Rest for Weary Travelers

The rain is steadily coming down outside and there is a beautiful covering of clouds over the rolling hills.  We have arrived in England and have gotten settled in a home in the English countryside where we are staying for the next couple days.  This is the beginning of a two week adventure here in the UK and we are excited for our time ahead, not knowing exactly what is ahead, but expectant for whatever God has in mind.
As we begin our two weeks, I’m looking back at the past month in wonder of all that have I seen and experienced, much of which was unexpected.  My second day in Spain I sprained my ankle, causing me to be fairly immobile during my time in Altea.  Even now, almost 6 weeks later, my ankle still has not fully recovered.  Thankfully I am now walking around without crutches, but I’m not yet back to complete motion and stability.  Even with this setback I was able to see God move in me and through me in beautiful ways.
Due to my injury I was mostly limited to traveling within a two block radius of our apartment. But that’s all I needed.  Students would stop by our home to meet with me and I was able to help mentor students from my own sofa.  Students would bring their guitars and we would play music and talk about songwriting and worship leading.  I would sometimes walk downstairs for dinner at to the little Italian restaurant beneath our apartment.  It was there that I became friends with several of the wait staff and a Norwegian family on holiday for the entire month of July.  The family would dine there each night so we would often stop to chat as we passed by and one evening I played a song for them at their request.  I was delighted when they came to a little concert of wine at the AlteArte, the mojito bar/art gallery down the street.  I shared music there with various locals and a number of people visiting from other countries.  It was a blast getting to share myself and my music that evening.
There in my neighborhood I also became friends with Allan and Greggo, owners of a funky little restaurant specializing in gourmet burgers.  We all had a beautiful and unique bond almost instantly and I always looked forward to running into them on the sidewalk or visiting them in their restaurant.  Sarah and the rest of the staff at AlteArte also became friends of ours, as I would often sit at one of their patio tables to make phone calls and access their internet.  During my time limited to my neighborhood I was able to see that I didn’t need to be in all of Altea.  In fact, it felt like God had strategically placed me in Old Town to get to love and bless those who were my neighbors.  In many ways my relationships with those individuals would have been diluted if I would have been spending time throughout the entire town.  Instead I was able to have almost daily interactions with many of my friends there.  It was fun to watch the students join in and also become friends with these restaurant staff, frequently dining at these places that had become favorites of ours.
I also found a higher concentration of care when it came to the students.  My usual M.O. is to get to know everyone and become friends with everyone around.  However, my injury caused me to get to know a smaller number of students, allowing me to spend more time with these few individuals and pour into them at a greater level.  Many students arrived with pain and brokenness in their lives, and over the course of our time there we were able to begin to see breakthroughs and steps in the right direction.  We experienced students stepping out of their comfort zone and seeing God show up in beautiful ways as they extended love to Alteans.  Students created beautiful pieces of art, served the community, built relationships with locals, and loved each other well.  It was really a beautiful thing to see.
Towards the end of my time in Spain I was able to get around a bit more and see some different areas of the town.  I also got the chance to swim in the sea on a few occasions, which were beautiful and special memories!  We ate delicious food and on our last evening in town we went on a sunset cruise off the coast of Altea.  We celebrated together all that God did—much more than we could have asked or imagined.
Now two friends and I are spending two weeks adventuring in the UK.  We have a few stops planned along the way where we are staying with friends or friends of friends, but the rest of our time is uncharted.  We feel like we are on a treasure hunt, excited to see all the surprises that God has long the way.  Our first big treasure has been Jay and Teri, friends of friends who have taken us in for 2 nights.  They are warm, beautiful, hospitable people who have a lovely peaceful home.  It feels like an enormous gift to be under their home receiving rest, nourishment, and refreshment after a month of pouring ourselves out.  I am struck by the beauty of hospitality and generosity in watching people we only met today open up their home and lives to 3 strangers.  i hope to be someone who lives with my life that open and free.
Here in the English countryside I feel a bit like I’m living in a storybook.  I can’t wait to see the story that is being written all around me.  May my eyes, heart, mind, and soul be open.  May I be ready to receive and ready to give.  May I love freely and step into all that awaits me.

Brokenness and Beauty

I’ve been in Altea, Spain for one week now and it hasn’t been anything like I imagined it would be.  Since injuring my ankle 11 days ago, my world has been turned upside down.  The trip I had been looking forward to for months has looked very different than I planned.  I guess in some ways it’s a microcosm of life in general.  You envision life going one way and oftentimes you get sideswiped by something you didn’t see coming. It’s not necessarily bad, and oftentimes you can see the positive in it, but it still is unexpected.

Now that a week has passed, my spirits are higher than my first couple days here.  It’s still really hard to get around the cobblestone streets and steps on my crutches, I’m still in pain, and I’m missing out on several things that the larger group is participating in.  During my first days in Altea I felt extremely overwhelmed and disappointed, and now I feel like I’m in a place of accepting what IS.  No this isn’t ideal and I’m still struggling to see the good in my situation, but I’m beginning to see glimmers of hope.  So much of me wants to write a blog post that ties everything up in a bow and says “Ta-da!  Now I know the grand design behind why my ankle got sprained!  Isn’t God good?”  But I don’t have a neat and tidy explanation.  Even still, I’m seeing good more and more and encouragement seems a little easier to find.
The street we live on is in the Old Town section of Altea.  You can only walk through the cobblestone streets, as they are narrow. There are a variety of cafes, restaurants, shops, and just beneath my bedroom window is a lovely Italian restaurant.  As i write this I can hear someone strumming beautifully on a classical guitar—it really feels like a scene from a movie. Here in Spain people often eat dinner and 10pm and it is not uncommon to see people out until 1:00 or 2:00.  Most nights I fall asleep to the sound of glasses and silverware clinking, and Spaniards talking and laughing with one another 20 feet from me.  These streets are extremely picturesque with flowers, terraces, and history around every corner.  From the terrace on our roof we can see the Mediterranean as it meets the lower section of town.  It all is truly stunning. In some ways it’s very strange to be in such a beautiful and romantic place, and yet be hobbling around on crutches.  It’s become comedic for me to watch the stares, pointing, and comments from people as I slowly pass by.  I can see the empathy on their faces as they wonder in confusion how in the world I am navigating these streets and this town on forearm crutches, and some of them stop to inquire about the accident as I walk by.  One of the blessings I am experiencing is that my ankle truly has become a conversation piece.  Just as you find with someone walking a dog or carrying a baby, they somehow seem more approachable.  I have met several people in our little neighborhood for this very reason.  So far I have become friends with 3 different restaurant owners on our block and I have my bum ankle to thank.  These are people who I literally see everyday.  I’m looking forward to seeing what friendships are forged from this injury.
The students we are working with arrived on Saturday. They are incredible and they are all very hungry for God.  Many of them are in places of transition or brokenness in life, and they have come hoping to draw closer to God and receive what He has for them.  I’ve begun to meet with a couple of them and I am blown away by how mature and open they are, desiring God’s best for their lives.  I’m disappointed to have to skip out on several of the group activities because of accessibility, but I’m trusting that God will pave the way for the right relationships to still be formed.
My ankle and “missing out” on things has meant a lot of solitude and quiet for me.  We don’t have internet at our apartment (except for a sketchy wifi signal from the Italian Restaurant below us), which means that it’s a lot harder to be “productive” or feel connected to the outside world.  It has resulted in a lot of time alone.  I’m calling this time “forced rest.”  Often times even on my weekly Sabbath I will go on an adventure or a hike, and rarely am I truly still.  During these last 10 days I’ve had a lot of being in one place and my options are limited: read, sleep, play guitar, pray, journal, or sit on the terrace in the sun.  My natural tendency in settings like this trip is to want to “go go go,” get to know everyone, sleep very little, and not miss out on anything.  None of those things are an option in my current scenario.  This is a time of quiet, reflection, and solitude.  These things are good.  They’re not always what I naturally choose, but they are good.
So I continue to sit in a place of receiving — trying to soak in what God has for me during this season, and trying to accept help from others.  I truly believe that our God is a God of redemption and He will redeem this.  I’m thankful to be seeing bits of the redemption already, and I will sit with arms open ready to receive whatever is coming.

An Honest Word

I made it safely to Altea last night.  It was quite the adventurous journey with some close calls, but I am really thankful to be here.  This place is beautiful–really beautiful.  The sea is a beautiful blue and the temporary apartment we are in today is overlooking the water with a beautiful terrace.

Last night I got to meet our staff team over dinner.  They are all incredible and I am looking forward to the couple days we have together before the students come on Saturday.  Part of me is really excited to see what is ahead, but if I’m honest I’m not in the best of spirits today.  I am generally an extremely positive person and I am notorious for finding the good in any situation.  But today I’m feeling frustrated, sad, disappointed, and worried.  I’m at the point where my body is starting to hurt in new ways from the stress of my injury.  My right ankle, which I injured, has always been my good ankle, so now my left ankle is starting to hurt from all the strain on it.  On top of that my hands and arms are aching from my forearm crutches.  As we talk about our schedule in the days ahead, it’s sinking in how much I really won’t be able to do.  I love to walk and explore and for these first couple weeks I’m going to be restricted mostly to the house that I will be staying in, which is in the upper part of the city, away from the water.

I know that everything will be fine and I will make it through.  In time my ankle will heal and I will be able to join in with everything here in Altea.  It just sucks right now.  And in the midst of it all I’m realizing that it’s not very often that I’m in a state of helplessness or despair.  I don’t often stop to mourn and admit sadness, but I’m facing it head on right now.  As I read this post back I immediately start judging myself and think “come on, get it together.  Trust God.”  I also get worried of what others might think about my outlook and assume “Gosh, she doesn’t have much faith. Doesn’t she know God works everything together for good? She’s such a downer.”  But I know that if I am to share my joy and triumphs, then I also must share the discouragement along the way.

Thank you for your prayers and encouraging words.  I mean it when I say that they are both welcome and needed right now.  Love to you all!

Learning to Receive

When I mentioned that I thought I was entering a season of receiving, I didn’t think that it would look like this.

Yesterday morning, my friend Emily and I headed out for churros con chocolate and then on to a Sunday open air market filled with handmade goods, Spanish traditional items, and plenty of tourist items.  The market was set up in the middle of a street that was blocked off for the occasion and it was buzzing with energy, packed with people.  I picked out a lovely leather purse at a steal of a deal and we continued on.  I remember looking down for a moment to adjust the items in my purse and secure it to avoid pick-pocketers, when I suddenly found myself on the ground.  On the stone street there was a step down that I hadn’t seen and I fell, hearing a loud crack as my ankle gave way.  I knew that what happened wasn’t good, but given my history of many ankle injuries I was hoping that maybe if I sat there for a few moments I would be able to just walk it off and be fine.  Not the case.  We hobbled out of the market and hailed a taxi to take us back to Emily’s apartment.  I limped up the 4 flights of stairs and we immediately iced and elevated my ankle.  We let a couple hours go by and my ankle appeared to only be getting worse.  We scoured the internet looking for home ankle remedies, and how to recognize a sprain vs. a break.  Just when I’d be convinced that I had a sprain, there would be a line that said “many breaks are mistaken as sprains.”  Not helpful.  After a couple hours my friends Emily and Katya decided that we really should go to the ER.  So down the steps we went and into another taxi.

They rolled me into the ER in a wheelchair and I was immediately extremely thankful to have 2 Spanish speakers with me as they talked with the receptionist and got me checked in.  We waited and all had a great laugh as we heard them call my name over the intercom “ehlihzabehth Hooneecoot.”  After a consultation, they decided to X-Ray my ankle.  We all let out a sigh of relief as they relayed the news that my ankle was not broken and was just a bad sprain.  The doctor told me to mostly stay off of my ankle for the next 2 weeks, continue to elevate it, compress it, ice it, and take ibuprofen.  We headed back to the apartment, hobbled up the 4 flights of stairs again, and the girls went out to the Farmacia to fetch me crutches and a compression wrap.  When they got back to the apartment it was a constant stream of getting me pillows, blankets, snacks, drinks, books, my laptop, etc.  We had been planning to go to a bar to watch a Spain futbol match, but I knew that I couldn’t do those stairs again today.  I encouraged them to continue on with their plans while I stayed behind but instead they decided to stream the game and have friends over to the apartment.  So thoughtful.  We ordered pizza and had a relaxing evening huddled around a laptop.  This morning I woke up and was met with coffee and breakfast prepared for me and brought to my bedside.  Such a blessing and so…difficult.

There is nothing more humbling than having to rely on others.  I pride myself on being an independent woman who can take care of herself.  This past week has been full of things that I couldn’t do myself.  A week ago today I packed up all my stuff and headed north to Redding.  I needed help packing and moving furniture, and I needed my friend Alison to make the trek with me so that I wouldn’t be alone.  When we arrived in Redding we needed help unloading the van and 2 guys we didn’t even know showed up to help.  As I have prepared for this summer and the coming school year I have needed financial help, and my friends have showed up, with one of them setting up a ministry fund for me and others contributing to it. When I landed here in Spain I didn’t know where I was going and Emily met me at the airport to escort me back to her place where she would be hosting me for 5 days.  And now with my injury I have needed constant help with food, ice, pillows, books, and getting around.  In 2 days I will need to travel from Madrid to Altea, where I will spend the next 5 weeks.  I have no idea how this is going to work.  I am on crutches and I will be traveling with a suitcase, handbag, and guitar.  I will need help.  And once I get to Altea I will be homebound for awhile since walking is our only mode of transportation there.  I will need help.

When Emily or Katya ask “do you need anything?” or “can I help?” I want so badly to say “no thanks” or “I got it.”  But the truth is that I actually do need help.  And getting help takes both someone offering it and someone receiving it.  So I’m learning how to say “yes, can you get me some water?” or “would you mind grabbing my laptop and bringing it in here?” or “yes, I’m hungry, thanks for offering to make me dinner.”  I know that Jesus is caring for me through these people who are serving me and through others who are praying for me back home and being an emotional support.  I’m slowly learning to say “I need help” and “thank you,” knowing that I won’t be able to repay people for their kindness.  I am very aware of my need and as I receive help I’m becoming more and more acquainted with the beautiful undeserving nature of grace.

Lord, help me to receive.  Help me know that it’s okay to not have it all together and not be strong all the time.  Help me receive love and care, and help me rely on others.  Open my heart to what You want to do in this season and what you want to teach me and grow in me.