Rewarded loyalty

“I would like five carrots,” I told the market vendor as he weighed the other produce I had collected from his stall.

A moment later, he breezed back with a bag bulging with considerably more than five carrots. 

“No.” His coworker pointed to the bag and looked at me. “That’s too much, isn’t it?” He had overheard my tiny order.

I remembered the first time I had bought produce at this stall. It was the coworker who had pretended to forget to give me my change and then came back, minutes later, surprised that I was still standing there–neither oblivious nor angry. He quickly handed over the correct change without my reminding him of the amount. 

Now I found it refreshingly ironic that he was the one looking out for me. 

Long ago, I wrote about how I tend to be a loyal shopper, shopping in the same places, even when I know other places have better prices. I still do that today. On market morning, I make sure to stop at my normal vendor stalls first before picking up what I couldn’t find at other stalls. 

You may think my loyalty is blind, but that’s not fair. And this is why…

One day I was meticulously selecting the brightest pomegranates from a pile. My produce vendor noticed what I was doing and slipped over to show me how to tell when pomegranates are ready–and it has nothing to do with how rosy they were! 

Sometimes I’m offered samples of special fruits. And when I ask if new apricots are sweet, they answer honestly because they know I’ll be back even if they’re not.

The first time I made puchero, I ordered my bones and cuts of meat. The shopkeeper happily filled me with advice on preparing the dish. “Boil these bones for 15 minutes before putting them in your soup or they will make the soup too salty.”

One day I bought semolina flour for harcha. “You like harcha?” the shopkeeper asked. At my happy sigh, she disappeared to the back of the store and came back with harcha, still warm from breakfast. More than once, she has given me handfuls of mint leaves from her personal stash when there wasn’t any to sell.

Another shopkeeper refused to sell me a lone chicken breast. He quietly shook his head until I understood that it probably wasn’t the freshest chicken breast north of the Mediterranean. 

Sometimes when the fabric vendor sees me coming, he pulls out the bolts he’s pretty sure I’ll like. And if I stroll into his stall wearing something homemade, he spots his fabrics with delight.

Just the other week, my shower curtain rod was repeatedly falling down. Finally, after several days of clattering, banging, readjusting, and scratching my head, I decided a new rod was in order. But the store down the street didn’t have any. “Come back this afternoon,” he said. But that afternoon, he still didn’t have any. So he opted to get to the root of my problem–what was the problem exactly? 

As I was still making feeble attempts to explain without the proper vocabulary–”The thing in the middle of the stick…”–he began to work on something he had dug out of the dusty depths of his under-counter. Then–pop!–out came a yellowed suction cup and he told me precisely how to position it to keep the shower rod up. “You can even trim around the edges if you don’t like how it looks.” And my curtain rod has stayed up ever since. The yellowed lip of the suction cup is a happy reminder of the resourceful people who are looking out for me.

My meager loyalty has been rewarded so many times over that it has been crowded out by their generosity. In fact, I’m not even sure that my loyalty has much to do with it at all!

It’s easy to forget

"Hey! Hey!"
I turn to wave,
his kiss still wet on my cheek.
I can, in these moments,
forget that dogged darkness from the womb,
the dark that swallows him now.
Life feels so much like life
when his eyes still glitter hope.
So it's easy to forget.
Or not to remember.

And then I do,
and I want to run back
and snatch him
from what his family and his god
demand of him.
Because who will he be
when he reaches the end of his hope?
The end of his life?

"Hey! Hey!"
I turned around again
to see him looking over his shoulder
as his mother's hand leads him away.

Photo credit: Scott Szarapka on Unsplash

Pride and apathy

True love drives away laziness, that’s what a young friend learned in philosophy class. It drives away apathy too.

Then why do I grow apathetic to the woundedness that surrounds me?

Overwhelmed, that’s what I am. Overwhelmed by the dissonance of compassion and my own limits. I am one person with moderate abilities and stamina. I cannot be a superhero no matter how hard I try. My tiny contribution of self-sacrifice will not change the world.

And so I begin to seal off my heart, and what began as love is reduced to apathy.

Or was it even love to begin with?

When I fill my schedule to the brim with world-changing activities, what is my motive? Can it be love? It might be, but, if I’m honest, my motive to change the world often starts and ends with pride. And it’s a pride that turns apathetic when I refuse to be humbled by remembering my limits.

There always will be busy seasons in our lives, some longer than others, but a sustained frantic pace, even under the pretense of love is not truly loving.

Love isn’t defined by the absence of laziness or apathy. The real meaning isn’t found in the absence of something. It’s not even found in the presence of something like hard work or compassion. It is ultimately found in the Presence of Someone.

When I realize that I am not the one who must save the world, I am freed. The burden to be the savior rolls away. Finally, I can stop panicking over my limits in light of all the work that needs to be done. I am finally free to love well.

I can sit with someone who needs to cry. I can make cupcakes for a team event. I can read a captivating book. I can agree to tutor another student. I can have a friendly chat with my neighbor from the patio. I can probe deeper into the heart of a young woman who isn’t sure who she wants to be just yet. And I can do all of this, recognizing that I am just a small piece in what is happening, and, praise the Lord, I get the joy of being a piece.

I am a created being, created with limits. And that is very good. Why? Because the work does not begin and end with me but with the One who is limitless.

For an excellent resource on human limits, I recommend You’re Only Human by Kelly M. Kapic.

I wish I knew you

Maybe you think I don’t notice that bruise on half your face. You light the room with a smile and a dignified calm.

But I wish I could grab him by the throat and not let go until I know that he will never touch you again.

Except with love.

But how can I know unless you tell me? And how can you tell me unless you trust me? And how can you trust me when you just met me and he calls your phone and you need to go before we even know each other?

We say goodbye with an embrace, two kisses, and a few besides.

Then I stand and watch you walk away, wishing I knew the you behind that sparkling smile. 

And that black eye.

Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

Notes from Hospitality 101

I had promised I would summarize a few of the things I learned (and am currently learning!) while researching for an essay on hospitality. If you’re interested in reading the entire essay, send me a message. 🙂

  • We think of hospitality as taking place in our homes. But hospitality is broader than that; we can take hospitality with us wherever we go by honoring those around us.
  • Hospitality is not about bowing to the expectations of others. It’s not that we ignore expectations, but neither obligation nor martyrdom is true hospitality. Why? Because our work, our hospitality will never validate us; only God can do that.
  • Christ followers are commanded to show hospitality. (Check out Titus 1:8, 1 Timothy 5:10, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Peter 4:9.) However, the truth is that we love our comforts. And the other truth is that hospitality isn’t always comfortable. So while it would be easier never to invite anyone into our homes and lives, as Christians, we no longer worship the god of comfort.
  • If you’re an introvert like me, hospitality may feel like it requires more than you can give. But it doesn’t. Everyone needs boundaries and everyone has limits. If you’re introverted, it doesn’t exempt you from hospitality; it just means that you prepare for hospitality differently than those who have different limits.
  • True hospitality starts with worship. God is the One who empowers hospitality because He shows us both our imago dei and our depravity, reminding us that we are on the same level as everyone who walks through our door.
  • Hospitality can be grand and life-changing, but day-to-day hospitality is usually quiet, small, and insignificant.
  • We cannot wait until we know how to do it “right” or have the “right” circumstances before we show hospitality. If so, we will never start. Perfectionism can stand in the way of God working through us. In fact, hospitality goes hand in hand with humility, creating a space for our own vulnerability.
  • Speaking of creating spaces, hospitality creates a safe space for relationship regardless of life’s circumstances. Not only that, but we need to be fully present, committed to the privilege of walking with someone on their journey, even as they walk with us on ours. In other words, we should be invested for the long haul.
  • Hospitality is both living and speaking love and truth, all the while acknowledging that our story is only a part of a bigger story, God’s story.
  • Yes, hospitality requires much but it also blesses much. We connect with people we may have never known otherwise. We learn to enjoy them instead of use them. We are enriched when we enrich the lives of others, sharing our gifts and partaking of their gifts. We also bless God when we live in obedience to His Word.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

War and journey

Someone was telling me about his 100-year-old grandmother who has lived through myriad wars, including the Spanish Civil War when neighbors became traitors. This grandmother was identified as republican and the family was sent away. When they returned, neighbors were using the family possessions. She could hear their heirloom steel mortar and pestle next door and see their sheets waving on the neighbor’s lines. 

“If you’re not for me, you’re against me.” It’s no wonder they hid in their houses and trusted no one. And these were the lucky ones: the ones that survived.

Can this nation ever heal? An acquaintance thinks it will take only a few more generations, when those who lived through the Civil War and the Franco era are no longer around.

But sometimes, I look at the elderly and wonder: What were their lives like? What have they seen and experienced? And in what ways have these dear people passed the searing baton of their pain to the next generation? 

How can we expect a country to recover in only one or two generations? Healing takes time. When we try to rush it, it doesn’t happen at all. That’s true for my country where we still see the effects of slavery, if no longer in laws, then in hearts. Pain like that doesn’t heal just because we tell it to or because we ignore it. 

That’s true for me, someone who would like to be a perfect Christian, but finds herself wallowing in pain and besetting sins year after year. 

Although our Savior is the one who “knew no sin,” don’t forget that He became sin for our sake (2 Cor. 5:21). Yes, and He is delighted to travel the healing road with us, shaping us into His likeness and loving us even in the moments we least resemble Him.

Our lives will never be painless nor will we ever be perfect no matter how many years we live… that is, until years no longer count. So keep journeying, but have patience with yourself today, because He does.

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the optometrist

Now that you know I have bad teeth and a bad back, you might as well know that I have bad eyes too. That’s why I waited until very recently to update my contacts and glasses. I was panicky and Spanishless when I entered the office down the street just to make the appointment. I forced myself to ask a few logical questions and then raced home to dread the day of my appointment. 

Well, the optometrist had accidentally put me down on a holiday. I dutifully wore my outdated and headache-inducing glasses for a full 24 hours before traipsing to the appointment where I fully expected to be told I was careening toward unpreventable blindness. Instead, the office was closed. I called the number on the sign. Oops, he had indeed scheduled me on a day they were closed. Could I come on Monday instead?

Grumpy, I went home and put in my contacts. At least the news of my impending blindness would wait for one more weekend. 

On Monday, he didn’t even gasp at my prescription, but gave the standard line that I could see well for how bad my eyes are. No blurriness. No floaters. Etc. Maybe that line isn’t so standard, but it has been in my experience. 

After the first few letters of the chart, he noted that my hesitancy was not due to my inability to see but my inability to rattle off Spanish letter names. “Just say them in English,” he suggested. “I’m learning English.”

We talked about glasses and contacts and I realized that, for the first time in my eye doctor history, I wasn’t ashamed of my poor eyesight. Was it due to my book worminess? The failure to catch astigmatism early enough when I was a kid? A stray gene from a nearly-blind ancestor? Whatever the case, that’s the way it was. Feeling unashamed helped me gather my wits and ask the questions that mattered to me. He was patient. Spaniards aren’t so concerned with calling people an anomaly. They’re pretty good at accepting the “weird” as normal. 

When I got home, something broke inside of me. Something so deep that I’m not sure yet what it was. But my tears were tears of gratefulness for the gift of sight that I still have. 

A week later, I had my sample contacts. I went in the next day to get them tested. Apparently, this verification is standard procedure here, and quite thorough. My one eye wasn’t focusing as well as it should have been. After verifying the prescription was correct, he squirted a yellow dye into my eye, made me flutter my eyelashes, and kept saying, “Good. Good.” while he shone a light in.  I went home and blew neon yellow snot out of my nose. 

A couple of days later, I was back. I ordered contacts and glasses in one shot. Less than a week later, they were ready. I tried them on and they told me to come back in a day or so to have them adjusted. So, the next day I trotted back down the street for yet another appointment. 

The glasses I chose had bright pink sides. Note: “had.” It’s amazing what a bit of nail polish can do!

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Learning trust, one call at a time

The first time I got the call, I was woefully unprepared. “Your paperwork isn’t right. You have 10 days to straighten it out.”

“I will look into it. If I have questions, can I call you?”

“No, everything you need is on our website.”

I messaged my team in Spain with my sob story. Within a day, they had straightened out my paperwork on the Spanish side of things. Several agonizing days later, the documents had the proper signatures on them. All was well. Disaster averted.

A few days later, after a day of work, I noticed a missed call on my phone… from the consulate. The chances of this being a “we received your paperwork” phone call were not good. But I still prayed that way until they called again 2 days later.

This time the voice was female. “One of the documents is still not right. You have 10 days to straighten this out.”

Within a day, the team in Spain had amended yet another document and it was on its way to the consulate. But as soon as the document arrived, my phone rang and my heart sank.

“This is not right. How can you live and work in one province when your organization is in another province?”

“That’s how it is.” I tried to explain, but the man remained unconvinced.

“I need a correction on this document or an official letter of explanation or we will reject your application and you will need to start again. This has gone on too long.”

“I know.” I didn’t even try to keep the whine out of my voice. “Too long” was right. My application would be either accepted or denied and we might as well get on with it. This middle ground had stripped my nerves completely raw.

In short, each phone call presented a new opportunity to trust. After each call, I gave the entire ordeal to God… but it was never long before I stole it back from Him. When would I learn?

Just this week, I sent off the latest document. I am waiting to hear whether or not it arrived in time. Re-application is a looming possibility. But I suppose that if I apply enough times, I might actually learn complete trust in the One who is in control of every government and their consulates.