It’s not easy being Murcia (Day 2)

I meant to start out earlier than I did. But I didn’t. I meant to take a morning tour of the bell tower of Murcia’s cathedral. But I didn’t. Instead, I read a sign that said tours were offered October through June and said nothing about tours during tourist season.

I gave up that plan for the time being and wandered over to the bus stop in time to climb on a bus to Rueda de la Ñora, a water wheel located in an otherwise unremarkable village outside of Murcia.

Still sleepy, I yawned the whole way out of the city. It would have been easier had I worn a mask that allowed yawns and didn’t grab both my nose and my chin in a vice grip. It was unfortunately one of those city buses that didn’t bother to say where it was or where it was going at any given time. Enter Google maps.

city streets from bus window

The water wheel was worth the visit. However, there was no shade and it made my visit shorter than I would have liked. I was the only tourist there. The wheel was commissioned in the 1400s although it’s been replaced various times.

working water wheel
Rueda de la Ñora

On my walk back to the bus, a dog gave me a series of ferocious barks from a terraza overhead. The sun tilted just right so I could see the gray shadows of his snapping jaws on the street beside me.

I stumbled across a bakery on my way back to the bus. “Why not?” I thought and stepped inside. It was a real bakery, one where the cashier came to the counter with her hands covered in flour. She was brisk but kind as I carefully selected a chocolate-filled pastry.

bakery window

The bus deposited me at Circular Square, which is more or less a giant fountain in the middle of a roundabout. It was unoccupied, making me wonder if anybody in Murcia appreciates their own landmarks. (And do I appreciate the landmarks of Mytown?)

fountain and city sign

The Archeological Museum of Murcia was free so it was worth a look, I decided. I’m not much for museums and the history here in Spain is so ancient it becomes unremarkable after a while. I skipped the evolution of man section which put me ahead of the only others in the museum. So I basically walked through the museum alone except the security guard who greeted me every time he circled past. I should have tried to make off with a Roman pillar to give him something to do.

remnants of ancient pillars
An exhibit at the Museo Arqueológico de Murcia

On the way back to the cathedral tower (by this time, I had bought a tour ticket online), I passed through Plaza Santo Domingo and found a startling human rights monument in the middle of the plaza, like a silent scream.

monument of people standing in a circle
cathedral tower
Murcia’s cathedral bell tower

I arrived early for the tour, which didn’t bother me. I plopped down in the shade in front of the tower and people watched. We were a large group, not my favorite way to tour, but I had already decided that the pros would outweigh the cons. The tower’s history was fascinating, from how the construction paused for 200 years when the tower began to lean or how the resident rats nibbled the edges of the old manuscripts to avoid the poisonous ink.

The group was frantically taking selfies at every turn as I cruised past, photo bombing everyone. (Okay, that’s probably just what it felt like.) Tucked inside the walls, there was the impression of coolness, but it also felt muggy. But however hot and sweaty, we all made it up the 17 ramps. The quarter hour chime at the top was exhilarating. The bells thundered inside of my head.    

cityscape through through railing
bell hanging in tower overlooking city

After lunch in the air conditioning at my Airbnb, and some time to unwind, I tried to go to a coffee shop which was closed. “August,” I grumbled as I meandered through downtown and eventually ended up at CaféLab again where they recognized me and spoke to me in English.

chai latte

I picked up snacks at Día and then spent the evening on the couch with guacamole, fresh mozzarella, and a show on the fancy-schmancy TV that the Airbnb host had painstakingly explained to his clueless guest.

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

“The svelte brunette vs. her pimply cousin” or “Coffee vs. tea”

Last time I was Stateside, I confessed to two dear friends that I really liked tea. They smiled but disagreed. “Watery” was one of the agreed-upon adjectives. We sipped our coffee together, because at least we agreed on that. 

Long ago, back when we all still had Facebook, a friend’s sister posted that coffee was a svelte, rich brunette and tea was her pimply cousin, or something to that effect. “What a perfect description!” I thought and stashed it away in a mental file (not a verbatim mental file, apparently). I 100% agreed. 

Until now. 

I still love coffee but my intolerance to large doses of caffeine has curbed my zeal. That and the less-than-desirable church potluck coffee of my past which carried the distinct flavor of what a friend called “burnt Folgers.” In the meantime, I’ve grown fonder of tea. In fact, I like tea even more than I did when my friends called it “watery.”

Nearly every week, I visit a tea vendor at the local market. I ask for a bit of this and a bit of that until I drive her crazy filling tiny baggies. Then I go home with my loot and put the kettle on. 

I’ve never been one to branch out with coffee flavors. Yah, I’m the one who gets a plain latte practically every time she goes to a coffee shop. Now decaf, oh, and no sugar, please. But tea is different. With my little samples, I’m working my way through the tea vendor’s options. 

Rooibos is an acquired taste, I’ve decided, and I’m still working on acquiring it. I thought it was okay until my student said the vanilla blend tasted like a medicine from her childhood. The infusions also leave something to be desired. Flavor, to be exact. After my first cup of some sort of pomegranate blend I had to side with my friends on the whole “watery” thing. Apparently, infusions require a surprising quantity to achieve flavor. Blah. I picked out the now-soggy pieces of fruit and ate them to console myself. The piña colada infusion had to go too. Too coconuty, even for someone who loves coconut. 

Some of the teas that are planning to stay on my shelf are: Japanese cherry (green), black tea with rose, caramelized almond (black), green with pomegranate, and one called 1,001 nights, a green blend that is exotic, romantic, and not at all watery. 

What about you? Are you a tea drinker? If so, which flavors do you like? Any suggestions for non-caffeinated, non-watery-infusion, non-rooibos varieties?

Worship in routine

Last week, a friend told me that she wants her appearance to reflect who she is on the inside, to reflect her inner value and worth as the Holy Spirit’s dwelling place (1 Cor. 6:19). Hmm. That’s good, I think as I lounge in my sweatpants and dirty socks and, oh, oatmeal still between my teeth from breakfast.

I’ve been struggling with the elbow grease of my friend’s realization before she even sent that message. See, I hate getting out of bed in the morning. No, it’s not depression; it’s because my morning routine takes too long, a chunk of seemingly misused time. The world is going up in flames and I’m making my bed and starting the tea kettle and washing my face. And, goodness, what should I wear?

These small tasks don’t feel useless, per se, but of such triviality that it’s irritating how they eat up my morning. They are necessary and I do them, but they feel to me like wood, hay, and stubble. Bedtime is even worse because I have to undo what took me so long to do in the morning plus I’m sleepy and *gasps* grumpy.

WHEN WE GET TO ETERNITY, IS GOD GOING TO CALL US TO ACCOUNT FOR WEARING DIRTY SOCKS? That’s what I want to shout sometimes.

In 2020, I read and recommended Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. “[M]y theology was too big to touch a typical day in my life,” she writes (p. 55). Trim my fingernails? God’s not going to call me to account for that either. I want to do the big things, the kingdom work.

Warren challenged me to view my routines as sacred and meaningful, part of the abundant life that Jesus has for me (p. 22) “How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life” (p. 24). And that includes my attitude. “The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines” (p. 34) because, according to Warren, that is where we can truly start the revolution we’re dreaming of (see Lk. 16:10).

So, God might not call me to account for my dirty socks or overflowing dish drainer, yet, that doesn’t make me unaccountable for how I treat God’s temple (my body) and the gifts He has freely given me. 

As I type out these thoughts, I interrupt myself for a shower, to heat a bowl of soup, and yes, to empty that overflowing dish drainer. It doesn’t feel worshipful, especially when I find a spoon that still has dried bean broth on it. 

But maybe I’m looking at it backwards. Like my friend, I think I should start by reclaiming my motivation and letting my life–even those mundane fingernail clippings and bed makings–come out of that motivation in something like a sweet-smelling savor of worship.


Photo by Nick Page on Unsplash

The romance of sickness

Why is it that when we’re well, we have romantic thoughts of being sick?

I can’t be the only one who pictures herself curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea, graciously texting regrets to everything on her schedule.

But today, I sprawl on my grimy sheets, trumpeting through my nose and tossing tissues over the side of the bed that land splut, splut, splut on the laminate flooring.

Of course, in my imagination, I busy myself with natural remedies that help my body heal, leaving it just enough sick to stay home from everything I don’t want to face. In reality, I dubiously rub on some essential oils and then fish around in my medicine bag for ibuprofen and oh look! Vicks Vaporub! I tell my sister how I made myself bay leaf tea but don’t mention that I had coffee this morning because I’m getting tired of tea.

My ears ache. My teeth hurt. I think someone filled up my skull with over-steeped tea that burns the backs of my watering eyes. My nose, well, you could even say it glows.

As for reading a book… I tried and then read the news, got depressed, and took a toss-and-turn, HONK-splut nap.

So where is the romance of sickness?

It’s a real thing. It’s called quarantine, that beautiful time when you’ve been exposed to something dangerous and get to wear pajamas all day for a whole week until you effectively don’t get the illness after all.

So today–splut, splut–that’s what I’m holding out for. The “sickness” that dreams are made of. At least my dreams. When I have them. Between bouts of coughing and nose-blowing.

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…

Lord of the shadows

Something about the book begs tears. I don’t know what it is exactly; there’s no paragraph or even chapter that particularly resonates. Perhaps it’s the undertone of sorrow mingled with hope in everyday sacred moments.

“God, where are you?” And I set aside the book and turn off the reading light to stare into the shadows of the 9:30 world. “Please meet me here.”

He does. And I have my own mingling of sorrow and hope. Of homesickness and gratitude. Of reluctance and awe. 

And, refusing to turn on the light, I stumble in the shadows to make a cup of tea, fumbling for the tea kettle and spilling leaves from the tea ball. Strawberry cream. I found it at the market today. It leaves a thick aftertaste of comfort although it’s new to my palate. I sip it from the robin’s egg mug I found while shopping with a new friend. The mug makes me think of her, this new friend full of intense questions ever since our first encounter.  She is working hard to please Allah. “Please meet her too.”

Down below, are voices. Arabic. I peek over the balcony to see two men and one woman leaving the nightclub next door. But no, only the men are leaving, caressing the woman’s hand in parting. “See you on Saturday,” they say. She tugs up her blouse neckline as she returns to that dark doorway that heaves its sweet and sick breath. “Oh God, please meet her there!”

With the light on, now I can see God was in the cooling rain this morning. In the huge, toothless smile from a friend’s husband who pretended to steal my market bag. In the husky greeting from a melancholy neighbor puffing a cigarette on the front stoop. In a phone call from a chatty acquaintance-turning-friend. In the final save of a document that took countless hours and headaches to create.

As I finish my cup of strawberry cream tea in the lamplight, the shadows have faded. But they lurk. There will always be shadows, I think. But even in the glow of the light, there is comfort knowing that He is Lord of the shadows too.

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.

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

Do you want to know the apricot tree?- Part 2

There was coffee with milk, mint tea, several types of bread, cookies, brownies, chocolate pastries, hard-boiled eggs with salt and cumin, strawberries…

We three roommates beamed at each other across the table. We had pulled off a luscious North African tea time. Our two guests were relaxed and carried on a lilting conversation that didn’t seem to notice our limited vocabulary.

“Eat! Eat!” We urged as we refilled coffee glasses and set plates of food in front of them.

The topic turned to people who ask too many questions. I shared my story with the woman at the store. Our guests burst into laughter, amused at how annoyed I still was, days later.

“What should I say when people ask me that?” I hollered over their laughter. My teacher had taught me the phrase, “Is it your market?” but I had only ever heard sassy children use that with each other. It hardly seemed appropriate to be so blunt with another adult.

Still laughing, one of the ladies said, “Do you want to know the apricot tree and who planted her?”

Captivated, we asked her to repeat the phrase over and over. As foreigners, we probably got more than our fair share of nosy questions. Having a bit of good-natured ammunition would be refreshing. Our guests assured us that no one would take offense at such a remark, but they would get the hint to get their nose out of of your business.

We practiced the awkward words and intonation until our pronunciation was acceptable by North African standards.

And I filed that helpful tidbit in my mind for easy access.


Photo by Pratik Gupta on Unsplash