summer Reading List [Free Download]

Reading. All the cool kids are doing it. And of course they are! Because reading is awesome. In celebration of summer, I'm offering the 2016 Multicultural Summer Reading List. Eighteen terrific titles to guide your Amazon ordering or library requesting.

Inside, you'll find some captivating reads perfect for the beach, poolside, or commuting to work (whatever your summer holds). A quick sneak peak:

                  ** Novels to transport you to new places and experiences.
                  ** True stories of immigration, cross-cultural marriage, and living abroad.
                  ** Humor books to make you laugh till you cry. 
                  ** Engaging nonfiction to keep your brain sharp.
                  ** Insightful young adult fiction because young adult novels can be great!

Get your free 2016 Multicultural Summer Reading List when you sign up below!

My Life As A Copa Wife

Ok, so I'm still rocking the #WorldCupWives hashtag on the socials, but I will state for the record I am fully aware this is not a World Cup summer. It's Copa America. So now I am a Copa Wife. It involves a lot of the same activities.

But this cool thing about this year's Copa is that the U.S. is the host country. I should have known what that would mean for me. Of course. Nearly nine years of marriage. I should have known!

So yes. We drove 24 hours to be in Chicago for approximately 27 hours. But we got to see Messi score three goals in about 30 minutes, which I gotta say was pretty cool. The whole Copa experience was fantastic. Here's a quick rundown of my life as a Copa Wife.

  • Billy told me the game started at 8:30 pm. Naturally, we would need to leave my parent's house in Kentucky (about a 6 hour drive) at 6 am sharp. 

  • I hollered at a stranger in an Argentina jersey at a rest stop in Indiana. It's possible he didn't speak English. It's also possible he picked up that jersey at a thrift store and has no idea who Messi is. Basically, he looked at me and responded not at all. Billy pretended to be mortified. I'm like, "Well, this is what I'm here for!"

  • Arriving in Chicago about 8 hours before kick-off, we went ahead and suited up in our matching jerseys and parked at the stadium. Because preparedness. 

  • Leaving the parking garage, we heard them testing the sound system by playing the teams' national anthems. Billy was certain the game was starting hours ahead of schedule. Insert moment of panic and frantic phone Googling. Insert me speaking in a soothing voice and refusing to return to the stadium.

  • We walked all around the city, giving "insider" head nods and occasional fist pumps to others in Argentina jerseys. Nine year old boys shouted "Agüero" at me on the street. I got defensive. Then I remembered that was the name on my jersey. 

  • A woman stopped us and asked, "_____ do these guys play?" Billy answered, "Tonight." I answered, "Soccer." She proceeded with fifteen more questions while her husband pretended not to be with her. We witnessed our own future as a couple.

  • By 7:45 pm, we were sitting in our seats in the stadium. (You can watch our Periscope here.) Billy informed me he'd be wearing his headphones during the game to listen to the Univision announcers. I asked myself existential questions about my place in the world. 

  • The stadium was packed. For security measures, everyone carried in their belongings in a clear plastic bag. A man passed us with his bag filled with shredded newspaper. Man, how I hoped he was going to do a live papier-mâché project during the game. 

  • Messi - Argentina's star player - didn't play in the first half, nor start the second. Every time the camera panned to him, the stadium chanted his name. I found myself thinking, "Who knew he had so many tattoos?" Oh how I missed the World Cup Wives!

  • Messi entered around the 60 minute mark and promptly scored 3 goals. It was amazing.

  • Argentina won the game! Shredded newspaper started falling from the sky. 

Do I acknowledge that my rundown includes only a couple lines about the actual game? Yes. Yes, I do. But it was a super fun experience, and a great time to share with the hubs. 

To top it off, on our drive home, my World Cup Wives co-host Katie called me to say, "I'm watching you on national TV." Yeah, I'm gonna need more information. 

Turns out Fox Sports 1 had snagged our Instagram video and added it to a highlight compilation of the Argentina game. This is my life as a Copa Wife.

P.S. If you love someone who loves soccer, you'll love the World Cup Wives. And we're already brainstorming and talking about World Cup 2018. Sign up here to join our newsletter and get all the juicy details!

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