Spain Term

2015: the year of change & balance

As a blogger, I feel like I have some sort of obligation to do some sort of New Year’s/New Year’s Eve post. I think there might actually be an unwritten rule about it somewhere. But in all seriousness, this year has been so completely insane that I thought I would write up a monthly recap of all the madness that’s happened in the past 12 months, because sometimes I forget about all of the huge things that were a part of 2015. So here we go.

January:

I reconciled with my best friend after several months of whatever the heck we were feuding about.

I took my first ever real writing class.

I experienced suicidal thoughts for the second time in my life.

I started coming to terms with what I really believed about being a gay Christian and what that meant for me.

I started my last year of Welcome Week at Bethel with spring welcomes.

February:

I continued to heal from the depression and spiritual attack I experienced in January.

I came out to my family.

March:

I shared this blog publicly for the first time, coming out to everyone who read it.

I saw two of my favorite artists live in concert.

I decided on a new life verse: Ephesians 3:20-21

April:

I experienced the start of my first relationship with another guy.

I had an article published in an online magazine for the first time.

May:

I wrote a second article that was published in an online magazine.

I was interviewed and later appeared in an article in the Clarion, Bethel’s student newspaper that went on to gain nationwide traction, shared by the likes of Justin Lee and Rachel Held Evans.

June:

I moved out to North Dakota for the summer and later discovered that I hated the 9 week linguistics program that I was in.

I started dealing with some demons that went all the way back to middle school as a result of the people who were in the program.

July:

I experienced my first breakup.

I learned that one of my friends passed away.

August:

I finished my linguistics program in North Dakota and headed home.

I had an emotional and mental breakdown with my family where the full magnitude of everything that happened in middle school, including my first bout of suicidal thoughts, finally all spilled out.

I reconciled that whole mess with my family.

I went back to Bethel to serve in my last Welcome Week ever and loved every moment of it.

The morning of the second to last day of Welcome Week, I packed in four hours and went to the airport to leave for my semester abroad in Spain.

I arrived in Spain and met my host family.

September:

I got lost my first night in Segovia.

I watched wide-eyed as the first month went by.

October:

I visited Ireland, the Czech Republic, and England.

I almost killed one of my annoying travelmates.

I realized I was hopelessly addicted to Spanish chocolate croissants.

I experienced my first Gnimocemoh (that’s homecoming backwards fyi).

I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in 4 months.

I missed a friend’s wedding.

November:

I DTR’ed with another guy and saw nothing come out of that.

I visited Hillsong Church Barcelona.

I finally understood Don Quijote.

I talked with one of my friends the night his dad passed away.

I was acknowledged as a regular at my favorite Spanish bakery.

I missed another friend’s wedding.

I reached the tell-stories-cook-together-and-go-to-theatre-shows-together level with my host mom.

I wrote the suicide letter that I never wrote and sent it.

December:

I started coming to grips with the fact that I was leaving Spain.

I started a massive 25 page paper (that still isn’t done).

I said goodbye to Spain.

I arrived home in the US.

I’m writing this blog post now.

 

Thinking about this list earlier today, I decided that this past year has been filled with probably two or three years’ (at a conservative estimate) worth of monumental moments, and I just think that’s absolutely mind blowing. I honestly don’t think that I would’ve expected all of those things to happen a year ago, and yet here I am, having experienced so many things this year that you’d think they wouldn’t all fit within one 365 day period.

2015 has been a lot of things. It’s been painful. It’s been wonderful. It’s been challenging, and it’s been growing. I’ve cried a lot this year. But I’ve also stood wonderstruck quite a few times as well. I’ve faced demons old and new. I’ve been to four different countries and probably been on just as many, if not more, flights than I have in my entire life before this year. And I’ve closed a lot of chapters of life that have been open for a really long time, as well as opening a few new ones.

God has once again proven Himself to be infinitely faithful throughout whatever we might struggle through in this life, from being in a place where I questioned whether life was worth living anymore a year ago, through healing from that, through having that thing in my chest broken and wading through many different kinds of loss, through providing friends and love in other places that I didn’t expect, through a semester in another country immersed in a different language, to bringing me home and instilling in me an anxiousness stemming from the excitement over the infinite possibilities that lie ahead in 2016 and in life in general. This year has been nothing less than an emotional, spiritual, mental, and personal rollercoaster of all the twists and turns you could ever imagine, but He is the one thing that has remained constant throughout all of it, planted steadfast as the one thing that I can rely on when everything in my world seems to be up in the air, spinning completely out of control.

So, I’m not really sure what the next year has in store. As I’ve said countless times already this year, everything after graduation in May is uncertain. 6 classes stand between me and college graduation, and I don’t really know what comes after that. I’m applying to grad school, but other than that, I’m trusting that God will continue to lay out His path for me as the time comes. Though I’d like to know a more detailed plan of what’s to come, I suppose I’ll have to be content with that for now. I had no idea what to expect a year ago today, and then a thousand crazy things happened over the course of this year that left me speechless as to the unpredictable ways in which the Lord chooses to work. So, I guess I’ll just use the same plan for this upcoming year. It seems to have worked out alright.

So, I guess I’ll end this sort of sappy roundup post this way, by resharing my new favorite couple of verses as of this year from Ephesians 3.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

  • Ephesians 3:20-21

I might not know the scope of what’s going to hit me in 2016, but God does and He promises here that it’s going to be immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or imagine, and that just gets me excited to see all of the crazy, supposedly impossible things that God is going to do over the course of this next year. I’m just glad to be along for the ride.

To everyone reading, thanks so much for keeping up with everything that I’ve written and everything that I’ve experienced this past year. I wouldn’t have made it through without Jesus and without a lot of you guys.

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

in between places

I think it’s the middle places and the in between times that I think are the hardest in any situation. You know, like the middle of a roadtrip, or the middle of a long line, or the middle of a class, or the middle of a difficult season in life (even though you probably don’t actually know that you’re in the middle). And I think that’s because there’s a lot of uncertainty that comes with being in the middles of things. You’re not really sure how much longer you have to go. You’re not sure how long it’ll take to get there. And you’re not quite sure if it’s worth it to keep going (or if it’s worth it to quit, considering that you’ve already gotten that far). That middle and in between place is where I think a lot of us on Spain Term are at right now. When we go to bed tonight, we’ll be finishing up our 41st day out of 105 in this amazingly beautiful country. And at the same time, I know that many of us are thinking that means we have 64 days left, in the dragging-your-voice, get-me-to-the-end kind of way. And it feels even more like an in between place because they told us about this. We knew it would happen. We tried to prepare for it, but nonetheless (like a lot of things), we still got to this point.

Middles are hard because we’ve been here long enough now that it doesn’t feel new and exciting anymore. I mean, I just discovered this morning that I can make it to school in 12 minutes if I speed walk really fast from my house and half-run up the aqueduct steps (which only means that I can probably get there even faster if I’m actually running, but that’s probably not going to happen). We’ve sort of settled into a routine, but it’s a routine that still feels sort of foreign (lunch at 3pm and dinner at 10pm, anyone?), and we don’t quite feel exactly at home here. In addition, we just got back from fall break, which, while it was wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating, and breathtaking all at the same time, I know that it was difficult for many of us to come back to Spain because it definitely felt like we should’ve been arriving “home” in the Minneapolis airport instead of the Madrid airport.

And aside from that, I just know that being away from home this long has definitely taken its toll on me as well as on others. I mean, it’s hard being gone for so long. You’re away from everything that’s familiar and that’s something that’s a lot harder than a lot of us might have expected. It’s tough when your host family doesn’t get you the way that your stateside one does, even if they might be really great. It’s tough when you can’t fully express yourself in Spanish the way that you’d want to in English. It’s tough when every subject that you’re studying is completely foreign to you. It’s tough not having the same access to some of the American things that you’re used to (meaning I definitely bought face scrub or 8 euros #yolo). And I think especially when you’re away from home and your family, it’s tough when you don’t have your group of friends that know you and get you to help you get through whatever may come, because, again, you’re in an in between place. You get along well with the people that you’re with, and you love being with them, but it’s just not quite the same as having your friends and family that know your whole story and get why certain things affect you in a certain way. And to top it all off, you’re trying to do everything that you normally do in a second language, so there’s also that.

So, here we are, in an in between place during our #100daysinSpain. It’s a tough place to be, but as my friend Elise told me earlier this week, we need to try and power through this middle place and soak up every sight, every smell, every sound, and every moment that we have in this place, because before we know it, it’ll be over. And when it’s over, we’ll have days and moments where we’d give anything to come back to this place that we desperately want out of right now, and I think that’s something incredibly powerful for us to remember when these hard times and these hard days and these hard moments come: our time and our days here are limited and this is a once (maybe twice, who knows…?) in a lifetime opportunity and we can’t waste it missing the things from home that we don’t have right now, especially because we’ll be back home in a little over two months.

So here we are, in Segovia, in Spain, in Europe, 3000 miles away from home, and here’s to making the next 64 days some of the best of our lives.

the fingerprints of God on a "secular" society

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Tonight when I go to bed, we will have already spent 12 amazing days in the beautiful country of España, meaning that we’re already more than 10% done with our 105 total days on Spain Term (I know it’s not exactly 100 days like the hashtag, but hey)! Isn’t that crazy? It feels like there’s no way that we’ve been here this long, but at the same time, it feels like we’ve already been here for a month. And that makes absolutely no sense, but I’m sure everyone has experienced that sensation at one point in life or another. Recap:

Anyway, for this update, I want to talk a little about finding Jesus in the little things around you and appreciating the fact everyone single one of the 7 billion people on this planet was made in the image of God. It’s just something that I’ve been thinking about for a day or two. But first! Update!

So like I said, we’ll have been here for 12 days tonight, and that’s absolutely insane. We haven’t even had a real full week of classes yet, because we didn’t start until Wednesday last week, and we don’t have class tomorrow because our group is traveling to Madrid for the weekend! (Classes canceled for excursions? Count me in.)

However, at the same time, I definitely feel like I’m starting to get into a rhythm here. I’m over jetlag. I don’t get lost walking to and from class anymore. I think I’m understanding and speaking Spanish a little better after a week and a half. I finally figured out how to get the temperamental key to my house to work so my host mom doesn’t have to let me in every day, and I can even make my way to a couple of shops and a couple of the panaderías (bakeries) by myself! So I’d say that it’s been a pretty good learning experience so far, and sometimes it even feels like I’m adulting (but let’s be real, who am I kidding?).

Finally, my small group finally got everything figured out for fall break!! At least concerning flights & lodging, so that’s really exciting!! More updates to come about that! So stay tuned.

Thoughts:

So, anyway, my thoughts this week have been revolving around balance, and specifically how to continue connecting with God over the course of this semester in a secular society (which is what so many people kept saying to describe the spiritual atmosphere in Spain, not my own words, haha). But after having been here for a little over a week, I think that a lot of people possibly misunderstand what secular really means, because that word has a lot of strong negative connotations for American Christians. I think that oftentimes, people imagine “secular societies” to be Bible burning, religion hating societies where everyone is an atheist and you’ll be persecuted if you subscribe to any sort of religion (at least in my most horrible extrapolations of what that word means). But in reality, it just means that most people don’t really care for religion. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be warm, hospitable people who can still bring light even if they don’t necessarily believe.

And the reason that I want to talk about this is that I think that, much too often, Christians get way too caught up in labels and what their preconceived notions tell them that certain descriptors mean. After all, what kind of things come to mind when you hear or see the words ‘democrat,’ ‘republican,’ ‘secular,’ ‘religious,’ ‘gay,’ ‘straight,’ ‘communism,’ ‘laissez-faire,’ and other things like that? I’m sure that depending on your upbringing, you would lump some of those words into the ‘good’ category and others into the ‘bad’ category, just because of the connotations they hold, and I for one, think that’s the wrong way to approach things. I think that we need to start really understanding people and things before we make rash judgments about them.

As my classical literature professor told our class earlier this week, “fascism, communism, and socialism aren’t bad in and of themselves. True, they might not necessarily work out in a given society, but we only attribute negative labels to these things because of the bad people that advocated for them.” I think that’s a really important thing to remember in general. Yeah, some people in the past may have taken secularism to the extreme by outlawing religion and hunting down Christians and others and stuff like that, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything inherently evil about secularism in and of itself. After all, countries like Iran are theocratic nations where the government and laws abide by a specific religion, and we don’t think that’s good either. Sometimes, a secular state is the best incubator for religious liberty, because it ensures that no specific one is elevated above the others.

So, I got a little off topic, but basically, I want those of you reading to start to think about why we have certain connotations associated with certain words and certain labels and whether or not those connotations and labels are correct or not. Does secular have to equate to evil? Does democrat and liberal have to equate to bad? What about gay and straight? Do those by nature have to be good or bad?

Let me leave you with this.

For our semester here in Spain, all of us are staying with different host families, one student per family. When we arrived, all of our host families came to greet us and take us back to our homes for the rest of the semester. As the stereotype suggested, many of these host moms and dads aren’t religious. They don’t believe in God, or they do, but don’t really do anything about it. They don’t go to church. They might not even have a single Bible in their houses.

But they were excited to see us when we arrived, and I daresay that they loved us even before we got there or as soon as they saw us. And a lot of these people may or may not be Christians.

My one friend’s host mom grabbed her hand as soon as she saw her and had joy on her face as she talked with the onsite director of our program, asking about my friend in third person as she stood there, seeing if she had any allergies, seeing if she needed anything special, and saying how excited she was to have her staying with her.

This woman was so joyful and excited about a random American college student who she didn’t know, who didn’t speak the same native language, and who was different in so many ways. But the thing was that none of that mattered, and it was beautiful. There aren’t a lot of words to describe that.

And the thing is, I think that a lot of American Christians (myself included) could learn a lot from that situation. Our host families and host parents hardly knew anything about us before we arrived. All they had was names, not even pictures, unless we had sent them beforehand. All they knew was that we were coming to spend three and a half months living in the country that they called home and to learn their language. That was all they needed to be joyful and excited about our arrival, the anticipation that they were going to get to know us and get to share some of their lives, their history, their culture, their language, and their country with us.

In my own opinion, I think that’s how Christians should approach the world. Instead of constantly trying to win political or theological debates, or trying to convince people that they’re sinners in need of repentance, I think that we would probably do a lot better by adopting the mentality of our Spanish host families. We might not know anything at all about the people that we’re going to meet over the course of our lives, but what we do know is that we have an incredible story of grace, redemption, and love to share with them. We have a history and a faith that stretches back thousands of years, and we have a God and a Friend who loves us so deeply that He sacrificed His own life in order to save ours. I think that warrants some joy and excitement on our part, don’t you? So shouldn’t we be excited and joyful to be able to share some of our lives, our history, our culture, our language (holla at Christianese), and our love with people?

To that end, I think this comparison is warranted. Part of the reason that we’re doing so well in Spain is that we see these people and we want to be a part of this country and a part of this language community from what we see in them.

In the same way, if people looked at us, would they want to be a part of this? Would they want to be Christians and involved in churches judging solely from what they saw of us? Or would they crunch up their faces and start walking the other way because they didn’t want to be associated with us?

I think it’s time that Christians started being more vibrant about their faith, overflowing with joy and loving with the abandon that draws people in, rather than pushing people away with debates and disputes.

Who knew that I’d be learning so much about Jesus, faith, and how to live authentically in such a “secular” country? It appears as if even “secular” countries can be covered in the fingerprints of God. They were all created by Him weren’t they?

Haha, well until next time! Hasta luego!

#100daysinSpain

image Well, it’s definitely been quite some time since I’ve posted anything, so I figured that arriving safely in Spain was a good excuse to hammer out a post detailing some of the crazy things that I’ve been doing over the past few weeks since my last post J Also, this post is also gonna be pretty scattered, so sorry for that in advance.

Anyway, if you hadn’t heard or hadn’t gathered, I’m studying abroad in Spain (specifically in Segovia, which is further north and toward the center of the country) for the next few months (3.5 to be precise), which is also where the title of this post comes from! It’s the hashtag that my group will be using on all sorts of social media in order to inform others of what we’re doing, and it also serves as a fun way for us to look back on all the things we’ve decided to share with the world!

The main reason that we chose this hashtag is that it subtly reminds us that even though it feels like we’re going to be gone for a long time, we really don’t have an infinite amount of time here. On the way here, a lot of us were caught up in a lot of emotions related to leaving home, leaving family, leaving familiar surroundings, and leaving friends. While we were all really excited, it’s still hard to leave all of that behind. Thus, we came up with this hashtag because it points us back toward positivity and away from homesickness or anything else that might taint our experiences here, reminding us to soak up every moment that we get in this beautiful country, because after 100 days it’ll be over (well…more like 105 starting when we got here a couple days ago, but that’s beside the point, really). So, hop that on if you feel like it. I’m sure lots of interesting things will happen in the coming weeks and they will all be shared with you right here!

As for the first two days, I don’t really have that much to report about Spain yet, except for that fact that literally everything here is beautiful, the weather, the school we’ll be attending, the city, the aqueduct, the cathedral, the castle that we’re going to see later today called the Alcázar, everything. It’s been so much fun and it’s still feels surreal to all of us on this trip that we get to live here for the next few months. I can’t reiterate enough how picturesque everything is and how unreal it all seems.

Finally, while we don’t have the usual access to our phones and such like that, seeing as we don’t get proper service in Spain, I’m still available through WhatsApp, Facebook, here, and mail once I eventually figure out what my address is…

Pues anyway (the Spain Termers will think that’s funny), I’m so excited for everything that’s to come. So, stay updated right here (because blogging is incredibly fun & it’s in English which gives me a brain break) with everything we do! Hasta la próxima vez!