Lessons from Spain

We stood looking at each other, sandwiched between the cold, white floors and stark, fluorescent lights of the airport. It was early – five thirty or six in the morning, maybe. I faced a coffee shop – positioned just behind my parents and my boyfriend. I shifted awkwardly from foot to foot in my red Saucony’s, navy blue sweatshirt, and too tight, too low cut blue jeans, blonde hair in a knot on the top of my head, my new black-rimmed glasses resting on my minimally make-upped face. I kept shifting my red paisley print Vera Bradley duffle from one shoulder to the other while my giant suitcase rested next to me. This was college me – a blend of free spirit, responsible young woman, and unsure little girl.

Three months. Two bags. Was I really going to do this? We made small talk. My mama rubbed my back the way she always does when she’s nervous and asked if I remembered my allergy medicine. As my daddy took my duffle from me, tenderly and entirely caring for my immediate needs the way good daddies do, he asked if I remembered my passport. My boyfriend, Josh, stood there silently watching, aware of his place in this – hands in pockets, with his typical pleasant smirk and puffy, morning eyes peering out from beneath his favorite ball cap.

The black canvas rope dividers loomed behind me, making a path toward the Security check – and beyond that, a path toward the bravest thing I had ever said, “Yes,” to.

Alicante. A small coastal town in Spain. Home of El Universidad de Alicante where I could obtain most of the hours I needed for a Spanish minor and also live in another country for a semester – all for the same amount of money it was costing me to attend my tiny, private Christian university. My friend Katy and I plotted a trip together. We would live together, learn together, and explore together. It was a no brainer.

In my head it would be a grand adventure, and in my heart I yearned for something entirely other than a semester with all the same people, all the same activities, all the same professors, all the same values. I didn’t know, exactly, that I wanted something grander, but now, ten years later, I know myself better. I know that God gives me an inexplicable desire to do the new, do the different – even though I know now, a thing I did not understand then, that I love a good adventure until I am right smack in the middle of it. And then I just want to go home and hide.

So there we stood delaying the inevitable, until Katy had said her goodbyes which was my signal to do the same and join her. I hugged all three of my senders tight and then I walked away. Nearly ten years later, I still remember feeling a thing different than I had ever known, a separation from all that I counted as comfort, all that I held high as the most important things. Each squeaky Saucony step toward Spain felt like the steady severing of my childhood, and in some really significant ways, it was. I turned back to see them standing there, waving, weepy smiles, the smell of coffee still filling up the space. And too tell you the truth, I haven’t thought about that coffee shop, maybe ever – until just now. All I can think about is the fact that at twenty years old, I hadn’t even lived enough to fall in love with coffee yet – but I was moving alongside my best friend to a foreign country. We were going to do a thing that neither of us were really equipped to do.

My family, my boyfriend – these were my people and they represented nearly every piece of comfort I knew. And Spain was my grand adventure.  But for this small town, well-loved, Christian-university girl, this was simply preparation for the grandest of adventures — because everything I know to be true about life, about God and His son Jesus, about people, about perseverance, about joy – I learned it all in Spain.

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