Sunday, April 16, 2017

Holy Week

I was asked to speak at church last week, on Palm Sunday, and here is what I said.

With General Conference fresh in our memories and Easter nigh upon us, I think all of us have the Savior, Jesus Christ, on our minds. I really love to read, and I would like to start with an excerpt from a childhood memoir I read last month written by Haven Kimmel. The following is from a conversation between Haven’s mother and grandmother.

“I've got a question for you. Mabel Simpkins told me today that the Jesus who died at Easter was the same one who was born at Christmas. Is that true?” Mildred asked. . . .

Before Mom could answer, Mildred continued. “I just laughed at Mabel and told her she sure wasn't making a fool of me. I know Easter comes before Christmas.” (A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small inMooreland, Indiana)

I laughed when I read that exchange, but as I’ve been preparing for this talk, I keep returning to that idea, of people not knowing or perhaps not really understanding that the Jesus of Christmas and Easter are the same person and not really grasping what that means, not accepting that not only is Jesus the only begotten Son of God but also the Savior of the World. There are so many different religions who worship God, our same God. They may use different names for Him or emphasize different teachings or have had truths lost over time, but their God is our God and is not what separates us. What separates us is our belief in Jesus Christ. That He was more than a man, more than a teacher, more than a prophet. As Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, we are further separated from other Christians due to our unique beliefs about the nature of God, the Restoration, temple ordinance work, and priesthood authority, but that is a discussion for a different talk. Today I focus on our shared belief in Jesus Christ and specifically His last week living on Earth in a mortal body.

A baby was born in a manger to Mary, and a man was crucified on the cross, both acts fulfilling prophecies that had been foretold for hundreds of years by Jewish prophets and leaders. Jesus spent His whole life attempting to get those around Him to understand that He was the fulfillment of said prophecy and to teach them what the prophecies really meant.

The last week of Jesus’s life is called by many “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” It begins today on Palm Sunday; continues with Holy Thursday when Christ celebrated His last supper, a Passover Feast, with his disciples, and suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane; moves on to Good Friday when Christ is tried, condemned, and crucified; and ends on Easter Sunday, next Sunday, when Christ’s body was not found in the tomb, because He had risen from the dead.

The different authors of the gospels in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—differ slightly in their placement of the events of the last week of Christ’s life and some include additional events, but to me that has more to do with emphasizing different aspects rather than detracting from historical truth. We’re human, and we all remember the same events in different ways and retell them in novel ways. One could read all the accounts together to gain a fuller understanding of Holy Week and its meaning.

One of the events of Holy Week took place in Bethany at the home of the sisters Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Martha served a special meal to Jesus, Lazarus, and other disciples. During the meal, Mary anointed Jesus’s body. John, in his gospel, records that she anointed Jesus’s feet, and Matthew and Mark record that she anointed his head, either way it was very symbolic to be anointed with oil. In ancient Israel, anointing a body was part of the burial process, and in earlier periods of history, the Israelites would anoint living people who were going to serve as kings or high priests. The Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Christ both mean “the anointed one.” Anointing with oil was not a common practice outside of those religious rituals. Thus, the anointing teaches us that Jesus is our King and High Priest and also allowed Jesus to teach His disciples that He would soon die, as he responded to Judas’s complaint about the waste of expensive oil by saying: “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12:7).

Today is called Palm Sunday because of Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. In John we read, “On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt” (John 12:12–15).

To Jews aware of their history, this event would have held a lot of meaning. Old Testament kings, especially David, commonly rode donkeys, so Jesus riding the young donkey would further associate himself as their true King, and it also completes the prophecy of Zechariah quoted by John that the messianic king would come riding on a donkey.

Another parallel Jews would have drawn at the time is the waving of tree branches associated with the coronation of Israelite kings, thus in multiple ways, Jesus reveals that He is their true King. This triumphal entry must have been bittersweet to our Savior who was finally recognized as the Messiah by so many of His people when He knew that the end of His earthly ministry was near.

Recognized as King and High Priest, Jesus then goes to His temple, which He discovers is populated not just with worshippers and priests but money changers and vendors of sacrificial animals. Using one of His strongest rebukes, our Lord who was often so eager to forgive proclaimed: “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). Jesus cast them out and overthrew their tables, then, as recorded in Matthew, He stayed at the temple to heal the blind and the lame who came to Him (Matthew 21:12, 14).

In Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple, he surrounds that event with the cursing of the fruitless fig tree. Jesus is hungry and goes to the fig tree searching for food, but finding only leaves, He curses it saying, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever” (Mark 11:14). Then after leaving the temple and the city, Jesus and his disciples passed by the fig tree again and found “the fig tree dried up from the roots” (Mark 11:20). The apostle Peter remarked, “Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God” (Mark 11:21–22).

This could have just been an example of Jesus’s power—that He can not only heal the blind and lame but also curse those who have been given much yet do not fulfill their roles. It might have been a parallel with the House of Israel who had been given the priesthood and prophets and blessings but some instead of following the commandments of the Lord and producing good fruit, had instead become hypocrites, not living up to their potential. Theologians more versed in scripture than I have supposed that “the cursing of the fig tree and the overturning of the money changers’ tables, taken together, may foreshadow the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple some 40 years later.” (Eric D. Huntsman, “Reflecting on the Savior’s Last Week,” Ensign, April 2009.)

For the followers of Christ who were hoping that Christ would become a literal King of the Jews and overthrow their Roman oppressors, the cursing of the fig tree must have been rather disappointing. For the fig tree was not blessed with fruit it hadn’t cultivated itself; it was cursed instead. Just like Jerusalem soon was destroyed.

Often during His last week of life, Jesus would go to the temple where He continued to teach those who would listen. He often also had to verbally spar with the chief priests and elders who pestered Him over and over again, questioning His authority.

Ever since Christ’s life, people throughout the years and all over the world, and I myself, have likewise questioned His authority. Was He really the King of Kings? Is He really the Savior? Did He really die for me? Through His atonement, can I actually receive forgiveness for my sins?

As we read of His miracles and His parables, we can pray for our own personal witness and receive an answer through the comforting presence of the Holy Ghost. Just as Christ answered the priests and elders in the temple during His last week of life, today our questions are still answered.

Also in our time, we are able to take the sacrament, a practice that was taught by Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday. He met with His apostles for the Feast of the Passover. The Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrating when the angel of death passed over the Jewish homes that were marked with the blood of an innocent lamb during Israel’s captivity in Egypt. Likewise, Jesus Christ is often symbolized as a lamb, and we know He was innocent of all sin. And through the blood of His atonement, we can repent and fulfil the demands of justice, thus damnation passes over us. During this feast, Christ instituted the sacrament, already talking of His body and blood that would be slain and shed for all.

Every week, we will most likely fail to be perfect, but through the sacrament, we are able to access the power of the atonement and be forgiven of our sins, fresh and clean to start a new week and try again to be better. I will admit that having little children has made my partaking of the sacrament a little bit less peaceful and reverent as it once was. Now it’s often filled with whispers of “please be quieter” or “no, you can’t do that until after the sacrament” or “stop touching your sibling!” But I do still find great solace in knowing that I can utilize the atonement, repent, and start over again and that God probably understands how hard it is for little kids to be still and quiet.

After the sacrament and feast, Christ and his disciples journeyed to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus Christ prayed alone to His Heavenly Father saying, from the account of John, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42­). But it was the will of the Father, and it was necessary for the salvation of all mankind, and Christ was perfectly obedient, so He prayed, and He was in so much agony that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22: 44). An angel appeared to lend Him strength.

In the words of Bruce R. McConkie:
We do not know, we cannot tell, no mortal mind can conceive, the full import of what Christ did in Gethsemane. . . .

We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name. (Bruce R.McConkie, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” Ensign, May 1985.)

After endearing this inhumane, miraculous event that conquered sin, He returned to find that all of His friends were asleep. Not one stayed awake with Him during His hour of need. And then a short while later, one who was once a friend betrayed Him with a kiss, and He was bound and taken away.

Thus we begin Good Friday: Christ bound and taken before Jewish and Roman authorities. He was mocked, scourged, and spit upon, derided and abused. Already having endured incomprehensible pain in the Garden of Gethsemane, He had to carry His cross to the location of the crucifixion and finally be raised up on the cross. He had nails through His hands and wrists and a spear through His side, and amidst all of that physical pain, His cry was “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Having lived a perfect life, I assume it was the first time He had ever lost the presence of God and the Holy Ghost. No angel came this time. No friends could lessen this pain. He took it all upon Himself, and then finally in full agency yielded to death. I say yielded, because the account in Matthew phrases it that way—He “yielded up the ghost,” (Matthew 27:50) because as the only Begotten of the Father, Christ was also divine and dying in Golgotha was His choice as much as suffering in Gethsemane had been the night before.

But this is not the end of the story of Jesus Christ. He atoned for us on Holy Thursday. He died for us on Good Friday. And then, on Easter Sunday, when Mary Magdalene and other women went to the sepulchre, they found the stone rolled away and His body gone. He died. They had all seen Him die. But His corpse was gone. And this is the final touch of His amazing story of atonement. He suffered and conquered sin that we might repent and be clean again. And He died and lived again, conquering death, that we too might live again.

Every moment and every story in this week, and I didn’t even touch on all of them, all lead up to the culminating experience of the Atonement. With every instance, Jesus Christ reaffirmed that He was the King, the High Priest, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Sacrificial Lamb. His atonement gives life purpose, and we are blessed enough to live in a time period on this earth where we can take the sacrament every single week, where we can make our own covenants, where we can read scriptures in our own native tongues, and where we can grow closer to our Lord every single day.

To me, Jesus Christ means hope, peace, and love. I have hope for a future after death; I have hope for cleanliness and forgiveness after sin. I have peace in my life and in my heart. I can feel His love for me, and I can feel His love for others. When I think of all the things in my life that have brought me happiness, the root of all of them is Jesus Christ. I have built my life upon His teachings, and I can honestly say that I have great joy every day because of it. I am in awe when I think about His resurrection, how He died and then lived again. I am so grateful that He conquered sin and overcame the grave, and I look forward to the day when I am resurrected and reunited with loves ones I have lost.

I would like to share a quote by Jeffrey R. Holland:
. . . for me there is no greater amazement and no more difficult personal challenge than when, after the anguish in Gethsemane, after being mocked, beaten, and scourged, Jesus staggers under his load to the crest of Calvary and says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.)

If ever there is a moment when I indeed stand all amazed, it is here, for this is an amazement of a different kind. So much of the mystery of his power and ministry tear at my mind: the circumstances of his birth, the breadth and variety of his ministry and miracles, the self-summoned power of his resurrection—before all of these I stand amazed and say, “How did he do it?”

But here with disciples who abandoned him in his hour of greatest need, here fainting under the weight of his cross and the sins of all mankind which were attached to it, here rent by piercing spikes in his palms and in his wrists and in his feet—here now the amazement tears not at my mind but at my heart, and I ask not “How did he do it?” but “Why did he do it?”

It is here that I examine my life, not against the miraculousness of his, but against the mercifulness of it, and it is here I find how truly short I fall in emulation of the Master. (Jeffrey R. Holland, “I Stand All Amazed,” Ensign, August 1986.)

My native language is English, but my true language is music, so I would like to close my talk with two hymns that have been on my mind as I have pondered the events of Holy Week.

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.

I know that my Redeemer lives.
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, and while he lives, I'll sing.
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.
He lives to silence all my fears.
He lives to wipe away my tears.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Family Activities Juarez/El Paso

This is by no means a comprehensive guide, nor does it even include everything we managed to fit in during our two years there, but it is a helpful start for anyone wondering what there is to do in that part of the world. It was also quite a trip down memory lane. In no specific order, here are some of our favorite sites and activities in Juárez and El Paso (and the surrounding area).


Primero, Ciudad Juárez!

The universal wristband gives you access to the bumper cars, water launcher boats, zip line, roller skating rink, mini golf, trampolines, and various other rides that little kids can enjoy, too. The go-carts are not included in the universal wristband purchase. It's open Wednesday through Sunday.





Las Golondrinas
This is the closest water park to the Consulate. It is the smallest, but I liked that, because I could keep track of my kids better, and there are still a lot of fun slides for small kids. The big slide opens randomly for an hour here and there (I assume for water conservation), and when open, little kids are allowed to go down in life jackets/floaties or on your lap. There is a great wading pool with lots of small slides. It is open Tuesday through Sunday.





The children's museum in Juarez is fantastic. It differs in one way from American children's museums—there are docents/guides everywhere. And they want to explain to your children what each display/interactive activity does/the science behind it all before your kid can engage with the booth/display. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is different from in the States, where most things are unmanned, and you just walk around on your own. You could spend a whole day there and still not see everything. (Especially if your kids like to do things over and over again like mine.) It has activities for toddlers and babies as well. There is a 3D movie theater that usually shows BBC Earth movies. My kids have found them too intense (haha), so every time I pay for it, we've had to leave in the middle of the show. There are two restaurants and an ice cream/popsicle parlor inside. Or you can bring food to eat in the cafeteria. It is open Monday through Sunday. 








La Rodadora next to Parque Central. It is a wonderful place for children to ride their bikes and roller skate. There are multiple ponds with ducks and turtles. There is a giraffe named Modesto and peacocks. There are a lot of food stands. There are a few playgrounds that are not up to American standards, but my kids have played on them without getting hurt. We mostly go to walk around/ride bikes/skate. It's a large park. If you go in the evening, the carnival rides will be turned on.





This is one of the two waterparks along the border. It is larger than Las Golondrinas. It is nice and clean. The little kid area doesn't have as many slides as Las Golondrinas, but it still has a good number and the kiddie pool itself is larger, and there are more big slides. It is more expensive than Las Golondrinas.

This is the biggest waterpark. It is like Las Fuentes and Fiesta Park combined. I've never been there, so I can't say whether it is nice/clean, but it is definitely the largest with the widest variety of activities.


Museo de Arqueología El Chamizal
This is a free museum, and if you call ahead of time, you can organize to have a tour. The majority of the museum is outside in gardens and is composed of life-size replicas of archeological finds from all over Mexico. There are some original pieces as well, but mostly very well done replicas. It's an enjoyable stroll while learning about the ancient indigenous cultures. The museum is located in El Chemizal park, which is quite large and worth seeing for itself.



We also enjoyed visiting the art museum in Juarez. It is not very large, but every third Saturday of the month, between March and October, there are free crafts, activities, and workshops for children. It is a free event.



Fast food restaurants
I know it's not exciting, because the food is the same as in the States, but in Mexico, the play places are GINORMOUS. The largest ones are at Burger King. Seriously huge. You can easily be there for hours while your kids climb, slide, and play. Just the play places in Mexico are bigger than the entire fast food restaurant in the States. After Burger King, I would say Carl's Jrs have the next largest play places. But McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, etc., they all have play places here.





Now for the El Paso side of things . . .

El Paso Zoo
The El Paso Zoo is not very far away from the border and is a good medium size zoo. My children especially loved the treehouse playground and the splash pad/spray ground. The Zoo holds fun events throughout the year. We found that a membership was definitely worth the price, and includes discounts at participating zoos throughout the country.






Playdates at the Park/El Paso Chihuahuas
El Paso has a baseball team: the Chihuahuas. The games are fun to attend. Also, in the summer, the ball park holds two or three "play dates at the park," which are free events for young children to attend. There are various sponsors present giving out free items and there are games to play.




Franklin Mountain has some nice hiking trails, as well as picnic areas and some camping spots. It is a large park. We found many of the trails to be too intense for our youngest children, but we wore them in packs. (Some of the trails were incredibly steep, so even wearing them in packs was kind of intense, because if the child on your back leaned to one side, it was dangerously easy to lose your balance. So be careful as to what trails you choose and what your stamina levels are.) My elementary aged children handled it fine.




Rockin' Jump is a lot of fun. It's exactly what you would imagine. Trampolines everywhere. They have special hours for different ages, so your littles don't have to compete with really big kids. You are required to purchase their special socks, but you get to keep them. This is a little pricier than the other options, but the kids really love it.


Armijo is an indoor pool at a city park in El Paso. It has random hours, so call, but it has a fantastic wading pool with lots of water spray features. There is a small slide for kids and a larger one, but I think little kids can't use the larger one. The slides aren't as large as in Juarez, but it is fun for all the spray features, and sometimes indoor is nice to get out of the sun, and it is especially nice in the winter when the outdoor pools are closed. Also, it is attached to a civic center and a library and is surrounded by three different playgrounds.



If you're willing to drive outside the city . . . 

These dunes are located just about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Ciudad Juarez. If you're into '80s films, you might be interested to know these dunes were used in the filming of Conan the Destroyer and Dune. It's a quick drive to leave the bustle of the city and feel like you're completely in the wilderness.



Casas Grandes, Nuevas Casas Grandes, Paquimé, Mata Ortiz, and Colonia Juárez
If you're willing to drive a few hours outside of Juarez, then I recommend a visit to Casas Grandes. At Paquimé, you'll be able to walk trails through the ruins of an ancient city made by the indigenous people to that region almost a thousand years ago. There is also a museum. Mata Ortiz is a small town nearby that in the '80s revived the lost art of the pottery made by the original inhabitants of Paquimé. Made entirely by hand with local materials, the pottery is gorgeous and true to its history and legacy. Depending on when you go, you can even attend workshops where local artisans will show you how the pottery is made. Nuevo Casas Grandes is where you will find the most hotels and restaurants. We stayed at Hotel Hacienda and enjoyed it immensely. The food was delicious, the rooms were clean, and there is a kiddie pool and a regular pool. Colonia Juárez is also not too far away. It was a colony originally settled by Mormons as part of a wider resettlement. When the Mormons left the eastern United States and traveled west, the majority settled in Salt Lake City, but other groups were sent to settle parts of Mexico, Idaho, California, and other areas nearby. Colonia Juarez was one such settlement.



Another worthwhile drive is to the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas. Depending on when you visit, you can attend a "sun party" or a "star party" where you will see images from an actual telescope in current time. The visitor's center has a few exhibits, and you can pay for a guided tour of many of the other telescopes located on the mountain (or do a free self guided tour, but you don't get to see as much).


A drive in the other direction will take you to White Sands, which is the largest dune area of a special white sand. You can take sleds to slide down, hike, or rustic camp. It's quite beautiful. The sand is unique also in that it doesn't get hot even when it is unbearably hot outside.



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017 Year Review

The Collett Family spent 2016 finishing up their second year in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. It was a wonderful year of tennis, soccer, sun, song, burritos, and tacos.
In January, Daniel turned five, and we went on a trip to visit friends and family in Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah. 
In February, Pope Francis came to visit Juárez (a big deal!), and Alice turned three.
In March, Jeff’s parents, Laurie and Daryl, came to visit us in Mexico.
In April, Gordon turned one, Jill turned seven, and we fell in love with our neighbor’s dog, Mika. Throughout the year, we often pet-sat and pretended she was ours.
In May, Jeff got to spend a week in Washington DC for training, and Mimi’s parents, Phil and Vickie, came to visit us in Mexico.
In June, Mimi turned thirty-one, and we visited White Sands, New Mexico.
In July, we went to Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana to visit friends and family, and Jill was the flower girl in her Uncle Kyle’s wedding.
In August, Jill started second grade, Daniel started kindergarten, Alice returned to preschool, Gordon started preschool, and Mimi tried not to cry.
In September, Gordon stopped nursing, and we went to Pheonix, Arizona, to see friends and a BYU football game. 
In October, Jeff got to spend a week in Germany for a Facility Managment Conference. He also received a promotion and Honorable Mention POSHO of the Year!
In November, Mimi and the kids went with friends to explore the ruins of Paquimé and Casas Grandes, Jeff turned thirty-four, and we all went to see family in Houston and to a Collett Family reunion in Orlando, spending two days at Disney and one at Universal Studios.
In December, Mimi’s dad visited Mexico, the whole family attended a Boling Family Reunion at a ski resort in Wisconsin Dells, and we had to say good-bye to our beloved Juarez.
During our time in Mexico, Jill has become proficient in Spanish and a great reader. Daniel has worked hard in speech therapy and is now able to speak and be understood. Alice has grown into a very independent preschooler with a rich imagination. Gordon has become a toddler who is adored by everyone who meets him. Mimi has had her heart stolen from her by all of the children she taught at church and at the kids’ school. Jeff has forged strong friendships with the teenage boys he helped prepare for church missions.

We are now looking forward to 2017, which will bring us six months in Virginia learning French, and then it’s off to discover our new home in Libreville, Gabon, Africa.

Love, 
Jeffrey, Michelle, Jill, Daniel, Alice, and Gordon

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Juárez, te he amado


In no specific order, here are some memorable moments from our time in Ciudad Juárez.

  • Being at a Mexican Independence Day party and realizing the song playing is Achey Breaky Heart—but in Spanish—and everyone is doing the Electric Slide line dance.
  • Driving to Casas Grandes through small towns, which don't always have adequate signage for speed bumps, and making eye contact with a cowboy standing next to the speed bump as he slowly shakes his head back and forth at me, la güera, as I slam on my brakes and try not to kill the car as I fly over the speed bump.
  • Being at a school party at Kari Montessori and leading my past students in American line dances.
  • Hearing Jill confidently say her parts in Spanish at the primary program and school play.
  • Having my husband be awarded the Honorable Mention POSHO of the Year 2016.
  • Singing the National Anthem at the American Independence Day party at the Consulate.
  • Crying at the mall because it took me almost two hours to pay a cell phone bill and just wanting to not stick out, understand what was being said, and have things be easy.
  • Learning about family situations that make me revaluate judgements that I've previously always subconsciously made.
  • Leading my primary children in El Burrito Sabanero while singing my heart out and dancing with all the enthusiasm I posses.
  • Playing soccer on a dirt field, littered with trash, next to a busy street.
  • Watching my good friend Angela teach my children how to make tortillas from scratch.
  • Scoring a goal in the Consulate soccer tournament when I'm one of only two girls and one of only five Americans competing.
  • Watching Daniel progress from an angry toddler who couldn't communicate to a confident kindergartener who can talk and be understood.
  • Having preschool help me potty train Alice.
  • Watching Jeff interact with the teenage boys at church while he was their youth leader (Young Men's president).
  • Leading an adult choir and a children's choir at stake conference.
  • Listening to Jeff make jokes in Spanish at work with his guys.
  • Seeing how much everyone, literally everyone, adored Gordon.
  • Singing (and directing a choir) as my best friend Kristin played the violin.
  • Witnessing the gentle, kind way Kari Montessori handled Daniel's hitting and yelling problem.
  • Having a Mexican man disagree with me when I told him the salsa was spicy and then two minutes later having him admit that the salsa actually was spicy, as his face turned red and tears ran down his face.
  • Buying from a man on the street corner the largest sparkler fireworks I've ever seen.
  • Being entertained at every major intersection by people juggling soccer balls, juggling fire, doing cheerleading stunts, being completely covered in metallic body paint, or wearing huge inflated balloon butts in their clown pants.
  • Living somewhere where it is actually rude to not make eye contact and greet the strangers you pass on the street.
  • Giving birth to Gordon with such an amazing team at Hospital Ángeles.
  • Watching my kids learn and love soccer, gymnastics, and tennis.
  • Having tennis lessons with the amazing profe, Ricardo.
  • Watching Jeff compete in tennis competitions at the country club.

Gracias, Juárez, por todo el amor que me ha dado. 
Te di mi corazón y me diste el tuyo. 
Nunca voy a olvidar mis cortos dos años contigo.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Día(s) de los Muertos

There is an interesting holiday here in Mexico called "Día de los Muertos." As it turns out, it is not just a day. It's kind of three days. Perhaps it used to only be one day before Europeans and Catholicism, but now it is three days, and it is an interesting mix of religions.

I've read a few websites and asked a number of friends here in Ciudad Juárez trying to figure out what the actual holiday was, and this is what I have determined.

On the evening of October 31, altars are made for deceased children. On November 1 and 2, people make altars for any deceased person. Thus, Día de los Muertos overlaps with America's Halloween on October 31, and with Catholicism's All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls' Day (Nov. 2).

It is not a morbid or sad holiday. It is actually quite happy and joyous. The altars are not for worshipping dead people. The altars are for commemorating, for remembering. Traditionally they are very colorful with beautiful cut paper art, yellow marigolds, a special bread called pan de los muertos, and sugar skulls. The sugar skulls are colorful with pretty designs. The altar will also include the deceased person's favorite foods, pictures, and articles that represent hobbies or other aspects of the deceased's life. It is a time when it is believed that the veil separating life and death is very thin and those you love can be with you again.

We've had a busy weekend celebrating all of the holidays. On Friday of last week, we trick or treated at the Consulate where Jeff works. Then we went out in the evening to a Día de los Muertos party, complete with elaborate altars, many Catrinas and Catríns, delicious tamales, a puppet show, and I think a parade happened after we left (my kids needed to get to bed).

Then on Saturday, we went trick or treating at the El Paso Zoo for their Boo at the Zoo. We didn't actually trick or treat very much, but it was a good reason to get out of the house and walk a lot. And the kids enjoyed themselves. They didn't seem to notice that we didn't do a good job of following the map and getting to the candy stations.

Sunday we had regular church services. Sunday was also the anniversary of the death of my sweet niece Tabitha. We lost her to SIDS five years ago when she was just six months old. It is still so sad and almost unbelievable that she didn't get to stay with us in her beautiful family, but thinking of Día de los Muertos where the focus is celebrating the time you did have with someone, and receiving pictures from my brother of my little preemie niece Valerie who was supposed to be born in October but came in July instead and was recently home from the hospital, I felt joy in my heart.

Monday was actual Halloween. Since I live in a border town, some Mexicans have adopted American holidays that they like. So there was trick or treating at the mall near my house during the day, and then my neighborhood actually had trick or treating in the evening. My kids were thrilled about this. Somewhere between one third and one half of my neighbors participated by handing out candy. And I wondered if the act of giving to candy to children works with the idea of that night being the night that deceased children are able to visit. At the dark houses who weren't handing out candy, I wondered if our trick or treating was disturbing their festivities. The Mexican way (or at least the Juarense way) to trick or treat is not to ring doorbells and say "trick or treat," but to walk through the streets chanting "Queremos Halloween" (We want Halloween"). Those inside their homes will hear you, usually through an open window, and open their doors to give you candy.

Tuesday was also Día de los Muertos and All Saints' Day. The children had a party at school, which combined the two holidays. A priest came and held mass for All Saints' Day and the students were invited to dress up like saints and angels. Last year, I'm not sure what happened, but I dressed my kids up in their Catrina and Catrín costumes. They were the only ones. This year, Jill dressed up as a saint (she chose Saint Philomena), and none of my other kids wanted to participate in costume (although Alice decided to wear her Mexican dress), and there actually were two other students dressed up as Catrinas. So we wouldn't have been the only ones this year! After the mass, we all ate pan de muerte and drank delicious abuelita while we walked around to the classrooms to see the altars our children had made.

Today was the last day of Día de los Muertos and All Souls' Day. There was no school and the Consulate was closed. We didn't make any altars in our home, but Jill did spend the morning calling her grandparents and asking them about their parents and writing down information about each of her deceased great grandparents. I enjoyed hearing the stories my parents and in-laws shared with her, some familiar and some new.

Halloween 2015: I have since realized that to be a Catrín and not just a skeleton, I need to put clothes over the skeleton costume, but alas, I can't go back in time and fix that error.

All Saints' Day 2015: Daniel's class's altar, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Colegio Kari Montessori)

All Saints' Day 2015: Jill's class's altar, Mother Teresa (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Halloween 2016: This year, we separated the holidays more by having different costumes for Halloween and for Día de los Muertos. For Halloween, Daniel was Ironman; Gordon, Mickey Mouse; Alice, Minnie Mouse; and Jill, a cheerleader.

Día de los Muertos 2016: We attended a Día de los Muertos party. We arrived fresh faced and left with painted faces. I think the skeleton face symbolizes that we all have death within us and that the distance between life and death is not actually all that far—that our loved ones are not that far away. (Colegio San Patricio)

Día de los Muertos 2016: One of the altars at the party. Shortly after I took this picture, Gordon knocked over the guitar, which knocked over one of the candles, which made me have a miniature heart attack, but luckily nothing burned down. (Colegio San Patricio)

Halloween 2016: Trick or treating at Boo at the El Paso Zoo

All Saints' Day 2016: Some of the students dressed up like saints and angels for the mass at school. (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Gordon's class's altar, Diego Rivera (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Alice and Daniel's class's altar, Frida Kahlo (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Jill's class's altar, Pablo Picasso (Colegio Kari Montessori)

I am very grateful to the wonderful Mexicans we have met during our time here who have embraced us and welcomed us into their homes and culture. Honoring and remembering our deceased ancestors is very important to me, so I appreciate this joyous holiday.

(Also disclaimer, I'm sorry if I got anything wrong with the holiday. I'm trying my best to figure it out!)

Click here to watch a video of a cool Catrina/Catrín Día de los Muertos parade.