Spain: The Deepening Divide of a Nation

As a self-appointed ambassador to Spain, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to not share my thoughts about what is going on in Spain these past few weeks.  I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do have some personal knowledge, experience, and multiple contacts with others who consider Spain their home. So I submit this post for the benefit of my friends and family who aren’t following the Spanish news and to make a plea to turn our prayers to Spain.

The Catalan government claims it has a mandate to secede from Spain.

My Spanish Education

Prior to participating in the EF exchange program in the summer of 2010, and meeting our host son Pedro, I was very ignorant in European news and knew relatively little about Spain.  My relationship with Pedro and his family changed all that, and over the years led to my two visits to Spain.  My last trip was three years ago around this time and so those memories are very much at the forefront of my mind as well.

It wasn’t long into our time hosting Pedro that we learned of the divide between Spain and Catalonia, the region that desires independence from the rest of Spain. Catalonia is one of 17 autonomous Spanish communities. My first recollection of those discussions revolved around Catalonia’s vote to outlaw bullfighting. Within days after Pedro returned back home in July 2010, that ban was passed.

A few years later when it came time to plan my trip to Spain, discussions came up about visiting Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, along with a multitude of other major tourist areas. Barcelona was ruled out mostly due to its distance; however, I also had the sense that my hosts didn’t feel as comfortable taking me there.

Bullfighting, a centuries old tradition in Spain, is now banned in Barcelona.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched from afar as Catalonia made other attempts toward an independence vote including the election of a pro-independence majority in their parliament.  The independence referendum on October 1 was the most visible and controversial in Catalonia’s attempt to become a separate country.

A History of Oppression

The root of the quest for independence goes back hundreds of years and is not unique to the Catalan region of Spain. Spain has a history of being subject to foreign control by various other imperialist powers—the Greeks, the Romans, the Visigoths, the French, and the Moors to name a few.  Each of these conquerors made their mark on the country and the culture as well.

In recent history, under the dictatorship and rule of Francisco Franco from 1939 until his death in 1975, the Catalan region and culture suffered greatly (along with the Basque Country and Galicia).  For instance, the languages in these regions were officially banned outside of the home. General Franco reinstated Castilian (European Spanish) as the only official language of the State and education, leading to near extinction of the Catalan language, and further loss of their Catalan identity.

In 1975, shortly before Franco’s death, Spain returned to a monarchy under King Juan Carlos I.  Juan Carlos discontinued many of Franco’s policies and restored democracy throughout the country.  Over the past 40 years, Catalonia has gained more political and cultural autonomy and has greatly prospered, becoming one of Spain’s wealthiest regions.  Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain’s economic output and more than a quarter of exports.

The Catalan flag

For a more in-depth look at Catalonia’s history and current climate, check out “Catalunya at a Crossroad” by Rev. Jose and Ada Hernandez, missionaries to Spain.

A Push for Independence

Days before the October 1 referendum, I talked with Pedro about the pending vote. He was not concerned and told me not to be as well, stating that the vote was illegal.  He advised me to not believe the media reports and that the majority of Catalans didn’t support independence. (His comments reminded me of the media bias in America and conversations I had with him during the U.S. presidential election in November 2016.)

I was relieved to hear Pedro’s perspective.  After all, Pedro is Spanish and has lived in Spain his entire life.  Then came the disturbing news reports from Catalonia on Sunday, October 1. Families even staged overnight events at school polling locations to ensure the vote would not be blocked.  However, the national police used force to hinder citizens from voting and confiscated ballot boxes.

I was shocked to see and hear about the ensuing violence, as was Pedro. Nearly 900 people were injured leading to international condemnation of the crackdown. Several days later Madrid issued a formal apology.

Of the 43% of the voting electorate, 90% (2.3 million) favored Catalonia’s independence from Spain. However, most of those opposed to the referendum boycotted the controversial and illegal vote.  Catalan officials immediately declared the referendum results valid, claiming a mandate from the people, and began planning the next steps for Catalan independence, plunging Spain into its worst political crisis in decades.

In the days that followed, uncertainty loomed over the citizens of Spain.

  • In Barcelona, hundreds of thousands of citizens protested in the streets against the police violence that took place during the voting process.
  • King Felipe VI (the son of Juan Carlos I) gave a rare televised address to the nation with calls for unity and condemning the Catalan officials for holding the illegal referendum.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens participated in unity rallies in Madrid and Barcelona. (Pedro and Rosa both attended the rally at Colon Plaza in Madrid.)
  • In Barcelona, people waved Spanish and Catalan flags. They carried banners expressing unity: “Together we are better” and “Catalonia is Spain.”
  • Banks and other large companies in Catalonia announced plans to move their headquarters to other parts of the country.
  • The international community sided with Spain and won’t intervene, saying this is an internal issue.
  • The European Union announced it would not recognize Catalonia as part of the E.U.

Declaring Independence or Not?

Earlier this week I found myself at home on my knees praying for this country that is so near and dear to my heart.  I was praying for peace; I was praying for unity; I was praying for level-headedness to prevail. But most of all I was praying for the people of Catalonia to seek healing for the deep wounds of the past—the suffering at the hands of other nations, the loss of their culture and language under General Franco’s rule, and the injustices that they endured.  I prayed for forgiveness on both sides of the divide—Spain and Catalonia.

The nation was awaiting word from the Catalan parliament meeting where Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was expected to officially declare independence from Spain. In his address to Catalan citizens in Barcelona, he declared independence but also announced the delay of implementing it—to give dialogue a chance with the central government.

October 10: Catalan President Carles Puigdemont signs declaration of independence.

While I was relieved to hear this, it was very short lived.  The next morning I awoke to the response from Madrid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wrote to President Puigdemont telling him to cease “grave actions contrary to the general interest of Spain.” Prime Minister Rajoy’s response is considered a first step toward invoking Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, allowing Madrid to suspend Catalonia’s political autonomy and take over the region.  The deadline for Catalan leaders to respond is Monday, October, 16.

Did they declare independence or not? Will Madrid take over control of Catalonia? It is a war of words.

October 11: Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy responds to Catalan’s declaration of independence.

A Call for Prayer

Given time to reflect on the seriousness of these events, I can’t help but compare it to our country’s history with the Civil War–North against South–and the deep divide it caused.  Although the U.S. remained intact, there are still prejudices that linger in parts of the country, handed down from generation to generation.  Centuries later, a new debate has given rise to removal of Confederate statues in the South and protests during the national anthem at NFL games.  Like Spain, we are not immune to the harboring of ill will and letting bitterness take root.

The author of Hebrews tells us: Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:14-15, NLT)

Will Spain and Catalan set aside their differences and remain united for the greater good of the Spanish Kingdom?

Let’s pray that this war of words doesn’t lead to further deterioration and disunity of the nation of Spain. Let’s pray for harmony and peace to prevail. Let’s pray for forgiveness of the sins of the past and to remove the bitter root that has led to this point in history. Let’s pray for God’s intervention and for a heavenly resolution to this earthly problem.

Will you join me?

UPDATE 11/3/2017: The situation in Spain has been changing daily since Oct. 14. After two weeks of political maneuvering and threats, President Puigdemont and the Catalan government officially declared independence from Spain on Oct. 27. Within hours, Prime Minister Rajoy and the Spanish Senate enacted Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. They peacefully took control of the Catalan government. Rajoy announced plans for a regional Catalan election on Dec. 21 to replace the ousted government. Puigdemont and other officials fed to Brussels, while 8 other government officials are in prison awaiting their trial on charges of rebellion, sedition and the misuse of public funds. Prayers are being heard…as peace continues to prevail throughout the conflict.

Joy to the World, Not Just Another Christmas Carol

Did you grow up listening to Christmas music in your home? Does the sound of one of your favorite Christmas carols bring a smile to your face and revive the sights and smells of Christmases past in your mind?

Christmas carolsFa, la, la

Go ahead. No one’s watching (hopefully).  Let’s sing…

Away in a manger no crib for his bed…

Silent night, holy night…

Joy to the World the Lord has come…

I imagine with just a short pause after reading the start of each of those Christmas carols that you could sing the next line to that song, and probably the first verse or the whole song. At least I hope you can.

Did you know that “Joy to the World” was not originally written for Christmas?  It was written by Isaac Watts, a British hymn writer, and first published in 1719.  The song is based on Psalm 98 (verses 4-8) with an intended reference to the Second Coming of Christ, not his first:

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy.

I didn’t realize this myself until I traveled to Spain last fall and heard it in a new context.

Going to Church in Spain

I’ve had the privilege of attending several church services in Spain—most of them in a Catholic setting. One particular Mass stands out though.  It was on Columbus Day, Sunday, October 12, 2014.

I was with my friend and hostess Rosa, Pedro’s mother. We attended the Columbus Day parade in downtown Madrid and then walked to Mass at the Parish of Our Lady of Conception (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora).

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid

Our Lady of Conception, Madrid (Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora)

It was not my first time at this church. Rosa and I attended a Sunday Mass there the year before too, on my first Sunday in Spain.  I had gone to a weekday Mass at a neighborhood church and also visited a few other churches by then, as well as the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, a massive Gothic cathedral from the 13th century.  I had never seen anything like the Toledo Cathedral (below) in my life.

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Gothic front facade of the Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo

Our Lady of Conception in Madrid was nowhere near as grand, but as I’ve come to expect, most Catholic churches in Spain are lined with beautiful religious statues and opulent altars. From my uneducated and American perspective, most of these churches look like what I would’ve considered a cathedral.

Singing in Spain

When I attended Mass my first trip to Spain (in the summer of 2013), the churches did not have any choirs or singing—only limited organ music. I was told it was due to the heat.  (Churches are not air-conditioned in Spain.)

On this day (Columbus Day 2014) with Rosa by my side, I was surprised when I noticed a choir singing at the start of Mass. Even though the song was sung in Spanish, the music sounded familiar.  It took me a few lines, humming the tune to myself, before I recognized the song and could put English words to it.  It was “Joy to the World!”

I’d never heard that song sung outside of a Christmas setting. It gave me a new love for the song.

While I couldn’t sing the Spanish words (no hymnal and no projection of the words on a screen), I could sing it silently in my mind in English. It was glorious to hear a favorite Christmas song being sung in this grand church, echoing through the high arched-ceilings, stained glass, and religious statues.

It sounded like the voices of angels. They really were heralding Jesus and singing His praises joyfully to the world.

Take a listen to this Christmas favorite sung in Spanish and see if you agree.  As you listen, picture yourself inside this lovely church too (interior images below).

 Al Mundo Paz (Joy to the World)

Not Just Another Christmas Carol

I once heard it said in church that singing Christian hymns and songs of worship is like praying twice. Stripped of my ability to audibly sing “Joy to the World” in my native tongue, it was like praying it in my mind—and praising Him in my heart.

According to Wikipedia, as of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most published Christmas hymn in North America.  But now you know, as do I, that it isn’t just another Christmas carol.

Here are the lyrics to read or sing, in this new context of glorifying Christ’s Second Coming instead of His first over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem.

Joy to the World
By Isaac Watts

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders, of his love.

And if you haven’t heard it, here’s a re-mix of the song by Chris Tomlin called “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy).”  May your Christmas and New Year be filled with unspeakable joy!

A Personal Invitation: Conference & Prayer Journey in Spain

Have you ever dreamed of traveling to a foreign country? Learning about the culture and history?  Walking through the historic or religious sites that are centuries old?  Do you have a desire to visit Spain?

If you follow my blog you know that I’ve done that. Twice!

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In Segovia, Spain on mission, October 2014.

A Personal Invitation to Visit Spain

Since those two trips I’ve become somewhat of an ambassador for Spain, sharing about the country, its culture, and the religious climate any time the opportunity arises. I’ve come to realize that Spain is a very popular tourist destination with Americans—often running into people who have traveled there.  I’ve not heard a bad review of this beautiful country.

Friendly people.

Easy to communicate despite the language barrier.

And a place where Americans and our tourist money are welcomed.

So do you want to go to Spain?

Next spring, missionary and Pastor Josh Fajardo, from the church where I spoke last fall, is leading an organized prayer journey through many of the same places that I traveled to on my personal pilgrimage in 2013—from Madrid to Southern Spain.

As a writer who fell in love with Spain, and has a pulse on the spiritual climate, my desire is to put Spain on the radar, so to speak, for others. So I’m putting on my ambassador hat and inviting you to follow your heart to Spain!

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, where I worshiped one day while on mission to Spain, October 2014.

The Trip to Spain

This 10-day trip to Spain, scheduled for April 14-24, 2016, starts with a women’s prayer conference in Rivas, a suburb of Madrid. The conference is sponsored by Women’s Ministries International, a nonprofit that supports and empowers programs in under-developed countries. Male attendees will have separate speakers and be involved in other activities during the women’s conference.

Prayer Journey 2016During the 10-day trip to Spain travelers will ride via motor coach to sites with historic and religious significance in Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Málaga, and Seville. Each day of the prayer journey portion of the trip starts with a devotional and time spent in prayer.  The mornings are organized group time visiting cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, museums, or royal palaces.

After the traditional midday meal, you are free to explore the city and familiarize yourselves with the culture and the people in a more personal way. Everyone reconvenes over the evening meal (very late by American standards) to share what God is doing in their lives and where He met them in the streets of Spain.

Here’s what Pastor Josh, who organized the trip has to say about it:

“If you studied Spanish history you learned how Spain has influenced continents and has contributed to the economic and spiritual development of many countries in both hemispheres. Today, it’s a different story…Christian history informs us that Spain never experienced spiritual reformation.  This is why we are inviting you to join us in praying for God’s power to be revealed on this nation!  God is calling His people to participate and intercede!  Is your heart moved to pray for a people that have strayed away from God?  Consider becoming a prayer partner, join us on this journey and be a part of a spiritual awakening in our generation in Spain!”

My Personal Experience

As someone who has been to all of these places except Málaga, I can attest to their amazing beauty, and historical and religious significance. Spain was conquered and divided into regions ruled by Muslims and Christians. It wasn’t until the fall of Granada in 1492 that Muslim rule ended in Spain. Granada and the Alhambra, the palace and fortress compound from which the Muslims ruled, will be visited as part of the prayer journey in Southern Spain.  (I toured that in 2013—incredible!!!)

I can also attest to the breadth of religious history and context that Pastor Josh has to impart to those on the trip. For instance, before I returned to Spain last fall, Josh told me about the auto de fé (religious courts) held in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor during the Spanish Inquisition several centuries ago.  I was shocked to learn that after the judgment was pronounced, heretics were burned at the stake (in Plaza Mayor).

Auto de fe by Francisco Rizi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Auto de fé, Plaza Mayor, 1680, painted by Francisco Rizi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I returned to Madrid for the CR mission last October, I visited Plaza Mayor again and saw it in a new light. Josh also told me to look for the sculptures depicting scenes from the religious courts.  This historic scene along with others was barely noticeable on the backs of public benches surrounding the lamp posts in the outdoor plaza.

Plaza Mayor is one of the most popular tourist sites in Madrid, but there is no marker or mention of this piece of history at the plaza. Having this new spiritual context of Plaza Mayor led me to pray for healing in the country in new ways.

Why go?

God got a hold of me and gave me a heart for Spain and the need for spiritual renewal in the country during my first trip there, which was not part of an organized tourist package. What I reference above about Plaza Mayor is just one example from my own personal experience of how seeing a country from a spiritual perspective (like Josh provides) makes it a truly enriching, moving, and life-changing experience.  It will awaken stirrings in your heart for the people of Spain.

I could go on and on about Spain, and as a self-proclaimed ambassador for the country, I will in time write more about it. For now, check out the brochure about the conference and prayer journey, Spain-Prayer-Journey-Brochure-2016, or visit the registration page at Women’s Ministries International.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1, NIV)

Present day Plaza Mayor at night

Present day Plaza Mayor at night

Commemorating Christopher Columbus in Spanish Style, Part 2

What would it be like to celebrate a national holiday in a foreign country? I wondered that myself when I found out that I would be in Spain on October 12 for Fiesta Nacional de España, otherwise known as National Day, or Columbus Day in America.

In my last post about National Day in Spain, I shared some of the historic monuments to Christopher Columbus in Andalucia, the region of Southern Spain. This post is dedicated to the monuments and festivities in the nation’s capital, Madrid. (Neither of these posts take a stand on the controversy with replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. So please vent elsewhere.)

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Spaniards proudly display their flag at Columbus Square in Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Festivities in Madrid

National Day is a public holiday throughout Spain marked by celebrations and a day off work for employees. In Madrid, a military parade has been held every year since 2000, when this day was also recognized as Spain’s Day of the Armed Forces.  Most families stay at home and watch the parade on television.  For me, it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience—sort of like being in Washington DC for a historic parade.  If at all possible, I wanted to attend and experience this for myself.

We woke up on Sunday morning, October 12, 2014, to a rather dismal forecast of rain for the day. Our original plans were to go to El Escorial, a royal palace about 30 miles north of Madrid.  My host family was not in favor of going due to the rain in the forecast.  It also put a damper on my hopes to attend the military parade.

However, much to my surprise, Rosa volunteered to escort me to the parade. Umbrellas in hand, we took the underground metro to the center of Madrid in search of the best place to watch the parade.  By the time we arrived at Plaza de Cibeles, an iconic symbol of Madrid, the clouds had parted and blue skies were glistening above.

The streets were closed and the crowds were swarming the area in search of a location to view the parade.  Rosa knew her way around and led us directly across from the Cybele Palace, a large cathedral-like building that is one of several landmarks in Madrid.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

Plaza de Cibeles, blocked off for the parade, Madrid, October 12, 2014.

National Day Parade

There wasn’t much time to waste. I wiggled my way into the standing-room-only crowd of people, settling into a spot about 10-people deep in front of me.  Rosa had seen the parade numerous times in her years of living in Madrid and waited further back behind the throngs of people.

The parade was ushered in with a rumble of military aircraft soaring overhead. The planes released plumes of red and yellow smoke trailing behind in a formation that represented the colors emblazoned on the Spanish flag.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

Spanish pride on display from the air.

As the parade started I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My only other knowledge of a military parade was seeing tanks and other military vehicles on TV, like seen in old time movies or documentaries in school.  This wasn’t like that.  No tanks.  No large armored vehicles to speak of.

The parade was presided over by the recently inaugurated King of Spain, Felipe VI. The crowds cheered as his limousine passed by with the Royal Family inside.

The parade was primarily a display of various regiments of the military each dressed in their unique uniforms.  They were mostly marching on foot.  Some were prominently carrying their rifles in upright positions pointing straight into the air.  Others traveled the parade route on horseback. Their uniforms were varied as well—bright colors and some with Arabian type robes draped over them.  I didn’t know what branch of the military each was from or understand the differences (and couldn’t ask anyone due to the language barrier).  Military sounding music, maybe the national anthem, was being played on portable speakers scattered around the area.

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I’m rather tall, but didn’t get much of a glimpse of the parade. I raised my cell phone above the crowds to get some pictures and video.  It was the first time I realized how helpful owning a selfie stick would be.  For a feel of the parade, watch the short video clip I recorded below.

Columbus Square

The parade was over in less than an hour, and Rosa and I headed on foot to our next destination, Sunday Mass at a local church, Parroquia Concepcion de Nuestra Señora. We followed that by meeting Pedro and Rafa (Pedro’s father) for lunch at a nearby German restaurant, La Fábrica Biermuseum.  Even in Spain, they get tired of eating Spanish food, but not drinking good beer.

Twice on our walks to these other destinations, we passed by Madrid’s monument site to Christopher Columbus, Plaza de Colón, or Columbus Square.  Prior to the military parade, the Spanish flag was raised at this site by the King of Spain, Felipe VI. We missed that ceremony, but thousands of people were still surrounding the site, only a few blocks from where the parade was held.

Location of the flag raising ceremony.

The first time I saw this monument and the flag was my second day in Spain in the summer of 2013. My host family took me on a walking tour into the heart of the city, past Columbus Square and Plaza de Cibeles and several other historic landmarks.  (Oh my aching feet!)

Jet-lagged and somewhat still in shock that I was actually in Spain, I was impressed by the beauty of the Spanish flag towering over the majestic concrete sculptures at the monument site.  It is the largest flag in Spain measuring 46 feet high x 69 feet long.

The largest flag in Spain.

The largest flag in Spain.

The Square is made up of three parts. The first is a statue of Christopher Columbus perched on top of a large column in the center of a traffic circle on the Paseo de la Castellana (the Castilian’s Mall), one of the longest and widest avenues in Madrid.  The statue of Christopher Columbus is pointing west toward America.  The sculpture was created by Spanish sculptor Jeronimo Suñon in 1885 and is surrounded by a fountain at the base of the column.

Next to the statue of Columbus is an entire city block that commemorates this Spanish hero. It is made up of the Gardens of Discovery, where the Spanish flag is located, and another monument to Columbus.  The large monument along Calle de Serrano (Serrano Street) is made up of three large concrete structures that represent the three ships in the voyage to the New World in 1492. The monument was sculpted by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios.  The three sculptures bear texts and figures related to the history of Columbus.

Monument commemorating Columbus' voyage in 1492.

Monument commemorating Columbus’ voyage in 1492.

History Comes Alive

In writing these posts about National Day in Spain, I had to rely somewhat on the internet. Sadly that is because my time at many of these monuments was so limited and because of the language barrier.  (For example on both of my trips to Madrid, I walked through Columbus Square, but never got up close to any of the monuments.)

It is one reason why I take so many pictures and keep a journal when I travel. When I’m back home scrapbooking or just looking at my photographs, it brings my travels, even the minutest details, back to life.  And I can research and translate things more at my leisure, like I did for these posts.

This 2-part series on Christopher Columbus has made my Spanish travels richer and more meaningful, and given me a greater understanding of American history as well. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse of these historic places and monuments to Christopher Columbus in Spain.  I leave you with a few photos from this special day in Madrid.

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Commemorating Christopher Columbus in Spanish Style, Part 1

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The opening line of the poem “In 1492” about Christopher Columbus takes me back to my childhood when we learned about Columbus and his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a new trade route to the East Indies.

Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

I never thought at that time that I would someday travel to Spain or visit the historical places that led to his explorations. But I did!

When I was young, my mind was focused on remembering the dates and details so I could do well in my class. Decades later, the main thing I remember are the names of his first voyage ships—the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria—and the date he discovered the New World: October 12, 1492.

Christopher Columbus’ Significance in Spain

Today is not only Columbus Day in America, it is also a holiday in Spain, Fiesta Nacional de España, or National Day. When I heard that Spain commemorates the day that Columbus set foot in the Americas, it surprised me. Although Columbus claimed vast territory for Spain with his explorations, and governed areas of Hispaniola, Spain doesn’t govern in that part of the world any longer.

When I admitted my ignorance around the subject to Pedro, he explained that Christopher Columbus launched a new era of wealth and power in Spain. Christopher Columbus, known as Cristóbal Colón in Spain, is a national hero. Just like the U.S., there are monuments to Columbus in many places throughout the country.

In my travels in Spain in the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough to visit some of those monuments and historic places where Columbus ventured on his quest for funding of his journey across the Atlantic. During a week long vacation in the region of Andalucia, in Southern Spain, with Pedro and his parents, I started to get a feel for the vast and complicated history of Spain.

In the summer of 2013, I visited Granada, Cordoba, and Seville, Spain.

In the summer of 2013, I visited Granada, Cordoba, and Seville, Spain.

Let me start out by saying, that before our travels, I had very little knowledge about these places or the history of Spain.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Granada

My first glimpse at the intersection of American and Spanish history related to Christopher Columbus was in Granada, Spain. We walked through Plaza Isabel La Católica.

In the center of the square was a monument to Queen Isabel and Christopher Columbus. The monument was sculpted in Rome for the 4th centennial of Columbus’ journey to the New World. It depicts Queen Isabel granting permission for Columbus’ voyage.

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Columbus monument in Granada, Spain.

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After strolling through this square we headed to the Granada Cathedral and the neighboring museum, The Royal Chapel of Granada. The Royal Chapel is the final resting place of Queen Isabel I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, known as the Catholic Monarchs. History truly came alive for me when I walked through the Royal Chapel and viewed the tomb and crypt of these people whose names I learned in school decades earlier.

The tomb of the Catholic Monarchs

The tomb of the Catholic Monarchs

The crypt of the Catholic Monarchs

The crypt of the Catholic Monarchs

The next day we toured the Alhambra, the No. 1 tourist site in Spain. While touring the Alhambra, I learned that with the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in January 1492, all Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula ended. I was starting to piece together the significance of that year and how history really was shifting at that time and under the rule of the Catholic Monarchs.

Alhambra

The Alhambra, a Moorish fortress dating back to 889.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Córdoba

The next stop on our travels through Andalucia was Córdoba. First, we visited another major tourist attraction, the Mezquita, a former mosque converted into a Catholic cathedral in the 16th century. It is a splendid display of Mudéjar (Moorish) and Renaissance architecture and religious history.

Being so slow and deliberately trying to take in all of the beauty and reverence I missed out on another Columbus monument. We walked through the stifling heat (over 100 degree Fahrenheit), to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (the castle of the Christian monarchs). This served as one of the primary residences of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand.

Unfortunately it was closed by the time we arrived. In the summer, the site closes at 3:00 PM due to the heat and the traditional time for a Spanish siesta.

We walked along the exterior medieval walls of the castle, taking a few pictures, and marveling at the structure from the outside. Inside was another statue with Christopher Columbus. This monument commemorates the first meeting here of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand in 1486.

Christopher Columbus Monuments in Seville

Our final destination on this vacation through Andalucia was Seville. It was there that we met Rosa’s brother Paco, and his family. He spoke English and served as my personal tour guide in Seville. He is well versed in the culture and history of Spain and particularly so in the architecture.

That was most evident when we toured the Seville Cathedral, completed in the early 16th century. This cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the 3rd largest church in the world. Unbeknownst to me, it also housed the burial site of Christopher Columbus. It was sort of a surprise at the end of the tour.

At the exit doors to the cathedral, Paco pointed out the tomb of Christopher Columbus. It was a grand monument—with the tomb being carried by four kings of Spain represented by kingdoms in Columbus’ lifetime, from Aragon, Castile, Leon, and Navarre. His remains took a circuitous route from Valladolid, Spain where he died, to the present day Dominican Republic, to Cuba, and now to their final resting place in Seville in 1898.

This partly explains why Paco told me that Columbus’ remains were only rumored to be in this tomb. Depending on who you believe, it does appear that at least some of his remains are buried there. DNA testing was done in 2006 to confirm it.

Seeing this monument with Columbus’ remains towering above the royal figures of Spain gave me much more insight and understanding about the place he played in this country’s culture and history. He was a hero and represented the dawn of wealth and power for this beautiful country.

An Ambassador for Spain

The burial site of Christopher Columbus was a fitting end to my Andalucía vacation and Spanish history lessons. There are many other monuments to Columbus in Spain. Someday I hope to return to Spain and see them—most notably in Barcelona or Valladolid, where he died.

As someone once told me, my travels to Spain have turned me into an American Ambassador for Spain. I still have dozens of ideas on posts I’d love to write about my travels and the sites and history of Spain.

In 2013, I saw it through the eyes of my Spanish hosts. In 2014, I saw it more through the eyes of religious history. I’m fascinated by it and am quick to tell people about Spain whenever I get a captive audience.

Date marker on Columbus monument in Madrid.

Date marker on Columbus monument in Madrid.

In my next post, I’ll describe more about the Columbus monuments in the nation’s capital, Madrid, and my adventures there on National Day (Columbus Day) last year.

Fertilizing the Soil in Spain & France through Prayer

A year ago at this time I was traveling through France and Spain on a church mission. It was a fantastic trip, and not your typical sort of international mission. The purpose was to spread the gospel by speaking and teaching about Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program launched at Saddleback Church over 20 years ago.

CR is in 69 countries with the materials translated into 28 languages.  So why did I go to Spain and France? The Lord has given me a heart for His people in Spain and continues to prompt me to pray for their spiritual needs; France because of an invitation from an American missionary and colleague who invited me to share my testimony.

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

Sharing my testimony at the CR meeting in Grenoble, France (October 2014)

As I mark the one-year anniversary of my mission, it’s time to pass on an update from my missionary partners and to share more about the spiritual climate in these countries.

Preparing for a Harvest in Spain

I’ve always believed that the mission was only made possible because of my personal pilgrimage to Spain in the summer of 2013. I prayed throughout the country in numerous churches and cathedrals. In preparing for that trip, the Lord laid it upon my heart to pray for a spiritual awakening in Spain. Within six months, I was invited to return and lead a Celebrate Recovery seminar in the suburbs of Madrid.

While in Spain that first summer, my prayers weren’t related to Celebrate Recovery or for the Lord to use me in Spain. I liken my prayers to how Jesus spoke in parables about the harvest (Luke 8). My prayers were tilling the spiritual soil in the country. They were focused on preparing the spiritual and physical atmosphere to be open to the Lord’s work. When I returned to Spain on mission last fall, I continued to pray in the same vein, fertilizing the message that was taught in the CR seminar.

The Fruit of our Labor in Spain

If you were to look at the fruit one year later in Spain specifically, it may not look like much. You can’t point to the launch of a CR program at any local churches. You can’t point to continued training of the participants. What you can point to is that the message was received and is being welcomed by the seminar attendees.

We left the attendees with Spanish copies of Life’s Healing Choices (Ocho Decisiones Sandoras), written by John Baker, co-founder of Celebrate Recovery. This book breaks down the 12-steps into recovery choices or principles that are more easily understood in individual and small group settings. Some of the seminar attendees have worked through that book and are eager to share the information they learned.

The CR content is also being integrated into the curriculum being taught at the John Wesley Bible Institute (launched after our seminar). Another exciting development shared by my missionary partner in Madrid, Pastor Josh Fajardo, is that he has been meeting with an evangelical priest interested in the program.

The First CR Harvest in France

While in Spain CR has barely been introduced, in France there is one known CR group that is up and running. That group is led by my missionary partner in Grenoble, Marvin Klein, at E.P.E.G.E. where I shared my testimony. That CR ministry has been active for two years.

Regular attendance at the weekly meeting is 16 people—10 men and 6 women. These participants are wrapping up the ministry’s inaugural step study groups and preparing for leadership. Consistency and momentum grew in the women’s group following my visit.

Marvin also shared with me that they are working on making the ministry more visible to the outside and plan to create a video about the program. He has continued contact with a friend who attended the Spain CR seminar who is interested in applying the CR material to teens and young adults. Marvin is also in communication with a French priest and a missionary in Barcelona who are both interested in the program.

The European Soil – Religious History & Cultural Context

Why is this significant? It’s because of the European religious history and cultural context. From my perspective, the European church is still years behind the shift that the church has experienced in America.

I’ve been in recovery for over a decade. Early on in my journey, I attended one of the oldest CR ministries in our state. It was at a time when the talk about vulnerability, codependency, and boundaries was starting to catch on in the church. Christians attending secular recovery groups like AA and Al-Anon started to drift toward CR.

Slowly the church has embraced the concept of spiritual poverty. Other ministries have been birthed, books and Bible studies have been written, and sermons preached—all pointing to some of the key concepts taught and practiced at CR. This results in Good News for Christians in America. However, I still believe that if people truly embraced their brokenness, CR meetings would be standing room only every week.

France and Spain also both have deep spiritual and emotional wounds related to the Church. It’s similar to the deep divide that occurred in the United States when the Civil War separated our nation between the North and the South over slavery.

St. Bartholomew's Massacre

St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, 1572, Paris (Painted by Francois Dubois)

With the birth of the Protestant Reformation Movement by Martin Luther in 1517, France became divided in its religious beliefs. This led to bloody massacres, a series of religious wars, and forced conversions to Catholicism.  Intense animosity still exists, handed down from generation to generation.   Unfortunately, Europeans in general have turned against the organized church.

The spiritual history in Spain is no less traumatic with the blood of Christian martyrs buried in the soil. The Protestant Reformation Movement never made a stronghold in Spain. However, the Spanish Inquisition was very effective for over 300 years (1478-1834) at keeping heretics to a minimum. The goal of the Inquisition was a pure and unified Spanish-Christian race.

In 1492, over 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Another 750,000 remained and forced to convert to Catholicism. It wasn’t until earlier this year that Spain finally passed a law to grant their descendants the right to dual Spanish citizenship.

Although Spain is considered a Catholic country, most Spaniards don’t attend Mass or practice their faith. The country’s Catholic roots and traditions are prevalent in the government, the monarchy, the culture, and the celebration of holidays and religious feasts and festivals. Sadly, towering Gothic cathedrals serve more as museums and tourist attractions than working churches.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, a popular tourist attraction, but few realize that heretics were burned at the stake here during the Spanish Inquisition.

Prayer is the Work

Thankfully I got to attend Mass at a few of these cathedrals and toured several of them as well. It was where I did my best Kingdom work, praying in these sacred structures that weathered the spiritual and physical battles of centuries gone by. It was like being on Holy Ground. I did the same while in France last year, most notably by attending Mass at Notre Dame while on a short layover in Paris.

I still have a vested interest in the fruit being produced in these countries as I continue to pray for their spiritual renewal and healing. It’s one way I can be used by the Lord and have an impact in the Kingdom in spiritual ways unknown to me.

A spiritual mentor once told me that we can change the world if we are willing to be invisible.  I’ve been blessed to be visibly used as the hands and feet of Jesus in France and Spain on my mission last fall. But it started with being invisible in the summer of 2013.

What I think we tend to forget in our busy American lifestyle is that prayer is the work. Thankfully that message has been resonating in theaters across America over the last month with the release of War Room, and its message to fight your battles in prayer first.

Wherever we are, as Followers of Christ, we have access to our Heavenly Father, to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s prepare the way for all we do in His Name by preparing the atmosphere of our hearts and the physical and spiritual lay of the land in prayer.

  • To support the CR work in Spain, click here.
  • To support the CR work in France, click here, and select ‘Klein’ on the drop down menu.

And please help fertilize the soil by lifting their efforts in prayer to bring spiritual renewal and healing into their countries.

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?

Making “Memories,” a CD by Pedro González Arbona

My desk and my mind are cleared of the clutter and busyness of life.  The most amazing music is engulfing me, stirring my senses, and begging me to share its beauty and my joy with the world.

What am I listening too?  It is the new CD by my favorite musical protégé and composer, Pedro González ArbonaMemories is Pedro’s latest foray into the music and film scoring business.

Memories CD Cover

Pedro’s Musical Background   

In the three years since Introducing Pedro González Arbona, his debut album, was released, Pedro’s music has grown by leaps and bounds.  His first album was a collection of his earliest solo piano compositions performed on a Steinway Concert grand piano in a recording studio in Seattle.  It was a gift for his 18th birthday while visiting from Madrid.  It was a monumental day for us both.

I’ve written a lot about Pedro’s love for music and how it was nurtured and inspired at an early age by cinema.  Now his work has matured and blossomed into full orchestral music that rivals the likes of other famous film composers that he admires, like John Williams (Star Wars), Hans Zimmer (most recently Interstellar), and Alexandre Desplat, winner for Best Original Score for The Grand Budapest Hotel at this year’s Academy Awards.

I don’t say this to boast, although it is hard for me to be impartial.  I say this because, at Pedro’s request, I’ve been immersing myself in various film scores over these last few years as well.  I hear the similarities and have been captivated by Pedro’s music.  Not just listening to it, but also as I witnessed it on the big screen at the VIP screening of his movie Tempting Fate, last July in Houston.

Pedro knows music!

Making Memories, the CD

While I was in Madrid last fall, Pedro and I met over dinner one night to discuss his next CD project. On another night in Madrid, he played one of his newest songs for me, “Opening Titles.”   He was fully engaged in the music, as if conducting the orchestra with an invisible baton.  This was Pedro’s first orchestrated piece, complete with pages and pages of sheet music.  Watching his delight in the final cut of this piece, and immersing myself in the music, was one of my best memories while on this trip to Spain.

Sheet music

A proud moment in Madrid: “Opening Titles” plays through Pedro’s sound system as he reviews the sheet music.

Although we collaborated in the production of the CD, it is truly his project from start to finish.  He designed the album cover, titled the album, and naturally, composed the music.  I brought his vision to completion by working in America with our music distributor, CD Baby.  They make worldwide sales and distribution via iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and other internet music sites easy for any artist.

Pedro’s album cover design (above) conjures up feelings of old time movies, before the age of digital technology, with strips of film negatives pinned to a clothesline.  Which scenes will make the final cut of the movie?  Which songs will make the final cut of the CD?

Selecting the Songs

It was a difficult process to select the final 14 songs for this CD.  The music was mostly composed over the last year during a period of prolific musical and artistic inspiration.   I received some of the songs along his composing process.  I’ve collected a large archive of his music over the past four years from his various film and internet projects or impromptu personal musical inspirations.

Some of the pieces included on the CD were composed for the Tempting Fate film, but didn’t make it to the final cut of the movie.  As I’ve come to learn, it is just part of the film composing process.  It gives Pedro the opportunity to showcase them on his CDs or use on other projects.  (The soundtrack to Tempting Fate is available on Amazon.)

Pedro also collaborated with orchestrators (credited as ‘featuring’ in the track titles) to provide the professional sound quality and feel to his music.  The final 14 songs showcase the variety of Pedro’s music composing ability.

Memories Track TitlesThe easiest way for me to describe this album is to say that even though it was not written for a specific movie or movie scenes, it is just like a soundtrack.  The songs conjure up a wide breadth of emotions that are commonly experienced in a movie:  romance, suspense, action, drama, mystery.  You’ll be hooked after the first song!  I certainly was.

So in my next post about Memories, I will take you on a behind the scenes musical adventure through his latest album.  Until then, you can preview one of my favorite songs “The Great Beauty” on Soundcloud or by selecting the song on the media player in the right sidebar on this page.

For more information about Pedro González Arbona and his music, visit pgarbona.comMemories is available for your immediate listening pleasure through any of the links below:

profileYou can show your support for this young artist’s music career by liking his page on Facebook, Pedro González Arbona, composer.

Keeping our Loved ones’ Memories Alive, Part 2

In Part 1 of this post series, I wrote about my 3rd annual letter to my mother after her passing, and shared an excerpt.  Does writing a letter to a deceased loved one seem like an odd thing to do?  I wondered that myself.

Chapter 3 is Verna's story.

Chapter 3 is Verna’s story.

I got the idea from Verna Hill Simms, author (Water Under the Bridge) and contributor to Journeys to Mother Love (along with me).  In her story, “Take Care of Your Mother,” she described how she writes a letter to her deceased mother every year on her mother’s birthday.  At the time our book was published, she had written over 30 letters.

Wisdom from an Older Woman

I reached out to Verna, who will be 94 next month, to ask about her annual practice.  We had never communicated in the past, so I was delighted to receive such a timely and thoughtful response to my email.  Here is Verna’s response:

“I write to Mother because she loved getting mail and I do too. I feel it is another way I can keep her memory alive for my daughters and grandchildren. Hopefully after I am gone the letters will be read and perhaps kept. I have a few letters my mother wrote to her sister around the time I was born and one my paternal grandmother wrote when I was 2 or 3 and I prize them.”

“Keep her memories alive!”  Yes, that is it in a nutshell.  Writing to our deceased loved ones is a way of keeping their memories alive.  It is not just for our benefit, but as in Verna’s case, maybe our letters can be handed down and treasured by future generations as well.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

My mother lived her last seven years in nursing homes.  I took up writing letters to her.  She couldn’t easily read them and so the nursing staff would read them to her.  Because of her health, she couldn’t write back to me. (I received a few of my cards and letters to her with her personal belongings after she passed away.)

letterI have a stack of letters from my mother dating back to my days in college.  I have read them from time to time.  I didn’t appreciate them much in my youth, but now I have a new lens—one of a mother whose children are leaving the nest and is learning to let go.  Her letters comfort me, as I see her love for me in new ways.  They keep her memories alive.

My letter writing has also turned to Rosa, Pedro’s mother, in Spain, commencing with the terminal diagnosis of her mother four years ago.  Rosa and I still communicate through the aid of an online translator in our letters across the globe.  These letters keep our relationship alive though 5,300 miles apart.

Unfortunately, letter writing is becoming a lost art.  It is sadly being replaced by short bursts of text messages beeping on our phones!  (But that is a whole other blog post.)

Benefits of Writing a Deceased Loved One

Because I started this practice of writing my deceased mother for continued healing of my mother/daughter wound, there are parts of my letters that are too personal to publically share or pass on to my family.  However, my annual letters are definitely a way to keep my mother’s memories alive.  It is a way to honor her life and her legacy by taking time out of my busy schedule to spend deliberate and thoughtful time with her.

When I asked my therapist about this practice she gave me lots of clarity and insight on why this is definitely a healthy practice, and worth continuing.  Since my mother had a nervous breakdown when I was 6-years-old, I never really got to know her as a person, nor as an adult.  By writing my mother now,

  • I am letting my mother get to know me.
  • I am having an adult conversation with her.
  • I am building my empathy as I see her through the eyes of an adult.
  • I am identifying who I am and learning more about myself.
  • I am having a relationship with her spirit, not the mentally ill woman she was. (It even feels sacred!)

Love to you Mom, and Happy Birthday!

Hearing these things gave me more confidence in pursuing this annual tribute to my mother.  We weren’t close while she was alive.  Her nervous breakdown when she was 35 years old changed the trajectory of our lives, separating us emotionally for the rest of her life.

Don’t Forget

I don’t want to forget her.  I don’t want to forget the legacy that she left me.  So I choose to keep that alive by writing her every year.  More than that, I am writing about it here on my blog, to inspire others to likewise turn healing into hope.

My mother would’ve been 84 last week.  Happy birthday Mom!  It’s been great getting to know you!________________________________________________________________________________

Verna Hill-SimmsMore about Verna: Verna Hill Simms, started her writing career at the age of 80 after answering a small ad in her local newspaper to form a writers group.  She joined the Jefferson County (Missouri) Writer’s Society, saying it has been one of the best decisions she ever made.

Verna’s book, Water Under the Bridge, is a historical novel, published by Rocking Horse Publishing in March 2014.  Her book is mostly fiction, but a lot of the story mirrors the life she led in the 1920s along with her friends.  Water Under the Bridge is available in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  For more about Verna’s journey into publishing, click here.

The 12 Days of Christmas & the Gifts from our True Love

Did you know that in many church settings throughout the Western World that the Christmas season extends beyond Christmas Day?  This post-Christmas period was popularized by the old song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but truly there are twelve days of Christmas that are celebrated on an annual basis as part of the liturgical calendar.

12 Days of Christmas

The Epiphany

In Christian terms, the twelve days of Christmas are known as the season of Epiphany.  It starts the day after Christmas and ends with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6.  I’ve only become more familiar with it in recent years due to my relationship with my Spanish family and then later due to my adopted prayer times in the Catholic Church.  It is in celebration of the Magi’s (wise men’s) arrival to worship Jesus.

What is the significance of the Magi’s arrival (the Epiphany)?  Until that time, salvation was reserved for the Jews through God’s Covenant with Abraham.  The Magi were Gentiles (non-Jews) who followed the star in the sky from the East to worship Jesus.  They were the first Gentiles to worship him signifying that Jesus came to save us all.  We are also the Gentiles, and were excluded from the covenant.  In celebrating the Epiphany, we are celebrating our inclusion into God’s plan of salvation.

Spanish nativity scene (a Belen), photo courtesy of Pedro's family

Spanish nativity scene (a Belen) courtesy of Pedro’s family

Three King’s Day

In Spain, the Epiphany (feast day on January 6th) is called “Three King’s Day” (Dia de Los Reyes) and has traditionally been more popular than Christmas.  Spanish children look forward to this day and celebrate it with the receipt of presents, like on Christmas.  The giving of gifts on this day is a representation of the gifts given by the wise men, or “Three Kings.”

For children the fun starts on the evening of January 5, when the Three Kings are welcomed into the cities in a parade.  (Spain is known for its festive religious parades with ornate floats and statues.)  Children are rewarded with candies thrown out by the Three Kings along the parade route.  Similar to Christmas in America, children anticipate the arrival of the next day to see what kind of presents the Three Kings have left for them overnight.

Floats being prepared for a Spanish feast day parade, Toledo, Spain, June 2013.

Floats being prepared for a Spanish feast day parade, Toledo, Spain, June 2013.

Gifts from our True Love

Since Three King’s Day is celebrated by my Spanish family, I also make a conscious effort to acknowledge that day with them. This year, I’ve been making many observations since Christmas which remind me it is still the Christmas season.  It has been a deliberate slowing down of the season and watching how God is giving me daily experiences of His love, just like in the song, The 12 Days of Christmas.

It has been an amazing opportunity to witness God’s goodness in my life.  For instance, yesterday was the 5th day of Christmas and my True Love brought me three surprise encounters with friends.  The days before that, I was blessed with special family outings and meals, our annual family card game of Canasta, a wedding ceremony, a movie night out, and a Seahawks victory!

These haven’t been physical gifts.  They have all been experiences to treasure.  They are also reminders to me of how God wants to use me by connecting with others. That got me to thinking about the everyday gifts we receive from our Father in Heaven.

He is good; and yes, life is hard. 

With my ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other health issues, I seem to struggle with it every day.  But when I pause long enough to see the fruit of His love to me, I can see how faithful He has been to bring me through the ups and downs of it all.

Gifts from God

Farewell to 2014

2014 has been another monumental year for me.  I’ve had to normalize that my life keeps getting bigger and that the Lord has called me to go places and do things that I never dreamed possible for Him.

But with God all things are possible. (Luke 1:37)

So tonight when I celebrate the ringing in of the New Year, I’ve decided to celebrate the gifts from my True Love.  I eagerly embrace the coming of the New Year and what’s in store with arm’s wide open.

Happy New Year to my faithful readers, supporters of my writing, and to those who prayed for or donated to my call to share the gospel in Spain. You have all abundantly blessed me in 2014!  May you celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and the gifts from Our True Love every day in the coming year!

What gifts are you celebrating as you ring in the New Year?

HNY 2015

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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