#100daysinSpain

learning how to enjoy the journey

learning how to enjoy the journey

Despite what a random stretch of 90 degree days in the middle of September would lead you to believe, summer is coming to a close, school is back in full swing, and oddly enough, I’m finding myself feeling more than a little restless these days. And restlessness is an odd thing, because it would cause you to think that I’m not busy or that I don’t have enough to keep myself occupied, but that wouldn’t be true, even though I have cut back on some commitments coming into September.

No, with hundreds of pages of grad school reading due every week and still half a mental health social work case load to manage, among the myriad of other little responsibilities we each find ourselves with on the daily, weekly, and monthly, I’m definitely keeping myself busy, but somehow that hasn’t kept me from feeling restless or antsy or, dare I say, bored in some strange manner of speaking.

Sometimes, in times like these, this perplexes me, because while I do enjoy a good dose of spontaneity here and there, I’m definitely the kind of person who thrives more on routine and structure than anything else. And yet, here I am, in a position where the majority of major things in my life have remained more or less the same over the last year and a half, and I find myself craving some sort of drastic change because I’m feeling restless/antsy/bored. Perhaps more than anything, I’m profoundly experience the sensation of my own discontentedness.

getting back together

getting back together

Something that you'll know about me if you've known me for a little while is my complicated relationship with the church. You could say that things have been on-and-off for the last several years since coming out, for all the obvious reasons. Calvinism. Complementarianism. Oh, and of course, the bigger kicker, non-affirming LGBTQ theology.

Just the other night, I was sitting in my car, talking to my sister in the driveway about how for about three or four weeks straight immediately prior to me beginning what would become my 3-year hiatus from church, the head pastor felt the URGENT NEED to sneak something into the sermon about how depraved or broken or lost queer people are, by virtue of existing. It didn't really matter that the sermon had been about Peter denying Jesus three times or the Great Commission or some other completely unrelated topic. Apparently, this particular pastor happened to be massively convicted that he had to speak against queer people. Cool. Not relevant. But I guess we'll go with it.

That was the last straw essentially. At that point, it didn't even feel like a pastor reiterating the church's established beliefs on sexuality. At that point, it just felt like a cruel reminder that at this particular church, queer people were certainly NOT welcome, unless of course they were willing to entertain notions of lifelong solitude or conversion therapy.

And so, I left. 

here now (survival + renewal)

Today’s post is coming at ya in honor of both Thanksgiving drawing near (stateside anyway) and the fact that we’ve officially passed the 20 day mark in the countdown to our departure from Spain (cue the ugly tears here). This post will probably also be a bit longer than some of the more recent ones, just as a disclaimer. #themoreyouknow For the books, we’ll be departing from Madrid on Friday, December 11, so we really only have 19 days left in Spain, since that last travel day doesn’t really count. It’s really quite soon, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve already spent close to 3 months living in a completely different country, in a different language, with families that were strangers to us not too long ago. So, everyone back home, prepare yourselves. We’ll be back to terrorize you with endless stories, suitcases full of European clothes, and flubbed uses of English in no time.

But anyway, for the majority of this post, I wanted to write about some of the things that I’ve been reflecting on as Thanksgiving approaches, namely: survival + renewal as the title of this post suggests. And what those things mean may surprise some people, because while I like to think of myself as an open book, these aren’t the things that immediately bubble to the surface.

So let me start here:

When I first left to come to Spain, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had just come off of an incredibly difficult summer of having to face a lot of demons from the past. I was all sorts of bitter, angry, and most of all, exhausted. I was ready for rest, and I kept praying that Spain Term would give me that. After all, I was taking the bare minimum number of classes and was going basically for the heck of it, since my Spanish minor was already done. Little did I know that over the next 90ish days I would not only get the rest that I needed, but also go about tackling each and every skeleton that was left in my closet, some of which were trivial things that just needed to be finished off and some which were a great deal bigger.

The biggest thing I want to focus on and something that a lot of people might not know about me is that I’ve been suicidal twice in my life. The first time was towards the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, largely provoked by one specific person, but also by others, that I won’t name here. And the second time was just earlier this year when I was struggling to reconcile who I was with the various futures before me. That’s vague, but those are long stories for other blog posts. Regardless, I’ve tended to pride myself on the fact that you would never know about this part of my life if I didn’t tell you, but the fact of the matter is that over the course of this semester, I’ve learned that those periods of darkness have weighed more heavily on me than I thought. They’ve caused fights and arguments with people that I love as a result of my inability to fully deal with them, and they’ve affected the way that I see the world and the way that I see other people. I’ve slowly chipped away that the darkness from these events, but I think that being 3,000 miles away from home finally gave me the space that I needed to take a hard look at them and put them to rest for good.

Living in another country, in another language, away from friends and family allowed me to take a step back from things that I had held close for so long. I was in a new place, in a new time, and for the most part, no one knew who I was or the things that I had gone through in the past. And I think that sense of being a blank slate this semester really magnified the extent to which some of these things continued to affect my life. I realized that I was still subconsciously trying to impress someone that had thrown me away a long time ago, and I realized that the defense mechanisms that I created in that space were still active in relationships that no longer called for them. But I think the biggest blatant call out that I received the whole semester was when we had to write our (sort of) final paper for one of our classes. The paper was supposed to consist of a letter written to the one person that, in our opinion, has influenced our life the most. It was then that I realized the magnitude of the impact that some of these things had on me, because as much as I wanted that letter to be written to one of my parents, or one of my siblings, or to my best friend, it couldn’t. And I ended up writing the letter to that guy from high school who pushed me to the brink of suicide the first time, describing everything that happened and the impact that it had. It took me four days to write that letter, a lot of them just staring at my computer screen or my notebook trying to figure out what to write.

And again I realized the kind of mentality that all of those years had left me with. I was constantly questioning what I was going to write, because after so many years of having it diminished or invalidated or not taken seriously, I felt like I had to defend my right to my pain, and if my argument didn’t hold up in that twisted court, my case would be thrown out. I had to force myself out of that mentality and tell myself that at this point, it was okay to say that it was his fault for doing it, my teachers’ fault for implying that I should just toughen up, my friends’ fault for seeing it and not doing anything, that it was anyone’s fault but mine. And something else I learned while writing that letter, something so fundamental, but at the same time something that I had to be told, is that with real pain, no one has the right to tell you that they didn’t hurt you.

After having turned in that paper, I edited the letter a little and actually sent it to the person it was addressed to, for my own healing and my own closure surrounding it. I haven’t gotten any response of substance, but that doesn’t even matter to me at this point. To me at least, I’ve discovered that just putting things out there matters more to me than how people choose to respond a lot of the time. Like, having finally told this guy everything that I wanted to say was more important than how he responded. Or telling this other boy that I liked him was more important than whether or not he felt the same way (he didn’t, in case you were wondering). Or any other example like that.

And, thus, we’ve caught up to the present, where I’m feeling a strange blend of restlessness and peace, peace because after six years, every demon from my past that has haunted me has finally been laid to rest, and restlessness because my mind just doesn’t even know what to do with the blank slate that it’s been given. There aren’t any dark secrets left to hide. There isn’t any more bitterness to swallow. There’s nothing left unsaid. There aren’t any more what ifs. The only thing left is a new chapter of life at a time when the possibilities for what’s ahead are nearly limitless.

And as Thanksgiving rolls around in the US, I’m thankful for this, and continuing to grow more and more thankful for the difficult times that cause us to grow the most. They might not be fun, and they might stretch us to the point of breaking, but those hard times always refine us more than we know at the time.

So, here’s to metaphorical fresh starts, to survival, renewal + being thankful.

it's good to be alive

Hmm. Well, I figured that since I haven’t been around in a good month, now would be as good a time as ever to update the blog a little. (I’m blaming the whole craziness/wonder/excitement/what have you of studying abroad for the lack of consistent blog activity.) Today officially marks day 80 of our #100daysinSpain, meaning that we have so little time remaining in this adventure. It’s been an absolutely wild ride. Since my last post, we’ve traveled to both the north and south of Spain, getting to see the cities of Córdoba, Sevilla, Málaga, Granada, and Barcelona over the course of 9 days, which was incredible and fueled many an Instagram, which I’m sure the world is well aware of at this point in life. We’ve gotten to walk along beaches in November, watch a flamenco tablao, visit one of the most famous (and still currently under construction) basilicas in the world, visit the site of the 1992 Olympics, and visit Hillsong Church Barcelona among a myriad of other exploits. It’s honestly unbelievable to think about, even writing this blog post. So, yeah, studying abroad, I would highly recommend that. You won’t regret it for a second.

But amidst all of our adventures, there’s also been a lot of time for reflection, which is something that continues to surprise me about Spain Term. I never would have thought I’d have so much down time to just think about life and the world and the things that God is doing in our lives on a semester of study abroad. That’s just not really what you picture when you think about it.

Hence, we’ve arrived at the title of this blog post. One overwhelming thought that I’ve had over the past few days is that it’s so good to be alive right now, a thought that while simple, encapsulates so many different things in so many different contexts. It also happens to be the title of a really good (albeit a little older) Jason Gray song that you should probably listen to at some point in the near future.

First of all, it’s good to be alive because we still have a few weeks left before we return stateside, and while I’m definitely excited to go home, I’m just not sure I’m quite ready yet. So I’m thankful that we still have a little time left in this wonderfully little city that we’ve been so fortunate to call home for the last 80 days. Yes, Minneapolis, I miss you, but Segovia still has me for a little longer.

And it’s good to be alive because there’s still this amazing sense of wonder that you feel when you get to walk past a 2000 year old aqueduct every day on your way to and from class, an aqueduct that is still standing and still functioned until the 19th century. If that’s not crazy and if it’s not good to be alive in a city like this, then I think you need to reevaluate your life expectations.

It’s good to be alive when you get the opportunity to worship with a body of believers 3000 miles away from home in a church that shares a familiar name. That might be a little cliché, but I still it speaks to a little piece of what the church is supposed to look like, a body of people united around the world, able to love and welcome people in just because you already share that one common denominator. Yeah, they didn’t really like our selfie taking, but hey, it was freaking Hillsong. Also, the church may or may not have met in a club off hours, so that’s also a thing.

Even more, it's good to be alive in the purest sense after having turned in a paper written about the first time you were suicidal and how you got to that point. It's so good to be alive knowing that at one point you weren't sure if you wanted to be anymore, if it was worth it to keep living or not. It's good to be alive when you reflect on some of the darkest times and places in your life, knowing that you were fighting a war and knowing that you won, that you overcame the things that told you that death was the better option. It's good to be alive.

And you know that it was all worth it and that it truly is  good to be alive when you get to experience love in a variety of its forms, whether that’s getting coffee as a group in a cozy Spanish cafe, getting random texts from your host mom, linking arms with a friend as you walk home through misty cobblestone streets, being able to spend a solid hour and a half in an empty house with worship music, your best friend freaking out when she realizes you can indeed text her from Spain, having the Lord speak to you to reaffirm that you are loved and chosen, and even just being able to actively love others without expecting anything or feeling like you need anything in return. Because sometimes it’s satisfying enough just to put yourself out there, letting someone know that you care about them and love them, and realizing in retrospect that’s just a taste of the kind of reckless love that Jesus has for us, the kind of love that compels someone to willingly give up their life in a brutal death because that’s how much they love. Because love does and as one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes goes, because love is vulnerable.

So, yeah, some people might say, look at the times and what this world is coming to, but I say what a time to be alive. This day and age is full of sights to see, moments to seize, people to meet, and opportunities to love. And maybe that sounds a little naive, but I think that sometimes we need to view all the problems in the world as opportunities for us, as the hands and feet of Jesus, to go out there and do something about it.

Because yes, study abroads will end, final projects will creep up, times and circumstances will change, maybe that person won’t love you back, maybe you’re dying of exhaustion today, whatever. At the end of the day, we have a God who tells us that we are wanted, that we are loved, that we are chosen, that we are purchased by His blood, and that He calls us His own.

So, in light of that, I think that for now, I’ll continue to say that it’s good to be alive.

Oh, look, here's that song. You're welcome.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4omFQJEAAVc

a case against self-defense

As many people know, Love Does is one my absolute favorite books. Aside from the incredible stories of the things that God can do when we open ourselves up to all of the very real possibilities, I think that part of the reason I like this book is that the stories also exemplify a sort of selflessness that we may or may not have thought much about before, selflessness in the form of complete unconditional and unabashed love. And I think that’s pretty cool. If you watch any TV at all or happen to read any sort of article/magazine/what have you on relationships, it seems to me that they all try to get you to play this game where you sort of hint at your own feelings while making sure that there’s still enough space to play it off in case the other person isn’t feeling the same thing, and I don’t really like that making relationships has deteriorated to that in our culture. I think I resonate a lot more with some of these lyrics.

“I want to live like there’s no tomorrow, love like I’m on borrowed time.”

  • Good to Be Alive (Jason Gray)

 

“If I found out the world was going to end on Tuesday morning, I’d call everyone I loved and say what I was scared to say ‘til then. And now that I think about it, maybe I should always live like the world is going to end.”

  • Like the World is Going to End (Ben Rector)

 

You shouldn’t need to be embarrassed of the way you love. You shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not this person “finds out” that you’re interested. Because, in my opinion anyway, life is too short to play those kinds of games. Since when did love become about trying to outwit another person anyway? Yeah, you might be making yourself vulnerable and you might get hurt in the process, but that’s going to happen even if you go around in circles. It just might not be as obvious, because everything was so lowkey to begin with.

Besides, I think that’s also the way that Jesus loves us. He doesn’t worry if we’re going to “find out” that He loves us. He wants us to know, even if some of us still turn our backs on it anyway. And I think that maybe that can be one of the biggest countercultural things that we can do. I mean, the worlds thinks that’s crazy, just putting yourself out there and seeing what happens, making yourself vulnerable like that, but that’s how He loves us, so shouldn’t we do the same?

Anyway, lol at the fact that this post is so short and probably not written very well (because I’m finding that my ability to English is deteriorating), but I’ve just had a lot of time for writing and reflection recently (unfortunately, I’m finding that I’m unable to make it any more literary that what you’ve got in front of you, which means it gets turned into a blog post). Plus, I haven’t written a post in quite some time.

As for some parting words (since my posting is SO sporadic), I’ve been finding that studying abroad is about so much more than just doing school in a different country. I mean, I knew that it would be more than that to begin with, but it’s so interesting to actually experience. It forces you to deal with a lot of things from the past and present, it forces you to get to know yourself a lot better than you thought you did, and most of all, I think it definitely forces you to rely more on God and seek Him on your own time that you would normally at home. And while all of those things are so good, a lot of them are also hard to live through in the moment, especially while reminding yourself to be present in the place that you are, because it will fly by before you know it.

Well, that’s my scattered blog post of the day/week/month/who knows.

Until the next time you find yourself reading something that I happen to have written (which will hopefully also be written better).