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

Mural: Living with science

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I collected photos of murals as I prayer walked Mytown this spring.

Some of the murals were funny. Some were really odd. But then there were those that made me stop and wonder: What was the artist trying to say?

Over the next couple of months, I’ll share some of the murals with you. You can wonder with me or leave an interpretation in the comments below.

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the tiles and a few other things about Spain

#1

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the tiles. If you live in a town with tiled sidewalks, you probably know what I mean. Tiled sidewalks are great as long as none of the tiles are loose. And even loose tiles are okay as long as it doesn’t rain.  

It rains. Then the sun begins to shine and a smiling you decides to go for a walk to enjoy the fresh air. You’re in high gear when it gets you: that warm splash up your ankle and along your hem. Sigh. That tippy tile was hiding a puddle of rainwater. Rainwater that had been flowing along a filthy street. 

There are some streets that I avoid after a rain because to walk along them is to feel the ground moving beneath you and hungry waves of brown water lapping your ankles. Most rainy days (and even 1-2 days afterwards) I long for drab concrete sidewalks with obvious puddles rather than the noble but surprising tile ones. 

#2

Most Spanish balconies have water spouts and people use them as they wash down their balconies. Beware, pedestrians below! Those of you who live in the city probably know what I mean, but balcony water spouts were a new concept to this country girl.

After the Saharan dust storms in March, everyone was splashing water on everything. At times, the streets flowed with orange water. My neighbor tossed a bucket at his balcony wall and seconds later heard a shout from below. Oops, he had nailed a passerby.

I think the proper etiquette is to check for any passersby before starting the flow. After that, they’ve been warned by the growing puddle on the sidewalk below the spout and if they’re unaware enough to walk within reach of your balcony spout, then that’s their problem, not yours. 

And, for the record, yes, I still get dripped on every now and then. And I just hope… hope that it was a harmless drip from someone’s squeaky clean mop bucket. 

#3

Some Spaniards set plastic water jugs on the sidewalks outside of their homes, often fastened to something with string or rope. The bottles are filled with liquid, sometimes clear, sometimes amber.

I have noticed this for years and finally asked my landlady about it. She acted like she’d never even noticed this strange habit. So I did a little research and found that the water bottles are supposed to scare away pets and stray animals from peeing in doorways or sidewalks in front of homes. Whether or not it works is up for debate, but it’s still widely practiced here. 

#4

I’m not sure what northern or central Spanish flies are like, but the ones on the coast have the ability to drive sane people mad (at least temporarily).

The lesser flies aren’t so bad, the ones that zip in jerky patterns in the center of the room and never seem to land. But the ones that I pick up by walking down the street can get my blood to a rolling boil in no time at all. 

They don’t leave me alone. I might only pick up one or two on my walk, but they follow me no matter how fast I walk. It’s like they believe they’ve found a friend and want to stick by my side–or on my nose–for the duration of my trip. I swat one away and walk a few meters, imagining that I have left him in the dust and suddenly he’s on my ear this time. The next time it’s my nose again. And then my chin. And I want to sprint down the street screaming bloody murder.

Would it hurt Spain to invest in some good ol’ American flies? Not that I ever liked American flies either, but they seem to respect boundaries a little better than coastal Spanish flies.

#5

Pepper spray is apparently only available on the black market. 

One day, I went to the police station to ask, “What can a woman in Spain do to protect herself?”

The officer’s eyebrows raised. He tried to explain how citizens were not allowed to bear arms. (Maybe I’m imagining things, but he seemed to emphasize this point when he realized I was American.)

“What about pepper spray?” I asked. 

“It’s only available on the black market.” He shrugged. Then he gave me a lecture about matching the defense with the assault. 

Right. “So how can a woman protect herself?” I repeated. 

“We are your protection.” 

“But you weren’t there when I needed help,” I pointed out. 

He sighed in assent and was quiet for a little. “Then what you need to do is report the incident.”

Right. But no pepper spray.


Well, those are a few things about life here. If you come for a visit, watch out for those loose tiles, dripping balcony spouts, plastic water bottles, pesky flies and, oh, BYOPS (bring your own pepper spray). 

Have a wonderful weekend!

Why not the shepherds?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Luke 2:8-20)


Photo by Pawan Sharma on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the dentist

Some people love visiting their healthcare providers. They set up appointments at every chance, willing their hypochondria to be confirmed… if not here, then there. 

I’m a hypochondriac too. If I get some belly flab, I write it up to a tumor. A sensitive tooth– an impending root canal. But my branch of hypochondria avoids doctors at all costs.

One of my nurse friends (yes, I have several, which is unfortunate for them when I seek advice for random ailments) laughs at me because I always preface an advice request with, “Don’t tell me to go to the doctor.”

In healthcare, the firsts are the scariest because I know the invasive scrutiny of my various and sundry body parts will only confirm my worst fears.

My first dentist experience was terrifying. My teeth are bad and I was already imagining myself in dentures.

“I don’t want any major work that isn’t necessary,” I squeaked as they herded me into the panoramic x-ray room. I tried to explain the history of my teeth as the dentist spun her little mirror around in my mouth. Then, the hygienist cleaned my teeth while I cringed and balked and kept imagining dentures.

“See you in a year!” 

What? Dentists never said that.

I have a hunch that in Spain they aren’t as picky about perfect smiles as they are in America. (I was the one who suggested I get a check-up and cleaning every six months instead of the recommended year.)

So that first is done. Two years later, I love my dentist and even though I discovered they don’t accept my new insurance, no way am I changing dentists. No way. Huh-uh. At least not until I get a little braver.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Transitioning with olives

All I wanted to do was buy olives. It was the perfect idea to reward myself with a short walk to the store between secretarial tasks. The weather was full of gentle Mediterranean breezes and I loved walking. Then why was I suddenly anxious?

What should I wear? Some of my clothes were stored in boxes. Others were stashed in suitcases, ready to make the final leg of the journey to the States. Somehow the outfit I had on no longer matched. The shades of blue were all wrong.

“Trish,” I reasoned with myself. “This outfit was perfectly fine before.” But not now. Not in Europe. Not in public. I changed and then changed back when the second option felt even worse.

How do I say olive in Spanish? Olive? No, that’s French. Zitun? That’s Arabic. Why can’t I remember my Spanish anymore? Should I take my own bag or do stores give out plastic bags? I can’t remember. What were they doing the last time I was here? Where did I even put my shopping bags?

Why is this so hard?

I didn’t want to take that short walk anymore. Every decision looked big. Nothing was familiar. I battled my anxiety all the way to the store. I felt everyone’s eyes on me. Am I even walking down the right street? Why is that car stopping for me? Thank you, sir! No, don’t wave at him; you’ll look even more like a stupid foreigner. You’re in Europe now.

Transition. Have I exaggerated my trip to the store? Yes. But the exaggeration was in reality, not in what I just wrote. It sounds ridiculous to say that I almost panicked at the thought of buying olives. But transition is hard because nothing is familiar. Everything requires extra thought and effort. No matter how insignificant, every decision feels big.

I am not the only one who feels the pressure of transition. Maybe everyone else I know can confidently buy olives, but there are different responses to transition. And there are different types of transition. Do you know of someone whose spouse has passed away? Someone who has lost a dear friendship? Someone who has moved to a different community?

Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re feeling a bit like me right now, or worse. Whether it is you or someone else, give that person time to grieve and transition. Remember that we are not alone. There are others who understand… especially the “man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3).

The hand

You said:
“Come to me and I will give you rest.”

But the sea trembles beneath my feet
And my midnight fear is blacker
Than churning waters or the sky above.

Lord, is it to you I stumble
Or just a ghost after all?

Inky waves climb to consume me.
Struggle fuels the water to tie its noose
Around my brittle neck.
Driving rain ignites my gasping face,
Joining the freefall of tears.

“Lord?”

A lightning stroke reveals the outstretched hand
That I never looked up to notice.

Life is too much

This morning I woke up early but chose not to get out of bed. The fan’s consistent hum soothed me as my mind wandered over the past week… and then the coming week.

As I lay there, suddenly I was terrified by the sensation that life was too much for me. I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t overcome the obstacles in my course.

The panicky taste lingered as all of my challenges and problems heaped up in front of me and dared me to climb. I only wanted to run away. Until I remembered that greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4).

Hungry or not, here I come

How exactly does a one hour tutoring lesson turn into eight hours? Simple: I agreed to stay for lunch.

It was my first day of tutoring. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how the protective father would view my method of teaching his 5-year-old son.

Exactly ½ hour before we had agreed to meet, the father came to pick me up.

He took me to his house where I met his family, extended family, the maid, and of course, his son. After a long conversation–some of it typed in google translate–we had breakfast (their first; my second). Then I spent exactly one hour teaching and reviewing with the little boy.

“Will you stay for lunch?”

Noting the family sitting around the salon table, I agreed. But I soon realized that I wasn’t sitting down to lunch; this was pre-lunch! After two breakfasts, I was expected to fill up on bread, cookies, and tea and then eat lunch a little while thereafter.

When we finally did get lunch around 3:00 p.m., it was several courses: a salad followed by a beef and plum dish with another salad on the side, and then a huge chicken stuffed with vermicelli noodles and resting on a bed of rice. Everything was eaten with bread.

And all of the while, if I wasn’t reaching my hand into the platter, I was being told to do so. “Eat! Eat! Please eat!” The extended family kept a calculation of how much I ate while persistently informing me that it was not enough. We finished with luscious fruits for dessert, of which I was too full to enjoy.

This story has no moral, except not to take a tutoring job if you’re on a diet!