Thank you, my Illinois Library

Thank you, my Illinois library, for creating an expanse of accessible books to those who live next door and those who live an ocean away. Your effort to create this haven of enrichment, adventure, and knowledge is not unnoticed. 

With every book recommendation, I drop by your institution first, in case you are one step ahead. You usually are. The delight of selecting my next read or even those gentle reminders that my book is expiring soon and will shortly disappear from my account makes me glad to be a name, even a number, in your system.

On those rare occasions when I step through your creaky door–the one with the same creak since I was little–I take in the smell of the aisles and piles of books and wish I had unmitigated time to read, to learn, to grow.

I remember wandering among those stories, getting lost in The Boxcar Children or Garfield, Gilbert Morris or biographies. I sorted through research paper books to find the ones that didn’t make my eyes glaze over on the first page. I stood before your wall of audio books before every trip. I thumbed through your discard pile to find five cent treasures.

All the time, you were there, like a committed friend, offering what I needed if I had the patience to look for it. Apt to teach. Apt to serve.

Thank you.


Photo by Zaini Izzuddin on Unsplash

Between Spain and Spain

Last weekend, three of us went to the mountainous Spanish countryside to retreat from the normal grind of life. We drank in the green, the quiet, and space to read, write, and think. 

I knew I was still in Spain, but it looked so different from Mytown that I kept saying things like, “When I get back to Spain…” To me, Spain is noisy streets full of colorful immigrants, not silent citrus trees dotting an overgrown garden. To be in the Spanish countryside awoke longings in me that typically get silenced in the distractions of city life.

citrus trees surrounding overgrown garden

Months ago, a friend recommended the book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn R. Gardner. There, straddling those separate Spanish worlds, I figured it was as good of a time as any to start reading. 

Gardner writes, “I’ve come to realize that longing is ok as long as it does not paralyze, as long as I slowly continue to embrace the life that has been given at this time, at this moment” (Airports, par. 19).

Back in Mytown, far away from the calming Spanish countryside and even farther from my Illinois family and friends, I sometimes long for what I don’t grasp between my fingers. But will I let that longing rob me of today? Or can the far away people, places, and experiences of my life shape me into who God has called me to be where He has called me to be, right here?

What about you? Will you let your past life experiences and unfulfilled longings shape your today for the good?

It’s a choice, I think. Perhaps mixed with some trial and error. But a choice to let longing live inside of you, enriching but not robbing you.

Belonging where I thought I’d never be

Today marks a year in Mytown. One whole year. I baked cookies for my landlord this morning and she gawked at me. “One year already?” I’ve always been here, I think. And yet with every past event, why is there that conflicting perception of time? My years in North Africa and Immigrantville have faded into black and white mental photographs unless I pause long enough to remember them. 

Today, I paused over some ISU memories.

When I heard about the study abroad program in Andalusia, Spain, I wasn’t interested. I was heading to the southern border, not overseas. I tilted my college projects, volunteer hours, and self study toward my goal. 

Within my program, there was a clear divide between those who had studied abroad and those who had not, the “in” and “out” groups (as much as students are “in” and “out” at state universities). Those who had studied abroad re-lived their together memories and savored their “thaythayo” (what to the rest of us just sounded like a bad lisp).

Latin America was my first love and always will be. First loves don’t change. But they lose a bit of their potency when you fall in love again. And I have. This time, ironically, with Andalusia.

How did that even happen?

The other night, I met a Peruvian lady in the park. I delighted in her gentle Spanish and warm, generous culture. A year ago, that interaction would have stirred in me a longing for where I was not. But now?

I could spiritualize this. I could say that God has tuned my heart to contentment, even if my life isn’t what I had pictured. But that isn’t true, at least not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

My acceptance of where I am right now is more about familiarity, belonging.

Years ago, I found my place in Latino culture. I never planned to rupture that sense of familiarity, safety, and home. But then I moved to Andalusia where the blend of cultures in this huge immigrant community reinforced my outsider complex; it showed me my “un”– how un-Andalusian and how un-North African I was. How “un” everyone else around me.

But time marched on, as it usually does. I began to taste the many flavors of my community and realized that I simultaneously do and don’t fit in on account of my being different, just like everyone else. 

The blend of us–Spaniards, North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans, Pakistanis, Russians, Romanians, South Americans, Chinese (to name the most prominent)–can be overwhelming sometimes, but each culture adds a subtle note that the community would miss were it not there.

On Sunday, three of us neighbors stood in a neighbor’s kitchen, chatting about our far away families. I belonged just as much as they did. And this belonging is my new familiarity.

No, my life is not what I had expected, but I can say that it is essentially what I had hoped for.

So today marks one year in Mytown and more than four years in Andalusia. I cradle this fragile bit of geographical belonging in my hands and am grateful. God has given me this earthly gift not to distract me from Him, but to direct me to His heart where I find belonging that will “belong” me no matter where I am in the world.

The romance of sickness

Why is it that when we’re well, we have romantic thoughts of being sick?

I can’t be the only one who pictures herself curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea, graciously texting regrets to everything on her schedule.

But today, I sprawl on my grimy sheets, trumpeting through my nose and tossing tissues over the side of the bed that land splut, splut, splut on the laminate flooring.

Of course, in my imagination, I busy myself with natural remedies that help my body heal, leaving it just enough sick to stay home from everything I don’t want to face. In reality, I dubiously rub on some essential oils and then fish around in my medicine bag for ibuprofen and oh look! Vicks Vaporub! I tell my sister how I made myself bay leaf tea but don’t mention that I had coffee this morning because I’m getting tired of tea.

My ears ache. My teeth hurt. I think someone filled up my skull with over-steeped tea that burns the backs of my watering eyes. My nose, well, you could even say it glows.

As for reading a book… I tried and then read the news, got depressed, and took a toss-and-turn, HONK-splut nap.

So where is the romance of sickness?

It’s a real thing. It’s called quarantine, that beautiful time when you’ve been exposed to something dangerous and get to wear pajamas all day for a whole week until you effectively don’t get the illness after all.

So today–splut, splut–that’s what I’m holding out for. The “sickness” that dreams are made of. At least my dreams. When I have them. Between bouts of coughing and nose-blowing.

What I love about you, small boy

Your face fills with bright delight when you spot me, unexpected in the park. “The look he gives you! He’s in love with you!” says Mommy. I know and so do you. Your arms swing open as you barrel toward me. I stoop to meet you, and you press your face close to murmur the secrets of your day–the joys and sorrows of a life well-lived, however young. I understand nothing, but you don’t mind because I listen and that’s enough.

When I knock on your downstairs door, you wait for Mommy to unlock it but you are the one who pulls it open with that expectant grin as if it were only you I came to see. You take my hand and lead me inside. Or if I say, “Not today,” you keep my hand in your tiny one as you step out the door onto the round, red welcome mat. “No problem. We can play at your house if you prefer,” you want to say. When you toss Mommy a farewell glance, she says, “The look he gives you! He’s in love with you!” I know and so do you. I give you a hug and you smell like nothing, sweet nothing except maybe a bit of sticky and sometimes crackers.

When I pick you up, you quiet as if you’d like to stay in my arms forever. When you get too heavy, I slide you down my hip and then my leg, one jolt at a time, a game to make you giggle. But then you stretch your arms up again.

When I play distracted, you tug my hand or pat my face to remind me that you are the most important person in my life right now. Mommy says, “The look he gives you! He’s in love with you!” I know and so do you. But my heart still melts a little more when you wave your arms in the air as we sing “A, B, C, D, E, F, G…” Or when you shriek laughter during peek-a-boo and hide & seek. Or when you pick the chocolate chips out of my granola and leave Hansel and Gretel trails across the tile and between the couch cushions.

Small boy–for you are still small though you fancy yourself a man–you have stolen my heart, this sad auntie heart so removed from her biological adored ones. You too, far from most who love you, in me find a resting place for the big love of your mini heart.


Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

Top 10 things I do to fill scraps of time

Do you know what I’m talking about when I say “scraps of time”? Those potentially useless minutes tucked between important things like a business meeting and lunch with a friend. We all have those, but some of us are naturally more productive than others of us.  I tend to fall into the latter half of that statement, but this week I’ve been noting how I spend those scraps, be it 5 minutes or an hour. Here is what I came up with:

  1. Organize something, anything really. A cupboard, a refrigerator shelf while sniffing suspicious condiments, or a drawer. Maybe that’s why people comment on how clean my house is. All I have to do is run my finger along a piece of furniture to prove them wrong, but it’s organized and so it looks clean. Then again, last night my neighbor pulled open my overflowing junk drawer. Now maybe she’ll stop commenting on my cleanliness.
  2. Do the background work for DIY projects (e.g. sanding, getting out supplies, creating a pattern, etc.) That way, when there is a block of time, I can move at the rate of my inspiration rather than the rate of my sandpaper. 
  3. Sit with my eyes closed and absorb nothing. These are quiet spots when my brain can relax. Sometimes, I pray. Sometimes, I fall asleep (but not before setting an alarm!).
  4. Look in the mirror. Really. I’m the one who is strolling down the street before she realizes she forgot to look in the mirror. It’s unnerving to wonder what everyone else is seeing that you forgot to. A booger? A hairball on the back of your black sweater? Bedhead eyebrows? So it’s always helpful when I remember to give myself a minute to primp.
  5. Come up with menu ideas and shopping lists. I can do this pretty much by standing in front of my pantry which happens to be a corner cupboard. Cocoa? Check. Rice? Check. What in the world am I going to do with this bag of barley? Maybe some kind of barley soup… Onions? Check. 
  6. Catch up on messages and emails because, who doesn’t do that these days? Those waiting-for-public-transportation scraps of time are ideal for this.
  7. Read, especially that book that I had to tear myself away from last night at midnight… Kindles and Kindle apps have made this exponentially more convenient.
  8. Eat. Years ago I had to learn to stock up on protein to keep myself from feeling faint between meals. I literally learned to “eat for the hunger that cometh.” However, on high-scrappy days, the hunger never cometh because I’m so busy fixing myself exciting little snacks. High-scrappy days are also high calorie days. Hmm. I think I need to work on that one.
  9. Trim my fingernails. Isn’t this one of those tasks that ends up like an abandoned middle child? It’s there, but other things are more demanding…until you have that scrap of time within which your hangnail catches on a hand towel to make you notice that you’ve fallen behind on your personal grooming. Speaking of which…
  10. Find things to get rid of. I think I drove my sister crazy by always having a box or a bag at the end of my bed with stuff to dispose of. Now I have a discreet corner of my wardrobe, but the bag is still there, accumulating junk. I know. I know I’m sheltered when hauling a bag of stuff to the clothes bin or a thrift store drop-off gives me a high. But here’s a tip for you town and city dwellers: the next time you get rid of something, carry it rather than drive it because when you arrive at your destination weary and heavy laden, depositing it is that much more freeing.

What are some of the ways you fill in your scraps of time? I’d love to hear about them and maybe even implement some of your ideas.

Recipe: relatively healthy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

These cookies are like breakfast muffins except in cookie form… probably an attempt to trick your brain. So, if you’re looking for a crisp, chocolatey bit of sweetness, these cookies aren’t it. But they do carry their own charm if you’re willing to give them a try.

I started making these cookies about the time I tried to eliminate refined white sugar and flour from my everyday diet. I still make them today, but I added the “relatively healthy” modifier because although they’re healthier than regular cookies, I’m not sure how healthy they are when I eat them in uncontrolled quantities. 😉

Like most cookies, they’re best fresh. Make sure you serve them with milk or tea if they last for a few days.

unbaked cookies on baking sheet
  • 1 1/4 c. oats
  • 1 1/2 c. oat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 5 Tbsp. (70g) coconut oil, melted then cooled
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce (I peel and puree an apple. 1 apple = about 1/2 c.)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • at least 100g chunked dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix ingredients. Chill dough for about 10 minutes. Press each dough ball before baking (see photo). The cookies hardly spread at all, so you can fit a lot on 1 cookie sheet.

Bake at 350° F. (180° C) for 15 minutes or until done. Makes about 30 cookies.

To thine own self be true: introverts overseas (part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1, please do that before embarking on this ship of rambling thought.


Even after recognizing that I was equipped for my calling, I could not reconcile how I could be authentically me when much of my work required extroversion. We have all heard the mantra “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do,” implying that those things are the best things after all, a sort of taking up of our ascetic cross. But is this the answer? Is long-term ignoring of self what God expects of me? And why would God call me to be someone He hadn’t created me to be?

Years ago, a friend recommended Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) by Susan Cain. Cain claims that introverts need to take Shakespeare’s advice of “To thine own self be true.” In a culture or workplace that demands extroversion, that seems to leave only two options: become someone you aren’t or resign. In other words,  live a lie or remain inflexibly yourself. 

When I am inflexibly “true to self” in the context of ministry, I require those I am trying to serve to climb over the wall that I have been called to climb over, essentially boiling ministry down to my needs. Although I prefer to think of my personality inflexibility as “authenticity,” sometimes it’s plain old selfishness. Or worse, disobedience.

So what is the answer? I kept reading. Although Quiet is not written from a Christian perspective, I plugged away, chapter by chapter, hoping to find a ray of light. Then: lightbulb! Cain reconciled my Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde musings with one concept: the pseudo-self.

Introverts acting like someone they are not–what Cain calls acting within the “pseudo-self”–should not be labeled as inauthenticity when it is done “in the service of love or a professional calling” (Quiet, p. 210). When we see and serve the bigger picture, we can also see that acting within our pseudo-selves is a different form of being true to self.

For example, that introverted social advocate who occasionally needs to get loud and aggressive with her adversary is able to step into her pseudo-self because doing so serves the work she believes in. For me, it could be attending a North African party (I really hate those) to show my support for a friend. Or knocking on doors and passing out literature because–although I am quivering inside–I know my work contributes to the bigger vision.

As important as a pseudo-self may be, we introverts risk burnout unless we intentionally step back into our own skin and offer the world the gift of our introversion. Introverts and extroverts may have many of the same traits, but a few come more naturally for introverts. Most of us love deep relationships. We carve out time for reflection that helps our personal growth and our work performance. We’re okay with that behind-the-scenes work if it’s for a good cause. We are in tune to others’ feelings and adjust our approach accordingly. We attract the other introverts in whatever culture we live in, calling them forth with our quiet rather than plastering them to a wall with our charisma. 

This list is not exhaustive, of course. And of course, we have plenty of our weaknesses too. But I’m learning to notice my gifts instead of drooling over the fence on the green, extroverted grass. Because, really, for the sake of our callings there are times when both sides–introverts and extroverts–need to step over that fence and draw from the strengths of the other side.

Sure, I still sometimes wish I were an extrovert. And there are times I feel inauthentic when I run on adrenaline to act like one. But when I focus on God and what He has called me to, operating temporarily within my pseudo-self is not a display of hypocrisy, but an expression of love.

Note: Recently, A Life Overseas published a blog on the same topic. Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one who took almost a decade to get around to this book. Some of what I say in Part 1 and Part 2 overlaps with Craig Thompson’s post, but go there too, because it’s worth a read. 

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you! Maybe you would even like to guest blog a part 3…

Called and equipped: introverts overseas (part 1)

I have been wrestling with my personality for months. Hello. My name is Trish and I’m an introvert working overseas. 

More often than not, overseas work requires extroversion. And if I’m honest, sometimes my prayers run along the lines of, “Hey look, God, if I’m not allowed to be myself, why didn’t You just call someone else?” That question comes from years of struggle in the workforce, academia, and now overseas. Deep down I am accusing God of calling me to something for which I am not enough.

Of course I’m enough! God equips those He calls, right? That sounds nice enough on paper, but flesh and blood adds a deeper dimension. And I wonder: Does He? Does He equip me for what He calls me to? 

Well, what has He called me to? And what have I called myself to? See, it’s easy for me to take my calling and add ruffles and lace, longer sleeves, a zipper or buttons. I alter my calling to the expectations of others until it’s hard to find the original pattern. 

For example, God has called me to serve others here in Spain. As I serve, I notice a trend: women who impose upon my flexibility and require me to conform to their schedules. “You don’t have children,” they say. They are right; I am typically more flexible than they are. However, when five women expect me to work around their schedules, some days I can spend a good part of the day just trying to plan the day. Then I throw up my hands and say, “God, I can’t do this anymore!” as if His calling were too big for me. But God didn’t call me to conform to the schedules of everyone I meet. With a ruffle here and a button there, I lose sight of His pattern under all of that gaudy paraphernalia. 

What about the “equipping”? What does “equipping” even mean? I like to believe that I am equipped when I have enough plus a little to spare just in case something happens. But I’m not so sure that having enough to spare coincides with the “jars of clay” illustration in 2 Corinthians 4:7. If I were a stunning, breathtaking vessel, how does that show the “surpassing power” of God? Where does He fit in the picture at all? When I feel strong and equipped, my glory gets in the way of His.

I’m not downplaying the importance of inner growth, but maybe being equipped looks less like being ready for anything and more like letting God’s surpassing power shine through me, warts and all. Moving forward in the midst of my weakness gives me a better sense of who I am and who God is.

Next week (or the next or the next…), I hope to share something that finally made two seemingly conflicting ideas sit down and talk it out. Until then…