Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s just another day here in Spain. It’s strange celebrating holidays that aren’t celebrated in our country of residence. The world around us zips by at its normal pace while we baste a turkey or set off fireworks and grill burgers. Once, I even celebrated Christmas in North Africa. That was the strangest of all.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, so even though my team lives in Spain, we plan to celebrate. My roommate is basting the turkey as I write. The green beans and sweet potatoes are ready to cook. The pies are done. The table set.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I have an appointment at the other end of town this morning, so I won’t be around for the last minute rush before guests arrive. I’ve been delegated to pick up the rest of the wassail ingredients and new light bulbs on my way home.

But before I leave, I decided to write a few things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. A safe return to Spain last weekend
  2. Family and friends who make leaving so hard
  3. A suitcase that arrived after all
  4. Stage 1 visa paperwork handed in
  5. A smoky turkey aroma filling the apartment
  6. That despite the craziness of our world, God is in control
  7. A fluffy blond niece who asked me yesterday, “What color is your imagination?”
  8. A thrill when I think about the future and the God who holds it
  9. Freedom to get out and about even while under covid restrictions
  10. The mountains and the sea in the same view– How I missed you!

By no means is that an exhaustive list. But I wanted to give you time to write your own list. What are you thankful for?

Weddings and the Wild West

Two weddings in two weeks. Whew. They were lovely weddings. Both fairly small and fairly simple. One was a dear friend’s wedding; the other, my baby sister’s. One couple puttered away in an old car; the other roared off in a helicopter on what turned out to be an unfortunately windy day.

I helped coordinate the ceremony for one wedding and was a bridesmaid in the other. By the time both were done and we had gorged ourselves on Casey’s pizza that last Saturday night, I was ready for a change of pace.

So I headed west.

But my Wild West trip was not wild. It was hardly the West either, but even to us in Illinois, anything west of the Mississippi is pretty far west. Besides, it’s not often we Illinoisans see “Pavement ends” or “Gravel ends” signs like you see in Nebraska.

gravel ends road sign

I stayed with a dear childhood friend. We lounged, talked, read, took a snack to the church’s school, visited friends, shot a dirt pile (so, I have a ways to go yet before I’ll be hunting Bambi and Thumper), had runzas, and did oodles more things.

Nebraska runza

One of the “oodles” was a tour of a state park in Fairbury, NE built around wagon “swails” from the Oregon Trail route.

prairie grass

Later that week, the scenery on the way to Kansas was bland and comfortable. After spending the afternoon pricing books at Choice Books, another dear friend and I spent much of the weekend talking and reading in a beautiful, plant-filled apartment.

plants on window sill

We also managed to hang some lights, decorate for fall, and do a little downtown shopping… in between our lounging. 🙂

market store front

No, indeed, my Wild West trip did not turn out wild at all, but exactly, exactly as I had hoped.

Happy fall

Crisp fall air. Charcoal smoldering in a grill. A porch swing caught in a breeze, beckoning. Drying corn along quiet country roads. Baby giggles. Sun-scented laundry. Family wedding plans. Fresh clothes on happy babies. The steam of a busy iron. Ice cream rivers on shirt fronts. Late night talks. New honey. A church building smelling of Pinesol. Uncontrolled laughter. Spontaneous neighbor visits. Children’s books over and over.

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to be present in too many places to really be present anywhere at all. Ever feel that way? My blog updates probably will be scatter-brained over the next couple of months, but I’ll try to check in anyway. 🙂 Have a wonderful autumn in the meantime. 

Summer nights

It was a special night, not because of what happened but because it was. After a day of suffering inside a hot house like the rest of the town’s population, Friend #1 invited me for an afternoon coffee. When the 8:00 bus didn’t come, I started walking.

Meanwhile, Friend #2 spotted me along the boulevard and made her husband stop the car so she could dash across the crosswalk for an overdue chat.

Friend #1 opted to meet me in the park, laden with bghrir and harcha just because they’re my favorites. While we waited for other friends to join us, she complained that she had too many friends. Indeed, it took a good part of the evening just to meet up with everyone.

They talked. I mostly let the conversation swirl around me as I enjoyed the night coolness.

Then Friend #1 quietly told Friend #3 something about me. I tuned in at the sound of my name. “What did I do?”

She laughed. “I should give you another name, so you won’t know when we’re talking about you!”

“Shame on you. Don’t say that!” said Friend #3.

“I can say that to her because we’re friends.”

Although it was after 11, I stopped by the North African grocer on my way home. The clerk barely looked up from the phone teetered against the licorice containers on the high counter.

“It’s Barcelona,” he explained when I finally caught his eye. “Are you بارصاوية?” (Barsawia, or a way to ask “Are you a Barcelona soccer fan?”)

“No. Not at all. I am me.” But I smiled as I set my avocado and hot pepper on his produce scale. At the next break, he grabbed the cilantro from the fridge and gave me my total bill. But he forgot to give me the change.

As I finished the walk home in the dark, I heard someone’s shade rattle. Up or down I couldn’t tell. Mine always goes up at night to usher the fresh air inside. The neighbor’s cats crouched to flee before me, but didn’t. Their alert tails pressed the tile sidewalk.

These are the nights I’ll miss. Last summer was full of them. But this summer–tomorrow–I’m leaving for the States. My summer will be a different kind of full, but I know there will be special days–the kind that are not special because of what happened but special because they happened.


Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Made in God’s image: thoughts on sexual harassment- Part 2

Last time, I shared some of my own experience with sexual harassment, including a few of those inner reactions. If you haven’t read part 1, please do so before reading part 2. 


Regardless of how others respond to your experience, it still happened. 

SO NOW WHAT?

Gain control. 
A huge part of the emotional aftermath is due to feeling powerless. I experienced a marked difference in two street harassment encounters. After the first encounter, I didn’t even know if teammates would be on my side. The second encounter ended at the police station. Knowing that the power was indisputably on my side decreased the fear I felt on the street afterwards. 

In a case of street harassment, involve people nearby. Responding in some way as soon as possible helps alleviate the painful emotional aftermath. Don’t argue with the offender, but if you are able to, include bystanders. 

To be honest, although gaining control is one of the most important factors, I am a lame example. Often, I first respond with denial, doubting the experience is real until it is past, thus hindering my opportunity for an appropriate response. I guess I still struggle because I am still learning. 

Even if the incident is already past, take control by setting up precautions for your future self. Being passive means setting yourself up for victimization again.

“If it feels wrong, it probably is,” was some of the best advice I got when I moved to North Africa where some form of harassment was expected every time one left the house. One North African day, a rug vendor wanted to show me more of his wares. He led me to the back of the shop, to a quiet room full of rugs. My gut told me we were too alone, especially when he started making subtle preparations to keep out other customers. I thanked him for showing me his rugs and marched out of the shop, despite his protests. 

Don’t be afraid to be angry…
…but also realize that anger is often, if not always, a secondary emotion. There is still something else underneath. Give yourself time to sort out what you’re feeling and as soon as possible, take those emotions–fear, shame, vengeance or whatever else it may be– to God because He’s not afraid of what you’re feeling, even if you are.

Realize that your emotions are part of the process. 
You will face a lot of emotions, some of them unexpected. If you don’t face them head on, they will gnaw away at your sense of worth as God’s image bearer. 

After harassment incidents, I do a lot of journaling. It helps me honestly examine what I’m feeling. It launches a talk with God and prepares me to talk with a mentor. 

I was in a moderately healthy place when a follow-up incident occurred. Twenty-four hours later, I was still in turmoil when I journaled this: 

     And here I was, wishing I were not. Wishing I had the strength to say, “It is well with my soul” and feeling that anger-turning-shame…
     Shame that in my inner longings for approval, I had stumbled across a sickened version of it and should have I already slain that longing? Shame that now I was the one in the spotlight and how did this happen and could it be my fault? But it wasn’t. It isn’t…
     And where was Jesus in this picture? He was here, wrapping His arms around me when all I could do was swim through memories of past hurts and wish God would just turn men like this one into piles of ashes. I don’t know it because I felt Him there; I know it because I know it. Today that is enough.
     And as for the shame. It has a name now and soon I’ll be ready to confront it rather than live with it.

Run to your Ultimate Protector. 
After a recent incident, I was able to gain control of the situation, which ended in the man jumping off at the next bus stop, presumably in an effort to get away. I like to think so, at least. 

The next evening, I was praying about an unrelated topic when God said, “You know that man who touched you last night? I was there.” And I knew He was telling the truth. No, He hadn’t smote the offender–not then anyway. But He is the God who sees and will deal with sin in His perfect timing. 

(This is not a statement that higher earthly authorities should never be involved. In passing incidents, use discernment. In repeated or ongoing incidents, those higher earthly authorities should definitely be involved! Read Romans 13.)

Find out who you really are. 
Ask yourself: “Who am I in the eyes of God?” If you don’t strip away your pretenses before a loving and perfect Father, you most certainly will feel the additional pain as you face a world of opinions about the incident. 

After a particularly frustrating day of feeling unprotected by someone I thought should have protected me, I cried out to God in the middle of that shame and heartache. “Just tell me what to do!” I wailed. 

And He said, “You are my child.” He offered no solution to the events, but spoke to the bigger problem. I had lost grip on my intrinsic worth and instead was clinging to the lie that I wasn’t worth protecting. But He reminded me that I belonged to Him and that was enough.

Find someone who will hear without judgment. 
Find someone who will listen to your muddled thoughts and feelings and hear what’s behind all of that. If you don’t take it somewhere, it will come out, often in unexpected and uncontrolled settings. 

Make sure it is someone with whom you can be completely honest about the situation. (Note that multiple debriefings could be helpful as your emotional waves ebb and flow.) Don’t lie about your role if you had one; that doesn’t make the offender innocent. Admitting the whole truth will help you get to the root of your shame. 

Allow for repentance. 
Is the offender truly sorry and truly repentant? I’m not talking about an “I’m sorry” to please authorities, but a humble apology and a true life change. Forgive. Don’t hold on to it. You will probably have to do this many times. But do it. Don’t let his or her power hover over you when you can be free.

However, there is no biblical basis that forgiveness looks like trust. Trust must be earned, not offered indiscriminately. If you have been sexually harassed by this person, in most cases, it’s okay to stay away or make them stay away from you, even if you have forgiven. 

Let God be Lord of your sexuality. 
You are a sexual being. God created you that way. And remember, He said “very good.” But in my experience as a single (especially in a culture where women are particularly vulnerable), sexuality feels more like a burden than a blessing. Something I need to hide and control rather than a gift to express. 

There was a moment after many of the aforementioned incidents that I felt the invitation to surrender my sexuality and I saw the outstretched arms of Jesus, glad to embrace me. There was instant relief when I thought of Him piloting my sexuality. I felt safe. Like that part of me was no longer my enemy. 

This has not been a once-and-done surrender, but no longer do I fight the enemy alone in this area of my life. 

In surrender, there is freedom. Surrendering your sexuality might feel restrictive, but true freedom is being restricted in certain areas to enjoy fullness in others. Rather than being a slave, it is being a child of God and living in the fullness of that relationship. As a child, you give up the right to govern your own life or “call the shots.” Yet, the richness of sonship is so much better than living in the “freedom” of going your own way and finding you are a slave after all. 

CONCLUSION

I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about this topic. I write from my limited experience. I don’t respond well each time. Sometimes, it’s hard to forgive. Sometimes, I’m still surprised by the spectrum of emotions an incident will elicit– all of the way from pleasure to disgust. 

Yet, I can cling to the truth that I am “very good” and when someone tries to diminish that value in the form of sexual harassment, it is not okay with me because it’s not okay with God. 

May you cling to that truth as well. God made you in His image. That heavy load of shame you’ve been carrying? That isn’t yours to carry anymore. Unpack it, hurt through it, but ultimately leave at the feet of the One who has already carried it for you. And He did because you, His child, are worth that much.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Tonight, I flew

The week began with the bus radio blaring, “I want to get away; I want to fly away.”

That day, I got away over café coffee and the chilly breeze sailing through the hollow bus station. But tonight, I flew. 

After two months in lockdown, was I ready to function in normal life? In another language? Another culture? I had my doubts. 

Ready or not, an Eid invitation came late last night. Even though I hadn’t fasted for the month of Ramadan, I was still invited to celebrate the end of it.

I had already eaten lunch when I arrived at five. That didn’t stop friends from heaving a giant platter of couscous onto the table. “Eat!”

I had missed their sense of humor and practicality–pieces of shared life that feels second-hand over whatsapp. There was too much to catch up on to waste time fussing about cultural propriety; I ended up just being me, fumbling language and all. 

We changed houses partway through the evening and ate again, a snack consisting mostly of sugar, white flour, caffeine, and grease. I did little piggies up and down little girl toes and taught the nose-rubbing “Eskimo kiss.” We dressed up, took pictures, laughed, talked, spilled juice, and cleaned up. The conversation that teased the deep part of our hearts was worth this sugar mania that is lasting past midnight. 

Snack was finished by 10, just in time for a phone call from North Africa that caught me broom in hand. Friends just checking in. 

I walked 45 minutes home with a burr in my sock, sticky but happy. So happy, in fact, that after waving good night to the neighbor watching TV in his garage, I bounded up the two flights of stairs to our apartment. 

Why is it that some days take the breath out of you and leave you with a stunning piece of life instead? It’s not the moments themselves that are stunning, but the steady tick-tock of a day held in God’s hand. 

And, yes, I brushed my teeth and took a melatonin. Good night!

An Illinois New Year

I could rave about my wonderful time in the States. I could post oodles of pictures that prove I have the cutest nieces and nephews in the world. (And I do, by the way. Don’t try to argue.)

It was wonderful: a belated Christmas celebration, lots of food, church and friend fellowship, a helicopter ride, little people love, morning talks at the breakfast table, evening talks snuggled in fat couches, warmth, dryers, carpet, etc.

But the truth is, it’s also good to be back in Spain. It has taken a full week of not-so-good days to be able to say that. 

I watched my friend frying donuts by the dying daylight. The banished cat made a puff of white against the patio door with each complaint. We ignored him. The air was heavy with the spitting oil when my friend asked about my trip to America. 

“Wonderful” didn’t suffice. Both the warm fuzzies and tears were part of the wonderfulness.

So I told her and she listened.

In that sacred moment, my two worlds married, reminding me that who I am in America is who I am in Spain too. 

A little of nothing

It’s one of those “Oh, it’s Thursday!” days.

“What should I write about on my blog?” I asked my roommate as I mopped the floor.

“I don’t know. Guys hitting on you? Buying fabric at the market today?”

Neither topic really inspires me to write. Although, please note, that when you’re trying to find good deals at the market, GO WHERE THE NORTH AFRICANS ARE. Not one or two, but LOTS. When they crowd around a booth, it’s bound to be a juicy find. Of course, you may have to elbow your way in to see what it is, elbow your way to the vendor to pay, and then elbow your way back out. You’ll have to decide whether or not it’s worth it.

I’ve almost finished Christmas shopping. I shouldn’t have bought much since our family has a simplified version of Christmas this year… but the babies! All seven of them! Nephews and nieces all need a little love from Spain.

Speaking of Christmas, my roommate is trying to turn my life into a Hallmark movie. I’ve assured her that whatever corny plot she dreams up has already been filmed. She says it doesn’t matter because repetition fits the Hallmark genre. Who am I to contend with truth?

Did I tell you that I have a ticket for a short trip back to Illinois over the New Year? If you want to see me, come find me. I’ll be holding a baby.

I guess I could write about how I bought three kilos of rice yesterday, or met four new ladies this week and ended up with three invitations, how I changed my diet in an attempt to battle fatigue, how I’m still wavering between chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon rolls to make for friends for Christmas, or who to share Christmas with this year.

But nah, that’s all for today. I’ll try to do better next week.

Finally in Granada

“It’s just so close. I want to see some of the cities that are farther away now because I know I’ll see Granada some day.”

That’s what I said until someone told me that I was being so pokey that I probably would never see Granada after all.

He was right, I realized. And when I realized it, I organized a group of Granada-bound ladies. (“Organized,” as in, “sent out a message in a whatsapp group chat.”)

And we went! Granada is subject to higher temperature extremes than the coast. So we bundled up in scarves and gloves and inch-thick socks, printed off our Alhambra tickets, and started out far too early one Wednesday morning.

Below are photos from the Alhambra, the Cathedral of Granada, and on the streets of Granada.

(Disclaimer: I realize that my pictures look like every other tourist’s pictures of Granada… except maybe lesser quality. We were standing outside the Alhambra and I snapped a picture on my Canon, only to discover that my SD card was still stashed in my laptop’s card reader at home. So I hauled around a pointless camera all day and took sub-par pictures on my phone. Lesson learned, I hope.)

No one understands me!

Do you ever feel misunderstood? Like the big, bad world is judging you by circumstance with no desire to understand your motive?

The truth is, we can never understand each other. Not fully. We have tools, like personality tests, that, on their best days, help us offer grace when we don’t understand each other. Living together helps too. But we just don’t quite get each other. Even those people who confidently nod and give you a smug smile when you do something predictable.

You’re not the only one who feels misunderstood. Ask God about that. He even had His people write about it in the Psalms and later in Romans. 

“The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

(Ps. 14:2-3.)

“…as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”

(Romans 3:10-11)

We humans, in our fallen brokenness cannot fully fathom a holy God. So, if anyone is allowed to complain about being misunderstood, it is God. 

Because, guess what else. You are understood. By the One who is least understood. He has searched and known you and discerned your thoughts from afar. He is acquainted with all of your ways. You cannot speak without Him knowing exactly what you will say. (Ps. 139:1-4)

You are understood. May that knowledge be too wonderful to wrap your mind around! (Ps. 139:6)