Here is Joy

Here is Joy.
Look, right here!
See her in the slippery soap suds puddling around the soap dish?
And in the far corner of the deepest cupboard you're cleaning,
Back, back, back until you can just dab the dirt triangle with the corner of your rag?
Do you hear her bursting through the speakers of your car stereo?
Or in the grunt of an awakening work computer?
She's here on the supermarket shelf, coming along free in the celery stalks just because.
Do you see her?
In the scuffed magnet that pins a child's artwork to your refrigerator?
And in the orange flame waltzing on the tip of a match as you light a candle and open the front door?
She's whisked into the batter and adds just the right nutty note…or is it woody…or just plain sweet?
She's here. Always here.
Even when your neighbor tells you never ever to add cinnamon and now you've ruined it completely.
Yes, sometimes Joy tastes a little like hot noodle soup during a head cold.
Or enlivens an aroma with a world of redeemed memories.
She's more than a good tiding at Christmas.
She's now. Today.
Riding along on the eternal breeze of faithfulness.
Look for her.

Ireland- part 5

I am determined to finish writing about my trip to Ireland today. I doubt it can be as much fun to read as it is to write because it is I who get to relive all of the memories. And with time, the bad memories fade–the exhaustion from a missed night of sleep, the grimy cottage, and so on. (Although, for the record, there aren’t many “so on”s.) It is the good memories that grow and blossom and put a little burn in my heart: that marriage of pure happiness and incredulity.

So, where did I leave off?

Saturday. I will skip over the morning escapade with the washer and the dryer and our hostess because I already wrote enough about our experience. We arrived downtown during a morning drizzle. My friend stopped to ask directions from a group of jolly men sipping their foaming Guinness outside of a bar. She did it for the experience, I think. For the kicks and giggles. It turns out the men weren’t Dubliners and couldn’t help us despite their trying. But they fit well into the friendly Irish stereotype we had already formed in our minds.

We managed to find a market after studying a map and then trailing someone with a market cart. We paused at one of the stalls for some mouth-watering paprika almonds and a free sample of creamy mozzarella balls. The drippy weather and the live music made the tiny market charming, although we probably couldn’t find the place again if we tried.

wooden buckets with savory market goodies

We meandered to the Chester Beatty Library, but when we stepped inside, we both decided we’d rather not do the tour. We may never know what we missed, but it was nice to decide to miss it together. We caught a bus to Phoenix Park, where we picked up free tickets to tour the President’s house and then crossed the sunny lawn–yes, the sun was beaming by then!– to a picnic bench under a tree. It was there in that slice of heavenly greenness and almost-warmth that I was able to say a prayer for our Airbnb hostess and my own attitude toward her. The residual irritation of the morning faded and stopped marring the day. We ate our picnic lunch. Without trying, we had planned the perfect amount of time to eat a relaxed lunch and then meander down to the tour bus.

sun shining on green park

We were about 15. A very small tour. Our guide was amazing, explaining the obvious points of interest in the house as well as the lesser noticed nuggets that mortalize history somehow. Some of the other people on the tour added a layer of excitement, like the elderly gentleman who decided he was thirsty and went over to help himself to the bottled water on the president’s desk. And his wife, as composed and sweet as a queen, continued to look composed and sweet in her darling hat even as her husband raided the president’s personal stash. We admired the ceilings–I especially enjoyed the Aesop’s fables one–, the artwork, and the vast back lawn.

After the tour, we refilled our water bottles and headed back downtown. For the first time, I managed to nab a seat in the front of the upper level double decker bus.

James Joyce bridge
dublin street
street with colorful doors

Our next stop was a Luke Kelly impersonation concert on the lawn of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We had thought we’d like to tour the cathedral as well, but nope. That was another tour that we both decided wasn’t something we wanted to add to our afternoon. (Is it any wonder I came home with a stash of travel money still in my wallet?) So we sat on a concrete lip of the edge of the sidewalk and watched the concert and grew chillier.

concert in lawn of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Then, at my friend’s insistence, we decided to use the free hot drink vouchers we had been given upon entering the concert. We stomped into an elegant hotel restaurant in our winter gear and backpack… maybe looking a little homeless at this point. And we almost lost our nerve, but my friend wanted a cuppa badly enough that she summoned her courage and soon we both had steaming to-go cups of milky Irish tea. We meandered down the street and then stopped to sit on the pedestal of a statue just across the street from the Christ Church Cathedral. We talked about life. People may have looked at us oddly, sitting there on a statue at a busy intersection with our cups of tea, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t notice.

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin

After our tea, we were hungry. We walked to Lundy Foot’s, a restaurant that offered a traditional beef stew. In retrospect, it may have been more of a tourist attraction than a real Irish pub. And the musician was playing Jonny Cash. But the men at the bar (my sneaky and blurry photo below) seemed Irish enough and animated the atmosphere, especially after a couple of “jars” and a goal or two in the soccer game.

soccer game in irish pub

The beef stew was amazing. So was dessert. We left, flushed from the warmth of the place, and wandered home, happy.

I have very few pictures of Sunday. We had decided to take one day of the week where we would not plan anything. Originally, it had been our “curl up in front of a fireplace” day, but since that was no longer an option, we walked down to the bay. We spread our rain gear on the grass and held a mini church service, ending our time by praying for each other. It was a special time, minus the dog poo on the bottom of my friend’s shoe. We ate our picnic lunch and then strolled up to Insomnia, a coffee shop, and picked out some comfortable chairs. I ordered tea with tea brack, which didn’t end up being my favorite, most likely because it was packed with raisins which I don’t especially like.

We read and journaled in perfect together-solitude. I even crocheted. Then we returned to our Hairy Haven to pack up. We said our goodbyes before bed and I left the house by 5 the next morning.

The bus app directed me to a stop. When the airport coach came, I held out my public transit card hopefully. The driver asked if I had a ticket. Instead, I asked for directions to a Dublin airport bus that would accept my card, but he didn’t know. I finally nodded and decided to pay the extra money to save myself the hassle of finding the right stop. I pulled out my wallet.

Then he asked, “Is this your last day in Ireland?”

I nodded. “I’m going back to Spain today.”

He pushed my money away, patted my shoulder, and quietly said, “Get on board and make yourself comfortable.”

And with that, beautiful, wonderful Ireland sent me back to Spain.

Give thanks

To me, the holidays bring a sense of belonging. There is a warmness, an extra niceness. 

Yes, the world gets frantic and grumpy when the store shelves aren’t stocked with what we want and the check-out lines are too long and the children need naps and, well, so do we but we still need to make that Aldi stop because Wal-Mart was out of pumpkin pie filling.

But then we come home and the individuality fades and there is a togetherness again, even in the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen.

Celebrating far from family isn’t quite like this. The sense of belonging is lessened. Not vanished, but subtle, something I need to search for. But those remaining shards are precious too. Even from far away, I belong. And that belonging tints the world with bright, warm tones and I find myself extra happy this Thanksgiving and Christmas season. 

I don’t want to spend the holidays wishing I were somewhere I am not. I choose to contribute to the joy of right here, because this is where I belong too.

Ten things I’m thankful for this year:

  1. the great faithfulness of a loving Father
  2. Spain’s acceptance of my 5-year residency application
  3. the tail-end of COVID-19
  4. friends and neighbors that I bump into every time I step outside
  5. strong family dynamics, even though I live thousands of miles away
  6. music
  7. opportunities to travel and experience other worlds
  8. my team, my “right-here” family
  9. sweater and boots weather
  10. enough, even with climbing energy and food prices

What are you thankful for?


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Ireland- part 4

You may be tired of hearing about Ireland. I was only there a few days, after all. I suppose I could be succinct, but where’s the fun in that?

Friday morning we rolled out of bed at 4:45. We had packed our lunches the night before, so it didn’t take us long to get out the door and to the bus stop. Some of the grief from our place of residence had been eased by sleep. We were determined to love the day.

We had booked a day tour from Dublin (east coast) to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway (west coast). Our guide gave us a fascinating peek into Ireland’s history and culture as our coach bumbled out of Dublin. Then it was time to sit back and enjoy the scenery as the sun rose over the Irish countryside. Mists came up from the green rolling land, promising that fairies and leprechauns were real after all. It was breathtaking, but only one small part of a breathtaking day.

The weather was perfect: a mixture of sun and clouds and a constant but empty threat of rain. And the cliffs–Oh, the cliffs! No wonder the place was full of tourists with their cameras. My heart wanted to stop at the wild beauty of the place. (And having a cardiac arrest at the Cliffs of Moher would not have been so bad, really. Rather romantic.)

As we wandered up and down the marked trails, soaking it in, I couldn’t shake the sensation that I had stepped into a very beautiful photo.

the cliffs of moher
cliffs of moher

We traveled through the Burren, our driver skillfully maneuvering the mammoth tour coach down skinny roads next to steep drop offs. We made a brief stop for photos in the National Park where craggy rocks dropped off into the ocean in impressive cliffs.

craggy coast along atlantic ocean

Our guide gave us another fascinating history lesson before we stopped at the Kilmacduagh Abbey ruins. I wanted an hour or two to roam, not 10 minutes.

Kilmacduagh abbey ruins

Our last stop was Galway, an outstanding city on the west coast. Our guide told us just to go and enjoy the city without trying to see too much. That’s the best way to experience Galway, he said. He also gave us a list of restaurants, recommending the famous Galway fish and chips.

My friend bought us dinner at McDonagh’s for an early birthday gift–smoked fish and chips and fresh oysters. The last time I had tried oysters, I had wanted to gag. But that was in rural Illinois, about as far from the ocean as you can get. Would I gag this time? I was nervous as I squeezed lemon on my oyster. To make it worse, the place was packed even at this odd hour and we were sitting elbow to elbow with strangers.

But I didn’t gag. The smooth oyster that slipped from its shell into my mouth was fresh, clean, and sweet. I eyed the leftover oyster on the plate until my friend generously gave in.

fresh oysters with lemon

While my friend did a little shopping in an Aran Island wool shop, I sat outside to listen to buskers who looked like brothers. They seemed to enjoy my enjoyment of their harmony, maybe especially when I dropped coins in their guitar case.

The entire evening felt enchanted. I slipped a few euros in my pocket and we wandered the streets of downtown Galway, stopping to listen to almost every street musician, even the dude singing “Galway Girl.” The way the Irish value the arts is something one can sense, even in a brief interaction with the culture, such as I had.

galway city street

And, wouldn’t you know, we found another Butlers and strolled back to the bus, hot chocolates and truffles in hand. Darkness fell as we rode back across the island to Dublin. It was a day that made be believe I wanted to stay in Ireland forever.

Well, except the dirty little cottage that we had to return to.

100% Murcia (Day 1)

Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.

I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)

My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.

coffee shop interior

I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.

cathedral façade

As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.

fountain and flowers
Glorieta de España
statue of sardine half-submerged in water
Monumento al entierro de la sardina
boat under arched bridge, bus over arched bridge
Puente de los peligros

I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.

birds on bridge
Pasarela Manterola
people walking across suspension bridge

Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.

“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”

I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.

From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.

Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.

I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.

On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.

downtown street lined with brick buildings

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.

Well? What are you thankful for?

Well? What are you thankful for this year? 

Thanksgiving is one day that we set aside to be thankful for our blessings. 

Of course, we shouldn’t only practice our thanksgiving sitting down to a feast of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade dinner rolls, and pumpkin pie. We know that. And I hope we practice that. But it doesn’t hurt us to recap a year of thankfulness before every Thanksgiving feast. 

I look back on 2019 and see things I wish had not happened, things I wish I had done differently, and things I wish others had done differently.

But even though we bumble through life, getting a few things right and a lot of things wrong, the “High King of Heaven” is always in control. He’s not up there sweating bullets that we will mess up His plan. In fact, He is letting us be part of His plan. Our sin and sorrow are never too big to be turned into a beautiful redemption story in His plan. 

As this year closes, I am thankful that after all I have done and faced this year, the Father blesses His child’s prayer:

“Thou and thou only, first in my heart.”

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tow’r:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O Pow’r of my pow’r.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Attr. Dallan Forgaill, tr. Eleanor Hull

Signs of summer

It is starting to smell like summer outside. At street level, it’s sun-baked tile and rotting garbage. The air feels closer somehow and every scent is intensified. Even the nothing smells stronger.

Cars roar by with music pulsating through open windows. I even get a “howareyou?” from a car that stops as I cross the street.

Fireworks pop off and on all day long. I have long since stopped trying to see them. A sea breeze billows the curtain in the window. It feels almost fresh and cool when it’s not carrying the sun. In the distance, is the sleepy, tranquil sea.

Along with the first signs of summer comes Ramadan. It’s now week two. Ready or not, it’s here to stay. And I’m answering a lot of “Do you fast?” questions and trying not to eat or drink while I’m with friends. But I sampled an olive at the market the other day and didn’t remember until I was tossing away the pit that I was right beside the North African produce stand. (However, those were some of the best olives I have found yet and I don’t regret that I walked away with a container of them swimming in their brine.)

I am trying to convince myself that it’s too early to pull out the window fan. My summer wardrobe is already hanging in my closet. If I get out the fans, there will be no cooling technique to pull out of my pocket when the real heat comes. It’s only May, after all.

Belated birthday trip: Madrid

Two years late, my friend and I began to plan our 30th birthday trip. Ten years ago, we had dreams of celebrating in India. Then India morphed into Portugal. And finally, Portugal became Madrid, Pisa, and Florence. And the 30th birthday notion got a bit murky when my sister joined our group and helped plan the trip. After all, why not? None of us are 30 anyway. 

So there were three of us bouncing along in the Almería-Madrid bus. In Madrid, we met up with our airbnb host and attempted to regain our land legs by climbing the steps to the top story of a too-tall apartment building.

We had dinner in an unimpressive restaurant with a flickering fluorescent light. Madrid had to be better than that, we knew.

It was.

The next day:

But our favorite part of Madrid? The street musicians.

Awesome

“Our God is an awesome God.” Amen.

One night, we watched a video with the song “Awesome God.” As pictures of God’s glorious creation flashed across the screen, my heart sang the words. A beautiful sunset. God, you’re awesome! A craggy coastline firm against the crashing waves. God, you’re so awesome! Rows of mountains carpeted with lush green trees. Wow, God!

But partway through the song, my enthusiasm dwindled. How do I miss God’s awesomeness in everyday life? I would like to say that it’s because I live in a world of asphalt, concrete, and tile and I’m not exposed to many of the scenes portrayed in the “Awesome God” music video.

But what do the great outdoors have to do with it? Of course, nature reveals a bit of God’s awesomeness. But it doesn’t define it.

Why can’t I see God’s awesomeness in today, even in my asphalt, concrete, and tile world?

Can I see an awesome God while sipping tea with someone made in His image? Can I marvel over Him as I watch hibiscus flowers turn tea a deep purple-red or chop vegetables for a salad—squirting tomato seeds, fanning cilantro leaves, pale rings of an onion? Can I be breathless before His creativity when I behold the variety of personalities in a room full of chatty women?

I’m writing this as I reminder to myself to be wowed by an awesome God in the everyday. Maybe your everyday looks different than mine, but God’s awesomeness is still in your day too. Look for it.

Note: I will be out of the country next week and will most assuredly not take time to update my blog. More on that later. 🙂