I am a missionary in Spain who desires for the power of the Holy Spirit to be unleashed in me, to be unabashed about the love of Christ, and unafraid to go where God calls. These are my stories in this journey of letting God have everything.

28 December 2006

Pink Hot Chocolate

To drink, or not to drink. That is the question! I chose to drink. That may have been the wrong choice. If ever given pink hot chocolate, think twice before consuming!

25 December 2006

Christmas #2 of 3

Merry Christmas!!! So, I didn't expect that spending my first Christmas away from home would mean that I get 3 times as many Christmas'. It all started last Sunday when I celebrated with Kelly and Victoria. We had a spectacular day! It began with a trip to the Rastro then a visit to Victoria's new apartment. After that I took a much needed nap. This holiday stuff is exhausting! Next on the agenda was a trip to the Cine to watch "The Holiday." When we arrived home I baked some cookies and Victoria cooked a delicious dinner of chicken and spinach fettuccini. After dinner we exchanged gifts and opened our stockings. One of Victoria's gifts was "Pride and Prejudice" so of course we had to watch it. So that was Christmas #1.
Christmas #2 started yesterday with a Christmas Eve lunch with people from church. Then last night me and my friends Kristy and Ian who are visiting from the UK went to Troy and Heather's for a rousing game of Bingo and Polar Express. We spent the night and this morning we opened stockings and presents with the Cady's. This has been a wonderful Christmas. I get to spend it with new family here in Madrid and also old family. I've been friends with Kristy since I can remember and it is so great to have her here with me. It makes it a bit easier to be away from my family at home. I do look forward to Christmas #3 with my parents at the end of January when I go home. God has really blessed me this year. It amazes me how he looks out for us for even small things like making Christmas wonderful no matter where you are. It is all about Him anyway. So, where ever you are this holiday I pray that you remember the true meaning of this Holiday, Christ's coming, and can celebrate that with family and friends.
(More pictures from Christmas #2 to follow in a later post.)

06 December 2006

A Month Later...and a Decision

So here it is a month after my last post. I always have such good intentions to blog more often, but this month has been absolutely insane. I usually don't have enough to write, but this time, there was just too much to write about. I have been too overwhelmed. I know this seems like cheating, but I am posting my most recent update here so if you don't receive my updates but after reading this would like too, please let me know.Hey Everyone! Where on earth has November gone? I guess I know, first it was a trip to Germany, then a trip to Morocco, then my parents were here and it has just been wrapped up with a Thanksgiving Feast with our church. The first two picture are from my trip to Muenster, Germany where I visited another Christian Associates church. If you weren't aware, I started my search for missions organizations in Western Europe so that I could serve in Germany. I didn't find a place in Germany at the time so God opened the door for me to come to Madrid. Over the past 11 months Germany has still been in my mind and I have been wondering if God was using that burden for Germany just to get me to Europe so He could lead me to Spain, of if He still had plans for me in Germany. I felt it was important for me to visit a church plant there and pray about what God might have in store for me. It was a great week with Stefan and Andrea, the couple that started Epic Church in Muenster. I visited a couple of their community groups, got to meet a ton of people from their church, and even dance and share a little of my story at their church service. It was an exhausting week as everything was in German and it has been quite a while since I've practiced that language. The people there were very gracious though and helped me out a ton and translated for me or just helped me out.

Two days after I returned from Germany, I went with a group from my church, Oasis Madrid, to Morocco. Our church has a relationship with some missionaries there and have gone in the past to help out. We spent the week helping in an orphanage and attended a church service there. It was an incredible trip. I have never been to a Muslim country so that was an eye opening experience. My heart just broke for the women there who seem to be treated as second class citizens. The Muslim women must keep their heads covered anytime there is a man around and when out in public, they can't look a man in the eyes. It was interesting to realize that you automatically know who does not know Jesus just by looking at someone's clothing. It is so easy for people in a Western culture to hide what they believe and in Muslim cultures they literally "wear" their beliefs. I often think it is difficult bringing the message of Jesus to people in Spain, but it is so much easier for me than it is for those trying to bring the love of Christ to Morocco or any closed or Muslim country.
I returned from Morocco with three days to rest up and and prepare for my parents visit. My parents arrived on the 16th and left on the 25th. We had an incredible time. We spent a few days sight-seeing in Madrid, a few days exploring Barcelona together, and a day in Segovia. In some ways it felt strange to mix my two worlds together, but I enjoyed every minute they were here and loved being able to introduce them to my team and my friends. I enjoyed introducing my parents to so many new things. I'll never forget my mom's excitement at seeing her first castle or my parents seeing the Mediterranean for the first time, or even my dad getting so excited by seeing so many Harley Davidson motorcycles. For those of you who know him, I'm sure that comes as no surprise to you. It was also wonderful being able to spend Thanksgiving together.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I never assumed that I would have two Thanksgiving celebrations during my first year here in Spain. First was the dinner with my parents, my team, and a couple of friends, and then on Sunday we had a Thanksgiving feast for our church. We had about 40 people show up and almost half of them don't usually go to church at all. It was a fun day of TONS of good food, meeting new people, playing games, and loving people the way God loves us, unconditionally. It was a blast.

Another factor that added to this already crazy month was the fact that I needed to decide what to do with my future. I signed on with Christian Associates for a one year internship which is over in a month so it was time for me to figure out what comes next. After much prayer and talking with my team, mentors, and my parents I feel that God is calling me to stay in Spain. I am really excited about this decision, but it certainly wasn't easy. This means continuing to live far away from my family, giving up the comfort of a country and culture that I have grown up in, and trusting God to provide for me financially through the generosity of others. I will be returning to the U.S. for about six months though to raise more support so I can continue working here and also to get the paperwork sorted out so I can get my visa. I will fly home at the end of January and then return to Spain at the end of July. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to let me know. I am hoping that I can see as many people as possible during the six months that I am home. I will be spending time in both Maryland and Michigan and will be in touch about exact dates when I have that information. Until then, I have some prayer requests and answers to prayer that I would love to share with you.

Prayer Requests:
- Please pray for my finances as I am coming to the end of the year and my account is getting low. I will have some extra expenses with having to travel home and obtain my visa. If you already support me financially, please pray about continuing that support and if you don't please pray about the possibility of supporting me financially in the future.
- Please pray for me as I spend my first Christmas away from home and family.
- Please pray for some friends that are starting to get involved in Oasis Madrid but aren't yet followers of Christ. Maybe this Christmas will be the time they realize the true meaning of Christmas.
- Please pray for our church as we are searching for a ministry center and are trying some new programs.
- Please pray for my roommate/teammate who has just lost some support and has to find a way to get that back. Also pray for her safety as she travels home for Christmas.

Praises:
- God has provided miraculously for my team leaders family! They were in a severe financial crisis that seemed impossible to remedy, but within a week and a half, they received all the money they needed and more.
- We have a lot of new people becoming interested in Oasis Madrid who are not Christians and who have never really been fond of the church.
- Praise God for speaking clearly to me about where He wants me after this year.
- Thank God for my wonderful team and friends here in Spain. Troy, Heather, Meaghan, Nic, Kelly, Kelly, April, Alleke and many more.

Thanks so much for all of your prayers and support. I can't express enough how thankful I am for all of you. May God bless you richly!

07 November 2006

A Day Between...

November is crazy! I just returned from a week in Germany yesterday and tomorrow morning I am leaving for Morocco for five days. I was in Germany to visit another Christian Associates church in M√ľnster. I had an incredible time but am thoroughly exhausted already. It was tiring trying to understand so much German. The church I visited is in German. There was always someone to help translate and everyone was so gracious in trying to speak English with me as well. I just felt so blessed the whole time. The purpose of this trip was to check out what is happening in Germany with Christian Associates. My internship with CA in Madrid is technically over in January, just two months from now and I am trying to figure out where God may be leading me after that. Is it Madrid, is it Germany, is it the US, is it somewhere else that hasn't been revealed to me yet? I DON'T KNOW YET. Sometimes it seems when all I want are answers, all I get are more questions. I'll have plenty to think about tomorrow on the 8 hour bus ride to the southern tip of Spain.

For the next five days in Morocco a group of seven of us from Oasis Madrid are heading to an orphanage to help out in anyway we can. I am really excited as this is unlike anything I have ever done before. I am also a bit nervous as I've never experienced an African and Muslim culture. I am just praying that God will use us as we love these children and offer our help. I think that's about it for now. I really need to be off to bed as we are meeting at the bus stop in just over seven hours. I'll write again after I return and before my parents arrive. I'll have three days between then... I tried to put some pictures on here, but it's not working out right now so I'll try again next week. Sorry.

28 October 2006

Post

Last Thursday I went to Troy and Heather's to just hang out on our day off. Heather helped (aka, did everything) change the colors on my blog and we watched a couple of movies. Troy posted a couple of new blog entries and told me that I needed to post again. I have been meaning to and even have a few things written down to blog about but here I am over a week later and finally getting around to it. Better late than never right?!

Something that I really appreciate about God is that He doesn't need any of us. He will reveal Himself however He wants. He doesn't need us Christians to show Him to others. I really appreciate that He uses us but I also appreciate that you can see God in many things, even if they aren't "Christian." For example, I recently read "Pigs in Heaven" by Barbara Kingsolver and saw God in this "secular" book. At one point one of the characters is in a casino in Vegas and this is what she says, "In truth, Alice thinks Las Vegas was far more interesting the list time. She remembers people crowded around a green felt table, each one bringing a different story and a different need to that smoky room, joined together in a moment of risk and hope. In a way it was like church, with more interesting clothes." I think that this is a pretty accurate description of what the church should be; a place that people come together with different stories and needs taking a risk and acting in hope.

Another place in the book Kingsolver gives us a glimpse of what love should look like by using the example of a mother protecting her children. This is what it says, "For the reason mothers throw themselves in front of traffic or gunfire to save their offspring. 'I don't have children,' she says finally, 'I suppose I don't know that kind of love.' 'I suppose I don't either. To put yourself second, every time, no questions asked? Sounds like holy communion.'" What a beautiful picture of love. Always putting the other person first.

Thanks God for revealing yourself everywhere, thanks for not having to depend on humans. He really is amazing!!!

11 October 2006

Community

This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking for our service. The following is the manuscript from my talk. Sorry it is quite long as it was a 20 - 25 minute talk. I think it is worth the read though. It went really well and I feel like God used me to talk to my community.

Welcome! I’m glad you could join us tonight as we continue our talk about our mission as a church. This is the 3rd in a 5 week series. We started on September 2nd with Troy giving us an overview of our mission, “We are a Christ-centered community that helps people follow Jesus.” Two weeks ago, Troy focused on the first part of that statement and what it means to be Christ-centered. Tonight I am going to touch on the second part of that, community and in two weeks Troy will be speaking on evangelism and discipleship, the helping people follow Jesus part of our mission. Another way that we can look at our mission of being a Christ-centered community that helps people follow Jesus, is to first say that we exist for God, second we exist for each other, and third we exist for others. There is also an essence of reaching up, reaching in, and reaching out. It has been really cool to be in on the process of coming up with this mission statement. We met all last semester talking about this and in the past few weeks, each time Troy has talked, God has taught me something new. I would highly recommend making it a priority to be here again in two weeks when Troy talks about evangelism and discipleship. I know it will be good.

Ok, enough review and preview: on to the topic at hand, community. When I prepare to talk to other people about something I often think, what do I really know about this topic? I would have to say that in life experience, I know a good bit about community, but I also want to share what I have learned in the process of preparing for this talk. Let’s start with the basics. What is community? Please jump in here. Well, I know you guys are smart and you have said some great stuff, but here’s what Mr. Webster had to say in his dictionary; community is a unified body of individuals. If you ask me, that definition sounds an awful lot like the church. Wikipedia says that community usually refers to a group of people who interact and share certain things as a group. Again, sounds a little like the church maybe. An even wiser man that I know personally, you can get autographs later, Reverend Troy Benton Cady has used the phrase that the church is the people of God, anywhere, gathered together to accomplish God’s purposes. Now this sounds a bit like community. Another way that you can look at community is to break up the word into two root words, common and unity. Common implies similar, shared, reoccurring… Can you think of any other descriptors? Unity implies together, harmony, whole… Can you think of any other descriptors for unity?

Now that we all really know what community is and are on the same page, lets explore why community is so important, especially within the church. I think the best place to start is to see what the Bible has to say about it. Lets look at Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…’” What does this passage tell us about God? God is part of a community. He is part of the Holy community of the trinity, the father, son and Holy Spirit. This passage also points out that we, humans, are made in the image of God. I think it is safe to say then that if we are made in the image of God, we were made to be in communion with others. This is something that is embedded into our very nature. God has it in the trinity and we long for it. I don’t think you have to look much further than out the doors of this building to see evidence of this. This culture thrives on longing to be known and be with others. How often do you see people doing things alone? Look into any bar, people are sharing tapas, pass a botellon on the street, people aren’t alone. We are engrained with the desire for community.

Another example from scripture of why community is important is from John 17:20-23 (in this passage, Jesus is praying for all believers)

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Jesus wants us to achieve unity with fellow believers as well as with him as He and the Father are one. This is also so people will know who we follow. People need to see that we can love each other.

I want to share a few more Biblical examples that I believe also point to the fact that we are to be a part of community and the importance of that. For me, to know that something is important, I need it to be beaten into me so I don’t forget so, if this seems redundant, too bad, I’m just beating it into you so you don’t forget or question whether or not this is important. Ok, next example Genesis 2:18 “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” That is pretty self-explanatory right. I Peter 3:8 says “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brother, be compassionate and humble.” This is coming from a man who spent a few years of his life in community with Jesus and his disciples. This also reflects Jesus’ statement that people will know that we are his followers by our love. How can that be possible if we aren’t loving each other. Finally Ephesians 4:13-16 says

“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

This reference tells us of the importance of community for our maturity in the faith. I think these Biblical examples have made pretty clear to us why community is important. So, what does this mean for us? It means we need to be part of a community. It also means that each of us has a role to play in a community. This passage briefly mentions the idea that Christ is the head of the body, but let’s look at 1 Corinthians 12:12-20 to get a better idea of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

We all play a different role, but we are all important. Because we play different roles, we are able to help each other in specific ways. We are in community with God and also with each other. We need each other. Remember, we are created in the image of a communal God.

Because of this though we have to be very intentional about being a part of this community. We earlier read the passage in Ephesians where Paul tells us we need others to help us grow. In order for us to grow we need to allow others to help us. We can easily be a part of a community and at the same time be hiding and not really be part of the community. I think this is often times quite easy to do in a “church” community, especially if we have the misconception that in order to belong to a church community we have to have all our ducks in a row we can easily just show up for services twice a moth and never give or do anything else. Relevant Magazine recently had an article titled “A Community of Undevout Sinners” by John Havens. In this article Havens said, “Why do we keep secrets? The truth is we’re lost, broken, and hurting people who need repair and God has chosen community to be the context of healing and growth.” I like this because I believe it to be quite true. None of us has it all together!!! NONE OF US!!!

If we want to grow, we have to be intentional and vulnerable. As Troy says, you can’t see your own butt! (Sorry about the hideous picture but I did actually use this picture during my talk with the caption, "Be honest, okay? Does this bikini make my butt look big?") The purpose of community and more specifically our community is to encourage one another and spur each other on. It is very easy to lie to ourselves, deceive ourselves, and ignore our issues so we need others who are on this journey with us to hold us accountable. This is something I sometimes struggle with so I want to start with me. I too often deceive myself into thinking that God’s opinion of me isn’t enough. I compare myself to others. I see that I am not as good as someone else and start to think that God made a mistake with me. I want to grow, but I need others to help me get out of my own way. Now, I’ve just allowed you to see my “butt” let’s be a community that is in the habit of spurring each other on. In context of the saying, “You can’t see your own butt,” let’s allow others to see our butts and encourage us in growth. Is this going to be easy, neat, and a rockin’ good time? Absolutely not. But, is it necessary and is it worth it? Absolutely.

Now, I was a little hesitant when Troy asked me if I’d be willing to speak on this topic. I thought what do I have to say about this? As I thought about it more though, I realized just how important community is to me and I’ll tell you why. I actually came up with this really difficult equation to show you why. Church=Community=Family. As a single person who has lived away from my immediate family for over 8 years, my community has become my family so, this is my family, this is my family, this is my family, and this is my family (Oasis Madrid). I think for us community is even more important than it is for some. Most of us are away from our home countries, away from our family, and experiencing struggles that most people won’t ever know in their lifetimes; learning and adapting to new languages, cultures, etc. We need each other! So, practically, how do we do this? Hebrews 10:25 “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.”

We need to continue being intentional about getting together and being vulnerable with each other so we can grow in faith and love. I think there are times when we do this well, but there have also been times when we fail miserably. When we are in true community with each other, this is what it will look like according to Acts 2:44-45, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” So, let’s encourage each other, grow together and give to each other. I want to just close with my hope for our community.

Acts 4:32-37 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.”

06 October 2006

Magnifying God

This past Wednesday at community group we did a really neat exercise for our time of worship. We tried to magnify God more that He already is. You can't get bigger than God, but we attempted to make Him bigger through our magnification. It was cool to see how different everyone did this. One girl who is a first grade teacher made a thank you card like her students would make, someone wrote a poem, someone drew a picture, someone talked about the grandeur of God, someone wrote about the tiny details that God pays attention to, someone drew a picture. These are just a few of the ways that God was magnified by our group of over 20 women. I want to share how I tried to magnify God. As many of you know, I am a dancer and have been for over 20 years. Dancing gives me life, so this is what I wrote.

You are the Lord of the Dance. You are the most intricate choreography. You are infinitely better than everyone and everything. You are more wonderful than the most incredible balled I have ever seen. You are the only prima! You dance circles around us all. You make me want to dance, leap, jump, turn, bow, and worship. You are more sustaining that the corps de ballet in Giselle, you bring more joy than Coppelia, you are more beautiful than Swan Lake, you are more innovative than Martha Graham, you are stronger than Mikhail Baryshnikov, you far surpass Balanchine's choreography, you are more original than Anna Pavlova. You are the Lord of the Dance!!!

01 October 2006

Solitude Sunday

Silence and Solitude.
Words thought but not spoken.

The trees cry out on my behalf,

They cry out to you.
In this silence, I worship you.

You want nothing more than all of me.

In this solitude, I give it to you.
My mouth is closed, but my heart is open.

I'm alone, but you are here.

Speak your words so I may hear.

I'm sitting and waiting for you.

I may not feel you, but I know

You are with me sharing in my
Silence and Solitude.

24 September 2006

The Gathering

When Troy is talking about the church and community he often uses the phrase, "The church is the people of God anywhere gathered to accomplish God's purposes." I like that. I especially like the gathering part. We are attempting to put that into practice, gathering "to accomplish God's purposes." Starting in September Oasis Madrid began meeting on a weekly basis. We are still sticking to the twice a month services but now on the off weeks we are getting together in a more casual atmosphere and inviting lots of friends. So far, we have had 2 picnics. The first one was such a huge success, we decided to have another one.

This past Sunday was the second picnic. I had an incredible time. I was a bit nervous because I invited a friend of mine who speaks little to no English at all. She and I do a language exchange so usually when we are together we speak by using our dictionaries a lot! Well, as I look back, I realize I had nothing to be nervous about. My friend, Margarita, showed up with 4 other friends who also speak little to no English. They all seemed to have a wonderful time. I think that's because I belong to a community of grace. Everyone was so gracious and spoke with them in Spanish or tried to help them with English. Margarita and her friend Marianna played Bocche Ball with some of us and fit right in. There was picking on each other all around, in English and in Spanish. I'd like to just add right here that there were two teams of women and one team of men and yes, the men came in last place!!! Sorry guys, but I just had to rub that in a little more.

Anyway, as the picnic was ending Kelly and I were talking about how well things had gone. She reassured me it was ok that I don't speak much Spanish and that my friends don't speak much English. We then realized that there were at least 2 other languages spoken during the picnic as well, Dutch and French. We figured it out and these were all the countries represented at our picnic; US, Canada, Ecuador, Colombia, Russia, Holland, England, France, Germany, Ireland, and Nigeria. I think that was it and there were only 34 people there. It still baffles me sometimes that I am a part of an international community. We really were the people of God from everywhere gathered to accomplish God's purpose. Loving each other, showing grace, and having a rockin' good time. I look forward to the next Gathering!

15 September 2006

My Spanish Hair Cut

Thursday was my day off this week. Kelly and I decided to take a trip to Principe Pio Mall, do some shopping and get our hair cut before heading to Troy and Heather's for dinner. The shopping was great, I finally found denim capris, although I probably won't be able to wear them much longer this season as it is already the middle of September, oh well, I don't think they'll be out of style by next spring. Anyway, after walking around for a bit we headed for Marco Aldany, the hair salon. Kelly has already successfully survived a Spanish haircut from this same place so she was feeling much more confident than I. I was very nervous for a couple of reasons. One, have you ever seen a young Spaniard? More likely than not they either have a mullet, a Mohawk, dreads, a rat tail, or some other bizarre hair cut that I can't even describe in words. Basically most hairstyles are hideous here. I didn't want one of these, I figure I already stand out enough just being a foreigner. The other thing that made me nervous is that you usually have to talk to the person cutting your hair to tell them what you want. Granted, I have learned quite a bit of Spanish since I've been here, however I am still very limited in what I know how to say, especially when it comes to "hair Spanish." I did try to prepare and had a small sheet of paper with vocabulary written on it that I thought I might need. It helped some, but it didn't prevent me from being the freak in the hair salon.

Let me just give you the play-by-play. The instant I get in the salon, they know I am a foreigner. I sit in a chair waiting for the next available person to wash my hair. The girls seems nice enough and asks if I'm there for a cut or dye. In broken nervous Spanish I convey that I am there for a cut. She sets me up in the chair and leans me back to shampoo and condition. So far it's ok. As she's washing my hair I notice that she is picking at my scalp. This isn't normal. I also notice that my back is getting wet from the wash. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt under a long sleeve shirt. By the time the wash was done both shirts were soaked down to the middle of my back. This is still not too bad, I can live with this. Now I am sent over to the guy with the dreadlocked mullet rat tail to cut my hair. Before that happens however, the hair washing girl picks at my scalp some more and shows it to the hair cut guy. Last week at the park my head got burned and it was peeling some. I also have incredibly dry skin so I know that this is what they are looking at. In their simplest Spanish they try to explain that I need this extra treatment because it is "very good for your head." I agree just because I don't know how to argue enough to say no. They apply the special serum and I sit for five minutes so it can thoroughly burn my scalp and anyone who didn't notice me before can stop and stare. Finally, the serum is rinsed and it is time to tell the hair cut guy how I want my hair cut. I explain (in Spanish of course) that I want it to start at the top of my neck and then angle down to my chin. After repeating this a few times with hand motions he looks at me points at the top of my neck and says "Vale, una punta" (literally ok, at a point). I say ok and start praying. In my mind I am picturing my hair coming to a sharp point at the back of my head forming an upside down V. I just sit and try to relax as I notice multiple hair stylists stopping by to learn a little from my hair cut man, check out my scalp, and try out their English on me. It's going smoothly until the hair cut guy cuts his hand with the scissors. I've never seen this happen before. He takes a break to clean the wound and apply a band-aid, then continues on. Finally he's done cutting and starts to style, without asking. It's ok, I usually like to have them style my hair for me so I can get an idea how to do it myself even though it costs extra. Finally, the cut is finished, I pay, and walk out feeling much lighter. I've lost some hair, and a burden has been lifted, I've successfully made it through my first Spanish hair cut. I love it!

27 August 2006

The City of Randomness

Over the past few days, I have been noticing many random events. Some of these may seem out of the ordinary, however, randomness is actually quite common here in Madrid. I think if you are observing carefully, each town, city, country, culture is filled with these kind of "random" occurances. I went to the park the other day and this is where it all began...
  • I was sitting on a bench minding my own business when I heard something falling through the leaves of the tree above me. I only realized what it was when I looked down and say pigeon poop on my leg.
  • While also sitting on the poop bench, as I'll refer to it now, I watched a couple of guys play soccer. This may seem normal except that it was one on one and one guy was wearing a shirt and the other guy was shirtless. I wondered, did they do that on purpose so as to remember whose team they were on?
  • After being pooped on while sitting on the poop bench, I decided it was time to find a new spot in the shade, but not directly under a tree. As I walked through the part to a new spot I passed a slightly paranoid looking woman sitting on a bench. Only when I looked closer did I realize why she was paranoid. She wasn't wearing a shirt. No, she wasn't playing soccer on the shirtless team. She was just cillin' on the bench in just her bra. This wasn't one of those cute bras either that could be mistaken for a bikini top. This was your grandma's white lace bra.
  • I found a new bench and continued on with my reading, only to be disturbed by a large group of people walking my way. I looked up to see it was a bride, groom, I'm guessing their best man and maid of honor, and a large posse behind them. This doesn't seem too out of the ordinary because there was a photographer with them and Retiro is a beautiful park. The random part was that they were all wearing red ribbons. Not the little red ribbons that say you support something, like the troops or breast cancer awareness. These were grade school fun day 1st place size ribbons. Weird?!
So, now I've had enough and left the park. Hours have passed and I think I've seen all I can handle. Please, who am I trying to kid. One thing in Madrid that is guaranteed to always be random is fashion. I could list a hundred different weird things I've seen people wear but let me just mention a few that I have seen just in the last couple of days.
  • A man that could be mistaken for a lumberjack. I don't think they really have those here though. He had the big boots, the white socks coming out of them, the carpenter style khaki colored shorts, and to top it off, the flanel shirt.
  • This was followed by the two sets of mothers and daughters in matching outfits. Cute, right. Not when they are in their 30s and 50s. The first pair was wearing all opposite white and orange so the mother had on orange shoes, white pants, orange shirt, and a white purse. The daughter was just the opposite. The second pair was a bit cuter as it was a small girl and her mom who were wearing the exact same outfit.
  • Now on to the not so cute, a man with one of the most incredible mohawks I've ever seen. He was past the rebelious mohawk age too.
  • Finally, 2 men that look like they have just stepped out of the time machine. What was their time and place of origin you ask. 1980's death metal complete with the tight ripped jeans on one and the mega short cut-off shorts on the other. Long flowing hair in head bands and more. I can't even describe all of it.
Ok, I'll end with just a couple of other random things that just happened.
  • I saw a sign that had the temperature outside posted on it. It said it was 69 degrees celcius. For you farenheit people out there, that is 156.2. Not possible. I think it was only in the 80s (F).
  • Just in the last 3 days I have seen at least 5 different men peeing on the street. This is actually pretty common here so maybe I shouldn't list that in this post of randomness, but before I moved to Madrid, I would have considered that to be random.
  • Victoria and I saw R.U.M.H. from the bus. Trust me, you don't even want to know. It's too bizarre to actually say, we had to come up with an acronym.
  • The cute, but obnoxious, little dog in our building named Luli is a boy, despite what his name may lead you to believe.
  • I was walking home with Victoria and say a man smelling his socks. He apparently didn't appreciate me seeing him doing that so he threw his hands up at me as I walked by to scare me. All it did was make me want to punch him.
  • This is the last one, I promise. In Madrid, or even Spain for that matter, this is not random, but again from a Giri(foreigner) this may seem random. Many shops close down for almost the entire month of August so the owners can go on vacation. They often just post a hand written note on the building letting you know when they'll open again.
Well, I think that's it for now. It's been an interesting couple of days. My mind is still spinning.

18 August 2006

My Prayers are Heard

I've kind of gone on a blogging spree here. This morning as I was reading from "The Message" (thanks for getting me hooked Heather) and read Psalm 6. It says:

Please, God, no more yelling,
no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
I'm so starved for affection.

Can't you see I'm black-and-blue,
beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take
for you to let up?

Break in, God, and break up this fight;
if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I'm no good to you dead, am I?
I can't sing in your choir if I'm buried in some tomb!

I'm tired of all this—so tired. My bed
has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
nearly blind, I squint and grope.

Get out of here, you Devil's crew:
at last God has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
my prayers are answered.

Cowards, my enemies disappear.
Disgraced, they turn tail and run.

I really resonated with David in his moaning and wailing. So many times I feel like I am crying out to no one but my mattress. Sometimes it's because my future seems undiscernable, or because I'm tired of being alone, or just because things don't seem to be going my way. As I read this passage today it hit me, sure I may feel beat up, starved for affection, dead, and tired. But the simple fact of the matter is that I'm not. "God has heard my sobs!" Amen and thank you father. The devil may try to infiltrate my emotions and encourage me in these self-absorbed feelings, but he is a coward and can not stand up to my Almighty God who makes him flee at the mere mention of his name out of fear. Whether I see the results of my moans and cries to God, I know that "God has heard my sobs" and that "My requests have all been granted, my prayers are answered." What a way to start the day, reminded of His love and mercy to this daughter of His. Thank you and thank you!!!

Photos!

I just wanted to let you know that I have posted another album of pictures to my webshots. They are picture from my weekend in Castellon and my trip to Holland. Here are a few pictures to whet your appetite. The first two are from Amsterdam and the third one is the DeBron conference center where the CA staff conference was held. Enjoy!

13 August 2006

CAI Staff Conference 2006

It's now been over a week since I returned from my very first CA staff conference. I have been wanting to post about it for some time now, but because my computer can't decide when it wants to work and when it doesn't and because I still don't feel like I've been able to process all that God has been teaching me, I haven't posted yet. I still don't think that I have been able to properly process everthing, but it's time to work through some of it through blogging about it. This weekend Kelly and I are sharing the talk for our service. We are addressing the question, "What is the Church?" Kelly is going to talk more about the history of the church and what the Bible has to say about it. I am going to talk more about the modern church and what that looks like. I'm planning to use a lot of things from our staff conference in my half of the talk. Basically my point is going to be that Jesus still needs to be absolute central to the church. I think a lot of times, Christians get too focused on religion and forget about the only thing worth worshipping. Jesus. If we are focused on Jesus, there is no stopping the revolution that can come from that. We want to infiltrate every area of our lives with the mission of Christ. We want to be radically free in Christ! I could go on and on, but this post would be really long. I am hoping to post what I come up with for our service this weekend too so check back and that will give you an even deeper look into the muck that I am currently wrestling in. Until then...

What makes an addict?

So I was playing my favorite computer game today, Jewel Quest and it got me thinking. What makes someone an addict. Now, I don't think I am one. Not that I'm in denial, because I'm not, I'm not addicted! Anyway as I was playing my game Kelly said she was going to go start making lunch. I said, "Ok, I'll be in there in just a second to help, I just need to lose this game. Oh wait, that's not going to happen. I'm too good. Let me pause it." She asked why I didn't just quit the game and of course I replied "I'm not a quiter." So after lunch I picked up on my game where I left off and felt the need to promptly defend myself and told Kelly, I'm not addicted, I just can't stop once I start. She said, right that's just like saying I'm not an alcoholic, I just can't stop drinking once I start. I said ok, well, when I'm not playing the game, I don't crave it or anything, and I could quit, it's just then I won't see what my score is. So the question is, am I an addict? By the way, I did let myself lose, after I obtained my highest score ever. I have now moved on and won't play Jewel Quest again, at least not today.

06 August 2006

Computer Woes

Let me just start off by saying, I really hope that this posts before my computer decides that it doesn't want to work again and just shut off. I have really been wanting to post about this past week but have been having major problems with my computer. First it didn't want to come on and now just turns off with out even asking me. I am getting so frustrated! I did buy an external hard drive and have pretty much everything backed up, but I just keep praying that this computer will last through the year. It has served me well though. It is almost 4 and a half years old and I have not had many problems. I know, I know all you MAC people out there, I need to convert, but this computer was a gift for college graduation and I don't have the money right now to upgrade. You have all made your point and I hear you. Just be patient though, I'm sure I'll join the dark side soon enough.

Anyway, last week I was in Holland with Christian Associates staff for our annual staff conference. There is so much to say and so much to process. It was an incredible time meeting new friends, spending time in worship and hearing from various speakers. We had a couple of guest speakers, Alan and Debra Hirsch. Alan is a co-author of the book "Shaping of Things to Come." It is a great book and they both had a lot to say that was challenging and good to be reminded of. Just a preview (I will write more about this later) the gathering topics were "Nets and Networking," "Belonging Before Believing," "Putting the Adventure back into the Venture," "Self-deception's Devastating Effect," "Cummunitas From the Inside," "Jesus Made Me Do It," "Radical Freedom in Jesus," and "Embedding Grace." We also had a great concert of prayer, fun play times, and plenty of time to just chill and be together. It was so good.

I need to process more what was said but after that, and if my computer is still working, I will process some of that here, for now I need to try to get more done on my computer before it stops working again. Until then...

26 July 2006

Weekend of Firsts

Ever since I have moved to Madrid, I feel like I am constantly experiencing "firsts." This past weekend was filled with an exceptional amount. I took my first bus trip in Spain all by my self. Before I can even get that far though, I missed my first bus in Spain. Now, I know, after six and a half months, that Spain uses the 24 hour clock, but when you look at a bus schedule that says that a bus leaves at 1:00, do you think am or pm? I was thinking pm, but had I thought properly, it should have occurred to me that 1 pm is 13:00. Needless to say I showed up for my bus to Castellon 12 hours late. Unfortunately, no one else really seems to care about these mistakes so the only way to remedy it is to buy another ticket. So I guess this was my first time buying 2 tickets for one trip. Anyway, once I finally got on the bus, I was headed to Castellon, which is a smaller town on the Mediterranean where my friends, Kelly and April live. I worked on my day off last week so I could spend three days with friends and at the beach. Once I finally arrived, only 14 and a half hours after I was really supposed to, I made it to Kelly and April's flat with no other problems.

Just some back ground here, Kelly and April used to be on the team in Madrid, but took a one year hiatus so April could finish her masters but Kelly has still been working with Christian Associates just in a different capacity. Anyway, after they have their first child, due in October, they are heading home to the States to do some support raising and then returning to Madrid in the spring. I have gotten the chance to get to know them over the past six months and would consider them good friends. They, along with the rest of my team, make me want to stay in Madrid, just to be with all of them. (No Heather, Troy, Kelly, Kelly, and April that doesn't mean I have made any decisions yet, it just means I really like you guys!)Ok, back to the weekend. Friday I got up and explored Castellon a little bit. I had a wonderful walk through lots of shade, the sun is just too hot. Kelly had told me of a Bascillica that he and April walk to sometimes so I checked that out too. It was beautiful! Later in the afternoon, I experienced another major first, I swam in the Mediterranean. It was incredible, it was so different from any body of water I have ever been in. First of all, the water is warm. I mean, fill the tub warm. Unlike the Atlantic or Lake Michigan, which are more like stepping into a glass of ice water, this was warm. It still baffles me that you actually have to get out of the water after a while to cool off. Another oddity about the sea is the buoyancy. April and I tried with all our might to swim under water, but without fail after about 2 strokes we would bob back up to the top. I guess that's good news if you aren't a fan of drowning, and I'm not. It was great to be able to float and not have to use any energy what-so-ever. I could just lay back and relax. Treading water was a new experience too as all you had to do was kick your legs like once every couple of minutes. It was pretty spectacular! Besides experiencing the sea up close and personal, it was beautiful to behold from not so up close. Saturday was more of the same. Reading, relaxing, laying on the beach, and chatting with friends. I also spent some time just watching the families at the beach. It is nice to be out of the city and see some normal family interaction. The little kids are so much fun to watch. This one little girl was so cute and she was a very determined little girl. I watched her over and over again bring her sand toys to the water to wash them off, run back to join her friends in the sand and then moments later run back to the water to wash of the newly sand covered shovel and bucket. It was just too cute. It was another glorious day! Sunday morning was another first experience for me. I attended my first mass. It was really interesting. Seeing as how most of Spain, if they have any religious affiliation at all, is Catholic, I thought it would bee a good experience to see what it is all about. Kelly and April have been going to this mass for a little while so they can learn more about Catholicism. I definately learned more from this one mass that just what I have heard. I think there are some valuable things that the Catholic church is doing, I just question their means of doing them. It was impossible for me to participate in the service, despite the fact that my Spanish is inadequate. The entire service seemed choreographed, which in some ways I think it is. It is the same routine that I'm sure they have been doing every mass since the doors opened to this church. I was witness to a series of standing up, sitting down, singing, listening, repeating liturgy. None of this was posted anywhere so I just went a long for the ride, standing and sitting when everyone else was, but that was the extent of my particpation. Unless you have always done this or just determine to go and learn from week to week what is going on, there is no guide book. I wonder how significant those liturgies are to the people who have been saying them out of habit all their lives. Anyway, I'm really glad I went to the mass and got a chance to kind of debrief the experience with Kelly and April in a little air conditioned cafe' over breakfast. It was good to talk through the service and learn from what I observed. After breakfast, we decided the best way to spend my last few hours in Castellon was at the beach, so off we went. When it was time to finally go, I grudgingly packed my backpack and we headed to the bus station. I was on time and everything. Unfortunately the bus was not. It was 45 minutes late and once it finally got there I took my seat in the very front of the bus. This was a first for me as well, and I hope it will be a last too. Let's just say, when the bus driver slams on his brakes, I would much rather not be able to see how close we are to the car in front of us. I think I would instead like to be back far enough that I can't see and just imagine that we are really close to that car. I did manage to survive the 8 hour trip back, which should have only taken 5 hours by the way, and got home safely. All in all, it was a wonderful trip and I feel as though I am somehow a little bit of a better person to have experienced so many more "firsts." Thanks again Kelly and April for your hospitality.

14 July 2006

Oasis Madrid

Well, tonight was a momentous occasion. I spoke at Oasis Madrid. The following is the manuscript of what I said. This is very basic as I can't stay with what I write. I said a lot more than what is here, but as I didn't record myself, this is the closest we'll get. I hope you enjoy what God led me to talk about. I think it went well, but you'd have to ask one of the 14 people who were there. Sure it doesn't seem like much, but 14 is good for the summer, especially for the middle of July. Madrid clears out in the summer. People heading home for the summer, or gone on holiday. It was a good group and I was so excited to be able to speak. I just pray that God used it.

We started by singing "Blessed Be Your Name"

I wanted it to be fairly interactive so we started with small group discussions. I asked these two questions.

1) Matthew 22:37-39 says, “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” What does this mean to us as Jesus followers?

2) Matthew 20:26-28 says, “…Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What does this mean to us as Jesus followers?

There was some great discussion and it was really interesting looking at both of these in context of the other. Well, according to these verses, which I believe to be true, Jesus came to set an example for us as a servant. I want to read an account of Jesus setting the perfect example as a servant and then we are going to serve one another as a form of worship.

John 13:3-17 “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand,” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and head as well!” Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Ok, let’s try it. I just thought this would be a good way to get us in the right mind-set for everything else I want to say tonight. You know that in Madrid, this is actually a pretty practical thing to do with as dusty as this city gets. While we are washing each others feet, we are going to be singing "Humble King." If you do not feel comfortable participating, just pass on to the next person. (By the way, everyone participated and when we were done singing we just spent some time in silence. It was cool.)

Pray

Alright, jumping right in, here is what I want to talk about. Because the name of our church is Oasis Madrid, I want us to think about the implications that has for us. We are going to do this by looking at how God is an Oasis, Jesus was a moving Oasis, and as His followers, we are to emulate His life. So let’s get into it, this has been really exciting for me to research and study. I love this church and I am becoming more and more passionate about what it means for us to be an oasis. Ok, but before we can discuss how God is an oasis, let’s make sure we know what an oasis is. Anyone… Yeah, I looked up oasis in an online dictionary and here are the definitions I got that I really like:
• In geography, an isolated area of vegetation in a desert, typically surrounding a spring or similar water source
• A shelter serving as a place of safety or sanctuary
• A haven
• A fertile or green spot in a desert or wasteland, made so by the presence of water
• A situation or place preserved from surrounding unpleasantness; a refuge; an oasis of serenity amid chaos (I think that is my favorite definition)

I’m guessing, because I know how smart all of you are, you have a pretty good idea as to where I am going with this, so without further adue.

There are many instances in the Bible where God is referred to as a refuge or sanctuary. I looked it up on Bible Gateway and about 70 passages popped up that refer to God as a refuge. Here are just a couple of them.

Psalm 9:9 says, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

Psalm 141:8 says, “But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge – do not give me over to death.”

This should be enough of an example as to why we should strive to be an oasis, a refuge, a help, a stronghold, a source of life, but God made it even easier for us. He sent his son to set a human example for us. I think that for God and Jesus to attract people to them, they needed to offer something that no one else had, such as water in a desert. Is it ironic that in John 4 Jesus offered the Samaritan woman living WATER that will quench her thirst so she would never be thirsty again?! Where else can we go to be completely filled? Another way that Jesus can be seen as an oasis is through serving others. Jesus cared for and served the poor, weak, sick, and broken, just to name a few. He met their needs. And if God in the flesh can serve His creation shouldn’t we as his followers also be willing to serve in order to glorify Him.

I just read a story the other day about a man called Brother James Kimpton. I believe that he knows what it means to follow God’s example and serve. He has served the poor and broken in India for over 50 years. Here is a brief description of what he does there. He digs wells, builds homes, runs schools, dresses wounds, rescues orphans, rehabilitates the disabled, feeds the hungry, trains the unskilled, and shelters the abandoned. Wow, it doesn't sound like he's doing much. (Ha Ha) Needless to say, people are drawn to him, like an oasis in a desert. When asked why he does some of the things he does he replied, “To me, every child I serve is Jesus.” Pavi Krishnan, the woman who wrote this story says this after her visit to some of the Children’s Villages that Brother James has established, “The love you’ve seen everywhere comes from one man at the center. It radiates from him, and everything he touches ripples forward.” Like the water source in an oasis, one person, or one action can start a ripple effect. When we focus our lives on serving God and trying to reflect his image to those around us, people notice. Imagine the impact. Lambert Dolphin says, “When the world looks at the church, it should see a different way of life, a different standard of behavior. People should say of the church, ‘They know how to love, how to reach out.’” Are we living like that? Are we making ripples?

Now I want to talk a little more about how we can follow Christ’s example and God’s call to us to be like Him and be an oasis in the desert, but first let’s listen to this song and read the words on the power point. I think this song clearly describes how our love for God should move us to want to serve and obey him.

Love of My Heart, by CeCe Winans PowerPoint

Ok, now let’s step back a bit to the Old Testament for a second. Even before Jesus had come to set a human example of what it means for a person to be an oasis, a refuge, God was already instructing his people how to live worshipful, vibrant, godly lives so as to attract others to him.

Isaiah 58:6-12 says this: (I’m reading from the Message because I really like how it is worded here – Heather would be so proud, she loves the Message)

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims; quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places – firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”

I know that most of you have heard this passage before. I actually read it at the last service in June. I find this passage to be quite convicting especially for myself. This is a huge call we have to answer as Christians, but the promises for doing so seem make it well worth the sacrifice. The main theme of these verses is; what does it mean to know and serve God? The late pastor, Ray Stedman said, “the ultimate test of faith has always been: does it lead you to serve, to help somebody in need? Do you feel motivated to act?”

I think this passage has some implications for us as individuals as well as for us as a community. Our name is Oasis Madrid. You could say we live in a desert wasteland. People are wandering around out there searching for the source of living water. So I want to end with a little more discussion. And this week, take some time to look over this passage from Isaiah and really just let it sink it and then let it move you.

We discussed this question in our small groups and in honor of Troy, who always uses the time limit of 7 minutes, we talked for 7 minutes and wrote our ideas on post-it-notes (also in honor of Troy) and then after that, shared our ideas with the rest of the group.

What are some real tangible ways that we as individuals, as well as, we as a community can be an Oasis here in Madrid?

After the discussion Kelly led us in a couple more songs, "All Who are Thirsty" and "Heart of Worship." It was a great night! After the service, half the group went out for dinner and drinks at a place right down the street from our house. The service was actually at our house. I know I already said it, but tonight was great. Well, that's all I have to say. Later...

13 July 2006

What's So Amazing About Grace?

I just finished reading that book, "What's so Amazing about Grace?" byPhilip Yancey yesterday. Wow, it was good. It was eyeopening, heart breaking, and beautiful all at the same time. I want to share some of it with you so here are some quotes from the book that spoke to me.
  • There is only one thing the world cannot do that the church can - offer grace
  • Grace is shockingly personal. As Henri Nouwen points out, "God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, not becuase thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found."
  • The problem of pain meets its match in the scandal of grace.
  • Grace costs nothing for the recipients but everything for the giver. Grace is free only because the giver himself has borne the cost.
  • Grace delcares that we are still God's pride and joy.
  • If grace is so amazing, why don't Christians show more of it? How is it that Christians called to dispense the aroma of grace instead emit the noxious fumes of ungrace?
  • Those most conscious of another world have made the most effective Christians in this one. -C. S. Lewis
  • The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.
I hope these quotes have served to wet your appitite to read this book. I would highly recommend it. I wish that I had some deep theological conclusion to make about grace right now, but I don't. I just know that grace is a gift that we maybe hold onto too tightly sometimes when we should be eager to give it away. I hope you receive this gift, especially from those of us who claim to be Jesus' followers. Grace is amazing!!!

07 July 2006

Blog Abuse

Did you think I fell off the face of the earth? Well, I did't. I just fell off the face of cyber earth for a while. My friend Jo would call what has happened here "Blog Abuse". She doesn't want to have her own blog for fear that she would neglect her faithful readers and not post often enough. Well, I am guilty of both. I'm sorry. Let me fill you in a bit on all that has kept me away from faithfully updating my blog. These may sound like excuses, but to each his own. I know Pete, "Excuses are for losers," I don't think these are valid reasons. Anyway, at the beginning of June I headed home to Michigan for a week to visit family, friends, supporters, and witness my older brother's wedding. It was such a beautiful wedding and a great time with family and friends. I only wish I could have visited for longer. It came at a perfect time though. I had been in Madrid for 5 months when I got to go home for a visit. It was much needed! One week later I reluctantly boarded the plane back to Madrid. The trip went fine but needless to say I was exhausted when I returned to Madrid. I got home, dropped my things off and went straight to my staff meeting. Let me just say, I do not like jet lag at all!!! So then I was back in Madrid for 4 full days before Kelly (my roommate) and I left for vacation to Prague. We spent a week in Prague checking out all that we could possibly see and walk more than we thought possible. It was incredible! Everyone has always told me, "If you can go anywhere in Europe, go to Prague." I am now saying those exact words. The city is just amazingly beautiful. We returned to Madrid on 25 June. Three days later our team leaders, Troy and Heather, and their kids left for the States for the rest of the summer on furlough. Needless to say, those few days with them before they left were quite busy. So now a week and a half after that, things are finally settling back into a routine. Again I apoligize and hope you except my explanation.

I don't want to write much more now so I don't run out of things to say so I can blog again soon. Make sure you check out the "My Pictures" link to the right. I just posted all the pictures from my trip to the States, and more specifically from Matt and Mandace's wedding and all the pictures from my trip to Prague. I will go ahead and apologize now, because there are loads of photos. You may want to grab a glass of lemonaid and get comfortable. I hope you enjoy them though. I had an incredible time in both places and I love taking photos, hence the absurd amount of photos. Well, thanks for being patient with me and I'll write again soon. (Hopefully;))

17 June 2006

I'm Back, sort of...

Wow, it has been a while. Sorry to all my faithful readers, all 3 of you. I kind of have an excuse though, if you'll let me use it. I was home in Grand Rapids for a week and since I've been back, I've been trying to get back into the swing of things with jet lag. I left for the states on Monday June 5th and returned to Madrid on Tuesday June 13th. I realized from this trip, that when you've been out of the country for 5 months, a one week visit is not long enough; especially when half of it is taken up with wedding stuff. My brother got married on Saturday June 10th. It was such a perfect day! He looked so handsome and Mandace (my new sister-in-law) looked beautiful. The weather was perfect and it was an all around great time. During the week I was able to see friends, family, and enjoy some of the conviences of America, such as Meijer. It was just such a great trip. I would like to write more about it, but that will come later. I have posted just a couple of pictures and you'll have to check my webshots album later to see the rest of them. I don't have them all posted yet. It could be a couple of weeks though as my roommate Kelly and I leave for vacation tomorrow morning at about 4 am. I am so excited, we are going to Prague. Anyone that I've ever talked to that has traveled through Europe always says to visit Prague. I'm sure it will be incredible! Some of my roots are Czech too. That's were the name Swacina is from. Well, I'll be sure to write more after this trip and I get back into normal life. Thanks for being patient in the meantime. Until later...

24 May 2006

Fun Tidbits About Me

How well do you know me? My cousin, Karen sent this to me in an email a while ago and I thought I would share it here with you. I was suprised that I learned some new things about her even though I have known her my whole life. Karen I love you and can't wait to see you!!! Here goes:
  1. Four Jobs I have had in my life:
    1. Cedar Ridge Adventures (High Ropes Challenge Course)
    2. Whitetail Ski Resort
    3. Pizzaria Uno's Chicago Bar and Grill
    4. Moving Company Dance School
  2. Four Places I have lived:
    1. Chicago, IL
    2. Williamsport, MD
    3. Grand Rapids, MI
    4. Madrid, Spain
  3. Four Movies I could watch over and over again:
    1. Newsies
    2. White Christmas
    3. Count of Monte Cristo
    4. Good Will Hunting
  4. Four TV shows I love to watch:
    1. Right now, anything in English!
    2. Friends
    3. ER
    4. Amazing Race
  5. Four songs that will always be on my IPOD (I'll actually have an IPOD soon!)
    1. In Christ Alone
    2. Anything U2
    3. Anything Derek Webb
    4. Movin' Out Soundtrack
  6. Four Places I've been on Vacation
    1. Florida (West Palm Beach, Orlando)
    2. Out West (Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico, etc.)
    3. Costa Rica (if you could call a 3 week back packing trip that ends with a broken foot vacation)
    4. Spain (I live here now, but I have vacationed some too)
  7. Four Websites I visit daily
    1. About 20 different blogs
    2. My yahoo mail
    3. Various online magazines
    4. MSN news
  8. Four of my favorite foods
    1. My mom's spaghetti
    2. Anything chocolate
    3. Breakfast food (I love breakfast!)
    4. Fresh fruits and vegetables
  9. Four places I'd rather be right now
    1. In bed!
    2. In the states with family and friends
    3. Laying on a beach somewhere
    4. Greece, I really want to visit there someday
  10. Four jobs that I wish I could do
    1. Professional Dancer (preferably ballet)
    2. Tri-lingual interpreter (maybe someday, I'm working on my Spanish and once I am fluent in that, I'll brush up on my German)
    3. Professional Chocolate Eater
    4. Professional Shopper
So now you know a little more about me. I hope you enjoyed this little diversion and that I didn't scare you. By the way, this pictures are of my cousin Karen her daughter Naomi, and her son Joshua. Sorry there are no pictures of Sam (Karen's husband). I love Naomi so much and get to see thier whole family soon. Karen recently told me that Naomi looked at a picture of me and said "Amy! Dance wis you!" This makes my heart so happy. Naomi is 2 now and I haven't seen her since August. Karen thanks for not letting her forget me. That means so much to me. Karen has also had a son since the last time I've seen her, so I can't wait to meet Joshua too. Yeah, 15 days until I get to see them all!!!

23 May 2006

Gibraltar, Malaga, and Cordoba

Last weekend was incredible! This is the first time I have really traveled here in Spain and it was so wonderful. Although some of the trip wasn't really spent in Spain. Last Friday, 12 May, my roommate Victoria, one of our friends, Jo, and I set out for the train station to begin our journey. We were very excited as all three of us would be experiencing a sleeper train for the first time. We decided it was worth the 10 extra euros to have a bed rather than spend the whole night trying to sleep in a train or bus seat. It was worth it. In my mind the idea of sleeper train was much more romantic than real life. I think I had romanticised it because of "White Christmas" (my favorite Christmas movie ever). In reality the beds, and room for that matter, are very small and every time the train stops there is the danger of being flung out of your bed. I must say though that I did sleep better than I would have sitting up. We arrived in Algeciras, a small town near Gibraltar Saturday morning moderately refreshed and ready to explore. We found a cheap and pretty nice hostal and set off for "Little England."

Gibraltar is so interesting. It is on the southern coast of Spain, but is owned by England. When you cross the border, everything instantly changes to English. It was great haveing Jo with us as well, as she is from England. Every corner we turned revealed another shop or phone booth or post box that is reminiscent of Jo's homeland. She was so excited, and I was learning so much. Some day I'll have to travel to England to see how accurate this "Rock" is.

After just walking around a bit, we found a typical English pub to fill our growling stomachs with a typical English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, baked beans, and tea. It was delicious! Once we were sufficiently full, we headed out for more exploring. We visited a glass blowing studio and shop, window shopped in some posh stores and then meandered through the botanical garden. By this point we realised it was too late to head to the top of the rock to explore so we set off on a quest to see Euorpa Point, the southern tip of Gibraltar, and the light house there. It was a long walk that took us past numerous huge Navy ships, the 100 ton gun (weird huh?), through two tunnels, a pit stop by the Mediterranean for oranges and English chocolate bars (we also saw a dolphin), a small cafe' where we learned the Spanish word for Lighthouse, Farola, and finally to Europa point. Unfortunately it was pretty hazy so we couldn't see Africa, which is possible on a clear day, but it was a fun adventure. By this point our feet were killing us so we caught a bus back to the main square for a dinner of fish and chips. Once again our stomachs were full so we headed back to our hostal to rest up for our next adventure.

Sunday morning it was back to Gibraltar to conquer the top of the rock and see some apes. That's right, there are apes that are native to the Rock of Gibraltar. Victoria, Jo, and I dished out the money to take the cable car to the top and so started a day of firsts. Once we reached the top, it was amazing, there were apes everywhere. You are encouraged to not take any food with you and not touch the apes as they may bite. We treaded softly but apparently not softly enough as one of the smaller apes decided that Jo's back looked like a fun place to climb and that her blond hair looked like some sort of delicacy that it should try to eat. While this is quite possibly one of the funniest things I have seen in a really long time, Jo I am pretty sure would disagree. She managed to thrash violently enough to throw the ape off her back without being scarred, unless you count emotionally. We proceded to explore the top a bit but couldn't see much as clouds tend to cling to the top of the rock. As you can see by the picture, there wasn't much to be seen. With the fear of being attacked again we began the descent back down the rock. We decided to walk half way down and then catch the cable car at the mid-point back down to the bottom. It was a beautiful walk, which we thoroughly enjoyed. As we waited for the cable car to pick us up, we struck up a conversation with an older local gentleman who shared many interesting facts and tid-bits about Gibraltar. One tid-bit for you, there are more roads inside the rock than there are outside of the rock on Gibraltar. When we finally made it back down to the bottom we set off for the bus station and city number two, Malaga.

Two and a half hours later we arrived in Malaga. We found another hostal, put our things down and set out to explore this tourist trap of a city. It actually was pretty nice. We visited the Alcazaba, not sure what exactly it was, but it was old and beautiful. It was even better because admission was free on Sundays. It was very peaceful as we wound our way through various courtyards and gardens. From the higher spots in the Alcazaba, you could see pretty much the whole city, the cathedral, the castle, the bull ring, ruins of an ancient Roman theater being dug up, and the coast line. The water began to call to us so we left the Alcazaba in pursuit of the Mediterranean and seafood for dinner. We were successful in finding both. Dinner was amazing and then another first for me, putting my feet in the Mediterranean! The water was actually pretty warm. It was so much fun to just walk along the shore, pick up shells, skip rocks, and enjoy the company of friends. The last time I got to do that was in August with my family at the Atlantic near Ocean City, Maryland.

Monday morning we made our way to the last bus station for the trip to Cordoba and eventually Madrid. Monday was hot. When we arrived in Cordoba we saw signs showing the temperature to be 37 degrees celcius which is somewhere close to 98 degrees F. We found a nice little restaurant with a decently priced menu and a terrace to sit outside and enjoyed a leisurely lunch while shooing pigeons away from our good food. After lunch we eventually found the main attraction of Cordoba, the Mesquita, a former Mosque turned Cathedral. The Mesquita is claimed to be one of the most beautiful sites to see in Europe. I would now agree. It was amazing. The mix of Muslim arcitecture and Catholic statues and such was bizarre and awe inspiring at the same time. The enormity of the Mesquita simply added to its brillance. This made the trip well worth it.I think I will leave you with this because I really don't want to relive the 5 and a half hour bus ride back to Madrid with the obnoxious teenagers, the man next to me who sneezed and had snot all over himself, the German movie in Spanish that we couldn't hear, the woman in front of me who kept leaning into the aisle so I couldn't see out the window, and the fact that I couldn't sleep at all. It would just bring up things I don't want to think about. All in all, this was an incredible trip and I had so much fun visiting new places with good friends. By the way, Jo is my guest writer in the next blog entry. Check it out. Also I have posted more pictures from the trip in my webshots albums. Just click on the link on the side. Until later...God bless!