EMBRACING the TENSION BETWEEN NOW and the NEXT BIG THING
By JEFF GOINS, Bailey Utecht, Mandy Thompson
Moody Publishers Copyright © 2013 Jeff Goins
All rights reserved.
SEARCHING for a BREAKTHROUGH
One foot off the plane in Madrid and assaulted by a cloud of cigarette smoke, I knew things were going to be different. In the States, people didn't stand in circles arbitrarily dubbed "smoking zones" and exhale carbon monoxide in innocent strangers' faces. Coughing while I passed such a circle, it dawned on me that I was going to be learning a lot more than Spanish that semester.
A two-hour layover, then we were on to our final destination: Seville.
After arriving in the city with fifty travel companions, I boarded a charter bus full of fellow wide-eyed American college students. As we drove around, gawking at palm trees and olive-skinned commuters, we migrated to our host homes.
Dropped off two-by-two, we settled into the places where we'd be living.
Upon arriving at Asturias Street, the bus was half empty. My heart beginning to thump, I readied myself to meet the people who would be my family for the next three and a half months.
Greeted at the door by a smiling four-foot-something woman, I felt warm lips pressed against both cheeks. My ears were overwhelmed by phrases I barely discerned to be Spanish. Her name was Loli, and she spoke so quickly and with such a thick accent that five and a half years of studying the language were instantly rendered useless.
Crossing cultures should have been easy. Having spent the previous summer in Texas away from my native Illinois, I figured an overseas jaunt would be a piece of cake. How different could another few months in a foreign place be? But despite the similarities in weather, Spain was no Texas. So far, nobody spoke a lick of English, and the people were far less friendly than those in the Southwestern United States.
A few months before going to Europe, my friend Dustin and I hopped into his Chevy pickup to drive sixteen hours from Springfield, Illinois, to Austin, Texas. That first night at the camp we'd be working at for the summer, we slept outside beneath the stars. That summer was full of adventure: we got into the best shape of our lives, grew out our hair, and learned to seize every day for what it had to offer. Dustin started swimming, and I fell in love with running. We were both obsessed with doing as much as we could so we would later have great stories to tell. Racing from one event to the next, never bothering to catch our breath or ask for directions, we refused to miss a thing.
I thought my time in Spain would be similar to my summer in Texas.
I was wrong.
My roommate, Daniel, arrived at Loli's home the day after I did. At first, Daniel and I didn't talk. Unlike my fast-paced summer camp mindset, he had a slower philosophy of life. Having grown up in Idaho, he spent his free time relaxing—and snowboarding. Maybe it was his upbringing or personality, but Daniel didn't seem to be bothered by much. Nothing ever stressed him out or caused him to rush. And frankly, this bugged me. I was in a hurry to do everything: to travel the world, meet new people, and begin my adventure. After we said our pleasantries, my roommate and I fell into our respective routines, which had little to do with each other.
A group of students from my study abroad program investigated some exchange opportunities that allowed us to teach Spaniards English while we learned Spanish from them. The practice was great, but the point was to build real relationships, to make lasting connections with locals. Simply learning and living in another city wasn't enough for me; I wanted more. It was a pride issue. I wanted an impressive story to tell, something more than the typical "I went to Spain, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
Halfway through the semester, one of the guys in our program started dating a Spanish woman, and that made me jealous. Not because I wanted to date her, but because I wanted the story. A Spanish girlfriend? Can you imagine what people would say? Back home, I had a girlfriend, but she was just an ordinary American girl. Her skin was slightly tanner than my pasty variety, but she didn't speak any foreign language fluently. And I was pretty sure she wasn't of gypsy descent—which equated to "boring" in my book. Truthfully, my girlfriend was prettier than my friend's Mediterranean beauty, but that didn't matter. What mattered was he'd done something nobody else did. And it drove me nuts.
I had to find a better story.
Packing my schedule with every activity I could find, I attended church events, frequented flamenco bars, and connected with university students for free language lessons.
Mornings in Spain ran on routine. Getting up around seven, I would jump into the shower to quickly bathe myself before the hot water ran out. Next was Daniel, who always maximized his sleeping time and took his time with everything else. Then, we'd arrive at the breakfast table only before we needed to rush out the door for school. In typical college-student fashion, we often procrastinated, trying to fit as much as we could into as little time as possible.
No matter when we sat down for breakfast, we'd always find Loli already there. It didn't matter how hurried we seemed, she always took her time. Each morning, she'd greet us with a smile and hot plate full of food, telling us to take our time as we scarfed down our toast. You have to understand something: Spanish tostado is nothing like a slice of crusty American carbohydrates pulled from a plastic bag and burnt beyond freshness. Tostado—at least in Loli's house—was a huge hunk of freshly baked bread, lightly toasted to perfection and smothered with whole-fruit mermelada that made store-bought jams and jellies back home seem flavorless. It took minutes just to apply the spread. Despite the deliciousness of the experience, I always tried to rush it.
When we finished eating, Loli would pull out a small Bible study booklet that Daniel and I took turns reading from every morning. Even when were in a hurry, she insisted on our spiritual nourishment before beginning our busy days. As sweet as this was, I initially found it frustrating. Didn't she understand we had somewhere to be? Or at least, I did. Instead of bustling around to accommodate our hurry; Loli would simply sit still, waiting as we gobbled our toast and gulped our juice. Then she'd ask one of us to read.
When it was Daniel's turn, we were in trouble. He joined the program with no previous education in Spanish, so it took him a long time to stumble through a five-hundred-word religious reading in a nonnative tongue. As my terrible luck would have it, those were the days we were running the latest.
After finishing the reading, we'd both spring out the door, jogging part of the mile-long jaunt to school.
The first part of the semester was full of frustration at moments that took longer than they "should" have. At Loli for holding us up. At Daniel for not knowing Spanish. At an entire culture for taking so much time to do, well, everything. For months, I blamed others for making me wait, for not conforming to my expectations. But eventually, I began to see the opportunity this afforded me.
About a month into the semester, Loli asked if I wanted to go on a church retreat with her. Daniel and I had been attending the church where Loli's older son, Juan, was the preacher. Each week, we left exhausted by the long services and hard-to-follow preaching. Learning Spanish in Seville was like learning English in the Deep South of the US: accents are thick and loose, and slang runs rampant. For a textbook learner, following a Spanish-speaking preacher from Seville can be confusing, if not completely disorienting. Despite this, I decided to go on the retreat. It'll be good for me, I thought, to get out of the city and see a slower side of life.
At the time, I'd been going out nearly every night for the past three weeks, staying up till three in the morning, sleeping a few hours, and then getting up for school the next morning only to doze off in class. It had started to wear on me. Maybe this retreat would be just that: a chance to recoil from my self-imposed busyness and reboot. I hoped so.
The weekend began as expected: long services with passionate preaching that sent me straight to sleep. I wanted to follow along, but regardless of how hard I tried, I couldn't keep up. Which is why this was the weekend I began drinking coffee. Never having the stomach for it, I was desperate for something to keep me awake during the drawn-out prayers and extended worship times. I had no choice.
Scooping a few heaps of Cola Cao into my espresso, I took my first sip of the drink and winced. Too strong. A few more scoops of the cocoa drink, add some more milk, and there—it tasted nothing like coffee. Perfect. I guzzled down the caffeinated beverage as if it were the elixir of life. And to me, it was. By the end of the weekend, I was a full-fledged café con leche addict.
Despite the coffee in my system, I still found the services hard to follow. The preacher, who was a guest of the church, spoke quickly and excitedly so much that I couldn't keep track of whether we were talking about Moses or John the Baptist. The vocabulary words and expressions he was using confused me even further. As I flipped through my dictionary in a fury and failing to find the word before he was on to another subject, I decided it was no use. He might as well have been speaking Yiddish.
In between services, I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. Going for a walk will do me some good. Circling around the retreat center, I prayed for a miracle. I started to feel it was a mistake to have come here. Maybe to have come to Spain at all. As I thought this, a voice called out to me. For a second, I thought it was the Almighty calling back in response to my prayer. But then I heard it clearer the second time; it was a child's voice.
"Pepe!" came the voice from behind one of the brick buildings of which there was an abundance here.
A young boy appeared from behind the building and walked toward me.
"Soy Pablo," he said.
Ah, yes. The pastor's kid. As he approached, Pablo grabbed my hand and tugged at it. Curious, I let him lead me to a small, hut-like concrete house where he and the other children were playing.
Pablo introduced me to the group—there were six or seven of them, all gathered together. He pushed me to the front of the group and scooted a lectern in front of me. Yes, a lectern. And then he said the most bizarre thing I thought a kid could say: "Predica."
As in, deliver a sermon. A message. A homily.
My jaw dropped. This was a joke, right? But it wasn't. The kids, as if on cue, all took a seat, their eyes fixed on me, some with Bibles open in their laps.
This is their idea of fun? Doing a pretend church service? I secretly wondered if this might be a cult.
But when I realized they weren't going to let me go until they heard some kind of message, I did what they asked: I preached. In Spanish, with my, bilingual Bible open to help me cheat, I did the best I could, improvising in places when possible. It wasn't eloquent, but the kids didn't mind, nor did they notice I was plagiarizing the entire commentary section from my Spanish New Testament. Throughout the course of my "message," the little ones occasionally emitted tiny "Amens" and spontaneously erupted in worshipful applause. "Alleluia!" one said when I stumbled over a word that was hard to pronounce.
The sermon concluded, and they all stood in unison to sing a song. Not knowing the words, I joined them, anyway. Their passion was contagious. They piously passed an offering plate and even dropped a few euro coins into it.
As the service came to an end, I glanced around, watching these kids emulate what they'd seen their parents do a thousand times.
Maybe, I thought, they aren't pretending at all.
At the end of the service, a little girl, not quite nine years old, approached me with her hand extended. Confused, I shook it.
"Gracias, pastor," she said. Thank you, pastor. But it was more than gratitude; it was a reminder. Literally, the word can be translated, "graces." Watching the little ones linger in this ramshackle sanctuary, shaking each other's hands, I smiled—struck by the beauty of the moment. Alter a month of trying not to fall asleep on Sunday mornings, I'd finally found a church service I could connect with. "Let the little children come to me," Jesus told the religious leaders (Matthew 19:14). Indeed, they did come, and they were generous enough to bring me along with them.
Excerpted from THE In-Between by JEFF GOINS, Bailey Utecht, Mandy Thompson. Copyright © 2013 Jeff Goins. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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