Rabbit trails and leap frogs

Tonight I’m pensive. I’m reflective and I’m watchful.

There is a slight breeze blowing, yet the air feels thick and still. The sea is rough and yet there is little sound. Sunday nights are quiet here.

I am tired today. My siestas seem to last longer and are much deeper than in my first days in Altea. Today I took two. And, I seemingly sat most of this day, rather than my usual running around up and down the hundreds of stairs going from one part of town to the other. Stopping allowed my body to feel its true self, and its true self is tired.

In a few days I will have been here for one month. This fact is seemingly hard to believe. I have a life here. I have friends. I have those I look forward to seeing and with whom I look forward to spending time. The characters who fill the shops, cafes, streets and restaurants have become a sort of community for me. I love these people. I long for them to know good and be blessed with every spiritual blessing. I long for them to know life and walk in it. I want that for the students too.

It is now mid-afternoon. Last night, my tiredness took over and I did not finish writing.

The day began by me waking 7 minutes before I was to arrive at the first event of the day. This was not a good plan. I woke up to a hot room. Already by early morning the heat was stilling the room and making it heavy. I quickly prepared myself for the day and made the hike down the stairs to the home where we’d spend the next couple hours as a group.

Our time was good, but I can tell that most are tired, feeling the pressure of meeting with friends they’ve met while here and they are wanting to squeeze as much into their time as possible. I feel this pressure for them. I think it’s strange for everyone to have invested so deeply in new friends that now they have to leave.

I’m thankful for the fact that I have another month to stay and invest and learn. It frees me of the pressure of leaving and needing to balance all of the good-byes.

My mind wonders as I write.

I think back over the stories I’ve encountered over the last few weeks and I’m so thankful!

Here’s a snapshot:

1. I swam in the deep dark blue of the Mediterranean Sea at midnight. It was so remarkably peaceful to float and star-gaze at the same time. I could hear the water and the sound of my breath and I felt peace and I knew freedom.

2. I was given the most beautiful dress by my house as a thank you present. And by beautiful I mean… totally and incredibly beautiful. I feel loved, valued and treasured. They have been a gift to me in so many ways.

3. I sat with one of the guys from the trip for four hours talking about Jesus and spiritual warfare and our identities and the Kingdom and it was good. We were given free mojitos too, that was also good.

4. Wednesday night the guys from Hot Home Pizza, which is my favorite place to eat in Altea, invited Ariana and I for mojitos after they got off work. So she and I showed up and the four of us sat around, swapping stories and life until we were all yawning and needed to head home.

1003005_10153019561965004_198410538_n5. We hosted an artist named Miriam, whose work is incredibly wonderful last week. She also was the artist for our gallery on Friday evening. Her art created connection through whimsy and thought. She had small surprises set up all over the gallery for people. I LOVED watching the children. They were so filled with wonder over each element and they drew their parents into the wonder. (Oh that we would remain childlike in our wonder of God and His world! He is the God of whimsy and surprises! and it is good.)

6. My days and nights have been filled with deep conversation with students and locals a like. I do not share their stories, but each person with whom I’ve been able to be in relationship, has shared both heart and story with me and it feels good and heavy and redemptive and beautiful and painful and glorious. I think that is how life is. It is a mix of throwing off the old and putting on the new. I’ve seen a lot of people put on new these past few weeks.

7. Yesterday our friends from Hot Home Pizza told us they’d like to make paella for us. So they came over for several hours. We ate and laughed and heard their story as a business and hear their story as people. I’ve come to treasure these men and women. They are friends and I’m so thankful for the time that we’ve all shared. In the next few weeks, we are going to make dinner for them, with a traditional American meal. I’m excited for this.

8. I’ve continued to learn the language, soaking in as much as possible. This next month I will have Spanish lessons, one on one with a man from town. I’ll speak with him in English for an hour and then he’ll speak with me in Spanish. I’m so excited about this!

9. I miss my friend Sara from Altearte, another cafe in town. I look forward to seeing her and spending some more time with her. It is an amazing reminder to me, the power of invitation. And how friends can be made so easily, when we make the effort.

10. Each day I awake wondering what the day will hold and what I’ll observe and how God will use it in my life. I don’t yet know how this season will play into my future or how God will encourage me through it, but I look forward to learning.

I feel a bit like this blog is filled with rabbit trails and leap frogs; jumping from story and thought to story and thought. But I do know a few things. God is in the details. He reveals himself through whimsy. He desires us to be conduits of relationship to everyone… everywhere. One does not have to leave their country to live a life that pours into others. That can happen right in our own neighborhoods, stores, cafes and streets. We simply must look for relationship and love with action. (I am sure there will be much more said about this topic.)

I’m off for lunch now. Tonight I move to the other house by the beach as Ariana heads back to the States. I will have to make reasons to climb the stairs daily, as it’s very good for me.

Look today for whimsy. Look today for God. Look today for ways to love. Then maybe, take the time to tell someone the story of how you encountered God and people!

A day of rest

968839_10152975071055004_1090486230_nI woke up to the shine beating in the window. It was hot and the morning had just begun. I made my way down the terra-cotta stairs to four students curled up, still in dream land. They are tired. They have explored and soaked in so much culture and experience that though they want to be awake for hours can not help but fall asleep the instant their heads hit their pillows and slumber until they are forced to wake up by an outside source. Soon noises filled the downstairs. Their voices went from  being slurred and half awake to loud and boisterous as they laughed about the previous days events. We laugh a lot in our house. (They have not yet fallen in love with my jokes, but I’m working on it!)

One by one they left to go experience Spanish church culture for the first time. All of the students were divided into three groups, each going to a different church. Three of the students from my house had to take a train nearly an hour away to go to their church. As each group left the house became quiet and I got some much needed fully alone time. I breathed in deep, taking a look around my room and once again being struck by my view. The water never ceases to amaze me. It is as though the sea were made to be a patchwork quilt with all shades of blue. There are patches of blue, turquoise, aqua-marine, sky blue and a deep sea blue. They move in a continuous and rhythmic motion as though they look up to a sovereign conductor, who directs the sea as though it were a choir singing in 8 part harmony all in the rhyme. I love it. I’m moved by it. My soul sings to it.

I decided to do laundry, a simple task that at home is one of my least favorite things to do. But here, for some reason, the simplicity of the laundry is one of my favorite things. I love the smell of the fabric softener as I hang each item on the line. I smiled once again as if I were a character in a play. I then made a breakfast of caramelized onions and eggs and savored the flavor as I enjoyed the silence of my home.

I could not wait to spend some time with Jesus. Though I’m here on a trip to walk with college students in their own spiritual formation, I have felt a strange distance between me and Jesus. It feels like the kind of distance one experiences when they live in a different place from their best friend. Though they know their friend is there and close and the relationship is in tact and secure, there is just a missing from being separate from their loved one.

I needed to be with Him.

I took time to write, to listen, to pray, to cry. My heart is much like the sea, a patchwork of colors of experiences, thoughts, new ideas, old habits, memories, hopes, dreams and questions. And they all flow in motion as they look to their conductor. But let me tell you, if even just one of the patches doesn’t submit to the direction of the great conductor, the rhythm is off for each part. Today, I wanted to once again submit to the direction of my conductor. One by one I laid my thoughts, experiences, memories and the like to His care and peace swept over me.

The peace was rich and good and it rocked me to sleep. I woke up to the sound of people coming home from their church excursions. We talked a bit, did our separate work and eventually the last group came home. The three of them; Claire, Brianne and Donald came upstairs and we chatted about our days and made a plan to go to the sea shore.

We walked down the street to the shore and laughed and listened and played. Once on the shore, we made a plan to swim out to the rock bar which rests a little over 100 yards away. We laid down our towels on the rocks. (Yes, rocks, not sand. The beaches in Altea have rock that is much like river rock covering their banks. Not the most comfortable, but for today it did its job.) I laid and cared for our belongings as they swam out to the bar and back, then I made the swim myself. It was good to be in the water.

Once I got to the bar, I stood on a rock and listened. I felt as though I were connecting with the mystery of God as I looked down at the water. The sea is vast and full and beyond understanding. It is powerful and full of life. As I breathed in the air and the smells of the sea I breathed in the life of Jesus. He too is vast and full and beyond understanding. He too is powerful and full of life.

I felt alive.

I swam back to shore. It was a more difficult swim than the swim out. The tide kept pulling me back and I kept pressing forward against its pull. Soon on the shore I laid covered by the sun, until shadows washed over us.

We headed back up the hundreds of stairs to our home. Donald had discovered a new way that he wanted to take us. It was beautiful. Maybe it was beautiful because of the geraniums. Maybe it was beautiful because it was different. Maybe, it was beautiful because I was with these two students whose hearts amaze me.

We stepped in our home and each have rested from a long walk and long swim.

I once again sit in my room, looking out at the sea, which is now a very light grey blue color, and am calm. I know my Jesus is with me. There is still much to say and hear from Him, but I am thankful for a day to be. A day to be with my Jesus and to be with these students who remind me of him.

(Tonight I’m going dancing!)

A place where everybody knows your name

DSC01009Saturday suddenly was here without a warning. The week has gone by so quickly I can hardly keep my days straight. Ariana and Xara had a wedding and a few other appointments on this day so I knew I’d have the day to myself. Instead of loneliness I was overcome with a sense of adventure, curiosity and playfulness. I got up, dressed and decided I would scout out the town and see what I could see.

Armed with my camera and my wallet I set out to explore Altea. I walked down the stairs to our beachside home and opened the door onto the main street. I turned left, crossed the street and stepped on the the olive grove. I took a few pictures, as I like to pretend I’m a photo journalist any time I get a camera in my hands. The world becomes art and it is mine to capture it. It’s funny there are things I see when I hold a camera that I would not see if I were simply walking around. (I like having a camera on my phone as it gives me this incentive to see the world as art with a desire to capture every moment of beauty.)

I had met a local artist whose sister owned a shop right off the olive grove. I stepped into the shop and was fascinated by everything I saw. She had very good taste and her store was filled with delicate beauty. Necklaces, earrings, purses, and the like filled the shop with colors and shapes that were unique and not over stated. I was able to speak just a bit with her. I knew just enough to tell her I thought her inventory was beautiful.

My curiosity kept me moving on. I passed by a bakery, the widows were filled with the most delectable of treats. Croissants, chocolate, and many unfamiliar delights beckoned on lookers. I watched as small children and adults alike closed their eyes, breathed in and took their first bite of their morning treats. I kept walking.

Next I walked down a main street filled with every kind of store imaginable. The stores are small and particular. One wouldn’t find a Target type store here. But the entire street felt much like a Target divided into small stores. So much life at every turn. Old and young alike filled the streets. Some were bustling along as though their agenda for the morning was quite full. Others sat and lingered enjoying being in the company of friends and family. It was a perfect picture of Saturday life; errands, fun, relationship, food, tears of small children as their mothers dragged them from store to store. Nothing was unfamiliar but everything was new. I smiled as I walked and watched.

Just about half way down the street I looked ahead and to my surprise I saw three people I knew walking towards me. Gloria, whose birthday I had celebrated the night before and the two youngest boys at the party were walking towards me. My Spanish teacher, smiled when he saw me. He pointed to his hair, I very quickly said, “pelo”. He nodded with satisfaction. We kept walking and he lifted his leg and made a burst of a sound from his mouth, I laughed out loud and said, “pedo!” We smiled and waved goodbye. I had passed my test. And I felt like a local. I had friends in this place  I had only been for four days.

I walked up the stairs to Old Town. It was not as busy here. The plaza was full of trucks and people setting up for the first night of the summer artist market. People were working hard to get ready for the evening. I felt a little in the way as people were very focused with their tasks. I then saw another friend I had made in my short first days. He is a local artist, he is bald, a little scruffy, has many tattoos, gauged ears and very distinct features. I find him intriguing and slightly curious. We greeted each other. I think we both were excited to see someone that we knew. (Ok, maybe I was just excited because I knew someone.) Our greeting was quick as he had much work to do to set up for the evening.

The artists make nearly all of their money in the short months of the summer market. During the months of July, August, September and October the upper plaza by the old church is filled with artisans on weekend evenings. At the peak of tourist season this is a good move and it adds to the unique artist flare I’ve come to love here.

I kept walking. I stepped into the church, a nun greeted me with a smile and pointed to a small box to place donations. She was very persuasive, even without my understanding, so I placed a euro in the box. The church was ornate and there was a sadness there. I was struck by that feeling as I stood in wonder at the gold trim and detailed paintings covering the canvas of the walls and ceilings. The stations of the cross were found on the pillars of the large room. I was struck by how cartoon like Jesus looked. He did not look like the Jesus presented in the grand cathedrals of Italy, but he didn’t capture me. He was pasty and almost lifeless. I think Jesus had life in his eyes even when he was suffering. These paintings did not do him any justice.

Up and down narrow cobblestone streets I made my way like a mouse in a maze. I looked around as a child at Disneyland for the first time. Every sight was new and yet familiar. I made up my mind to get back home before it was too late to enjoy the sun, so I traveled back down the stairs to my home on the beach. I am confident here. I am confident in my ability to get around, to enjoy the new and familiar.

I spent the next few hours in the sun interspersed with moments of cleaning and hanging the laundry out to dry. (Confession: I become a little giddy every time I hang something on the line to dry. It is as though I’m playing a role in a movie and am truly entering into my character.) I read, did some writing and breathed in the air of another lovely day on the Mediterranean.

It was now 8pm and I knew I wanted to go out. I showered and did my hair and put on a dress (I’ve worn a dress every day I’ve been here. I feel feminine and free. Many of the women here live in dresses. I’ll be writing more about my observations on uniquenesses of women and men in blogs to come.)

1001495_10152950892500004_2144905665_nNow dressed and ready I stepped out once again on my own. Unlike Wednesday where being alone brought up feelings of loneliness, today my being alone conjured up feelings of adventure. I headed back up the steps into Old Town. I got up the main steps and turned to the right as the road divides in two directions. I was going to head straight but saw a young toe headed child had dropped his yoyo from the plaza above. His sister was laughing and pointing and his eyes were filled with sadness. I walked over and picked up his yoyo. I showed him that I had it and he looked at me inquisitively. Was I going to keep it? Was I going to bring it to him? What was to come of his toy? I imagine these questions swirled in him mind. I walked out of sight and eventually turned the corner and entered the plaza where the young boy was trying to wiggle his way out of a family picture. When he saw me he smiled and hesitantly approached me. I reached out my hand and opened it unveiling his beloved toy. He squealed with delight. His father made sure he thanked me and he did.

Once our greetings were finished I continued to walk up the second set of steps onto the plaza where artisans had now filled the outlining spaces. I saw my friend again, this time he was accompanied by his girlfriend whom I also had met. I was happy to see her. They showed me their work and I was in awe. The jewelry I had seen earlier at the shop and loved, was his! His work was fine and detailed and feminine and lovely and beautiful. I touched it all and wanted to buy everything! Tonight I resisted. But I know I will purchase something before I leave.

I walked to each booth, looking at the result of each persons imagination and craft. The creativity amazes me. Art reminds me that we come from and were designed by a master Creator. The Creator Premier! I thought of my tattoo of a paintbrush and smiled as I too get to share in creation.

After perusing the booths I made my way down a side street where I entered a dress shop. The colors and patters were bold and bright. I found a dress that I thought was my kind of bold and I made the purchase. Again, feeling like a character in a movie I used my three year old Spanish with a little more confidence. The dress was exactly what I had been looking for.

(Women wear a lot of dresses here. They are feminine without being overdone and they are strong and confident and in touch with themselves. I’ve loved observing them. I feel as though we women from the states have so much to learn about true femininity. Its a beautifully powerful thing.)

After my purchase and my newly found confidence in my ability to speak Spanish I went back to a local cafe where I had met the owners with Ariana my first night out on the town. I easily found the location and as I turned the corner I met eyes with the owner whom I had met two days earlier. He greeted me as though I were a friend and we chatted a bit. I stepped inside of the cafe and sat down. I don’t normally go out to eat or drink alone, so this was a whole new experience. Sarah, who is co-owener of the cafe with her husband, assured me it is custom and very normal for people to eat or drink alone in Spain, as they will not be alone for very long. This was true. I was not alone very long.

I talked with a few locals, had the best mojito I’ve had, hands down and observed as people came and went. In the states we are enamored with the idea of the show “Cheers” a place where everybody knows your name. Her in Altea, it’s a normal part of life. People are genuinely interested in you and desire to be in relationship with you. This kind of warmth is inspiring and I pray that I will be the kind of person who treats others with this much investment from the get go.

I lingered at the counter for a few hours and then decided I wanted to head back home. I paid up, gathered my things and made the walk back to the Casa. I think I may have smiled the entire way. I had put on the character of a Spanish woman and I think I may have just pulled it off. I was free. I was confident. I was strong. I was vivacious.

The funny thing is, I didn’t need to be a character to play this role. I am these things. In the days leading up to this trip I have walked with a light step and a renewed spirit. Spain, it turns out, is a great place to put all of this new into practice.

What kind of character do you imagine yourself being? Who do you want to be? Tomorrow, goodness… today! choose to be the best version of you possible. Wear yourself well and be free. May you find your own Spain… that you can practice being you!

Loneliness and traveling

946523_10152941580870004_2120307944_nToday I was alone most of the day. I sat out on the terrace and wrote. I managed to talk with a friend from the states and caught up on some emailing. The overwhelming feeling of the day was not joy or curiosity, but loneliness. The two women here with whom I’ll be co-leading were out all day and I was here, by my self, all day.

The first night was filled with so much adventure and now here I was in this beautiful place, surrounded by so much good and yet all I could feel was that I was alone.

Just about the time tears were coming I received an email from a friend who had traveled much of last year. Her words to me were timely and prophetic. She spoke about being present here in Spain and not to long for things back in the states. I wrote her immediately and told her these words were good for me because I was feeling lonely. She wrote again telling me that lonely is a part of it and to lean into the loneliness and explore what lies there.

So I decided that sitting around the house was not a good way to dive into the loneliness and I put on my walking shoes and walked about 14klm along the sea. The number of cultures that collide in this one tiny town is astounding actually. I heard so many languages. I saw so many varied bathing suits, some I’d like to forget, and watched as old and young played in one space. I’ve rarely experienced such diversity in one place. I had made up my mind to walk until the paseo ended and as I reached the end, was so struck by all who were gathered there.

I made my way home, having leaned into my loneliness and having worked up some endorphins, and felt ready to approach the remainder of my day. It was going to be good.

(I think in our own contexts we know how to avoid feelings we’d rather not experience. I know at times I do. So, just like I want to dive in and experience all that Spain has to offer, I too want to explore all that might be awaiting for me personally in the adventure. Perhaps the loneliness is very good for me? Perhaps the loneliness is my teacher of things I long for and fear? Perhaps I’ll feel lonely a lot? There is a lot of lonely when one is in a country where the language is not understood and where one constantly has to choose to engage from the outside. How do we actually work to include those around us who are different? How do I keep people on the outskirts by my language? These ideas continue to come up and sift through my mind as though they too are my teacher. )

I came home from my long walk on the beach and got ready for an evening out. Ariana had returned from her meetings and we had dinner plans at a pizza place near by. Ariana is gluten free and finding places that serve “sin gluten” can be difficult. She had talked this particular restaurant into making gluten free pizza with flour she provided. This night they were going to try it for the first time and we were going to eat it. Watching Ariana with the Spaniards reminds me of what it must be like to go places with me in the states. Somehow she knows everyone and has no fear when it comes to making friends with the locals. (I still believe that most people want new friends and want to be noticed and are simply a question or two away from becoming such, no matter in what culture one lives.)

I was able to order in Spanish, which made me very happy. Though I’m sure I sounded like a three year old, I was using words and forming thoughts to communicate, albeit broken. I felt quite content with myself as I sat down and exactly what I wanted showed up at the table a few minutes later.

Ariana and I had a lovely conversation as we sat out in the middle of the paseo. (The restaurants along the paseo line the walkway furthest from the shore. Most have seating inside and all have seating outside. Depending on the space and the bike path which runs alongside the restaurants, some have seating up against their shop and others have seating in the middle of the paseo, going in order shop, bike path, seating, walking path, shore line. It’s actually quite lovely.)

When sitting in the middle of the paseo, I feel as though I’m a part of everything up close and personal. I like being in the middle of everything. I like having life happen all around on every side. I can feel lonely in that place. Life everywhere and me simply observing it. But at this particular time, I did not feel lonely as much as I felt an invitation to risk in conversation. Was I going to tell Ariana that I was lonely all day? I had felt foolish for even feeling lonely. It was only my second day, how was loneliness so prevalent?

I decided to risk and share of my day and my fears and my thoughts. It was good for me. I breathed in the air of the sea and breathed out the internal dialogue of my mind.

Traveling is good. It is a lonely good. The lonely is a part of it. The lonely speaks to what is unseen and often ignored in the busy of life. I think I will feel alone often. I think this will be good for me.

My arrival

(For a few months I am going to intersperse my experiences in Spain with my thoughts on life and such. Enjoy!)

photoSpain greeted me in the dark as I landed late Tuesday night. There was much to experience and to see, but it was blanketed with darkness as though to unveil the good one surprise at a time.

Once I got my bags, customs was really no big deal at all, a sweet man smiled at me and passed me through without even stamping my passport (which of course is a little disappointing to have come to Spain and not been stamped to prove the fact). Once through the doors of the terminal, nothing seemed too new. Aside from the signs being in spanish, the familiar was everywhere. I think airports have the same smell around the world. This one was no different. Weary travelers, with blank faces exchanged glances with me as I walked around to waste time until my bus left 2 hours later.

Finally my bus arrived. I sat in the front row, so I could see as much as I could, which was not much at this point. About 15 minutes into the bus ride I looked up and saw the most beautiful moon. It was red and orange and big and round. So incredibly breathtaking. Because I did not want to experience this beauty alone, I struck up a conversation with the couple sitting across the isle from me. They were incredibly nice. Being from Ireland, we talked about my upcoming trip there and then we talked about my friend’s the Donahue’s and they were very excited, as she was a Donahue before she got married to an O’Conner. We then talked about how the O was dropped from some Irish names while others kept it. Apparently the story goes, that if a person took help from the British many many years ago, when food was scarce in Ireland, the O was removed as a sign that the person had been tainted by the British. Those who kept their O’s claim to be the purest form of Irish possible.

We chatted until it was time for them to get off the bus. (I look forward to being Ireland after meeting them. Such kind and friendly people)

I got off the bus and waited for my ride. Of course the bus station was rather large and my friend and I were in two different places waiting for another. After waiting for a half-hour or so, I had made up in my mind where I was going to sleep for the night if my ride didn’t show. I walked around the nearly vacant complex and saw the back of my friend, secretly I screamed with delight, going to my temporary home in Altea was going to be much more comfortable than the yellow bench I’d scouted out.

Though I was excited to see Ariana, I was tired and wanted to sleep. She was full of questions and excitement that she’d ask a question and then interrupt me as I answered to point out a building or share a fact. You know when people get share something they love it’s as though they are a jack-in-a-box, about to burst at the sight of anything remotely memorable to them. This was Ariana, the entire ride to Altea. I decided I wouldn’t answer any more questions and simply listen as she hopped from fact to story to fact as a leap frog jumping from lily pad to lily pad. I smiled as I listened.

We arrived at our house. It was a small three bedroom home, that was not too spectacular. Quite what I had expected actually. That is, until I walked in the living room and there before me was a terrace, overlooking the deepest blue water that was being kissed by the moonlight. I gasped as my eyes tried to fully take in the beauty.

This was my home, right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.