Thursday, January 8, 2015

#18 - Home? Where's That?

One of the biggest topics of conversation among missionaries is the topic of home.  Where is it?  It isn't here and it isn't there.  We talk at length about this and it's impact on the kids of missionaries.  Our hearts have become divided.  How can we not love our native homeland?  We have friends, family, understandable customs, favorite foods, and a language that we have understood since babies.  And yet, how can we not love our new homeland?  We have friends, family, favorite foods, new customs that we have adapted, and ok - a language that some of the time we understand?

As we begin to think and plan for our 4 to 6 months in the states this spring, this divided heart becomes so evident (and maybe a little psychosis too).  One day I am so excited about going "home" and then the next I am crying that I am leaving "home."  (told you a little psychosis)  I want to be here and I want to be there.

What do I call here?  What do I call there?

We have all experienced it differently.  Hannah lived here (Spain) for a year and then returned to the states for college.  Spain was never really home, yet in the states where is her home?  Her dorm room?  Alex left the states in middle school and as a boy, maintained very little contact back in the states.  All his friends (and girlfriend) are in Spain.  He misses lots of things from the states - grandparents, siblings, and food - oh how long is his list of missed foods.  He is struggling with going back "home."  He wants to know if he really needs 4 months in the states.  Scott has to be gone for the full six months and he keeps saying it is too long.  He can't wait to see his mom and our older son and friends (and taste an Outback steak), but on the other hand does he really need six months.  I am jealous that I only will be there for 4 months.  Being a girl (and facebook junkie) I have kept up with "everyone" and have promised coffee with a hundred people.  And yet, somewhere in that excitement comes the pangs of disappointment that I won't be here.

Here is a good article on this topic of going home.  We are already praying for our hearts and attitudes and tongues as we prepare to leave and arrive.  Will you also pray for us?

But what does this have to do with my thankfulness list?  Somewhere in the middle of this crazy logic of mine, I have realized how blessed I am.  I am thankful that I get to live in two "homes."  I am thankful that I have friends and new "family" on both sides of the ocean.  I am thankful that God was faithful to sustain us we made Spain home.  Not everyone gets this blessing!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

#17 - A Little More Adventure

Before we moved to Spain I was the cautious one and Scott (husband) was the adventurous one.  I often chose to watch from the sidelines and was perfectly content that way.   However, nothing like moving to a foreign country to kick you out of your comfort zone and build a little sense of adventure in you.

The sun was shining today and the temperatures reached double digits (in Celsius) so we packed a picnic (it's King's Day and everything is closed so we were prepared) and headed to Villaflores - a ghost town.  Alex and I enjoyed climbing through deserted buildings and even up a tree.  There was an old "pigeonary" that I desperately wanted to explore, but the only entry was a couple feet up and I couldn't figure out how to climb up.  I am wondering if I can take a ladder back next time.

Such a list of things for which to be thankful...

... the history of Spain
... the sunshine today
... family time
... adventure

We Interrupt the Regular Scheduled Program with....

..... Life.

I had such great intentions.  My Thanksgiving list was growing in my head and I wanted to use the things for which I am thankful to give you a glimpse into our life here.  I wanted you to see the funny, crazy, sad, stressful, amazing, chaotic, unbelievable life we have been allowed to live.  I wanted you to feel like you were here (or at least wishing you were here).  And then, it happened again.  The great intentions got overwhelmed by life.

When I last left you Alex was turning 16 - in the middle of November and here it is the beginning of January.  Somewhere in those days I helped host 80 coworkers from a war torn country for their annual retreat and time of respite and renewal.  I cooked Thanksgiving for 60 - Norman Rockwell style - followed by a second Thanksgiving for only 20 this time.  And yes, Norman Rockwell style again.  Then there was the laundry that takes 3 days to dry because we hit cold wet weather season.  Alex had exams.  Hannah and her boyfriend and another friend arrived for 3 weeks.  Christmas was in there (and today is King's Day so the holiday season in Spain is still going).  We continued with four English clubs, relationships, teaching at the church and at the school, and... Well, just all of life.

The things that were essential floated to the top and the things that were ok to let slide, slid away.  I used to stress and feel guilty and fret over things sliding away.  I used to miss the importance of the moment in front of me because I felt bad I wasn't doing a lot of other "good" things.  For me, everything was essential and urgent and necessary.  

Life in Spain has taught me otherwise.  Everything does not have the same sense of urgency or priority.  Failure does not equal not doing everything.  Failure equals not knowing what you have to do and what is ok to not to do.  This life has taught me to slow down and evaluate my to do list.  This life has taught me that people, attitude, presence, and peace are a whole lot more important than most things that I let slide on my list. 

Life in Spain is slower and more "tranquila."  To many Americans that means that Spaniards work less or are lazy.  Shoot - they take siesta everyday.  How can you not think that?  But as we live here and experience the culture, we know that is not true.  Spaniards are hard workers.  They have a true work ethic.  They may take siesta in the middle of the day, but their work day does not end at 5:00.  Many work until 8 or 9.  Yes, many take the month of August off - but they take no other vacation days (only the government holidays) the rest of the year. 

But Spain has taught me that to live life slower and more tranquil means I can savor moments, enjoy friendships, and literally (and figuratively) stop to smell the roses.  I may cross off a few less things on my to do list, but I will be a lot more likely to leave the sweet fragrance of Jesus where I walk and I will meet some incredible people.  I will invest in relationships and I will be part of a community.  So, the laundry might hang an extra day, the blog might go 6 weeks with no new post, and the dishes might sit in the sink over night - but I will have laughed and cried with friends and I will have invested in people instead of my to do list.

So, #16 (on my Thanksgiving list) is an expression of gratitude for life getting in the way.

Friday, November 14, 2014

#15 = 16

Today I am thankful for Alex - my "baby" who turns 16 today.  I cannot believe he is already 16!  Where have the years gone?  He took us by surprise when we found out he was on his way and again when he decided at 32 1/2 weeks he was ready to greet the world.  He has kept us laughing and smiling on a daily basis.  He loves life and is out to embrace every possible moment.  When at 13 we moved to Spain he chose to go to Spanish public school - without more than a handful of Spanish words in his vocabulary.  He signed up to play on the school soccer team and navigated the system while we stood in amazement.  After three years here in Spain - 3 years that involved 3 different schools, 3 different home towns, and a ton of other changes he is struggling with being gone from "home" for 4 months next year.

He has taught me so much.  One lesson I have learned from here in Spain is that a lot of life is about your attitude.  He was a picky eater forever.  When we arrived in Spain he proclaimed his new leash on life "I am going to like all foods."  Sure enough, he began to eat and attack foods that he wouldn't touch before.  The boy who ordered his hamburgers completely plain - no vegetables, no sauce - requested that I make cream of zucchini soup.  He loves fish and grilled salmon.  Did his taste buds change overnight?  Nope.  His attitude changed.  I wonder how many things if I would just wake up with a new attitude would have a better "taste" in my life?

I cannot imagine my life without Alex.  I am blessed to be able to call him my son!

#13 and 14 - The H's Have It

I recently told someone that moving to a foreign country is both the most humbling and humiliating thing you can do.  When you are forced to live in a country that speaks a different language, has a different value system, and does almost everything you have always done in a different manner you are going to find yourself both humbled and humiliated - sometimes at the same time.

#13 - The Humiliating Moments

Ok, don't laugh too hard that I am giving thanks for the humiliating moments.  Believe me, I wasn't laughing in the moments nor giving thanks for them.  In fact, I was doing just the opposite.  God and I have had quite a few "heated" discussions over the past three years!  But after the fact, sometimes long after the fact, I can say thanks for those moments.  Ok, maybe not all of them, but a lot of them have brought a ton of laughter and the retelling of them has been the source for some great friendship growth.

My favorite humiliating moment continues to be my first attempt at buying a Boston Butt in the meat store.  The cuts of meat in Spain do not match the cuts of meet in the US.  Why oh why does everything have to be different?  I did all my homework.... I figured out how to say it in Spanish, I studied cuts of meat and figured out where a Boston Butt came from and I went prepared to simply order my piece of meat.  Well, sometimes my life has a life of its own....  for quickly I figured out my meat man had no idea what I was asking for and I had no other resources up my sleeve.  I had a picture of a side of a pig so I tried showing him that.  Finally he says "un momento."  And I have hope.... until he returns from the freezer with an entire half of a pig.  The entire store is filled with abuelas (see prior post to understand how that would have gone).  The conversations stop.  The place is entirely quiet for what seemed like hours, although I am sure it was only seconds.  Finally the meat man starts pointing to different parts of the pig and then to my picture.   And finally, we matched up the parts and I walked away with 3+ kilos of pork (ok - by then, I just took what he cut - I didn't care what it cost nor how much I had - I just wanted out of there).  For my American friends - 3+ kilos is 7+ pounds.  I was going to be eating Barbecue forever, but I had succeeded.

#14 - The Humbling Moments

Do you remember the days when an encyclopedia was a set of 20+ books?  Well, if I were to begin to tell you every humbling moment I have experienced in the last 3 years you would have at least that many books.  There were seasons of this experience that humbling moments came everyday, sometimes more than once a day.  If you decide to learn a foreign language for the first time at 45+ years old, be prepared to be humbled.

How do I choose one story to tell you? 

I got my driver's license when I was 16.  Before coming to Spain I had driven for 30+ years. About 6 months after arriving I studied and studied for the written exam and passed it on my first try.  I know - how is that humbling?  Well, after the written part came the driving part.  After 30 years who would think that I would have trouble with the driving part.  I had heard all the stories, but for sure I thought I could do this.  And add to it that the other student in the car had automatically failed (he turned the wrong way on a one way street) and I made it all the way back to the driving center without an immediate fail.  Imagine my surprise when the examiner said I had failed.  What?  I had been driving for 30+ years!  I had stopped at all lights, parked perfectly, checked my mirrors every 15 to 20 seconds, and didn't go down any roads the wrong way.  Ha!  That wasn't enough.  Apparently in one of the round abouts I did not look over my should at all the exits.  Fail.  No go!  No license!  Another week of neither Scott nor I having a license.  And worse than that, I had tell the world I had failed.

Oh how much sweeter the pass was on the second try.

I wouldn't choose to repeat a single of the humbling moments, but on the other hand, I have learned a ton.  I have learned to lean on God in a new and more desperate way.  I have developed sympathy and empathy for many people in my life.  I have had to examine my own failures. 

And yes, I am sure there are more editions of this lesson to come.  I expect a few of those moments will come next year when we are in the states for several months and I experience culture shock in the opposite direction. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

People, People, Everywhere - #10, 11, and 12

We moved to Spain to share Christ with the people here.  This forced a change in perspective for us - we were here to be with people.  I know that sounds like a "duh" moment, but for Americans (or at least a lot of them) this is a big shift in mentality.  Us Americans tend to focus on the task and work and fill in the gaps with relationships.  By no means are Spaniards lazy - the majority of them work really hard - but they have their priorities/value system in a different order than ours.  They focus on relationships - a top priority for them is family and friends - and they fill in the gaps with work.  I have loved seeing this change occur in me as well and as a result I have met some incredible people over the past 3+ years.  I am so very blessed!

Sara Davila - my language tutor and friend
#10 - My Teachers 

Yep, almost 50 (oh my!) and I am still learning.  Over the past three years I have had a variety of teachers - ones that taught me Spanish, some that taught me Spanish culture, some that taught me the church culture, and others that have taught me how this new profession looks.  Those are my "formal" teachers, but along the way I have also met a variety of "teachers" who have taught me through emails, facebook chats, or just time spent over a cup of coffee.  I feel sorry for the people who arrive at a certain age and believe they have learned all there is to learn.  They are missing out on a lot of blessings. 

#11 - My Family on this side of the Ocean

Armando and Noemi - our pastor & his wife
Martha - dear friend and confidant
I am a relationship type person.  I am an extrovert.  I love people, I find my energy being around people, and I always believe there is room for one more at the table, in the car, or in my life.  But one day, very soon after we arrived in Spain, I realized I didn't really have any of that any more.  I struggled.  I cried.  I pitched quite a few temper tantrums with God.  The phone never rang (unless it was a telemarketer in Spanish and I had no idea what he was saying).  The doorbell never rang (unless it was the mailman wanting in the building to deliver mail).  My table always had the same 4 (don't get me wrong - I love sharing a meal with my family, but I love the variety of life that comes with new people around the table).  I stayed connected with those on the other side of the ocean, but on this side - well, it was plain lonely!  Yet, as time passed new family grew.  Teammates, teachers Alex's school, Spanish friends, neighbors, and the church became my family on this side of the ocean.  Tough times came and passed and without these people I would have packed up and gone home.  When "issues" have arisen on either side they have been here to support and encourage.  This fall, when we went through a breast cancer scare I realized that I do now have family on this side of the ocean.  WhatsApp messages arrived before, during and after every appointment.  Offers to go with me to appointments and meals during the biopsy recover time.  Prayers abundantly filled the gap and let me know that I wasn't walking through this alone.  The coffee invitations are more frequent, the walks with a friend more common, the "I'm praying for you" comments come regularly, and the revolving door of friends and family has returned to the front of our house.  At our table you often find new faces.  The sound of messages can be heard throughout the day.  Laughter in the streets is no longer a spectator sport.  God has definitely blessed with me with a surrogate family here in Spain - and I am blessed beyond measure.

#12 - My Family on the other side of the Ocean

US team in 2012
Send off party
Robin and a few days of girl fun
September 30, 2011 will always be burned into my memory.  Standing in the airport with family and friends and saying goodbye.  As we walked down the hall to our plane, leaving behind all that felt "comfortable," I felt alone.  I felt like I was letting go of every relationship I had ever experienced and was fearful that the goodbye we had just said was permanent.  I shed quite a few tears over the next 15 hours as we waved goodbye in Greensboro and hello in Madrid.  Yet, my family and friends have been faithful over the 3+ years.  I have said that an ocean is a great proving ground for relationships and I am so thankful for those that have stood the test of time and distance.  My family has been incredibly supportive.  I know it was not hard for my parents to let us go - to say goodbye to
their grandkids (and daughter).  My sister knew with this move that if my parents needed help it
John & Jacqui from SC - visiting in Spain with our Spanish pastor & family
would all fall on her, and yet she let us go.  Our oldest son knew he was being left behind, shed a few tears, and let us go.  For the first year, one friend sent me a facebook message everyday!  Another friend, for the entire 3+ years we have been here has responded to every email newsletter with words of encouragement.  Other friends pop up with short (and sometimes long) emails just sharing how life is going and asking about mine.  Facebook chats, gmail chats, imessages, skype calls, magic jack calls (even from 3 couples who called in the middle of the night because they were all together and thinking of us - and unfortunately not thinking about the time difference), emails, care packages, snail mail, .... have all been cherished.  Friends and family have stood in the gap for us as parents as well - helping Hannah have a place to live, a job, move in to college, find a car, treat her to a family dinner and games, take her tailgating, sending her care packages.  I daily thank God for these people in my life and I pray that they too know how thankful I am for them.

Oh the Sights You Will See - #7, 8, and 9

Spain is a culture that walks a lot more I was used to when moved here.  There are times when I still prefer to get in the car and go somewhere, but I really will miss the walking when we are in the states next year.  We walk to do small errands, we walk to go out to eat, we walk to catch the bus, ....  Every time that I go out with time to enjoy the walk I see something new.  I love it!

#7  Locals selling their vegetables

Throughout our pueblo you will encounter different Spaniards sitting out by a card table with their fresh produce.  This is almost always produce from their own garden and you never know what you will find.  As I was walking through town today I stopped at three different "tables" hoping to find sweet potatoes, but no luck.  I did chat with older man (had to be 70+) who actually had his table set up on a sidewalk that was only as wide as his table.  Everyone had to walk in the street to get around his table.  What adventures!

#8  Las Abuelas

Age does not slow down the people from walking.  I love to walk down the small narrow streets of the town where you will find the abuelas (grandmas).  They are either pushing their grocery carts through the town or walking arm in arm with a friend.   They have one volume so it is impossible to not hear their conversations.  Today I overheard two ladies talking about how fun it is to watch their grand kids taking their first steps.  I have decided that when I have grand kids (hey kids - no hurry) I want to be called abuelita (little grandma). 

39  The Crazy Sights

Of course not everything you see when you are out walking is loving or beneficial.  There are of course crazy things that make you shake your head.  For example, today I passed an older man beating a tree in his yard with a broom.  He was trying to get all the dried leaves off the tree so that he could rake them all at once.  Then at another intersection where I was trying to cross the street I had to wait on a car that was backing all the way down the street.  It was a one way street and the car apparently didn't want to go around the block so he just backed up instead.  Of course there is also the cathedral that is being built out of all recycled materials, three wheeled motorcycles, pink mopeds, and one of my all time favorite - motorcycles with tops.  Also not uncommon to see someone in a wheel chair being pushed down the middle of the street or a child riding push toy through the grocery store.  I love how this culture always surprises me and very often keeps me smiling!