A few more thoughts on hospitality

A few months ago, I mentioned that I hoped to share with you some of what I learned while writing an essay on hospitality. In May, a day trip to a mountain town with my neighbor’s family jogged my memory. My memory continued to jog, but only in place as the busyness of June took over.

Now here I am at last with my hospitality essay at my side. But my mind keeps returning to that mountain town…

As I sprawled out on the little sister’s bed during siesta time, my eyes roamed the room, spotting things stashed here and there. A rickety binder that looked as if it had been tossed on top of the wardrobe and promptly forgotten. Broken drawers in a dresser decorated with childish markers. An abandoned attempt at decor.

The untidiness spoke of things not cared for.

Yet there I was, a stranger to the family, welcomed into their home and offered a bed. Rather than buy expensive things and focus on protecting them from harm, this family created a space that said people mattered more.

The women set up a chair in the narrow kitchen doorway for me to sit and hold the baby and then spent the evening tripping over me as they bustled about. And they didn’t mind.

As we finished dinner around midnight, a deep weariness came over me as I looked around at the pile of people in the living room. As soon as they left, the cleanup would need to begin.

And then they left, and rather than being overwhelmingly dirty, the house looked almost clean. As I helped to stack the green plastic chairs and fluff the postage stamp pillows, I wondered why.

It was as if the people who had been in the room were the only decor. The room was serviceable not beautiful, because the emphasis was on the relationships of those who gathered rather than the things they gathered around.

I don’t believe that hospitality and taking care of things are mutually exclusive. However, coming from a culture that often values possessions more than relationships, I appreciate the reminder to engage the relational side of hospitality.

Oops. I’ve been rather long-winded and I haven’t even started my essay summary. Maybe next week? 🙂

Saving the best for last: what’s been happening recently

A young friend dutifully praying on my guest room rug– “In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful…” –while above her were frames of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Visitors from the U.S., the first in several years. I love cross-cultural work, but relating to those with whom I share both culture and faith is uplifting. And, Lord willing, more visitors arrive in a few days!

A Mediterranean baptism on a beautiful–albeit chilly– November day.

Uncontrollable evening laughter. 

A bowlful of ripening avocados because I had mentioned to my student that if I had one food to live on, I would choose avocados. (She said she’d choose dates.) 

A neighbor who asked for my tikka masala recipe. 

Weather that begs for coffee. 

A young mother who thought she knew me… and didn’t, but ended up asking for my phone number anyway.

squid tapa plate

A day trip to the mountains where I sat on a hill and talked on the phone like the un-hiker that I am. It was one of those hills with loose rocks and thorns that put “brickles in my britches. But I stayed there anyway.” (For that quote, you’ll have to read “What Was I Scared Of?” by Dr. Seuss.) Afterwards, my teammate and I unintentionally had tapas in a casino.

Storekeepers who drop the price without my even asking.

A climate where fruit is in season all year round. Right now it’s the mandarins that pop between teeth and turn to sweet puddles on tongues. And the fat persimmons. And rosy pomegranates. And even the chirimoyas, which I’m not particularly fond of but can appreciate in season.

Sunshiney Mondays that dry sheets and towels in a jiffy. 

Unintentional late night discussions.

A landlady who opened the second bedroom of my apartment. (I rented the apartment as a one-bedroom flat, the second bedroom designated for the landlady’s storage.) With the prospect of multiple guests at once, I worked up the nerve and asked her if I might possibly please use the extra bedroom while my guests are around. She gave me an incredulous, “Mujer, it’s your house!” Nevermind the original agreement. I’ll nevermind anyway!

Workers at the print shop, startled to discover that they had indeed made my idea come true. And they ignored the customer behind me to admire their own handiwork.

A ticket quietly waiting for me to test negative for covid. And one suitcase bulging with eager Christmas gifts. 

A birthday to celebrate this week. As I valiantly blaze through my 30s, I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to consider having a midlife crisis. Although, I’m not sure that’s really the sort of thing one plans for… Maybe next year…

And the very best thing of what has been happening recently? A new nephew, Zayne Davis born November 8 to two very proud parents. And no wonder they’re proud, because he’s terribly cute.

baby boy

Zayne, as you start your life in this great big world, may you find the courage to be exactly who God created you to be, nothing more, nothing less.


Photo credit for last photo goes to my brother-in-law

Dylan

big brother holding baby brother

Last Friday across the ocean, a little blondie was born. Really, it was Saturday here in Spain and I kept myself awake with whodunnits and carrot sticks until the announcement came.

Welcome, Dylan Thomas, to the family that loved you long before you were born. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God Himself. May this be your starting point as you find out who you are in this great big world.


Photo credits: B.K. and S.K.

Welcome, #8

We eagerly waited… and waited for my nephew’s (Baby C’s) grand entrance into our world. Finally he came in his 8 pound 5 ounce splendor, delighting us with his little life. Baby C became Camden Ron. 

And Toddlers A and B, Camden’s twin big brothers, are still finding out that their lives will be irrevocably changed… and for the better.

twins with baby brother

Delicate babies remind me how we begin, so vulnerable and moldable, with our entire futures rolled out in front of us, waiting. That can make us thrill or tremble… or both. 

Camden, I pray that as you start your life, you would delight in life, delight in your present, and yes, even the unknown of your future. I love you, little boy!


Photo credits: M.L.H.

When will summer come?

One of these days summer will come. I’m not talking about the heat; I’m talking about the time. Summer is the season I have been holding out for in the crazy March, April, May, saying, “During summer, I will finally get to this or that.” I had a list of goals: learn how to sew better, develop materials for an English curriculum, refresh my Arabic, houseclean, and other noble goals like that.

It’s July, but I’m still waiting, thinking that summer and its abundance of time must begin soon.

In the meantime, life is full. Full of time with friends. Visits. Meeting new babies, both here and via WhatsApp. Appointments. Meetings. And even a chance to be a witness for my friend’s paperwork-only wedding at the mosque.

Maybe I need to redefine “summer.” Instead of labeling it as “extra time,” I should just label it as “life.” “Life” is a more realistic expectation anyway.

Life and smelly summer laundry.

Her perception is her reality

It was happening again. Round two of the same problem, only this time her hurt was bubbling up in anger. As rage overpowered her tears, she clawed at her clothing as if wanting to rip it—to rip anything—to shreds.

But was her reality real? Ever since I had met her months earlier, I had never been able to determine exactly where reality and her misguided perception began to blur.

And yet, her perception was her reality because it was the filter through which she understood life. Pain and shame were just as real in both truth and misconception.

And the questions I have asking myself over and over are:

What does loving her look like? How can I help? How do I enter into her reality and walk with her through her pain to bring her to truth? What does that look like practically?

That night, I held her baby while she wept and spat out in anger. I prayed for her but after my amen, I still let her ask the question, “Where is God in this?”

When she had calmed down, she stood up to leave. Anguish still twisted her features into a frown, but she thanked me for listening and praying.

Most of the time, loving isn’t easy. I will probably spend the rest of my life learning how to do it well.

20 things I’m thankful for

  1. The golden ribbon of light along the curtain as the bedheaded sun peeks beneath the shade
  2. The perfume of dirt, black with rain
  3. Voices in harmony: “Come to my heart, Lord, come with anointing!”
  4. The blue blue blue of the Mediterranean from my bedroom window
  5. Talks that mean something
  6. Streets that are mine
  7. Second-hand clothing that smells good
  8. Fat babies in strollers, new and content
  9. Libraries of musty books
  10. Old men with hats and canes, lined up on park benches
  11. Rest beneath the late shadow of a palm
  12. Church bells
  13. Harmonious trails of busy ants
  14. A terrier grinning at me from the driver’s seat of a parked van
  15. Teenagers breakdancing in the park, conscious and proud of curious passersby
  16. Bright vests against black skin that whiz by on bikes
  17. The sweat and paint on a laborer just leaving work
  18. The echoing jingle of keys in an otherwise silent stairwell
  19. A real letter in a real mailbox
  20. Weary clouds in silver pajamas for bed

Writer’s block and little people

“The words don’t come anymore. It’s like they’re stuck,” I told my roommate. I used to love sitting down to answer emails. Now, despite the fact that I still love to get emails, it’s harder to sit down and respond to them. What used to be a joy now feels more like a discipline.

“It’s like the one thing I used to be good at no longer works!”

My journal entries have grown thin and factual. My blog entries are dry.

Sometimes I get tired of words, trying to recall or learn words in three languages. Tired of trying to make myself understood in any of those languages and their respective cultures.

Sometimes I want to turn off the words in my brain and just be—I want the “nothing” box that men claim is real.

So instead of writing something profound, I offer you some snapshots of my favorite little people: Carissa Joy, Clark David, and Albert Harris. My family kindly keeps me updated with pictures of my growing niece and nephews.


Featured photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Niece and nephews photo credits to my family

Guest blog- “Let’s be sisters forever”

I met her twenty-six years ago. No, I shouldn’t say it like that. It’d be more accurate to say, “She met me twenty-six years ago.”

When she looked into my squalling red face and squinting eyes (the world is an awfully hard place when bright lights and thundering noises hit you directly and not through the sound-barrier of your mom’s belly), she probably felt something similar to love…and regret that she wasn’t the baby girl anymore.

Still, I wish I could remember that moment when my then four-year-old sister peered into my eyes for the first time.

Even if she didn’t love me right away, I’m sure she must have learned to love me at some point, but it was years before the love went anything beyond obligatory sibling love.

Our relationship was unstable. I simultaneously loved and hated her—I didn’t do things by halves. I envied her cool poise and aloofness. I longed to be tall and lean like her instead of stocky and square like me. Years later, I found out that she envied my blue eyes and blonde hair. Life’s a funny thing, isn’t it?

She was a stubborn neat freak, me her bull-headed little messy sister, both trying to inhabit the same room without killing each other. I’ll let you imagine how that worked.

She introduced me to classic literature and ridiculed the fluffy books I sometimes read. Thus, she bullied me into reading good books. I’m not sure if I have ever thanked her for that.

When she went on grand and glorious adventures to Mexico, Ecuador, Africa, and Spain, I stayed home and got eaten up with jealousy and cheered her on.

Now she writes and works in Spain, where she has dozens of friends and cool adventures every day (and I’m not jealous at all).

She drinks coffee in exorbitant amounts. “The milk here has a funny taste so I use cream in my coffee,” she told us over a phone call.

“Maybe that’s a good way to wean yourself off of coffee,” my mom suggested.

“But—but I don’t want to be weaned off it.”

She has a hunger for yummy ethnic food and actually makes it, unlike me (hello, 5-year old bubble tea balls). Green and red curry, tikka masala, and egg rolls are nothing uncommon. Before she left for Spain, she bought a HUGE bag of rice (I think ten pounds). She was constantly volunteering to bring rice to things.

“Why don’t you make stir-fry?” she’d tell Mom, “and I’ll bring the rice.”

“Do you know what would be good with that?” she asked me as I pan-fried chicken breasts.

I looked at her blankly.

“RICE!”

She likes to make use of what she has, and is a shrewd shopper for what she doesn’t.

While I look at a rack full of clothes as overwhelming and hopeless, she carefully combs through each item and selects things I end up being jealous of.

She has long been a proponent of living with less, although I’ve never heard her refer to it as minimalism. To her, it doesn’t need a label. She spent years with monthly stashes beside her bed. “If I don’t use it this month, then I don’t need it!” She kept her drawers and closet on the bare side, while my side was stuffed full (I have since fallen in love with minimalism and my closet is beginning to look more and more like hers).

When it comes to being an aunt, my sister, like me, is in love with the little people. However, she is an infinitely cooler aunt than I ever hope to be, taking our nephew outside to “explore,” having him “catch” leaves, see the kitty (which he calls the “deeder-deeder”), and play on an old tricycle. She is a calm presence, not jumpy and flighty like me, patiently loving on the boys and, more recently, the girl.

When she asked me to guest blog for her, I suggested that I write about her. It’s not fair that all of her readers should see only a lopsided picture of her and never know what she’s really like.

She was worried. “Okay. But make sure you send it to me early so that if I want you to write something different, you’ll still have time.”

I laughed. “I won’t write anything bad!

Her voice was hesitant. “Just—just send it to me early, though.”

She shouldn’t have worried. I’m not mean. I won’t tell the embarrassing stories (well…maybe just one…hee,hee). I may be the little sister that she tormented, but I’m not a vindictive soul. I’ll let you simply wonder about all the things I could have said, but didn’t.

I sit here now, wondering how to close up an article about someone when they’re ongoing. I’m not a sentimental person. If I were, I’d probably say something trite about loving my sister and how wonderful she is.

But since I’m not sentimental, I’ll just say, “It’s been great. Let’s be sisters for forever.”


Michelle loves books, family, and working with the elderly at her job. She is passionate about making beautiful things, whether through writing, crafting, knitting, etc. She blogs about life at rhapsodyind.wordpress.com.