Thursday, January 21, 2016

the best kind of difficult

The week and a half of returning to school has been difficult.
I feel like I've had transitions piled on transitions lately. The last transition was hardest of them all, and that was something I was not expecting. Of course, I knew I was going to miss my Spain life when I returned to daily school life. Of course, I knew my walk to classes was going to be cold and snowy. What I didn’t perceive was to miss my old Northwestern life, and that hit me immediately when I moved in. I’m in a different dorm and farther away from my normal college friends than with a usual semester. My commute to classes got worse, and my moments of routine fellowship decreased. I’m left missing literally everything and everyone.
When all the hugs and the reunions are over, the truth glistens in the background: I’m out of place here. When returning from a semester abroad, you’re a stranger in the familiarity that seems different somehow, with friends trying to adapt you into the life they lived so long without you.
It’s exhausting. It’s depleting. It’s depressing. It’s difficult.
But it’s the best kind of difficult I’ve ever experienced.
Yes, I miss Spain. Yes, I miss the life I lived the first two years of college. Even knowing this, I would not have wanted this semester any other way because I’m different, and a different lifestyle is the perfect complement to that.
I’ve learned to receive my value from the source itself instead of from others. I’ve learned of the peace and confidence in Christ. I’ve experienced a joy that does not come from direct circumstances. 
Sometimes when I think about Spain, tears will fill my eyes, but it’s not always because I miss it; it’s simply because I have joy in the fact that it happened. Even though sometimes I wonder otherwise, that semester definitely occurred, and it left a positive impact on me that allows me to experience the oxymoron of an easy difficulty with God at my side.
It has been difficult.

But it’s been the best kind of difficult I could imagine.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The conclusion of an incredible semester

My heart hurts.
Facts: I have lived in a foreign country for the last 3 and a half months. I have built friendships with individuals from all over America. I have shared meals with a Spanish couple almost every single day for the semester. I had to leave all of that yesterday.
The result?
My heart hurts.
I was uneasy when I finally reached Chicago after a 10-hour flight yesterday. After hearing the soothing Spanish language being spoken around me for months, hearing so much English literally made me feel on edge. Spanish is beautiful and so easy to tune out, but English is blaring, and petty conversations spoken by strangers were inevitable to overhear. I found myself getting upset at the high water level in the toilet and everything else American I noticed. I was in a state of discomfort in that airport, and I think it all stemmed from the goodbyes that so quickly became a reality. I was alone in America, away from the country and people that were my life for so long. My heart was panging with pain.
Since Chicago, I have arrived to my house and began the transition to the changes in time, weather, surroundings, and language. I’ve adjusted pretty well so far, (but dang it’s cold) and I’m overall pretty positive and hopeful about these next three weeks and my next semester.
In the midst of all of this, I have been considering what “home” really means to me, and thinking back to when I felt God speak to me this semester. Over these past couple months, I have comfortably built my haven in a small apartment in Sevilla, a hostel with 7 strangers, an apartment with strangers, a plane ride, a room in sketchy Naples, and in hotels. I slept in all these places. I dwelled in these places for a time. I found peace, comfort, happiness, and security in all of these places: so much so, that it’s this painful to leave those experiences. Now, I’m back at my parents’ house, but I’m not even staying here for long before I move back to college.
I shared a lot of sappiness in my last blog, and I am very much feeling lots of gratefulness and amazement for the semester that just ended. I’m reflecting on what the Lord has taught and shown me, and with that, I just want to pose a question:

I’ve arrived at my house, but am I home?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Confused emotions; wild thoughts

The goodbyes are getting serious now. I have a week left in Sevilla, Spain: 7 days, 21 meals, and 5 days of school.
            I’m struggling to write about this because I simply don’t know how I feel, and I really don’t know how to express it.
            I want to say that my emotions are a perfectly balanced equation of bittersweet, but that doesn’t adequately describe it. There’s more of a profound weight to it. Can all my experiences and moments here fit into a simple description or equation of how I feel about leaving?
            Physical transitions have always been hard for me. Even when I’m at college preparing to go home for a break or at home preparing to go back to college, I cringe at the thought of moving my physical body from one location to the next: from one way of life to another.
            Moving from Spain back to America is an immensely exaggerated version of this, and I don’t know how I’m going to handle it.
            It’s not that I’m not excited; transitions come at the perfect time, and I’m always accepting and willing to make the move. I am so excited to return home, but I’m so rooted in this lifestyle, and I hate the thought of ripping out all of my roots in one morning when I have to hop on a plane. The summary: I don’t want to leave, but I do.
            This has been the best experience of my life. As a way to start organizing my wild thoughts, I want to start reflecting on three takeaways from this incredible semester.

1.     I love culture. I knew this before I came to Spain, but this semester has just emphasized this passion so much. I would much rather skip the elaborate tourist sites of a city and instead just walk down the streets, observing the lifestyle. I prefer going deeper in a city than seeing the highlights. I want to try new foods, take in the ambiance, and get to know people. There is something so beautiful about being able to talk to someone in another language and be focused on the actual conversation instead of the words or grammar. For the first time in my life, I have truly gotten to know individuals and personalities in another language, which is such a cool concept. I just adore witnessing culture upfront and personal. This past weekend was a holiday weekend in Spain, and my host parents brought me to one of their family member’s apartments for a meal. That time was so wonderful. The conversation was moving a little too fast for me to jump in, but I loved just being there in a normal scene with a group of Spainards on a holiday.  I wish I could sit at a family table in every country on this planet to simply experience.
2.     I have a tranquil disposition. Who knew? I didn’t. Well, maybe I did. I remember journaling in a high moment of anxiety once and writing that I have a tranquil mind, but it’s clouded with anxiety. After I journaled that, I remember thinking ‘is that even true? Probably not.’ It is indeed true, and I have discovered that in Spain. I believe my genuine inner tendency is peaceful, and there have been people here this semester that have given me that affirmation. My host parents even went as far to say that being around me makes them relaxed because I have such a calm demeanor. I’ve also found out that I search for tranquility in nature. One reason that I feel I’m ready to leave Sevilla is that it’s such a big city, and there’s not much of God’s beautiful untouched nature. This semester has taught me to seek after nature and overall tranquility even more.

3.     God is my home. This has been a reoccurring theme this semester since my moment of homesickness and physical sickness in October. I was basically alone in a foreign country these 3 and a half months, and life was blissful. God is all I needed this semester, and He is always all I need. In my life in Minnesota, I look for perfection, for comfort, and for “home” in others and get frustrated when I don’t receive it. Recently, the place I have been looking for my perfection and comfort is God, and I will never be disappointed with that strategy. Wherever I am in the world, I can rejoice in the sufficiency of Christ and know that He is all I need. I don’t need comfort or close friends or even my family; all I need to build my home is God, and He never leaves my side.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Thanksgiving week in Spain

At any regular season in my life, the week of Thanksgiving would start with two boring but busy days of school then transition into a time of relaxation at home with my family. My Thanksgiving week in Spain did not follow that structure. In fact, the whole week was kind of a whirlwind but a big, sensational, beautiful whirlwind at that.

            Sunday- Iglesia de Coria invited us students to a “farewell” service, the compliment to the “welcome” event we had in September. I’m going to be honest: I am a person that has struggled with major anxiety in relation to being in front of an audience. I kid you not, in this particular church event, I sang in front of everyone, played guitar in front of everyone, spoke in front of everyone, and danced in front of everyone. The feeling of imminent anxiety never touched me.  Because of my severe anxiety in the past, it was a victory and such a positive experience. That church is also such an encouragement to me because of its community and its zestful heart for the Lord. I’m so glad a church like that exists in Spain.

            Monday- This was the day of our Flamenco show! After school, the majority of the Flamenco girls grabbed some food and had a little picnic on the roof of our school. After we ate, we proceeded with the daily Spanish schedule and took a siesta in the hot sun. On the roof. It was so fantastic. I wish taking a nap on the roof in Spain would be a regular occurrence in my life. After that, we rehearsed, did makeup, and put our dresses on. Our instructor, Silvia, said a prayer for us before show time, and we went out and performed the Sevillanas dance for a small audience. The rhythmic claps, the flashes of colorful dresses, the shouts of ‘olay!’ and the laughs will always be engrained in my memory. What a beautiful dance and what a beautiful culture.

            Tuesday- I volunteered at the Hospital de Caridad for the last time, a nursing home for elderly men. When I was leaving, I made sure to say “adios; que tenga un buen día” to every elderly man I saw and took note of their smiles and waves to store in my memory forever. Tears were definitely dwelling in my eyes when I exited the building.

            Wednesday- After school, I went to rehearse with the worship team for encuentro. Before we started the night of worship and small group, we played Pictionary as a group. As it was the night before Thanksgiving, it felt like such a comfort to be competitively yelling, screaming, and laughing in a game with a group of wonderful people. I think these crazy people deserve the title of my Spain fam. After the game, we had our small group time and worshipped with hymns. Lifting voices together to praise the Lord is such a joy, and I couldn’t have asked for more that night.

            Thursday- It was my first Thanksgiving away from my family. I slept in and walked to school where we enjoyed a wonderful American breakfast, complete with eggs, bacon, pancakes, poptarts, bagels, and freshly squeezed orange juice. It was heaven. After breakfast, we all snuggled up in a classroom and watched a movie. I went back to have lunch with my wonderful Spanish parents and then facetimed my American parents for a bit. I got some chill time alone and then I met up with my friends to go to our Thanksgiving dinner at 9 pm. Our program in Spain was nice enough to provide us Americans with a Thanksgiving dinner, and it was an elegant, incredible evening. Our table was like a mile long, and we passed around plates of the classic food in a messy and unorganized manner, just like at home. The food was so stellar. The company was even better. We ate, we laughed, we played games, we exchanged gifts, we took pictures, and we just simply enjoyed. I wasn’t with my family, but spending hours at the dinner table with my Spain family is a Thanksgiving memory that I will never forget.

            Friday- At noon, I took a bus with my friend Rachael to Itálica, a location near Sevilla with ruins of an ancient Roman city. It was a gorgeous spot, and my heart was filled again with the tranquility of nature. We roamed around, had a picnic lunch, talked, and then met up with another group of our friends. It was a pristine refreshing day. After I returned to Sevilla, I jumped on another bus heading to Iglesia de Coria. The church was having a worship night, and a couple of my friends and I wanted to go. The worship was spectacular, and the time of lifting my hands, praising, and surrendering to Jesus was something I needed. That night was a great treasure.

            Saturday- today! So far, I’ve rested and reflected, a necessity after a beautiful week like that.

            Besitos! Only two more full weeks left in Sevilla!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Despedidas prematuras

Despedidas prematuras: premature goodbyes
I still have 3 three full weeks left in Sevilla, so this is a bit early for this list, but making it helped get my mind into a state of appreciation and transition. It allowed me to walk down the street and really drink in this city that has been my life for the last 3 months. Thinking about the things that I will not miss also gave me positivity to return home in a couple weeks.
Sevilla is a beautiful, magical piece of Europe, and I will miss so many details about it.
I will miss the pigeons and horses that populate the streets
I will NOT miss the rats that appear during deep conversations by the river at night
            I will miss the accordion players and other street performers
            I will NOT miss that stupid floating devil on the street
            I will miss not wearing a coat
            I will NOT miss sweating through my clothes in the middle of November
            I will miss the sound and smell of chestnuts roasting every few feet on the street
            I will NOT miss rolling my ankles on the cobblestone streets
            I will miss not having to tip at restaurants
            I will NOT miss trying to flag the waiter down for 20 minutes in order to get our check
            I will miss the brightly colored buildings and the palm trees scraping the horizon
            I will NOT miss the mob of tourists every weekend
            I will miss croquetas, chanquetes, and churros
            I will NOT miss the Spanish tortilla. I just can’t anymore
            I will miss the smiles of the elderly that I work with
            I will NOT miss 93-year old Manuel asking me to marry him every Monday
            I will miss biking around Sevilla
            I will NOT miss ripping my Sevici out of its slot
            I will miss waking up in the morning, lying in bed and reading texts, instagram posts, and facebook updates that happened overnight
            I will NOT miss talking to my family and friends with the 7-hour difference struggle
            I will miss all the students and teachers at school
            I will NOT miss having the same 4 classes. every. single. day.
            I will miss the life of the night with the bright restaurants, shops, cathedrals, castles, and fountains
            I will NOT miss inhaling cigarette smoke every 2 minutes on the street
            I will miss dinners with my host parents
            And that random California chick that was put in the same room as me
            And worshipping with my encuentro group
            And the wind of the river in the morning crossing the bridge
            And the Spanish language being spoken in every corner
            And azulejos, ancient architecture, and worn down street signs
            And dancing flamenco
            And the unripe oranges lying on the street

            And the laughs that are shared, even when culture and language are not.