Faith & Culture

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 could see some of my dearest college friends and so they could see their granddaughter. It’s a win, win if you ask me. I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in college. It’s been 14 years since I moved into Westmont on that hot, August morning and this is the letter I wish I would have read that day:


Dear Michelle,

Take a deep breath. You are excited and overwhelmed and probably the only freshman who brought an entire jar of quarters with you because you are worried doing laundry. What freshman comes to college worried about laundry? You also packed a cutting board, a knife and an orange peeler in your plastic containers because apparently you are worried about not being able to have apple slices for snacks and heaven forbid, you have to peel an orange with your fingers. You want to be prepared. I get that. But I think sometimes you use wanting to be prepared as a mask for wanting to feel in control. Preparing is good thing; you will always be a prepare-er and a planner. But you will eventually learn that even the most prepared people can’t actually control life.

You will probably feel insecure your first few months here. I am fairly certain wearing your red Ann Taylor sweater set and pedal pushers is not helping. You may call your mom on day three of orientation in tears because you feel like you don’t fit in. You will babble about how everyone wears brown flip-flops and Gap jeans and throws their hair-up in messy buns. You will sob through your tears, “I don’t even know how to do a messy-bun.” Your mom will listen and empathize and so dearly want to make it better. She will offer to come up one weekend and take you shopping. You have never owned anything from The Gap before, but you buy two pairs of jeans and some new flip-flops that everyone calls “Rainbows.” And you feel a little better, but you will soon learn that changing your outfit doesn’t automatically change your feelings.

Over the next four years you will learn to pay attention to how you’re feeling. You will learn to be honest with yourself first, and then with others. You will learn this is how meaningful friendships are formed, not from competition or comparing, but from the quiet “me too” moments shared sitting in the stairwell. You will be surprised the first time another girl from your dorm with the perfect messy-bun confides in you how overwhelming the DC (dinning commons) is and how her jeans also feel too tight from indulging in too much frozen yogurt. You will say, “me, too” and realize how comforting it is to know that you’re not the only freshman girl who worries about what food they will have in the dinning commons and who you will sit with and if you eat another brownie your cool Gap jeans may no longer fit. You never thought about these things much in high school, but everything now feels new and magnified, including how you’re your clothes do, or do not fit.

You will probably wonder if you are the only person who doesn’t play a musical instruments or wasn’t a homecoming princess or the student body president in high school. You will be envious and insecure and you may end up convincing your parents to buy you a guitar for Christmas because you signed-up for a beginning guitar class second semester. Because everyone at Westmont plays guitar, right? After 12 classes of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” you might decide that in fact you do not. And that’s ok.

College is as much about figuring our what you like, as what you don’t like.

And you don’t have to figure that all out right now, ok? Give yourself time and some grace. Other people will sound like they have their whole 4-years and their entire life planned out. And maybe they do. You probably think you do, too. But here’s the thing, there is so much to explore and learn. Fight off the pressure to have it all figured out right now. Develop a pat answer so when the 89th person asks “So, what’s your major?” you can respond confidently with “Well, I’m thinking about English, but I really like Sociology so I might take some classes in both.” Sure, it sounds nice when you can map out your next eight semesters clearly on paper, but life is not meant to be lived on paper. Life is dynamic, and changing and if you spend too much energy trying to plan it all out, you might miss the subtle way God is leading you to something new.

Some students probably need to be told to not sign up for too much or overextend themselves, but you Michelle, you need to be gently nudged to go ahead and take some risks. Don’t sign-up for the Speech and Debate Tournament and then cross your name off because you let your own fear and the other names on the list intimate you. Try it. Take the class that sounds super interesting even if it’s early in the morning or doesn’t give you any credits toward your major. Sometimes passion trumps practically. You will find as you grow-up the converse is often true. So take a risk and take the Cross-Cultural Communication class or the Human Nutrition class, those passions very well may shape who you are and where you end up one day. You don’t have to try everything, but at least try something. Find one thing to pour yourself into. It’s easy to focus on yourself and your grades and your plans for the next four years, but college and life are so much richer when you can focus on someone else as well.

Can we talk about dating real quickly? Just let whatever ideas you have of dating go for the time being. You will probably have more DC crushes* that you can count and you will most likely talk to exactly none of them. You will do awkward things like send a thank you note to the attractive upperclassmen who kindly helps you open your mail box. One day when you tell your future husband this story he will laugh and affirm that indeed that was weird. Some of your friends may meet and start dating their future spouse and they will be the cutest couple on campus. But the majority of people don’t actually meet their spouse while at college. I think if you let that expectation go now, you will enjoy these next four years a bit more. Sometimes expectations can lock you into an idea, and take away the opportunity right in front of you to grow and learn. In fact, you may find that you have to let go of many expectations before you actually meet the wonderful man you will one day marry.

(*a “DC crush” is the person you silently stalk and only see from afar in the dining commons, but you may plan out entire conversations in your head with afore mentioned person. This was before the days of Facebook. I guess now, you could silently stalk your DC crush on Facebook as well. Goodness I am glad that Facebook wasn’t around 14 years ago.)

Speaking of marriage, when Mark the RD shares at your first dorm event that having a roommate is the best preparation for marriage don’t scoff at how ridiculous that sounds as you Ashley look at each other and giggle, because there is SO much truth there. Sharing a room with another human being forces you to pay attention to how you live. And you might actually realize that not everyone lives like you. You will learn that apparently not everyone gargles with salt water or puts lotion on their feet and then sleeps with plastic bags covering them. When you share a light bulb and a door and bathroom with 8 other girls you learn a lot very quickly. And I bet one day your future husband will thank your previous roommates for teaching you to not slam your drawers shut in the morning or slurp your water too loudly. Your roommates have the potential to be your best friends or your most frustrating enemies. Make them the former. Learn how to bring up things that annoy you and how to respond with grace and love when they do the same. Those lessons will carry you through a lifetime.

The classes you take will ultimately give you credits to graduate, but I would argue it’s the professors you have that will give you wisdom for life. Hang on to their words and ideas because they may shape the way you approach questions of faith, science and literature for years to come. In ten years when you write something or read a well-thought out article you will always hear your favorite English professor’s voice ask, in the kindest, most profound way, “So, what?” So what does this mean for me? For my community? For our world? She will ask you this about your own writing and about the books you are reading in class, and you will find yourself asking this same question about your life. You may forget the details of what you learned 10 years later, but you will not forget the people who taught you. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Observe their life. And if they give you an invitation into theirs, take it. Westmont’s professors are truly some of the richest part of what makes Westmont College unique.

Can I make one more request? Please, fight the complacency to complain. It’s normal and can often be an easy way to connect. No one will disagree for a second that college classes are hard. There are lots of essays to write and tons of reading to do and it can all feel a bit overwhelming when you’re in it. But try really hard to choose to see it has a privilege; a privilege that only 3% of the people in the world get access to. You may not belive me now, but in ten years you may actually miss those spiral notebooks and textbooks and being in an environment where you are scribbling notes and soaking up knowledge every day. When you have to do something it feels like a burden, and it’s easy to complain about it. But don’t see Westmont as something you have to do. See it has a choice; something you get to do. You will probably still complain mostly about going to chapel because somehow you feel like it’s not a choice. But it is a choice. You have a choice in how you choose to view it. And 10 years later you might still be able to hear Ben Patterson’s voice reciting, “Murchison Gym, Santa Barbara, California, United States, North America, western hemisphere, planet earth…Universe, mind of God.” Even if those words may not mean much when you are sitting on those hard wooden bleachers, just hold on to them and tuck them away because one day when you feel far away and live in a different culture and country those words will surprisingly comeback to you and remind you of where you came from and who you are.

Michelle, you came to college with your life packed in the back of your parents mini-van and a heart full of lists and expectations. But I am going to let you in on a little secret. Life cannot always be labeled and organized and fit nice and neatly into plastic containers. You will learn that over and over during these next four years. You will learn how to make room for un-answered questions and trust a God who is more in control than you are. You will learn how to live closely with people who will become lifeline friends and in that process you will learn how to love better and how to listen well. You will learn how to think deeply and critically on a range of issues and also how to disagree civilly with people whose view is very different from your own. I will argue that these four years more than any other, will shape the way you think and how you choose to do life. Westmont will give you the skills for whatever kind of career or calling you choose to pursue, but even more so, it will shape your character for the kind of person you will become.

Enjoy these next four years, relax a little and give up on the messy bun. It just doesn’t work well with curly hair.

Much Love,


Fourteen years later, living a life so much different (and better) than I ever expected, and so grateful for the role Westmont has played in that.

16th October
written by Michelle



Last week, Elena and I were on our way back from an afternoon errand. As soon as I pull up in front of our house, her little voice from the backseat both asks and exclaims, “Agua? Agua!”

I pull her out of the carseat, going over my mental to-do list that should be written down somewhere, but it’s not. Call Sandra. Email the hotel. Peel Carrots. I make a mental note to buy a planner for 2015.

Elena interrupts my thoughts, “Agua!” “Agua?” I smile, knowing very well what she wants.

I leave the diaper bag in the car, grab my phone and keys while setting Elena on the sidewalk.

Ah-wa!” She points toward the cement basketball court.

She remembers.  After it rains there are always puddles of water.

She squeals as she runs toward the court, one hand pointing toward her destination the other hand tightly wrapped around my mine.

I marvel at her excitement. She splashes her feet in the water and giggles.

She hops over to the next puddle and does the same. Water splashes, her little white shoes get wet.

She pauses and notices the dirt on the side of court.

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She waddles over, and squats down. With one hand on the ground to sustain her, she uses her other to pick up a tiny rock. She holds it out for me to see, “mah-ma?” 

I nod and offer my motherly, “wow.”

She tosses it into the puddle. It barely makes a ripple, but she laughs.

She walks over to the puddle, splashes her little feet and then picks up the rock and gently tosses it into the next puddle.

She watches it land, then runs over to splash next to it.

Then she goes back to the dirt to look for another pebble.

I snap a few pictures.

I ask her, “What did you find? “ so she knows I am still there.

I stay about three feet back from where I usually would be, too hesitant to ruin her playing.


She tries to run, but slips and falls down. Her pants get wet. All wet.

Her eyes meet mine for reassurance.

It’s ok. You’re just a little wet. 

She seems consoled and begins splashing her hands in the water. The sleeves of her sweater absorb half of the dirty water. I restrain myself from interfering. I want to push up her sleeves or remove the wet sweater, but I don’t.

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It will wash out, I tell myself.

Her face is now wet, a mix of dirt and water drops have landed on places I usually try to keep clean. But she is smiling.

She straightens her legs into a little mini downward dog pose and pushes herself up to standing. She runs back over to the first puddle. She finds another little rocks and picks it up and then tosses it into the neighboring puddle.

For 25-minutes I watch this continue.

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I notice she has a pattern, a rhythm to her play. She is learning and discovering. She is having fun.

It is moment I realize, that I didn’t bring anything for her “to do.” We come to this little park often, but usually I wheel the stroller down with bubbles and a ball and sometimes snacks to share with friends we meet. I know those things are not inherently bad, but it made me wonder how often do I miss opportunities because I bring too much stuff?

•   •   •

I am a product of my generation and my country. The “if-I-don’t-buy-this-then-my-child-will-miss-out” parenting myth is strong and believable.  Sophie the Giraffe, gotta have that. Stacking wood colored blocks, yep. Baby moccasins, of course. Books, yes, please, more books! There is poverty in privilege because I can choose to buy all of these things for my daughter. I could choose (and often do) fill up her shelves and our lives with stuff, but I often wonder when I say yes, to those things what I am I saying no to.

How often is the cliché true, less is more?

Months ago I read part of the book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. The idea is that in the US, we give our kids too many choices, too much stuff and too little time and so it goes through ways to de-clutter your stuff and your life, taking away screen time to have more family time, planning less activities, etc. It’s mostly geared for school age children, but I think a lot of the principles are applicable now.

•   •   •

So I am thinking about this as a parent, but also a person.

I am by no means the poster child for simplicity. This blog is called Simply Complicated, with slightly more emphasis on the “complicated.” Just look at my computer desktop or how many drafts I have saved in my email (454!). I can pack-up tw0 50lb suitcases with tightly rolled clothes, cushioned around picture frames and cute anthropologie bowls like it’s my job. I have “wishlists” saved in my phone of things I want to get when we’re in the US later this month. I am usually a more is better, always be prepared kinda person. Ask anyone who knows me, simple I am not.

•   •   •

So I am thinking about this idea of less is more on a personal level, but also on a societal level.

I would say one of the most frustrating and perhaps best parts of living in Guatemala is that I have fewer options. By nature there are just less choices here. There is no Target, no 2-day amazon prime, or return policy. What you buy is yours and when the store if out, it means they’re really out. There’s no backup. You can find things like frozen fruit in pre-packaged bags and pre-chopped bags of broccoli or lettuce, but you’ll pay 5 times as much for it. Convenience and efficiency are not a high value in Guatemala. But you know what is? Contentment.

I don’t think I am alone when I say, I feel more content here, than I do when I am in the states. And it’s not because I have found some secret recipe for contentment. No, I think it’s more circumstantial. Less is more. When you have fewer options, I think in general you’re more grateful for what you have.

•   •   •

So, I am left wondering how do you raise kids in relative material wealth, who still grow up to be content? Does contentment grow out of the very fact of not having enough? By buying our kids too much stuff are we taking away the very opportunity to practice being content?

It’s privilege of the wealthy that even get to look at this whole notion that less is more. I know for many families growing up in poverty, less really is less. There is nothing to glorify about poverty. My husband can attest that there is nothing nostalgic about never getting a birthday present or not ever getting a new toy. He never had his own books to read or crayons to color with. Sure, he learned how to be creative and climb trees and run through corn fields, but it wasn’t cause his parents were trying to give him “opportunities”for play and discovery or practice being content, it was really because there were not any other options.

When is less more? And when is it really less?

It seems fewer options leads to more contentment, but no options leads to fewer opportunities.

Maybe the question I am learning to ask is, by saying yes to (buying/bringing/getting) _______ ____ for myself or our daughter, what am I saying no to?

•   •   •

I think about that day at the park last week. About the simple joy of watching Elena play.


As the sun begins to set, I carry home my wet, dirty and smiley, little girl. I set her down on the doormat before walking inside. She puts her colds hands on my cheeks as I lift up one leg at a time.

“Let’s get these dirty shoes off you.”

I peel off her wet pants and stained socks. I lift her shirt and sweater up over her head and kiss her bare bell button. She laughs and squirms away.


I leave her clothes in a pile by the front door, thankful that I can throw those in the washing machine as soon as she’s in bed. I pick her up as we march up the stairs for bath time. “Bah?!”

Yes, time for a bath. And then night, night!

I smile as touch my nose to her hers.

She can’t yet say it, but I have a feeling we both went to bed that evening feeling quite content.


P.S.  Look, her curls! They also make me quite content! xo


16th February
written by Michelle

The problem when you juggle too much is your bound to drop something.

And lately, I feel like I’ve been dropping things.

Friendships that I wish I could invest more in, writing that gets drafted in my head but never typed on the screen, boxes of stuff that are (yes, still!) not put away from our move, photo projects and gifts that I want to make but haven’t even started and time that could be used to exercise or cook better meals is spent holding my sweet sleeping baby who still hasn’t learned how to nap in her crib.

Because of our work and ministry, Gerber’s usually gone at least a week a month. I work outside the home part time and try to work from home the other half. Some days it goes better than others. We have a sitter stay with Elena in the mornings. Afternoons I’m usually home and we juggle our evenings depending who has to go with one of the groups. But stuff gets dropped. Our time together becomes a little more scattered, a lot more focussed on what’s happening tomorrow then on how we’re actually doing. Our text messages become a way to share information “She’s sleeping. Can you bring home burritos?” instead of a way to say sweet, wonderful. “I love yous.”

Maybe this is how all moms or families feel? Maybe part of being a parent means that the very things in your life that used to have order, now feel chaotic? Or the things that used to easily flow in and out of your days, are now thrown up in the air to juggle back and forth?

Sometimes I realize it’s just hard to admit that I thought… oh, surely by 8 months we’ll have this parenting thing figured out. We’ll have a good routine and our baby will nap for 2 hour stretches and we’ll eat dinner together and watch movies and be sleeping like we used to. Ha! Boy was I wrong. We continue to juggle and learn and change and argue and say I am sorry.

I think the hard thing about juggling, is it doesn’t feel sustainable. We can all juggle for a season. But then you get tired. Or you start dropping pieces. Sometimes I convince myself I just need an extra hand, or to have a few less pieces to juggle. Probably both. But then I realize this is simply a season when we are both going to be juggling a lot. 


So this last week we made some *small* but significant changes.

+ We left Elena twice at night and went out— with 24 other people from our medical/dental team- but we went out, nonetheless. And it was fun. I wore a necklace that the baby wasn’t pulling on. And we held hands and ate dinner without jugging a little one back and forth. Given some culture differences on leaving our baby + the fact that she has gone to sleep almost every night while being breastfed, this felt huge for us! I mean this hasn’t happened in 8 months people, 8 months!

+ We brought Elena to the community where we work for 2 days this week, instead of us staying at home. It’s a 90 min drive, temps above 100 degrees with humidity that makes you sweat the whole day. I was a bit nervous about bringing her, wondering how she would do. …but she loved it! And it was rejuvenating for Gerber and I to work together again. To be in the same community, talking, translating, driving, organizing and knowing what needs to happen without having to say it. Instead of juggling 2 different agendas for the day and communicating via texts and phone calls we were physically there together. We fell in love while working together and we both haven’t been in the community together for 8 months.

 + We’ve been honest. We have talked with our director and have asked for help. We sent out an enewsleter to friends and supporters and were honest about how we’re really doing. And I have been overwhelmed by how people responded. Such encouraging, heartfelt emails that make us go, ok, maybe part of this is normal. We’re not along. 

+ I have set aside some time for me. I know I need some time during the week to read or paint my nails or write or pray or let’s be honest…sleep. When Gerber’s home we usually trade off mornings so one of us gets to sleep in. Our early morning riser is not rising as early (she was waking up in the 5 o’clock range for months- whose child is this?!) and now she’s entering the wonderful world of 6 or 6:30am which is still early in my book, but so so much better.

+ Accepting and enjoying this as a season. My mom kept reminding me of this when she was here, as only a mom can. With the wisdom and experience of a someone who has raised 4 kids and worked and served in ministry she somehow knows this is a season. A sweet, challenging season that does in fact involve a lot of juggling.

And maybe what I am learning is that juggling isn’t so much the problem. It’s learning to give myself grace when I do drop things.

How do you respond when you feel like you’re juggling too much?


**If you’re not on our enewsletter list and you’d like to be, leave a comment below or email me michelle[at] and I’ll add you.


8th May
written by Michelle

 las mamas

If you’ve followed along here recently then you definitely know that I have a baby on the brain. And it’s true our Baby Girl is coming soon and her pending arrival has opened up a whole new host of feelings. My heart is thrilled and beyond excited to meet her and learn how to be her mom. I waver back and forth between feeling calm, like the timing couldn’t be better, to panicking and making frantic lists of things we have to buy or get done before she comes.

I hear motherhood has a quick learning curve. And lately I have been fascinated by how cultures and mom’s around the world learn how raise their children. I never planned on living in a country different than the one I grew up in or raising my children bilingually. I am like a sponge soaking up information, noticing how moms care for their babies, respond to a cry or don’t, and realizing how different our cultural upbringing shapes how we think about parenting and kids.

I’ve been reading books on this topic. I find myself nodding along when moms describe things that other cultures do and how our first response if often to raise an eyebrow, give a stink eye and judge. But how there is often something to learn, maybe first and foremost about our own cultural values. I just downloaded and started I reading this book: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) thanks to my friend, Sarah, who is also raising a bilingual daughter. And I loved French Kids Eat Everything and I even put this book: Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent on my registry because it looks so interesting to me.

{I am kinda counting on hours and hours of breastfeeding time to read. Is this totally unrealistic? just tell me now…}


A few days ago an article I wrote appeared on InCultureParent, a great online resource and link for parents anywhere.

This quote by Nicholas Day, author of Baby Meets World, influenced the whole piece:

“every society has what it intuitively believes to be the right way to raise a child.”

Here’s an except from the article:

In a few short months I will be a first time mom. So, like any U.S. mom-to-be, I have been doing my reading; bits of BabyWise and Attachment Parenting, WebMD and my favorite mommy blogs are always open on my browser. I mean what new mom doesn’t want to have the Happiest Baby on the Block? I am a firm believer that our U.S. culture convinces us if we read and plan ahead of time then we will be better parents. And yet somehow I know nothing in these books or websites will totally prepare me for the birth of our first baby.

Read the rest here.


Have you ever thought about how much of your own ideas about parenting and raising kids are influenced by our culture? And I wonder if even two US parents, bring their own sub-cultural expectations into raising kids? Thoughts? Do share.

{photo: taken in 2007 without permission of these two moms… If I were to re-take it I would probably ask their permission first and their names and how how old her baby is : ) }

14th March
written by Michelle


Last Friday was International Women’s Day. I posted this on facebook and twitter:

Today my husband wished me a Happy International Women’s Day. Then he asked, “so when is International Men’s Day? #goodquestion #equality

And within minutes I was surprised by the responses and replies from men and women alike. Comments like “I’m pretty sure every other day is already international men’s day” or “Men have had thousands of years, you ladies deserve one day.

•   •   •

On one hand I understand where these comments come from.  Men, especially white men, historically have had unprecedented power and access to things like property rights, voting, and leadership positions in both church and government. There is no argument; worldwide men have had more power and control. For centuries women were 2nd class citizens if that, often no better than mere property. And I know first hand that in many developing countries around the world many women are no better off now than hundreds of years ago.

I know because I live in one of those developing countries. I live in Guatemala, a country where the machista attitude is still king and many women lack access to basic land rights, birth control options and education. It’s a country where family is valued above all else, but domestic violence is still quietly accepted as the norm. Change is happening, but slowly.

 •   •   •

I teach at an all girls’ schools in a small village called Santa Maria de Jesus. Each morning 120 indigenous Guatemalan girls in their brightly woven skirts and colorful blouses walk up the dirt road to come to school. They sit at wooden desks, one size too big, with their little brown feet dangling in plastic flip-flops. Many of these girls wouldn’t get to the opportunity to study otherwise, because preference is often given to their brothers. We always start with full class of 30 girls in 1st grade, but usually only 1/3 of them make it to 6th grade. I believe whole-heartedly in these girls and that by giving them access to education they will have more opportunities in the future.

I, if anyone get, believe in and celebrate, International Women’s Day, but it’s left me with a question:


In our pro-women, girls-only push, are we failing the next generation of young men?

Don’t we need groups for young boys? Groups that teach them what it means to work together? Don’t we need role models who will show how to respect women and serve them? How do we empower men to be wise leaders and humble learners? I don’t think that happens by just elevating and celebrating women.

 •   •   •

Guatemala has a large international community, NGOs from the US and Europe are on almost every city corner. Mission groups and churches have had a long history here as well. Thanks to a large international presence and many NGOs working on women’s rights, International Women’s Day is big deal here. In my local grocery store a handmade hung above the roses, “¡Feliz Dia de La Mujer!” My Facebook feed was full of empowering, encouraging posts honoring Guatemalan women. None of this bothers or upsets me in the slightest, but it does make me question. Why don’t I remember ever seeing a sign at the grocery story or a Facebook post about International Men’s Day? In fact I know very few organizations that are specifically working with boys or young men. I can name a few in the US, like Donald Miller’s Mentoring Project that are targeting boys who don’t have dad’s in their lives, but they seem to be few and far between.

It makes me wonder why and ask what the consequences will be? Don’t we need the next generation of men to grow up respecting, listening to and partnering with women? If we just focus on Women’s day and women’s rights where does that leave our next generation of men?

I believe, as I think Jesus modeled, that women and men are made equally in His image. Jesus constantly went against the culture to embrace the prostitute, the widow or the Samaritan women. In fact, the first person He revealed himself to was the woman at the well. He was radical in his treatment of women not as second-class citizens, but as beloved daughters. He gave worth to women, when society gave them next to nothing.

The church and our world clearly have a lot to learn in how we regard our daughters and young women. But do we also have something to learn about how we raise-up and teach our sons? Sometimes I wonder what would Jesus think of our 21st century Girl-Power society. Would he wonder why we have neglected young men?

•   •   •

My husband and I are expecting our first baby in a few months and we are thrilled. A little girl. She will be half Guatemalan, half gringo. And you can bet money on it that I want her to have access to education and be able to dream big dreams. I want her to be listened to and respected because of who she is and what she knows, not how she looks. I want her to see people from her gender in Congress and leading companies and preaching in churches. I want my daughter to be celebrated on International Women’s Day. And I hope that one day, many years from now, she will meet a man, who was also celebrated on International Men’s Day.

In case you were wondering, International Men’s Day is November 19th.

5th November
written by Michelle

I may not live in the United States, but I believe that voting matters.

But I’ve been asking myself, does one vote really make a difference? Is it really worth registering online, downloading and printing out my ballot, signing it and then mailing it back to my home state of California before Tuesday November 7th?


Here’s why:

I believe voting is a privilege, not a right. And it’s a privilege that women in our country didn’t have until 1920! If it means a little extra “work” for me to honor and respect what women in the 1900s fought for then I’ll do it.

If you don’t take the time to be informed and vote, then you have absolutely no right to complain. I don’t think you ever like every politician in leadership, that’s a given. But in my opinion, if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain.

Eugene Cho said it best in a recent tweet:

“Politics is important to me because it involves policies and policies impact people. Last time I checked people are really important to God.”


You know I won’t tell you how to vote. But I do know that the policies that our government makes affect people- both locally and abroad. It’s easy to get lost behind ridiculously expensive campaign budgets and snarky comments. But the truth is how we vote and who we vote for ultimately affects people. And I agree with Eugene, people are really important to God.

And maybe, most importantly voting gives us a chance to voice an opinion and disagree with people in power and each other. Considering certain governments in our world, I think this is a gift. We will always have two sides (and maybe more) to every political campaign. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we need leaders who can be fiscally and socially conservative to help provide for the next generation, and we also need more liberal leaders who protect equality, the immigrant and the environment. Maybe what we really need are leaders who can learn to work together. And maybe that starts with us- the voters. If we can’t be civil, supportive or work together how can we expect out top politicians to do the same?

My family is a good example. I’m sure between the 6 of us we probably “cancel “out each others votes. We’re right down the middle: 3 of us lean toward the liberal side and another 3 of us vote republican through and through. But for the most part we all still get along. We come together for Holidays and sit at the table together. There may be some political banter and jokes, but for the most part we are civil even though our political perspectives differ greatly.

What would it look like if our nation did the same?

I’ve been following this group on twitter: ElectionDayCommunion. The idea is Christians from BOTH sides of the political spectrum come together and meet at the same table, the Lord’s table on Election Day. We acknowledge that we may cast a vote for the future leader of our country, but God wants us to remember that he is the leader of our lives.

I echo this prayer for tomorrow:


Prayer for the election

By Joanna Harader, author of the “Spacious Faith” blog

God of justice and compassion,
God of Republicans and Democrats and Independents, God of the poor and the 1% and the middle class,
in the heat of this election year
we pray for our nation, our churches, and ourselves.

In the midst of meanness and deception, may our words be kind and true.

In the midst of loud speeches and harsh accusations,

may we listen well and try to understand.

May those who follow Jesus do the work of Jesus– breaking down the dividing walls
speaking the truth in love
meeting together in the face of disagreements.

Holy, loving God, have mercy on your children.


(photo and prayer source:

9th October
written by Michelle


I have been home from CCDA for over a week and haven’t given myself much time to write or process the conference. Sometimes those two are one and the same for me; the writing and the processing that is. I think that’s what writers do- Because the very act of writing can help make sense of what’s swimming around inside.

So here’s my attempt:

CCDA brings people together; people from across the political spectrum, with different colors of skin and and a range denomination affiliations. Some come with dreadlocks, fresh out of college, others with strollers and kids on tow, and a few with their greying hair, and years of wisdom and experience. We sang in English, then Spanish and Mandarin. We heard speakers, preachers and professors from every walk of life.

A Palestinian Christian. A Native American from the Sioux Reservation.

A Duke professor. A  recovering addict. An 88-year-old son of a sharecropper from Mississippi.

There were some of speakers you’ve probably heard of: Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Barbara Williams-Skinner, but there were probably even more that don’t have big names or famous book. They are every-day, extraordinary people who are working, serving and living in communities with the very people they serve. They presented workshops about:

Christian Community Development, Immigration Services, Racial Reconciliation,

Leadership Development, Toxic Charity, Social-Entrepreneurship, Welcoming Refugees, Acting White,

Combating Organizational Fatigue and Burnout, Mobilizing the Church to Address Systemic Injustice,

…and I could keep going.

My sister did one workshop titled, 9/11, Al Qaeda and your Muslim Neighbor. I probably learned more in that one hour than in any history class I ever took in school. She talked bout the Muslim faith, how our news-media represents both sides so poorly and what does it really look like if we are called to be neighbors and friends.

My Twitter-friend-turned-real-friend, Sarah and her husband did a fascinating workshop discussing the Multicultural family; looking at everything from cross-cultural marriage, raising bi-lingual kids and living biracially. I was all ears.

+   +   +

CCDA is definitely geared for people working in urban centers doing some kind of community development work, but much of what is discussed applies to churches, families, teachers and really anyone with a desire to be more intentionally involved in serving your community.

As a first timer to this kind of conference, what stands out to me is not the richness in our differences and unique perspectives; no, it was the shared commitment to keep asking what it means to do this together. 

How do we commit to keep loving Jesus and our neighbor?

How do we keep caring for the widow, the foreigner, the immigrant?

How are resources distributed and who has access to them?

How do we create a world where women are just as valued and heard as men?

What does justice look like in public eduction, tax laws, churches and neighborhoods in your community.

These are questions that were asked. And we keep asking together.

And just like we keep seeking Jesus and Justice and asking these important questions. CCDA recognizes that we also must keep asking for forgiveness. And keep acknowledge what we have done wrong in the name of the Church and capitalism and consumerism.

Reconciliation is not possible, until there is an acknowledgement of the wrong, the pain, and the grief. Sometimes, reconciliation needs to make way for lament, before rejoicing appears. Maybe reconciliation and any kind of justice seeking starts with an apology and a prayer.

Father forgive me. Forgive us.


++ If you’re still reading I’m impressed ++ And, if you just skimmed to this part, you’re in luck++


In no particular order here one some of my favorite quotes from the conference. I’m working on putting together a book list, but that will be another post.  For now:

When will a nation of immigrants apologize to the indigenous  population?” -Richard Twiss, question from a Native American


“We cannot fall into the trap of us and them. If you want to follow Jesus you have to love your enemy? Who is your enemy? -Sami Awad, Palestinian who uses nonviolent approaches to end the Israeli occupation


“One of the most important things you can provide for a man is a job.” - John Perkins, on Empowerment


“You know how it goes…If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Well, it’s not true. Whoever owns the pond, controls how long you fish. It’s not just teaching a man how to fish. You gotta have capital. That’s empowerment.” -John Perkins, discussing Christian Community Development


“Reconciliation is as big as bridging the biggest social divide, but it’s also as SMALL as loving the person who irritates you the most.”
- Chris Rice, “Theology of Reconciliation”


“We have one of the best productive system in the world, but one of the worst systems of distribution.”-John Perkins, on Stewardship
“The Psalmist did not say be busy and know that I am God.” -Rey Rivera, on Rest


We’ve made God into a white, middle-class American, but what does Jesus of the bible say?” - Shane Claiborne, on his new book “The Red Letter Revolution”


“I wish we had the same courage for reconciliation as we do for taking up the sword, war, and guns.” - Tony Campolo


“After going oversees for a one year service project, my friend noticed, that students returned more committed to Justice, but less committed to Jesus.” - Chris Rice, on not taking the Jesus out of Justice


“Don’t give people what they don’t need. No one wants your used clothes. If you’re gong to feed people, eat with them. If you have a food bank, make it your goal to shorten the line. People want a job and to be a part of something, not just to keep receiving your food.” -wisdom, straight from Mr. John Perkins


And this was perhaps this most powerful, raw example of the beginning of reconciliation: A Korean American’s Confession

P.S. CCDA 2013…Don’t miss it: New Orleans. September 11-14.

P.S.S. If you want more info from this years conference check out Twitter #CCDA2012

27th September
written by Michelle

If you’re reading this I am guessing you have either:

a) been on a short-term mission trip or b) sent money to someone going on one.

Now, I could write a whole book about the benefits and limitations of short-term mission trips. I have seen short-term mission trips go very well or very, very badly.

The organization that we work for hosts teams of college students, youth groups, churches and rotary club members throughout the year. A big part of my job is coordinating the details so those groups come prepared and our Guatemalan staff is empowered to host them. We work hard to help these groups understand that their role is to serve, learn and catch a vision of what God is doing here. If you have been one of the people who has come to serve and learn in Guatemala with us, I have nothing to say but thank you. I really enjoy what I do and the people I get to meet.

So, Why Do We Serve?

Now, weather you consider yourself a religions or spiritual person, or have ever taken a mission trip, I’m guessing some of the times that you have felt the best about yourself were times when you were helping other people, right? And I’m guessing being generous once encouraged you to want to keep living generously. Because you probably learned whether consciously or subconsciously that being generous is contagious. It gave you a sense of dignity and empowerment, right? And I believe we were created to serve other people, because maybe it’s only then that we realize that living for ourselves is not the way we want to live.

The thing is having the opportunity to serve oversees or locally is just that- an opportunity. By definition it means you know how to make that happen, you know where to go and how to raise support so that you can serve.  Gerber and I are firm believers that GENEROSITY is a POWERFUL AGENT of CHANGE both on an individual level and in a larger community.

However, what can happen in short-term missions is that well-meaning people come from other countries to give, but in the process take away an opportunity from someone else in the host country. There are not simple answers. We fall into patterns that have been reinforced historically, economically and politically for years. Some people or countries (in this case, Guatemala) get very good at being receivers, and others (in this case, the States) become very good at being givers. But we if tried to change it? What if we did something different?

The truth is we need to BE both. Givers and receivers. As individuals, as communities, as churches, as teachers, and countries. We need to be both, givers and receivers.

Guatemalans Helping Guatemalans

This October we want to provide Guatemalan students the opportunity to serve other Guatemalans.  These 12 students may not have the same kind of resources that you or I have, but they want a chance to be generous. They want a chance to serve people in their own country, in their own language and own culture.

We’re taking them to a community where we’ve been working the past few months, a village called Coyolate. In the southern part of Guatemala where the humidity sticks to your skin and beads of sweat still form at 8 at night, are about 40 families who live on Government “donated” land.  After their own communities disappeared during the civil war, many people fled to Mexico as refugees and when they returned they were given this land in 2000. The community school was just completed in 2004.

We’ll sleep under mosquito nets, and spend days mixing cerement, and building water filters with families. We’ll probably eat a lot of eggs, beans and tortillas and I’m sure if my husband has anything to with it, there be a few chamuscas played on dirt fields with tall sticks marking the goals. We’ll have debriefs in the evenings and some activities with the local school. At one of our recent meetings when we told the students to bring their bathing-suit. They looked confused. Why? They asked. We will shower by bucket without the privacy of walls and curtains. Hence the appropriateness of a bathing suit :)

And more than anything that we accomplish during that week, we hope these students will understand that if you say you want to follow Jesus, then what you DO often means far more than what you SAY.

Like any trip it costs money to do this. Food, transportation, supplies, etc.

These students have been working hard, really hard. They have been selling cookies and muffins at recess, hosting garage sale kind of events, asking fellow students and community members to raise money. So far they have raised about $705 — which when you’re doing it by collecting fichas in increments of 2-3 quetzales (roughly 25 cents) that’s A LOT. And we want to match their effort.

Will you help us?*

*Watch this video they made to find out more or go to here and scroll down to Healthy Communities and write “Student Mission Trip” in the note.


12th September
written by Michelle


Yesterday as I scrolled through facebook and twitter I was struck by the images of valiant firefighters and #9/11 and #neveforget hashtags.

Twelve years ago, on a Tuesday morning, September 11th, our nation suffered immense loss. 2,996 people died in one day. However, why don’t we remember the more than 100,000 Iraqi’s who have died since we invaded the country in 2003?

War is complicated and politics are messy and I don’t claim to be an expert in either. But I do know that loss is loss. And you can’t qualify or quantify it. September 11th was horrible day in our country’s history. As a nation we define and mark time before 9/11 and after 9/11. A lot changed after that one day. Especially for people who lost someone they loved.

*  *  *

Dads on flights who never got to see their kids again.

Wives’ whose last memory of their sweetheart is a voice-mail recording made while stuck in the 2nd tower.

Moms who never saw their sons again.

Brave firefighters who were attempting to save others, but never made it out.

Officers in the Pentagon at the start of what they thought was a normal Tuesday, didn’t leave to see the end of it.

Kids born in the months after 9/11 have grown up never knowing their fathers. (In fact ABC has followed them and their families and you can can get an inside look at some of their stories, pain, and loss since 9/11)

A twenty-two year old with a ring purchased to propose to his fiance never had a chance to ask her.

This lists makes me sad. My heart aches imagining what if it was me? What if the flight that I was expecting my husband to arrive on never landed? What if I never saw him again?

For many this day is a reminder of what and whom you lost. And I cannot imagine the pain and sadness you still feel.

*  *  *

But there’s another side.

There always is. And this so-called “other side” is one that we don’t hear a lot about. In fact I have a feeling some pretty important people, pay some pretty big money so we don’t hear about the number of civilian casualties in Iraq.

We don’t hear that as of July of this year between 108,430 to 118,484 Iraqi civilians have died. 

We don’t hear about the Grandmother who had to watch as her son got shot in the head.

We don’t hear about the kids who went to play in street and were at the wrong place at the wrong time, because they will never play again.

We don’t hear about the family that was in their apartment eating breakfast when the bomb dropped. All of them dead.

We don’t hear about the wife whose husband went to the market to buy khubz, Iraqi flatbread, and never returned.

We don’t hear those stories. And those stories too should make our heart hurt.

*  *  *

I am not saying that mourning and remembering for the loss of our own nation is wrong. Not at all. But I am saying that it’s incomplete if we don’t also mourn and remember some of the very people that our nation - “in the name of freedom“-  has been responsible for their death.

Sometimes I wonder if our patriotism desensitizes us to our humanity?

And the same question could be asked of any nation, but as a US citizen I write from my perspective. And as a Christian, I wrestle with understanding what it means to “love your enemy” more than your flag.

Donald Miller, author and speaker, posted this on twitter yesterday and it is my prayer for myself and my country:

“The world will have really changed when on this day we talk about justice and forgiveness. #9/11”


What is your prayer after 9/11?

Do you agree that our patriotism desensitizes us to our humanity? If not, why?


For more info about what happened after 9/11… in the war in Iraq:

-A heart wrenching video looking at the civilians death in Iraq: What the US news doesn’t show

-The UK group Iraq Body Count

-What the US Govt hasn’t revealed about civilians death

photo credit:

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27th August
written by Michelle

I would call myself a Christian. But there have been seasons of my life where those words have felt weighted by the need for a disclaimer.

I’ve wanted to stamp a SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING on my backpack: I’m not like those Christians. I do not always vote republican, I deeply care about our environment and I don’t think your sexuality defines who you are or what rights you have.

I don’t get think that Jesus would be too happy with my need to qualify what it means to be a Christian. He seemed to be above all of that stuff.

A New Church

G and I have been attending a new church near Guatemala City. Being in someone’s home, with a community of people who are willing to be challenged and committed to keep asking good questions, makes the 45-minute drive on a rainy, Sunday afternoon worth it. The messages are video-casted in from a church in Atlanta, called North Point. And this week Andy Stanley’s message was not only challenging, but also a bit controversial. Maybe that’s why I respect him and the church community we’re part of.

He called it what it is.

Christians- we, myself, people in the church- are sometimes the biggest hypocrites.

Crowded together on wooden benches and white plastic chairs last night we sat and listened.

Andy talked about how Christians have used the bible to justify horrible things in our history- the enslavement of fellow human beings, the persecution and genocide of Jews, the abuse and subordination of women, the right to wealth and power, and I could go on and on. The thing is we can use theology to justify anything. People have done it for years and it’s quite scary, really because we still do it.

The Danger of The One Verse

Every side of every issue has a verse. Just ask them. It’s easy to pull a single verse out of the bible to prove your point.

I realized in some ways we all do this.

The truth is if you call yourself a follower of Christ or a Christian, you too have chosen parts of the bible to ignore. We do this pick-and-chose-dance based on context, and theology or what your church tradition and current culture tells us is acceptable.  Last time I checked I didn’t know any women in modern evangelical churches who have their heads covered or any men walking around with their right eye gouged out from lusting after a woman.  And as far as I know, most us have not sold all of our possessions and given them to the poor.

In someway or another most of us ask ourselves what was the intent of the commander, not just what was the commandment.

One of the things I love about Jesus, is that he knew we would do this. The Pharisees did it back then. They asked things like, “Well, how close can I get to breaking the law, without actually breaking it?” Or they’d question Jesus like a bossy older sibling, “How come your disciples don’t follow the rules and wash their hands before they eat?” (Matthew 15)

A New Commandment

But Jesus responds. And not with rules and laws, but with a new commandment. A new commandment that encompasses all the rest of them. A commandment that Jesus lives out to the fullest, and I believe has so much potential for good when we can learn to do the same.

He says:

Love one another. In the same way I have loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples- when they see the LOVE you have for EACH OTHER

(John13:34, The message- italics added for emphasis)

That’s it.

Wouldn’t it be cool if one day someone said… hey, I know they’re Christians because of they love that they have for each other?

I don’t think this implies that we will all agree or come to some universal mutual understanding and vote for the same political party. I think being a follower of Christ leaves room for diversity and difference of opinion, but there is no question that if I chose to call myself a Christian than I have a responsibility to ask myself daily: What does love require of me?

What does love require of me?

What does love require of me each morning, each day, while I wash dishes or wait in line at the bank?

What does love require of me when I read facebook posts that I whole-heartily disagree with? Or when I see an old man with a beard and a bible clenched under his arm proselytizing in the park?

What does love require of me when I watch news broadcasts with Christians holding up hate posters against gays and lesbians? Or when Christians with very good intentions would rather hand out candies and t-shirts in the name of Jesus, instead of learning about development and empowerment?

What does love require of me when I want to control a situation in order to get my own way? Or when I want to be generous only when it benefits me? What does love require of me when I chose to ignore someone else’s needs because of my power or position?

What does love require of me?

I think I know the answer. But sometimes it’s a lot harder to live out, than it is to write about.
How do I chose to act differently? To speak differently? And to not do exactly what makes me so frustrated in the first place? Respond in anger, or disgust, or with excuses and judgement?

Whether you call yourself a Christian or not…

Will you join me in asking this question…What does love require of me? How do we live it out every day?



P.S. you can watch Andy Stanley message or the full series online at: