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

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

Pride and apathy

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 wish I knew you

Maybe you think I don’t notice that bruise on half your face. You light the room with a smile and a dignified calm.

But I wish I could grab him by the throat and not let go until I know that he will never touch you again.

Except with love.

But how can I know unless you tell me? And how can you tell me unless you trust me? And how can you trust me when you just met me and he calls your phone and you need to go before we even know each other?

We say goodbye with an embrace, two kisses, and a few besides.

Then I stand and watch you walk away, wishing I knew the you behind that sparkling smile. 

And that black eye.


Photo by mostafa meraji 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

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