A birthday party

1aabaa29bb8a1287b3b06ffaf0fad544It was Friday night. We had been in Alicante all day, come home, taken a siesta (for which I’m so thankful!) and now we’re sassying ourselves up for the big party. Ariana and Xara had met Gloria in their first week living in Spain over 10 years ago. She is a bold, vivacious woman. I had only been told stories, but tonight I was going to meet her.

On our way to the party we were to meet another woman, Pillar. We arrived late to meet her and before an introduction could be made, this very well dressed Spanish woman scolded Ariana for being late. Though I couldn’t understand what she was saying, her lips were moving quickly and her fingers were pointing to her watch and her tone held such a pitch it sounded as though she were a chicken about to hatch an egg. She was not happy with our tardiness. We rushed off to a local shop and purchased a gift for Gloria.

(It is the custom in Spain for the birthday girl/boy to throw the party, buy the meal, pay for the drinks and all. Much different than the states where when it’s your birthday you are treated to everything! All day. So it is customary to bring a gift to say I’m glad you were born and I’m grateful for your generosity. There is so much to learn simply from observing and asking questions. I wonder if I miss out on things in the states because I forget to ask questions to understand.)

I followed the three women as they rushed into the store. They held clothes up and discussed their feelings on what was chosen. They discussed size and color. They went back and forth with studious looks as they observed the clothing wanting to choose just the right thing. At one point I felt I was at an art gallery more than a clothing shop as each woman stepped back, put their hand on their chin, squinted and commented on the apparel  before them. It was delightful. Pillar and I had yet to be introduced and just as though she saw me for the first time, she looks over at Ariana and scolds her for not introducing me before. She made sure Ariana knew how rude it was that I’d been here all along and she didn’t yet know my name. I enjoy Pillar and her sass. She reminds me of no one I know and she is full of spice and vivaciousness.

Pillar and I were quickly introduced and I once again used my three year old Spanish. I told her it was nice to meet her and that I understood very little Spanish. She smiled and I smiled and all was good.

We were off! We walked quickly down the paseo, much like women on a mission. We headed directly for our restaurant and barely stopped to say hi to friends we passed along the way.

I must say I was a bit nervous. My brain was already tired from the long day of integration in Alicante and now I was off to another event. The party was full of people and one or two spoke some English, but I was really on my own. This I knew from the get go. We showed up, I kissed each person from the left cheek to the right cheek, as is the custom, I said my greeting and then I stood a bit awkwardly. It was as though I was in the 7th grade and was invited to a party where I knew no one. Everyone around was talking and laughing and carrying on. At one point I almost burst into tears, but instead I took that fiest and turned it into gumption and joined in. I was determined to make a friend, hear a story, get to know someone or at least look like I was. I wanted to communicate gratitude to Gloria for including me and I wanted to communicate that I valued these people and their culture.

I watched for a bit, making a strategy of who I’d talk to and also simply just soaking in the scene. So much was similar to a gathering in the US, but so much was different. There were children at the birthday party. Two of them, a 10 year old and a 3 year old ran around playing, sitting at the bar and talking with others at the restaurant. No one was bothered and the bar tender seemed to like them at his counter. There was a baby in his stroller off in a corner asleep, every once in a while someone would glance in that direction, but for the most part, he seemed to be content, as did his parents. The men stood together. There is power in numbers in this group. And there were only 2 men at the party. The guests were varied. I could tell people loved Gloria. She had friends from Norway, Holland, Portugal, the US and Spain. She had friends who were old and some who were quite young. She was indiscriminate about who was invited to her table as people came from various places and stages in life. I grew fond of Gloria, though we talked little. Her inner kindness was seen as was her loneliness. She loved well and was quite loved.

I watched just a bit more, when I saw a woman free who I knew spoke some English. (In the above picture)

She was from Holland, and was firey and very salty. She had beautiful features, hair white as snow and dressed with color and flare. She stood out from the moment she arrived. Her red lips and blue eyes told a thousand stories before she ever spoke. We talked about the failing economy and how Europeans are fearful that one person will step up in the midst of this crisis as one person did the last time Europe was in financial ruin. That person was Adolf Hitler. There was fear in her. There was resignation in her. There was kindness in her.

After she and I had concurred the world I sat down next to Xara. She and I spoke for a bit when a young boy with a blue shirt, crew cut, olive skin and probably stood just about to my chest came over to me.  He said with bold assurance, “Hello. Nice to meet you!” I complimented him on his English and I asked if he would teach me a few words in Spanish. For the next hour he and I laughed as he was my teacher and I was his student. He taught me the difference between pelo (hair), pedo (to fart), pero (dog) and perro (but). We’d act out or make noises where appropriate. The entire party was observing my lesson and I’m fairly certain they enjoyed every moment. I know that I did.

Pillar grew tired and in an instant she wanted to leave. She grabbed me by the arm and we headed off without Ariana. We got just beyond the restaurant when she yelled to Ariana. I don’t know what it was, but I’m fairly certain it went a little like, “Ariana! Are you coming or not? We will leave you! Stop your dancing and get over here!” I late found out Ariana had been asked to teach the women a certain dance move as she was leaving. This was fun to observe and Pelar yelled and made comments under her breath. I smiled happily as I soaked in all the goodness.

The three of us walked home together laughing and talking. I carried on as though I’d known Pillar for quite some time and as though I knew everything being said. About half way home Pillar told me we would get together on a Saturday in two weeks. I was going to learn Spanish from her. (Yes! One more teacher and Yes! more time with Pillar. She is so curious to me.)

We dropped Pillar off at her home and Ariana talked and laughed our way to Casa Teraza. I went straight to my room and felt complete contentment. It was an exhausting but rich and full and good day. I was so thankful.

It seems I’m constantly invited into situations that remind me to step out, be bold, step in and learn and listen and be comfortable with discomfort. This I know I will take home with me. In this I know I must learn what Jesus has for me. How will I be a better friend? How will I better love those around me? How will I own my own differences and be comfortable being amongst those different from me? I hope I will one day have a birthday party like Gloria’s. One that is filled with difference, generosity, generations and lots of laughter.

Until next time.


Dancing to Freedom

A few nights ago I was at a church in Portland, OR. I prayed about where I should sit before I went, yes I actually did pray about such a thing. I immediately felt as though I should sit on the right hand side of room. So I walked in, made my way to the front right hand side of the sanctuary. Soon after I found my place a father walked in with his daughters.

I smiled as I saw them find their place and join in the singing. One of the girls sat quietly next to her daddy and the other wanted to dance. She was so bouncy. She got up and started twirling in the isles. She then ran into the front of the room, jumping, twirling and laughing as we continued to sing.

I watched her dad. He patiently called her back to her seat and she eventually came. I watched the people around me, watch her. Everyone smiled. Everyone seemed to be enraptured by her freedom.

Dancing for me has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but do not feel free to. Sing, yes. Act, yes. Dance? NO WAY. It is almost as though dancing for me is the very definition of freedom.  When I want to know what complete freedom looks like I imagine myself dancing.

Watching this little girl sing, laugh, and dance was a picture of perfect freedom and it was beautiful. No one scowled at her, in fact by the faces of those around me I do believe were people actually drawn into the freedom she possessed. It was powerful.

Watching the dad brought on the inner struggle I think we all face. Do I let them dance? What if they interrupt the service? Is it too much for them to be bouncing up and down in front of everyone? What will everyone think? You could see that struggle in him as he gently would ask his girls to keep their voices down or to invite them to come sit with him. The girls did listen and they sat with their dad quietly through the service, until the music started to pick up at the end. Then it happened and it was good. He told his girls they could dance. The two sisters got up and started to dance in front of everyone. He smiled and watched them with delight. That was also powerful. He gave his girls freedom.

I think we all imagine freedom differently. Many of us ask the same questions I imagine that dad asked himself as he watched his girls dance. Somewhere in life we loose a bit of our freedom to be. How amazing would it be if we were to each imagine what freedom looks like and choose to respond to that image?

Maybe I’ll just have to dance.  What will you do?

Five Dollars and a Plane Crash

Things don’t always turn out the way we plan. That is one truth I’ve come to know in life. We can do our best to look into the future and make plans for it, or even have hopes for what it may or may not be, but life will take us to the unexpected.

In many ways my life has been like a blue tree; a tree that has the potential to grow blue fruit, from disappointments, failures and the unexpected. But a lot of times, my blue tree has grown red apples. The fruit of my disappointment has ended up actually being something good, I’d actually want to eat.

I learned of disappointment early. When I was a kid my sisters and I decided we wanted to host a sort of Bible club for our neighborhood. Get this visual in your head: three girls 11, 8 and 7 years old holding a Bible club. Connie was 11, she was in charge of the stories and lessons, Christy who was 8 took on the recreation and I, at 7, was in charge of crafts. Now you should understand that this is something we chose to do with our time. I still wonder what we were thinking, but I bet my parents got a kick out of it.

Anyway, Connie had chosen a college student from the Bible college across the street to be the person for whom we’d take an offering. His name was Mike, and I’m pretty certain Connie chose him because he had blonde hair, was tall and he paid attention to her. He was going on a summer long mission trip somewhere in Africa, I think Liberia, (again, I was 7) and was needing to raise funds for his trip.  Connie made the decision and we drew a goal thermometer with the goal of raising five dollars. Each day we’d take an offering and we’d fill in the white space of the thermometer with red marker, indicating how close we’d come to reaching our goal. By the end of the week we did it! We raised the money and we wrote a card, Connie wrote a letter and we mailed it all the way to Africa.

Later that summer we were visiting my grandma in western Nebraska when my dad got a call. There had been an accident with a student from the college where he was teacher. A small plane was flying with four young men who were serving on a short term mission trip and the plane had crashed. One of the four young men was Mike.

We had raised money so he could tell people about Jesus and serve in a community that needed not only his words of hope, but his actions of service. And in the middle of his giving, he lost his own life. It was a lot to take in as a 7 year old.

We extended our trip and my parents drove us to his memorial service.  I remember being sad. I remember watching my older sister be very sad. I remember wondering about death and life and Jesus. I remember people saying things like, “Mike is in a better place now,” things that were to bring comfort to those left behind. I remember meeting his mom, she bent down to talk to me and she hugged me. I remember feeling sad for her. I remember looking at his picture and knowing he was gone. I remember the room where the service was held and feeling like it needed more light. I don’t remember if I cried or how deeply I felt. But the events of that summer turned out much differently than I’d planned or imagined.

Looking back, I realize I learned so much through that experience that has been a part of shaping me. My blue tree, really has grown red apples..

My red apples:

1. I learned that when you are dedicated to someone you give up your own time schedule and comfort to be there.

2. I learned that when someone sacrifices their time for causes beyond themselves, for Jesus, that their life however short was not in vain.

3. I learned that raising $5 makes a difference, and that giving financially connects you to things in deeply intimate ways.

4. I learned that you never let go of people you love, they share in your story even 28 years later.

5. I learned relationships are important and the stories we share in as we walk with one another, really do make an eternal difference.

6. I learned that investing in people younger than you pays off no matter how long you were able to invest in them. Mike in many ways mentored my sisters and I. He invested time and interest in us and paid attention to us, even though we were just awkward squirrely little girls. His investment lasts through today in each of us.

Am I right? Do disappointments teach us and help mold us for the good?