God Knows the Desires of our Heart

It was siesta time on Day 29 of my 42-day pilgrimage through Spain in 2013. This was my 5th day in Sóller, near the northwest coast of Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands of Spain. I was sitting poolside at the summer home of my gracious hosts, the parents of Pedro González Arbona, who we met in an exchange program three years prior.

The day was hot—just like the preceding days. I was still not used to the Spanish heat. Sóller was only slightly cooler than Madrid. It was in the mid-90s; and there was no air conditioning. When we left Madrid the week before, I was expecting cool island breezes and relief from the heat. There was no such luck. I adapted as best as I could, and relished the mid-day siesta to take a bite out of the heat.

The view from my bedroom window in Sóller.

The view from the writing desk in my bedroom in Sóller.

Siesta Time in Sóller

After the mid-day meal which was typically served at 2 PM, the family would turn to siesta mode. Some would take a nap, or others would read or relax by the pool. It was a deliberate time of restfulness and solitude.

Most days I would be in my room with the ceiling fan on, either typing away on my laptop trying to catch up on my writing, or sprawled out on my bed catching a few zzzzz. Traveling away from home without the benefit of an American companion, I considered both an investment in my emotional and physical health.

On this day, I relinquished my writing and my napping to another restful activity. I sat in the shade reading the script to Pedro’s most recent film. It was the script to Tempting Fate, the movie that is now showing across Africa with his music wafting through the theaters.

As I sat there reading with the sound of running water filling the pool in the background, all I kept reflecting on was how God really does know the desires of our heart. I’d love to be able to say that was because of the idyllic setting I was in, or the generosity of my family back home, or my Spanish host family. I had many of those moments in my 6 weeks of living with Pedro’s family.

A Holy Plot Twist

No, on this day it was the content of what I was reading that gave me goosebumps and lit the fire of the Holy Spirit within me. The script was ‘hot off the press’ so to speak. Pedro received it electronically and had a copy made at the print shop in town. He had already made his first pass through the script and had ideas running through his mind on the scenes and music.   I was honored to be the next to read it—mostly because I was his manager, but also because I was one of the few family members who could read English.  (His previous scripts were in Spanish and difficult for me to read.)

I knew very little about the story, and so I eagerly read it. The story opened with a bank robbery scene, lots of gun fire, and the death of a police officer. That didn’t sound like my type of movie.

Immediately following that, the story turned to a scene at a church with African worship music being sung. The sudden shift caught me off-guard and peaked my interest. As I read further and further into the script, I was enthralled with the story, and excited to read how this tale of two Nigerian brothers, one with deep faith fighting for his life against cancer, and the other steeped in a life of crime and drugs, would end.

I was not disappointed. It had a powerful message of redemption and forgiveness. Here’s one piece of great dialogue:

“God owes you no explanation, son. He looks out for you and gives you what is best for you. The important question is not why, but what happens next? And trust me, for those that trust God their next chapters are always better than the former chapters.”

Scenes from the movie Tempting Fate.

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read some of these scenes that challenged the characters in the movie, and would certainly resonate with audiences.

At one point, when I was nearing the end of the script, Pedro asked me what I thought of it. I had a hard time containing my excitement, but told him he would have to wait until I was finished reading. “Only a few more pages,” I told him. “And then we can talk about it.”

“Are you looking for the scenes with music in it?”

“No,” I confessed.

“You are a bad manager,” he teased. I didn’t mind. I was too overwhelmed with the sudden shift in the focus of my trip.

“The first of many more scripts for you to read,” he continued jokingly. But I didn’t take his musical talent or potential success in jest.

God Knows The Desires of our Hearts

God was not only giving me the desires of my heart with this trip of a lifetime, the Lord was giving Pedro the desires of his heart. Pedro dreamed of composing film scores since he was ten years old. Now at the age of 20, he was composing for his first full-feature American film!

A few days earlier, my daily devotional was based on Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” After reading the script of this faith-based movie, I had a teachable moment with Pedro about that scripture and how the Lord’s favor was on his music. He wasn’t sold on the idea that God would really have any interest in his musical success. There were much more pressing things for God to have His attention on like poverty and worldwide issues.  But I begged to differ.

Psalm 37.4

I expressed to him how I believed it was not a coincidence that he had landed this contract at this very point in time. I had been praying for his music to be used by God since the day I found out he was a composer. The script pointed people to God’s love and forgiveness, so his music would do the same. I saw it as an incredible blessing and confirmation that his music really was meant for the big screen.

Since Pedro came into my life five years ago, the Lord has given me many desires of my heart: the friendship of this family across the world, being the benefactor of Pedro’s music, and giving me a mid-life career change into writing (my long lost passion from college).

It’s not because God is like a genie, or I prayed for earthly success or rewards. It is because of my faith shift that started with a deeper and truer relationship with the Lord, and as the scripture says, delighting in Him.

So what about the Movie?

The Lord’s favor is on Tempting Fate too—the movie, the cast and the crew as it plays in theaters across Nigeria and Ghana. It premiered at #3 in the Box Office last week and is getting lots of positive reviews. Nollywood is all a twitter about this Hollywood/Nollywood collaboration.

My prayers continue for this movie and its message. I applaud KevStel Group for producing this film and following their dreams and desires of their hearts to bring quality faith-based entertainment to the big screen.

What about you? Are you delighting in the Lord? Where is He giving you the desires of your heart?

On Mission for God, Part 7 ~ Review & Gratitude

I am struggling! It’s not like last year’s return from Spain.  But I am at a loss on what to write about my trip and how to re-engage in my writing discipline since my return two weeks ago.

I’m not sure what’s up with that. Writer’s block?  Writing fatigue from the mission?  Spiritual attack?  Or just plain brain drain from the last eight months of intense planning and preparations?

The one thing I am reminded of is to have an attitude of gratitude. So I cannot help but write a post about how grateful I am to have experienced another trip of a lifetime.

My Week in France

I am grateful for…

  • The Air France strike. My flight from Paris to Lyon was cancelled so I took the high speed train to Grenoble instead.  That provided me with more time to explore Paris.  I attended mass at Notre Dame, stopped by the Eiffel Tower for a quick photo opp, and bought some souvenirs.
  • The invitation from my American missionary friends to come to France to share my testimony at their church. My hosts showered me with their generous hospitality and acclimated me to life in the French Alps.  We explored nearby villages by foot and scoped out some old cemeteries.  They literally took me to new heights (on a perch thousands of feet above the valley and on mountaintops). God took me to new heights spiritually.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony at the Celebrate Recovery meeting In Grenoble. I met women who resonated with my story and shared my desire for spiritual revival in France.

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My Week in Rivas

I am grateful for…

  • The invitation from Pastor Josh Fajardo to come to his church in Rivas and teach about Celebrate Recovery. I hadn’t even met Josh at this time last year.  God beautifully orchestrated all of these steps.
  • The opportunity to share my testimony in front of a Spanish audience. This also provided the opportunity for Rosa and Pedro to attend and hear me speak in their native language.  It was an amazing blessing!
  • The connections that I made with people in the Rivas church, old and new friends, committed to life transformation through Christ.
  • The privilege to announce that the Spanish version of “Walking My Mother Home” was published as a gift to the church in Rivas.
  • The hope of continued partnership with the Fajardo’s, the church in Rivas, and that CR will take root in Spain.

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My Week in Madrid

I am grateful for…

  • The generous hospitality showered on me by my Spanish family, Rafa, Rosa and Pedro.
  • The hours of walking around Madrid and being able to physically keep up with it all. Some of my walks took me to sights I saw last year, but this time around I was able to appreciate them more fully and explore more leisurely.
  • The opportunity to visit and pray in several local churches.  I treasured each one and especially being able to attend mass multiple times.
  • The comfort and safety I felt with my family and in Madrid. I was able to explore one day on my own, taking the subway, meeting new people, walking to new places, and dining out by myself.  It gave me great freedom to experience Madrid in a new way.
  • The short visit with Pedro’s extended family allowing me to reconnect with a niece who stole my heart last summer and Pedro’s grandfather. We enjoyed the giving and receiving of gifts.
  • The ability to give signed copies of my Spanish story to Pedro’s family and that it can now be shared electronically with other friends and family.
  • The closure and peace I had leaving my Spanish family. I have no idea when I will see them again, but I am trusting the Lord to bring us together in His timing.

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Most of All

I am grateful…

  • To the Lord for allowing me to be His Hands and Feet on the ground in France and Spain, and for perfectly putting all of the pieces into place for me to go on this mission of hope. I am grateful that He stretched me outside of my comfort zone and has grown my faith in new life-giving ways.
  • To everyone who prayed for the mission (before, during or after) and for all of the generous donations that allowed me to follow God’s call to Spain.
  • To Timberlake Church for donating $1500 to cover the cost of CR launch materials for Free Methodist churches in Spain.
  • To the CR leader team at Pine Lake Covenant Church for sponsoring and supporting this mission across the globe.
  • And, to my family for taking care of the household for three weeks and supporting my call to Spain.


Yes, today is Halloween, but let’s not forget to be thankful for the blessings in our lives. Don’t wait for Thanksgiving.  Let’s start a season of thanks-living.  What are you thankful for?


Looking for updates on the CR mission to Spain, check out the blog post series on the ministry site where I serve,  celebraterecoveryontheplateau.org or re-blogged here.

On Mission for God, Part 6 ~ On My Way

I’m on my way! Six months after church meetings here in the States with Spanish pastor and missionary Josh Fajardo, I’m going on mission.

I’m numb. No time to make this pretty. Long lines at security. Rush, rush, rush.

I’m definitely heading to France because all flight announcements are in French and English. Lots to adapt to already.

When I land in Paris 10 hours from now, I’m heading to Notre Dame to take in the majesty of the Gothic architecture and to thank God for the life transformation He orchestrated to bring me to this place and time.

Bon jour.

Update 9/26/2014 ~ I made it to France, with a whirlwind tour of Paris by taxi. My driver spoke no English! I attended mass at Notre Dame and jumped out of the taxi at the Eiffel Tower for a selfie!  More updates to follow.



It’s a Small, Small World

The first time I went to Disneyland was as an adult with my husband. Even though we didn’t have kids at the time, we did venture into Fantasy Land and ride one ride:  It’s a Small World.

At 'It's a Small World', April 2003.

At ‘It’s a Small World’, April 2003.

It’s a Small World, the Ride

I know that people love that song and that ride, but after listening to that song repeat over and over again throughout the ride, I couldn’t get the music out of my head—even though I wanted too.  (It’s no wonder; the ride was over ten minutes long.). Despite that I did make a sacrifice to my mental health and take my kids on the ride on a future trip to Disneyland.

The 50th anniversary of the opening of that ride was earlier this year.  Not that I follow those sorts of things, but I ran into someone who actually worked behind the scenes on that ride at Disneyland.  She was so excited about the anniversary.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her it didn’t conjure up pleasant memories for me.  Below is a short video marking the 50th anniversary.


Spanish Connections Abound

All of this is just fodder for what I really wanted to write about.  In all seriousness, it really is a small, small world.  It has become that way for me anyway over the last few years.  Of course, I am referring to my Spanish connection.

It seems that after Pedro entered our lives in 2010, references to Spain kept crossing my path.  Suddenly I would notice people speaking Spanish around me or run into someone who just returned from Spain.

Starbucks encounter

Hanging out at a local Starbucks

Case in point, just a few months ago while sitting in a Starbucks and reading an email from Rosa, Pedro’s mother, I noticed two women sitting next to me who were speaking Spanish.

I was having a hard time deciphering some words in Rosa’s letter.  She sends them to me in English (via an online translator), but sometimes the Spanish words don’t translate.  So I decided to introduce myself to these ladies and ask for help.  I’m so glad I did.

One woman obliged to explain the translation to me.  In turn I proceeded to get a better understanding of the language and why that particular word couldn’t be translated by the app—even when I tried.  She was from Southern Spain, where I traveled last summer, so we talked about that a bit.  It was wonderful to have this small connection over the country that I now hold so dear to me.

Evan to Spain 03

Evan heads to Spain!

Valencia Bound

The world got even smaller for me recently though when my Spanish connections proceeded to intersect with my oldest son, Evan.  He won a trip to Valencia, Spain on the ‘Magic The Gathering’ Pro Tour, where he would be participating in their next international tournament.  That was when my real Spanish connections came in handy.

Last summer while living and traveling with Pedro’s family, I met some of their family and friends who live in Valencia.  I didn’t travel there myself, but we all met on the island of Mallorca where the family goes on holiday.  These Valencian friends and family spoke very little English or none at all.  Unfortunately that limited my direct conversations with them, but we did spend time together on daily outings to the beach or at parties.

Our daily beach hang-out with my Spanish friends on Mallorca.

Our daily beach hang-out with my Spanish friends on Mallorca.

Language barrier aside, I proceeded to communicate with my Spanish friends with the use of an online translator, like I do with Rosa, and told them of my son’s upcoming travels to Valencia.  These people graciously showed my son around Valencia, took him out to eat, and even invited him to a family birthday celebration at a farm home outside of town.

I was tickled pink to receive photos via Whatsapp (free international texting app) of my son’s time with them.  The only disappointment I had with all of this is that Evan and Pedro couldn’t connect.  Evan traveled through Madrid and had a long layover, but their schedules just didn’t coincide.

A Taste of Valencia, Spain

Since my travels to Spain last summer (and those numerous posts), I’ve now learned how to showcase my photos more in my posts.  One of these days I hope to go back and insert more photos on those posts or write about those places specifically.  (It is quite an archive of over 5,000 photos.)

I’m pleased that I can now share some of my son’s photos from his adventure in Spain.  Special thanks go to my Spanish family for immersing my son in their culture and for their generous hospitality.

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Is it really a small, small world?  Or is it because we have such a big, big God?  I’ll let you decide for yourself.  I’m just pleased that my world keeps getting smaller and the possibilities greater.

A 6-Week Tour of Spain

I can sum up 2013 in one little word, S-P-A-I-N!  It changed me.  It’s a part of me—past, present and future.  So with that in mind, I end my year of blogging, with one final Spanish post.  It is sort of a trip in review, with videos and photos that I haven’t previously shared on my blog. So I’m inviting you to join me, and a few of my friends, on a private tour of Spain.

Tourists (guests) on a private tour of Spain.

Tourists (guests) on a private tour of Spain.

¡Bienvenido a España!  (Welcome to Spain!)

Five months to the day I left America headed for Spain, I embarked on another Spanish adventure.  This time I was joined by a small group of friends who were eager to experience Spain for themselves.  We didn’t physically travel to Spain, but we did all have a Spanish adventure.

Last summer I spent 42 days in Spain living with Pedro’s family—a reverse exchange program, so to speak.  It was a journey three years in the making, after first hosting Pedro in our home in Seattle.  Since my published story in Journeys to Mother Love included this family, my trip to Spain was avidly supported by my friends and family.  So naturally I wanted to personally share my experience with them.

A table full of Spanish souvenirs.

A table full of Spanish souvenirs.

I called this four-hour extravaganza “My Spanish Fiesta.” It was partially in celebration of my birthday, but mostly it was geared at immersing my friends and family in Spain.  Together we explored the sights, sounds, and tastes of Spain.

The Sights of Spain

After the traditional European cheek kiss at the front door, and Spanish greetings, my guests turned their attention to the big screen TV.  Thankfully I didn’t subject them to all 5,000 photos of Spain.  I consolidated it down to a mere 1,000 photos, made into seven videos that related to the various segments of my trip. (Video of the main country of Spain is below.)

We traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Granada, Cordoba, Seville and several locations on the island of Mallorca.  It was a whirlwind of cathedrals, palaces, historic monuments, and tourist attractions.  They also got to meet some of my Spanish family, see where I lived, and get a feel for what it was like to live in Spain and vacation on the Mediterranean.  (Video of the island of Mallorca is below.)

Other notable Spanish sights for the evening were the Spanish flag hanging on the wall and a table full of souvenirs from my trip.  I collected books, jewelry, clothing, hand-painted fans, ceramic pottery, religious statues and mementos, a leather purse, and much, much more.

I was good for the economy of Spain.  “The economic crisis is over,” Pedro declared after seeing everything I bought.

Demonstrating the use of castanets, a familiar sound with traditional Flamenco dancing.

Demonstrating the use of castanets, a familiar sound with traditional Flamenco dancing.

The Sounds of Spain

Most of the videos included Spanish guitar music by Narciso Yepes and Paco De Lucia, from CDs that were gifts given to me by my Spanish family a few years earlier.  Two of the videos were accompanied by Pedro’s original compositions, one of which was composed while I was in Spain.  When the videos weren’t playing, Spanish music was still filling our senses.

And what kind of music manager would I be if I didn’t also treat my guests to an exclusive video clip from Pedro’s first movie soundtrack, Sed de Amor (Thirst for Love).  When the song “The Last Tear” played, it brought a tear to my eye, just like it did the first time I saw it at my private viewing with Pedro’s family.

The Tastes of Spain

Shopping for culinary treats at The Spanish Table in Seattle.

Shopping for culinary treats at The Spanish Table in Seattle.

The biggest hit of the evening, and hardest part to pull off, was the food.  Since I’m a novice in the kitchen, I usually defer to my good friend Stacie to make the culinary delights for my events.  Using a Spanish cookbook I purchased in Madrid, we carefully chose a varied menu of tapas (small plates) to tantalize my guest’s taste buds.

We shopped at The Spanish Table and the Paris Grocery in Seattle’s Pikes Place Market area for the specialty fare the recipes required.  At the top of my list was Iberian ham—the same kind that U.S. Customs confiscated from my luggage at JFK Airport in New York.  I savored the sight and smell of each freshly cut delicate slice of paper thin Iberian ham.*

A successful shopping trip at The Spanish Table.

My friend Stacie joined me for a successful shopping trip at The Spanish Table.

Since my husband truly is ‘el rey de la cocina’ (the king of the kitchen), especially after the recent remodel, he had a major role in the cooking as well.  He made spicy gazpacho and paella to eat, and Sangria, to whet our appetites.  Other tapas included Pan Amb Oli (ham, tomato, olive oil and bread), Mediterranean grilled vegetables, eggs stuffed with tuna, goat’s cheese and onion, and skewers of olives, sundried tomatoes and Spanish cheese.

Goat Cheese Tapa

Goat’s cheese with onion served on bread.


Seafood paella

Dessert ended with an assortment of Spanish cheeses, quince spread (similar to jelly), fruit and nut breads, grapes, and chocolate turrón.  It was just the light touch we needed to cleanse our palettes for the evening.  Magnifico!

Turron & breads

Fruit & nut breads with chocolate turrón.

Cheese & grapes

Spanish cheeses, grapes & quince spread.

A Final Note

That was my fiesta in a nutshell.  Imagine how it was to savor each morsel and be immersed in the sights and sounds of Spain—without the language barrier, of course.  It was a lot to take in, as was my 6-week journey.  There are many times that I still can’t believe I was in Spain this past summer, or that I was there for so long.  It is like a dream.

Dedicating the evening with an opening prayer.

Dedicating the evening with an opening prayer.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my husband for manning the fort while I was gone, and also to him and my sons who suffered through the remodel of our kitchen and two bathrooms at the same time.  Of course, I am deeply indebted to my Spanish family, to whom my fiesta was dedicated.

What happened in Spain in 2013 is behind me, but that trip laid the groundwork for what lies ahead.  God is aligning me with new Spanish connections and planting new visions and dreams for future trips.  In the meantime, I am preparing myself internally for what God wants to do through me here or abroad, and taking one day at a time.

Thanks for joining my little tour of Spain.  I hope you get the opportunity to travel there yourself someday.  If you do, by all means, let me know.  I’d love to compare notes.

Adiós, mi amigos.  See you in 2014!

Pan Amb Oli, served with Iberian ham, a Spanish delicacy.

Pan Amb Oli, served with Iberian ham, a Spanish delicacy.

*Jamón Ibérico is made with an ancient breed of pig found on the Iberian Peninsula.  These pigs, known as “Pata Negra,” are believed to descend from the prehistoric Mediterranean wild boar.  These unique pigs are capable of storing more fat, which enables Jamón Ibérico to be cured much longer than traditional ham, resulting in an intense and complex flavor with an unparalleled note of sweetness.  The nuttiness of this ‘meat butter’ comes from the pigs’ exclusive diet of acorns.

The Reality of Culture Shock

I’ve heard it said that ignorance is bliss.  After my summer in Spain, I’d have to say that ignorance is definitely not bliss.

With all the physical, mental, and spiritual preparation I did for my trip, I never once thought to research what it was like to live in a foreign country.  I heard of culture shock, didn’t really know anything about it except for the general term, and didn’t think for a moment that it was something I needed to be aware of.

Beautiful monuments, statues, cathedrals, and architecture--constant visual reminders that I wasn't in America. (Plaza Mayor, Madrid)

Beautiful monuments, statues, cathedrals, and architecture–constant visual reminders that I wasn’t in America. (Plaza Mayor, Madrid)

What is Culture Shock?

Merriam-Webster.com defines culture shock as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.”

All the while I was in Spain; there were no outward signs of culture shock.  I thought I was adjusting well to all of the changes in environment (except the heat).  My host family repeatedly told me how well I fit in with the Spanish lifestyle.  But inside there was something much deeper going on.  I pushed the anxiety and the doubts about what I was going through aside.  I took each day as a new day to experience Spain, and document everything I could in any free moment I could steal away to myself.

Acting like a stereo-typical tourist, while also fitting in with the Spanish lifestyle, Madrid

Acting like a stereo-typical tourist, while also fitting in with the Spanish lifestyle, Madrid

My Quest for Answers

After I returned home, I did some research on what it is like to physically live in a foreign country.  I found out that culture shock is a real psychological phenomenon.  I stumbled upon it while doing research for some of my earlier posts about Spain.

There is a lot on the internet about culture shock, and this is not intended to a be a lesson about it.  I did find out though that there are four phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery.  Clearly I never made it to a point of mastery, but was definitely trying to quickly adapt through the other three phases.  Another source listed them as stages: wonder, frustration, depression and acceptance.  Just as surprising to me was finding out about reverse culture shock.  All of this explains why I had a hard time re-entering my life in the U.S. and also explains the bouts of depression I experienced.

The psychological effects of culture shock.

The psychological effects of culture shock.

In my quest for answers to what I had gone through, I started to follow blogs of other non-natives living in Spain.  I found sites from ex-pats living in Spain, ESL teachers, pilgrims journeying on the Way of St. James, and the like.  It was a relief to be able to observe their experiences, communicate with them, and most importantly to know that I was not alone in what I was going through.

I’ve also spoken with some missionary friends.  One pointed me to an article on “trailing spouse syndrome”.  I had never heard of that either, but reading that served as another relief for my emotionally weary soul.

Brave or Naïve?

Many people have told me that I was brave to go to Spain alone like that.  Every time someone said that I thought, “but I won’t be alone.”  I was going to live with people I already knew.  Little did I know how this would affect me.

I think that since Pedro, our Spanish host son, so easily adapted to family life in America, and never said anything or showed any evidence of his own culture shock, I just took it for granted that my transition would be smooth as well.  He fit in with us so easily; I think I forgot he was Spanish.

Being brave? No, it's just a unique way of mailing a letter. (Toledo, Spain)

Being brave? No, it’s just a unique way of mailing a letter. (Toledo, Spain)

I am so grateful to my Spanish family for hosting me and opening up my eyes to life in their country.  I miss Spain.  I miss my Spanish family—all 26 of them.  I know I’ll return someday and am already planting those seeds for a trip with my husband.

So was I brave or naïve in journeying to Spain for six weeks last summer?  It was definitely brave!  I have no regrets—only gratitude to my heavenly Father for the experience, the lessons, the love, and the hope He has given me for how He wants to use it for His glory.

Showing off my bravery by eating new foods--pulpo de gallego, a Spanish favorite (Octopus Galician style)

Showing off my bravery by eating new foods–pulpo de gallego, a Spanish favorite (Octopus Galician style)

España Update 9 ~ Home Sweet Home

Homeward bound—Seattle, Washington.  My day of travel started over 16 hours earlier with a bittersweet farewell between me and my Spanish family.  Now I was at JFK International Airport in New York after completing two flights, surviving a bomb scare in Madrid, and avoiding an international incident on my transatlantic flight.

Re-checking my Luggage

As I departed the U.S. Customs area with my 100 pounds of luggage, minus the confiscated Iberian ham, I had a decision to make.  Do I immediately re-check my baggage for my final flight or do I follow my suspicions and search my luggage to determine if anything was stolen?

Seeing the Starbucks at JFK airport was a welcome reminder that I was almost home.

Seeing the Starbucks at JFK airport was a welcome reminder that I was almost home.

Why do I think I was robbed?  During the inspection by the U.S. Customs agent, I noticed my belongings were strewn around in my suitcase with receipts scattered amongst my clothes.  When I packed my suitcase the night before, they were wrapped up in a jewelry bag.  The thought of it gave me a sick feeling in my gut.

As I mulled over my options, I followed the crowd and queued up in the line to re-check my baggage.  The line was moving swiftly, and it was looming large behind me.  Before I knew it, I was at the head of the line.  I was so exhausted and emotionally beat up after my Customs experience, I just didn’t have it in me to re-open my suitcase and face my fear.  I plopped my suitcases on the conveyor belt and pushed any thoughts about my jewelry and personal belongings being stolen out of my mind.

The Last Leg

Thankfully the layover at JFK was void of any further airport hassles or problems.  The time passed quickly as I ate, then emailed, phoned, and texted friends and family while charging my mobile phone.  I was exhausted yet thrilled to speak in English and connect with the voices of people I hadn’t communicated with in six weeks.

My flight from JFK to Seattle was uneventful, but it seemed to last for an eternity.  The 5½ hour flight was on a Boeing 737 where I was squished like a sardine.  Compared to the Airbus A330 from Madrid, I was feeling very claustrophobic, and sleep was very haphazard.  I missed the start of the movie and my mind was done with writing after hammering out seven pages on my flights.

Seattle welcoming committee

Seattle welcoming committee

It was nighttime as the plane descended into SeaTac International Airport.  I’d been chasing the sun for the last 24 hours of travel.  And now I was watching the city lights of the beautiful Seattle skyline below.  “Almost home”, I thought as I fought the tears welling up inside of me.

A Musical Reminder of Spain

On the way to meet my family at the baggage carousel, I made a stop in the ladies room.  While in there, I was totally caught off-guard when I heard one of Pedro’s compositions playing.  “Oh my gosh,” I thought as my adrenaline spiked through the roof.  “How is it possible that his music is playing on the sound system?”

I laughed out loud when I figured out that it was really just the ringtone on my cell phone.  I hadn’t heard my phone ring in six weeks.  On top of that, I had inadvertently changed my ringtone while in Spain.  Laughter aside, it reminded me of the potential of his music and that being broadcast more publicly is just a matter of time.  After all, he signed his first contract to compose for an American full feature film while I was in Spain.

Family Homecoming

I was a puddle of tears when I met my family at the baggage claim.  I clung to my 16-year old son and hugged him lovingly.  “Hola” may have been the first words out of my mouth, but I reverted back to my American hugs versus the European double cheek-kiss that I’d become accustomed to over the last six weeks.  I needed those first few lingering hugs from my son and my husband.

Although I was exhausted and more than ready to head to bed, I knew I had a big surprise awaiting me at home.  While I was gone in Spain, my home was undergoing a major renovation.  My family endured a complete remodel of the kitchen and two bathrooms.  They had been putting the finishing touches on the house in time for the big unveiling when I walked in the door.  It was a beautiful homecoming gift.

Welcomed home and back to America with a bouquet of flowers and a new kitchen.

Welcomed home and back to America with a bouquet of flowers and a new kitchen.

Facing my Worst Travel Fear

After a restless night of sleep and an early awakening by the sunlight, I knew I had to face my fear lurking inside my luggage.  Was anything stolen from my suitcase?  The quick answer to that is yes.

Almost everything was gone from that jewelry bag—nothing of great monetary value, but the pieces were from places I’d traveled in my life that had significance to me.  Thankfully I was wearing the necklace Rosa gave me while traveling (the one I reference in my published story).  I was also wearing a special charm bracelet that connects me to Rosa.  I was relieved when I found out that the thieves missed a second bag of jewelry buried in my clothes and some new jewelry pieces I bought in Spain.

My new Mallorcan pearls survived the theft.

My new Mallorcan pearls survived the theft.

It took me a few weeks of phone calls with the airlines to file a claim and find out that none of my stolen items were covered by insurance.  Going through that process was like being robbed and defiled all over again, but it gave me the closure I needed so I could put it all behind me.

Final Travel Thoughts

Returning back to America on day 42 of my travel adventure had nowhere near the excitement I had when I ended my flights in Spain on my first day.  There was no adrenaline rush to keep me going—only exhaustion, physical illness, and unpleasant travel memories.

My trip to Spain changed me internally and now it was as if these external factors—a bomb scare, my confiscated Iberian ham, and finally my stolen jewelry—were trying to rob me of my joy and leave me with an unfavorable parting impression of Spain.

These physical events have served as fodder on my blog, but they also have much deeper significance.  I hope it serves as a reminder of the choices we have to make when things don’t go the way we expect.  We can blame others, ourselves, or even God.

I know that my circumstances don’t define me.  It is my identity in Christ that does.  While the thieves physically robbed me of my jewelry, my identity in Christ remained intact.

My trip to Spain has changed me in ways I can’t even fully articulate yet—with emotional and spiritual insights and healing.  I am being made new and choosing to boldly follow him in the adventure.  I hope and pray you will too.

My final day in Spain and the view from my apartment, Port of Soller, Mallorca

My final day in Spain and the view from my apartment, Port of Soller, Mallorca

~ This completes my “España Update” blog series, but not my intermittent writing about Spain.  If this is your first time visiting my blog, you can start reading about my Spanish travels here

In the Blink of an Eye

Three months ago when I stepped on Spanish soil, I had to make many decisions about how to live in that country. I had to quickly adapt without the benefit of having my American family or friends with me. I chose to fully immerse myself in everything Spain.

I put aside my allergen sensitive diet and ate most everything I was offered. At first I didn’t notice any dramatic symptoms. I was fighting the heat, dehydration, and jet lag. I guess I was dealing with culture shock as well, but didn’t realize it at the time.

“You made it to Spain! You are experiencing the trip of your life. Don’t miss a second of it.” Those were the words that kept me going. Adapt, adapt, adapt. Push, push, push. “It’s only six weeks,” I reminded myself. All the while that I partook, my body registered everything that was happening.

My trip of a lifetime, seeing sights like the Roman aqueduct from the 1st century, Segovia, Spain.

My trip of a lifetime, seeing sights like the Roman aqueduct from the 1st century, Segovia, Spain.

Now That I’m Home

I returned home from Spain in early August and was again dealing with adjustments back to my American lifestyle and diet. But after the first few weeks, I didn’t bounce back to my old normal self. I knew something was physically wrong. A trip to the naturopath confirmed what I suspected. My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was in relapse.

I’ve been here before. I know it is a slow process to get back up and running to a normal pace—one that includes lots of self-care, body work, and giving myself grace to not push so hard. I have no regrets. It just goes to show that you never know when or how things can suddenly change in your life.

Back in Spain

Case in point, a few weeks after I left Spain, Rafa, Pedro’s father, had a stroke. It came as a big shock to me and, of course, to their entire family. Thankfully Rafa got treatment right away. He is doing much better and a full recovery is expected.

Queen for a day, with Rafa as my escort at the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Queen for a day, with Rafa as my escort at the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Naturally it took me back to the fears I had after my mother’s stroke. She never regained her speech or use of the right side of her body. It also felt like déjà vu to me as I lit a candle in the Catholic Church for Rafa and fervently prayed for this family. My heart ached for Rosa again, and for the burden that fell upon the family while still caretaking for Perico, Rosa’s father.

On the bright side, I was so grateful to have personally met Rafa before this happened. I was thankful for the many special times I had with this family, and Rafa in particular.

Rafa was a wonderful host and tour guide while on my travels throughout Spain. He is an avid shutterbug like me and took lots of great photos of my trip.  He was also my protector in many ways—even going so far as to escort me one Sunday morning on the subway so I could attend a Protestant Church service. I am thankful for his generosity to me and am praying for his continued recovery.

GOD-NEVER-BLINKSIn the Blink of an Eye

A few years ago, I used to have a tag line as part of my email signature block that read: Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks. (Regina Brett) It was a little reminder to trust God when things didn’t go as I expected.

Nothing surprises God. He knows what lies ahead for us. It is up to us how we are going to respond to it.

As I am coming out of denial and learning to accept what I did to my body again, I am believing in God’s promises and clinging to the hope that He offers. His words to me, and others who are hurting in physical and emotional ways, are from a familiar Bible verse: “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV)

I can blink without worry because my hope is in the Lord.

España Update 8 ~ Arriving in America

When I last wrote about my return travel home to America, I had completed one-third of my day’s journey and survived a bomb scare. It was early afternoon Spain time and I was in flight on my Iberian Airlines jet soaring at 30,000 feet toward New York’s JFK International Airport.

Tracking my flight with the on-board GPS

Tracking my flight with the on-board GPS

Although somewhat tired after already being up since 5AM and only having a few hours of sleep, my main focus for the flight was writing.  I didn’t want to miss capturing a word, a thought, an emotion, or any possible revelation that could surface once my fingers hit the keyboard on my tablet.  Sleep would wait until my mind couldn’t coherently piece together another thought that was racing through it.

Airplane Etiquette

Five hours into the 8-hour transatlantic flight, I couldn’t fight the urge to sleep any longer.  When I reclined my seat to the furthest position, I was met with resistance from the woman behind me.  She abruptly pushed my seat forward.  Earlier in the flight I had tried to recline my seat and she, a French woman, responded in the same fashion.  At that time I gave up trying because I didn’t want to cause a scene.  But now she was also kicking my seat.  I was not going to be intimidated by her rude behavior any longer.

Flight attendant call buttonI pressed the call button for the flight attendant and told her my dilemma.  She tried to reason with the woman in English, using the French woman’s husband as a translator.  When the attendant left, I thought all would be fine.  I reclined my seat again.  It was only in that position for a minute or so before the woman proceeded to punch the seat back and kick under my seat again.  My patience was wearing thin, and my body was in need of some rest.

I had just survived six weeks in a foreign country where language was a daily challenge for me.  In this new situation, I decided I was going to use my voice, get my needs met, and use my conflict resolution skills—regardless of the language barrier.  I turned around and calmly spoke with her husband in English.  He was more understanding as we worked out a compromise.

I was a bit nervous about the entire situation, standing up for my airspace rights, and trying to reason with someone who clearly thought she was entitled to bully me for what she wanted.  Even the woman sitting next to me loudly declared, “That is just the French, they think they are so special”.  An international incident was averted, but it definitely reinforced the uncomplimentary things I have often heard about the French.

Nervous about question 11(b).

Nervous about question 11(b).

On American Soil

Toward the end of the flight, each passenger was required to fill out a form for U.S. Customs, to declare items being brought into the country.  A red flag went up inside of me; and I was worried when I saw the question that states: “I am bringing meats, animals, animal/wildlife products—yes or no?”

“Uh, oh,” I thought.  I had gifts of Spanish ham packed away in my luggage.  When I asked the flight attendant if it was allowed, he said ‘yes’ and that I just had to declare it on the form.  “What a relief,” I thought and put it out of my mind.

Upon arrival at JFK Airport, I followed the other passengers towards the U.S. Customs area for re-entry to the States.  There was a huge back up of people waiting that seemed to go for blocks.  It took me a few minutes to realize that this was the line for the non-residents.  There was virtually no waiting at the U.S. resident line.  I laughed to myself and thought how great it was to be a U.S. citizen at that very moment.  As I’m prone to do, to remember these kinds of small details, I took a photo—for reference later when it came time to write about it.

That was not a good idea.  Within seconds, a Customs agent was in my face telling me to “PUT THAT CAMERA AWAY” and “I DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT CAMERA OUT AGAIN!”  I quickly complied with her demands, feeling totally unnerved and shamed by her intimidating behavior.

The agent who then reviewed my Customs declaration form was witness to the entire incident.  He requested that I pull out my camera and show him my recent photos.

DELETE, DELETE—within seconds two photos were erased from my SD card.  Well, I didn’t need those photos to remember anything about this incident now!  This experience had already embedded itself into my memory.  And I still wasn’t cleared to re-enter the country.

Iberian hamMy Poor Ham

Next I was directed to go to a separate area for inspection of my luggage.  Another stoic looking Customs agent was all too eager to demand that I pull my prized ham out of my suitcase.  But first I had to find it.  Of course it wasn’t in the first suitcase.  It was in the heavier of the two—50 pounds of baggage crashed onto the steel table.

I had my next shocking discovery when I opened the suitcase.  Items were strewn about inside—definitely not in the neatly organized way I last saw it.  I immediately told the Customs agent that my luggage was gone through and asked if that was common.  She said it would’ve been tagged if it was inspected.  There was no such tag.  My heart sank as I suspected the worst.

There was no sympathy from the agent.  She just wanted the ham.  I gave her the ham; she inspected it briefly, and said it wasn’t allowed in the U.S.

The Duty Free shop at the Palma airport was full of Spanish products including Iberian ham.

The Duty Free shop at the Palma airport was full of Spanish products including Iberian ham.

I got nowhere with her as I told her how I was assured by the butcher at the neighborhood market that there would be no problem traveling with it.  (Of course, in hindsight, I realize he probably wasn’t privy to U.S regulations, but was most helpful in making sure it was adequately packaged for my trip home.)  She went on about asking me if he had a license to package it, or something like it.  None of this made any sense to me.

“But this kind of ham is readily available at the airport duty free shops in Spain,” I told her as I was trying to make some reason out of what I feared would happen next.  “Why would they sell it to tourists if it wasn’t allowed?” I asked.

“They just want to take your money,” she resolutely said.  There was no reasoning with her.  I was frustrated, bewildered, and helpless to get any understanding or empathy for my situation from the agent.

“But, but, but…,” I almost cried as I watched and listened to my precious packages of specialty Iberian ham being thrown into the trash bin.  That ham traveled from Madrid to Mallorca, back to Madrid, and on to New York, via car, boat and plane.  Now it was lining a garbage can at JFK International Airport.

“Welcome back to America,” I thought, but my thoughts were not in a complementary nature to my native country.   In that moment I was embarrassed to be an American, and dreaded telling my Spanish family the fate of the ham that we so painstakingly secured for my family and friends back home.

I felt beaten up inside and out.  I was crushed.  I was exhausted.  I was alone.  I still had nine hours of travel time before I would be home with my family again.

What happened next?  You can read about how the last leg of my travel turned out on the final update in this series.

What’s your worst travel story?

España Update 7 ~ Departing Spain

Everybody has a story to share about their travels—some comedic, frustrating, or scary. My return flights from Spain to Seattle, 3 flights covering 25 hours of travel, were plum with anecdotes to blog about.  One month after my return home, I’m ready to tell mine, and in hindsight, can chuckle just a little.

In comparison, my flights to Spain 6 weeks prior were very uneventful. I only had one layover and it was on American soil, so I was familiar with navigating U.S. airports, etc.  I was also met at Barajas Airport in Madrid by my Spanish family.  The language difference never really surfaced.  There were no stories to tell, only excitement to share and jetlag to overcome as I lived out my longest day and started my Spanish adventure.

Farewell Mallorca, Spain, my home for 2.5 weeks, summer 2013.

Farewell Mallorca, Spain, my home for 2.5 weeks, summer 2013.

The Best Laid Plans

The first leg of my travel home to America was an early morning one-hour flight from Palma, Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, to Barajas Airport in Madrid.  It was a separate ticket from the roundtrip international portion of my itinerary.  That meant I had to physically claim my baggage and re-check it to the U.S., not something I was looking forward to doing alone.  I made plans to meet up with Victor, another Spanish exchange student, for help, and to reconnect since our last meeting three years ago in Seattle.

Determining a place to meet was one of the comical parts of my journey and opened my eyes to the differences with traveling abroad.  In a text conversation with Victor, I indicated I needed help with my baggage and requested that he meet me at the baggage carousel for my flight from Mallorca.  He told me he wasn’t allowed in that area of the airport.  I thought he didn’t understand my request and asked Pedro to explain where to meet.  In the end, I was the one who didn’t understand as the baggage claim area is a secured area in Barajas Airport, unlike in America.  So I had to initially claim my baggage, nearly 100 pounds of it, on my own.

Squeaking by the 23 kg weight limit with my luggage.

Squeaking by the 23 kg weight limit with my luggage.

A Scary Situation

With my bags in hand at Barajas, I patiently waited for Victor to show.  That was when my trip turned ‘interesting’.  While sitting outside the baggage claim area, a man walked up beside me and, without a word, laid down a backpack next to my luggage.  I watched in shock as he hurried off in another direction not looking back.  I realized immediately this was a safety concern.  However, being in a foreign country, and barely able to speak the language, I didn’t know how to report it.  Luckily others noticed it and called security.

I was long gone by the time security arrived.  I had already eaten up a lot of my layover time waiting for Victor and so I quickly turned my attention to getting to my next flight—praying as I rushed from the terminal dragging my luggage behind me.  I never connected with Victor, later hearing that his phone died and he couldn’t contact me.

While I was a bit fearful about the bomb threat, I was reminded that if I died in that moment that God had answered a prayer I’d had for the last three years—let me see Spain before I die.  Somehow that was comforting to me.  I never heard anything about that mysterious package on the news or while traveling.

A comedic moment, spying the overflowing pile of water bottles at the security checkpoint.

A comedic moment, spying the overflowing pile of water bottles at the security checkpoint.

Navigating Barajas Alone

With no personal Spanish translator, except my phone app, I began texting Rafa, Pedro’s father, for help along the way and keeping him posted on my status.  They had warned me that T4, the international terminal, was a long distance from T2, the terminal where my Mallorca flight landed.  I didn’t realize until I was on site that meant actually riding an airport shuttle bus.  I dragged my luggage onto the standing room only bus to T4, a few miles away along the highway.

Checking in at the Barajas main terminal was another learning experience.  Pedro and Rosa helped me at Palma, but now I was alone.  I asked each airline worker or friendly looking traveler within earshot, “habla Inglés?”

Since I had my boarding pass for my flight to New York, I was directed to a self-service kiosk to check in my luggage.  That kiosk spit out my luggage tags.  Then I had go to another line to actually deliver my baggage and send it on its way.  It was in that line that I met my first Americans.  What a relief!  We shared a few pleasantries and our itineraries.  Then they graciously took my photo—the last one on Spanish soil.

Navigating Barajas Airport on my own with 100 lbs. of luggage.

Navigating Barajas Airport on my own with 100 lbs. of luggage.

Security Checkpoint and Boarding

With my baggage out of my hands, I headed to security, which is less restrictive than American TSA rules—no removal of shoes, no dealing with plastic zip-lock baggies, and no x-ray body scans.  However, they were a lot more thorough with their baggage search—or at least it seemed that way as they took a lot of time with the x-ray machine and going through the carry-ons.  I had also heard other travelers mention a worldwide security alert was issued for air travel the previous day, so that could have been the reason.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Barajas is a huge airport.  It is the 4th busiest one in Europe.  That became very apparent to me on the way to my gate (puerta).  Shortly after leaving the security line area, I saw signs that gave estimates of the amount of time to get to the gates.  Mine read 22 minutes!  Yikes, I thought as I realized the flight was boarding soon.  My 3-hour layover had whittled away to nothing.  My laptop bag grew very heavy as I continued on multiple escalators, moving walkways, and a tram to reach my gate, naturally at the end of the terminal.  The timed signs were actually quite handy as they decreased in value along the way, but the initial estimate was a bit alarming.  I virtually walked right onto the plane with no waiting.

Travel times from the main terminal to outlying gates were posted on overhead signs.

Travel times from the main terminal to outlying gates were posted on overhead signs.

Adios España

As I settled in to my window seat and watched the landscape of Spain soar by below, I was filled with many mixed emotions.  I missed my American family.  After 6 weeks in Spain, I was ready to go home.  My trip of a lifetime was ending.  I didn’t know when or how I would ever return to Spain or physically see my Spanish family again (and still don’t).  It is an uncertainty and pang of the heart that I live with daily and trust God to lead me back in His timing.

My final hours and minutes on Spanish soil were scary and stressed.  The late night before, lack of sleep, and early morning were all starting to catch up with me.  It was early afternoon.  I still had 18 hours of travel ahead of me.

Farewell Madrid, my home for 3.5 weeks, summer 2013. I miss you already.

Farewell Madrid, my home for 3.5 weeks, summer 2013. I miss you already

Re-entry to America was anything but fun.  You can read about my remaining flights home on my next update in this series.

What’s your most memorable travel story?  Feel free to share it in the comments below.

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