Happy Easter to you all! I’m taking a break from logging our trip to Switzerland to wish you all a wonderful Easter weekend.
As you celebrate–maybe with communion, a sunrise service, cinnamon rolls, and candy-filled Easter eggs–celebrate the life that Jesus offers through His death and resurrection. John writes toward the end of his Gospel that he has recorded the signs of Jesus “…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31).
From death comes life. From His death comes our life. Although that truth is the climax of anything I could write, this year I was reminded that our daily dying also brings life.
“We are called to die to our own righteousness and find our hope, help, and comfort in the righteousness of Jesus given over to our account. This death…is a process of daily scanning our lives to see where things still live in us that should not live, then praying for the strength to die once again. Like the death of Jesus, this death is not a defeat, but a huge and glorious victory. For everywhere you die, you will be resurrected to new life in that area.”
from Journey to the Cross by Paul David Tripp p. 36
Hello, everyone! It’s been a few weeks. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I have…mostly because the nudge to update has been less of a nudge and more of an ominous cloud above my week that I. Just. Can’t. Quite. Get. To.
But now it’s Sunday and I have a quiet morning before our afternoon church service. So here I am, pecking away on my phone because I’ve been staring at my computer screen far too many hours this week and the idea of voluntarily sitting down in front of it again threatens my emotional stability.
First, the reason I have fallen a bit behind in writing:
Yes, my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew came for a visit! Well, to be more accurate, we met up in Zurich and after a luscious week in Switzerland, came back to Spain for them to get a taste of my life.
This post is a bit of an introduction to our time together. We’ll see how wordy I get along the way. I was tempted to copy and paste the online journal we created for this trip, but as I read through it, I realized just how much it was not written for public consumption. *slight blush*
We met up on March 7 after we had all missed a night of sleep and felt covered in layers of trip grime gleaned from public restrooms and random people coughing on us. I arrived a while before my family since my flight from Madrid was more on time than their flight from London.
While I waited, I was startled by how much the people looked like me. Or I looked like them. I’m not sure which. As would soon be discovered, this caused some confusion because “Guten tag” can only go so far.
After the joyous reunion with my family, we were more than ready to leave the airport. But first, our reserved rental vehicle was a 5-seater for 6 of us. And then there were seatbelt issues that kept the car dinging at us as we wandered through the labriynth of airport traffic and had to pay 12 CHF for even daring to be there at all.
But as we left Zurich, the scenery continued to improve and so did our moods. Dad and I made the first shopping trip while everyone else snoozed in the van. Dad made a beeline for the meat and cheese and looked disgruntled whenever I dropped vegetables into our shopping basket. We may have spend a considerable amount of time in the chocolate aisle, but it was nothing compared to the time it took us to find a simple tube of mayo.
As we wound up into the mountains, we kept exclaiming over the stunning scenery…and the lack of guard rails on the narrow roads. Forget hairpin curves; winding up to the farm where we stayed was hairpinning all of the way! (My poor brother-in-law was very patient with the other 4 gasping drivers in the car with him.)
From the outside, our Airbnb looked a little dumpy. Mud. Dogs. Random farm equipment. (All of which we would eventually realize is part of small farm life in the Bern area.) But once we were inside, our place was warm, clean, and welcoming. The hostess had left us a loaf of fresh bread, homemade butter, cheese and jam.
We made ourselves at home.
Our first full day in Switzerland was rainy. We didn’t get a whole lot accomplished since it took considerable effort to drag everyone out of the house by 1 p.m. (Which means I don’t have to try to make a long story short for blogging purposes–the long story is short!)
We puttered along, “oh my”ing at the incredible scenery. We also snickered at the “ausfahrt” (exit) signs all along the way. My Swiss friend sent a message to welcome us to Switzerland.
“It’s so beautiful up here in the mountains!” I wrote back.
She laughed when she responded in a voice message. “These are the hills.”
We drove to Gruyère where we strolled around around the free part of a cheese factory and then feasted on cheese fondue until I wondered if I’d ever want to eat cheese again. Our waitress spoke English, which was helpful. She also spoke Spanish, which was fun.
Side note: The prices took us a while to get used to. Visiting Switzerland isn’t for the empty-of-pocket. Even though we had tried to prepare ourselves, at least one of us would often sigh or grumble.
We sipped hot chocolate from a shop across the the street from the cheese factory as we wandered back to our van. We tried to get a peek at the local castle, but we would have had to park and walk through the rain to even see it. So we started for home.
That was pretty much our day besides a quick Aldi stop and two liters of fresh milk on our doorstep when we got back to our Airbnb.
I’ll write more another day. We really did do more than eat cheese and chocolate, although those two reasons alone are enough to warrant a trip to Switzerland!
Have you ever been to Switzerland? What sorts of things did you do?
I am determined to finish writing about my trip to Ireland today. I doubt it can be as much fun to read as it is to write because it is I who get to relive all of the memories. And with time, the bad memories fade–the exhaustion from a missed night of sleep, the grimy cottage, and so on. (Although, for the record, there aren’t many “so on”s.) It is the good memories that grow and blossom and put a little burn in my heart: that marriage of pure happiness and incredulity.
So, where did I leave off?
Saturday. I will skip over the morning escapade with the washer and the dryer and our hostess because I already wrote enough about our experience. We arrived downtown during a morning drizzle. My friend stopped to ask directions from a group of jolly men sipping their foaming Guinness outside of a bar. She did it for the experience, I think. For the kicks and giggles. It turns out the men weren’t Dubliners and couldn’t help us despite their trying. But they fit well into the friendly Irish stereotype we had already formed in our minds.
We managed to find a market after studying a map and then trailing someone with a market cart. We paused at one of the stalls for some mouth-watering paprika almonds and a free sample of creamy mozzarella balls. The drippy weather and the live music made the tiny market charming, although we probably couldn’t find the place again if we tried.
We meandered to the Chester Beatty Library, but when we stepped inside, we both decided we’d rather not do the tour. We may never know what we missed, but it was nice to decide to miss it together. We caught a bus to Phoenix Park, where we picked up free tickets to tour the President’s house and then crossed the sunny lawn–yes, the sun was beaming by then!– to a picnic bench under a tree. It was there in that slice of heavenly greenness and almost-warmth that I was able to say a prayer for our Airbnb hostess and my own attitude toward her. The residual irritation of the morning faded and stopped marring the day. We ate our picnic lunch. Without trying, we had planned the perfect amount of time to eat a relaxed lunch and then meander down to the tour bus.
We were about 15. A very small tour. Our guide was amazing, explaining the obvious points of interest in the house as well as the lesser noticed nuggets that mortalize history somehow. Some of the other people on the tour added a layer of excitement, like the elderly gentleman who decided he was thirsty and went over to help himself to the bottled water on the president’s desk. And his wife, as composed and sweet as a queen, continued to look composed and sweet in her darling hat even as her husband raided the president’s personal stash. We admired the ceilings–I especially enjoyed the Aesop’s fables one–, the artwork, and the vast back lawn.
After the tour, we refilled our water bottles and headed back downtown. For the first time, I managed to nab a seat in the front of the upper level double decker bus.
Our next stop was a Luke Kelly impersonation concert on the lawn of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We had thought we’d like to tour the cathedral as well, but nope. That was another tour that we both decided wasn’t something we wanted to add to our afternoon. (Is it any wonder I came home with a stash of travel money still in my wallet?) So we sat on a concrete lip of the edge of the sidewalk and watched the concert and grew chillier.
Then, at my friend’s insistence, we decided to use the free hot drink vouchers we had been given upon entering the concert. We stomped into an elegant hotel restaurant in our winter gear and backpack… maybe looking a little homeless at this point. And we almost lost our nerve, but my friend wanted a cuppa badly enough that she summoned her courage and soon we both had steaming to-go cups of milky Irish tea. We meandered down the street and then stopped to sit on the pedestal of a statue just across the street from the Christ Church Cathedral. We talked about life. People may have looked at us oddly, sitting there on a statue at a busy intersection with our cups of tea, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t notice.
After our tea, we were hungry. We walked to Lundy Foot’s, a restaurant that offered a traditional beef stew. In retrospect, it may have been more of a tourist attraction than a real Irish pub. And the musician was playing Jonny Cash. But the men at the bar (my sneaky and blurry photo below) seemed Irish enough and animated the atmosphere, especially after a couple of “jars” and a goal or two in the soccer game.
The beef stew was amazing. So was dessert. We left, flushed from the warmth of the place, and wandered home, happy.
I have very few pictures of Sunday. We had decided to take one day of the week where we would not plan anything. Originally, it had been our “curl up in front of a fireplace” day, but since that was no longer an option, we walked down to the bay. We spread our rain gear on the grass and held a mini church service, ending our time by praying for each other. It was a special time, minus the dog poo on the bottom of my friend’s shoe. We ate our picnic lunch and then strolled up to Insomnia, a coffee shop, and picked out some comfortable chairs. I ordered tea with tea brack, which didn’t end up being my favorite, most likely because it was packed with raisins which I don’t especially like.
We read and journaled in perfect together-solitude. I even crocheted. Then we returned to our Hairy Haven to pack up. We said our goodbyes before bed and I left the house by 5 the next morning.
The bus app directed me to a stop. When the airport coach came, I held out my public transit card hopefully. The driver asked if I had a ticket. Instead, I asked for directions to a Dublin airport bus that would accept my card, but he didn’t know. I finally nodded and decided to pay the extra money to save myself the hassle of finding the right stop. I pulled out my wallet.
Then he asked, “Is this your last day in Ireland?”
I nodded. “I’m going back to Spain today.”
He pushed my money away, patted my shoulder, and quietly said, “Get on board and make yourself comfortable.”
And with that, beautiful, wonderful Ireland sent me back to Spain.
True love drives away laziness, that’s what a young friend learned in philosophy class. It drives away apathy too.
Then why do I grow apathetic to the woundedness that surrounds me?
Overwhelmed, that’s what I am. Overwhelmed by the dissonance of compassion and my own limits. I am one person with moderate abilities and stamina. I cannot be a superhero no matter how hard I try. My tiny contribution of self-sacrifice will not change the world.
And so I begin to seal off my heart, and what began as love is reduced to apathy.
Or was it even love to begin with?
When I fill my schedule to the brim with world-changing activities, what is my motive? Can it be love? It might be, but, if I’m honest, my motive to change the world often starts and ends with pride. And it’s a pride that turns apathetic when I refuse to be humbled by remembering my limits.
There always will be busy seasons in our lives, some longer than others, but a sustained frantic pace, even under the pretense of love is not truly loving.
Love isn’t defined by the absence of laziness or apathy. The real meaning isn’t found in the absence of something. It’s not even found in the presence of something like hard work or compassion. It is ultimately found in the Presence of Someone.
When I realize that I am not the one who must save the world, I am freed. The burden to be the savior rolls away. Finally, I can stop panicking over my limits in light of all the work that needs to be done. I am finally free to love well.
I can sit with someone who needs to cry. I can make cupcakes for a team event. I can read a captivating book. I can agree to tutor another student. I can have a friendly chat with my neighbor from the patio. I can probe deeper into the heart of a young woman who isn’t sure who she wants to be just yet. And I can do all of this, recognizing that I am just a small piece in what is happening, and, praise the Lord, I get the joy of being a piece.
I am a created being, created with limits. And that is very good. Why? Because the work does not begin and end with me but with the One who is limitless.
For an excellent resource on human limits, I recommend You’re Only Human by Kelly M. Kapic.
I didn’t bother getting up early. Not much was open on Sunday anyway. I spent some quiet time at home before heading out to the Santa Clara Museum.
The museum was quiet except the creaky floorboards whenever anyone wandered overhead. Although it was small, there was a lot of a history in a building that over the centuries managed to be both an Arab palace and a convent.
I wandered and read and imagined and caught the persistent ringing of the bells for mass.
I climbed the stairs and traversed those squeaky floorboards to find displays of Catholic saints and relics. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in the Catholic tradition, but I find the statues and porcelain figurines the things that nightmares are made of. Especially when walking through rows of them while all alone (and this time there wasn’t even a security guard following me).
The figure at the end of the hallway was life-size. I wondered what I’d do if she moved, an arm twitch or a roll of the eyes. I’d probably have a heart attack, I decided, and add to the horrors of the upstairs when an unlucky tourist would stumble over my body.
Some of the paintings were fascinating, though. The last supper with everyone sporting a halo except Judas Iscariot who hung out on the fringe of the painting, clutching the money bag. Or exiled Apostle John having strange visions right from the book of Revelation and writing them in his modern-day book.
After much deliberation, I decided on a taco bar for lunch. A taco bar with pretty lame service. The server eventually got around to me as if the cafeteria were bustling with people, when in fact, there were only two tables.
I occupied myself by pretending that I was doing a sit-in during the civil rights era. But when my jamaica, homemade tamal, and taco arrived, I somehow wasn’t grumpy anymore. And, for the record, the server ended up being very friendly… just not speedy.
I had paid my Airbnb host to stay longer at the apartment, so I spent the afternoon lounging in the AC, soaking in the cool for as long as I possibly could.
When teammates picked me up, we headed out to the closure of a Rubik’s cube competition in a very hot gym that smelled like–well, I suppose like the combination of what we smelled like as individuals. I was amazed by how quickly the competitors–even the little people–could solve the cubes. (For the record, I have no clue how to solve a Rubik’s cube. On the ride to Murcia, I became the official mixer-upper for the others to solve.)
From the competition, we headed back to warm little coastal Mytown. Sure, I may be infatuated with Murcia, but I’m also glad to be back where I belong, air-conditioning or no.
I meant to start out earlier than I did. But I didn’t. I meant to take a morning tour of the bell tower of Murcia’s cathedral. But I didn’t. Instead, I read a sign that said tours were offered October through June and said nothing about tours during tourist season.
I gave up that plan for the time being and wandered over to the bus stop in time to climb on a bus to Rueda de la Ñora, a water wheel located in an otherwise unremarkable village outside of Murcia.
Still sleepy, I yawned the whole way out of the city. It would have been easier had I worn a mask that allowed yawns and didn’t grab both my nose and my chin in a vice grip. It was unfortunately one of those city buses that didn’t bother to say where it was or where it was going at any given time. Enter Google maps.
The water wheel was worth the visit. However, there was no shade and it made my visit shorter than I would have liked. I was the only tourist there. The wheel was commissioned in the 1400s although it’s been replaced various times.
On my walk back to the bus, a dog gave me a series of ferocious barks from a terraza overhead. The sun tilted just right so I could see the gray shadows of his snapping jaws on the street beside me.
I stumbled across a bakery on my way back to the bus. “Why not?” I thought and stepped inside. It was a real bakery, one where the cashier came to the counter with her hands covered in flour. She was brisk but kind as I carefully selected a chocolate-filled pastry.
The bus deposited me at Circular Square, which is more or less a giant fountain in the middle of a roundabout. It was unoccupied, making me wonder if anybody in Murcia appreciates their own landmarks. (And do I appreciate the landmarks of Mytown?)
The Archeological Museum of Murcia was free so it was worth a look, I decided. I’m not much for museums and the history here in Spain is so ancient it becomes unremarkable after a while. I skipped the evolution of man section which put me ahead of the only others in the museum. So I basically walked through the museum alone except the security guard who greeted me every time he circled past. I should have tried to make off with a Roman pillar to give him something to do.
On the way back to the cathedral tower (by this time, I had bought a tour ticket online), I passed through Plaza Santo Domingo and found a startling human rights monument in the middle of the plaza, like a silent scream.
I arrived early for the tour, which didn’t bother me. I plopped down in the shade in front of the tower and people watched. We were a large group, not my favorite way to tour, but I had already decided that the pros would outweigh the cons. The tower’s history was fascinating, from how the construction paused for 200 years when the tower began to lean or how the resident rats nibbled the edges of the old manuscripts to avoid the poisonous ink.
The group was frantically taking selfies at every turn as I cruised past, photo bombing everyone. (Okay, that’s probably just what it felt like.) Tucked inside the walls, there was the impression of coolness, but it also felt muggy. But however hot and sweaty, we all made it up the 17 ramps. The quarter hour chime at the top was exhilarating. The bells thundered inside of my head.
After lunch in the air conditioning at my Airbnb, and some time to unwind, I tried to go to a coffee shop which was closed. “August,” I grumbled as I meandered through downtown and eventually ended up at CaféLab again where they recognized me and spoke to me in English.
I picked up snacks at Día and then spent the evening on the couch with guacamole, fresh mozzarella, and a show on the fancy-schmancy TV that the Airbnb host had painstakingly explained to his clueless guest.
Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.
I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)
My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.
I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.
As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.
I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.
Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.
“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”
I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.
From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.
Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.
I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.
On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.
On a recent read through the book of Acts, I was startled by the apostles’ boldness. “You killed the Christ,” they told their audience more than once.
The varying responses to this claim are fascinating.
Peter gave his famous sermon at Pentecost which ended with “…this Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36). The response of his listeners? “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (2:37). They were cut to the heart. Convicted. And they wanted to know the steps to restoration.
Later, Peter and John made a similarly blunt claim (4:10). Their boldness astonished the religious leaders, who told them not to talk about Jesus anymore (4:18). Shhh. Now, just run along and don’t disturb the peace.
But the apostles didn’t stop being bold, which landed them in prison. “…you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us,” complained the high priest (5:28). But the apostles answered with yet another claim that the leaders had killed Jesus “by hanging on a tree” (5:30). When the council heard this, they were so angry that they wanted to kill the apostles (5:33).
Then courageous Stephen proclaimed before his accusers, “…the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered…” (7:52).
But by now, the religious leaders had had enough. “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (7:54). And then they stoned him to death.
Each time the apostles spoke these words, their hearers had the chance to respond to the burn of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Some were cut to the heart. Some tried to quench the Spirit’s voice. Some were enraged, gnashed their teeth, and murdered.
What about me? What about you? How do we respond to conviction?
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.
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?
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.