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

Getting ready for summer heat

Maybe you live in a climate-controlled house. But just in case you don’t, here are a few tips to beat the summer heat. These are ideas I picked up from summers in Mexico, Phoenix, North Africa, and Spain. Thank you to anyone who has contributed to this list over the years.

  • Keep the sun out of the house; shut the blinds.
  • Chill your water before drinking it (a no-brainer for North Americans).
  • Stay hydrated. Infuse that cold water with exciting things to keep you drinking. I learned about cucumbers in Phoenix.
  • Eat cold salads, smoothies, hummus, and fresh veggies.
  • Make popsicles or freeze yogurt for afternoon snacks.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible during the hottest parts of the day. Plan your adventures before the sun comes up or after it goes down.
  • Slip a flexible ice pack into a pillow case or towel and curl it around your neck or set your wrists on it. (I currently have three of these waiting in my freezer.)
  • Put your feet in a bucket of cold water. This was often my last resort when I lived in North Africa, those sizzling summer days when even thinking was impossible.
  • If you have a good water supply, shower multiple times a day–cold! If you’re too chicken to willingly shower cold, unplug your water heater. 🙂
  • Wash your hair often, or at least rinse it. In Phoenix, I came home dripping with sweat every day after class. Cold water over my head cooled me down to a liveable internal temperature.
  • Keep a spray bottle handy to spray yourself while you sit in front of a fan.
  • Wet your pajamas in the shower and wring them out before crawling into bed in front of a fan. (This worked for a decent night of sleep on those stuffy Mexican nights.)
  • Drape a wet towel over yourself at night.
  • Use a fan in the window overnight to bring in as much cool, night air in as you can. Cool air + fan white noise = decent night of summer sleep.

Have you tried some of these ideas? Do you have more ideas to add to the list? If so, leave them 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!

You killed the Christ

On a recent read through the book of Acts, I was startled by the apostles’ boldness. “You killed the Christ,” they told their audience more than once.

The varying responses to this claim are fascinating.

Peter gave his famous sermon at Pentecost which ended with “…this Jesus whom you crucified” (2:36). The response of his listeners? “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (2:37). They were cut to the heart. Convicted. And they wanted to know the steps to restoration.

Later, Peter and John made a similarly blunt claim (4:10). Their boldness astonished the religious leaders, who told them not to talk about Jesus anymore (4:18). Shhh. Now, just run along and don’t disturb the peace.

But the apostles didn’t stop being bold, which landed them in prison. “…you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us,” complained the high priest (5:28). But the apostles answered with yet another claim that the leaders had killed Jesus “by hanging on a tree” (5:30). When the council heard this, they were so angry that they wanted to kill the apostles (5:33).

Then courageous Stephen proclaimed before his accusers, “…the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered…” (7:52).

But by now, the religious leaders had had enough. “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (7:54). And then they stoned him to death.

Each time the apostles spoke these words, their hearers had the chance to respond to the burn of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Some were cut to the heart. Some tried to quench the Spirit’s voice. Some were enraged, gnashed their teeth, and murdered.

What about me? What about you? How do we respond to conviction?


Photo by Henrique Jacob on Unsplash

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

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

Worship in routine

Last week, a friend told me that she wants her appearance to reflect who she is on the inside, to reflect her inner value and worth as the Holy Spirit’s dwelling place (1 Cor. 6:19). Hmm. That’s good, I think as I lounge in my sweatpants and dirty socks and, oh, oatmeal still between my teeth from breakfast.

I’ve been struggling with the elbow grease of my friend’s realization before she even sent that message. See, I hate getting out of bed in the morning. No, it’s not depression; it’s because my morning routine takes too long, a chunk of seemingly misused time. The world is going up in flames and I’m making my bed and starting the tea kettle and washing my face. And, goodness, what should I wear?

These small tasks don’t feel useless, per se, but of such triviality that it’s irritating how they eat up my morning. They are necessary and I do them, but they feel to me like wood, hay, and stubble. Bedtime is even worse because I have to undo what took me so long to do in the morning plus I’m sleepy and *gasps* grumpy.

WHEN WE GET TO ETERNITY, IS GOD GOING TO CALL US TO ACCOUNT FOR WEARING DIRTY SOCKS? That’s what I want to shout sometimes.

In 2020, I read and recommended Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. “[M]y theology was too big to touch a typical day in my life,” she writes (p. 55). Trim my fingernails? God’s not going to call me to account for that either. I want to do the big things, the kingdom work.

Warren challenged me to view my routines as sacred and meaningful, part of the abundant life that Jesus has for me (p. 22) “How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life” (p. 24). And that includes my attitude. “The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines” (p. 34) because, according to Warren, that is where we can truly start the revolution we’re dreaming of (see Lk. 16:10).

So, God might not call me to account for my dirty socks or overflowing dish drainer, yet, that doesn’t make me unaccountable for how I treat God’s temple (my body) and the gifts He has freely given me. 

As I type out these thoughts, I interrupt myself for a shower, to heat a bowl of soup, and yes, to empty that overflowing dish drainer. It doesn’t feel worshipful, especially when I find a spoon that still has dried bean broth on it. 

But maybe I’m looking at it backwards. Like my friend, I think I should start by reclaiming my motivation and letting my life–even those mundane fingernail clippings and bed makings–come out of that motivation in something like a sweet-smelling savor of worship.


Photo by Nick Page on Unsplash

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.

Belonging where I thought I’d never be

Today marks a year in Mytown. One whole year. I baked cookies for my landlord this morning and she gawked at me. “One year already?” I’ve always been here, I think. And yet with every past event, why is there that conflicting perception of time? My years in North Africa and Immigrantville have faded into black and white mental photographs unless I pause long enough to remember them. 

Today, I paused over some ISU memories.

When I heard about the study abroad program in Andalusia, Spain, I wasn’t interested. I was heading to the southern border, not overseas. I tilted my college projects, volunteer hours, and self study toward my goal. 

Within my program, there was a clear divide between those who had studied abroad and those who had not, the “in” and “out” groups (as much as students are “in” and “out” at state universities). Those who had studied abroad re-lived their together memories and savored their “thaythayo” (what to the rest of us just sounded like a bad lisp).

Latin America was my first love and always will be. First loves don’t change. But they lose a bit of their potency when you fall in love again. And I have. This time, ironically, with Andalusia.

How did that even happen?

The other night, I met a Peruvian lady in the park. I delighted in her gentle Spanish and warm, generous culture. A year ago, that interaction would have stirred in me a longing for where I was not. But now?

I could spiritualize this. I could say that God has tuned my heart to contentment, even if my life isn’t what I had pictured. But that isn’t true, at least not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

My acceptance of where I am right now is more about familiarity, belonging.

Years ago, I found my place in Latino culture. I never planned to rupture that sense of familiarity, safety, and home. But then I moved to Andalusia where the blend of cultures in this huge immigrant community reinforced my outsider complex; it showed me my “un”– how un-Andalusian and how un-North African I was. How “un” everyone else around me.

But time marched on, as it usually does. I began to taste the many flavors of my community and realized that I simultaneously do and don’t fit in on account of my being different, just like everyone else. 

The blend of us–Spaniards, North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans, Pakistanis, Russians, Romanians, South Americans, Chinese (to name the most prominent)–can be overwhelming sometimes, but each culture adds a subtle note that the community would miss were it not there.

On Sunday, three of us neighbors stood in a neighbor’s kitchen, chatting about our far away families. I belonged just as much as they did. And this belonging is my new familiarity.

No, my life is not what I had expected, but I can say that it is essentially what I had hoped for.

So today marks one year in Mytown and more than four years in Andalusia. I cradle this fragile bit of geographical belonging in my hands and am grateful. God has given me this earthly gift not to distract me from Him, but to direct me to His heart where I find belonging that will “belong” me no matter where I am in the world.

To thine own self be true: introverts overseas (part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1, please do that before embarking on this ship of rambling thought.


Even after recognizing that I was equipped for my calling, I could not reconcile how I could be authentically me when much of my work required extroversion. We have all heard the mantra “Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do,” implying that those things are the best things after all, a sort of taking up of our ascetic cross. But is this the answer? Is long-term ignoring of self what God expects of me? And why would God call me to be someone He hadn’t created me to be?

Years ago, a friend recommended Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) by Susan Cain. Cain claims that introverts need to take Shakespeare’s advice of “To thine own self be true.” In a culture or workplace that demands extroversion, that seems to leave only two options: become someone you aren’t or resign. In other words,  live a lie or remain inflexibly yourself. 

When I am inflexibly “true to self” in the context of ministry, I require those I am trying to serve to climb over the wall that I have been called to climb over, essentially boiling ministry down to my needs. Although I prefer to think of my personality inflexibility as “authenticity,” sometimes it’s plain old selfishness. Or worse, disobedience.

So what is the answer? I kept reading. Although Quiet is not written from a Christian perspective, I plugged away, chapter by chapter, hoping to find a ray of light. Then: lightbulb! Cain reconciled my Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde musings with one concept: the pseudo-self.

Introverts acting like someone they are not–what Cain calls acting within the “pseudo-self”–should not be labeled as inauthenticity when it is done “in the service of love or a professional calling” (Quiet, p. 210). When we see and serve the bigger picture, we can also see that acting within our pseudo-selves is a different form of being true to self.

For example, that introverted social advocate who occasionally needs to get loud and aggressive with her adversary is able to step into her pseudo-self because doing so serves the work she believes in. For me, it could be attending a North African party (I really hate those) to show my support for a friend. Or knocking on doors and passing out literature because–although I am quivering inside–I know my work contributes to the bigger vision.

As important as a pseudo-self may be, we introverts risk burnout unless we intentionally step back into our own skin and offer the world the gift of our introversion. Introverts and extroverts may have many of the same traits, but a few come more naturally for introverts. Most of us love deep relationships. We carve out time for reflection that helps our personal growth and our work performance. We’re okay with that behind-the-scenes work if it’s for a good cause. We are in tune to others’ feelings and adjust our approach accordingly. We attract the other introverts in whatever culture we live in, calling them forth with our quiet rather than plastering them to a wall with our charisma. 

This list is not exhaustive, of course. And of course, we have plenty of our weaknesses too. But I’m learning to notice my gifts instead of drooling over the fence on the green, extroverted grass. Because, really, for the sake of our callings there are times when both sides–introverts and extroverts–need to step over that fence and draw from the strengths of the other side.

Sure, I still sometimes wish I were an extrovert. And there are times I feel inauthentic when I run on adrenaline to act like one. But when I focus on God and what He has called me to, operating temporarily within my pseudo-self is not a display of hypocrisy, but an expression of love.

Note: Recently, A Life Overseas published a blog on the same topic. Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one who took almost a decade to get around to this book. Some of what I say in Part 1 and Part 2 overlaps with Craig Thompson’s post, but go there too, because it’s worth a read. 

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you! Maybe you would even like to guest blog a part 3…