Obeying when it doesn’t make sense

Obeying when it doesn’t make sense is a struggle for me. Is it for you too?

In chapter 1 of Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God, Timothy Keller writes:

God created us to orbit around him, to center our lives on him. When God says, “Don’t eat, or you’ll die,” what is our first response? “Why?” But God doesn’t explain; if you obeyed God because you understood what he was doing and how it would benefit you, then you’d actually be stationary. You’d be saying, “Okay, it makes sense. I understand why I should obey and shouldn’t eat from that tree; yes, of course.” God would be a means to an end, not an end in himself.

God was saying, “Because you love me, don’t eat from the tree–just because I say so. Just to be in relationship with me. Obey me about the tree, and you will live” (p. 12).

Clearly, God and reason aren’t mutually exclusive. God gave us common sense, after all. Yet, if that’s what we are orbiting around, it becomes our god. And why wouldn’t our jealous God want to strip that away from us for a time?

All of this to say that that’s what I want to be: reasonable… but orbiting around Him rather than reason. What about you?


Photo by Justin Dickey on Unsplash

Recommended books for you

I love to read. During lockdown, I raided my Stateside library’s ebook stash. I also had quite a few unread books on my Kindle.

And there was no time like the present.

Here are a few books I recommend from the first half of my reading year. (Note: I tend to stick to the three genres below.) These aren’t reviews, just recommendations. Take them or leave them and, by all means, create your own list and share it with me!

Fiction

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Delightful and entertaining. Reminiscent of Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio. This book dug down deep inside an issue and made it live and breathe. Of course, I fell in love with Auggie too.

Spiritual Enrichment

How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison. I’m still digesting this one. It was a clear and profound presentation of sanctification. Don’t let the plain title scare you away.

Mere Christianity and The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. Many writers go out of their way to be relatable and end up shallow or simplistic. Other writers present remarkable theology without a bit of humanity, as if the closer you are to God, the less of you will appear. But Lewis challenges both of those notions by presenting mind-blowing theology written with a voice so thoroughly human that I burst into laughter at times. I enjoyed both of these books. 

Unseen by Sara Hagerty. This was an awakening book for me, encouraging me to “squander” time with God, not for brownie points, but because our relationship is that meaningful. Hagerty writes beautifully about finding who we are in the eyes of Jesus rather than the eyes of men. I also recommend her book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet.

Memoir / Non-Fiction

Evicted by Matthew Desmond. This was a fascinating read. The narrator doesn’t downplay the tension between the privileged and underprivileged but showed both sides of the housing struggle. I didn’t always know what I was feeling as I read, but when I set it down, I knew the book was worth my time. Personally, I stayed away from from the political side of it (as I stay away from the political side of almost everything) and focused on the reality of people living the lives Desmond writes about.

Educated by Tara Westover. This memoir was captivating and sobering, even more sobering when I realized that the author and I are the same age and her story could have been mine. As an author, Westover had an incredible way of bringing back old details and showing their significance later in her story. 

The Library Book by Susan Orlean. fascinating history of a library fire. Not an all-absorbing story line, but excellent writing. In my opinion, Orlean’s style was reminiscent of Laura Hillenbrand (Unbroken and Seabiscuit). I hope to read more of her in the future. 

I could make this list longer…

  • Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman
  • Healing for Damaged Emotions by David A. Seamands
  • Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald
  • Jesus the King by Timothy Keller
  • Thin Places by Mary E. DeMuth
  • Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson
  • I Am Hutterite by Mary-Ann Kirkby

But I’ll stop now. I promise. Please do write me your own recommendations. I’m always on the lookout for a good read!

Stop and wonder

Psalm 23 is one of those familiar Psalms that I tend to glaze over because I know it by heart. I don’t stop and see or wonder at the depths. However, recently, I got stuck on verse 6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”

I pictured myself following God and goodness and mercy trailing along behind like an obedient but somewhat distracted dog. (Note: “mercy” as it appears here actually means “steadfast, unfailing, and unconditional love.”)

But “follow” is a much stronger word than “trailing.” It connotes pursuing relentlessly, running after, or tracking. In short, God’s goodness and steadfast love aren’t going to let us go. Not today or any day.

“All the days of my life,” David writes with unwavering confidence in God’s attributes. He had his days in lockdown too, hiding in caves, fearing for his life. Outside of lockdown, he had marriage problems, disobedient children, years of war, etc. Yet, he says that he knows God’s goodness and steadfast love are in those days too.

My roommate and I recently read Unseen by Sara Hagerty. Chapter 6 is titled, “Invitation to Wonder: Training Our Eyes to See God’s Beauty.”

“… [I]t’s harder… to see God’s beauty,” Hagerty writes. “… in the thousands of minutes in the middle of my days that don’t seem worthy of photographing or scrapbooking or sharing with others. He tells us in His Word that His glory is ever available, and it’s tucked inside every day. Every single one” (p. 107).

All the days of my life.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.

“Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (as quoted in Unseen p. 112)

God’s wonder–His goodness and steadfast love–are in each of our days. “Our flitting eyes… need to be trained to see them. They need to be trained to see the face of Jesus” (p. 118).

Stop and see.

Stop and wonder.


Photo by David McLenachan on Unsplash

Recommended books for you

Merry Christmas everyone! A day late and a euro short, perhaps, but who wanted to sit down and read my blog yesterday anyway?

As 2019 closes, I decided to give you a few recommendations from my 2019 reading list. This is just a list; if you want to know more about a particular book, check out the link provided. 

Spiritual Enrichment

No God But One: Allah or Jesus? by Nabeel Qureshi. I have always appreciated Qureshi’s gentle but uncompromising approach to rift between Islam and Christianity.

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. This book is full of stories of God at work in the hardest places on earth. I also recommend The Insanity of Obedience

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty is a true journey woven with story and reflection. This book helped me on my journey, realizing that God, in His love and sovereignty, wants to make the bitter times sweet times as we cling to Him.

Memoir / Non-Fiction

Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby. A peek into one woman’s life as she struggles to maintain her faith in Christ in the midst of conservative Islam. The author’s honesty about her struggles makes this book a gem, especially if you’ve worked in a similar setting.

My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody. Mahtob’s version of what happened in Not Without My Daughter. This fascinating book begins with a child’s perspective as she grapples with love, fear, anger, and forgiveness. 

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield is a woman’s journey to faith in Jesus.  Interesting and challenging. Although I didn’t read it this year, I also recommend her book on hospitality, The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber is a fantastic memoir. I don’t think I can explain why exactly. Although the author and I don’t have similar stories, this memoir hit many warm and familiar spots for me. Check it out for yourself.

Fiction

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. A story of a Muslim immigrant family in America. Although the work is fiction, the story is real. Today, many immigrant families deal with the shifting worldview between generations of immigrants, Islam mingling with the forbidden, honor and shame, etc. A teammate bought me this book and I’m glad she did!

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. This is a free Kindle book that is worth much more than you’ll pay for it. It’s cute. It’s fun. It’s fiction. If you like it, note that the sequel, Dear Enemy, is also worth downloading. 

That’s all until next year! Lord willing, tomorrow at this time, I should be suspended somewhere between Madrid and Chicago. I can’t wait. You probably won’t be hearing from me for a few weeks. 🙂 

His Presence in the waves

The JWs caught me for the first time in my life. The woman was nice, but the man’s smile was as big and fake as he was pushy. When I finally said I wanted the chance to speak, his patronizing smile grew even wider and he pretended to listen. 

The bus came, thank goodness, and my scrambling on board provided a decisive exit.

Minutes later, I was disembarking and descending to the beach. I looked up to the looming mountain and sighed. JWs or not, it had been a good decision to bury myself in God’s artwork for a few hours.

I love being at home. But sometimes there is an accompanying trapped feeling. Trapped within my own honey-do list. Seemingly endless people to contact and visit, groceries to buy, food to cook, laundry to soak, languages to study, paperwork to stress over.

Right now, I had only my Kindle.

I parked in the sand and gulped the salty air that was cold enough to keep most tourists away. The rhythmic roar of advancing and receding waves drowned out the remaining background noise.

Feeling gloriously alone and free, I drenched my mind with St. Augustine. He reads like a famous blogger, I decided, and read until my mind was too saturated to absorb any more. Then I turned to Daddy Long Legs and delighted myself in the simplicity of a young lady’s letters to her mysterious benefactor. And shame on me for not reading the book sooner for all that it had been recommended to me. 

By then, it was dark and I was cold. And I still had some grocery shopping to do. So I gathered my few belongings and left behind that glorious alone spot.

And the next day, when emotional and physical demands nearly drove me to my wit’s end, I drew upon yesterday’s strength which God had multiplied into the present.

Sometimes, God is harder to see in the rhythmic roar of emotional waves. I would rather drink in His clear Presence in nature.

But some days are like this. And He is in these days too.

Take a hike

I was bustling down the quiet morning street toward the bus stop when it hit me. Today was Saturday. And I had looked at the weekday bus schedule. The Dalías bus had gone ½ hour ago. 

At 10:30, the day was already looking bleak.

My roommate joined me and we hopped on the next bus. We would make the most of the extra hour and a half by exploring a town that was halfway in between Immigrantville and Dalías. The next bus came close to 13:00. I browsed my map and we found a green spot labeled “Parque forestal.”

“Ooo. Let’s go there!” 

So we set off like disgruntled tramps in our hiking clothes. The sun was intense. The map was deceptive. There was a park all right: a dry field of puny trees, dead grass, and greenhouses. There wasn’t even any shade. Of course.

It was 11:30 and the day was only getting bleaker. But at this point, we began to chuckle. And we chuckled our way into El Corte Inglés, past the prim and proper salespeople, to the café on the tippity top floor.

(This was after we did a diligent search and ended up at the downward bound escalator. “Of course,” Roomie said. But we chuckled.)

We feigned confidence as we took our seats in the classy café. The server poured my Aquarius into a goblet as I subtly tried to air out the sweat stain on the back of my grungy T-shirt.

We made it to our bus on time and carefully selected our seat. Then we looked up. “Of course,” said Roomie. And we chuckled. We had carefully selected the seat with a missing “stop” button.

But finally, we were on our way to Dalías!

We didn’t have much experience with taking the bus there and arrived long before we thought we should. Roomie noticed that businesses were starting to mention the town name. I checked my trusty map and lunged forward to push the “stop” button on the seat ahead of us.

We strolled around Dalías, trying to not look too out of place. But as we wandered down a skinny street with a hand’s breadth of sidewalk, I leaned into a window grate to accommodate a passing car. It was probably the only jagged window grate in the entire town.

Rip. And my sleeve was left with a gaping hole.  After the initial surprise, we chuckled. “Of course.”

town square painted white
stairstep flower boxes

We found the hiking trail on my trusty map and our casual wandering soon turned into panting and rolling sweat. Uphill we went, winding through greenhouses and barking dogs and the thick scent of livestock. (Who goes hiking in Spanish July anyway?)

rolling Spanish agricultural countryside

Although it was hot, the scenery was beautiful. And somewhere beyond all of that, there was a restaurant. At least we hoped so. Partway through the hike, as we stared at a dead end, Roomie asked, “How old were the reviews for this restaurant?” She was picturing one of the crumbling buildings along the side of the trail to be the former “Restaurante el Arroyo.”

Despite our pessimism, we made it. Even without dying of sunstroke, being devoured by rabid dogs, or falling down a ravine. We sat across the table from each other, laughing at each others’ red faces. 

“Water please. Cold!”

“You know, there’s air conditioning up there.” The server pointed to an upper room. We dashed upstairs without a second thought as he went to retrieve cold water for the red-faced Americans.

After lunch, I parked myself under the perfect tree beside a cool spring of water and pulled out my Kindle. This was the “of course” that I had planned the day around. The other “of course”s were just there to make this one sweeter.

stream surrounded by trees and spotted shade

Under the Sevillan sun

The sun’s fury didn’t really matter from the front row of the bus. I plugged in ear buds and listened to Los Miserables. (No, that’s not a spelling error; I really am attempting to listen to Hugo in Spanish.)

But I kept drifting into that almost dream state where thoughts don’t make sense and I happily embrace the sleep I know is coming. But then a truck and trailer tried to pull into our lane. The bus driver honked, swerved, and muttered something under his breath. That was the end of my nap.

But it didn’t matter, because tired or no, I was on my way to Sevilla.

As the Andalusian landscape whizzed by, I enjoyed the rolling olives groves, the plains of ripened wheat, the fields of yellow sunflowers, and the occasional glimpse of stubborn snow on mountain peaks.

My first impression of Sevilla? The realization that there are two bus stations and I was at one and my friend at the other.

Finally reunited, we dropped the luggage in the car and strolled through the Plaza de España, despite the scorching afternoon sun.

brick plaza with horse and carriage in forefront

We met our airbnb hosts and then set out to shop and fill our empty bellies with Udon’s veggie yaki udon.

The next morning, we visited Las Setas de la Encarnación (The Mushrooms of the Incarnation… whose name sounds infinitely nobler in Spanish), a giant structure that provides a lookout of the city. Honestly, the modern bulk seemed a little out of place in the old city; yet, there was something intriguing about climbing a mushroom. And the view was fantastic.

mushroom-shaped structure
white city of sevilla spain

Strolling toward the cathedral, we happily made pit stops to enjoy the lovely city streets and even watch a bit of street flamenco.

At the Cathedral of Sevilla, not only did we behold the grandeur of the outside walls, but were able to walk around inside and observe the ongoing mass.

elaborate facade of cathedral

We stopped for coffee in the Jewish quarter before taking a picnic lunch to the beautiful María Luisa Park. Regretfully (in retrospect), we barely made it beyond the first row of luscious trees. We were tired and hungry.

We strolled home along the Guadalquivir and topped off the evening by attempting a picnic in the Jardín Americano, a park from the 1992 Expo. Not a good idea. If ever a park could give vibes… We backtracked when the only people slinking around looked like they were not the picnicking sort.

Instead, we sat on concrete boulders along the river’s lip and dipped our toes in the water. We talked until long after the sun had gone down.

bridge over river at sunset

The next day was a picnic in the Alamillo Park (see a “picnic in the park” theme?) and time to soak in more of Sevilla’s scenery.

We also met up with friends to experience real flamenco. Photos weren’t allowed, but they wouldn’t have captured the experience anyway. Not the guitarist nor the vocalist. Photos wouldn’t capture the way the dancer’s eyes glittered concentration beneath the changing lights. Or how his face gleamed with the sweat of maintaining perfect control of his feet in time to the music, even while at times keeping his upper body motionless. The whirring fans did little to cool the room packed with eager spectators. Our tippy wooden bench always seemed to fit one more and why not?

On our final morning, we awoke to banging and drilling in the apartment below. We packed up and did a bit more strolling of the streets. Our last adventure was the unexpected and charming Parcería Cafe.

latte and smoothie on wooden tray next to plant

I thought I was ready to head back to Immigrantville, but as the bus pulled out of the station, I admit that there were tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

What’s been happening recently

A lot of time has passed since my trip to North Africa. Really, it feels like more than it was. Instead of trying to fill you in on all of the juicy details, here is a bullet list that might bring you sufficiently up to date:

  • Meeting a friend at the market to browse the various market stalls together and then walk back to her house for a relaxed visit. Recently, she told me I am a friend, not a guest.
  • Spending birthday/Christmas Kindle credit on books I had been drooling over for months.
  • Being stalked… and then protected by friends.
  • Post-Christmas candy-making and caroling.
  • New Year’s celebration complete with candles and fireworks.
  • Starting a hard copy recipe book that doesn’t include dusting my computer with flour every time I bake something.
  • A friend moving in about two blocks from our apartment which meant lots of pop-in visits at both my place and hers.
  • The same friend suddenly leaving town without any plans to return.
  • My Spanish teacher relocating to Madrid… resulting in my class being transferred to a teacher who uses “ustedes” instead of “vosotros.”
  • Crochet class morphing into knitting class against my will. (More on this later.)
  • Friends’ birthdays: small scale parties, a princess cake, and a photo shoot.
  • My friends’ children lighting up when they see me coming—it melts my auntie heart!
  • Blue Hat, Green Hat over and over again as dark, serious eyes soak it all in, even the title page.
  • A friend giving me two flowers she had planted at work. “No!” I cried, since I am a terrible plant keeper. “I’ll kill them!” “Look, you keep two and I’ll keep two and we’ll see whose dies on them first,” she said. The race is on. But, contrary to all reason, mine are BLOOMING!
  • Lots of book reading with children.
  • Helping a friend withdraw money from the ATM… an endeavor that had us laughing ourselves to tears.
  • Walking 45 minutes with a friend to the ER.
  • Anticipating visitors in March!!!
  • Lunch with a friend who started food preparations at 6:30 a.m. What an honor to be her guest!
  • Spending time with American teammates who belong to my culture and speak my language.
  • Trying out a few North African recipes, with moderate success.
  • Making copies at the African store down the street and being asked to run the copier myself since they were understaffed. I enjoyed watching customers’ eyes bulge when a pale face greeted them from behind the counter. The owner even gave me a discount because I had done the work myself.
  • Branching out a little with crochet patterns.
  • Attempting to grasp that God’s promises are for me and that my identity is, above all, a child of God.
  • Finishing up my visa paperwork! Lord willing, all that’s left is to pick up my residency card in March.

20 even more things I’m thankful for

  1. Dreams I can climb out of
  2. A quiet market
  3. Syrupy tea poured from a neighbor’s kettle
  4. Observations so true they hurt
  5. Little boy grins that come shy and blushing
  6. Remembering the awe of a blessing forgotten
  7. A cheerful chat at the bus stop
  8. Hearing my name on the street
  9. Language lesson over towers of fruit and vegetables
  10. Cicadas
  11. Damp outlines around fallen leaves
  12. A speedboat skimming along the horizon
  13. Middle of the day thunder
  14. A pale lizard running along the boulevard just ahead of me
  15. Opening a door to find a cool breeze
  16. Fresh paint
  17. Humor when I’m not expecting it
  18. Heads bent in prayer
  19. Conversation so long we forget to clean up dinner
  20. A Kindle full of waiting books

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!