I realized recently that Miriam and I have a lot in common. We both like doces (sweets), pasta, and watching cartoons. We are also both learning to talk, and it frustrates us! Miriam attends a preschool that is totally in Portuguese. It’s one of the best things we’ve done for her. We are constantly surprised at the new words she knows. She also often speaks using Portuguese syntax. While at home, we speak English with her so that she has a good exposure to both languages.
The problem with her learning two languages at once is that it can be difficult to figure out what she’s saying. Is she speaking toddler English? Is it toddler Portuguese? Is it a mixture of both? Or is it toddler babble that we may never guess? She gets frustrated, but then gets very excited when we guess correctly often saying, “Isso, yes!” (That’s it! Yes!).
I am beginning to understand how frustrated she must feel at times. One night a week, I meet with a man who is a member of the Polícia Federal (basically the Brazilian FBI). We meet for about an hour for me to practice my Portuguese and for him to practice his English. Our usual meeting spot is a well-known bakery that is convenient to both of us. This past week, I decided to get a small dessert for Beth and I to split. They have these little cakes that look a lot like a red-velvet cake, but with strawberries on top. They’re beautiful, and they rarely have them.
I walked up to the counter, greeted the woman working, and pointing to what I wanted asked for the cake (Eu queria o bolo, por favor). She just stared at me and said she didn’t understand. I was confused as it was the only cake in the display! I thought for a minute and clarified that I wanted the red cake (Eu queria o bolo vermelho, por favor). Her response was just to stare. So I pointed again and asked for the red cake with the strawberry (Eu queria o bolo vermelho com morango, por favor). She thought, and thought, and finally looked at what I was pointing at. When she asked if I wanted the cake, I just sighed and said, “Sim por favor” (Yes please).
What sometimes happens to us here is that people hear our accents, and they just put up a wall and don’t make an attempt to understand us. I can understand why, because it takes more effort to speak with me than it does a native speaker. It’s a good reminder to me to be patient with Miriam when she gets insistent saying something I cannot understand.
On the other hand, how wonderful is it that our Father always understands us? I know many times when I try to talk to God, I have no words. A good friend of ours that we have known for years recently passed away very unexpectedly. He was too young. I have no words, no vocabulary, to pray about my feelings for that, or to pray for his wife and family that he left behind. I’m sure when I pray, it just comes out as babble. Thankfully, though, God promises something amazing. He won’t shut down and ignore us when we don’t make sense. Instead, Romans 8:26 says this, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
There are many things that we are experiencing here that exceed our tiny vocabulary, both Miriam’s and mine. One day we will hopefully have the words. Whether we talk about cartoons, cake, or grief, we keep learning words to say.