Give thanks

To me, the holidays bring a sense of belonging. There is a warmness, an extra niceness. 

Yes, the world gets frantic and grumpy when the store shelves aren’t stocked with what we want and the check-out lines are too long and the children need naps and, well, so do we but we still need to make that Aldi stop because Wal-Mart was out of pumpkin pie filling.

But then we come home and the individuality fades and there is a togetherness again, even in the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen.

Celebrating far from family isn’t quite like this. The sense of belonging is lessened. Not vanished, but subtle, something I need to search for. But those remaining shards are precious too. Even from far away, I belong. And that belonging tints the world with bright, warm tones and I find myself extra happy this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. 

I don’t want to spend the holidays wishing I were somewhere I am not. I choose to contribute to the joy of right here, because this is where I belong too.

Ten things I’m thankful for this year:

  1. the great faithfulness of a loving Father
  2. Spain’s acceptance of my 5-year residency application
  3. the tail-end of COVID-19
  4. friends and neighbors that I bump into every time I step outside
  5. strong family dynamics, even though I live thousands of miles away
  6. music
  7. opportunities to travel and experience other worlds
  8. my team, my “right-here” family
  9. sweater and boots weather
  10. enough, even with climbing energy and food prices

What are you thankful for?


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Excite your heart

I should be in bed. But I want to hold on to today, let it linger, breathe in the sweet butter cookie smell, sip my strawberry tea, stare at my Christmas lights, and listen to my Christmas playlist.

This month was so full. Today was so full. But this is where I want to be. In right now where I can sit and let my thoughts and memories sort themselves out.

I need to buy thread.

I’m thankful for every moment I have with my family. Tonight, I’m savoring memories I have with my dad. Sometimes it takes a threat of losing someone to remind you how dear they are to you, doesn’t it?

When I passed out Christmas cookies tonight, I had a very different response from the time I passed out cookies after moving in. Ten months of rattling around in the same apartment building has shifted relationships toward friendliness, even catching me off-guard. I wasn’t expecting the invitations, especially from my Spanish neighbors.

I decorated the plates with a note: “…and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matt. 1:23). Because Christmas cookies are a good way to catch up with neighbors but they are a means, not an end to reminding us of our desperate need of God incarnate.

I’m not even halfway done with cookie-passing-outing but sufficient for the day is the sugar thereof. I packed away the remainder to frost another day.

My family celebrated Christmas over Thanksgiving weekend when we were all together. And what a racket we make with 11 adults and 10 children (all 5 and under). Sometimes, our nerves were a bit frazzled–at least mine were–but a case of frazzled nerves is a reasonable price to pay for the wealth of being all together.

I could read another round of Tacky the Penguin if it would merit another delighted smile. Or I wouldn’t mind seeing a cloud of blond fluff cheerfully bursting into the kitchen: “Good morning!” Or cuddling a tiny baby who eventually bestowed upon me one of his first smiles. Or crashing through a dark house in search of a hiding place with littles who burst out of the spot before the seeker even gets close. I could even manage a wet shoulder that smells of drool. Or holding an exploding child during ladies’ Sunday school.

Sparkly eyes. “Yaaaaah,” from an agreeable little girl. Shy grins. Counting the number of years he’ll be next time I’ll see him.

Time to laugh, yes… And a time to cry while remembering with dear friends other dear friends who have passed away.

Coffee. Tea. Chats. Uncontrollable laughter with my mom.

Life feels full.

My finger is cramping. I should have pulled out my laptop.

The men here are definitely creepier than the U.S. Thank you to you men who respect women as beings made in God’s image. May we women not take that for granted… and may we return the favor!

I think my house is an introvert. Some houses fall apart when they’re left alone. Mine liked it. I can tell because the freezer and the washer are working better and the drain smell isn’t as invasive. And it wasn’t even that dusty. I wonder if the poor house is disappointed I came back.

If you followed my trail of thought all of the way down here, I will leave you with a nugget from Paul David Tripp’s Advent devotional Come, Let Us Adore Him (from Dec. 20): “Only when sin breaks our hearts will the coming of the Messiah excite our hearts.”

What does Christmas mean to you this year? Does it excite your heart?

Merry Christmas!

God is good

I’m stuck in Madrid.

Same nightmare, just backwards this time… with even less time in between. I could have wept when I arrived at my gate, panting from the weight of my carry-ons (and my out-of-shapedness) only to find the gate completely deserted.

But God works in mysterious ways, you know. Just because that phrase is cliché doesn’t make it untrue.

While I was stressing that my London-Madrid flight was running late and I would have even less than the allotted 50 minutes to get through border patrol and change terminals, I pretty sure God was making my flight late on purpose. “I got this,” I think I heard Him say while I was in at least 4 lines deep at passport control.

“Okay, God. You got this.”

But even if I had heard His voice, I wasn’t really sure what He “got.” So I still ran and I almost let myself plop down and sob at that empty gate at the tippy-tip of that long terminal.

God’s sovereignty is like that. We don’t know what He’s up to, but we can trust that He knows and that what He does is good.

Not that I was thinking lofty thoughts when I walked up to Iberia’s information desk, alone and sad between that rock and hard place.

God was good to me. Because my London flight had arrived late, I was offered 3 meals and a hotel, something that may end up being more needed than rushing home and diving into life. If my flight hadn’t been late (because I almost assuredly would have missed the connecting flight anyway), it would have been another ticket purchase and nighty-night on the grimy airport floor.

But God would have been good there too. Just as good as He is after a real shower and a real pillow.

Why is that so hard to remember?

Do you ever wonder if Jesus was tempted to forget His Father’s goodness in light of His personal pain? He was born fragile into a hostile society. He had to learn about a world He had created, grow up among people He had formed, and probably even misspell words He gave us breath to pronounce. And He dedicated His ministry to many who eventually turned their backs on Him.

Just before His crucifixion, didn’t He cry, “Let this cup pass from me”?

Last summer, as we watched a friend suffer from cancer, we prayed with her that the cup would pass. It didn’t.

Her cry for relief wasn’t a cry of doubt. Like Jesus, she was able to say, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.” Like Jesus, she submitted to the Father’s sovereignty.

“Sovereignty” and “submission” don’t sound like such big words after a hot shower and a clean bed, but what about right there in the middle of chemo? In the agony of dying for a world that hates you? Or just feeling weepy at a deserted airport gate?

Is my concept of God’s goodness too fragile, too willing to be broken? Is it just a churchy façade for a secular ideology?

This is getting too heavy for my tired brain. So I’ll wrap this up by saying that I was challenged by my own circumstances today: Do I really believe God is good all of the time?

Okay, that’s all. Next time, I’ll try to write about Christmas or my time in the States instead of just the dreadful little airport bookends of my trip!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Illinois or bust

Illinois or bust. That should have been my motto when I shut off the water and left the house at 5:15 a.m.

Although I knew my layovers were tight, I had opted not to lose sleep over it since there was quite literally nothing I could do about it. But only an hour and ten minutes at Madrid Barajas?

Then the flight from Sevilla ran late, not late late but just enough late to tarnish my hope of catching my connecting flight. Not only would I have to go through security again, but I also had to get to the satellite terminal.

I happened upon others from my Sevilla flight who were trying to get on the same Chicago flight. That gave me hope that if there were enough of us, they might hold that flight. An angelic flight attendant cleared a path for us and we scurried off of the plane.

I ran. Well, I should say “we ran” because two of us hung together. We blazed through security and my partner took off at a trot… stocking-footed because there was no time to put on shoes.

At our breakneck speed, the signs were confusing. Once, when we stopped long enough to ensure we were on the right path, the agent who tried to help confused us more not because she was unhelpful but because we were in too much of a hurry to hang around to make sure we understood.

We raced to a train, down hallways, up escalators, “con permiso”ing our way. Then we rounded the corner and found ourselves at passport control…six fat lines snaking their way along at a decent clip, but not nearly fast enough. A man ahead of us was trying to get an agent to help him, but the agent simply said, “If we helped everyone who is in a hurry, it would be everyone. Get in line.”

So then we were three, trying not to hyperventilate while waiting in line. Trying to read the signs beyond the passport control for the moment when we would finally get through. At the counter, I killed a few extra seconds pulling out my residency card and my two new friends were nowhere in sight when I emerged.

By that time, our flight should have been taking off. Assuredly, the gate was closed. But I ran anyway. I ran with a backpack and a rattling suitcase and was glad Mom had reminded me to wear sneakers. The timing listed below the gates on the signs are relative and well, maybe accurate at a full-out run with no slow-pokes blocking one’s path. But those 7 minutes felt like an eternity. My lungs burned, gasping for air behind my mask.

There was the final covid control. Panting and gasping, I showed my negative test QR and asked if by chance the flight was still on the ground.

“Yes” they said.

And I ran again, up to the gate where my friends were just pulling out their boarding passes. But just as the young man passed through the check, the flight agent stopped the line. (Another breathless young gentleman had joined us at this point and we were three again.)

“No. You can’t go. No more people can get on.” The agent was unyielding. She turned back to her computer as if she dealt with puffing, stricken travelers every day, because well, she probably did.

My friend burst into tears. The agent remained immobile. But then another agent joined her. “It’s only three more. They’ll let on three more.” And he got on the phone.

And suddenly the unsympathetic agent was graciously scanning our boarding passes and handing them all to who was first in line in her effort to make us hurry. We didn’t need to be reminded.

I was hot, sweaty, wild-eyed, and extremely thirsty when I plopped into my seat. We were on that plane for more than 10 hours, growing more and more restless and unkempt. Well, at least I was. I made no effort to freshen up because hanging out in the airplane’s WC is not my idea of freshening up. “Oh well,” I decided. “No one I see right now will ever see me again!” Thus, I disembarked the plane rather indifferent to my nerdy glasses, flyaway hair, fuzzy teeth, and death breath.

But while I was waiting in one of those long ORD international arrival lines, the man in front of me said, “You were on the flight from Almería, weren’t you?”

As we chatted, we realized we had been on the same flights all day. He and his wife–she a fellow Illinoisan– live in Almería. “She would enjoy meeting you,” he said. I gave him my number and it wasn’t until he was gone that I realized that my indifference to my appearance perhaps hadn’t been the wisest choice… There indeed may be someone I will see again.

Since I’ve been back in Illinois, I’ve been glutting myself on quality time with friends and family, on holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas in the same weekend? Why not?), and on calorie-laden food. I’ll probably write more on all that later. But I’ll just say that Thanksgiving came at a good time…in the wake of a busy trip that plopped this grateful soul on Illinois soil.


Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

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

A light has dawned

Merry Christmas, everyone! This year is different than most. A lot of traditions are mandated aside. As much as I love traditions and festivities–they make Christmas magical– celebration of Christmas goes far beyond “how.” It’s “why.”

I’m reading Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller. (No, I won’t finish it by Christmas; therefore, I’m delighted that Spanish Christmas lasts until January 6!) Keller says,

“The Christmas message is that ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ Notice that it doesn’t say from the world a light has sprung, but upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from the outside. There is light outside of this world, and Jesus has brought that light to save us; indeed, he is the Light (John 8:12).” (p.10)

Miserable mandates or no, that’s a reason to celebrate Christmas. 🙂 

For some of you, this year the loss is more painful than breaking a tradition– during the biggest holiday of the year, you are staring at loneliness and grief and you can’t find the strength to stare either of them down. That hurts.

Another dear friend passed away this week. Right now, it feels like life is going on because it has to, not because we want it to. Could the world just pause as we all gather our bearings and sob our grief? Why does time march on, so unaffected?

But there is light, and it’s not at the end of the tunnel–somewhere beyond 2020 and covid and pain and death. The light is here because Immanuel is the Light. 

Merry Christmas.

Why not the shepherds?

The shepherds–have you ever wondered why God chose them to rush to the mangerside of the newborn Savior? Why they were the ones entrusted to spread the news?

Maybe they were swapping stories out there in the fields as they tended their sheep by starlight. Maybe their minds were drifting to their families snuggled up in warm beds. Either way, they were still watching, alert. And that’s why they were stunned to see the glory of the Lord.

Wolves? Sure. Thieves? Yah. But an angel? The glory filled them with “great fear,” the kind of fear of fallen man at the feet of a holy God. Maybe their wonder mixed with disbelief. “Can this really be happening? Am I dreaming?”

The angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 

And then the sky was filled with angels who were praising God, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The light faded and the shepherds looked at each other, dazzled. Maybe they asked each other: “Did you just see what I saw?” 

But soon: “Let’s go check out what God told us!” And “with haste” they clattered into town. (Did the sheep follow them? I wonder. And what a ruckus they would have caused at the feet of their newborn Savior!)

But their journey didn’t stop at the stable. After worshiping Jesus, they went out and “made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” 

The initial fear out there in the fields was not a paralyzing fear–not the kind that mutes tongues to silently deny our Savior. Their fear opened the door for faith. 

Sometimes I contemplate the shepherds, the humble set of messengers they were, and why God chose them to “make known the saying.” I mean, why not more wisemen or least the mayor of Bethlehem? I always thought that God was making a statement by having His birth announced by a herd of scruffy shepherds. Maybe He was. 

But today I’m wondering, “Why not the shepherds? Why do we assume the sidelined of society were less qualified?”

Sharing the news of Jesus isn’t the work of an elite few, those with charisma, power, or 5 million Facebook followers. It’s also for the shepherds–for me, for you. Our testimonies are neither more nor less valuable because, although we messengers have a role to play, the message has never been about the messenger, but about the Message Himself. 

(Luke 2:8-20)


Photo by Pawan Sharma on Unsplash

Recipe: Gingerbread cookies

Ever since North Africa, these cookies have been my Christmas tradition. Not only are they yummy, but they are also fun to make because they retain their shape. The original recipe can be found on thekitchenpaper.com. I’ve altered it very slightly and included some notes at the bottom. I’ve also included some of the weights in case you weigh your ingredients like I tend to.

  • 3 c. (384 g) flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1+ tbsp. ground ginger (a smidgen more for a better kick)
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 6 tbsp. (85 g) butter
  • 3/4 c. (150 g) brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 c. (160 g) molasses
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Whisk the flour, salt, and spices together. Cream the butter and sugar until they’ve just come together. Add the egg, and mix until incorporated. Add molasses and vanilla. Mix. Slowly mix in the flour mixture until your dough forms. If your dough is crumbly, add 1 tsp. of milk at a time until it comes together. Roll out at room temperature on a lightly floured surface to 1/4″ thickness. Bake at 375° F. (190° C) for 8-9 minutes.

shaped gingerbread cookies on counter

Note: You really don’t want your dough sticky. It’s a headache. The more flour you add to keep them from sticking to your rolling pin, the less flavorful they will be.

Also note: If you like your gingerbread cookies thin and crispy, by all means, roll them thin. But don’t forget to decrease the baking time like I forgot to do this year. 😦

Third note: These turn out best when you’re listening to Christmas music. 🙂

Memories, tears, and such

A great man passed away today. It shouldn’t have stunned me; we saw it far off. Yet, facing the world and knowing that he’s not here facing it with us…

I have so many memories tucked away, memories I pull up regularly. Words I use because he used them first. Foods I love because he introduced them to me. 

No one who knew him can pretend they’re not mourning. He created community wherever he went. He gave and gave, not piles of dust-collecting trinkets, but himself. He was hospitality both at home and away from home.

And he’s gone.

I only had an hour before I left to visit a friend and her family. After five months of being apart, she and I had a lot of catching up to do. I even met the family’s feisty Siamese kitten. 

The daughters were trying to get their 20,000 words in for the day and I learned all sorts of things. Oldest daughter said her classmates bought bags of suckers and sawed off the sticks. They could eat them behind their masks during class. “What happens if the teacher asks a question?” I asked. Younger daughter was feasting on my fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies when she announced that she didn’t really like chocolate. In fact, she preferred peas. Next time should I bring cookies with peas in them? She giggled.

The girls begged me to resume English class with them because of their “fatal” English grades this year.

We looked at pictures of my sister’s wedding. “And you? Did you find a husband in your country?” My friend leaned in close, wanting every juicy detail. But just then, her daughters noticed the Christmas tree of lights along the boulevard and called us to the patio door to see.

Slowly I walked home, winding my way up the flights of apartment stairs, smelling the aromas of the various apartments until I entered our quiet space that still smelled like biryani–the lunch I had made shortly before I heard the news and the food that will forever remind me of him. Unmopped floors and overflowing trash cans demanded attention, but I sat down with another round of tears. 

Just this week, someone told me that when we reach eternity, we will look back at the gulf between missing a loved one and joining them. That gulf will be a tiny blip, inconsequential. I agree, but today feels bigger than that blip already.

Oh, God. What were You thinking?

It’s not a fair question, I know. But that’s where I am today: grateful God is big enough to listen to unfair questions.


Photo by Rafael Garcin on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the chiropractor

The chiropractor was next. I never would have looked for one if I hadn’t had a shooting pain in my hip with every step I took. I tried an exercise ball and alignment exercises before I decided that maybe I should get it checked out. 

I found their office on google. The place had good reviews and seemed down to earth (more about adjustments and money than strange Eastern cures). 

The first phone call was rough. Since I was expecting a package in the mail and when my phone rang, I assumed it was the delivery man, not the chiropractor owner responding to my request for information. There were several unforgettable moments of confusion before he suggested we speak in English. 

Soon, I was on my way. Fearful. Imagining that my scoliosis had gone beyond repair and my spine would have to be fused. 

I had to hunt down an x-ray clinic in the bowels of Almeria before the chiropractor was willing to touch my spine.  I, of course, had a lot of problems, including a twisted pelvis. No wonder walking hurt. It was reversible, for the price of my firstborn. Since I didn’t have a firstborn they would accept a debit from my account. (I’m kidding about the firstborn.)

I came home, stressing over the diagnosis and trying to decide whether or not I should go ahead with the treatment plan. In the end, it occurred to me that my legs are my vehicle and vehicle upkeep is often more than what they were charging me. And besides that, I only have one back and it’s pretty irreplaceable. And besides that, my dad scared me with horror stories of how he waited too long and no longer has feeling in a few of his toes. 

I used my Christmas money. (“All I want for Christmas is a brand new back!”) But within a week, I felt much better, even if my wallet didn’t. And you know what? When I go to the chiropractor for those occasional maintenance checkups, I’m not scared anymore.


Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash