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

It’s easy to forget

"Hey! Hey!"
I turn to wave,
his kiss still wet on my cheek.
I can, in these moments,
forget that dogged darkness from the womb,
the dark that swallows him now.
Life feels so much like life
when his eyes still glitter hope.
So it's easy to forget.
Or not to remember.

And then I do,
and I want to run back
and snatch him
from what his family and his god
demand of him.
Because who will he be
when he reaches the end of his hope?
The end of his life?

"Hey! Hey!"
I turned around again
to see him looking over his shoulder
as his mother's hand leads him away.

Photo credit: Scott Szarapka on Unsplash

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? 🙂

Leaving behind our fish

My writing prompt this week is about letting something go. What have I let go? 

A couple of years ago on another blog, I wrote a lament about living far away from family. I understand the sacrifice of “letting go” theoretically and even theologically but not always emotionally. Now and then, especially when I’m homesick, I renew my lament. Yes, I love the life God has given me and the deep and beautiful blessings that come along with it, but it doesn’t mean it’s always easy. 

Sometimes even the wonderful, valuable gifts in this life are things we must let go, things God asks us to miss out on. So we watch from afar with palms pressed against the window pane that divides something we long for from our reality.

We all have laments, don’t we? Things we miss out on because we have counted the cost and decided to follow Jesus.

I won’t elaborate on this particular lament. I’ve done it in pieces on my blog: here, here, here, here, here, and here (oops, I didn’t realize there would be so many “here”s). The writing prompt reminded me of a passage I recently read, a passage I still need time to think through. Below, I have retold the story from Luke 5:1-11. I hope the story touches a dark corner of your heart like it touched mine. What do I need to let go? Really let go? Can I believe that Jesus is worth it?

May the victory of Jesus’ death and resurrection fill your life to overflowing.

The Lord is risen!


They were tired when Jesus came. It had been a long night with no fish. No fish meant no market. No market meant no income. No income meant, well, not much of anything.

He was a bit strange, this Jesus, climbing on board Peter’s boat to talk to the crowd. A few people began to splash into the lake to be close to him, and it was then that Jesus quietly asked Peter to push out just a little from the land. Peter gladly gave up his task of washing the fishing nets to hear for himself why so many people were following this Teacher around.

Jesus taught in language that was both simple and profound. The crowd pressed against the shoreline, engaged, spell-bound even. When Jesus was done teaching, he turned to Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

They had already tried that. All night, actually. So Peter said, “Master, we worked all night and caught nothing! But if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 

The nets slipped in the water with the familiar creaking of ropes. A creaking of familiar hopelessness.

And then their nets were breaking, splitting with the load of fish! It took a moment to understand what was happening, so astonished were they. “Help!” they cried to a nearby boat. Soon both boats were overflowing. They began to take on water.

Excitement and wonder were thick in the air. Peter and his companions, James and John, stared at this Teacher, this Master, who seemed to have power over creation. Overcome, Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

“Do not be afraid,” said Jesus. “From now on you will be catching men.”

They rowed to the shore as their boats sank lower and lower in the sea. Those from the crowd who had not yet dispersed stood on the shore, gawking as the water lapped at their ankles. 

Fish meant market. Market meant income. Income meant, well, anything.

But they left their boats, their nets, their fish and followed Jesus because He was everything.


Photo by Cassiano Psomas on Unsplash

5 things I learned about hospitality last week

Hospitality creates a resting place for those you love… and even those you’re still trying to love. It’s not boundary-less, but true hospitality grows our understanding of boundaries, sometimes stretching and sometimes reinforcing. About a year ago, I wrote an essay on this topic, drawing from the experience of others, experience I hope to acquire as time goes on. Maybe another day I’ll share some of those thoughts.

But today, I’m writing about what I learned last week in Córdoba with my Pakistani friend and her family.

Although the week had its ups and downs, I savored their hospitality. Hospitality is not cultureless and sometimes those hiccups caught me off-guard, like when someone ordered for me at a restaurant instead of letting me choose for myself. Still, hospitality transcends culture. It is resilient because love is resilient. 

Here are five things I noticed about hospitality during my stay in my friend’s home:

  1. Hospitality is selfless. The family adjusted their sleeping arrangements in the tiny bedrooms so that I would be most comfortable. The fact that the door didn’t close because the foot of my roommate’s bed was in the way was irrelevant. It really was the best arrangement and they were less comfortable for it.
  2. Hospitality is sharing the fullness of self. I heard a lot of stories. These women weren’t pretending to have it all together; they were vulnerable. On the lighter side, they also shared the specialness of their culture and background.
  3. Hospitality gives space for love to grow. It doesn’t demand love or care, but it shelters a space for them to grow. Time was protected. My friend’s mother took the day off of work just because I was there. We went out for churros instead.
  4. Hospitality wants you there. I’ve both hostessed and been hostessed out of obligation, but that’s not hospitality, at least not in its fullness. On this visit, I was welcomed and I was wanted. They delighted in my presence as I did in theirs. My friend’s little boy came calling my name whenever I was out of sight: “Come play with me!”
  5. Hospitality accepts as well as gives. The family refused to let me pay for our tostadas or bus fare or anything else. But they happily accepted the gifts I had brought them. Hospitality doesn’t expect reciprocity, but it graciously receives.

How have you seen hospitality in others? Have you noticed any cultural differences? How has hospitality transcended culture, even sub-culture? What are some bits of wisdom that you have gleaned along the way? I’d love to hear and learn. 🙂

Between Spain and Spain

Last weekend, three of us went to the mountainous Spanish countryside to retreat from the normal grind of life. We drank in the green, the quiet, and space to read, write, and think. 

I knew I was still in Spain, but it looked so different from Mytown that I kept saying things like, “When I get back to Spain…” To me, Spain is noisy streets full of colorful immigrants, not silent citrus trees dotting an overgrown garden. To be in the Spanish countryside awoke longings in me that typically get silenced in the distractions of city life.

citrus trees surrounding overgrown garden

Months ago, a friend recommended the book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn R. Gardner. There, straddling those separate Spanish worlds, I figured it was as good of a time as any to start reading. 

Gardner writes, “I’ve come to realize that longing is ok as long as it does not paralyze, as long as I slowly continue to embrace the life that has been given at this time, at this moment” (Airports, par. 19).

Back in Mytown, far away from the calming Spanish countryside and even farther from my Illinois family and friends, I sometimes long for what I don’t grasp between my fingers. But will I let that longing rob me of today? Or can the far away people, places, and experiences of my life shape me into who God has called me to be where He has called me to be, right here?

What about you? Will you let your past life experiences and unfulfilled longings shape your today for the good?

It’s a choice, I think. Perhaps mixed with some trial and error. But a choice to let longing live inside of you, enriching but not robbing you.

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!

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