A different world: another quick update

Besides deliveries, the doorbell has rung only once or twice since March 15. Last night, it rang.

I answered the door. The neighbor girl beamed up at me, her fuzzy pigtails sticking straight out from her head: a North African Pippi Longstocking. Adorable. 

“This is for you. My mom made it.” She thrust out a plate with two orange wedges of dessert, probably on the menu for the night’s breaking of the fast. 

She continued to beam while we chatted. Last week, when I took chocolate cupcakes to her door, she gasped and did a little dance. Now she was delighting my day as I had delighted hers. That’s why she was beaming.

Indeed, it was delightful to chat with her before she marched across the hall with a cheerful “¡Adiós!”

This morning, the world feels different than it has in months. There was abundant life.  And cars everywhere. I was hesitant to make them stop for me at the crosswalks… or, if I’m honest, maybe partially afraid that they were out of practice stopping for pedestrians.

Many businesses are back, not to full capacity, but back. I grinned as I passed a café. Andalusians are loud when they’re in a pile. Now imagine them sitting several meters apart in the cafés. 

But the throbbing of their voices is the heartbeat of a town that’s beginning to live again.

Together and separate: a quick update

It was almost 11 p.m. on Saturday evening. 

Below me rang voices of a family celebrating the close of a day long fast. Day 2 of Ramadan. 

Beside them was the bouncing of a hollow ball against concrete walls and ceiling and the laughter from a family typically strained, but not tonight.

Beside me, just across the thin wall I heard the steady swish of a paint roller in time with thumping background music. 

This is Spain during lockdown where we all do life so close together and yet so separately. 

Spain is slightly smaller than the state of Texas, although much more populated. There have been 223,759 reported cases as I write this and 22,902 deaths. Are the news reports exaggerated? Possibly. It’s not my place to make uneducated calls. What I do know is that the level of news validity doesn’t ease the pain or fear of the sick and their families. For this, the nation mourns. 

Simultaneously, we are tired of our houses. Part of me loves the quiet aloneness, but the other part of me is starving for any kind of human interaction. I am tired of staring at screens; regardless, they are my main connection to the outside world. Sometimes, I think I’m going crazy, not from boredom but from being with myself and no one else for too long. 

Maybe that’s not such a strange place to be after 6 whole weeks at home and 2 more to go. 

As I write this on Sunday morning, I hear a few children pass by on the street below. Today is the first day that children are allowed to go outside for 1 whole hour. We’re grateful that the most deprived (and most energetic) demographic has a chance to get some outside air in their lungs. Their voices bring delicious life to our neighborhood. (A friend laughingly offered to loan me one of her daughters so I would have an excuse to get out too!)

And this evening, maybe I’ll see a few neighbors when the neighborhood steps out on their balconies and roofs to applaud healthcare workers and listen to our local violinist.

Single and overseas- Part 2

This is a continuation from Part 1. If you haven’t read that part yet, please do before starting here.

I’m writing about singleness. However, I don’t particularly like to be singled out (pun intended) for my marital status, either for the good or the bad. Calling attention to singleness in juxtaposition to marriage breaks my internal concept of community. Not that we can’t intentionally fellowship with those of the same marital status, but when we start “us”ing and “them”ing, we lose the value of others’ perspectives.

Yes, I’m single and singleness, like any other status in life, has pros and cons. So could we talk about the pros and cons as if we’re talking about life rather than opposite sides? (Note to self!)

Despite the trials of any marital status, marriage and singleness each come with a healthy dose of blessing. (Other statuses come with blessings too, but another day, another time, another blogger.)

We should never resent each other for enjoying our blessings. 

I have been there: that twinge of resentment while watching a husband and wife share a look with layers that no one else understands. Loneliness crashes over me as I momentarily want–no, crave–that same level of companionship.

If I resent others their blessings, I shouldn’t freely enjoy my own blessings. If I resent the mother who tucks in her footie-pajama-ed children with Goodnight, Moon and then crawls into bed next to her warm husband, then neither should I enjoy my uninterrupted nights of sleep or the freedom to read late into the night without the light bothering anyone. Neither should I enjoy the spur of the moment trip to who-knows-where without packing diapers, changes of miniature clothing, and a pack-and-play. Neither should I enjoy… Well, you get the point. Go make your own list. 

Instead of resentment, I want enjoyment of the blessings of my today calling. And one step further: I want to encourage others to enjoy their blessings, regardless of their marital status.

The truth is that it’s hard to step into someone else’s perspective. We will probably never quite “get” each other unless we’ve been there. And even then…

Yes, all of us want to be known and understood, but I wonder, in those times we don’t understand, if extended grace can be just as beautiful as empathy.

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.

Birth day celebrations

I have never shared my birthday month with any of my family members… until this year.  And I am ecstatic to welcome a little niece and extra-little twin nephews born two days apart (with my birthday sandwiched between them)!

newborn girl with big eyes wrapped in hospital blanket

Welcome, darling little Joanna Evelyn. May your life be full of joy, zest for life, and a deep friendship with your big sister. I don’t have to meet you in person to fall in love.

baby boy in hospital bed

Welcome, Alex Robert. May your world keep getting bigger and bigger as you grow. May you find love to be unconditional and joy to be an abundant gift. I love you already.

baby boy with tubes in hospital bed

And welcome, Bennett Richard. You’re still so tiny, but may you continue growing and learning. May you learn to savor God’s blessings in your little life. I love you.

Goodbye for keeps

The living room was a disaster of misplaced everything. As if an unsupervised 1-year-old had been unleashed. Indeed, he had. After he  yanked the tablecloth off the coffee table, he came over for a hug and tickles. But he squirmed away when he glimpsed his juice box. Now was as good of a time as any to squirt the remaining contents onto the table and floor. 

But my mind was elsewhere and so was his mother’s. It was our last evening together before they moved away. Our last talk face-to-face. 

We were both pleased by the prospect of a promising future for the little family, but also stunned that this moment was a last. Our last conversation parked on our stained living room couches. The last time I could grin at her as I heaped her plate higher than she wanted. “Eat! Eat!” But she ate every bite of couscous tonight despite the protest that she wasn’t hungry. And she made a dent in the chocolate cupcakes I had made just for her. The ones with cream cheese in the center. 

Her son bit the couch cover with a mouthful of chocolate and left a reminder that I would have to scrub out later.

We both hated goodbyes. We talked about the past, the future, black magic, God’s power over Satan, and how God’s power is available to us. She let me pray for her–a long prayer in the name of Jesus. 

A spoon dropped over and over onto the accommodating tile until I realized the neighbors below might care and snatched up both little boy and spoon. He giggled as I tipped him upside down.

“I allow very few people to enter my heart, and you are one of them,” she said.

We didn’t cry as we hugged goodbye. Neither did I cry as I scrubbed at the stubborn chocolate stains and wiped up sticky juice puddles. Goodbye was too final to sink in. 

It still is.


Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Overseas aunting

Family is such a part of who I have grown up to be that leaving home was like ripping out part of my inner being. Especially when I think of the little nieces and nephews who may never even know me well. They are the ones who don’t understand why they receive lots of cuddles one day and the next day  I’m gone.

Overseas aunting stinks. 

I miss birthday parties, new words, and pretty much everything else. And I become known as the person who talks to them on the screen. (Which they love because sometimes they get to hold the phone.) I read them books (especially when Albert and Clark beg for “more books!”). And I quiz them, “Where is Carissa’s hair? There it is! Where is Carissa’s nose?” We play hide and seek with a stuffed kitty. 

There is nothing quite like little people in your own family, knowing that their blood is also partly your blood. Knowing that they might have poor eyes or be tall just because it’s in the family.

But there is also something beautiful about being removed from a family–utterly alone in a great big world of strangers–that makes me open up my heart a little wider and allow for a broader definition of family. It may not be quite the same, but it’s still beautiful when:

  • I meet a friend at the market and look down to see her little girl throwing her arms open to receive me
  • A three-year-old invites me over for the evening
  • I wipe away toddler tears as I head for the door
  • Little children tell me stories like I’m an important part of their life
  • A one-year-old gives an excited “Ooh! Ooh!” when he sees me coming
  • Little people want me to babysit them
  • And…
  • And…
  • And…

And one day, my friend’s almost-two-year-old called me “auntie.” I couldn’t stop smiling all day because it felt like God had given me back a piece of the preciousness I’m missing at home. 


Photo by Krzysztof Hepner on Unsplash

When will summer come?

One of these days summer will come. I’m not talking about the heat; I’m talking about the time. Summer is the season I have been holding out for in the crazy March, April, May, saying, “During summer, I will finally get to this or that.” I had a list of goals: learn how to sew better, develop materials for an English curriculum, refresh my Arabic, houseclean, and other noble goals like that.

It’s July, but I’m still waiting, thinking that summer and its abundance of time must begin soon.

In the meantime, life is full. Full of time with friends. Visits. Meeting new babies, both here and via WhatsApp. Appointments. Meetings. And even a chance to be a witness for my friend’s paperwork-only wedding at the mosque.

Maybe I need to redefine “summer.” Instead of labeling it as “extra time,” I should just label it as “life.” “Life” is a more realistic expectation anyway.

Life and smelly summer laundry.

Reluctance and gratitude

9:30. All I wanted to do was get ready for bed and curl up with a book for an hour or two.

My phone buzzed. It was my friend: “My son is sick. I have to take him to the ER but I can’t go alone.”

“He’s sick? What does he have?” My mind was spinning with ways to get out of her indirect request. I’d had enough experiences with friends using the ER for an easy prescription for medication. Queasy stomachs, aching wrists, stuffy noses.

“He’s had diarrhea since yesterday. That is not good at all. It takes all of the liquids out of his body.”

I imagined myself tromping 40 minutes across town to sit in the stuffy ER full of others with similarly unimpressive diseases. I didn’t want to.

“Is he drinking water? Does he have a fever?”

“Yes, a lot of water like usual. No fever.”

It was sounding less serious, admittedly. But what kind of a friend was I? This friend was a first time mother, hours away from her own mother’s wealth of experience and advice. And her husband was less than helpful on most matters. She just needed someone to walk with her. So it was decided: for the sake of this relationship, I should slay my desire for relaxation!

I groaned. I know I did. And probably more than once. After a long day, this felt more like drama than reality.

Soon another message arrived. She was going to pharmacy instead. (Had she sensed my reluctance?) If it got worse, she would let me know.

“Let me know when you know more. Meanwhile, I’ll pray for him,” I told her, still wondering if I should be putting on sneakers instead of pajamas.

She came back from the pharmacy with a syrup. We discussed the case a bit more and decided to wait and see how he was doing in the morning. The case seemed to be more of an excuse to overreact than a real danger.

Her parting comment was, “Thank you for always listening to me.”

Suddenly, I felt guilty. Even after my less-than-compassionate response, she had come back to thank me. Her gratitude shone a light in a dark corner of my heart.