Speak life

How often do I pass judgment without considering another’s perspective? And how often do I whisper that judgment to someone who is willing to listen?

These are questions I have been asking myself recently. Because even if my judgment is accurate, is it edifying? The phrase “speak life” has been rolling around in my brain. But what does it mean to “speak life”? I have a feeling that I haven’t been very good at it.

David says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).

So words of life would be words that are acceptable in God’s sight.

Once upon a time, religious people caught a woman in the act of adultery and dragged her out to be publicly stoned. Then seeing Jesus, these people tried to trap Him by asking whether or not the woman should be stoned. Jesus didn’t pick up a stone, but neither did He deny the woman’s sin. He calmed the mob by questioning the state of their own hearts, and then He turned to the fearful sinner crouching in the dirt. “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (Jn. 8)

Those are words of life. Not words of ignorance or denial, but words that give hope.

At the consulate

20170804_101136While I was on the 15th floor of an office building in downtown Chicago, my siblings were lounging in a plaza across the street, discussing how I had been strong and calm before my appointment. “But when she comes out, she will collapse.”

They were right. Of course they were. They had watched me meticulously gathering my paperwork over the last several months. I had read everything once, twice, a dozen times. They had seen me bend over backwards to satisfy the requirements of a Spanish residence visa.

Fifteen stories up in the one-room Spanish consulate, I watched two other applicants turned away due to unsatisfactory paperwork. Would I be next? I had tried so hard, but had I missed something? They called my name.

I was so nervous that I couldn’t even read the tidy sticky notes that I had stuck to my paper-clipped and stapled stacks of paper.

“Application form?” The accented voice was muted through the glass window.

I slid the form through the slot. Why didn’t they have personal interview rooms instead of making us feel like paroled prisoners requesting our belongings?

“Letter of invitation?”

Another man approached and looked over my interviewer’s shoulder. They discussed something in great length and jotted some notes on my application form. I stood, breathless until nearly purple. Was something wrong? Didn’t I have the right papers?

The second man asked me a few questions with an alarmingly furrowed brow. I deflated. But it was okay. I would have to start over with some of it. But at least I could go home now. I could just climb in that shiny elevator and disappear.

But the man said, “Okay, I trust you. I will try to get it to you in time.”

I wasn’t sure what he was “trusting” me about. The answers to the questions he had asked were on the papers in front of him. But I didn’t ask him to explain himself. Prolonging our talk felt risky.

“Proof of insurance?”

I slid my translated insurance letter through the slot. The list went on until I had handed over every one of my documents. There were no complaints, no outbursts, no declarations that I hadn’t gathered the correct things.

The interviewer gave me a curious glance as I packed up my things. Perhaps he was analyzing how I would survive in Europe. But I didn’t care because gliding down 15 floors in a polished elevator was my red carpet.

Now the waiting would begin, and with it came the possibility of a rejected application. But for today, I could be done!

That is why I collapsed when I saw my siblings waiting for me in the plaza. And then we went to Giordano’s for celebratory deep dish pizza.20170804_133735

Proud to be an American?- Part 3

american flagIf you haven’t already, check out Part 1 and Part 2. Continuing the discussion of stereotypes other cultures have of Americans, and why I’m still glad to be one…

Freedom of speech.
Some people may abuse this, but I for one, and glad we have it. It’s wearing to be conscious of everything you write in light of a government’s definition of acceptable and unacceptable.

Our government.
Despite political corruption, it is important to realize that we still have a relatively uncorrupted government compared to much of the world.

A diverse country… in more than just scenery.
I love being in the city where I see a variety of people groups. I love trying out ethnic restaurants. I love those moments when, as a white American in American, I feel like a minority. Rather than feel threatened to be outnumbered, I am honored to be a part of America’s diversity.

Access to [almost] everything.
Sometimes it means you have to pay dearly, but it’s almost always there. Exotic Asian fruit. Aromatic African spices…

English
Do you realize that learning English as your mother tongue means that you’ve already learned one of the most useful languages in the world?

These, of course, are not exhaustive lists. What are some stereotypes you have or have heard of Americans? What are some positive aspects to being an American?

Proud to be an American?- Part 2

american flagIf you haven’t already, check out Part 1. Continuing the discussion of stereotypes other cultures have of Americans…

We are self-centered.
We are used to being a world power. We’re used to having our voice heard. We’re used to having a massive portion of the world’s wealth. So it seems reasonable that people should get on board with our ideas. It even seems reasonable that we should be able to talk to anyone anywhere in our own language. Which leads to the next stereotype…

We are monolingual.
Again, the stereotype is only a stereotype, but perhaps it’s based on a grain of truth. If an American is not growing up in a multi-cultural home, or didn’t grow up overseas, there’s a good chance that they made it through their high school Spanish and haven’t looked back. Why? Well, English is one of the most useful languages to know. Therefore, many people know it all over the world. So we begin to expect that others know it, and use it when they’re around us, not considering how much more challenging it is to operate in a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th (etc.) language. In our defense, it’s hardly fair to compare Americans to Europeans for example. America was colonized by the British and we kept a version (albeit an altered version) of that language. And in this mass of land, most everyone speaks English. In the Midwest, we can drive hours and hours in any direction and be surrounded by English speakers. In Europe, on the other hand, one might drive an hour or two and find a country or region that operates in another language. In short, the worlds are much closer and therefore the necessity of learning more than one language is greater than in America.

We are fat.
Restaurants serve massive portions. We eat too much. Maybe because we’re used to having so much.

We are rich. (Mostly from third world cultures)
Many this there is no poverty in America. Being an American automatically speaks of great wealth which you should be willing to share with those who have less than you.

It is hard to stereotype a monstrous country of diverse people. And I’ve only listed a handful of the stereotypes that are out there. Do any of these define me? You?

Most of these stereotypes are pretty negative. What are some positive points of being an American? Because, despite all of these negative stereotypes, I’m still glad to be an American…

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Proud to be an American?- Part 1

american flag

Living overseas among various nationalities exposed me to some of American stereotypes. Some of the stereotypes made me wonder whether or not I’m proud to be an American after all.

Never in my life had I felt so boxed in by American culture, so labeled. Sometimes people told me that I wasn’t like “that,” insinuating that “that” was the essence of American error.

Want to hear what other people think of Americans? Well, here are a few things…

We are impulsive.
We make quick decisions without weighing the pros and cons or how our decisions affect other people. This probably has a lot to do with personality, but there is a trend in favor of this stereotype. Why? Is it because we’re used to having things easy? Do we always give ourselves the option to give up when things get harder than we had anticipated?

We are loud.
This is another stereotype that depends on personality. I did notice a trend with Americans overseas. We were usually the loud ones, laughing, talking, unafraid that the everyone within shouting distance knew our business.

We are scared to be real.
We hold surface conversations and act like our lives are going smoothly. (Personally, I think this trend is starting to change with a generation that values authenticity.)

We are violent. (And everyone owns a gun.)
Hmm. Well? Look at the video games we have access to, even children. Look at Hollywood. We might freak out at nudity (reinforcing another stereotype), but without flinching, we watch people’s heads being blown off. There’s a lot more behind this idea, but I’ll let you unpack this one for yourself.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Culture shock in my own country

A few ways I’ve been shocked by my own culture in the last months:

  • Other kinds of foreign language. I approached some people in Aldi, excited that they were speaking another language… only to discover it was a butchered version of my mother tongue.
  • The politeness of complete strangers, even if they’re not trying to sell you something!
  • Efficiency.
  • The constant busyness. Without lifting a finger to plan, one can manage to walk into a new week with a full schedule.
  • The availability of, well, everything. If I can’t find it on a garage sale, I’ll pick it up at Wal-Mart or simply order it from Amazon.
  • The quietness. No noisy neighbors at night.
  • Menu prices. They’ve already made my eyes pop out more than once.
  • Not needing to carry tp with me everywhere I go.
  • The evasion of temperature extremes. Cold? No problem! Turn on the heat! Hot? Easy peasy. Turn on the air conditioning!

Little by little, I’m acclimating to my own culture… A journey that will probably continue until I leave it again.

Happy birthday

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The way he oohs and aahs over simple pleasures. The way he slobbers out motor sounds while he drives his cars and tractors across the carpet. The way he points at things with an excited gasp, expecting you to look in wonder. The way he giggles with Eskimo hugs. The way he “dances” when he hears bouncy music. And the way he sings in church– “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

We met only a few months ago, but he has already managed to steal my heart.

Happy first birthday, Albert Harris.