A time to serve...in Malaga, Spain

You probably noticed my lack of posts over the past week. I just returned from a trip to Malaga, Spain.  My heart is full as I was privileged to be there for 10 days serving on an amazing hospitality team for  35 missionary woman at a "Woman of Influence Retreat."  
There were woman from all over the world. Most of them work in pretty primitive areas and were in great need of an escape for solitude, encouragement and restoration after serving graciously overseas.
  Some of them serve with the homeless, some dedicate their lives to inner city kids and others are counselors, teachers and leaders.   It was a joy to serve them and make them feel special all week long.
(The meeting place)
 I thought I'd post some pictures of some of the fun things we cooked as well as some of the decor and atmosphere we got to create for these ladies.

Our rockin' hospitality team in our Flamenco aprons. 
 Yes, we were a fun group!

Our job was to do a bit of everything.  We cooked all the meals (the amazing head cook was the Blondie in the middle), we drove the woman back and forth to their villas and around town and created an inviting environment for them to enjoy.w  It was so much fun to see how God used our individual gifts.  The gifts of hospitality, organization, cooking, counseling, decorating, encouragement, etc.  When you put all these gifts together, exciting things happen.

Squishing in the car on the way to the villas! 
I loved driving a stick shift again!

Many of these woman don't get the simple luxuries in the countries where they serve so we tried to pamper them as much as possible.  It was such an honor!

Cafe con leche and a "Spanish donut"

The first day, the serving team stopped for coffee, churros and chocolate before we headed out for all the shopping that had to be done for the week.  They dip these donut like pastries into this rich chocolate - yum!

Guzman's Nursery
Our next stop was the local nursery to purchase flowers for the meeting rooms and for the buffet tables.  Kind of tricky to purchase things for a place I'd never seen before but we did it. 
It was a colorful shopping trip and our cart was filled with beautiful flowers and fresh herbs.

The statues were so stately and added so much character to the flowers.
Check out this massive wrought iron chandelier!  So great up against the thatch roof!
We had Tapas for lunch at a local restaurant downtown.
  I had experienced Tapas on my last visit to Spain but it was a fun experience to try some different ones this time around.  I wasn't too crazy about the fried eggs with the fish but everything else was extremely tasty.
We then went to the Ranchero (I'll do a separate post about it - it was so beautiful) where the retreat took place and unloaded everything.
This was my first glimpse!  My heart skipped a beat!
I was immediately in heaven!  The property was so Spanish and the gardens were filled with fruit trees, flowers and incredible character.  The owners were absolutely delightful too! 
The items we bought at the nursery incorporated with fresh fruit.
We immediately got to work on making the beautiful ranch setting welcoming, warm and a place the ladies could call home for 5 days.  Part of the team went into town and bought all the groceries.  Several of us stayed at the ranch to add all the personal touches before the Ranch was filled with the laughter of greeting one another.
I made floral arrangements using the flowers on their property and picked fruit from the trees!  The lemons looked so colorful in the water.
The bougainvillea were amazing and I picked them all week. 
We also brought some in from a friends garden.
As I picked the flowers and walked around the property, I felt so blessed that I could use my gifts in this setting and for the purpose of making these woman enjoy the color and beauty that nature provides!
My girls and I stamped all the bags before I left home so they would be done when it came time to put them together.
We put them all together and placed them on their beds. 
We hung name tags on their doors which I thought was a really nice personal touch.
Especially on these glorious old doors!
Always nice to know someone knew you were coming, especially when you have traveled for miles and miles and are tired and delirious.
I added flowers to the candelabra in the dining room.  This candelabra was so beautiful all lit up at night too.

I brought over loads of colorful tablecloths to add to the outdoor tables in the courtyard.

Of course we had to have matching napkins.  Believe me, my suitcase over to Spain was FULL!
This planter looked like it needed some TLC so I shopped around the garden and enhanced it a little.
Much more interesting with more elements, textures and a candelabra for us to enjoy at night for evening ambiance.
I added some Moroccan lanterns to the mix too.
We filled these clear cups with a cupcake liner and added Reeses and Candy Corn that we brought from the states.  Thanks to my friends here in Dallas, they sent these treats over for the woman.  It was a huge hit as they don't get Reeses and Candy corn in Europe!  You should have heard the ooooohhhhssss and aaaaaahhhhssssss!
Burlap wrapped around the pots, tied with some raffia added a warm touch.
Once we got the special touches done, all the ladies started arriving.
I put this arrangement together using fruit from the gardens and a Russian dish towel that one of the ladies brought from Russia.  The color combinations with the fruit were so inviting.
As you can see, I had fun with all the fruit that was available to me!  Isn't the Russian bowl and the Spanish pottery combination so beautiful?  This eclectic mix made me smile. 
The Pomegranates were from the trees too.
We made sure we had plenty of candles and oil for the tiki torches because we planned on eating all the meals outdoors in the courtyard.  We had NO RAIN so that was absolutely fabulous!
So cozy for chatting.  Lots of gathering took place in this room!
It was a glorious adventure searching through all the cabinets to find cool baskets, wooden bowls, etc. to serve the prepared dishes in.
The candy corn even made it to the appetizer table, ha!
Creating the backdrop for the Flamenco dancers involved a lot of digging around in closets for treasures!  Lori and I enjoyed finding a huge old frame and paired it with some rustic old shutters.  It created a wonderful atmosphere for these incredibly talented artists.
Check out all of these colorful meals that Traci headed up!
  I brought home some fantastic recipes to try for my family.
Tomato, Feta and Cucumber Salad
Typical Spanish Salad
Chicken Tiki Marsala
Tawny's homemade croutons from the leftover baguettes
Sims Chicken
Serving others is a fantastic journey.  The conversation we girls had while cutting up onions, chopping carrots and stirring the hot curry on the stove was priceless.   Driving the woman back and forth in the car was a chance for me to hear what they do and listen to their struggles.  Picking flowers with a friend and laughing our heads off as we balanced on a wobbly chair was food for our souls. 
 We ladies all have the same hurts, the same worries and all need to be appreciated and encouraged. The sense of community and acceptance is a gift we get when we are with other woman. 
View from window as I landed in Spain.
They said that I encouraged them with the beauty I created but I say they encouraged me by the beauty these woman poured into my life.  Sometimes we all need to step out of our every day and into someone else's everyday to help us take the next step forward in trusting God.   It gave me a new and fresh perspective for what He has planned for me. 
Don't be afraid to serve, it will be a gift you give others and yourself!