“The svelte brunette vs. her pimply cousin” or “Coffee vs. tea”

Last time I was Stateside, I confessed to two dear friends that I really liked tea. They smiled but disagreed. “Watery” was one of the agreed-upon adjectives. We sipped our coffee together, because at least we agreed on that. 

Long ago, back when we all still had Facebook, a friend’s sister posted that coffee was a svelte, rich brunette and tea was her pimply cousin, or something to that effect. “What a perfect description!” I thought and stashed it away in a mental file (not a verbatim mental file, apparently). I 100% agreed. 

Until now. 

I still love coffee but my intolerance to large doses of caffeine has curbed my zeal. That and the less-than-desirable church potluck coffee of my past which carried the distinct flavor of what a friend called “burnt Folgers.” In the meantime, I’ve grown fonder of tea. In fact, I like tea even more than I did when my friends called it “watery.”

Nearly every week, I visit a tea vendor at the local market. I ask for a bit of this and a bit of that until I drive her crazy filling tiny baggies. Then I go home with my loot and put the kettle on. 

I’ve never been one to branch out with coffee flavors. Yah, I’m the one who gets a plain latte practically every time she goes to a coffee shop. Now decaf, oh, and no sugar, please. But tea is different. With my little samples, I’m working my way through the tea vendor’s options. 

Rooibos is an acquired taste, I’ve decided, and I’m still working on acquiring it. I thought it was okay until my student said the vanilla blend tasted like a medicine from her childhood. The infusions also leave something to be desired. Flavor, to be exact. After my first cup of some sort of pomegranate blend I had to side with my friends on the whole “watery” thing. Apparently, infusions require a surprising quantity to achieve flavor. Blah. I picked out the now-soggy pieces of fruit and ate them to console myself. The piña colada infusion had to go too. Too coconuty, even for someone who loves coconut. 

Some of the teas that are planning to stay on my shelf are: Japanese cherry (green), black tea with rose, caramelized almond (black), green with pomegranate, and one called 1,001 nights, a green blend that is exotic, romantic, and not at all watery. 

What about you? Are you a tea drinker? If so, which flavors do you like? Any suggestions for non-caffeinated, non-watery-infusion, non-rooibos varieties?

Sunday people

I like Sunday people.
They walk slower, walk happier.
Like they are going nowhere
and everywhere and who really cares?
The market heart pounds with euro produce
and rebajas and greasy churro air.
Shouts and laughter as fathers play with children
And mothers look less worn.
Men with their canes on park benches
under the winking sun
talk about days gone by and passersby.
Church bells echo with every hour mass.
Men in ties are proud beside
the clippity-clop of high heels and scrubbed children
trying to stay clean for mother's sake.
Muslim children walk to class at the mosque,
little girls with covered hair
looking and knowing they are young.
All across town, there is a breeze
of one big Sunday sigh.

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

A cathedral, cave houses, and amateur flamenco

The end of June, just before I left for the States, my roommate and I took a short trip to the nearby city, Guadix. In all of the July activities, I neglected to put up pictures… until now.

Overall, it was a good trip, although it did have its downsides… like being in town on a holiday weekend when businesses were closed, realizing that our trusty map was on my broken-down phone, getting hot and tired from wandering through the old city streets in search of our elusive airbnb. But those were the not-so-fun things that I didn’t bother to capture on my camera. So enjoy the happier things that I did…

Guadix is known for its splendid Baroque cathedral which was built from the 15th to mid-18th century.

Guadix is also known for its cave houses. Before you start picturing primitive etchings in rock walls and cavemen wielding stout clubs, take a look at these pictures.

Rather from being formed from natural caves, these cave houses or “troglodyte houses” are carved into the rocky landscape. The cave houses maintain a temperature of 18º C (64ºF.).We toured a church in the cave community. The church had marvelous nooks and crannies and tottering staircases to explore.

I noticed the window shoppers after I took the picture. And I definitely don’t have anything against window shopping. Especially since that’s how my roommate and I found a flyer for a charitable event hosted by a flamenco school of dance. We went.

group of female flamenco dancers in black

All we get are windows

“All we get are windows,” he had said.

And this after my week of cancelled plans, disappointed tears, and familiar feelings of uselessness. But his words rang in my head all weekend so that now in the middle of a lively West African church service, my mind was still stuck.

The dissonant keyboard chords, the steady drums and tambourine and my mind was thousands of miles away in last summer.

I could still hear those testimonies of broken men and women who were crying out to God for the meaning of their years of overseas service—men and women who felt they had little to report except failure.

“All we get are windows of time in people’s lives. We walk with them while we can.”

Sometimes those windows feel pointless. Like walking with someone on their journey is a waste of time and couldn’t God please bring someone else into our lives? Sometimes the windows feel so nice that we frantically try to prop them open when they begin to close. But they close anyway and we label them as aborted opportunities.

In the snippets of time we have with people—these “windows”—sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture and think that the windows are all that matter. That’s when we feel useless, like failures.

The keyboard, drums, and tambourine faded as a new song leader took the microphone. Pacing back and forth, she started an African version of “Alleluia.”

“Alleluia. Alleluia. For the Lord God Almighty reigns.

“Holy, holy are you, Lord God Almighty!”

Behind the song leader was a pillar that supported the center of the little church building. There on the pillar, neat rows of pink and white silk rose buds formed a cross.

“Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Amen!”

Amen. So where will I place my focus? On my interpretation of efficiency or on the bigger picture: the glory of the Lamb? On the brevity of the windows of time or the fact that the Lamb is worthy of a life spent in faithful service?

Thank you for the homesickness

When I think of my family, friends, and church at home, the word that comes to mind right now is “thank you.”

Thank you for the strength I feel behind me. When I struggle, you gently carry me along with your prayers, encouragement, and advice. When I am happy, you rejoice with me. And you tell me about life at home like I’m still one of you. I am still one of you.

You give me a reason to be homesick. Not every day. But some days it rushes over me and I feel lost, pretty sure that I will drown. And I do for a little, overwhelmed with the sorrow of what has been and probably would have continued being had I not moved here. But then I lift my hands in surrender (literally sometimes), let my tears dry, and blow my nose. Life goes on.

“God, I’m not questioning my calling; I’m just feeling the hurt right now.”

I’m thankful for technology– emails, phone calls, video chats and such– but it’s not the same.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt homesick. He had sweet and constant communion with His Father. And then He left heaven to come to earth. Sure, He could pray to His Father. But it wasn’t the same. Sorta like a phone call.

But without that sweet communion, without something that emotionally ties us to “our” place, there would be no homesickness.

That’s why I say, “Thank you for the homesickness.” You have given me many reasons to miss you.

A dog and a man

It was a quiet Sunday morning. Very little traffic. Very few people out except the dedicated who had rolled out of bed for 10 o’clock mass.

The evangelical service didn’t start until 11. And a crisp morning stroll was a good remedy for lethargy during church. Obviously, I was fairly alone in my opinion, or at least alone in the motivation for its practice.

I jammed my fists into my coat pockets to keep them warm. I was headed nowhere in particular and anyone looking at me could tell. Who cared? The hushed activity was restful and I talked with God as I walked.

Along the boulevard, there was a big piece of cardboard spread out on a bench. Had a homeless person slept there? Where was he now? Had the police chased him away? Why was he homeless?

As I continued strolling, I prayed for the needy of our quiet little town. Up a block or two along the boulevard, I noticed a dog shying away from a man on a bench. The skinny beast had belonged to somebody at some point in time—I knew because of the collar—but now his ribs were jutting through his thin white coat.

Again, the dog approached the man with great skepticism and was rewarded with a chunk of bread. He shied away again, but watched for the next morsel.

And the man. As I got closer, I noticed him. He had that look. Like someone who had spent more than one night on a park bench. Next to him was a childless stroller piled high with things, earthly treasures that may have come from a nightly raid of the neighborhood trash bins.

I passed the scene, wondering why the man was throwing away his bread to a dog. Wasn’t that proof of his bad stewardship that had probably put him out on the street in the first place?

Or could it be that he knew need—true, desperate need—and he had compassion on another needy creature?

On my return loop, my view was from the back of the scene. The dog was still there, darting in and shying away, but not quite so shyly anymore. He and the man understood each other.

I was the outsider, passing by the scene without really understanding.

10% thankful

At church on Sunday, we had a sermon about the ten lepers in Luke 17. After Jesus healed them, only 10% came back to thank Him. What about the other 90%? All we really know is that they were healed on their way to the priest. Undoubtedly, they were grateful, but what did they do about it?

Ten percent versus ninety percent. I’m thinking in percentages because the story brings to mind tithes and offerings. I like to think that 10% is God’s and 90% is mine. I go my way with the 90%.

What would change if I started to live like the 100% belonged to God?

Just a thought as I consider how thankful or unthankful I am this Thanksgiving Day 2017.

From a family of writers

It was 2:30 a.m. and I was wide awake, when suddenly it struck me: I’m from a family of writers!

My mom, my siblings, and I all enjoy writing. Of course, we’ve had our share of mishaps. Like the time my mom sent a cheerful email to her siblings proclaiming “Hell to you all!” (she’d forgotten an “o”). Or the time when I was a child making a birthday card for my aunt. The card contained a hidden message cleverly concealed under a square of paper on which I had inscribed “Open the flab.”

Despite these unfortunate skeletons, we continued writing and continue to this day.

Mom comes from a family of unusual vocabulary, a vocabulary which still seeps into her everyday speech and writing. Before having children, she used to write poetry and keep a journal. Since children, she exchanged writing time for reading aloud: tales of Ira, Francis, Ichiro, and a little later, Narnia. Now her main writing occupation is optimistic emails to missing family members.

My older sister and I have stacks of journals. Hers go way back, to when she recorded observations from our childhood such as “Tricia eats like a horse and looks like a string bean.” Even now, she writes captivating emails recording events and people that waltz through her married life.

My older brother is the nerdy, theological writer of the family. When he asked me to help edit his Bible school thesis, I read a bit then stuck to editing grammar, not content. Instead of “This deep point of doctrine would be more indisputable if…” I was penciling in things like, “Maybe this sentence structure needs help???” Of late, most of his writing seems to be going out from the mailbox to a certain Ohio address.

My younger brother kept a journal of our family trip out West. The several pages, which gave a snapshot of the vacation in that moment, also gave some humorous insight to the workings of a 12-year-old mind. It was delightful to find his journal in my stash of papers years later… and give a copy to his wife to read! Now he gets to write sermons rather than record who is eating candy and what music we are listening to.

It was on another vacation long ago that my little sister, wrote an adorable note: “Dad, why do you let your whiskers grow?” Her thoughts have run down deeper lines since then. She maintains her own blog now and is more dedicated to her writing than any of us other family members.

At 14-months, even my nephew scripts his feelings quite clearly (see photo above).

Why do we write? Maybe it was due to those years when our parents instilled in us a love of reading. Those evenings that Mom would take us to the library and we would walk out with 40+ books that we started to read on the way home. The librarian told Mom that we were “good for circulation.”

Regardless of the reason, I’m thankful to be from a family who expresses through writing. For one, it makes living overseas more possible.