Clouded Faith: My walk with Christ

I feel that in the current state of our society, Christianity is being eaten away, being diluted by political correctness and sensitivity. People are constantly bashing Christians for their views on hot topics like gay marriage or abortion. The anti-religious are becoming more vocal in their distaste towards Christians, while openly embracing other religions. Young Christians are afraid of sharing their faith in fear of being seen as “uncool” or are content in being in the lukewarm waddling pool of the faith. 

I used to be one of those people. I grew up in a strong Christian home, my mother being our example of who and what a Christian is. We went to church three days a week; participated in youth groups, bible studies, and volunteered whichever way we could. However that isn’t to say there weren’t major bumps on that road. I was bullied by other kids in the church for being fat and having a fat family. My sister and I were never invited to birthday parties or outside of church get togethers. That didn’t stop my mother from being active in the church until she was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

At that time I was 9 years old and tried very hard to hold onto my faith. But it proved to be difficult whenever my aunt picked us up for church and the church kids would make fun that my mom had a shaved head. Or would be sweaty/weak/sick from her chemo treatments. I hated going to church but not going wasn’t an option. At least not until my mom had a conversation with our then-pastor that we stopped going. I don’t know the exact topic of the conversation but I do know that the straw that broke the camels back was when he said, “You must be so full of sin that God allowed you to get sick.” 

My mom never went to his church again. He’s had a lot of success as a pastor and is now known as the “Prophet of Profit” or something in Miami. Good for him. 

But his lack of kindness is what darkened my view on religion for the next eight years of my life. How could someone say that someone deserves cancer? That God, the loving man you portray, would use this awful disease as a punishment? I slowly came to hate religion. I hated religious people. I always looked at them warily and tried to steer clear of them before they could hurt me. 

I spent those next few years lost, constantly searching for something or someone to fill the void in my heart. I was desperately holding onto unhealthy friendships, defying my parents, and experimenting with things that don’t make me proud today. My mom always tried to remind me of God. That I was His child, that His love for me mattered more than anything, and that most importantly Jesus died for me.

You can imagine how often that conversation led to a fight due to my lack of response. But I wasn’t ready to hear it. I hadn’t yet found someone that practiced the love they preached. 

But summer 2003 I experienced one of Gods inexplicable miracles firsthand. My sister had a boyfriend that lived out of state. He came to Miami for her high school graduation and stayed on our couch. One night I was in my room listening to my portable CD player (haha, remember those?) and I fell asleep relatively early. Not exactly sure what happened next but I woke up to my CD player door open, the CD turning backwards and hearing in my headphones, “Michelle WAKE UP, Michelle WAKE UP, Michelle WAKE UP!” over and over again. Needless to say I was creeped out enough where I tossed it across the room and darted for my bedroom door. As I opened the door, there was my sisters boyfriend reaching for the handle to my room. I ran past him, straight for my parents bed, hid under the covers and kept repeating, “Greater is He that is within me than he that is in the world.” 

Looking back now, I like to think that God was protecting me from whatever that ex-boyfriend of my sisters had intended for me. Later on I tried showing my mom how the CD sounded while rotating backwards but it didn’t work. I was stumped. At the time I didn’t know what to think other than I was going crazy. 

Fast forward to May 2011, a week before Carlos and I got married. My sister, my friend Vivi, Carlos and I were headed to a club when we got into a scary car wreck on the interstate. It was the type of accident where you spin out of control, hit a bunch of cars and pray you don’t die. But right as I was losing control of the car and we were headed for the barrier I felt hands other than my own on the steering wheel controlling the car. Carlos would later try to explain it as the power steering but I know what I felt. 

At that point I had already had a personal relationship with Christ. I went to church regularly, was in a Christian sorority in college, and volunteered at a faith-based orphanage. I knew that Gods miracles were possible. But I was still insecure about sharing my faith. God saved me, twice, from awful things happening to me. I should have been shouting His miracles from the rooftops. But whenever it was unearthed that I was a Christian I made sure to explain that I was NOT a Bible thumping Christian. I made sure never to preach or share my faith in fear of chastisement. Whenever I was in church I made sure not to worship too loudly or dance or jump because I didn’t want people to laugh.

I’m so ashamed of those fears. I hate that I worried what other people thought of me. The only person who has proven to be there for me time and time again has been Jesus. He has protected me from the things I wanted and given me the things I didn’t know I needed. 

I’m sad that I allowed a handful of negative people cloud my view of Christ. How could I see His glory when I was blinded by hatred? People will always disappoint you, ridicule you, and try to break you. But Christ will protect you and guide you through what needs to happen to reach your end goal.

I came to Uruguay with the obscure intention of spreading the Gospel. And while it’s taken me almost two years to start, I’m going to take the first step and start spreading the love and joy Jesus brings to my life. 

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Somewhere in the middle: My cultural identity

A couple of weeks ago Carlos and I were invited to a dinner party thrown by the gallery owner Carlos is set to show at in October. A small get together to meet up and coming artists in Montevideo along with local art buyers. I’ve been to a few things like this back in Miami, always the same pretentious art talk being thrown around, where I normally spend half the night trying not to throw up from all the bullshit. 

But this time, there was something different. Very early on the group divided between the art buyers and the art makers, those of us falling into neither category floating in the middle. Right at the beginning we met Juan, a Cuban artist that married a Uruguayan and has been living in Montevideo for a little over a year, and Nathalia, a psychology student from the department of Artigas living in Montevideo for over 11 years. In true man fashion Carlos and Juan pulled out their phones and started showing each other pictures of their work, leaving Nathalia and I to “ooh” and “aah” at every picture. Shortly there after we noticed that Juan did not have a typical Uruguayan accent leaving us to ask, “Where are you from?” Cuba. I quickly got excited telling him that my parents are Cuban including the towns they hail from but not before he asked, “Were you born in Cuba?” “Well no,” I responded. “I was born in Miami.” Juan, very politely, responded with, “Bueno entonces no eres cubana, tus padres si, pero tu eres estadounidiense.” (translating to: So then you’re not Cuban, you’re from the United States.)

My husband looked at me, waiting to see how I would respond, knowing that hearing that stung. I wish I could say that was the first time I had heard it. He’s not wrong in saying that I am in fact not Cuban but American. but as with everyone else who has told me that it was as if I was hearing, “You aren’t worthy of identifying yourself as Cuban. You are not one of us.” 

Growing up in Miami you would expect the melting pot of Hispanic ethnicities to create a warm and welcoming environment. The idea that they’ve all immigrated to the United States in search for a better life would bring them together. But it never really worked out like that. I grew up in an environment that divided Cubans from everyone else. Miami Cubans—and yes I am generalizing here—overall had this air about them that because Miami is known to be a Little Havana, that Cubans are THE best and all others are second class citizens. 

But I remember growing up and while I identified as a Cuban-American I never really fit in with the Cubans in school. I hadn’t immigrated to the States and while I may have spoken Spanish at home it wasn’t as if I was fluent. You would think that I would have found a place with other Cuban-Americans or Hispanic-Americans going through the same plight but I just didn’t. I didn’t listen to salsa or reggaeton, I didn’t watch Sabado Gigante or telenovelas on weeknights, and I didn’t go to loud family get togethers on Sunday afternoons. 

Then there were the American kids telling me that I was too brown to be their friend. That I wasn’t American enough to be American. “You came to this country for the ‘American dream’ well you’re not welcome here go back to your people.”

I spent most of my youth listening to bands like N’SYNC or the Backstreet Boys. I watched T.G.I.F. religiously and read Judy Blume books. Even when I did manage to build my tribe from 6th to 12th grade I didn’t have the same Hispanic experiences as them. Their parents made their culture known but apart from delicious Cuban food and my parents speaking in Spanish to each other, it wasn’t something that was common for me. My friends spent their summers in Cuba or Nicaragua, they only spoke to their families in Spanish, and they strongly identified as whatever their nationality is.

But me? I didn’t know what to identify as. I come from a blue-collar family. My dad worked three and four jobs at a time while my mom worked a steady 9-5 with good benefits but lacking in decent pay. We wore used clothing, had used toys, and my sister and I were constantly reminded that we needed to be better than our parents. I don’t feel like this struggle is a Cuban struggle or an American struggle because this is a human struggle; making ends meet, putting food on the table and providing for loved ones. At home we listened to oldies and classic rock. We watched English programs and my mom was active in my school work. If you asked me who Justin Timberlake was dating I could tell you Britney Spears in two seconds flat but ask me about whatever popular hispanic power couple and I would be as quiet as a country mouse.

It wasn’t until I met my husband that I had found someone other than my sister that felt the way I did. He was born in Nicaragua but raised in the States. When we go to Nicaragua they don’t consider him one of them, rather he’s a “gringo.” But if you ask any American if my naturalized husband is American they make it a point to differentiate themselves from him. 

The easy way to deal with this is to say, “I identify myself as a human. I have no cultural patrimony.” But that’s far from realistic. I think for right now I am comfortable knowing that I’m currently in-between cultural identities. My parents are Cuban, each with their own eclectic cultural backstory, I was born and raised in Miami but now I live in Uruguay. There are parts of each currently embedded in who I am and how I interact with others. I hope that one day I can figure it out, that I can give an answer that can please myself and not offend others. 

I’m thankful that I can have so many cultural influences, and that while my daughter may come across the same issues, that she will be proud of where she comes from. 

A break through the clouds.

Keeping Paloma entertained is hard enough when I have tons of different options but with the dead of winter upon us it’s getting harder and harder to keep her entertained. Our days usually consist of emptying out the toy box, placing things back in, emptying it out, screaming, running, and trying to trip me in the kitchen.

You would think that living on a farm PJ would have a sufficient amount of free space but until we fence the houses off from the animals her grass space is pretty limited. The animals poop any and everywhere, the dogs are constantly tripping her and the ground is uneven. I try to take her to the park in town at least once a week but I haven’t been able to do that in awhile. I also get a break during CAIF but July is vacation month in Uruguay so no playgroup until August.

The last week we’ve been dealing with cold rain but today we were blessed with SUN! Sure, the wind was brutal but we had sun making it the perfect day to head to the park for half an hour. Luckily today was Carlos’ day off and I didn’t have anything major on my to-do list for him so we got to go as a family.

Ever since I posted about putting my phone/computer away while enjoying time as a family I’ve been able to really take in the little moments. I notice the small things, the quiet moments. Like when Paloma plays with her Little People and gives them little kisses. Or for instance the hilarious moment we had yesterday at breakfast. I was playing music from the iTunes radio on my iPhone when Maroon 5’s Sugar comes on. Paloma drops what she had in her hand, gave me the dirtiest face and slowly raises her fingers to her ears to cover them. She didn’t move them until I changed the song. I got a stitch on my side from laughing so hard.

Anyway, while at the park I made it a point to take pictures with my DSLR as opposed to using my phone. I knew that if I had my phone out I would be distracted by social media or tempted to play a level of Dots.

I was surprised how Paloma now LOVES to go down the slide by herself. She normally wants us to go down with her or hold her by her waist as she scoots down. But today she was a big girl! It made my heart hurt but simultaneously swell with joy seeing how much she’s grown.

I love days like this. Days where smiles and giggles flow freely.It’s these little moments that I live for. All the tough to get through moments are worth it when I get to experience days like these. My family is my everything.

Climbing the stairs to get on the slide.
Climbing the stairs to get on the slide.
Moments like these melt my heart.
Moments like these melt my heart.

*I wrote this post on Tuesday before we took PJ to the hospital. Didn’t have a chance to post it then.

I think we’ve got an emergency.

Last night was our first middle of the night trip to the emergency with little Paloma.

During dinner I noticed that she was only eating with her right arm, at bed time she didn’t help me get her dressed, and while drinking her bottle she only held it with her right arm. I thought it was a little weird but since she wasn’t screaming or anything I figured she was being particular.

She went down at 8:30pm like normal but at around 10:00pm she started crying in her sleep. Nothing serious at first, just random cries, but as the night progressed her cries got more intense and at around midnight she was screeching. I pulled her into our bed thinking she might be hot from the heater in her room. But after getting her undressed and giving her some water I realized something was up.

When Paloma throws a tantrum she normally gives it her all kicking and punching with all her limbs. But last night I noticed that she only used her right arm. At that point I knew something was odd and we should take her to the emergency room. It was 1:45am and I was dreading the hour drive to the hospital but it needed to get done. After waking my parents to get the car keys and successfully freaking out my mom we headed to the hospital. It was freezing last night. There was ice on the windshield and even Paloma didn’t object to being bundled up in three different blankets.

After a very bumpy and scary ride thanks to my dads driving, we got to the hospital in 35 minutes. We walked up to the window to speak with the secretary about needing to see a doctor. We were quickly processed and taken to triage. The nurse took down all her info and we waited about two minutes before we saw the doctor. Our doctor was hesitant at first to see if anything was wrong but after attempting to play with Paloma she realized that something was bothering her arm. She had me undress her slowly and she noticed that she was definitely having issues moving her left arm. She did a another physical examination and felt that her elbow was dislocated.

Hearing that my heart dropped. I felt like it was something I did. I pulled her arm too hard to get her away from something dangerous or maybe she fell too hard at the park. Why hadn’t I noticed it earlier? I felt like an awful parent.

The doctor was very quick to tell me it was a miracle I even noticed it when I did considering PJ wasn’t crying. After popping it back into place she gave her some Ibuprofen and kept her for few minutes for observation. While she wasn’t comfortable using her left arm all that much afterwards you could tell there was a HUGE difference in how she moved. She slowly started using her arm to hold my cell phone and she used both arms to ask to be picked up.

Once the doctor saw that she had improved mobility she sent us home. I’d say we spent a total of half an hour at the hospital. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a short emergency room trip in my life. I have friends with kids in the States and when they tell me of taking their kids to the emergency room it’s literally hours before anyone gets seen by a doctor. It’s moments like these where I’m extra appreciative of being in Uruguay. The healthcare here is amazing, people are treated like people and not like money. I wish that the States could adopt this, that hospitals could be stopped being seen as businesses and could be seen as healing centers.

Today we’re taking it easy at home. Carlos has the day off so we’re at home trying to recoup from a long night. Thankful for that our adventurous little girl is feeling alright.

Lady date in MVD pt. 2: Fusimi Sushi

Before my sister left for Italy we went on a little lady date. A day full of pampering and stuffing our faces with delicious sushi and chinese food.

In my first post I talked about our time at Me Spa and I’ll be glad to note that we have since gone back for manicure and pedicure and again, AMAZING! Seriously everyone should go there. 

Now to talk about our time at Fusimi Buffet in Punta Carretas. I had heard about Fusimi from a fellow expats blog called Ask Annette. I had never attempted to eat Asian food here for two reasons. a) Lack of fresh fish at the supermarket and b) Hadn’t found an inexpensive enough place. Sounds pretty ridiculous I know but I might as well be honest. 

Like many restaurants in Montevideo, Fusimi does NOT have a website or state their hours on their Facebook page. Being a buffet, and my being American, I would have thought it would be open from noon until at least midnight but alas like most things in Uruguay they take a siesta from 3:30pm to 8:00pm. My sister and I thought we would be safe arriving at around 6:30pm but they didn’t reopen for dinner for another hour and a half. Luckily the buffet is around the corner from the Punta Carretas shopping mall. 

Off to the mall we went, window shopping and debating getting snacks from small vendors in the mall. Actually I will say one thing I LOVE about Uruguay is the McDonald’s soft serve stands they have inside the mall. Independent little soft serve stands, I mean seriously it’s amazing. Anyway, we decided to get some coffee from the McCafe downstairs and wait for Carlos to get out of work to join us. 

After some very amusing people watching, Carlos showed up and off we went back to Fusimi. It’s a relatively small place with not as large of a selection as a buffet in the States but after being away from the States for so long and used to smaller portion sizes I was appreciative of the small selection. 

The staff is trilingual from what we could tell, however I wouldn’t be surprised if they spoke more languages. Fluent in English, Spanish, and Mandarin (at least I think it was Mandarin. Now I feel like a jerk for not having asked). The waitress noticed us speaking in English and addressed us in English. Not necessary but we appreciated it. There were several other diners present but not enough to feel uncomfortable or overpacked. 

Being pros at the buffet game my sister and I quickly placed our purses on our chair backs and grabbed our plates heading straight for the buffet. Piling up the delicious looking sushi, kung pao chicken and fried rice I was set. I wish I had my phone to take pictures of the food but you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it was everything I could have hoped for and more. The sushi was delicious and welcomingly lacked an overabundance of cream cheese—Uruguayans LOVE Philadelphia and at most sushi places you’ll rarely see a roll that isn’t stuffed with some—and had a mouthful of fresh fish. The fried rice and chicken dishes were delicious and comparable to the stuff I normally ate in Miami. 

Carlos had three or four plates full of food while Vanessa and I could barely finish two. Our server was surprised we didn’t want dessert but seriously who could have more space in their stomachs after everything we ate? I was disappointed it took us this long to find a place like this but glad we gave it a chance. The prices are decent in comparison to other sushi restaurants in town: $390 pesos for lunch and $490 for dinner. They also have a takeout option where you pay $390 per kilogram and sushi is $20 per piece. Not bad in my opinion considering restaurants will charge you $300 for an eight piece roll. 

I will most definitely be returning to Fusimi in the near future, but I don’t know if I’ll be bringing PJ with me. She’s still too young to eat a lot of the food there except maybe for the rice. My aunt is visiting us from Miami mid-September and this will be a nice change of pace when she’s tired of parrilladas and churrasco. 

Fusimi Buffet. Solano Garcia 2468 esq. Jose Ellauri. Hours: Sunday through Thursday 12:00pm-3:30pm and 8:00pm-12:00am. Friday and Saturday 12:00pm-3:30pm and 8:00pm-12:30am. They are closed on Tuesdays. 

Until next time…

The past few weeks have been busy with flight preparations and tying up loose ends. Closing bank accounts, cell phone transfers and avoiding our feelings at all costs. It wasn’t until our last day together that it even hit me she wouldn’t be there the next. For the first time in my life I don’t know when I’ll see my sister again. Continue reading Until next time…

Mom, put down your phone and live this moment.

I love my family. The sweet intimate moments that only we get to share in. The ones that I can’t really capture in a picture or video. Her sleepy breaths, her tickle monster giggles, the way her cheeks get red after laughing for too long, the smell on the top of her head, and especially her little arms wrapped around my neck. These are things I wish I could keep in a box forever.

But sometimes, a lot of the time, I forget those things.  Continue reading Mom, put down your phone and live this moment.