The Top 10 Posts of 2016

I'm a big fan of year-end favorites lists. There's so much content on the internet, it's hard for any of us to keep up with every post, status update, or newsletter. So I love to see the highlights, and I hope you enjoy these favorite posts from A Life with Subtitles.

The 5 Most Read Posts from this year:

#1 - Do You Live In A Good Neighborhood?

When Donald Trump started talking about all the terrible neighborhoods in our cities, folks who read this article assured me he was not referring to my neighborhood. But that's because of how I describe where I live. I paint a fuller picture. If you just wanted to look at crime rates and graduation rates and property taxes (I pay about $30/year), you'd know my neighborhood is exactly the kind of community most people avoid. But I'd still call it a good neighborhood.

#2 - 5 Reasons You Should Never Listen To Hamilton

Well, we still are. No regrets!

#3 - Stop Licking the Fireball!

This piece is one that resonated with many readers during the election season, and has stayed on my heart and mind as I try to figure out how to stay informed, while also staying active and engaged in the issues that matter to me. I want to know what's going on in Aleppo and with immigrant and refugee communities in our country. But I also know I that some of the hate and vitriol online can paralyze my heart.

#4 - The Ups and Downs of Raising Bilingual Kids

This post almost summarizes every post I've ever written on raising bilingual kids. It amuses me that it mentions New Year's Resolutions as here we stand on the doorstep of another New Year. We've been up and down a bunch even since this post was written!

#5 - When My Kids Insist on Being Generous

We are approached regularly in parking lots by folks asking for money or assistance. There is always a guy or two waiting at our exit ramp holding signs. We have a fella who regularly knocks on our door and asks to rake our leaves. It is an ongoing conversation of how we raise our kids to love well in a hurting world.

The Post Loved Round the World:

#6 - 101 Spanish Shows on Netflix

Okay, I left off one of the real Top 5 from 2016. But that's because it's so closely related to this post, which gets waaaaaay more views every single month than anything else I've ever written in my whole entire life. That's because if you Google "Spanish Cartoons on Netflix" or "Spanish Shows on Netflix," you get me! So lots of folks find their way here for these lists. If that was or is you, nice to meet you!

A Few of My Personal Favorites:

#7 - My Marriage to an Undocumented Immigrant

The opportunity to write for Christianity Today was such a fun part of 2016. (Even if it did mean a lot of strangers decided to tell me how Christians shouldn't love people who broke the law.) I was honored that they allowed me to tell this story about immigration, as well as a piece on visiting immigrants in detention. (Something else Christians apparently aren't supposed to do? I think I'm reading the wrong Bible!)

#8 - 17 Faces Anyone Who's Tried to Learn Spanish Will Immediately Recognize

You know I love any opportunity to make a list of GIFs. Buzzfeed is my jam!

#9 - Why We Need Different Friends Now More Than Ever

If I ever wrote a piece I'd characterize as my mantra, this one is probably it. I think it may ring even more true in 2017.

#10 - My Life As A Copa Wife

This one was just fun to write. And I love all things World Cup Wives. If you love someone who loves soccer, you may just love the World Cup Wives, too!

These are some of the reader favorites and my favorites from this year. I hope you enjoy them, too! What was a favorite post you wrote or read online this year? I'd love to read it!

When My Kids Insist On Being Generous


My daughter’s class made care packages during the holidays last year. I’d received the email requesting a $3 donation, so I knew they were putting together bags of snacks, water, and basic toiletries. I also knew the next step was that I would help her give this bag to someone.

It was interesting to hear my 4-year old explain the project. She described the bags they’d made for “people who didn’t have those things” or “for lonely people.” She consistently referred to the tote of goodies as her “kindness bag.” I appreciated her teachers’ attempts to discuss this complex topic with a room full of question asking preschoolers. 

Our family has lived in a poor neighborhood my daughter’s entire life, and we have been involved in urban ministry and community development along the way. Still, her enthusiastic desire to “go find a lonely person” was challenging. For the obvious reason that it’s uncomfortable to walk up to a stranger and hand her a bag of toiletries and snacks. But also because we wanted to be very careful we would not sacrifice the dignity of another person in order to educate our own child. 

The truth is, I hoped my daughter would forget all about the kindness bag. But the mind of a four year old can be remarkably fixated. So, one chilly evening in December, we piled into our car with the sole purpose of finding someone in need of snacks and lotion. 

In the mix of cleaning up dinner and zipping coats, my husband and I had quickly hashed out three guidelines in hopes this exchange could be positive for all involved. Here’s what we came up with:

1. We wanted to give appropriate items.

Before we left, I opened the bag. It held a lot of miniature lotions, a bottle of water, pretzels with cheese, four shower caps, and other items. I plucked out most of the shower caps and a package of dental gauze. And we added more food items from our own snack stash. (With two young kids, snacks are our lifeblood.)

2. We wanted to foster a relational exchange.

It was important to my husband that we not pass the bag out of a car window. So we drove to places in our neighborhood where people are often asking for help. When we saw a couple folks at the freeway exit ramp, we parked and walked to meet them. We also prepared our daughter to introduce herself and ask others for their names.

3. We wanted to leave space for others to say no.

I’ve witnessed “aggressive givers.” There can be an attitude that suggests whatever and however I want to give is better than nothing, so others should accept it and be grateful. While my daughter really wanted to give away her kindness bag, I wanted her to know it’s not all about her. (An ironic lesson we must learn in generosity, no?) We helped her share that her class had made this bag of snacks and things and then to ask the man if he would like it. We left room for him to say no.

So how did it go?

Well, the trio of adults by the exit ramp started by asking if we were okay. Then, one of the men held up a cardboard sign to us, so my daughter introduced herself and asked his name. He offered a fake one, which was was obvious by the laughter coming from the others.

The woman leaned over to me and asked what she was selling. I explained that my daughter’s class had put together a bag of items to share. “Ah, for the homeless,” she said while nodding knowingly.

“Sergio” handed my daughter a dollar (he must have also thought she was selling things) and accepted the bag. Then, the woman and my husband recognized each other from years ago when my husband managed a local thrift store. They exchanged pleasantries before she asked him for .75. Since he was still holding Sergio’s dollar, it was an obvious - if amusing - offering.

We said our good-byes and headed back towards our parked car a block away. As we jogged across the exit ramp, my daughter held my husband’s hand in front of me. She turned her head and shouted, “I’m happy!”

Of course, my mama heart was full. But it was also conflicted.

I found myself thinking about the woman’s comment: “Ah, for the homeless.” The men and woman we met were smart. They knew our outing was a lesson in giving for our daughter. In fact, they may have shared their own care packages when they were children.

I wrestled with familiar questions:

Are we really helping? Are we being kind? How do we teach our children to share? How do I foster on-going, age-appropriate conversations on poverty and generosity?

I’m always interested to hear how other parents are teaching their kids about generosity while also affirming the dignity of those around them. We are still learning. At the end of the day, my hope is that we shared a moment with our neighbors and our children that affirmed we are all part of a community that includes folks without a place to stay and preschoolers with too many shower caps. And I hope that in the process, the people we met were happy, too.

How This Election Is Taking Me Back To Basics

My daughter came home from kindergarten talking about the mock election held at school that day. I noted her "I voted" sticker displayed proudly on her uniform.

We haven't discussed the election with her really at all, so I was curious her take on it. "Who did you vote for?" I asked.

"I can't remember her name," she mused. And I smiled. She has no idea the use of a feminine pronounce gives away her ballot choice.

Even amidst all the chaos (and regardless of any opinions), it is not lost on me that my daughter is growing up at a time when a woman is running for President. It is still a fact that stirs my emotions and blows my mind a little. I wasn't sure I'd see it in my lifetime.

My daughter also doesn't know there was a time when women weren't even allowed to vote. Seeing my gender represented in the presidential race has made me think about this progression several times this past year.

First Time Voting Is A Valuable Reminder

In another area of election firsts, 2016 is Billy's first time voting in a national election. He became a citizen in 2013, so this race - again, amidst chaos and regardless of opinions - has been special for us. (We tried out Facebook Live for the first time to chat about this the other night. You can click here to watch it. And yes, we're sideways for the first couple minutes because technology.)

I've been thinking about all those who have opportunity to vote in this election thanks to hard fought battles in our country's history. I'm also thinking about those who are impacted by our government, but cannot participate: children, undocumented immigrants, legal permanent residents (green card holders), citizens with felony convictions, refugees that have not gained citizenship, and probably more folks I'm not aware of.

It is such a privilege and responsibility to participate in democracy. A perspective that feels a bit lost amidst all the chaos and opinions. But for me, this election has pushed me back to recognizing and appreciating these basics. I have not been inspired by our country in the past months (years???) of this campaign. But I am deeply connected to the privilege and responsibility of voting.

The Unsung Power of Day-To-Day Civic Engagement 

And I'm also reminded how active engagement in democracy is more than one day every four years, and often hits much closer to home than Washington D.C. I saw this in action recently in our own community.

The Atlanta Beltline is a massive city project and "among the largest, most wide-ranging urban redevelopment programs currently underway in the United States." It's a really cool development creating a network of parks, walking and biking trails, and light rail circling downtown.

My neighborhood is right along its path. However, in the initial plans for development, there was not a planned access point for our community. We live in a neighborhood that is traditionally overlooked, so it's not all that surprising, though I wish that weren't the case.

But here's the thing. My community is super engaged. We coordinated email campaigns and let them know we are here. Our local coffee shop offered to host the next planning meeting, which organizers described as their highest attendance of all time. We showed up and we spoke up.

Current designs now include an access point from the Beltline to our neighborhood. Planners said they "heard the most noise" from our community. Yeah, they did. And while we know we will need to continue to show up to stay included, I am encouraged to see how committed neighbors can make a difference.

Here We Go!

So my encouragement to you this election week is to go back to basics and keep perspective. It is a privilege to vote, if you are able. So vote. And it is a responsibility. Consider those whose voices are absent from our voting process.

And don't let November 8th be the end all be all of your civic engagement. Stay involved on local and national levels, advocating for your community, your family, and the marginalized.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. 
- Margaret Mead

Do We Need To Be Rescued from the Life We Always Wanted? {Giveaway}

It has been book palooza around here lately. I've been so excited to share with you about Embrace and Assimilate or Go Home, and now I get to add a final gem to this fall's trifecta of awesome! This week, my friend Shannan releases her first book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted.

I met Shannan at the Festival of Faith and Writing, where we were housemates and stayed up late eating ice cream and sharing stories about living in unconventional places and loving across cultures. I asked her three questions about her writing and her new book, and I hope you enjoy "meeting" her as much as I did. For extra delight, I'm sharing a free copy of her book to one lucky reader at the end!

Q: Can you introduce yourself to readers who've not visited your blog?

Absolutely! I'm Shannan Martin, wife to my jail chaplain husband, Cory, and mom to four quirky kids. I blogged for almost eight years as Flower Patch Farmgirl, and now I'm just regular ol' me, living life and writing it down. Five years ago, God thrust my family into the adventure of a lifetime, in which our safe, cozy, pretty, American Dream life was turned upside-down.

As you can imagine, it's a very long story... In short, we sold our dream farmhouse, moved to a shabby neighborhood in a nearby city, transitioned out of "impressive" jobs in federal politics, and found our faith come alive on the wrong side of the tracks, where we see God's goodness more clearly than we ever had before. Jesus chose low places, and we are discovering the thrill of doing the same. 

But it requires the ache and burn of surrender, which so far hasn't become second-nature. We're still us, wearing different lenses. We couldn't have imagined how beautiful and simultaneously unsettling and difficult life would become when we began to walk toward the pain around us rather than away from it. But I can look you in the eye end promise - I'd never go back.

Q: You are mama in a multicultural family and your family lives cross-culturally as well. How has living across cultures impacted your worldview? 

All four of our kiddos, ranging in age from 8 to 22, came into our hearts through the complicated, breathtaking gift of adoption. Each of their races and stories are beautifully unique. We began our adoption road after we faced unexplained infertility, but I now see that God was preparing us for something so much bigger than just the immediate building of our family. (Of course he was!) 

I know now that as my heart opened to the belief that families are built outside of biology or genetics, I was learning deep truths that would carry me through the changes headed my way. It helped me understand that my kids aren't actually "mine," and that we are all better when, as Mother Theresa said, we draw a wider circle around family. 

Over the years, our family has unofficially "adopted" many others into our homes and hearts, and we truly are better together. I'm extremely honored to have a window into the greatness of God and his compassion and love in creating a world rich with differences. 

I love learning about the birth cultures of our kiddos. I love celebrating with them. I love the way it has allowed me to more clearly see the cultural differences of our new community as something to truly cheer about. Diversity is the MAGIC! 

On the flip-side, having a twenty-two year old African American son with a heartbreaking history has split me open to the pain of racism flooding our cities and streets. We cannot love what we cannot know, and quite honestly, part of my "knowing" came quite easily to me through the love of my children. But I cannot encourage people enough to build friendships outside your race/socioeconomic status/religious tradition/political belief. It's the only way to begin to grow together.

Q: What is your hope for Falling Free? What do you hope readers take away? 

My deepest hope is that those who read will walk away with a more luminous sense of how freeing it can be to lose oneself for the sake of God's kingdom. We get to be less. 

We are invited into the cozy comfort of being smaller, of having less, of not being in control all the flipping time. We get to think outside the traditional box when it comes to how we view community, parenting, and even (especially?) church. 

Everyone's story looks a bit different, by God's brilliant, perfect design. In Falling Free I'm sharing my story. But I believe deep in my bones that God has written stories for each of us that we cannot begin to imagine. The first step toward living those stories is opening our fist around the things we cling to, and beginning to really trust that we were never meant to be in charge. THAT, my friends, is freedom.

My copy of Falling Free is on the way, and I can't wait to dive into Shannan's beautiful words, wise insights, and genuine humor. It releases tomorrow, September 20. To win a copy, enter the raffle below!

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