The All-American School Experience

This week we visited Gabriella's soon-to-be school. She sat dutifully through the parents' meeting, only talking above a whisper 75% of the time. Then she packed up her books and excitedly hopped up for the school tour.

She was so thrilled, in fact, she seemed to have misunderstood and thought they asked her to lead the school tour. I spent most of the time saying, "Gabriella, please come back here. Stand near me." The rest of the time, I tried to pretend I hadn't brought my kid with me and who was that crazy child announcing misinformation about what we were seeing?

My favorite was when we walked through the middle school hallway, which was lined with grey lockers. "This is the where the high schoolers are," Gabriella bellowed for all to hear. "And I know that because of these." [Insert grand, sweeping gesture to the lockers.] "High schoolers use these."

Well, I can only assume that knowledge came from a "movie night" phase we went through with High School Musical. Apparently, it made a huge impression on Gabriella. (Not only does she know all when it comes to lockers, but it really bothers her when I wear red tennies because those are "boy shoes." It seems Zac Efron wears some bright Converse, and he and I are basically one in the same.)

That movie also made an impression on Billy. At one point, he asked me, "Was this what your high school was like?" Oh, how I wish. Choreographed dance numbers? Sign. Me. Up. But alas, it wasn't to be.

It's interesting sometimes to realize how much Hollywood speaks for Americans to the rest of the world. Gossip Girl. One Tree Hill. Clueless. And whatever-is-popular-now. These teenagers and their schools are held up as the quintessential American experience. But how true is that?

Movies and TV hardly replicate my own memories of high school. The closest representation for me would probably be Friday Night Lights. You? I have a feeling the majority of what's out there is not a true picture of the average American experience.

Much of Hollywood's school culture certainly won't represent my daughter's experience. She is a Guatemalan-American girl attending a predominately black school where everyone - Kindergarten through 8th grade - spends an hour a day studying Mandarin.

And in some ways, her diverse, mashup classroom may actually be the new all-American school experience. The curriculum highlights our global world and encourages students to be internationally minded. Perhaps, in our globalizing world, Hollywood's picture is a little outdated. And personally, I think it would be fun to see a class like my daughter's featured on the big screen. If anyone has any Hollywood connections, feel free to connect me to pitch this idea!

What TV or movie best represents your high school experience? How is it different (or the same) from your kids'?

P.S. This post was partially inspired from an episode of The Popcast about Hollywood high schools. You can find it here.

Photo credit: Gordon Lew

My FFW Inspired Reading List

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that I attended the Festival of Faith & Writing last week. It was my first ever writer-y conference, and it was truly a gift.

I met several online friends in person, including Cara, Jody, Heather, Cindy, and more. So wild and wonderful this Internet of ours. And a crazy treat to meet many of these online friends IRL. (I know... that means "in real life." I'm basically a tween.)

While I had a lot of conference takeaways about writing, I also got some fantastic reading inspiration that I wanted to share with you. All the books!

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

This book was listed on the pre-festival reading list as author Chris Hoke led several sessions. I recognized his name as a fellow Mission Year alum, and I was very interested in this memoir about his work primarily with Latino gang members in Washington State.

Wanted is thought-provoking and insightful and haunting. Fair warning: it includes language and violence. But it paints a portrait of inmates that is nuanced and complex and a welcome narrative when so many people are reduced to their rap sheet.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber is funny and honest, two of my favorite characteristics in a writer. (In fact, she used to be a stand-up comedian.) I never read her memoir Pastrix, so this book was my first exposure to her. She was also a speaker at the conference.

I am drawn to stories of everyday encounters with flawed people that point to our God. And I appreciate Nadia's openness about how people in our lives can drive us nuts. Again, I should probably add a disclaimer here as it's got language.

Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin

Shannan and I ended up staying in the same house, thanks to our mutual friend Becca. She is a gem. Her book releases this September (you can preorder, which is my plan). I'm excited to read it. Here's what Amazon says:

Falling Free chronicles the Martin family’s pilgrimage from the faulty, me-centric wisdom of this world to the topsy-turvy life of God’s more being found in the less, challenging readers to rethink their own assumptions about faith and the good life. Anyone who yearns for something beyond status quo, middle-class Christianity but hesitates out of insecurity or safety concerns will find encouragement, food for thought, and practical guidance in this sweetly subversive book.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield

Another goodie that's available for preorder is this upcoming book from D.L. Mayfield. I have read her writing on immigrants and living cross-culturally for a while, and I've always appreciated her insight and thoughtfulness. (This piece stuck with me long after I read it.)

In this book, she unpacks the ways she's been impacted living among the poor. She writes, "And the more my world started to expand at the edges of my periphery, the more it became clear that life was more beautiful and more terrible than I had been told."

So these are a couple books I've been reading lately and a couple I'm looking forward to this year. What's on your reading list?

P.S. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Any books you buy through the links support A Life with Subtitles. Thanks!

The Surprising First Taste of Spanish {Guest Post}

Christine Nolf is a joyful, encouraging, and inspiring friend. I have always appreciated her insights and perspectives from years of cross-cultural life and ministry. She and her hubby are having a baby next month, but she was still gracious (and rock star!) enough to write this guest post. I'm delighted to share her words with you.

My parents are not a bicultural couple. I didn’t grow up in a very cross-cultural setting and yet I’ve lived most of my adult life cross-culturally. As I reflect on how this happened, one moment in particular sticks out.

My dad sat on the couch embossed with the big blue flowers. The excitement was palpable in our living room as I stood facing him, my four year old body hemmed in by the knees of his long extended legs. 

“I brought you something.” he told me, “but first you have to say your name in Spanish.”

He then leaned forward, his mouth getting wide and slow.

“Repeat after me. Me llamo Crissy.”

“Me llamo Crissy” I said obediently, anxious for my present and intrigued by this game. 

“That means, my name is Crissy in Spanish,” Dad explained. Then we said it again over and over.

He held up a little red t-shirt that said 'New Mexico' and handed it to me. He didn’t travel much for work, and this little exchange was new for us. I liked getting a present when it wasn’t my birthday, and I loved saying, “me llamo Crissy.”

I told my little friends at school, “me llamo Crissy.” And somehow, in that momentary exchange, something took root in my heart. I was hooked. I needed to learn Spanish.

Who knows how passions really start or come about? All I know is that I remember the first time I learned a Spanish phrase, and it is tied to the love of my father and a sense of adventure. It wouldn’t be until college that I became passionate about learning the language, and yet a seed was planted in my little heart that day when Dad came home from his trip.

What makes some moments more significant than others? Why does that memory stand out of so many days and years in that home? I have to believe it is because something important was happening, something that was shaping who I am. 

Fast forward 18 years to my first Sunday in a little church on the hillside of Caracas, Venezuela. I stood before the hermanos of Fuente de Vida and said, “Me llamo Crissy,” introducing myself as the new missionary who would be supporting their efforts to build a community school. As we sang songs in Spanish that day, looking out over the green hillside and giant city in the valley below, a distinct feeling washed over me: I was born for this.

Three years later, I would be back in my hometown, but in a different neighborhood than I grew up knowing. I would introduce myself to my new neighbors in Spanish, “me llamo Crissy,” and from there, we created friendships and networks and projects that are still shaping our city and our own hearts.

In some strange way, who I am has been connected to Spanish. I love it. I love learning it. I love speaking it. I love being around people that speak it. Did all of that start in the one moment with Dad and the surprise t-shirt? Was I born with this latent passion buried in me? 

I’m not sure. But I do trace the root of my passion back to that moment when my dad excitedly shared his adventures with me and challenged me to say something new I had never heard before.

Something of who I am was ignited in that moment.

Something of what I was supposed to be opened up for me as I opened my mouth to say, “me llamo Crissy.” 

The excitement of learning and language was passed on to me in my father’s enthusiasm and challenge. 

Something happened in that moment that is still happening to me - a glimpse at passion, a cracked window to opportunity, a flash of a world much bigger than what I had known. It was all before me as I took my red t-shirt into my little hands.

When The Cats Are Away, The Mice Have Dirty Teeth

Family responsibilities are always a juggling act, right? Maybe that's just a crazier way to say "it takes a village." But after five years of working and parenting, I think I've just accepted that it takes more than just me and Billy to keep this ship upright.

There are also occasions where Billy or I travel. This throws a kink into our precious work-life-parenting-everything else balance. So we regroup and readjust.

One such week last year, I dropped my daughter off with my parents for the week. Her parting words were, "Bye, Mom! I will not miss you, but I do love you." Gee, thanks!

Then, a couple days later, Billy flew out to Las Vegas for a work trip. It felt like my family was doing our own reenactment of "5 Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed." (Here's a link if you now need to see that in animated song form!)

My hype-nature naturally wanted to post Instagram photos of Isaac and me at drive thrus with my own, self-created hashtag like #leftbehind. Of course, then I'd have two major worries to consider:

#1 - What if I got a call from or about Kirk Cameron?

#2 - Every dire email forward my father has ever sent me assures me this kind of online activity will get me murdered.

Billy, conversely, was posting openly about his trip on the world wide web. He was apparently unaffected by rumors of my impending death.

Still, I was amused at all the ways our day-to-day changed without the other half of our family here. There were a few notable things that never happened after Gabriella and Billy left:

#1 - Cooking any sort of meal. (You want fries with that?)

#2 - Brushing Isaac's teeth. (Was this really so time consuming I couldn't do it alone?)

#3 - Giving Isaac any type of bath. (Hey, if teeth are skanky, does it even matter?)

On the other hand, there were a few things I added to our routine:

#1 - Spending 2 hours a day transporting Isaac to and from daycare. Thank God for audio books! (Choosing a place near Billy's work seemed like a good idea at the time...)

#2 - Purging Gabriella's room like a maniac. (How does one child acquire so many half-used sheets of stickers?!)

#3 - Enjoying peace and quiet. Oh, Isaac - my rock star sleeper. To this day, it is still Gabriella who wakes us up in the night. Isaac started sleeping through the night at two months, and that was that. Also... still takes naps. I'd forgotten what that's like...

So how about you? What do you do differently when your family is out of town? Does your cooking completely unravel like mine? Do you find a few moments of peace in the upheaval? 

This post originally appeared in my monthly e-newsletter last April. If you'd like to join up and receive super fun updates and stories, complete the form below.

Shattering The Plexiglass

It's quite possible you've heard me talking, writing, or Instagramming about my neighborhood's new grocery store that opened last May. My obsession with this store is probably a glaring indicator that I've been living in urban neighborhoods too long. More than a decade of no convenient access to fresh fruit, and I'm cuckoo for grapefruit (and bananas and apples and spinach, oh my)!

But lately, my appreciation for this spot has grown beyond the food itself. While I do have a history of being incredible awkward around customer service, I also know what it's like to be treated like no one wants you in their place of business. In fact, I maybe got too used to it in my neighborhood establishments.

So today I'm writing for FCS Ministries, the non-profit behind our new grocery store. Here's a sneak peek below. Click over to read the full story.

Drive thrus are an interesting phenomenon. I can speak to my mother-in-law in Guatemala with crystal clarity for free, but it’s virtually impossible to order a 2-piece chicken meal correctly on the first try. Perhaps Y2K only impacted drive thru intercoms, and they are destined to remain in the technology landscape of the mid-80’s. [Remember Billy ordering in his second language? Even better!]

Having lived in city neighborhoods for more than a decade, I’ve discovered that garbled conversations across the length of the building are often just the first disconnection in the urban customer experience.

One fast food chain would lead me from a fuzzy, walky-talky exchange to a giant plexiglass box. I opened the box, deposited my credit card into the designated slot, and closed the box door. Then, the employee would retract it, remove my card, and fill the box with my order, card, and receipt before sliding it back out to me to open. We really didn’t speak. We certainly didn’t touch. Based on my zip code, this process was deemed the best way to interact with me and my neighbors.

Who Is My Neighbor?

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10:29

I grew up familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. Maybe you did, too. A story told by Jesus to an expert in religious law. 

A Jewish man is attacked and beaten and left by the side of the road. Two fellow Jews, including a Priest, pass him by. But the Samaritan stops.

Considered mixed-race Israeli and Assyrian, the Samaritans were not friends with the Jews. They held different religious beliefs and were seen as an "impure" group. My NLT translation simply introduces him by saying, "Then a despised Samaritan came along."

Despised. Impure. Different. 

But as we know, the Samaritan really shines in this story - bandaging the man, taking him to a hotel, paying his expenses, and checking back later. 

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked (v39). 

Recently, Billy preached on this passage at our church. And this is the part that flipped my script on how I've always thought about this story. Because I've always seen the Samaritan as the example to follow. And I don't think that's a mistake. 

Jesus tells us to go and show mercy in the same way that this Samaritan did to the man by the road. And we often follow with gusto and good hearts. Most of the time, we genuinely want to help the downtrodden, the abused, the vulnerable. 

But why did the example need to be a Samaritan? Why couldn't the Temple assistant have shown us how to care for the vulnerable on the side of the road?

Well, I suppose I've always assumed it was a shaming technique of some kind. See, even the people you despise know how to do this. Be better, Sarah. 

But as Billy and I discussed the passage, I heard it in a new way. 

"And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus tells a story before asking, "Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor?"

The religious leader: "The one who showed him mercy."

Who is my neighbor?

Who would you say is the neighbor?

The Samaritan. 

Who is my neighbor?

The despised. The impure. 

In this story, the Samaritan was not downtrodden, abused, or vulnerable. He seemed to have good faculties and flowing resources. But he was different, ethnically and religiously. He was despised. 

How does it change to consider the Samaritan as not just an example, but in fact, also our neighbor? Is it easier for us to love the injured than to love someone that is different, or even despised? 

Unfortunately for me, as Billy preached this sermon, I was convicted of my inability to love Donald Trump. But that's just one example. Ha! I have been thinking about who are the people in my life who could identify more closely with the Samaritan than the man on the side of the road? And am I loving these neighbors?

Who is my neighbor?

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