For Better or for Worse (and it can only get better)

My boyfriend informed me last Saturday, May 11th that there were 48 days left until I came home. That did something to me. It’s one of those things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately—once May hit, the feeling that I only have one complete month left here in Spain meant the end really is in sight—but despite the fact I’ve been more homesick than usual as of late, I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ll get back to this at the end of this entry. First, my life for the past three weeks.

April was my biggest travel month after the end of my Eurocircuit in January. I started it in Croatia and closed it out in Salamanca; between the two, I went to Bilbao twice as well as to Valencia. Bilbao always fell between a larger trip, but at any rate my travel itinerary meant I never spent an entire weekend in Santander during the month of April.  Honestly, the timing of that couldn’t have been better. My one large assignment in April was the behemoth European Law survey I mentioned at the end of my last entry; I turned that in the Wednesday before I went to Valencia. Thus, setting up Valencia, a trip I actually took just before I published my last entry, was a bit of a rush. But in case this theme has not become glaringly obvious over the course of my journey here, God took care of that, too.

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Trippy tree in Valencia. Valencia has a lot of weird trees.

I booked my trip to Valencia at the beginning of March, when I found a Ryanair travel voucher for April while I was at Casa de México one evening. I opened the offer for others to join me—when no one accepted on Facebook, I offered Thomas, but his parents were coming to town that weekend. So, I made travel arrangements for one, booking my hostel and preparing myself mentally to swim in the Mediterranean and de-program my brain after my law survey was due. Imagine the stress. Some time passed before I thought about it again, especially because the month of March was so wonderfully full of new friends. In fact, I thought about it so little I don’t even think I mentioned it to anyone—it wasn’t until I was in Bilbao the weekend after I got back from Croatia that I learned the GBU national assembly was taking place in Valencia the weekend I was going to be there.

It was too perfect. As I pressed Ethan and Lina for more information, though, it became clearer and clearer this couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. The one thing that wasn’t too overwhelmingly perfect was that registration deadline had already passed, but having been on the organizational teams for these kinds of events more times than I can count, I knew the deadline was an approximation if anything—someone always dropped out at the last minute. So, I followed the name trail Harriet forwarded me until I found the guy in charge of the asemblea. Really, it wasn’t hard. When he got back to me, I was told the conference had been full until that morning—but, what luck, one of the girls signed up to go had literally just had to withdraw her attendance.

My going meant a few things right away. For one, I ended up being the only student representative of GBU Santander in attendance, which on the one hand made me feel bad because I’m an exchange student and won’t be here long-term, but on the other made me feel connected to GBU even though I’m not officially a member. For another, though, it meant I was left more confused when I got there than before about why it was that I was there. The national assembly is just that—a national assembly, kind of an equivalent of Student Government at Baylor—thus, it’s more for the benefit of long-term members than students like me who basically just pass through GBU by happenstance.

I need to explain a little about how this conference actually happened before I can elucidate this confusion any further, though. First of all, GBU is the Spanish member of an international meta-organization of Christian fellowships I later learned InterVarsity is a member of as well. There’s pretty much one in every country; my friend Regina is a member of the one in Germany, for example. Secondly, though, GBU takes membership very seriously. This isn’t a student group you just join. When you sign up to be a member, you’re confirmed at the national assembly. It requires financial commitment because the equivalents of Rec Week, though optional, in a way carry attendance requirements simply because GBU doesn’t have that many members—it actually is possible to meet every member of GBU, and one of the ways you show your commitment is by going to the camps. I’m analyzing this sociologically to demonstrate the solidarity of the organization, though, not to set it up like some kind of idol. Every GBU member I talked with is sold out to Christ, and though we’re all Christians and all understand the same fundamental truths, I did notice some differences in the character of the Christianity here in Spain that I really liked. Tiff, you’re right, there is unity in diversity within the body.

As for the Asemblea, here’s what I noticed. For one thing, it was less focused on teaching and more focused on organizational mechanics—which makes sense, because what they do at the Asemblea is plan out GBU’s itinerary for the whole year while everyone is there in the same room. On the other hand, because everyone is there in the same room, it takes a great deal longer to get things done. The way decisions are made is quite democratic—or, should I say, quite republican, because only the two delegates from each city can vote—and every item on the agenda is voted on. What surprised me, however, was the amount of things that were not decided by near-majorities. There were a surprising amount of close contests on things such as which book to teach in which half of the long summer camp in 2014. I also found it quite interesting that speakers for the camp were selected and confirmed before being contacted, rather than contacting speakers and then deciding from between the ones who’ve said they might be able to do it. In the end, it took an entire 14-hour day to do what a leadership team probably could have finished in four or five, but on the other hand, it was more open, more democratic, and more interactive with the members of the organization than the way leadership usually works in the United States. It was fascinating to just watch and observe—which was really all I could do, anyway, since I’m only passing through—and to see what worked and what didn’t…because now I have ideas. I may finally be ready to join the UNITE leadership team after all, but we’ll see where God leads.

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I have no idea where this is. It’s in the old city somewhere, near a bunch of cafés. The main cathedral was nearby. I like the flowers.

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The main cathedral. Usual filter.

 

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One of my two favourite shots from Valencia. The main plaza in the old city, usual filter.  

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Weird trees in the long park that used to be the Turia River before it was filled in (not sure what I think about that). They remind me of Dr. Seuss.

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Darth Vader’s Helmet, a.k.a. the music pavillion.

 

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I was trying to be clever. I think it worked.

 

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My other favourite shot from Valencia. Usual filter. All are unedited, by the way.

 

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National Assembly. Everyone who went, or at least mostly everyone.

Valencia itself was a bit of an adventure. Getting to where the Asemblea was held was a bit of a challenge; Valencia has a great public transportation system, but the town where I connected to Benicassím, Castellon, has no centralized public transport system, a fact which lead to me getting on random busses and asking around where I could connect to where I needed to be for about an hour and a half before a nice Russian lady showed me where I needed to go. My hostel experience in Valencia was equally strange, but it was so close to the city centre and the weather was so good I decided not to let myself be bothered. The two weeks after I got back from Valencia, however, were fairly slow, which made it all the more difficult as I began to see signs of something very difficult taking place with my best friend here in Santander. Since the week after I got back from Croatia, I’ve watched a series of changes taking place that remind me painfully of  the choices I made when I had my first taste of absolute freedom in Argentina. As many of you who read this know, that didn’t end well for me, and what happened as a result of those choices scarred me in ways I still feel even now. I hate seeing someone else doing exactly what I did, knowing now that it can only end in a world of hurt that is made all the worse because he doesn’t know Christ. I’ve talked with Luke as well as with a few of my brothers and sisters here about this and their advice has been the same: try and influence him, but don’t take responsibility for his actions. I know they’re right, but that doesn’t make things any easier.

This whole situation pretty significantly overshadowed my second trip to Bilbao as well as my trip to Salamanca. My second trip to Bilbao was for the girls’ day I’d talked about with my friend Regina as we were planning our trip to Salamanca; chronologically, this planning fell just before the first trip to Bilbao, which was before Valencia. The girls’ day was between Valencia and Salamanca, the weekend of the 27th. After an adventure that involved literally running through the Santander bus station to catch a bus that had already left its dock, I floated through the weekend in the same state of autopilot I’d been in when I ran after that bus. I barely remember what happened, just remember fajitas, a lot of sweets it took a fair amount of self-control not to eat, and a lot of great conversations, though almost all in English because I didn’t have the energy for Spanish. I remember it was good, but that doesn’t do it justice, and for that, my sisters, I’m sorry. By the time Salamanca rolled around, I was exhausted after a long week of a lot of schoolwork and not a lot of sleep. I stayed in the first night while my friends went out. I had to process some things, but really I didn’t want anything more than to sleep.

 

 

The bus ride to Salamanca, I read Slaughterhouse Five and thought about a revelation God had given me the previous week. As I’d learned through a difficult conversation with one of my professors on Monday, I was dealing with an attitude problem involving my becoming very short-tempered when things don’t go my way. I’m a planner by nature, and I’m quite good at it, so from a purely rational perspective it would seem understandable that when a good plan fails, it might make me frustrated. But this is something that contributed to many of the difficulties I experienced on my trip with Elizabeth, probably countless more things before that as well, and it was only now that I connected the dots. Which left me with a question: why do I get so short when something doesn’t go according to plan? What is it I have staked on the plan working out like I want it to? Why do I plan in the first place when God is in control? Why is it God has given me this ability and allowed me to think he doesn’t want me to use it?

I don’t really have answers to these questions yet. I don’t know why I get so short when things don’t go according to plan, only that I do, though that at least is enough information to start working on fixing the problem. I don’t know what it is I have staked on my plans working out perfectly—maybe it has to do with confirmation that I am in fact capable of doing things right, as that’s been a lie I’ve fought since I was a little girl, that I can’t do anything right. Why I plan in the first place, though, I really don’t know. Maybe this is a case of needing to be choosier about the things I do plan. Clearly this is a gift—one comment I’ve heard a number of times when students here see my planner is they wish they were that well-organized—but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve wrapped a bit of a value-judgment in things going according to plan, so when they don’t, it’s like someone telling me I can’t do anything right, which prompts a more instinctual and less rational reaction.

Salamanca was more difficult than it should have been. It was beautiful, as my pictures can show you better than I can tell. It should have been carefree, but it wasn’t. That night, when we went out, I was having flashbacks at the first place we went and it made me nauseous. A series of unwise decisions later and I was questioning my ability to do anything right more strongly than I ever have before. I spend the morning in tears on the patio while my friends were asleep. Later on, when I talked with Regina after she’d woken up, I received one of the best pieces of advice and validation I’ve ever received, which Luke confirmed when we spoke that evening: I shouldn’t focus so much on the things I do wrong, I was told. I do a lot of things right, and those are worth more—especially since Jesus has already paid by his death for all the things I and everyone else who have ever lived have ever done wrong. No, that doesn’t mean keep being an idiot and do it knowing you’re justified, but it does mean that when you turn back with a heart that’s agreeing with you, you leave your bags at the door and go on with a clean slate.

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The corner of the library and the university from the circle where Regina, Faith and I had our coffee that morning.

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Cathedral. I’ve kind of had enough of them by this point, but this one was honestly pretty impressive.

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Trying to be creative again. The “Evolution of Spanish” feather quill, usual filter, unedited.

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Well, hello.

 

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The holiest astronaut there ever was.

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The cathedral where the holy astronaut lives.

 

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Now I’m just being silly.

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Professor Trelawney’s divination classroom? No, it’s the chapel at the University of Salamanca, one of the Harry Potter sets.

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Trippy hallway. My camera wouldn’t focus.

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Famous library we weren’t allowed into.

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Faith and Regina on the Puente Romano.

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This guitar duo we listened to over lunch reminded me of two guys I met in Oxford who were so good I bought their CD. I’d have bought one from them as well but they didn’t have any with them.

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Plaza Mayor near where our hostel was. (The hostel was on Plaza Mayor.)

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View from the window. 10 points for the bird.

I was in a haze when I left Salamanca, so I wasn’t able to appreciate how beautiful it was until after I got back to Santander and looked at my pictures again. It really is, and what a blessing to have been able to go there. What a blessing to be here in Spain, even.  I’m nearing the end of my time here—no, I haven’t seen everything I could have, but that doesn’t matter. Travel, for me, is no longer about the place but the people who are there. This isn’t your professor’s study abroad—not even yours, perhaps—it’s barely even about school, as I’ve found out each and every time I’ve placed more importance on my schoolwork here than I should have and, somehow, God manages to orchestrate things so that I’m not allowed to be stressed out about school. He did that on Saturday: after learning Friday night that I made a 70% on my European Law survey, which is the lowest grade I’ve ever gotten on the most difficult assignment I’ve ever done, I was starting off on my long list of homework this weekend and couldn’t focus when he told me to go to the beach and listen to Mere Christianity—so I did, I listened to all of book one, came back and had the most productive afternoon I’ve had here in Santander. Just like he said.

This trip isn’t about me. It never was. What I want doesn’t matter. It’s a privilege to be here. I love my friends and I miss home, but darn if I’m not going to make the most of these last 40 or so days while they’re here.

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(I’ve seen some creative attempts to spell my name before, but this.)

P.S. Now, the forecast for the next month so you know what I’m thinking about right now: Tuesday is my law final, then I start three weeks of intense preparation for the alternative assignment my Socialism professor and I arranged following a strange falling out last week with my work group (mostly involving bad communication, though this time it was less my fault). The weekend before I leave is my Political Econ final; after that, I have about five days left to enjoy summer in Santander and say farewell to my friends here in Spain before I hop a plane to DFW. It’s a lot, but on the other hand, the difficult things are coming one at a time, which means I can focus on one thing and do it well, the way I like. I will write again soon.

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