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

Called and equipped: introverts overseas (part 1)

I have been wrestling with my personality for months. Hello. My name is Trish and I’m an introvert working overseas. 

More often than not, overseas work requires extroversion. And if I’m honest, sometimes my prayers run along the lines of, “Hey look, God, if I’m not allowed to be myself, why didn’t You just call someone else?” That question comes from years of struggle in the workforce, academia, and now overseas. Deep down I am accusing God of calling me to something for which I am not enough.

Of course I’m enough! God equips those He calls, right? That sounds nice enough on paper, but flesh and blood adds a deeper dimension. And I wonder: Does He? Does He equip me for what He calls me to? 

Well, what has He called me to? And what have I called myself to? See, it’s easy for me to take my calling and add ruffles and lace, longer sleeves, a zipper or buttons. I alter my calling to the expectations of others until it’s hard to find the original pattern. 

For example, God has called me to serve others here in Spain. As I serve, I notice a trend: women who impose upon my flexibility and require me to conform to their schedules. “You don’t have children,” they say. They are right; I am typically more flexible than they are. However, when five women expect me to work around their schedules, some days I can spend a good part of the day just trying to plan the day. Then I throw up my hands and say, “God, I can’t do this anymore!” as if His calling were too big for me. But God didn’t call me to conform to the schedules of everyone I meet. With a ruffle here and a button there, I lose sight of His pattern under all of that gaudy paraphernalia. 

What about the “equipping”? What does “equipping” even mean? I like to believe that I am equipped when I have enough plus a little to spare just in case something happens. But I’m not so sure that having enough to spare coincides with the “jars of clay” illustration in 2 Corinthians 4:7. If I were a stunning, breathtaking vessel, how does that show the “surpassing power” of God? Where does He fit in the picture at all? When I feel strong and equipped, my glory gets in the way of His.

I’m not downplaying the importance of inner growth, but maybe being equipped looks less like being ready for anything and more like letting God’s surpassing power shine through me, warts and all. Moving forward in the midst of my weakness gives me a better sense of who I am and who God is.

Next week (or the next or the next…), I hope to share something that finally made two seemingly conflicting ideas sit down and talk it out. Until then…

Saving the best for last: what’s been happening recently

A young friend dutifully praying on my guest room rug– “In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful…” –while above her were frames of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Visitors from the U.S., the first in several years. I love cross-cultural work, but relating to those with whom I share both culture and faith is uplifting. And, Lord willing, more visitors arrive in a few days!

A Mediterranean baptism on a beautiful–albeit chilly– November day.

Uncontrollable evening laughter. 

A bowlful of ripening avocados because I had mentioned to my student that if I had one food to live on, I would choose avocados. (She said she’d choose dates.) 

A neighbor who asked for my tikka masala recipe. 

Weather that begs for coffee. 

A young mother who thought she knew me… and didn’t, but ended up asking for my phone number anyway.

squid tapa plate

A day trip to the mountains where I sat on a hill and talked on the phone like the un-hiker that I am. It was one of those hills with loose rocks and thorns that put “brickles in my britches. But I stayed there anyway.” (For that quote, you’ll have to read “What Was I Scared Of?” by Dr. Seuss.) Afterwards, my teammate and I unintentionally had tapas in a casino.

Storekeepers who drop the price without my even asking.

A climate where fruit is in season all year round. Right now it’s the mandarins that pop between teeth and turn to sweet puddles on tongues. And the fat persimmons. And rosy pomegranates. And even the chirimoyas, which I’m not particularly fond of but can appreciate in season.

Sunshiney Mondays that dry sheets and towels in a jiffy. 

Unintentional late night discussions.

A landlady who opened the second bedroom of my apartment. (I rented the apartment as a one-bedroom flat, the second bedroom designated for the landlady’s storage.) With the prospect of multiple guests at once, I worked up the nerve and asked her if I might possibly please use the extra bedroom while my guests are around. She gave me an incredulous, “Mujer, it’s your house!” Nevermind the original agreement. I’ll nevermind anyway!

Workers at the print shop, startled to discover that they had indeed made my idea come true. And they ignored the customer behind me to admire their own handiwork.

A ticket quietly waiting for me to test negative for covid. And one suitcase bulging with eager Christmas gifts. 

A birthday to celebrate this week. As I valiantly blaze through my 30s, I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to consider having a midlife crisis. Although, I’m not sure that’s really the sort of thing one plans for… Maybe next year…

And the very best thing of what has been happening recently? A new nephew, Zayne Davis born November 8 to two very proud parents. And no wonder they’re proud, because he’s terribly cute.

baby boy

Zayne, as you start your life in this great big world, may you find the courage to be exactly who God created you to be, nothing more, nothing less.


Photo credit for last photo goes to my brother-in-law

Recommended books for you

I have been frantically reading over the past few months, mostly research for two essays. And in the evenings, I would wind down my over-taxed brain with audio books. So, here is another pile of recommendations. Again, note that these are not reviews. I don’t detail every flaw of every book, and if at some point, you find you have standards different than mine, please leave a comment or disregard my lists altogether.

This time, I don’t have any fiction recommendations. I did manage to read a few, one of them being in Spanish and one that was just strange enough that I couldn’t recommend it and have you all scratching your heads too. But here’s what I have:

Spiritual Enrichment

Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together by Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn. This book is a powerful narrative of a woman learning to step into a friend’s unfixable pain and walk with her in the middle of it.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin. This book is a call to serve God in ways we don’t expect. Martin’s ardent writing inspires readers to invest where they are.

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani is a clear presentation of how we tend to relate to God and how He wants us to relate.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf challenges our culture’s concept of work and leaves readers anticipating what God is calling them to.

A Big Gospel in Small Places: Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters by Stephen Witmer does not focus on the worthiness of people in small places,  but on the bigness of the Gospel and the worthiness of Christ to take the message to those small places.

Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel is a beautiful book about desire. It is a call to both feel and renew. I also recommend her book Surprised By Paradox: The Promise of “And” in an Either-Or World. Michel’s thoughtful writing makes readers want to embrace the mystery of faith by recognizing how much more robust faith can be because of paradox. 

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image by Hannah Anderson. I’m still digesting this powerful look at imago dei that presses tender spots but ultimately leaves the reader praising God. Her book Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul is a follow-up to Made for More, giving walking legs to those deep truths. Anderson is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors with her intense but relatable style.

MEMOIR / NON-FICTION

The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Middle of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts is a powerful story by a woman about to step into eternity. She shares the unfiltered pain of leaving behind her beautiful life. The story is haunting, beautiful, and absolutely worth your time. 

For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose. Do you want to know more about Britain’s obsession with tea? This historical book narrates an agricultural espionage and reveals the lesser known story of tea.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the fascinating story behind HeLa cells. Some of this book was entirely over my head. There were a few parts I skimmed. But the writing was informative and engaging, the kind that makes readers interested in a topic they formerly cared nothing about.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills. This books is a delightful close-up of one of America’s favorite authors. The story is interestingly written, really several stories woven into one. But make sure you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee before you dive into this one!

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. Have you ever wanted to know more about Julia Child or the French cuisine? The lighthearted narrative style makes Child’s life in France come alive….and it will probably make you hungry too! There are a few parts of this book you may want to skip, but it’s perky and largely clean.

A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny by Amy Julia Becker is a moving memoir of a little girl who reshaped an onlooking world’s perspective of disability, especially the perspective of those who loved her the most.

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.

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.

A day in Málaga

We only had one day in Málaga. Málaga is a large city and we knew we wouldn’t have the time or energy to hop hither and yon on public transportation. Therefore, we narrowed our scope [predictably] to Málaga’s Alcazaba and Castle of Gibralfaro. We also got to zip around the Atarazanas Market and gaze up at the Málaga Cathedral, known as the “La Manquita,” or “The One-Armed Lady” (due to the south tower never being completed).

towering cathedral facade

And of course, there was food. The restaurant will go unnamed. The food was delicious, but if only we wouldn’t have had to get hangry while watching customers who had sat down after us finish their meals before anyone came to take our order. Living in Spain, one must get accustomed to bad service, but really?!

The Alcazaba, or Moorish fortress, was beautiful. Built in the early 11th century, it’s one of the best preserved fortresses in Spain. We explored the nooks and crannies while trying not to trip over the other tourists.

sign outside of the alcazaba
the sprawling malaga alcazaba

Just outside of the Alcazaba was a Roman theater, dating to first century B.C. The view was outstanding, but I can’t say much for the smell. A friend mentioned that it was reminiscent of a zoo exhibit. After that, we kept expecting poo-flinging apes to appear from somewhere below.

roman theater exhibit

The Castle of Gibralfaro was connected to the Alcazaba. However, tourists had to go out and around on the side street. It was hot. It was exhausting. A street musician encouraged us on. I was completely soaked in sweat by the time we stopped for a few soggy pictures. But the view…

bird's eye view of malaga port

No one checked our tickets. They must have figured that anyone who made that climb deserved to be there! Our exploration of the nooks and crannies was severely limited due to our short supply of energy. We found a bus that took us to the bottom of the hill (and asked ourselves why we hadn’t bothered finding one to take us to the top).

My friends humored my Indian craving by hunting down The Great India, an Indian restaurant we had spotted at the beginning of our day. And that, my friends, is the way to end any day of tourism.

Only God can redeem a broken life

Her tearless story was like too many stories I’ve heard. Another rocky marriage. And she barely in her twenties. She refused to tell her mother because it would make her worry. 

We munched on market olives, tossing the pits into the ravine over our shoulders. 

She shrugged. “What can I do? All marriages are like this.” 

“But they don’t have to be!” I protested. 

She agreed to let me pray for her. And we talked about making the first step to be the change.

I didn’t pretend to have the solution. “Only God can change hearts.”

“North Africans have black hearts!”

“Why? When you’re supposed to be good Muslims? Why do you say that Christians are the ones who do good and Muslims have black hearts?”

She was shaking her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” Some things just needed to be accepted. 

In the end, she went her way and I went mine. It ached to know that our lives had touched and she still walked away broken. But I am helpless to heal, to fix, or to fill. Her broken life is in God’s hands, awaiting joyful redemption. 

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.