A few more thoughts on hospitality

A few months ago, I mentioned that I hoped to share with you some of what I learned while writing an essay on hospitality. In May, a day trip to a mountain town with my neighbor’s family jogged my memory. My memory continued to jog, but only in place as the busyness of June took over.

Now here I am at last with my hospitality essay at my side. But my mind keeps returning to that mountain town…

As I sprawled out on the little sister’s bed during siesta time, my eyes roamed the room, spotting things stashed here and there. A rickety binder that looked as if it had been tossed on top of the wardrobe and promptly forgotten. Broken drawers in a dresser decorated with childish markers. An abandoned attempt at decor.

The untidiness spoke of things not cared for.

Yet there I was, a stranger to the family, welcomed into their home and offered a bed. Rather than buy expensive things and focus on protecting them from harm, this family created a space that said people mattered more.

The women set up a chair in the narrow kitchen doorway for me to sit and hold the baby and then spent the evening tripping over me as they bustled about. And they didn’t mind.

As we finished dinner around midnight, a deep weariness came over me as I looked around at the pile of people in the living room. As soon as they left, the cleanup would need to begin.

And then they left, and rather than being overwhelmingly dirty, the house looked almost clean. As I helped to stack the green plastic chairs and fluff the postage stamp pillows, I wondered why.

It was as if the people who had been in the room were the only decor. The room was serviceable not beautiful, because the emphasis was on the relationships of those who gathered rather than the things they gathered around.

I don’t believe that hospitality and taking care of things are mutually exclusive. However, coming from a culture that often values possessions more than relationships, I appreciate the reminder to engage the relational side of hospitality.

Oops. I’ve been rather long-winded and I haven’t even started my essay summary. Maybe next week? 🙂

Getting ready for summer heat

Maybe you live in a climate-controlled house. But just in case you don’t, here are a few tips to beat the summer heat. These are ideas I picked up from summers in Mexico, Phoenix, North Africa, and Spain. Thank you to anyone who has contributed to this list over the years.

  • Keep the sun out of the house; shut the blinds.
  • Chill your water before drinking it (a no-brainer for North Americans).
  • Stay hydrated. Infuse that cold water with exciting things to keep you drinking. I learned about cucumbers in Phoenix.
  • Eat cold salads, smoothies, hummus, and fresh veggies.
  • Make popsicles or freeze yogurt for afternoon snacks.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible during the hottest parts of the day. Plan your adventures before the sun comes up or after it goes down.
  • Slip a flexible ice pack into a pillow case or towel and curl it around your neck or set your wrists on it. (I currently have three of these waiting in my freezer.)
  • Put your feet in a bucket of cold water. This was often my last resort when I lived in North Africa, those sizzling summer days when even thinking was impossible.
  • If you have a good water supply, shower multiple times a day–cold! If you’re too chicken to willingly shower cold, unplug your water heater. 🙂
  • Wash your hair often, or at least rinse it. In Phoenix, I came home dripping with sweat every day after class. Cold water over my head cooled me down to a liveable internal temperature.
  • Keep a spray bottle handy to spray yourself while you sit in front of a fan.
  • Wet your pajamas in the shower and wring them out before crawling into bed in front of a fan. (This worked for a decent night of sleep on those stuffy Mexican nights.)
  • Drape a wet towel over yourself at night.
  • Use a fan in the window overnight to bring in as much cool, night air in as you can. Cool air + fan white noise = decent night of summer sleep.

Have you tried some of these ideas? Do you have more ideas to add to the list? If so, leave them in the comments below!

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the tiles and a few other things about Spain

#1

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the tiles. If you live in a town with tiled sidewalks, you probably know what I mean. Tiled sidewalks are great as long as none of the tiles are loose. And even loose tiles are okay as long as it doesn’t rain.  

It rains. Then the sun begins to shine and a smiling you decides to go for a walk to enjoy the fresh air. You’re in high gear when it gets you: that warm splash up your ankle and along your hem. Sigh. That tippy tile was hiding a puddle of rainwater. Rainwater that had been flowing along a filthy street. 

There are some streets that I avoid after a rain because to walk along them is to feel the ground moving beneath you and hungry waves of brown water lapping your ankles. Most rainy days (and even 1-2 days afterwards) I long for drab concrete sidewalks with obvious puddles rather than the noble but surprising tile ones. 

#2

Most Spanish balconies have water spouts and people use them as they wash down their balconies. Beware, pedestrians below! Those of you who live in the city probably know what I mean, but balcony water spouts were a new concept to this country girl.

After the Saharan dust storms in March, everyone was splashing water on everything. At times, the streets flowed with orange water. My neighbor tossed a bucket at his balcony wall and seconds later heard a shout from below. Oops, he had nailed a passerby.

I think the proper etiquette is to check for any passersby before starting the flow. After that, they’ve been warned by the growing puddle on the sidewalk below the spout and if they’re unaware enough to walk within reach of your balcony spout, then that’s their problem, not yours. 

And, for the record, yes, I still get dripped on every now and then. And I just hope… hope that it was a harmless drip from someone’s squeaky clean mop bucket. 

#3

Some Spaniards set plastic water jugs on the sidewalks outside of their homes, often fastened to something with string or rope. The bottles are filled with liquid, sometimes clear, sometimes amber.

I have noticed this for years and finally asked my landlady about it. She acted like she’d never even noticed this strange habit. So I did a little research and found that the water bottles are supposed to scare away pets and stray animals from peeing in doorways or sidewalks in front of homes. Whether or not it works is up for debate, but it’s still widely practiced here. 

#4

I’m not sure what northern or central Spanish flies are like, but the ones on the coast have the ability to drive sane people mad (at least temporarily).

The lesser flies aren’t so bad, the ones that zip in jerky patterns in the center of the room and never seem to land. But the ones that I pick up by walking down the street can get my blood to a rolling boil in no time at all. 

They don’t leave me alone. I might only pick up one or two on my walk, but they follow me no matter how fast I walk. It’s like they believe they’ve found a friend and want to stick by my side–or on my nose–for the duration of my trip. I swat one away and walk a few meters, imagining that I have left him in the dust and suddenly he’s on my ear this time. The next time it’s my nose again. And then my chin. And I want to sprint down the street screaming bloody murder.

Would it hurt Spain to invest in some good ol’ American flies? Not that I ever liked American flies either, but they seem to respect boundaries a little better than coastal Spanish flies.

#5

Pepper spray is apparently only available on the black market. 

One day, I went to the police station to ask, “What can a woman in Spain do to protect herself?”

The officer’s eyebrows raised. He tried to explain how citizens were not allowed to bear arms. (Maybe I’m imagining things, but he seemed to emphasize this point when he realized I was American.)

“What about pepper spray?” I asked. 

“It’s only available on the black market.” He shrugged. Then he gave me a lecture about matching the defense with the assault. 

Right. “So how can a woman protect herself?” I repeated. 

“We are your protection.” 

“But you weren’t there when I needed help,” I pointed out. 

He sighed in assent and was quiet for a little. “Then what you need to do is report the incident.”

Right. But no pepper spray.


Well, those are a few things about life here. If you come for a visit, watch out for those loose tiles, dripping balcony spouts, plastic water bottles, pesky flies and, oh, BYOPS (bring your own pepper spray). 

Have a wonderful weekend!

5 things I learned about hospitality last week

Hospitality creates a resting place for those you love… and even those you’re still trying to love. It’s not boundary-less, but true hospitality grows our understanding of boundaries, sometimes stretching and sometimes reinforcing. About a year ago, I wrote an essay on this topic, drawing from the experience of others, experience I hope to acquire as time goes on. Maybe another day I’ll share some of those thoughts.

But today, I’m writing about what I learned last week in Córdoba with my Pakistani friend and her family.

Although the week had its ups and downs, I savored their hospitality. Hospitality is not cultureless and sometimes those hiccups caught me off-guard, like when someone ordered for me at a restaurant instead of letting me choose for myself. Still, hospitality transcends culture. It is resilient because love is resilient. 

Here are five things I noticed about hospitality during my stay in my friend’s home:

  1. Hospitality is selfless. The family adjusted their sleeping arrangements in the tiny bedrooms so that I would be most comfortable. The fact that the door didn’t close because the foot of my roommate’s bed was in the way was irrelevant. It really was the best arrangement and they were less comfortable for it.
  2. Hospitality is sharing the fullness of self. I heard a lot of stories. These women weren’t pretending to have it all together; they were vulnerable. On the lighter side, they also shared the specialness of their culture and background.
  3. Hospitality gives space for love to grow. It doesn’t demand love or care, but it shelters a space for them to grow. Time was protected. My friend’s mother took the day off of work just because I was there. We went out for churros instead.
  4. Hospitality wants you there. I’ve both hostessed and been hostessed out of obligation, but that’s not hospitality, at least not in its fullness. On this visit, I was welcomed and I was wanted. They delighted in my presence as I did in theirs. My friend’s little boy came calling my name whenever I was out of sight: “Come play with me!”
  5. Hospitality accepts as well as gives. The family refused to let me pay for our tostadas or bus fare or anything else. But they happily accepted the gifts I had brought them. Hospitality doesn’t expect reciprocity, but it graciously receives.

How have you seen hospitality in others? Have you noticed any cultural differences? How has hospitality transcended culture, even sub-culture? What are some bits of wisdom that you have gleaned along the way? I’d love to hear and learn. 🙂

Between Spain and Spain

Last weekend, three of us went to the mountainous Spanish countryside to retreat from the normal grind of life. We drank in the green, the quiet, and space to read, write, and think. 

I knew I was still in Spain, but it looked so different from Mytown that I kept saying things like, “When I get back to Spain…” To me, Spain is noisy streets full of colorful immigrants, not silent citrus trees dotting an overgrown garden. To be in the Spanish countryside awoke longings in me that typically get silenced in the distractions of city life.

citrus trees surrounding overgrown garden

Months ago, a friend recommended the book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn R. Gardner. There, straddling those separate Spanish worlds, I figured it was as good of a time as any to start reading. 

Gardner writes, “I’ve come to realize that longing is ok as long as it does not paralyze, as long as I slowly continue to embrace the life that has been given at this time, at this moment” (Airports, par. 19).

Back in Mytown, far away from the calming Spanish countryside and even farther from my Illinois family and friends, I sometimes long for what I don’t grasp between my fingers. But will I let that longing rob me of today? Or can the far away people, places, and experiences of my life shape me into who God has called me to be where He has called me to be, right here?

What about you? Will you let your past life experiences and unfulfilled longings shape your today for the good?

It’s a choice, I think. Perhaps mixed with some trial and error. But a choice to let longing live inside of you, enriching but not robbing you.

God is good

I’m stuck in Madrid.

Same nightmare, just backwards this time… with even less time in between. I could have wept when I arrived at my gate, panting from the weight of my carry-ons (and my out-of-shapedness) only to find the gate completely deserted.

But God works in mysterious ways, you know. Just because that phrase is cliché doesn’t make it untrue.

While I was stressing that my London-Madrid flight was running late and I would have even less than the allotted 50 minutes to get through border patrol and change terminals, I pretty sure God was making my flight late on purpose. “I got this,” I think I heard Him say while I was in at least 4 lines deep at passport control.

“Okay, God. You got this.”

But even if I had heard His voice, I wasn’t really sure what He “got.” So I still ran and I almost let myself plop down and sob at that empty gate at the tippy-tip of that long terminal.

God’s sovereignty is like that. We don’t know what He’s up to, but we can trust that He knows and that what He does is good.

Not that I was thinking lofty thoughts when I walked up to Iberia’s information desk, alone and sad between that rock and hard place.

God was good to me. Because my London flight had arrived late, I was offered 3 meals and a hotel, something that may end up being more needed than rushing home and diving into life. If my flight hadn’t been late (because I almost assuredly would have missed the connecting flight anyway), it would have been another ticket purchase and nighty-night on the grimy airport floor.

But God would have been good there too. Just as good as He is after a real shower and a real pillow.

Why is that so hard to remember?

Do you ever wonder if Jesus was tempted to forget His Father’s goodness in light of His personal pain? He was born fragile into a hostile society. He had to learn about a world He had created, grow up among people He had formed, and probably even misspell words He gave us breath to pronounce. And He dedicated His ministry to many who eventually turned their backs on Him.

Just before His crucifixion, didn’t He cry, “Let this cup pass from me”?

Last summer, as we watched a friend suffer from cancer, we prayed with her that the cup would pass. It didn’t.

Her cry for relief wasn’t a cry of doubt. Like Jesus, she was able to say, “Nevertheless, Your will be done.” Like Jesus, she submitted to the Father’s sovereignty.

“Sovereignty” and “submission” don’t sound like such big words after a hot shower and a clean bed, but what about right there in the middle of chemo? In the agony of dying for a world that hates you? Or just feeling weepy at a deserted airport gate?

Is my concept of God’s goodness too fragile, too willing to be broken? Is it just a churchy façade for a secular ideology?

This is getting too heavy for my tired brain. So I’ll wrap this up by saying that I was challenged by my own circumstances today: Do I really believe God is good all of the time?

Okay, that’s all. Next time, I’ll try to write about Christmas or my time in the States instead of just the dreadful little airport bookends of my trip!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Illinois or bust

Illinois or bust. That should have been my motto when I shut off the water and left the house at 5:15 a.m.

Although I knew my layovers were tight, I had opted not to lose sleep over it since there was quite literally nothing I could do about it. But only an hour and ten minutes at Madrid Barajas?

Then the flight from Sevilla ran late, not late late but just enough late to tarnish my hope of catching my connecting flight. Not only would I have to go through security again, but I also had to get to the satellite terminal.

I happened upon others from my Sevilla flight who were trying to get on the same Chicago flight. That gave me hope that if there were enough of us, they might hold that flight. An angelic flight attendant cleared a path for us and we scurried off of the plane.

I ran. Well, I should say “we ran” because two of us hung together. We blazed through security and my partner took off at a trot… stocking-footed because there was no time to put on shoes.

At our breakneck speed, the signs were confusing. Once, when we stopped long enough to ensure we were on the right path, the agent who tried to help confused us more not because she was unhelpful but because we were in too much of a hurry to hang around to make sure we understood.

We raced to a train, down hallways, up escalators, “con permiso”ing our way. Then we rounded the corner and found ourselves at passport control…six fat lines snaking their way along at a decent clip, but not nearly fast enough. A man ahead of us was trying to get an agent to help him, but the agent simply said, “If we helped everyone who is in a hurry, it would be everyone. Get in line.”

So then we were three, trying not to hyperventilate while waiting in line. Trying to read the signs beyond the passport control for the moment when we would finally get through. At the counter, I killed a few extra seconds pulling out my residency card and my two new friends were nowhere in sight when I emerged.

By that time, our flight should have been taking off. Assuredly, the gate was closed. But I ran anyway. I ran with a backpack and a rattling suitcase and was glad Mom had reminded me to wear sneakers. The timing listed below the gates on the signs are relative and well, maybe accurate at a full-out run with no slow-pokes blocking one’s path. But those 7 minutes felt like an eternity. My lungs burned, gasping for air behind my mask.

There was the final covid control. Panting and gasping, I showed my negative test QR and asked if by chance the flight was still on the ground.

“Yes” they said.

And I ran again, up to the gate where my friends were just pulling out their boarding passes. But just as the young man passed through the check, the flight agent stopped the line. (Another breathless young gentleman had joined us at this point and we were three again.)

“No. You can’t go. No more people can get on.” The agent was unyielding. She turned back to her computer as if she dealt with puffing, stricken travelers every day, because well, she probably did.

My friend burst into tears. The agent remained immobile. But then another agent joined her. “It’s only three more. They’ll let on three more.” And he got on the phone.

And suddenly the unsympathetic agent was graciously scanning our boarding passes and handing them all to who was first in line in her effort to make us hurry. We didn’t need to be reminded.

I was hot, sweaty, wild-eyed, and extremely thirsty when I plopped into my seat. We were on that plane for more than 10 hours, growing more and more restless and unkempt. Well, at least I was. I made no effort to freshen up because hanging out in the airplane’s WC is not my idea of freshening up. “Oh well,” I decided. “No one I see right now will ever see me again!” Thus, I disembarked the plane rather indifferent to my nerdy glasses, flyaway hair, fuzzy teeth, and death breath.

But while I was waiting in one of those long ORD international arrival lines, the man in front of me said, “You were on the flight from Almería, weren’t you?”

As we chatted, we realized we had been on the same flights all day. He and his wife–she a fellow Illinoisan– live in Almería. “She would enjoy meeting you,” he said. I gave him my number and it wasn’t until he was gone that I realized that my indifference to my appearance perhaps hadn’t been the wisest choice… There indeed may be someone I will see again.

Since I’ve been back in Illinois, I’ve been glutting myself on quality time with friends and family, on holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas in the same weekend? Why not?), and on calorie-laden food. I’ll probably write more on all that later. But I’ll just say that Thanksgiving came at a good time…in the wake of a busy trip that plopped this grateful soul on Illinois soil.


Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s just another day here in Spain. It’s strange celebrating holidays that aren’t celebrated in our country of residence. The world around us zips by at its normal pace while we baste a turkey or set off fireworks and grill burgers. Once, I even celebrated Christmas in North Africa. That was the strangest of all.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday, so even though my team lives in Spain, we plan to celebrate. My roommate is basting the turkey as I write. The green beans and sweet potatoes are ready to cook. The pies are done. The table set.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I have an appointment at the other end of town this morning, so I won’t be around for the last minute rush before guests arrive. I’ve been delegated to pick up the rest of the wassail ingredients and new light bulbs on my way home.

But before I leave, I decided to write a few things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. A safe return to Spain last weekend
  2. Family and friends who make leaving so hard
  3. A suitcase that arrived after all
  4. Stage 1 visa paperwork handed in
  5. A smoky turkey aroma filling the apartment
  6. That despite the craziness of our world, God is in control
  7. A fluffy blond niece who asked me yesterday, “What color is your imagination?”
  8. A thrill when I think about the future and the God who holds it
  9. Freedom to get out and about even while under covid restrictions
  10. The mountains and the sea in the same view– How I missed you!

By no means is that an exhaustive list. But I wanted to give you time to write your own list. What are you thankful for?

Not where I belong

Well, it’s time again, ready or not. That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been pulled apart by the highs and lows of leaving until sometimes, I don’t feel anything at all, as if the slug of conflicting emotions deposits a slimy trail of numbness. That sounds depressing, but with two days left, I suspect I’m more on the melancholy side of things. The excitement will return when my feet are planted on Spanish soil. (I say “when” and not “if” to boost my confidence that the trip will go as planned. 🙂 )

I’m excited to return to Spain, to find a new normal that doesn’t feel like an in-between normal. But I want to weep when I think of leaving behind my beloved in-between.

Belonging to two places tastes more like not fully belonging anywhere. That, my friends, tastes bittersweet. Sweet, only because it’s a sturdy reminder that:

All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong.
(Building 429 from "Where I Belong")

Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash

Weddings and the Wild West

Two weddings in two weeks. Whew. They were lovely weddings. Both fairly small and fairly simple. One was a dear friend’s wedding; the other, my baby sister’s. One couple puttered away in an old car; the other roared off in a helicopter on what turned out to be an unfortunately windy day.

I helped coordinate the ceremony for one wedding and was a bridesmaid in the other. By the time both were done and we had gorged ourselves on Casey’s pizza that last Saturday night, I was ready for a change of pace.

So I headed west.

But my Wild West trip was not wild. It was hardly the West either, but even to us in Illinois, anything west of the Mississippi is pretty far west. Besides, it’s not often we Illinoisans see “Pavement ends” or “Gravel ends” signs like you see in Nebraska.

gravel ends road sign

I stayed with a dear childhood friend. We lounged, talked, read, took a snack to the church’s school, visited friends, shot a dirt pile (so, I have a ways to go yet before I’ll be hunting Bambi and Thumper), had runzas, and did oodles more things.

Nebraska runza

One of the “oodles” was a tour of a state park in Fairbury, NE built around wagon “swails” from the Oregon Trail route.

prairie grass

Later that week, the scenery on the way to Kansas was bland and comfortable. After spending the afternoon pricing books at Choice Books, another dear friend and I spent much of the weekend talking and reading in a beautiful, plant-filled apartment.

plants on window sill

We also managed to hang some lights, decorate for fall, and do a little downtown shopping… in between our lounging. 🙂

market store front

No, indeed, my Wild West trip did not turn out wild at all, but exactly, exactly as I had hoped.