Reverse culture shock: daily schedules

One of the huge differences we’ve experienced in our overseas move has been in daily schedules.

If you had told me last year I would be rising every day before the sun shines, I might have laughed, yet as I drive to work in the mornings, I often enjoy spectacular sunrises and arrive at work with the sun fully risen. Breakfast is eaten and coffee is drunk before I would have been crawling out of bed back in Spain. I’m also dressed in office attire—something I never would have done working from home.

Lest you judge me as lazy in Spain, let me remind you that the schedules are different because of cultural differences. In Spain, I would rarely be in bed before midnight, and I worked all day long.

As for lunches at 12:00 noon and dinners at 6:00, we’re fairly well acclimated at this time. In Spain, we seldom ate lunch before 1:30 p.m. and that was our heaviest meal. Supper would be after 8:00 p.m. We were in the habit of enjoying a fruit snack in the late afternoon around 5:00 p.m. Needless to say, our meal schedule has drastically changed. I am still trying to get portions correct and trying not to “die of starvation” because my main meal isn’t in the middle of the day. (By the way, the secret is to drink more water. It works very well.)

Normal work hours are 8:00-5:00 with a one-hour lunch break. In Spain, work hours vary, but many companies allow a three- or four-hour break for lunch. After all, it’s the main meal, followed by a siesta. Blessed custom!

One of the men in our church in Spain didn’t even think about supper until 11:00 p.m. Swanky restaurants open around 10:00 p.m. and more everyday restaurants at 8:00. Here, supper is served as early as 4:00 p.m., and many restaurants close by 10:00. It’s another world.

Another popular Spanish custom is the eating of many mini meals. A typical Spanish eating schedule looks like this:

  • Breakfast, 9:00 a.m.: coffee or hot chocolate with cookies that resemble Graham crackers
  • Almuerzo (morning snack), 11:00 a.m.: sandwich
  • Dinner 1:30 or 2:00 p.m.: main meal of the day, usually two courses, always accompanied by a hunk or two of fresh bread
  • Merienda (afternoon snack), 5:00 p.m.: Most children eat chocolate or chorizo sausage sandwiches or a yogurt. Many adults eat fruit.
  • Supper, 8:00 for early birds, later for most: Some Spaniards eat full meals, but many eat lighter in the evening than at midday. Exceptions are when eating in a restaurant. That meal would be several courses and very filling.
  • Tapas, served almost any time of day, especially in the evenings. People can go to cafeteria-like restaurants and pay for small-portion tapas. Usually, they include some kind of bread, meat or fish, and are beautifully decorated. They can also be mushrooms with garlic sauce or a tiny casserole of chicken livers. Many people socialize over several kinds of tapas in one night, grazing from restaurant to restaurant over the course of the evening. 

We used to marvel that we almost never saw obese Spaniards, because many eat five times a day. The key to success is in a lot of physical activity, especially walking, and in portion control. Also, few Spanish people eat sweet desserts. When they do indulge, it is a tiny scoop of ice cream or a barely sweet pastry. Many eat fruit, cheese, or a yogurt after dinner.

Wherever you live in the world, and whatever the cultural time schedule for work and meals, you can depend on one thing: God wants you to use your time wisely.

The wisest man that ever lived wrote, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

These principles are in the New Testament: What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

This next verse is about our testimony to others, those who watch our lifestyle: Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time (Colossians 4:5). It doesn’t matter if we eat at 5:00 or at 8:00. What matters is that we live to the glory of God and that we’re careful of our testimony before others.

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12).

May the Lord give us discernment, knowing that everything we have is a gift from God.

More reverse culture shock and lessons we’re learning

As time goes on—we are almost three months into our repatriation adventure—we are noticing more “weird” things about our home country.

For example:

  • Trees and branches overhang road spaces, even highways. We have never seen this in Europe.
  • Eggs are pristine white. European chicken eggs are always brown.
  • Road conditions are much worse than in Europe. Of course, there are many more roads.
  • We tend to want to answer people we don’t know in Spanish … and have actually replied first in Spanish. One day, a waitress in a Mexican restaurant could hardly believe we were fluent in Spanish. I guess we don’t look the part.
  • People we knew forty years ago don’t recognize us. Imagine that.
  • It has to be a cultural thing, but attendees at church seem non-responsive. Not many head nods or amens or anything. The preaching is awesome, and I wonder if the pastor sees visible responses or not.
  • Huge washing machines. I cannot even reach the bottom of a relative’s washer.
  • Prices. Some are much cheaper than in Spain, and others are much more expensive. We are never sure what to expect.
  • Professionals look very young. Youthful doctors, professors, and others cause us to realize we’re older than we thought.
  • Used market. This is one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the United States. There are consignment and second-hand shops, re-sale stores and yard sales. Some are better than others, but they’re all fascinating. We even got a free dryer through an online used forum.

My husband and I are slowly settling in. Another couple who did the same told us it takes about two years to feel at home. I wouldn’t doubt it.

As for lessons learned, I think I could categorize them in two ways:


  • Stay flexible. The world doesn’t revolve around us; we need to adapt to our surroundings. It’s part of being selfless instead of selfish.
  • Listen to expert advice. We usually ask our children and their spouses. It’s a strange role reversal, but it works. They’ve already adapted after living in Spain and Puerto Rico. We’ve also been thankful for great professionals (doctors, realtor, etc.).
  • Ask about lowest prices. When we ask friends and family about where to find the best deals, we end up making better choices.
  • Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no one settles into a new country immediately. We have needed to think, pray, and decide—and wait on some things.
  • Pursue good leads. It helps to jump on good deals. We got the aforementioned free dryer that way. It needed a cord, but my husband can fix it. Also, it never hurts to ask questions.
  • Learn from your mistakes. When we goof up—which we have already done a couple of times—we get up, dust ourselves off, and learn from experience.


  • We are stewards of God’s blessings. Everything we have came from the Lord, and we are responsible to Him for how it is used. At a time when we are setting up housekeeping in a new country, we’re constantly praying about wise use of money, whether or not something is needed now, and trying to stay in tune with each other in all our decisions. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2).
  • My husband and I are responsible for our own decisions. Sometimes, we get conflicting advice. Ultimately, we need to do what we feel is right before the Lord. Our decisions might not be right for someone else even though they are for us. The Bible says we can ask for help in making wise decisions. (See James 1:5.) For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death (Psalm 48:14). My husband and I are striving to follow the Lord’s leadership.
  • It is important to thank the Lord for all the blessings along the way. People have given us several pieces of furniture, curtains, and a lamp. My sister offered to help me recover some dining room chairs. We still have furniture needs, and we’re constantly seeing the Lord’s hand. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:11) God always wants to bless us. It’s another evidence of His amazing love. Because of this, every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever (Psalm 145:2).

Whatever your circumstance, feel free to share what you are learning from the Lord as you begin this year.

You might enjoy reading my first post about our reverse culture shock experience, here.

My challenge: not decorating prematurely

As many of you know, we recently relocated from Spain to the United States. We’re living with relatives while trying to buy a house. This has been an adventure, and we are hoping to soon have our own home.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking online at different used places, visited several re-sale stores in town, and people have given us pieces of furniture. I also peruse Pinterest and YouTube videos to view decorating ideas.

One of the phenomena I’ve noticed is the standard decorating style: farmhouse. I actually love “farmhouse style,” Fixer Upper, and watching Joanna Gaines’ genius. She gets a vision, works with clients, and does marvelous work. Her own farmhouse is a decorator’s dream—a comfy blend of old and new, with refreshing pops of greenery. But, as I’ve looked at properties, it has been hilarious to find sliding barn doors and reclaimed pallet walls in brick ranch homes. I crack up at shiplap installed in a formal dining room within a posh house.

I visited a spacious décor store with my husband—not buying, just looking. One style prevailed: farmhouse. There was some evidence of industrial, as well. I kept wondering about the rest of us, those who don’t own a literal farmhouse and are not in a home that lends itself to cement, pipes, and fittings.

I am trying not to buy prematurely—before we’re positive the house is ours. Both taste and wisdom are important to me. I think we can make the house that we’re buying seem cohesive with the pieces of furniture people have gifted us.

We surely don’t want to be like the man in the biblical parable who tore down his barns and built bigger ones—not knowing he would die that night. (To read the parable, go to Luke 12:16-21.) The concluding verse shows us where a Christian’s values don’t need to be. So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:21). I’d rather be rich toward God.

We are trying to be wise stewards. With our overseas move, we decided not to bring any furniture—except one end table that was an anniversary gift and easily disassembled for shipping. We also didn’t bring any household appliances that used European 220 Volt current, knowing they don’t work over here. Instead, we brought pots and pans, dishes, and those decorations we love, our clothing, and a few tools.

Let me share some of my thought processes as I try not to buy prematurely.

  • Someone gifted us a nice mattress. We found a second-hand bed frame this past week for it. As we know we will need a bed, wherever we live, we felt this was a good idea—plus, the frame is pretty.
  • We were given a dining room set. It isn’t in the best of shape, but a family member volunteered to help me recover the chairs, and I plan to paint them. (I couldn’t see the condition of the table.) The house has a dining room that lends itself to an oblong, oval table. This table is oval, and I am thrilled. A couple of chairs are missing, so I am on the lookout in the used market, but I won’t buy any until we are sure buying this house is going through.
  • My family wants me to have an old table that has been passed down for generations. It will go beautifully in one room, should we get this house. I’m keeping my eyes peeled on the used market for a few chairs, looking for something quirky and comfortable. Again, I won’t buy until we know the house is ours. A different home might not work with this table.
  • We will need a washer. Someone gave us a used dryer, free. I haven’t looked at washers at all.
  • We’ve been given a desk, dresser, little chair, and bookshelf. These we can use anywhere we live.
  • I’m waiting to buy other things because I want to be sure about spaces and needs. If we should end up not getting this house, I don’t want to have spent money on things with this specific house in mind—that might not fit a different house’s colors, spaces, etc.

Why am I sharing this? It’s because many people overspend. They buy things they really don’t need at the moment and may never use. A lot of people don’t shop around, either.

As a side note, when we lived in Spain, there was almost no second-hand market. Back when we moved to Spain in the 1980s, people would junk a whole room of furniture, just to buy new. After the financial problems of the early 2000s, we noticed this was less prevalent, but there still was almost no market for used home furnishings. I admit I’m enjoying the various consignment, re-sale stores, and used online forums in the United States.

Christians are supposed to be good stewards. After all, everything we have comes from the Lord.

Jesus said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? (Matthew 6:19-21, 25)

Then, Jesus described how he takes care of sparrows and lilies. He continued: Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? I might add, “What shall we wash our clothes in or sit on?” For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:26, 32b-33).

I want have right priorities. It’s easy to get excited about moving into a new home. The temptation is to seek stuff. But, God promises to meet our needs when we put Him first. When I need better judgment? That’s something to pray for. Good ole practical James, Holy Spirit inspired, wrote: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).

I’m asking the Lord for a liberal dose of wisdom as we move forward.

What verses and principles guide you as you make buying decisions? Please feel free to share.

2021’s theme word, joyful, Part 2

In my last post, I began to look into Bible verses that contain my 2021 theme word: JOYFUL.

Some of the verses that we will read today are surprising.

Why should we—or things—be joyful? Let’s see what the Bible says.

Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance (Psalm 89:15). This is an interesting voice. Jesus said, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27). Is Jesus’ voice the joyful sound? I’m not sure, but I love the next part of the verse: walking in the light of God’s face. We know that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5b). He promises to light our path with His Word, step by step. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105). Then, our way will shine as light—a reflection of Christ. But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18). Are we living, illumined with the light of God’s face? Do we follow His Word? Is our life a shining reflection of the Lord?

Come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms (Psalm 95:1-2). Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together (Psalm 98:4, 6, 8). Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands (Psalm 100:1). These all go together because they are about showing praise directly to the Lord by singing and making a joyful noise. (Scroll down to the last post for more on this subject.)

Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice (Psalm 96:12). Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted (Isaiah 49:13). I often try to imagine what the field, trees, heavens, earth, and mountains do to sing and show joy. Astronomers testify to the tones they hear in the sky. Are these sounds stars singing? How do mountains sing? What does a joyful field look like? Rejoicing woods? My imagination goes wild.

He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD (Psalm 113:9). God blesses His people in many ways. I have known of several women who were told by doctors they would never have children—and later, God blessed them with babies. This verse means that sometimes, the Lord acts in this way. It is not a blanket statement meaning that God wants everyone to marry—He doesn’t—or that every married couple will have children. That’s just not true. (God is fine with both married and single people. See 1 Corinthians 7:32-34.)

Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds (Psalm 149:2, 5). This is interesting. It reiterates the concept of people being joyful in the Lord, calling Him King. Obviously, this is a prophecy about Jesus. Then, it says to let real believers be joyful in glory. I had to look this up. Glory refers to recognizing God’s glory. The next idea—singing in bed—brings up a host of hilarious scenarios, but Matthew Henry seems to think it means that people should praise the Lord in private as well as in public (Matthew Henry Commentary on Psalm 149). If you really want to take this literally, go ahead and sing hymns in bed. It’s biblical!

In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him (Ecclesiastes 7:14). As always, the Word of God is full of practical, balanced advice. Yes, be happy when things go well, but also understand that God is there in adverse circumstances.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10). This is perhaps my favorite verse of all. If a Christian can’t be joyful in his soul because of salvation, he needs to go back and recapture the joy. What has God done for us? Provided us with His own robe of righteousness. It is beautiful. We could never have paid for it. It is a gift. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5). If this isn’t a motive for joyfulness, I don’t know what is.

It’s interesting that the last Bible reference to joyful is in the context of persecution. Even though the early church was going through opposition on many fronts, Paul was encouraged by the believers and joyful along with them. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation (2 Corinthians 7:4).

Whatever happens in 2021—and I sincerely hope it is better than 2020 for all of us—we can be joyful in Jesus, joyful in spite of tribulation, joyful in our beds, and joyful in our families. We can even draw inspiration from happy hills and trees. How cool is that?

Exploring my 2021 theme word: joyful

When I picked a theme word for the year—only a few days ago—I had no idea how difficult it would be nor how helpful.

My word? JOYFUL

My purpose? I want to ensure that I am focused on the Lord, with a joyful attitude. Joyful has many facets of meaning, of course. This post explores what the Bible says about the word joyful and makes practical applications.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Make Him the source, the center, and the circumference of all thy soul’s range of delight.” This is my 2021 goal.

Joyful appears 25 times in the Scriptures. Most of these are about gladness—both from bad guys and good guys. I want to explore those passages that refer to joyfulness in the Lord or because of His blessings. You’ll notice that the majority of references to joyful fall into these two catagories.

  1. On the eighth day he sent the people away: and they blessed the king, and went unto their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the LORD had done for David his servant, and for Israel his people (1 Kings 8:66). After King Solomon dedicated the beautiful new Temple, including a prayer and generous ceremonial sacrifices, the people rejoiced in God’s goodness to them. Why? The new, beautiful Temple represented God’s presence and was their permanent place for worship and sacrifices. Up until this time, the people had used the portable Tabernacle, but now they had a luxurious place for worship. Today, in many places in the world, we can freely worship God. We have church buildings. But, best of all, the promised Messiah has already come, and because of His death and resurrection power, He indwells our hearts. Even if we weren’t able to meet freely in public, no one can take away the communion we have in our hearts with the Lord. But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:11-12). So, our responsibility is not to forget the great privilege we have. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19) Let us praise God for His gift of the Holy Spirit, living in joyful thankfulness for all His goodness.
  2. And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel (Ezra 6:22). I don’t do as much reminiscing as I should, but looking back on 2020 gave me the opportunity to review His miracles and blessings. The Bible says, The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will (Proverbs 21:1). The Israelites had proven this true. It is also true today. In our case, it wasn’t the king’s heart, but other authorities changed their minds in our favor as a direct answer to prayer. We watched the hand of the Lord turning our “rivers.” Evidence of God’s working in the past is a motive for great rejoicing. How has the Lord worked on your behalf this past year? Be joyful.
  3. But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee (Psalm 5:11). Trusting in God is a great reason to rejoice because we are yielding to His leadership and power. Here, it mentions that God actually defends us. What a blessing! The next part speaks of our love for God’s name. In Old Testament times, people were afraid even to voice the name of God because it was so sacred. Do we love God’s name? Are we guilty of using it in vain? One of the Ten Commandments says, Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain (Exodus 20:7). Using God’s name lightly, cursing, and talking crudely about God are all ways people vainly use His name. Also, “praying” without being conscious that one is actually talking to the God of the universe might be included. Some use His name repetitiously in prayer, almost like a mantra. For example: “Lord, we ask you, Lord, to, Lord, help Lord….” Now, that prayer might be sincere, but it also might be using the name of God like punctuation. That would be vanity. Let us all guard against treating the name of God lightly. We should love it, revere it, and be joyful in the Lord. (Read more about that last phrase in this next verse.)
  4. And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation (Psalm 35:9). The Source of our joy is Jesus. We are joyful in Him and in His salvation. The way to be “in Christ” is to consciously put one’s faith in Jesus’ payment on the cross for his sins. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Are you in Christ? You’ll know if you are a new creature or not. Your soul will be joyful in the Lord.
  5. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips (Psalm 63:5). This passage is not talking about a succulent plateful of barbequed ribs; it’s about soul food and satisfaction. The parts of meat that make it tasty are the bone and fat. God satisfies Christians with the best spiritual food. This is why we should audibly praise Him.
  6. Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands (Psalm 66:1). Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob (Psalm 81:1). These two verses express the same concept: audibly praising God. Notice the songs are directed to Him. They are joyful praise prayers. Believers through the centuries have poked fun at the phrase: a joyful noise, saying it doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune or not. Corporate singing from God’s people doesn’t need to be perfect. It only needs to be joyful and heartfelt communication with God.

I want to commit to joyfulness in 2021.

For more verses on this subject, you can sign up to receive my blog regularly. My next post will continue this theme.