When people ask me, “how’s Spain?!?”, I find myself not really knowing what to say. You know those plastic ball pits you find in kiddie jungle gyms/human hamster cages? That question makes my brain take a jump into one of those, where each ball represents a different thing that each of my senses has experienced. So many tastes, sights, sounds, smells, textures… There is so much I *could* say, so I’m not always sure what to *actually* say.
I (and many others, I’m sure) am in a period of massive life transitions and decisions. It’s daunting. I’m on track to graduate in December. Student teaching is next after Spain, and it’s intimidating, because I know that while I’m elbow-deep in it, I’ll also have to be thinking and making decisions about where to go and what to do once I’m graduated. *Those* questions are even more scary and overwhelming than figuring out placements.
Knowing what’s ahead, it’s challenging – and often feels forced – to practice being present in the moment. I know there were many factors that led to me being on Spanish soil, and that it’s genuinely such a privilege to be here, so I feel a pressure to be present and soak it all in, not letting a singular moment go to waste.
But, it’s still a school semester. It’s across the ocean from everything familiar, routine, and comfortable. It’s exhausting to work through language barrier frustrations. There are days I wake up tired of the experience. I wrestle with not allowing comparison to rob my joy. For me, I know that most of it is because I’ve grown up surrounded by a culture that shouts the only way to have a fulfilling and satisfying life is to “go big or go home”. You have to be ostentatiously ambitious or innovative or grinding away at your job/business/dreams. I have zero problem with people “putting in the work” to achieve whatever results they’re aiming for, but I think it can be way too easy to lose ourselves in the drive.
One particular morning here, I’d woken up completely disenchanted with Spain. I was stewing about how much I disliked……lots of things. I wanted instead to snuggle my dog and sit at my dining room table with my family for a comfort croc-pot meal and then watch the sunset in our backyard, tea in hand. I grumbled internally for the better part of an hour until I mentally poked myself and reminded myself that, while it’s perfectly okay to feel that way, it’s not necessary – *or* helpful – to let those thoughts paralyze you. So, I drug myself out of bed, intending to grab a smoothie bowl and study. But, as I prepared to head out, I felt a whisper in my gut to leave my backpack behind, pick up my Bible, and go to the sandwich shop down the street, instead.
While ordering, I had my Bible open, and when I returned, the girl next to me asked if my book was a Bible. I replied it was. I then learned she was a Believer. That commonality led to a nearly-hour-long conversation about what it actually means to have a walk with God, how challenging it is to be plucked out of your comfort zone and plopped into another (especially socially), and how hard it is to have your life be riddled with lots of question marks instead of periods or exclamation points.
I’ve thought back to that conversation many times since it happened, and praise God anew for the immaculateness of His timing. I am fairly certain that I will never see her again once I leave Spain, but that encounter was a gift; something that will stay tucked in my heart as one of my “core memories” here. In addition to her, there are other students in the program, plus my Intercambio, who have made me laugh, helped share my burdens, and been a delight to get to know.
These. These are the moments that I will remember most keenly. The shops are fun to peruse, the buildings and history are rich with grandeur and lessons, the climate is wonderful, the cacophony of foreign sounds and smells are exciting, and the traveling is invigorating, but they are not what I will remember most strongly. It will instead be the brief, unexpected moments of connection with strangers, bursts of laughter over lunch with my housemate, and contentedly absorbing the chatter of children in the plaza after school. It will be the knowledge that the people God weaves in and out of my life in each season (even seven hours from home) are all uniquely shaping me and leaving permanent impressions on my soul.
He remains the same oceans apart, in both English and Spanish. His existence, presence, and influence in my life do not mean the rest of my time here will be devoid of depression-infused mornings, or missing my Stateside people, or not completely butchering a sentence, or not feeling a twinge of guilt that I’m not doing as much as I think I should, but it *does* mean He is El Roi, ‘The God Who Sees Me’, and Jehovah Jireh, ‘The Lord Will Provide.’ It means that I’m confident “He who has begun a good work in [me] will complete it until the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:6…highly recommend reading 1:3-11, as well :)
I intend no condemnation or disdain toward anyone who does not share my Spain sentiments, but rather I pray that this might encourage others who spent, are spending, or will spend part of their time abroad questioning if they’re cut out for it and trying to be grateful for the gift that the opportunity is, but really wrestling with frustration and discouragement, or mental and emotional exhaustion. You “making the most” of your experience will likely look different from the other people in the program with you, but it doesn’t mean God’s wasting any of that time!!
¡Que Dios te bendiga!