A Few Of My Favorite Things {March 2016}

After two months of nonstop sickness, I feel like 2016 finally began in March! Spring came early and bronchitis finally said good-bye. Hip hip hooray!

Consequently, one of my March highlights was being able to exercise again. My basketball league geared up, and I'm proud to say my air ball skills are still intact. Also, my Nike app says I ran over 13 miles in March, which I realize is not a lot for "real runners." But I am not a real runner, just thrilled to be moving again!

Here's a few more favorites from March:

Must-See Documentary

I can't say enough good things about Poverty, Inc. We hosted a viewing at our church in March, and it sparked such good discussion. Thoughts about how charity - with the best of intentions - is experienced around the world. And some examples of ways people are doing it differently. Below is the trailer, if you haven't seen it. You can see the film thanks to Amazon.

All The Books

Something terribly awesome happened to me. I found my library card. And I finally learned how to use the online system. Which means I can order any book I want from any library in Atlanta and have it shipped to my nearest branch. This skill has proven to be extremely dangerous.

In March I read Big Little Lies, which was suspenseful and engaging. There are some difficult parts to read regarding abuse, but it was a page-turner. I'm most excited about this memoir I stumbled upon called Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders

Author Chris Hoke is a fellow Mission Year alum (a year-long urban service program I participated in and later worked for), which was a fun and surprising discovery. He is also a prison chaplain and works with many Latino gang members and undocumented migrant workers in the Northwest. I am just getting started, but already enjoying this one so much.

Favorite Instagram

Getting our dental hygiene on!

Favorite Movie Night

Well, in reality, I this is also my "only movie night" for March, but it was fun to get out to the theater and see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.

I adored the first movie from 2002, which I now realize was a cross-cultural marriage that cracked me up years before I ever met Billy. And Guatemalans even get an awkward shout out when Ian's parents confuse Greek and Guatemalan!

My take on this sequel is that the story is not as strong, but it is quite funny. I felt like they took some of the comic gems from the first one and pushed them really hard this second time around. (Think lots of Aunt Voula medical conditions.) But it was funny and that's what we were going for! A good girl's night out!

Favorite Posts

I've started sharing my favorite links around the web in a round ups. If you're looking for some good reads, check them out here, here, and here. These are some posts reads have liked recently at A Life with Subtitles:

Top Superlatives for Language Translators - Translating is no joke. I'm so grateful for those who've helped me navigate Spanish-language situations. But these experiences have not be without the resourceful, the adaptable, and the awkward!

[VIDEO] Words We Can't Say In A Bilingual Marriage - Learning each other's languages can be tricky. And some words just never make the cut. This had to be a video to really get the full effect.

Surprised By International Love - This guest post from Sarah at My Gringa Life is a fun story of how she met her Mexican husband Karlos. (Hint: It involves matching t-shirts!)

Thanks to Leigh Kramer who hosts this monthly link-up. What have some of your favorite things been lately?

Our Problem with Friends and Strangers

Normally, I hate when people are talking on the radio. If I'm in my car between about 5 to 9 in the morning, I need some T. Swizzle to get me through! I do not need to h ear people talking about how busy they are, how they're not sure if their boyfriend is cheating on them, or what Kanye West is up to. Nope. I don't.

But last week, I got sucked into a little segment regarding one of the host's upcoming nuptials. She was asking listeners their advice on hiring a wedding planner. Should she go with a friend (who she defined as "third tier") who is a wedding planner or hire another professional who is also a stranger?

Every single caller said to ditch the friend and go with the stranger.

But I found the reasoning behind this advice, as well as the overall conversation, uncomfortable. It all just made me wonder about society's issues with alienation and disconnection and rudeness and hate. Wow. Am I saying if you don't hire your friend to be your wedding planner, you are a literal hater? Seems like a big jump, right? I don't know exactly. But here's what I noticed.

Our Problem with Friends

Everyone seemed in agreement that if you work with a friend, you'd never be able to tell her what you really think. One caller even said, "Only do it if you never want to be her friend again." Basically, it was hardcore conflict avoidance, as well as a fear of being seen in a vulnerable, stressed out bride moment.

I understand completely that it may be difficult to tell a friend, "Hey, these centerpieces aren't really my style. Can we think about adding lollipops?" But that doesn't mean it's impossible.

Disagreeing or having hard conversations are part of friendship. You can do that with dignity and grace and hopefully move forward.

Also (and this will betray my feelings about weddings), so what if someone does it a little differently than you imagined? Aren't people more important than chair covers and floral arrangements?

And then there's the fact that this person might stumble across a rawer, not-so-nice version of you in the bride moments. But that's okay. Most of the time, when we are vulnerable, it actually draws people closer rather than pushing them away.

I think so many of us desire community and belonging. But that can only be developed in time spent together, important moments shared, and conflicts resolved. Why continue to promote isolation and individualism just to possibly make your wedding planning experience a touch easier?

Our Problem with Strangers 

But then, why would it be easier with a stranger as a wedding planner? Well, my takeaway from the conversation is that you can be a straight shooter and say whatever you want without having to worry about their feelings. (Sound like any presidential candidates you know?)

This whole premise startled and disturbed me a little bit. Because if you're just looking for someone you can be rude to without consequence... well, that's actually not a thing, folks. You may be thinking of a robot, not a human who happens to be a stranger.

Because I write and think a lot about immigration, it made me wonder how we can talk about welcoming the strangers when in reality, people think of strangers as someone you don't really need to worry about. You can boss them around, spill your unfiltered thoughts and feelings, and keep on trucking.

I just keep thinking that I want to treat both my friends and strangers better. I want to invite friends into the reality of my life, let them see me in some of my more stressed out moments and have those hard conversations when needed. And I want to be extra kind to the strangers I encounter at preschool pick-up, Sonic, and everywhere in between.

What do you think? Would you hire a wedding planner who was a friend or go with a stranger?

Where God Is Absent

Today is Saturday. The day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. The day our Jesus lays in the tomb. Dead.

It doesn't get as much attention as the holidays that bookend this Saturday, but I am curious. The day Jesus is missing in action.

Sometimes we think there are places, people, or moments in our world from which God is absent. Bad area. Nothing good in him. Dark hour. It may not be fully acknowledged, but many look around and think some version of "God is not here."

The problem I've experienced is that it is in the very spaces society tells me God is missing where I've always found God. The places where we assume God is not to be found, God is very present, active, and alive. When we feel an absence of God, perhaps we are not looking in the right places.

God is holding hands with those on the margins. In some of the places where death is most present, God is most alive. But these spaces can be uncomfortable.

We want to God to live at church, to sit next to us in the pew and sing with us our songs. For me, though, I've rarely found God in those spaces.

I've experienced God in cramped one room apartments over a communion of boiled pigs' feet and Pepsi. I've felt God at the border with men who open up in confession and long to return home to their families. I've found God in the surprising community of women at a stripper's baby shower.

On this Holy Saturday, we are waiting for Resurrection Sunday. But we know when Jesus arises, he will go where he is least expected. He will visit Mary Magdalene. She will tell his followers, and they won't believe her. 

God is present. We may need to look in different places and listen to different people. God is alive.

The Double Click: Mister Rogers, I Love Lucy, and Refugees

Sometimes time zones, laundry, and the algorithms of social media 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 (and videos) to make you laugh and to make you think.

The Syrian Refugee Crisis Moved Into My Neighbourhood || SheLoves Magazine

I was fretful and anxious, but now I’m in love. The context for my emotional bi-polarity has been the Syrian refugee crisis. In my anxious phase I posted a great number of guilt-inducing refugee photos on Facebook. I sent money overseas to worthy causes. I applauded the heroic efforts of volunteers and the inhabitants of Lebos. But most days I wrung my hands and felt ineffectual and therefore sad and worried. But then the Halabi* family arrived.

I moved to Africa with two-and-a-half year old twins. One of the first things people ask me about that year is how I learned language, because I did. And I don’t feel like I abandoned my kids or neglected my husband in order to do it.

At the time, François was a graduate student working on getting his singing career going and was reluctant to accept Fred’s offer. But after realizing he would get paid to appear on the show—enabling him to afford his rent—François accepted, becoming the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children’s television series.

Video Clip: Can Children Represent Themselves in Immigration Court? || ACLU
What have been some of your favorite reads (or watches) online recently?

Surprised By International Love {Guest Post}

I'm delighted today to introduce you to my friend Sarah (great name!). She also married cross-culturally and is raising a bicultural daughter, so I always enjoy hearing her story. You can read more from her at her blog My Gringa Life

"How did you two meet?"

So often, when you meet a new couple, this is the first question you ask. Naturally, right? Two different people, two different lives until one magical day their paths cross. Probably at college. Or at a bar, small group, or dating website. Or at an orphanage in the Mexican desert.

That’s our story.

Karlos had no intention of ever leaving his beloved Mexico and I, a suburban white girl (aka “gringa“) failing Spanish, had no intention of finding a husband on my first mission trip as a 16 year-old. But sometimes the Lord laughs and writes a better story than any of us could imagine.

I like our love story. We were (and are) a little crazy. A little naive. And a lot in love.

Karlos doesn’t remember me from that first year. “Too many gringas and you were all wearing the same t-shirt.” Touché.

But alas, I barely spoke Spanish, and he only knew a bit of English. So I headed home, completely in love with the niños I had met and determined to learn the language a bit more in order to return to the orphanage the next summer.

But I remember him. I remember how good he was with the kids he worked with at the orphanage. How they called him when they needed help. How he seemed like a strong, constant presence in their turbulent lives. I dunno – I think it may have been amor a primera vista.

And I returned. Again and again. And over those first couple of trips, Karlos and I became friends. I ended up studying abroad in Costa Rica (#lifechanger) and became conversational in Spanish.

And over one spring break, our lives changed forever when my sis looked up how to say “You have my permission to marry my sister.” Sometimes you just need an advocate – even when you don’t realize it.

From those courageous words, we mustered up the courage to acknowledge that this long distance, crazy pants adventure may be worth trying out. So, as we both prepared to graduate from college, we also began dreaming and praying about a future together.

After we got engaged, we embarked on the necessary journey every bi-national couple must embrace: immigration. The process was HARD and humbling and tear-provoking and exhausting. It formed within us hearts for those who desire to live in this country and a passion to advocate for those who have no legal path to do so.

Our unique journey has also opened up doors for us to share our story and help others process what life in the United States may look like for a immigrant, bicultural, bilingual family. Whether it's discussing immigration policy or which kids' shows on Netflix are available in Spanish, we consider each conversation holy ground and an opportunity to invite others into what the Lord is doing through His global church.

Let me also make it very clear that we are constantly learning what this life looks like. We try to be as intentional as possible in our bicultural identity, but we fail more often than not. The critical component is commitment. It's hard, but the result is a firm identity in who we are individually and as a family.

We are a Spanglish speaking, taco-loving, New England-living family. And I wouldn't trade this life for anything.

Sarah is a New England girl, married to her dear husband, Karlos, who immigrated from Mexico. They have a beautiful daughter, are a Spanglish-speaking family, love exploring, and eating authentic Mexican food (it really does exist in Boston!) You can find Sarah at her blog, My Gringa Life or on Twitter.

The Things We Never Master

I watch them clamor at the back door, waiting for me to unlock it. They are chanting and marching and wearing matching fire fighter hats. Gabriella's hair sticks out from underneath, flying in ever direction. I am amazed by how tall she has gotten.

Isaac pushes himself in next to her, trying to join in with her original song chant. His chunky thighs move as he's wearing only underwear, finally potty trained during the day much to our delight! His outfit is complete with Batman rain boots.

I unlock the door, and they spill onto the back deck, whooping and hollering and heading for the sand box. I watch Isaac watch Gabriella.

"Man, he's going to miss her next year," I tell Billy.

"Next year?" He looks at me. "And by next year, you mean in a few months?"

The start of kindergarten has opened up a new area of cultural misunderstanding in our lives. Billy keeps trying to remember that school will start in August, though in Guatemala each new year starts in January.

To make matters worse, I (and I keep telling him I'm not alone in this) keep saying "next year" in reference to the school year schedule. And he keeps countering with the calendar year. It always makes me giggle. (Okay, not always.)

It's amusing to see this little cultural hiccup emerge after all these years. So often, our familiarity with each other and our residence in the States has merged our lives in ways that we don't encounter our cultural differences in the same ways we used to.

And yet, as we enter this new, school-age season of parenting, we again discover those places where we have unique defaults, different assumptions, and our own interpretations. We are always learning more about each other and trying to communicate our perspectives.

Because in marriage, in parenting, and in cross-cultural living, you never master it. (At least I don't!) Every new season shines light on a fresh lesson. The kids keep changing and growing, and our marriage adjusts along with them. And our cultures peek out and surprise us when we least expect it.

There's something comforting to me about considering these elements as a journey. I'm rarely one to give parenting advice because I always feel like I'm winging it. Same goes for marriage and for living across cultures. We take steps forward, we learn. We mess up and we step back. We learn some more. We cannot master these things because they involve relationship. They flex and shift. And this is the way it goes for us. And I'm quite okay with that.

Are Your Traditions Right Or Silly?

Tonight Billy and I were recording our second in a series of interviews for a Spanish radio program. The topic was extended relatives and traditions in a bicultural family. Billy is like super impressive at being interviewed and saying profound things on the spot. So I thought I would share something that struck me in our conversation tonight.

We come from families with different traditions. I grew up picking strawberries, celebrating Thanksgiving, and hosting a "Dancing with Sarah" show for my family after dinner each night. (Okay, that last one is more family specific than cultural.)

Billy has memories of eating tamales on Noche Buena, lighting fireworks for any and every birthday, and hiking volcanoes with friends. Our childhoods, traditions, and families were impacted by the cultures in which they were formed.

But he made the comment that in a mixed marriage, there really isn't much room for debates about which traditions are "right" or "better" or "silly." Where will that really get you in the end anyway? The reality is that the rituals we established with our family of origin are meaningful to us. And that's important.

The beauty of all marriages and families is getting to build that new culture in which your family will grow together. In a cross-cultural marriage like ours, we get to draw "the best from both worlds" as we create a unique space for our family.

I love getting to hear Billy's perspective on these topics as we've been talking with this radio host. If you want to hear the full interview, it will air live this Saturday, March 12 at 3pm EST. You can listen live online here.

Top Superlatives for Language Translators

I have been in a lot of Spanish language situations. I have been in a lot of Spanish language churches. And as a result, I have experienced a lot of translators over the last nine years of marriage to a native Spanish speaker. Here are some of the highlights through the years:

#1 -Most Resourceful

I spent a month at language school in Xela, Guatemala. It was incredible to sit with an individual tutor for several hours every day and talk. She didn't speak any English, but she was incredibly skilled at speaking in simple Spanish so I could understand.

When I got sick, she offered to take me to her doctor. He didn't speak English either, so she agreed to "translate." Basically, he would talk and she would "dumb it down" into Spanish I could understand. It was incredibly helpful actually.

But she didn't know how to explain the question, "Do you have a cough?" So she asked around the question, and then she faked a cough. And then the doctor mocked her translation skills, and we all laughed.

#2 - Most Adaptable

We were sitting in a Spanish church hosting an English guest speaker. The translator was standing next to her on stage since nearly the entire room required translation. The speaker was sharing, and the translator was translating.

Then, the speaker became moved to sing her sermon. It was not a familiar song, and it appeared she was freestyle singing thoughts as they came to her. Thankfully, she had a nice voice.

Bless that translator, who tentatively began singing the sermon in Spanish. Turns out she did not have as experienced of a singing voice. But she had all my respect because I feel like she didn't sign up for all that. And after a few minutes of this hilarious back-and-forth, she began simply speaking Spanish translations.

#3 - Most Accessible

Ah, the Internet. You are there when we need directions, movie times, and also when we want to read what our husbands are posting on Facebook.

There's only one problem. While Internet translations are certainly accessible, accuracy is a moving target. It's not uncommon for me to read a collection of English words that make absolutely no sense together in that order. (I collected a few favorites here.)

#4 - Most Awkward

There once was a time when I stood in a church sanctuary after the service was over while my husband helped the band pack up their equipment. A woman called into the microphone, hoping to be heard above the sound of parishioners socializing.

Then I heard the phrase "the girl who only speaks English." Yeah, I'm going to pretend I didn't get that at all.

But the sweetest tweenage boy walked over and said, "She's talking to you." My eyes darted to my husband on stage like a frantic cat trapped beneath a bicycle. We didn't know anyone at this church but the visiting band.

The woman onstage began to prophesy about my life, and this darling boy translated, saying things like "God will bless your womb." I think he and I both wanted to be invisible.

Translators are like bilingual superheroes. I love them and am grateful for their hard work. And I also enjoy the amusing situations that sometimes emerge.

Have you had any funny experiences with translators? Share them in the comments!

The Double Click: Mixed Marriage, Toothpaste, and Customer Service

Sometimes time zones, laundry, and the algorithms of social media 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 (and videos) to make you laugh and to make you think.

Mixed Marriages are changing the way we think about our race || Washington Post

According to the authors, these are mostly children of interracial couples that aren’t writing down their diverse heritages. Mixed marriages are increasingly common in America — Pew finds that about 26 percent of Hispanics marry a non-Hispanic these days, and 28 percent of Asians marry a non-Asian. To accommodate this trend, government surveys now allow you to check multiple boxes for your race and ethnicity.

But it turns out that many aren’t doing that.

I’m White, But I Married the Son of a Black History Icon–And This Is What I Discovered About Color || For Every Mom

I never set out to marry a black man, let alone the son of one of the most prominent civil rights leaders of our time—but I’m getting ahead of myself—nor did I expect to find myself passionate about issues of racial justice. Caring about race was for people of color, not for those of us in the simple majority. Besides, hadn’t our ancestors already apologized for the atrocities of our past?

A Former Janitor Collects and Photographs the Items Seized from Immigrants and Thrown Away by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol || feature shoot

I guess that's understandable. I can see how it might be counterintuitive to imagine a Missions Pastor and a writer who has the word “missionary” in the title of her blog taking their kids to Africa and not going on a mission. But that's exactly what we're doing. We're going to fly all the way across the world, and then we are not going to dig a well, we're not going to hold any orphans, and we're not going to treat anyone's parasites (unless, of course, they're our own). We will not be seen in matching T-shirts or praying in a circle at the airport, and you won't catch us “loving on” complete strangers with sweaty hugs, zealous high fives, or bullhorn street-corner evangelism.

Customer Service Shalom || The Art of Simple

When I complained to my husband about the server letting my glass of water remain half full for most of my meal, I realized that I hated the consumer I was becoming. In every part of my life, I tried to live a life of intention, except when I spent my money. I had stopped caring about the servers, the cashiers, and the store reps.

What have been some of your favorite reads online recently?

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