Sunday people

I like Sunday people.
They walk slower, walk happier.
Like they are going nowhere
and everywhere and who really cares?
The market heart pounds with euro produce
and rebajas and greasy churro air.
Shouts and laughter as fathers play with children
And mothers look less worn.
Men with their canes on park benches
under the winking sun
talk about days gone by and passersby.
Church bells echo with every hour mass.
Men in ties are proud beside
the clippity-clop of high heels and scrubbed children
trying to stay clean for mother's sake.
Muslim children walk to class at the mosque,
little girls with covered hair
looking and knowing they are young.
All across town, there is a breeze
of one big Sunday sigh.

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

We esteemed Him not

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah 53:3

We esteemed Him not.

This phrase has stuck with me this Easter season. I prefer to focus on Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Christ is risen! But this declaration that we esteemed Him not

What does it mean? As I dug deeper, I noticed that this rejection is passive rather than active–apathetic rather than hateful.

At least hatred acknowledges a person or a deed. Apathy goes beyond; apathy doesn’t even care.

Apathy. For our bleeding Savior. Barnes’ says, “…he was regarded as cut off from man…that he was the most abject and vile of mortals in the estimation of others; so vile as not to be deemed worthy of the treatment due to the lowest of men.”

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah 53:3

This verse speaks in first person plural of the Jewish nation, but I, for one, can see myself in the “we.”

I am so focused on my risen Lord that I don’t esteem my dying Lord. I grow apathetic to the suffering God on the cross, bearing the weight of sin and shame of mankind. My sin and my shame. 

Esteem Him this Easter season. Esteem the dying God and worship the living One.


Photo by Henrique Jacob on Unsplash

Are you a people-pleaser?- Part 1

I was sweating under my blanket and it wasn’t because of the leftover summer heat. 

How could I have made the situation different? How could I have walked away without leaving a bad taste in their mouths? What should have I done to make them like me?

The night hours ticked away as I fought a bloody battle with my thoughts.

If you haven’t caught on by now: I have an overwhelming fear of man. I want people to love me and delight in me. I want to be the desired friend, the confidant, the one to diffuse tension in a situation. 

But that night, my heart was pounding so hard that I could feel the bed shaking along with it. And all because of a negative reaction that felt like a personal attack.

More hours passed before I was able to stop “problem-solving” and surrender. My heart, now guarded by God’s peace, relaxed until I could no longer feel the oppressive beating. And I fell asleep.

Not every wave of people-pleasing is like this for me. Sometimes, I feel invincible to others’ opinions because I’m too tired or too stubborn to bend anymore. Other times, I never surrender and spend days or weeks in agony, enslaved to another’s opinion and trying to think up ways to wriggle myself back into their good graces.

Can you identify? Are you a people-pleaser too?

I don’t have a once-and-done solution for us. Or even five easy steps to follow.

Recently, in talking with a friend, I realized that this area of my life is slowly changing. It may always be a struggle for me, but by God’s grace, it will no longer be my prison.

Next week, I’ll tell you a bit of my ongoing journey. And maybe you can tell me a little of yours too.

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. 🙂

A gift from Gift

One of the customers in our thrift store is a little girl. Her name means “gift.” Her mother brings her in a stroller.

Gift is 2½ years old. She has spent a lot of her time visiting doctors and having surgeries. Her weeks are full of bus rides and appointments.

“Her bones are short,” her mother explained.

Gift is a dwarf.

With all of the trials in her young life, some days Gift is pensive and tearful. Yet, most days, Gift faces life with a delighted grin. And she loves music. She waves her hands in the air, rolling her wrists to pretend she is dancing. And if you join her, she bursts into giggles, which is music itself.

Due to a recent operation on her spine, she is learning to walk. She still falls a lot, but that doesn’t stop her from insisting on being freed from her stroller while her mother sits down for a cup of coffee.

One day, I was folding clothes around the corner when I heard the tappity-tap of her little shoes. I turned to see that delighted grin and eyes bright with the pleasure of finding me.

Oh, Gift. People will always stare at you. People will talk about you in low tones. And your schedule may always be full of appointments and surgeries.

But, Gift, your life is precious. Keep spreading delight.

20 things I’m thankful for

  1. The golden ribbon of light along the curtain as the bedheaded sun peeks beneath the shade
  2. The perfume of dirt, black with rain
  3. Voices in harmony: “Come to my heart, Lord, come with anointing!”
  4. The blue blue blue of the Mediterranean from my bedroom window
  5. Talks that mean something
  6. Streets that are mine
  7. Second-hand clothing that smells good
  8. Fat babies in strollers, new and content
  9. Libraries of musty books
  10. Old men with hats and canes, lined up on park benches
  11. Rest beneath the late shadow of a palm
  12. Church bells
  13. Harmonious trails of busy ants
  14. A terrier grinning at me from the driver’s seat of a parked van
  15. Teenagers breakdancing in the park, conscious and proud of curious passersby
  16. Bright vests against black skin that whiz by on bikes
  17. The sweat and paint on a laborer just leaving work
  18. The echoing jingle of keys in an otherwise silent stairwell
  19. A real letter in a real mailbox
  20. Weary clouds in silver pajamas for bed

Summer in Immigrantville

Summer in Immigrantville, Spain is not an easy thing to endure.

Why not? For one reason, it’s hot. As I write, a breeze billows the curtain, bringing dust and the sensation of standing within range of a hairdryer. They say it has been a relatively cool summer so far. Fine. But I’m still turning on the fan.

With heat comes lethargy. Trying to think of something to ingest other than iced coffee. Trying to drag myself off of the couch to get out and talk to people. Of course, this whole “getting out” thing is over-rated anyway; very few people brave the heat of the day, so why should I? On the other hand, staying “in” should produce deliberate choices to study language rather than Dickens.

But heat and lethargy are not all that is wrong with the summer here. The worst part of summer is summer vacation. In Immigrantville, this means that families scrape together the means to travel back to their countries for months at a time. Slowly, the town empties and the streets grow quieter. There are fewer people to bump into. Fewer people to talk with.

But that’s the pessimistic view of summer life in Immigrantville. Fortunately for all of us, I can only think of 3 negative aspects. And I can think of a few more positive aspects from my experience so far. Like…

  • Volunteering to help a local thrift store employee reorganize her store. Mostly, I just put clothes on hangers and affirmed her ideas to rearrange clothing displays.
  • Washing my clothes by hand because splashing around in cool water helps beat the heat.
  • Preparing new recipes for foods that can be eaten cold.
  • Taking a grocery trip to a nearby city. Of course, the trip required a date with my Kindle at an air-conditioned café in order to fortify me to haul heavy groceries from store to bus station and bus stop to home.
  • Learning it’s okay to rest in the afternoon while the town is hiding in their respective homes under their respective fans.
  • Strolling down the boulevard after sunset when the remnants of the population emerge from their homes. In fact, one time I even walked home with an invitation to couscous and another to an afternoon tea.
  • And last and least but not least, studying. The quieter days provide a chance to brush up on my languages and pertinent topics. (Note: As much as I love the idea of this opportunity, I am still learning the art of self-discipline.)

See? Rather than wallow in sweat and loneliness, I might be able to enjoy my summer in Immigrantville after all!

Today I will see beauty- Part 2

In my blog post last week, I told you that I wanted to see beauty in the daily grind of life. I wanted to intentionally notice.

I managed to get a photo from each day and multiple photos from several days. My self-induced challenge made me look for beauty, even when I wasn’t snapping pictures. I liked that.

There were a lot of photos I would have liked to have had and one I accidentally deleted… but instead of telling you about those, I’ll show you these:

(Most of the photos below were taken on my phone, so I won’t vouch for their quality.)

silvery underside of tree
Thursday: My favorite tree. When I pass under it, I love to look up at the silverly undersides of the leaves.
sun shining through clouds over city
Friday: After an early morning rain
trees and roses lining boulevard
Saturday: The roses are still blooming
silhouettes of two women
Sunday: Friendship
family of three with sombrilla and market bag walking along tree-lined boulevard
Sunday (again): A family walking home from the market
elderly couple seated on bench along tree-lined boulevard
Monday: An elderly couple enjoying the tranquil boulevard
open cupboard
Tuesday: Organized cupboards!
water bottle in case made out of aluminum bottle tabs
Wednesday: The water bottle holder itself is not very beautiful, but two things make it beautiful to me: 1) it was a gift and 2) it’s made from recycled aluminum can pull tabs.

A Good Friday stroll

The Good Friday streets were quieter than normal. I plodded along, bracing myself against the wind.

When I was young—not more than ten—I overheard a conversation between my mom and her friend. The friend claimed that it always rained on Good Friday, even if it was just a little. Mom was politely dubious, but the statement impressed itself upon my impressionable mind. Did it really? Was God reminding us of the death of Jesus through a sky full of tears?

However, since this friend had revealed the fact after Good Friday, I had to wait an entire year to see if the statement were true. By then, I had forgotten about it. And I forgot the next year and the next until more than twenty years later, I still had never noted whether or not the rain dutifully came on Good Friday. Would it come to every part of the world if it indeed came at all? Would it come to Spain?

To be my age and wondering these things made me question my sanity. Why would I believe something that had neither Biblical nor meteorological basis?

I continued to walk, lost in rambling thoughts. My morning plans had been changed at the last minute, making me wish I had stayed in bed longer. But since I was up, I thought I might as well go for a stroll. My relaxed pace allowed a stooped, old man to zip around me. As he passed, I wondered what his story was.

Today the world was worth noticing: young voices pouring out of open cafés, elderly men congregating on park benches, a boy with a soccer ball. What did Easter mean to these people?

I wandered into my favorite café. “Coffee with milk?” The server asked before I had selected my chair.

“Thank you.” I smiled and pulled out my Kindle. I read, inhaling a fair amount of secondhand smoke and sipping my coffee from the sweet rim of my mug—I hadn’t used sugar and tried not to think too hard why the rim tasted sweet.

“One euro, guapa.” The server made change for my ten euro bill.

“Have a good Easter.” I smiled at her.

But would she? In Spain, the climax of Holy Week is the passion of Christ. That part of the holiday is celebrated and reenacted until resurrection Sunday is almost lost. Like their Jesus, did these people also keep their faith eternally nailed to the cross? Did they believe in victorious faith? Victorious life?

A dog trotted along a crosswalk, confident he owned the street. His owner followed a few paces behind.

The North African store was one of the only stores open on Good Friday. It bustled with limp produce, loud Arabic, and bodies that were busy making room for themselves in the small shop.

I dropped a euro on the floor as I paid for a few too-ripe tomatoes. The clerk gently smiled at my clumsiness. And then he switched from Spanish to Arabic to bid me farewell.

I greeted the mother of a lesser-known acquaintance and we walked home together in the powerful wind.

“I have laundry on our roof,” I told her as a gale threatened to carry us off like Mary Poppinses.

She had also hung her morning laundry on the roof, so at her street corner we said hasty goodbyes and rushed to rescue our scattered clothing.

It was afternoon when I opened my laptop to write an email. Outside my bedroom window, the clouds lowered over the mountains while the sky and the sea simultaneously turned gray. Then from somewhere came enough drops of rain to make me wonder, against all logic, if Mom’s friend had been right after all.


Photo by Anant Jain on Unsplash