Adiós

Good-byes are hard for me. That is probably an understatement. I dread that last hug before a dear friend leaves my life for an undefined period of time. There will be tears, probably many more unseen when I am alone than when I am actually saying goodbye. I will dwell on the separation months in advance and may choke up even years later remembering the pain of losing contact with a friend. I am an extrovert so I draw a lot of energy and encouragement from the people around me. I enjoy deep relationships with many people. However the deeper level of connection makes it harder to separate in the end. I tend to worry about my friends. If they leave (or I leave) will our relationship continue? Will they encounter troubles I won’t know about, won’t be able to help with, or won’t understand because we aren’t in the same place anymore? Will they continue on the right track in their relationship with God? Will there be someone else to play the role that I did for them and vice versa?

Other random trivia about me: I am a nerd about linguistics. I love the subtle differences in meaning between words. I am fascinated by word origins and how culture has shaped language. I have always enjoyed dissecting English and hunting for root words and wondering how phrases or words came to be. Now, as I become more comfortable in the language, I am starting to do this more in Spanish as well. Something I discovered recently has been a huge source of comfort to me. If you break apart the word “adiós” (Spanish for good-bye), you’ll have the phrase “a dios”. “A dios” is translated “to God”. I looked it up to confirm my guess and the term “adiós” is in fact an abbreviated form of the phrase “a dios vos acomiendo” which translates into English as “to God I commend you.” In summary, saying “adiós” to someone is a declaration that you are entrusting them to God’s care. You cannot imagine how freeing that is to commit someone you love to God and not have to worry about what will happen to them or you before you meet again because God loves each of you deeply and he is working things out for the good. The words we say are ultimately unimportant if our feelings or beliefs behind them are not in agreement. However, saying the right words potentially has the power to mold our thinking. I am thankful that, in this season, instead of saying “good bye”, I’ll be saying “adiós” and giving myself a reminder each time that God is guarding my dear friends.

 

Las despedidas son muy difíciles para mí. Bueno, ¿cómo puedo decirlo más fuerte? Yo siento mucha aprehensión del último abrazo ante que un gran amigo se va de mi vida. Sí, habrá lágrimas, probablemente muchas que nadie puede ver.  Yo pienso y me preocupo mucho ante la separación.  Años después todavía me desanima pensar en los amigos por despedir.  Soy extrovertida y siento la necesidad de las personas por la energía y ánimo que traen a mi vida. Tengo conexiones muy profundas con mis amigos. Porque de eso, la separación de ellos es más difícil para mí en fin. Si mis amigos se van (o yo me voy) ¿seguirá nuestra amistad? ¿Encontrarán problemas que no voy a saber, que no voy a ser capaz de entender, o con que pudiera ayudar? ¿Seguirán en su relación con Dios? ¿Habrá alguien que va a tomar mi papel con ellos o viceversa?

Otro característico de mí: me encanta la ciencia de idiomas. Me gustan las diferencias pequeñas entre palabras. Me fascinan los orígenes de palabras y como la cultura ha cultivado el idioma. Yo disfruto disecar el inglés e investigar las raíces de palabras e imaginar cómo nacían las frases. Ahora, que estoy más cómoda en el idioma, estoy empezando a hacer lo mismo con el español.  Recientemente, descubrí algo que me ha animado tanto. La palabra “adiós”. Ya les dije que las despedidas son muy difíciles, pero me doy cuenta que para decir “adiós” es diferente. La palabra “adiós” puede ser divido en “a dios”. Yo busqué en un diccionario y confirmé mi idea. “Adiós” es de “a dios vos acomiendo” (a dios te encomiendo). ¡Qué hermoso! Cuando se dice “adiós” a alguien es una declaración que se está encargando a su amigo a Dios. Que libertad que podemos dejar nuestros amigos al bondadoso Dios quien puede cuidarlos de todo. Claro que las palabras que decimos no importan, si el sentido en que las damos es el contrario. Pero, a veces, las palabras tienen la potencia de convertir nuestros pensamientos. Estoy agradecida que ésta vez, no voy a decir “good bye”, pero “adiós” y mientras tanto voy a darme un recordatorio que Dios esta guardándolos.

 

Photo is mine of a mural in Guadalajara.

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The Beginning of my Travels

Yes, I have already traveled a lot and am currently living in a foreign country, but in some ways, I still feel like I have not really traveled. Most of my traveling has been in large groups for ministry. I, of course, enjoyed the ministry and that was my main purpose for those trips, but there is also something special about traveling somewhere and doing exactly what you want to just so that you can experience it. Traveling should really be a freedom to just soak everything in. I have not done much of that yet. The other week I was thinking again about the fact that I had not been a night away from Guadalajara yet and I have been here almost a year. I have been enjoying my time in Guadalajara and seeing things around the city, but I also know there is much more to see in the surrounding towns and states. Why have I not been to those places yet? Well, for a few reasons. I had not been able to find anyone to travel with me and it seems scary and kind of boring to travel alone. Not to mention how stressful it is to figure out travel details and how expensive it can be. Honestly, I am a little jealous of the married couples who have a guaranteed traveling companion and can plan together. My mom came to visit me this past week. For part of her time here, we took a two day trip to Guanajuato City in Guanajuato, Mexico. I might not have planned the trip at all if it had not started out as tagging along on someone else’s trip. They suggested I go with them, but because they were also being hosted, I was not going to be able to stay with them and then later realized that it was not practical to travel with them. So there I was, nudged into planning a trip for myself and I am so glad I did. I had never stayed at a hostel or taken a long distance bus or planned a trip without loved ones waiting on the other end to offer their hospitality. But I am grateful that I have been pushed into gaining that confidence.

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Mom and I had a lovely time. We explored, took pictures, ate some great meals, and listened to wonderful music. We stayed at a hostel in a good location where we could easily walk to everything of interest in the little city.

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The highlight of the Guanajuato trip was the Bard Tour in the evening. A group of singing minstrels led us all through the lovely back alleys of Guanajuato, telling legends and sharing lots of songs. I am so glad Mom got to listen to some well-done authentic Mexican music (we also got a little bit of Mariachi and Banda in restaurants). The bus back was surprisingly pleasant and we got a great view of the country between here and there. It was also nice to spend the rest of the week showing Mom more of my daily life. We went to my church, the market, my salsa dancing venue on the street, and also just walked around the neighborhood. I really liked the balance of being able to do something totally new for both of us and also to show her what my “normal” is right now.

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Next weekend, I will be taking a beach trip with my housemates and get to explore another new place with good friends. I have already booked the hotel and am trying to make plans from what I learned from my Guanajuato experience (it is possible to travel without a car, now let’s see if I can travel without a car and without eating out every meal). I cannot wait to travel some more!

Photo credits to Laura Barnwell

Darkness Hides more than Defects

This year, I have had the opportunity to experience many new things culturally. Last week, I had my most stretching cultural experience yet, and I probably didn’t need to come all the way to Mexico to experience it. I went to a bar with some friends with whom I had just eaten dinner. Feel free to ask me about that, it is actually quite funny now looking back on it because I just held an empty cup the whole time so I didn’t look too out of place.

After we left, we had to go into an Oxxo convenience store to withdraw some money for the taxi home. The bright fluorescent lighting was quite the contrast to the dark bar with pulsing colored lights. I was with three other teachers and two Mexican men from one of their churches. One of the guys looked at us and said, “Wow, you girls are a lot more attractive in this light!” He had been sarcastic and joking most of the night, but now he defended himself and insisted he was not teasing. Aside from the girl who goes to his church, he had just met us that evening and we’d eaten our dinner outside so he actually had not seen us in the light.

It made me think about how while darkness can hide defects, which offers some security, it cannot make something beautiful. In fact, the darkness does not just obscure blemishes, but also true beauty where it is present. Hiding in the darkness will nullify the beauty of appearance and character. Light and truth reveals beauty, not just gives a poor illusion of it like darkness does. Children of light, let your light shine before men. (Matthew 5:16) When a lamp is lit, you do not cover it. You put it on a stand and it reveals and illuminates everything, the good and the bad (Luke 11:33). The light of the gospel will reveal hidden sin which is embarrassing to reveal, but it will also reveal the beauty of the gospel and the wonderful splendor of Christ in us.

Photo from unsplash.com

When Life Gives You Boredom, God Gives You Purpose

This afternoon, I sat down to write a blog post about the online course I just finished up. I quickly got distracted by the Fred Astaire music I was listening to (You’re Easy to Dance With), which led to looking up Fred Astaire movies on the internet, which led to looking up other stuff on the internet, which led to generally wasting time and unhealthy thinking habits. I finally snapped out of it and refused to click on “just one more” link. I was not sure what to do next so I took a walk to get out of the house. When I got back and started making dinner, I realized what I should be writing a blog post about.

I tend to work really hard and stay busy. Sometimes I can lose balance and take on an unhealthy amount of stress. But I have learned that, generally, it really is good for me to be busy. I get bored quite easily and then I feel bad about myself for wasting time on worthless junk on the internet or for letting my thoughts turn to self-pity, jealousy, or covetousness. That is actually why I took the online course in the first place. It is also one of the biggest reasons why I am going to start getting tutoring in Spanish and why I am taking on more English tutoring students. On my walk, I resolved not to go back to the boredom tonight, but I did not know exactly what I was going to do to fill the evening. My landlady came into the kitchen to talk to me. She was very sweet as usual, making sure I knew I could use anything in the house that I wanted. She even offered to lend me her car. I have been afraid to drive here, but have been thinking about it more recently, realizing how helpful it could be. Please pray that I would make a good decision there. It might be a really good thing for me to drive because it would probably open up more opportunities to interact with my church, and I could actually be a real help to my landlady, who still cannot drive because of her broken arm. On the other hand, I am a cautious driver, even by U.S. standards, so I am not sure if I could really survive out there. While we were talking, I had the opportunity to ask her to the Bible study I go to on Friday nights. It is hosted by missionaries and is really open to both Christians and people who are curious about Christianity. I think it would be a great place for her to get to know some Mexican believers whom she can probably identify with better than she can with me. She could also ask all of her questions to Spanish speakers. She sounded interested, though sometimes it is a cultural thing not to refuse an invitation outright, so pray that she actually comes!

I also was reminded of the opportunity I had during tutoring earlier today. I was meeting with a student whom I usually Skype with, but was able to talk to in person this morning because he was back in Guadalajara for the weekend. It started with me mentioning that church is the place where I practice Spanish the most, and led to a discussion about church. He observed that I was very committed to and involved in my church, whereas he sees church as more of a way to teach his children good morals. I was able to explain that I was “so committed” because I really believe the Bible and our actions show what we believe. I clarified that the Bible was really my standard for living. He said they had gone to a catholic church in Guadalajara (one with “positive” teaching) and that he wanted to find another church in Monterrey (again for his children). Please pray that this conversation will have stirred him and he will read the Bible for himself. Also pray that he would find a church that teaches the truth (positive and negative) and that this would change his whole family, not just make his children “better people”.

I am excited for what God has in store for me here. I do not always take all the opportunities that I should have, but I am so excited to see people slowly opening up as I patiently wait for the Spirit’s awakening in their hearts.

Photo is my own, of the glorieta (round-about) in our neighborhood.

Answered Prayer in the Form of Harp and Cardigan

This week, I overwhelmed myself by looking at grad schools on line. I was not so much overwhelmed by the thought of going to school again (I would actually enjoy that), but of the weight of trying to decide if I really do need to go to grad school, what field of study I really want to follow, and how far I should be thinking ahead to pay for it if I decide to go. Then, as I was reminded this week in an e-mail, I prayed about it because I know that God would take care of it and prepare me for the next step in time. I have never prayed earnestly for something and been disappointed by the result.

As a reminder to myself, and as an encouragement to my readers, here are two stories of God’s faithfulness in the little things. The more I think about it, they are not out-of-the-ordinary for my life, but God is a great story creator so I hope I can be a faithful storyteller so that He gets the credit. Firstly, the past five months I did not have a harp, but was content with that because I was still adjusting to living on my own, Mexican culture, and my first year of teaching. In November, I started asking some of my musical friends if they knew any harpists or had any possible contacts to other musicians. No harps or harpists turned up. About a week after I got back from Christmas break, I had to take a trip to the ATM. It is about a 20 minute walk and part way there I realized that I had forgotten my PIN number and had to walk back to get it before continuing to the ATM. When I was almost home from the trip, and just when I was grumbling that withdrawing money for my rent should not take more than an hour of my time, I see a man unloading a harp from his car, almost right across the street from the school. I ran across the street and introduced myself and told him that I also played the harp. He gave me his contact information and has been helping me try to find a Celtic harp that I can borrow. In the meanwhile, he is letting me borrow his smaller Mexican harp since he usually only needs the large one when he performs. When he brought it over, he also brought his wife and three little boys to meet me. Apparently he already knows my landlady. The harp I am borrowing has a good number of strings, but none of them are color-coded and it only plays in one key. I am still trying to get the hang of it and so far I have not been able to play any of my songs, but I am working on it and it is so nice to have a musical instrument again. I am also so thankful to have another contact with a neighbor family!

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Secondly, I realized in October that I really wished I had a good cardigan for the chilly mornings when it was still too warm for a coat. I was hoping for something functional, long sleeve, a dark neutral color, etc. so I asked for one for Christmas. My mom got me one, but it did not fit, so she gave me some money to buy one when I got back here. Those of you who know me know that I do not like spending money on myself and especially not for new clothes (when I do shop it is usually second hand and there really are not many second hand options in Guadalajara). Then I realized that one of my few long sleeve shirts had some holes in it that I could not fix. So I thought, well I can practice being more minimalist or I must succumb and get at least another shirt and a cardigan. The very next day when I came into work, my coordinator handed me a bag with some clothes in it just saying that she thought they looked like me. I did not even look in the bag until I got home. Two long sleeve shirts that I really liked and fit me well and… and dark navy cardigan that was almost exactly what I had envisioned, with the tag still on. Thank you, God!  He does not disappoint.

Photos are mine.

How the Hobbit Got Back Again

I have been fortunate enough to have a nice amount of free time recently and have been looking for some good books to fill my quiet evenings, so it seemed appropriate to choose a dependable book I could trust for enjoyment. I was not disappointed by The Hobbit. While reading and relishing, I noticed a theme I had not paid much attention to before. Perhaps circumstances have given me a keener insight into this particular theme.

After going home for Christmas break and then returning to Guadalajara, I again began thinking about the balance of the beauty and wonder of the world contrasted by the pleasure and familiarity of home. Or perhaps they really complement each other after all.

Either way, Bilbo’s character represents this tension well. He does not want an adventure, resents the adventure much of the way, and happily returns from the adventure. Yet he does accept the adventure of his own will and completes his purpose in it admirably, and even goes beyond his duty. His Tookish side leads him to accept the appeal of the adventure and when all is done, he is weary, but not regretful. He has friends among the race of dwarves, has been named elf friend by the Elvenking, and been hosted in plenty by many good and wonderful people of various kinds. He has also suffered much, feared much, and sorrowed much for his trouble.

The alternate title is There and Back Again. The “back again” section of the story takes up only one short chapter and an additional couple of pages, yet it seems quite important that Bilbo came back again. The whole story points to his return as he constantly thinks of his comfortable chair, his sitting room, his tea, etc. “not for the last time.” The part of him that thirsted for adventure has been satisfied, well, for 60 years anyway. He is satisfied with home and indeed “the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party.” Yet the adventure has left a strong mark. He began writing poetry and he would visit elves and be visited by them and other “foreign” people. He also loved to share about his times abroad, though most of his stories were discounted by the skepticism of hobbits.

I love to travel. I love to experience new things and talk with people who have different perspectives and backgrounds. I like to see beautiful and unique things in person and not just through a picture on Pinterest. I am enjoying my overseas experience now and hope I will be able to travel to many more places in my lifetime. However, something about my little city makes my heart happy and contented. I hope that I will also get much more time there and that it will be said of me, she “remained very happy to the end of [her] days, and those were extraordinarily long.”

Photo from unsplash.com

Lonely, Wayfaring Stranger

I made it through two bimesters and four and a half months and I finally get to come home for a break! School finished up on Friday with a half day and because I wanted to save some money and scheduled my flight for Sunday, I now have time to pack leisurely and make sure everything is ready to go. Maybe I have a little too much time on my hands, especially since I do not even have a good book to read because the library has been closed for the past two weeks. I decided doing some reflection and writing a blog post was a better use of time than Facebook.

One thing I have learned during this time is that as much as I am enjoying my experience here, I do not really see myself here long term. Sometimes the year and a half I have left of my contract seems too long. I get homesick for the US and the people there. But then I remember that Mexico does not have to be my home for me to be able to minister here. Maybe I really am more of a homebody by personality than the wandering adventurer, but that does not mean that God does not have purposes for me abroad. I am reminded of when Michael Oh spoke at CIU for World Christian Week. He and his family were Korean, but at the time, were serving as missionaries in Japan. He said that a lot of times when people heard he was a missionary to Japan, they would ask him things like, “So, you must really like sushi, right?” or “Why Japan? What do you like about Japan?”. He said these questions frustrated him because they showed a shallowness of focus. He explained to us some of the history between Japan and Korea and said that by human standards, he had every right to hate Japan. The reason he went to Japan as a missionary was not because life was more enjoyable there, but because he had real faith that Jesus’ death was for the Japanese too. He had grown to have a true love for the Japanese people which shaped his ministry, but his ministry had not been founded on the excitement of adventure or the love of the culture he was going to become a part of.

As a cross cultural worker, I may never feel at home in my host country. I may not like parts of their culture. I may get tired of speaking another language or grow weary of having to worry about safety. In comparison with the task we have been given by our Savior, these things matter very little. In fact, the Bible is clear that no place on earth is truly our home. 2 Corinthians 5 talks about how our longing should be for our heavenly home. Even in our longing, we can be useful to the Lord on earth because He has given us a specific ministry, the ministry of reconciliation, that the world may be reconciled to God. This goal, of reuniting people with the God who made them and died for them, is worth discomfort and suffering.

Another thought I have had during this time is that I really do not want to do cross cultural ministry alone. It gets really lonely being in another country where every social interaction takes effort to make sure your thoughts are being communicated correctly and appropriately. I experience this even in a country with a good evangelical church established. The bond of the Holy Spirit is truly a huge encouragement at these times because it is not limited by language or culture. I am also really thankful for the English-speaking expat community at Lincoln which also offers great encouragement and encouraging relationships. Some of those relationships are starting to become close friendships. I do know that if I go overseas long term, it will probably to a people with less contact with the gospel and not much of an established church. As hard as it is to live in another country among believers, I can imagine how much more taxing it would be to live in another country and have contact with only a few other believers. If this is the challenge that lies ahead, I would really value having a partner from my own culture to be a friend and lend support when things are difficult. Well, the future rests with God and I will continue to enjoy my current experience for what it is and continue to learn from it. Thanks for listening to what I have been musing about.