Here is Joy

Here is Joy.
Look, right here!
See her in the slippery soap suds puddling around the soap dish?
And in the far corner of the deepest cupboard you're cleaning,
Back, back, back until you can just dab the dirt triangle with the corner of your rag?
Do you hear her bursting through the speakers of your car stereo?
Or in the grunt of an awakening work computer?
She's here on the supermarket shelf, coming along free in the celery stalks just because.
Do you see her?
In the scuffed magnet that pins a child's artwork to your refrigerator?
And in the orange flame waltzing on the tip of a match as you light a candle and open the front door?
She's whisked into the batter and adds just the right nutty note…or is it woody…or just plain sweet?
She's here. Always here.
Even when your neighbor tells you never ever to add cinnamon and now you've ruined it completely.
Yes, sometimes Joy tastes a little like hot noodle soup during a head cold.
Or enlivens an aroma with a world of redeemed memories.
She's more than a good tiding at Christmas.
She's now. Today.
Riding along on the eternal breeze of faithfulness.
Look for her.

Ireland- part 3

Our Country Cottage Oasis awaited.

Both my friend and I were looking forward to having a place to base from for the next couple of days. A charming little cottage with great reviews and maybe even a fireplace. We had put in an order for a sturdy drizzle so we could curl up in snug armchairs with tea and a meaty book.

We found out by accident that our hostess, who lived in the cottage, wouldn’t be there to welcome us. No problem, we decided. Surely someone else would be there.

We wound through the countryside to a charming tree-lined walkway; though, admittedly, it would have been more charming had it been daylight. But we found the gate and rumbled our suitcases up the gravel driveway.

When no one answered the doorbell, we hesitantly stepped in the unlocked door. A draft sailed down the hallway to greet us. Although the entryway was dark, a welcoming glow was coming from one of the rooms. We removed our damp boots so not to leave tracks and headed toward the light. It led us to a cluttered sitting room with a pair of ghostly pink slippers residing on a carpet thick with dog hair.

We shuddered. Surely that wasn’t our room. But the rest of the cottage was dark and silent. Were we even in the right house? We tiptoed around, trying in vain to forget every Agatha Christie novel we’d ever read, because this was assuredly the perfect place for murder. “Foreign guests lured to countryside cottage…”

We found our room, at least a room that resembled the photos on the airbnb page. But could we be sure? The trash was overflowing and used towels hung on the back of the door.

My friend tried in vain to shut the patio door, the source of the draft. I set down my luggage, preparing to make myself at home. It was then that I began to notice the depth of the grime. It was also then that I began to lose my composure. We shot our hostess some questions: “Key? Washer and dryer? Wifi password?” but left out the most pressing: “Were you really expecting us? Because it sure doesn’t look like it!”

We left to grab a few groceries and, well, to evaluate our situation. Then we ate in one of the grimiest first-world kitchens I’ve ever seen, washing everything before and after we used it. A powerful odor wafted from the refrigerator, which we hoped were just the aging strawberries. I gnawed on cucumbers and broccoli, glum.

My poor friend was trying to make the best of the situation while I broke down bit by bit.

“Go take a hot shower and you’ll feel better,” she said.

She hunted down relatively clean towels in the overstuffed wardrobe in our bedroom. I went to the shower, hauling my entire suitcase with me so not to gather any extra filth by setting my clothes on her crowded bathroom furniture.

Soon, my friend heard a bellow, which happened to be the last of my expectations oozing out and spiraling down the shower drain. There was no hot water. Nor heat, as we soon discovered. We buried ourselves under blankets of questionable cleanliness which my friend had also dug out of that same overstuffed wardrobe.

My wounded sense of justice was still sending off flares when I fell asleep in a bed that was actually pretty comfortable.

My friend chose to believe that our hostess was grief-stricken, since she had mentioned she was at a funeral. Actually, over the next couple of days, even with socks laden with dog hair, we made quite a few excuses for her. She was a very nice lady, after all. Even if she did forget to clean her house. Or which amenities she had listed on her airbnb page. Or that we needed hot water and heat in an Irish November. Or that the last guest (or maybe the one before) had left a liter of milk and hummus in the window sill.

We began to refer to our country cottage as our “Hairy Haven,” a generous term for a place that wasn’t a haven at all. Although, it wasn’t a total loss for it did provide a space for bonding and quite a few opportunities for memory-making.

But there would be no curling up in front of fireplaces here. And so we slayed our dreams.


Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

A time to weep, and a time to laugh: Residency renewal

It’s that time again.

A friend told me it seems like I’m always renewing my residency. I agree. 

But this time was supposed to be easy. I waited for my appointment, full of confidence. Of course, my confidence may have been due in part to the fact that the immigrants in front of me had their dubious paperwork shoved into crumpled plastic page protectors. I, on the other hand, had my blue passport carefully tucked behind a stack of crisp, typed forms, neat photos still in their protective sleeve, and an appropriate receipt matched with a tax form. Bring it on.

But it was I who slinked defeated from the office, ready to throw my hands in the air and tell Spain, “FINE! I’m DONE being legal! So there!” 

I was able to stifle that impulse. And I’m not done being legal, of course. But it did take several hours of rigorous cleaning and a listening ear or two before I was inclined to persevere. 

Which, in turn, led me to a management office. And then a second management office. And finally, per directions, to a right hand turn by a children’s shoe store and down an alley to a hole-in-the-wall lawyer’s office which mercifully listed “immigration” on the plaque beside the front door. 

I stepped into the dim office to find the waiting wall lined with sub-Saharans, North Africans, and Asians. Congratulating myself on finally being in the right place, I took a seat. 

The man at the front desk didn’t acknowledge me as he gave slow, clear instructions to a client. So I had time to look around. The attempt at decor was shuffled aside for the sake of productivity. Stacks of paperwork in wild piles. Artwork lost behind taped up notices or a whiteboard. A bookcase filled with untouched manuals and a silent essential oils diffuser.

It was a bit messy, but not dirty, I decided. And it held a slight odor of the people who were crushed inside. 

Five minutes later, when the clerk had finished, he turned to me. I explained my situation, finishing with: “Can you help me?”

He took my card. “Maria, we have an American here!” he chirped. I must have been the first. Actually, I almost assuredly was. North Americans are an endangered species in Mytown. And how many of the seven or eight of us would have stepped foot in this office?

Only the desperate ones.

The lawyer peered down at me from her desk. I shuffled my neat stacks of paperwork, aware of the dozens of eyes now trained on me from the waiting wall. 

The clerk made a copy of my card and asked some questions. But could they help me?

It turns out, they could, but it would take several more trips to the office. Several more surprised stares from the other clients as I joined their ranks. Several more long stretches of leaning against the waiting wall and studying the half-hidden artwork. 

Then on one visit, the clerk removed the whiteboard to let me study more than just the fringe of the painting. On another visit, I was witness to a fight that the clerk helped diffuse before it escalated to the point of no return. On another visit, I bumped into a family I knew which helped to pass the time. That same visit, I took advantage of the clerk’s warm, North African culture to negotiate the fee. And on that last visit, he handed me a neat stack of stamped papers tucked in a plastic page protector. Success.

That was only step one. I will have to return. Being a legal immigrant is not for the faint of heart, no matter where you are in the world. But I’m full of confidence again. Bring it on.

Conglomeration of life

Below is a conglomeration of life I either noticed or experienced in recent weeks. The thoughts are scattered and unpolished (like everything else on my blog, except maybe just a bit more). But I hope you enjoy a peek into life here.


“Hola, American.” A sub-Saharan man said the words almost under his breath as we passed on the street.

I didn’t think much about it until I was a few steps beyond him. How did he know I was American? Someone must have told him.

Due to the abundance of Russian immigrants and the lack of North American ones, my community assumes I’m Russian. In fact, when I started Spanish class, my Russian classmate told me that she’s seen me around and always thought I was a Russian.

Last night in class, she worked on forming a sentence with the imperfect subjunctive: “Trish has a face as if she were Russian.” After various corrections and alterations, we all were very familiar with the idea that Trish looks Russian.


“I thought to myself: I hope she makes brownies. And you did!” My student pulled the brownie plate closer to her and grinned at me with shining eyes. And she didn’t protest when I sent the leftovers home with her after class.


Little arms thrown wide with delight in overhead bubbles.


Four neighbors were on the front stoop when I stepped out the front door of the apartment building.

“Are you having a meeting?” I asked with a laugh.

No, two were just out for a smoke and had collected the others coming in or out the door. Like me.

“Sit down here. Join us.” Demanded the middle-aged man from the second floor. We hadn’t seen each other for a while so maybe he thought he needed the latest scoop on my life.
Not really wanting to wedge myself between two people with lit cigarettes, I stood back just enough to enjoy the breeze that waltzed down the street.

“You don’t smoke, do you?” The second floor neighbor asked.

“No.”

“Do you drink?”

“Not that either.”

“What about the other thing?”

Was this a morality test? I hesitated, not knowing for sure what he meant. “Marijuana?” I asked hopefully. “No, not that either.”

“No. Making love.” He tinged a bit with this. I suppose you could say I had forced him to say it.

The lady on the other side of the stoop eyed me. “It’s not worth it. Men are too complicated.”

“You say men are too complicated!” He was indignant. “It’s the women who are too complicated.”

It was a good time to leave. So I made a light, overgeneralized comment. They laughed. I told them goodbye and continued on my way.


I had almost reached the language school when I noticed a woman was getting out of her car. She was a bleached blonde with dark eye makeup. The combination made her seem sad somehow. Behind her was a mural of a woman with streaking mascara.

Two sad ladies on the corner, almost like a piece of visual poetry, I thought, and continued walking.

I was in the middle of the crosswalk when muffins, donuts, and bread came skidding across the road toward me. I hesitated mid-stride. Was I hallucinating, my subconscious pulling up cravings for foods I rarely ate?

But no. A delivery van’s door had slid open as the van bumbled through the roundabout. The goodies inside had tumbled onto the street with enough momentum to shoot them in my direction.

I helped gather the packages littered across the roundabout and toss them into crates. The poetic sad lady from the corner helped too.

“Gracias!” the man told Sad Lady. “Chokran!” he told me.

I paused and looked down. Sometimes when I wear a dress, people ignore my fair coloring and assume I’m North African. Not that it matters, I suppose. Russian. North African.

Why not?


I trailed Sad Lady into the language school–who knew she was going there too?!–and when I couldn’t get my questions answered at the front desk as I had hoped, I began to chat with her.

She was planning to test for English; I for Spanish. “Let’s meet for coffee to practice!” she said and we exchanged phone numbers.


The next evening, my neighbor and I were only a couple of blocks from home when we saw the drunkest person I have ever seen in Spain. He stumbled out of a salón de juegos and clambered on his bike. Both he and the bike splattered onto the sidewalk. He gave an unintelligible monologue at high decibels but appeared relatively undamaged.

Just a block later, a man bumped into my neighbor. “I’m sorry! I was looking over there while I was walking and didn’t see you!” he said while his arm gave an exaggerated swing in the direction of the park.

“No problem,” my neighbor said graciously. “It happens.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not a racist. And I’m not a thief. You have to be careful on the street. Hold your bag like this!” He tugged the strap of his man purse. Then he clasped his hands together, and gave a wobbly bow in mid-stride and began the same speech again.

And again.

And so we continued several blocks with his cycle of effervescent apologies and wobbly bowing.

My neighbor and I finally stopped at a store to let him get ahead of us.

“Well,” I sighed. “We’re only a few blocks from home. What else is going to happen? Should we go back?”


Hopscotch boxes drawn all of the way to 85, progressively lopsided from weary little hands.


I fell out of bed the other morning. I was freshly awake and rolled over, only to realize that during the night, I had perched myself on the edge of the bed. Fortunately, I caught myself with flailing limbs before I made a resounding boom on the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling.

Who needs caffeine? There’s nothing quite like tumbling out of bed for a delightful adrenaline rush.


A friend cried when I brought her a gift. We sat on the floor together just inside her front door while she fingered every item in the gift bag with grateful tears. Someone cared.


The safety of Grandma’s hand holding fast.


A house with crumbs and sticky that remind me that someone has honored me with their presence in my home.

The Half

You tell me I am half
Or maybe even less
When I don’t dream your dreams
Of how my life should be.
But while you count my flaws
And give advice, of course,
You are the one who’s half
By never knowing me.

I wrote this poem for one of the writing prompts my sister and I are doing this year. The inspiration? The countless North African women (and the few men) who have told me, whether directly or indirectly, that my worth is determined by my marital status and number of children.

But this poem is only part of the story. The sting of being under-appreciated for not ticking the “right” boxes has motivated me to find my worth in my Savior. I’m still learning; meanwhile, God has brought many others into my life who value me for being me.


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The Last [of] Murcia (Day 3)

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.

tree-lined walkway

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.

palace courtyard with pond
Museo de Santa Clara
arabic script engraved on stone

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.

painting of the book of Revelation
The apostle John writing down the Revelation of Jesus Christ

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.

taco and jamaica

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.

theater between narrow street buildings

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? 🙂

With the best of intentions

I weathered another round of what I assumed to be food poisoning. Tired of hanging out in the bathroom, I put on a brave face to hostess visitors, babysit, teach an English class, and drop by the neighbor’s with a plate of crepes.

But when holes were poked in my food poisoning theory, suddenly my bright shades of resiliency and selflessness took on a contaminated hue.

I had been so sure I could trace it back to those fried sardines…

I took a too-late day of quarantine to keep me from infecting the rest of the world. The next morning I dropped by the post office and the grocery store. On the way home, I noticed I was being dogged by the persistent admirer who, after a clarifying encounter months earlier, had vanished from my life. Until now. And there he was, looking bigger, older, and maybe even a little more unhinged than the last time I had seen him.

My intention to weave myself into this community’s tapestry put me in his way. Or maybe he put himself in my way. Or maybe we’re simply two clashing fibers woven side by side, which is bound to happen now and then in every community. Just wishing him away rather than confronting him probably was never the answer.

Why do best intentions sometimes sour?

My recent decision in the best interest of all turned out to be in the best interest of none… and involved a fair amount of straightening out.

I suppose it’s fanciful to believe that sacrifice can validate decisions. Still, why do some of the decisions we make, even at our own expense, turn out to be the wrong ones?

Maybe it’s because we don’t understand the big picture. Or because our decisions are not the only decisions affecting lives.

When we take a spill on our good intention bicycle, the true measure of resiliency and selflessness may be found in our ability to stand up, gently brush the gravel from the crevices of our knees and continue on our way.

And be grateful when others forgive our mistakes and miscalculations.

And thank God for the neighborly shopkeeper who is standing in his doorway to watch us safely home.


Photo by Dmitrii Vaccinium on Unsplash

Reading, writing, and Ramadan: What’s been happening recently

#1

Recently, I read through the four gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on what Jesus did and said, John focuses on who He was. As I read John, I began underlining references to Jesus’ deity. A lot of people proclaimed that He was the Son of God. Although we have no record that Jesus said, “I am the Son of God,” His references to His own deity (e.g. being one with the Father) were enough to make His accusers say at His trial, “…he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (Jn. 19:7). 

#2

Ramadan was a socially slow month for me. Even though I wasn’t fasting, most of my friends were. So I decided to prayer walk the streets of Mytown. All of them. “How hard can this be?” I wondered. 

One neighborhood’s streets wound around and around, making it impossible not to circle back again and again past those same elderly men on the park bench or that delivery man slowly unloading at the café door. I told a friend I should fill up my market cart with junk and haul it with me because then onlookers would have a mental box to put me in! Alas, I did not finish this project during Ramadan, but I’m at 198 kilometers and counting!

#3

I took advantage of the quieter days to get ahead in planning English lessons. I’m finally one whole unit ahead. Plus, I’ve added “work on curriculum” to my weekly schedule. Not that it wasn’t there before, but this time the rule is that I can’t gleefully erase it each week. 

#4

My sister and I have been doing a writing challenge. Writing is another one of those things that is easy to erase from my weekly schedule. But it feels more important with accountability. This year, I’m also attempting to help write a VBS curriculum which mostly leaves me feeling very, very green.

#5

One Saturday, I scoured my shower with an abrasive powder and simultaneously inhaled the powerful aroma of the toilet bowl cleaner. Dizzily, I wondered if there was a better way to clean my house. I began researching and testing. Do these DIY cleaners actually work? Time and grime will tell. Although research shows that the DIY ingredients are less harsh than typical cleaners, I still have nightmares of peeled laminate flooring and warped countertops.

#6

Familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps I wasn’t contemptuous yet, but I felt the constant pressure to dedicate unreasonable chunks of time to a friend, even when I had many other things to do. She wasn’t respecting my boundaries and I was worn out and indignant. Then I realized that I was the one who had stopped enforcing my own boundaries. I had pretended to be more flexible than I was. Essentially, I told her that I was always at her disposal and she believed it.

So, I’m back to square one with this boundary thing, and the times we’re together are farther apart but more enjoyable because we manage miss each other on the off days. 🙂 


These are the less social bits of what has been happening recently. I could drone on, but I’m tired of writing, and you’re probably tired of reading. So what’s been happening in your life recently?

Hindsight is not 20/20

Hindsight is not 20/20. At least mine isn’t, especially my hindsight of past conversations. My hindsight compiles a list of things I should have said and didn’t or shouldn’t have said and did.

“I should have invited her up for tea when she asked if this was my street.”

“I should have complimented her on how nice she looked; I noticed she made an effort.”

“I shouldn’t have made that comment about Islam.”

That’s what I focus on. How I should have made better use of the conversation. As I turn with a finger poised to shake at the past me, my hindsight narrows to tunnel vision. 

Because, more often than not, I’m forgetting the other factors involved. 

It could be that I already had plans with a neighbor and only when the other plans were canceled did I remember the interaction on the street.

It could be that our interaction at the noisy gathering was so brief that I only had time to ask her about the exams she had been studying for when I last saw her.

It could be that after my friends spent twenty minutes complaining about Muslim men, they ganged up on me to marry me off. And I made that split second decision to speak directly rather than lose the moment in the rush of conversation by taking the time to formulate an indirect response.

I want to learn from my mistakes. However, when I get analytical about what was said or not said, I need to pause long enough to remember the other factors involved: the distractions, the mind noise, the body language of the other person, etc. 

Then slowly, a shameful, paralyzing memory is seasoned with grace. Only then can I step forward because remembering truthfully is the best way to learn from mistakes.


Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash