Love & Relationships

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 I was at 23. And I hope I can say the same 10 years down the line. 

Birthdays can be gentle invitations to gratitude, but also painful reminders of what you have lost or what you would have hoped to have. I remember a dear friend telling me how hard it felt to celebrate another year by herself. She was 32 and what she really had hoped for was a birthday surrounded by a husband, a life-long partner. 

I have another sweet friend whose own mom died to cancer before she finished elementary school. She once told me, I would give anything to be able to celebrate my birthday with the one who gave birth to me.

 I am not sure what’s tougher, birthdays without loved ones who have died or birthdays without someone you had hoped to love.

 When you’re a woman who struggles with infertility a birthday is yes, another year of life, but also a painful reminder of a life that you so deeply want to hold, but cant. One friend described each passing year of hoping to be pregnant as “a heaviness that keeps growing in your heart, while nothing grows in your womb.”

 Can I just say, if birthdays have felt hard for you, I am so, so sorry. Our culture in general doesn’t do a good job of acknowledging how days typically reserved for celebrations can sometimes also be days filled with sadness. They often go hand-in hand, the celebration and the mourning.

 I remember my own birthday at 27. Sitting over hamburgers and beer at my favorite little beachside restaurant, two of my best friends asked me, what I was most looking forward to in the year ahead— a simple and appropriate questions for a birthday dinner. But instead of words, tears came. I couldn’t answer the question, because I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge the growing discontentment in my heart. I was chasing a meaningful career and filling my schedule with really good things, but my heart was being pulled elsewhere. It’s funny how your life can be so full, but your heart can feel empty. That was the last birthday I celebrated in California.

This evening after getting home from a fun and loud family dinner at my sister-in-law’s house, complete with tortillas, fresh squeezed limonada, cake and three rounds of “Feliz Cumpleanos,” I carried an over-tired Elena upstairs. It was already way past her bedtime, but I am firm believer that celebrations sometimes trump bedtimes. I tried to brush her teeth and she adamantly demanded to do it “all buh mah-self.” We read, The Giving Tree, one time and I kissed her forehead and told her how much I loved the flowers from her and Daddy. As I stood up, picking up her dirty clothes on the floor, I heard her little voice singing “happy buh-th-day to you” and my heart melted just a bit. I closed the door leaving just an inch of space between the white frame because she likes it when the hall light shines in.

 I walked downstairs, carrying the dirty towels from the bathroom and Elena’s clothes, my heart full from the special and yet very ordinary ways that made this birthday wonderful. I started a load of laundry and remembered what a gift it is, nothing short of a modern miracle really, that a machine will wash our clothes while we sleep. I curled up next to my husband on the couch and we commiserated how full we were. I moaned as I stood up and complained how hard it felt to move. “That’s what happens when you’re 33” he joked. He can only say that because for 9 months he will tease me that I am older than him. I got out my coffee thermos for the morning and filled up my pink water bottle and snuck back upstairs to read through Facebook birthday messages and write a bit before bed.

I think my favorite kinds of birthdays are ordinary days sprinkled with thoughtful gifts and affirming words and this birthday started and ended with both. I spent my first 27 birthdays in California and I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend my next 27 here in Guatemala.


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.

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 daughter and about the hardest part of motherhood . You can read the rest of the Dear Mija Letters here.

Dear Mija,

We celebrated your birthday last month and I still can’t believe you’re two. I have finally accepted that I may never actually start or finish anything that resembles a traditional baby book, so these letters will be what I hold on to for you. I write so one day you will remember what you were like and what kind of things you did, but perhaps equally important I write so I can remember what I kind of mom I am learning to be.

First, I am learning to be the kind of mom that doesn’t compare. The first year of your life I was so eager to know, Am I doing this right? So I looked to see what other moms were doing. I used their routines and parenting philosophy as my gauge. Oh, your 10 month old sleeps 12 hours straight through the night. Great, why isn’t mine? Or your kiddo can be left with loving caregivers and not scream, really? So, why can’t mine? I think I was asking the wrong questions and in turn getting answers that were not helpful. Elena, I don’t want to be the kind of mom who compares your growth and development or my choices as a mama to other moms.

This year I have been paying extra attention to you and less on what everyone else is doing. I know that you have always been active, but now I see how central it is to who you are. You get excited to climb and jump and hang on the end of our table with your feet swinging in the air. And when you get angry or upset you often need a physical response to calm down. You need a tight hug or some swaying back and forth or the natural comfort of nursing. Physical movement calms you down and I smile now, when I think about all of those days and nights bouncing you on the gray exercise ball that we kept in your room or walking with you in the ergo just so you would fall asleep. You didn’t have words to tell me, but you sure made your needs known.

I joke that it took you two years before you felt tired. Because that is just about when you started sleeping well. Right about a year ago we placed you on the floor and you slept better than you ever did in a crib, but there was still lots of bouncing and nursing and waking-ups. Now we have a small foam mattress in one corner of you room. And you nap there once a day all by yourself and sleep through the night. It’s quite amazing. Sometimes at dinner, you’ll even rub your eyes and tell me, “I’n tie.” It still shocks me that the child who took so much work just to get to sleep for two years, now tells me with two simple words that she’s tired. After a quick bath and nursing session, I lay you on your bed, wrap you up in the woven blanket that I carried you with for so many months and we pray. As soon as we say “amen” you start telling me exactly what will happen the next day. I think you’re asking me and reassuring yourself in the same breath. “Mama? Mama, close door..go downstairs…listen Lena…morning come get you in bed…open door….sticker??” Yes, sweetie, that is exactly right. Mama is going to close the door and go downstairs. I will listen to Elena in the monitor and in the morning Daddy or Mama will come get you and open the door. ” After we’ve been through that a few times, I kiss you goodnight and close the door. And you fall asleep. The magic of that is not lost on me.

Elena, you have always been physically strong, often oddly so. Like to the point where I am like, how are you able to do that? Like lift your head up as a 3-week old baby while on your tummy or hang from the monkey bars by yourself at 18 months and lift your legs straight out? But sometimes I think that your spirit is just as strong, maybe even more so than your body. I think the experts and books call this “strong-willed” or “persistent” I just say you have a quite an internal strength. It is both a wonderful thing to watch and a challenging thing to understand.

For instance, you won’t let go of my leg or let me put you down without screaming, if I you know that I am going to leave,  but if I stand next you I have watched you stand up for yourself even to other adults. And you do it, in both English and Spanish. The first time was at a birthday party for your friend Keila. You were 20 months old and wearing the cutest little yellow dress. Our friend Megan touched your back and said something like “Look at your cute dress.” I watched as you quickly reacted and motioned to me that you didn’t like it. I half-seriously told you, honey, tell her if you didn’t like that. And you turned right around and looked up at the adult standing a full 5 feet taller than you and with your arms crossed said, “Dis is Lenas.” She being the kind friend and wise mom that she is, responded, “yes, I am sorry, that is Elena’s.” I just stood there shocked and kinda proud. Where did my almost two-year old find the strength to tell an adult that you didn’t like something? We have talked to you a lot about how you’re the boss of your body, and I guess that idea really stuck.

Then you did it again a few months later at a restaurant when Nana was visiting. When our waitress came to the table to take our order, she greeted you as is quite common in Guatemala, “Hola, Nena.”  You looked at me again with that passion and distress in your eyes, “Mama, no BIG girl.” I nodded, affirming what I already knew. You did not want to be called a baby or nena. I pattered your back, You can tell her, sweetie. And with that you turned around with your head raised high and in perfect Spanish announced, “Soy nina.” 

And I smiled, yes. Yes, you are my girl. And my prayer is that you use that strength to stand up for yourself and for others. I am learning to be the kind of mom who stands next to you and encourages you to stand up for yourself.

Elena, one of my favorite things this year has been listening to how you think and remember things. It amazes me the things that you remember. One our trip to the states in April, I pulled out a bag of chocolate chips and almonds, a treat we don’t have often. You saw the bag and asked, “treat?” I gave you a few and then put it away in order to avoid melting chocolate fingers all over the airplane. In fact I put it away so well, that I forgot about the bag of almonds for the rest of our three-week trip. When I was unpacking one night back at home I found the bag at the bottom of my backpack and placed it on my desk. The next morning you saw the bag and pointed “ai-plane, ai-plane..treat?!” I couldn’t believe that you would remember something you saw once, there weeks ago. Unless of course you are like your mother, and have an extra affinity and memory for good chocolate.

Right around this time on our trip was when I started telling you stories. You were 21 months and it was the only way to pass hours in the car and eventually you’d fall asleep to the sound of my voice because I guess my stories have the kind of effect on people. But what amazes me is how well you actually listen to these stories and remember them! When I use the wrong name you correct me, “No, Mama fue Elsita. No Elsa.” Or when I tell a story about Mama and Elena taking the “green train” (which is really a shuttle) up the hill to the new playground, you correct me and say, “No, Mama white train.”

I am learning that you are watching and listening to me, and not just when I tell stories, but all the time. I have since stopped saying “Oh crap” for that very reason.

Elena your favorite things right now are babies, airplanes and beans. Maybe in that order. We got you this baby for you at Christmas time and she goes almost everywhere you do. In fact, we often “feed” your baby and sometimes you hold her up to my shirt for her to nurse and lately we’ve been bringing your baby to the bathroom to go pee-pee. Like I said she goes everywhere.

You have been fascinated with airplanes before you could even talk. I think I count it as one of your first words, right after “ma” (mas) and “agua.” Whenever you heard an airplane you would run to find us while blowing your lips together and pointing upward. Right around 15 months you started asking to look at these two books, No Jumping On The Bed and I’ll Love You Forever. You could care less about the words, but you would flip through the pages to look for the airplanes! Somehow you found a small wooden airplane that made an appearance on each page of No Jumping On The Bed. And I have read I’ll Love You Forever a hundred times and never once noticed that there are airplanes on the wallpaper. But you noticed and pointed them out each time. Elena, you are helping me pay attention and notice new things.

When went to the fair a few weeks ago you played one of the games where you got to choose any prize hanging on the wall in front of you. Even with Frozen stickers staring right out you and soft squishy teddy bears, you chose a plastic airplane as your prize. I smiled. My traveling girl, I have a feeling airplanes will always be part of your story. In your short two years of life you have flown on just shy of 20 flights. It’s no wonder you like airplanes.

If you had to live on just one food group it would be black beans, maybe a close second would be avocado and then some smoothies and Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed thrown into the mix. I think your food preferences represent your cultural backgrounds quite nicely. You are actually a pretty good eater, particular about how you eat, but not too picky about what. You love my soups, which makes me happy because I put all kinds of yummy vegetables in there. And my pesto pasta with broccoli (which you started eating as soon as we called them baby trees) is also one of your favorites. Much to your Daddy’s surprise you don’t really like meat. Every now and then you’ll try some fish or chicken, but you are mostly a vegetarian girl, which I can’t lie, makes me smile. You absolutely love your Mama Hiya’s pepian, which makes her heart proud. And I hope one day she’ll teach you how to make it.

Elena, you are one lucky girl to have a Daddy who loves who like he does. No one makes you laugh as much as he does. You constantly announce through your giggles, “Daddy being silly.” The two of you started going to Bagel Barn together for breakfast this year when you both were up early. You call it the “vaca” (cow) and always order “guac-cay” (guacamole), “beans” and “jugo.” And you later tell me that Daddy ordered “cafe.” I think you are becoming his favorite breakfast date probably because you are almost always ready on time. :)

I am learning to be the kind of mom who trusts and let’s your Daddy take care of you in his way, even when it’s different from how I do things.  I can be controlling and so often think that my way is the right way. I don’t like this part of myself. And I think I spent a lot of your first year of life expecting Daddy to do things in a certain way. And that wasn’t fair for anyone. Don’t worry your Daddy and I are always on the same team. We agree on the big stuff, but I am learning that there are some special things that you will do just with Daddy, in Daddy’s way and that is okay, even good.

Elena, you are making us better parents and better people. I feel like parenting the first time around is like starting a new sports team. You’re still figuring our which position you play best and where you need some coaching and you both spend a good deal of time just running back and forth. But I hope the next time around, one day when you have a little sister or brother, we’re going to know so much better what to expect of each other as parents and as partners.

This past year I have loved watching how you connect with people. You learned the names of your first friends and you talk about “Lucy” and “Stella” and “Baby Juni” often. You know the names of everyone on both sides of your family and you often ask me to tell you stories about your cousins, Emma and Sofi. You ask to FaceTime Bean and Bobo and Tia Stephie and you get excited when Nana and Papa call.  You ask about our friends in Coyolate, mainly “Lolo” and “Don Tomas” and “Dona Ruth” and “William.”

Mija, you are an anticipator of what’s to come and always aware of what’s currently happening. If you don’t understand why someone is laughing or why mommy swerved in the road you immediately ask, “What haaappened??” You are cautious in the pool, playful on land and could be equally content feeding your baby or climbing trees and throwing rocks. And I want to foster a love of both. You pick flowers for Mama and Daddy and also really like taking apart the screws on your toy airplane. Sometimes you even bring back screws that you find on the ground at our playground. Which I am not sure if that says more about the status of our local playground or your ingenuity and observant eye. Maybe both.


Elena, I know as a girl, you will often be praised for how you look; for you curly hair and your deep brown eyes or the cute dress that you happen to be wearing. Those things aren’t bad per se. It’s what our culture will notice first, and I do hope and pray that you develop a deep sense of  confidence to know just beautiful you are. But I am going to work so, so hard to always remind you that who you are and how you use your mind and your strength and your words matters so much more than how you look.

You have always been the kind of kiddo, where it’s a more a battle of will than a question of whether or not you are capable. My sense is this will be one of your greatest gifts and one of my biggest parenting challenges. Sometimes my first response as your mom is want to teach & train you, but every so often I remember sometimes the best thing I can do is pray for you (and myself!) Because more than anything, I hope that I can give you a tangible picture for how God loves us with a mother’s heart; loving, nurturing and guiding us.

Elena, sometimes I feel like being a mom is the best never-ending job there ever was. My sense from talking to moms with older kids, like ones who go the bathroom by themselves and even mom’s who own “kids” are adults and have their own kiddos, is that the conversations change and the needs change, but a mother’s love only grows. I don’t think a mother’s love can be static. I think it gets deeper with each passing year as the ache to hold on and remember is tethered by the growning-up and letting go. Granted you’re only two, so I have a lot more years to practice this. But I can already anticipate it. (geez, I wonder where you get that fine quality?!!)

Here’s the thing, Elena you are my first-born. My journey as a mom began with you and so many of these milestones we will learn together. In the process of loving and caring for your soul, I find my own is being changed. And for that I am grateful. So, from one strong woman to another…Elena, I love who you are becoming and I hope one day you say the same about me.

Happy 2nd birthday, Mija.

With All My Love,


16th July
written by Michelle


I wrote this post a few months ago, but like a lot of things in my life right now, I never finished it. It seems appropriate for today as my little one sleeps upstairs, the sun is just peaking up over the side of the volcano and I’m walking out the door for another long day way.

. . .

Last week I sat at the gas station before heading out for my 90-minute commute. I live in a country where they pump your gas for you, so I had time to send a quick email to a few close friends:

“I have to work 10-hour days this week and I am leaving Elena for the whole time. It feels hard and long. Would appreciate your prayers and good thoughts for this anxious-mama. Thanks!”

I second-guessed it as I wrote it. It sounds silly. Lots of moms leave their toddlers for work or a weekend away, I rationalized to myself. This was not anything special or serious. There was no pending phone call from a doctor or serious health concern. Why am I sending this? I should just go.

I ignored the should’ves and tapped “send.”

. . .

Gerber and I live in Guatemala, where I usually work part-time at an office, 5 kilometers from our house.  I leave my 19-month-old little girl in good hands each morning and my mama’s heart rests assured that I could rush home in a moments notice if I needed to. But this felt different. I would be 90-minutes away on bumpy, dirt roads that make it impossible to speed back in the case of an emergency.


I had just stopped naptime nursing the week prior, knowing that I would be away everyday this week. I had called two local friends with cars and asked them to be on call if our sitter needed anything, you know, like a ride to the HOSPITAL?! When you live in a country without reliable ambulances and emergency rooms you think about these things.

. . .

A few hours later my phone buzzed with kind responses to my panicked email. From their living room floors and kitchens and stolen moments in the bathroom, my friends responded. They emailed, they prayed, and they checked-up on me throughout the week.  There wasn’t much they could physically do because we were separated by time zones and country lines, but somehow knowing that they were thinking of us, made me feel less alone.

In motherhood and in life, you can’t qualify or quantify feelings. What’s scary and hard for one mama, may be a breeze for another. Motherhood leaves no rooms for comparison. Just like the small humans we care for, us moms have unique personalities and different struggles. Here’s the way my mom explained it to me once, Michelle everyone needs help, we just need help with different things.

I am big believer in asking for help; from dear friends, from a therapist, from my own mom and sometimes yes, still occasionally from Google.  In no other time in my life have I felt the need to ask for help as much as in this season of motherhood. And I imagine you may feel the same way?

Is it hard? Heck, yes. Does it feel vulnerable? Always. Does it mean ignoring the voices that say, “c’mon that’s silly, no one needs helps with that?” Yep!

But the results are real. Connection. Support. Love. Wisdom.

Maybe sometimes that’s the power in asking for help; it lets someone else in. It acknowledges that I can’t do this alone; I am not super woman or super anything. I am human, I am a mom and I need help.

. . .

In case you were wondering, the week went well. My daughter did fine, I did fine and thankfully there were no trips to the emergency room.  I came home on Friday afternoon to a lovely scribbled drawing that my daughter and our babysitter did. You’ll see she asked our sitter to draw an airplane (which she loves) and her mama and dada (who I am sure she missed) and if you look very, very closely, you’ll see the mama has two little dots on her. Oh yes, those are my “chiche” (pronounced “chee-chay” in Spanish and loosely translates to “boobies”) So yes, she must have missed those as well.

In fact, I will probably send my dear friends a separate email in a few months, asking for help when I am trying to wean her.

27th May
written by Michelle


On Monday my mom posted this photo of my Grandfather in honor of Memorial Day. I knew that he had served in WWII, but I had never paid much attention to the dates. He left for Europe, less than year after he and my grandmother has been married. It’s hard to imagine my grandparents as newly weds, in-love and holding hands and probably sharing books. I don’t have any memories of them together nor do I remember hearing many stories about those days. And sadly, they are no longer here for me to ask.

I wonder what it felt like for my Grandmother to say good-bye to her husband after being married for less than year? She had only been in the United States for five, maybe six years? I wonder if she still felt like a foreigner, leaning a new system and language all while completing medical school? I wonder what she did during those years they were apart? Did they write letters? How did they stay in touch? What did she do on lonely Saturday mornings? Did he think of her often or was his work in intelligence so consuming that he didn’t have time to miss her? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I can only wonder.

You know what else I wonder, how was it when he came back? Was it a hard adjustment for him? Or maybe for her? Or perhaps, for both?

Maybe it was seamless. Maybe they were so happy to just be back together. But my hunch is that it probably involved some transition.

Because when you do life apart for a while, you have to re-learn how to do life together.

For the past year or so Gerber and I have been trying to learn this rhythm of coming and going, of doing life apart and then together again. By no means are we separated by wars and deployment for years at a time. I don’t want to compare or undermine the kind of sacrifice or pain that many military families know too, well.

But on a much smaller scale, because of the type of work we do, we do have this weird rhythm where he’s gone for a week and then home again. Apart and then together. Together for another week and then apart. You see how it goes. In May and June, Gerber’s gone for a total of 4 weeks, just about every other week, including this one. Granted, this is our busiest season, but still, usually he is gone at least one week a month.

What we’re finding out is that the weeks he’s gone, we both do fine. He is taking care of a team of volunteers and coordinating water filter and stove projects. He’s translating and mixing cement and sharing his heart. He’s in his element and doing meaningful work 24/7. And even though the extreme heat and lack of alone time, drain my introverted husband, he loves doing what he’s doing.

The weeks Gerber’s gone, I gear up for solo-parenting and managing life at home. I re-arrange my work schedule, I make time for grocery shopping and fixing the curtain rod that falls down again. Elena and I eat dinner picnic style outside so there’s one less thing to clean in the evening. I arrange play dates or we visit my in-laws or find a new playground to explore. Anything to make afternoons and evenings a little easier. I ask our sitter to come early one morning so I can go to the gym. We eat leftovers a lot. I try to skype with a friend in the evening. We make it work. And in general, we have developed a pretty good schedule while Daddy is away.

But the tension and arguments come in the transition. When we go back to life together. Gerber comes home after a very full, intense, sweaty week of work with people. They sleep outside, use a latrine and bathe by buckets. He’s physically tired and emotionally drained. He needs some downtime and a shower. He would love a nap and then just wants to be with his girls. Probably, in that order.

Maybe you can already see where this is going.

I am so excited he’s coming home because I want to talk. I want to hear about the week and what happened and tell him about mine….what cute thing Elena did and what new words she said. I want to tell him about work and my friend who is having a baby. I want to plan something to do, a family trip or breakfast out perhaps? I have lists in my head and already have an idea of what we can do for the weekend. I’ve been thinking about it since Wednesday, of course, because I have been home every night. I am tired, but not so much physically tired, as emotionally empty.

He comes home and feels overwhelmed. And I get disappointed. And then we go through this cycle. Whose week was harder? Who is more tired? We know the answers; we both are in different ways. No one wins in the ugly game of comparison. We know this. We are both working and parenting and taking care of our family and in some seasons the scale tips more one way or the other. We make sacrifices and say I am sorry and start again.

Maybe this is common for other couples, or maybe it’s just us. I am not really sure.

People always ask me, oh it must be so hard when Gerber is gone? And yes, it’s true I don’t like it when he’s gone, but honestly we manage ok. The harder part is often we he comes back. For us, that transition is tough. I used to feel embarrassed about admitting this. I worried people would think, it should be so wonderful once he’s home. Why on earth would it be hard? What’s hard about coming home?

A few months ago I was sharing this with a woman who came down with one of our groups. Her own kids are a bit older than me, and one of them happened to serve in the military. As we sat waiting for dessert to be served, she asked me directly and sincerely…So how is it when Gerber comes home?

I confessed, “I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to come back together after we’ve been apart.”

She nodded, “Do you know that most military spouses say that saying good-bye to their husband was hard, but that it was actually tougher when their husbands returned home?” She put her hand on my leg, “Don’t underestimate how hard the transition can be.”

Obviously, we’re not a military family. Gerber is not gone for months or years in undisclosed locations. But it has been helpful to have a framework as to try to understand why the transition can be hard.

It makes think about my grandmother, has a young woman of 26. What it was like for her and my grandfather to be back together again after almost 3 years apart? What was their transition like? I can only hope that it was sweet and that they gave each other lots of grace. Because that’s what any transition needs, right? Grace to find a new rhythm and routine. And the thing about grace is you don’t just give it once. No, grace must be extended again and again. Like a good cup of coffee, you need more each morning.

So we get to keep learning and listening to one another and trying to show grace. And we will get to try again this Friday, when Gerber comes home after a week away. I am getting my grace ready and am going to try and keep some of the lists in my head, in my head, at least for a little bit :)

P.S. How do you and your spouse handle the transition of coming and going when you have different needs?


30th April
written by Michelle

When we were in the states a few weeks ago, a sweet mom, whose own kids are earning drivers’ licenses’ and college degrees, pulled me aside one afternoon after seeing how much Elena talked about “Frozen.” (which she affectionately calls, “Oafen” and may or may not have watched a total  of 27 times while driving from CA up to WA)

“I got something for her, but you I wanted to show it to you first to make sure you’re ok with it.” 

I thought that was super kind and thoughtful of her.

She proceeded to pull out a blue sparkly, Elsa Barbie doll. “And look, if you push here. She sings.” Let It Go, Let It Goooooooooo.”

I know all of you parents of young ones right now, are like, Noooooooooo.

I smiled, ignoring all of my anti-princess-no-Barbie-doll-feminist-leaning tendencies.

“She will love it.” I said.

And she did.

Elena’s big eyes and curious fingers, wasted no time in figuring out that blue button. Elena was tiptoeing around the kitchen with her singing Elsa, who she calls “ah-chay,” twirling high above her head.

She was mesmerized. And I was kinda dreading the next 6 days our trip. 

I wouldn’t exactly say I am anti-Disney princesses, but I am definitely not for them. I don’t like the message they portray to young girls. The whole princess-culture, that says your worth is based on your external beauty. It seems to only reinforce what so many woman and girls grow up fighting against.

I was explaining all of this to my husband on one of our 4-hour car rides. His eyes were focused straight ahead, but I knew he was listening. “It’s just, I don’t want our little girl growing-up thinking some prince will come and rescue her, you know? I want her to know that women are made for so much more. I want her to be brave and confident and full of compassion and gratitude. I want her to be strong and smart and know that her outer beauty is only a reflection of her inner beauty.”

I sighed loudly, expecting him to nod along and agree with me, but he didn’t.

“Michelle, she’s not even two.

“ok. You’re right. She’s not even two.” I repeated to myself as I imagined her singing ‘Let it go’ for the next 10 years.

. . .

We got home last week and while un-packing my suitcase, I came across the singing Elsa doll. I was tempted to hide it. She won’t remember if Elsa just “disappears,” I thought.

But something stopped me.

I don’t want my personal preferences to get in the way of paying attention to what my daughter likes. And right now, she likes Frozen. So I will play with Elsa and talk about Anna and Olaf and buy her Frozen pajamas and underwear because she likes it. I will enter her world because that’s the only way I know how to really understand someone. Sure, as the parent I will set boundaries. We will not watch Frozen every day.

But I will care about Frozen, because she cares about Frozen.

And if in five years she starts caring about inch-worms and frogs and beetles, I want her to know I will do my best to care about those things too.

If in nine years she comes home from school crying because she didn’t get invited a friend’s birthday, you better believe I will provide hugs and empathetic nods. I will care because she cares. Feeling left out of a birthday party is sad and hard at any age, but especially when you’re nine.

And maybe in twelve years, if she starts caring about a silly boy band, I will care about that silly boy band, too. I will listen with her and try to remember their names and let her put up posters in her room.

And if in seventeen years, her interests move on from a boy band to an actual boy, I will tell her he’s welcome to come over. I will place my hand on her daddy’s arm for reassurance, and show her that if she cares about someone we will, too.

If in twenty-one years she comes bouncing in talking about an internship where she gets to study malaria prevention, but all I hear is “gone” “whole summer” and “not-deadly,”  I will keep my thoughts to myself and congratulate her. I  will hug her and ask her to tell me more. Because if something makes her this excited, I will want to understand why.

And if in twenty-five years she says she wants to move to another country, one where I don’t speak the language or understand the culture, my heart might sink for a second, but I will buy a plane ticket to visit and see her life. I will pray for her protection and growth, not that she changes her mind. I will sit awkwardly waiting when I don’t understand what’s being said and watch as she lights up, explaining to the taxi driver where we’re going.

Because loving someone means caring about what they care about.

It’s easy as parents to see our children for who we want them to become, but I think it’s sometimes all too easy to miss who they are right now. That’s why we need other people, a spouse, a friend and an observant older mom, who may see interests that we may not.  You know, a fresh pair of eyes to notice how much a certain little one loves singing ‘Let it go.’  The truth is I can introduce my daughter all day to books, and climbing and colors and picking flowers. And I can hope that one day she’ll learn how to play the piano or join a soccer team, but for now she loves putting her baby dolls “nigh nigh” and singing with Elsa and Princess Anna. And that is just ok.

Gerber and I talk a lot about how in community development work, before people care what you know, they want to know that you care. And I think the same in true in parenting. Of course I want to teach our little girl all kinds of things, but I know before she is ever going to care about what I know, she has to know that I care.

So I will start by caring about the singing Elsa Doll.

19th February
written by Michelle


Sometimes it’s hard to write about things when you’re in the middle of it, like with marriage. I haven’t written much about our marriage recently because well…one, it’s not just my story to tell. Even though I am more of an open book and will gladly share what I’ve been learning with just about anyone, I know my husband, Gerber may not want to share those same things or at least not in such a public place like my blog. And I respect that. I think, secondly, it’s because we’ve been pretty invested the past year and a half in re-figuring out our marriage. You know, how to be mom & dad and wife & husband; how to love and serve each other well as partners in the home and at work. It’s an ongoing dynamic and dance that has been a quite an adjustment for us. Maybe it is for all couples?

. . .

I remember when we did some pre-martial counseling, we talked about expectations and values. We did one of those online inventories and congratulated ourselves that our scores were so high. On paper the our values and preferences lined up so well. We marched into marriage confident of who we were and excited for what was ahead. Perhaps that’s how all marriages should start. With an extra dose of love and gumption for the journey ahead.

 I think anyone who is married knows it is a journey. A daily, moment-by-moment, journey choosing service over selfishness and deciding whose turn it is to do the dishes or change the baby’s diaper. And somewhere on that journey you start doing the hard work of unpacking hundreds of expectations that you didn’t even realize you’ve been carrying with you all along.

Expectations are sneaky like that, because often you don’t even know you have them, until one is not being met.

. . .

The first time Gerber took me to the beach in Guatemala I cried. Not tears of joy, but of disappointment. It was not what I had expected. The sand was black and hot, too hot to walk on. It was humid and sticky and the waves were rough. There was a steep hill leading to the water’s edge and that hill was not conducive to throwing down my striped towel for sun bathing. The waves washed up over my feet and the tears rolled down my face. This was not like the beaches in Santa Barbara.

I had been in Guatemala for 6 months and hadn’t seen the ocean, or really any body of water. I missed the ocean breeze and the feel of the sand and looking out over the horizon. Gerber had suggested a beach day. I was ecstatic. And now here he was holding my hand, glancing at me from the corner of his sunglasses, utterly confused why his girlfriend who loved he beach was crying.

. . .

We have had lots of moments like this, and the thing is usually we can’t name the expectation until after it hasn’t been met. Be it about cleaning the kitchen, or letting the baby cry, about time together or time apart, or about deciding what we do or do not spend our money on for holiday celebrations.

This has been a lot of my inner work the past year, asking myself, what are my expectations? And not analyzing, are they fair or why I do have them. But just starting by admitting, these are my expectations. The thing is expectations are rarely, right or wrong. They just are. But nothing is worse for a marriage than unspoken expectations. Unspoken expectations fuel disappointment and later, resentment.

Together Gerber and I learning to name our expectations, or at least acknowledge when we feel the this-is-different-than-I-expected moments. And surprisingly that in and of itself has been such a unifying focus. Just the fact that we’re both living and doing life differently than we expected often brings us together.

. . .

I used to think cross-cultural couples had slightly more things to work through in marriage, than couples who marry people with the same first language and passport country. Maybe it’s true. However, friends in all kinds of marriages have shared similar struggles of having different expectations. I think what is true, is that when you bring together any two people, you will naturally also have bring together different expectations. Because regardless of your passport country, people are people, with unique personalities, preferences and priorities.

I sometimes imagine my expectations like an ice cube, rigid, cold and solid. And there is nothing very flexible or creative about an ice cube. But when I acknowledge my expectations, holding them in the palm of my hands, not hidden deep inside, the rigidness and coldness begin to melt away. And you know what forms when an ice cube melts? Water. Water, like love, is fluid and life-giving and fills up. And that is what I imagine happens when we let expectations melt away. They’re still there, but they just take on new form.


. . .

Last week, Gerber knew I had been missing sunny California beach days. He suggested a beach trip for the three of us. I, being the planner in our relationship, realized that would be Valentine’s weekend. Perfect, I thought, Valentine’s Day at the beach with my two favorite people. We went to the same beach he took me to almost 5 years ago. This time with a baby, a few extra bags and pool toys in tow.

I now know that the beach is actually not my husband’s favorite spot to relax. He prefers places that are cool and have shade and preferably a TV. But I also know that he would do anything, even sacrifice his own preferences and comfort to see me happy. So last Saturday, just before the sun was setting, we walked out onto the sand. With my daughter on my hip and my husband at my side, I put my toes in the water and smiled. The beach hasn’t changed in Guatemala. The sand is still unbelievably hot. The waves our rough and the air is sticky. But we have changed. I have changed. 

I am firm believer that marriage changes us for the better.


P.S. What Love is  and  Why is Valentine’s Day a Big Deal?


19th January
written by Michelle


Yikes. It’s January 19th. My computer tells me I started this draft on January 6th- so, here we are 13 days later.

I remember well in my years before moving to Guatemala and becoming a mom that I would carve out a few hours at the end of each year to reflect. I would curl up in a cozy coffee shop on the mesa, a few blocks from where I used to live, and write and dream and make lists of what I wanted to do in the coming year. I remember 3 of my best friends and I used to go out for dinner at an Italian restaurant, the ones that have the white paper on top instead of a table cloth- perfect for small children, or ambitious 20-something’s. And over rosemary bread dipped in olive oil, we would each write out our 5 goals for the year. We wrote and dreamed about things that most 20 years old want: new relationships and work opportunities and traveling to new countries. I remember distinctly one of those years I wrote something like, “Learn Spanish.” Ha, funny how life works out.

. . .

But this season of life feels different. If feels harder to carve out a few hours to go sit in a coffee shop just to dream and write and plan. In between washing diapers and washing dishes, and coordinating schedules and planning meals, and answering emails and arranging transpiration, and doing all the good stuff that goes into making a life and a marriage work, I find that I have less and less energy and time for me, or for writing, or for even talking to a friend.

But I know first hand it’s not a problem of not having enough time, it’s a problem of having said, “yes” to too much. I have felt this before: this slow stress that comes creeping up and then blindsides you and all of the sudden, you wonder why you’re crying in the parking lot at the grocery store. Yeah, that one. It steals the joy away from whimsical moments, whispering what you should be getting done the moment you stop to rest or play. I know that feeling, and I know I don’t want to go back there.

But, let me tell you people. It’s hard. At least hard for me. If my time and energy were indispensible, I would be saying yes to everything, to leading this and planning that. I would be teaching classes and scheduling events and on-the go-go-go. And the thing is, I probably would get it all done, but often at the expense of those closest to me: my husband and my daughter and myself.

. . .

There was a movie that came out years ago, a total teacher-nerd kind of movie, “The Freedom Writers.” And although not central to the story, there is one scene that I will never forget. The lead (Hilary Swank) is rushing around trying to get ready for one of final big event with her students. The very students she has been mentoring and investing in and for all-important purposes, I mean, she’s helping to changing their lives! She’s a stellar teacher, but you see the sub-plot unfolding. She begins devoting more time to her classroom, and less to her marriage. And in one 3-second scene, she comes home from work to find a note from her husband on the dresser, saying…he’s leaving. I remember sitting on the couch next to my roommate as I was grading my own student’s notebooks, and I started crying.

Something convicted me. It’s like I saw myself. I knew that could easily be me one day. And it scared me.

. . .

Fast-forward 6 years later, I left the public school sector and I am living in a different country, now married and mothering and working with a non-profit organization. I have put my classroom teaching days on hold for now, mostly because I know the days of teaching and playing with my little girl are fleeting.

But two weeks ago, the director of the girls school where I used to teach, asked me if I would be interested in teaching at the junior high? (she just so happens to also be my sister-in-law:). You remember the girls school??!! This one, where I wrote about how I go to their 6th graduation every year and so few of the girls continuing studying because they have to help their families. And now that very school is opening up a jr. high! I was thrilled. I almost said yes, on the spot. I love teaching, and love those girls. It seemed like an easy answer.

But I told her I would talk to Gerber and get back to her.

I shared with him one morning, while standing over the sink, toothbrush in one hand, make-up brush in the other. He listened, and nodded and then remained silent.

He asked a few questions. I got defensive. He said it seemed like our life already felt really full, between juggling work and schedules and groups and caring for our child. He asked why I wanted to add one more thing when he often hears me complaining about not having enough time for things I enjoy?

In my head I rattled off all of my usual mantras, I will be more productive with my timeEverything will get done. I can do one more thing.

He looked at me, as I tried to brush powder on my face and toothpaste on my teeth and said, “I trust you. You can decide what’s best.”

. . .

So I did what I usually do, I prayed while I drove to work that morning and then, texted my best friend.

Usually, what I hear God say and what she says, line up. So that must mean something, riiiiight???

She wrote back, “I know you love teaching, but I think Gerber’s right. It’s ok to say no, sometimes. Your marriage and family may appreciate it.”

Then I heard God say, if you and Gerber aren’t equally excited for something, maybe you should listen to that.

That sounded pretty wise. I swallowed, what I knew was my pride, and called my sister-in-law to say that I wouldn’t be able to teach this year. It was hard, but felt good.

. . .

I know it’s an age-old rule, but sometimes saying no to one thing, means saying yes to something else.

I know myself, and I know that I will always have the propensity to put my work above my family. I know in whatever field I am in, it will be a struggle. I don’t necessarily like this about myself, but I know there is a reason why that movie scene hit me like it did 6 years ago. And I know I need to consistently keep choosing what’s really important. Because just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should.

I saw something Shauna Niequist or Laura from Hollywood Housewife posted a few months ago and it stuck with me: Don’t Disappoint The Wrong People. And I decided that is my mantra for 2015. That is what I want to repeat to myself this year ahead. This is what I am going to write on a post-it note in my calendar.

Don’t Disappoint The Wrong People.