Simply Complicated
28th November
written by Michelle


As we prepare for Advent, the liturgical season of waiting that leads up to Christmas, I am hoping to share a few different perspectives and truths that I have found helpful in my own life. Elizabeth Klein, a fellow writer from the Redbud Writers Guild, is sharing an except from her new book. Her writing is raw, real and comes from a place of her own healing. I love her words around the topic of forgiveness, especially this reminder: “Forgiveness takes one person; reconciliation takes two.  This season as I prepare for Christmas I am asking myself, who do I need to forgive? Sometimes I wonder if the hardest person to forgive is ourself? 

Will you join me?



The holidays typically mean that you will be spending time with extended family. And perhaps you’re in a place where a family member has hurt you, or even is currently hurting you. Maybe just the thought of Christmas Eve dinner with someone makes you nauseous because of the pain they have caused you.

Might I suggest something that you might not want to hear?

This might be the perfect time to offer forgiveness as the best Christmas gift you could ever give.

A few reminders:

Forgiveness is not the same as condoning.

Forgiveness is not about the other person; it is about you and your heart.

Forgiveness takes one person; reconciliation takes two.

You are only responsible for yourself and your thoughts and your words and your actions. No one else’s.

Forgiveness can set you free.

Unforgiveness is deceiving. It makes you feel like you’re in control, like you’re a better person than the offender. When in actuality, unforgiveness is a trap that keeps you in places you don’t want to be.

Has someone in your family hurt you?

Are you holding on to that pain?

Are you dreading your family get-together because of it?

It’s time, sweet one. It’s time to let this go. It’s time to forgive. It’s time to move on. It won’t be easy, oh no. It will be one of the most difficult things you do.

But I believe Jesus came to set the captives free. Let him set you free from unforgiveness this holiday season.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” –Luke 4:18

God, you know that I am holding onto unforgiveness right now. You see into my heart. You see the damage it’s doing, the toll it’s taking. I don’t want to be a bitter person. Today I choose to forgive. Help me see this through. Amen.


Elisabeth is a new wife, a mom and stepmom to five kids, an author, blogger, speaker and mentor. Her passion is helping hurting women by bringing them hope. You can find out more about Elisabeth here and see her other books here.

2nd November
written by Michelle


Yesterday driving home from the store on the only paved road right outside of town, I slowed down as I saw a family huddled together on the opposite side of the road. The older son, stood in the street to direct traffic around his parents who were kneeling down on the edge of the road. There is no curb between where the street ends and a small grassy ledge begins. I watch as the mom carefully places red, yellow and white flowers around a wooden cross. I drive along this road at least three times a day, slowing down just enough to go over the 6 different speed bumps, but I have never noticed that cross before. I instantly knew that this family cannot not notice that cross. They probably see it in their dreams and feel a lump in their throat when they walk by it. Because when you lose someone you love, you find the memory of them more present than ever.

I don’t know exactly what happened there. But I do know, someone they loved died in that spot, by the wooden cross on the side of the road. They went yesterday to decorate, to honor their life, and to invite anyone who drives by slowly enough to pause and take note— We remember their life, won’t you too?

Guatemala, like many Latin America countries celebrates Dia de Los Muertos or Dia de Los Santos on November 1st as a way to honor and remember loved ones who have died. In a blend of Mayan and Catholic traditions, Guatemalans visit the local cemetery arriving with arms full of fresh flowers to decorate the graves of loved ones. Some families gather to laugh and tell stories while kids fly kites. Traditionally the idea was that you can send a message on the kites up to the sprits of those who have died. Other families sit more somberly and pray, their heads resting against the large cement aboveground tombs.

There is such beauty in remembering, because it gives permission to grieve. For some grief is a very private thing, but in Guatemala grief is something that is shared. There is often something powerful about making it public, about letting other share in your pain and in your memories.In general, I don’t think our U.S. culture knows how to grieve or mourn together. We don’t like to talk about death. Maybe there part of evangelical Christian culture that makes us believe and give pat answers about how “he is in a better place.” But even when you have hope that you’re loved ones are in heaven, that doesn’t necessarily help those who are still grieving here on earth.

Other cultures seem to do this so much better, then we do. I remember reading about the Jewish tradition of saying Kaddish, a prayer for the dead, that was supposed to be said twice a day for an entire year after someone died. Whoever was mourning, was instructed to pray those words, not in solitary but with people, in community. I have had friends tell me one after loosing a parent or a sibling, one of the most helpful things people did was to share a memory of the person who died. The person grieving often feels so alone in their pain. When someone else shares a memory it reminds them of their loved one and it gives a little bit of life to someone is so recently gone. The person who is grieving is usually thinking about their loved one all of the time, so when someone else uses their name or shares a memory it usually makes them not feel so alone.

I remember one year where three friends, my age, all lost a parent. One to cancer, one to plan crash and one to suicide. No one in their twenties is ever prepared to have to bury a parent. I am not sure if can ever really be prepared to burry a parent. I remember sitting with one friend the day after her dad’s funeral. She said, “Sometimes what feels the hardest is everyone else’s world keeps going, but I feel like mine just ended.”

Typically in the U.S. we set-aside a day at best. Maybe we attend a funeral, send some flowers, write a sincere, sympathetic card and then that’s it. Our life and schedule move on. But what if there was a different way?

In Guatemala there is a catholic tradition called La Novena. It literally means the ninth” or “the nine days.” Every night for nine days after someone has died, family and close friends gather in the deceased person’s home or in the street in front of their home just to be and sit. The family sets up white plastic chairs and a tarp or canopy to protect from rain and people come. They stop what is going on in their world to be with the one who feels like their world just ended. There is coffee and sweet bread and kids running around. For nine days people gather to mourn together and care for the widow or family who just lost someone.

I remember the first time I experienced a death here in Guatemala. Gerber called me and said the 4-year-old son of one of his neighbors had died in the town where he grew up. I naïvely asked, when the funeral would be and what should we bring. Gerber paused on the other line, “No, we go tonight for the valorio.” I remember looking at my watch. It was 5pm. I drove home, changed my clothes and we left for his neighbors’ house. There was a small casket in the front of the garden. Neighbors had already brought chairs and flowers. Baskets of sweet bread were making the rounds and everyone sat. There was some music and a prayer, people came and went, kids played in the doorway. But that family was not alone. Gerber said people would be there the whole night.  The burial would be the next day and then La Novena would start. I sat there and glanced up at the young mom and her parents, who had just lost a son and a grandson, their eyes red and puffy from too many tears. I said a silent prayer and imagined for a split-second the fear of what it might feel like to lose a child.

After a few hours of sitting had passed, we got in the car to head home. I told Gerber, “Our countries handle death in such different ways.  I explained how in the US a lot of people are cremated and then a funeral or memorial service may be planned for weeks or sometimes months later. Invitations get sent out, people fly in and schedules get coordinated. Part of this is our U.S. culture of busyness and planning, and perhaps having access to more advanced morgues and burial options. In Guatemala, people die and then are buried usually within 24-48hours because there are very few places to preserve or embalm the body.

In the U.S., I think we would like to compartmentalize grief. As if it’s something we can check off, follow 5 simple steps and then be done with it. But I think other cultures better embrace the fact that grief is a process, one that ebbs and flows with memories and seasons and certain times of year. And how beautiful to know that every year on November 1st is a day set-aside to remember loved ones who have died.

This morning, Angela, the woman who cleans our home, greeted me as I was about to leave for work. She drives a green pick-up truck, has more energy than I do and you would never know by looking at her that she has teenage grandkids. I asked her how her weekend was. “Fue bien bonito.” It was lovely.

She told me how every year on Dia De Los Muertos she goes to the cemetery where her son is buried. I have met some of her adult-children, but I never knew she had a son that died.

He would have been 37 this year,” she smiles, like only a mother does, knowing exactly how many birthdays have passed.

He died when he was 6 months old. He was born with a hole between his esophagus and stomach. He needed an operation, but I didn’t have money to pay for it.”

Her eyes look toward the tile floor. My heart drops. I am so sorry, I say. What was his name?

She smiles, Se llama José. His name was José.

When you reserve a day to honor and remember loved ones who have died, you not only acknowledged their death but you also get to say their name and remember who they were when they had life.

22nd October
written by Michelle

I am 33 today and despite my daughter’s concern that I am getting “older” I feel a deeply grateful. Maybe there is a certain wisdom and perspective that comes each year. I’d like to think I am little wiser, a little less controlling and a bit more joyful than […] Continue Reading…

13th October
written by Michelle

I realize I am making an erroneous leap, assuming that all cross-cultural workers are working with people in poverty. I know that is not the case. There are cross-cultural conversations happening all the time across board rooms and school rooms that involve people from two different cultures, but similar […] Continue Reading…

12th October
written by Michelle


The first time I heard about person first language was when I was doing my training to be a special education teacher. We talked about the value of seeing the person before the disability. Instead of saying “an autistic student” we learned to say “a student with autism.” When […] Continue Reading…

1st October
written by Michelle

For the month of October I am joining thousands of others writers and bloggers and committing to write for 31 days. I haven’t written consistently for years. I compose drafts in my head and never write them. I start posts, only to save them for later, where they accumulate […] Continue Reading…

28th September
written by Michelle


Proof of the red sweater set. (just the tank is pictured, thank goodness) This was taken the day we moved in.

Elena and I are flying back to California tomorrow for my 10-year college reunion. My parents graciously gifted us miles. I think partly so I […] Continue Reading…

13th September
written by Michelle

We have been back from vacation for almost a week now and usually after being away I am eager to jump back into our routines and the day to day rhythm of life here. I want to call people, post pictures and connect with the life we left. But […] Continue Reading…

21st August
written by Michelle


My Dear Blog,

Hi, it’s been awhile. I mean I know I have written a few posts this past year about Not Hiding Elsa and letting Expectations Melt Away, but overall my posts have been rather sparse. Maybe once a month, maybe. I start drafts and don’t finish them. I […] Continue Reading…

30th July
written by Michelle

If you are new here, these are series of letters I started writing to my daughter before she was born. This was the first one, and this is one her Daddy wrote her. I wrote about her birth story here  and a year ago I wrote this one. I seem to write a lot about raising a bilingual and bicultural […] Continue Reading…