Tag Archives: Spanish

I see you

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I wrote this article last summer for an on-line newsletter about women in ministry.  I was under contract not to publish it anywhere until the newsletter published it first.  Now that they finally used it, I can share this story too.  If you want to see the original page, go here.

I could feel my palms sweat and the index cards in my hands tremble. Taking a deep breath, I slowly recited my Bible verse in Spanish to my conversation partner, Sujen. As a new missionary on the field, three times a week this young Nicaraguan woman would come to my house to teach me how to clean my ceramic floors or how to cook the perfect chicken and rice dinner. And three times a week this introverted missionary would be pushed to my conversational limits by having a Spanish speaker in my house. It was way beyond my comfort zone, but I pushed myself even further.

One day after practicing my Bible verse with Sujen, she casually told me that she was having marital problems. She asked me if I thought prayer would help. I said, “Of course!” With my 3 months of Spanish, I said a simple prayer for Sujen and her husband Jimi. When I opened my eyes, Sujen was crying. I was shocked that the Holy Spirit could do anything with my pitiful little vocabulary – my loaves and fishes’ sack lunch. Right there in my kitchen, I prayed with Sujen to accept Jesus into her heart.

Soon after, Sujen invited my family over to her house for lunch. We followed her directions to the entrance of a little alley where she met us and lead us back through a maze of make-shift houses. Her house consisted of one small living room with a kitchen divided off by a curtain, one bedroom, and a small bathroom with the only running water coming from a pipe shoved through the wall. Her “kitchen sink” was a cold water tap shared by several neighbors just a few steps outside her house. She considered herself fortunate to have running water so “conveniently” placed near her kitchen.

I sat humbly on a stool in her kitchen watching and listening as she taught me to make tortillas by hand. It was such an awesome thing for me to feel the love of God radiating from Sujen towards me. I was the missionary – the one who was supposed to be blessing her – and on that day I felt God shine His love on me through her. There was nothing in her background that could have prepared her to accept a foreigner. Nothing taught her the patience she would need to converse with someone just learning Spanish. No one could have prepared her to be my friend, but God had glued us together somehow, and we were both blessed by the relationship.

I was blessed with her trust when she showed me her wedding photo album. I was blessed with her intimacy when she opened up a well-loved box of photos. With tenderness and a few tears quickly wiped away, Sujen showed me the birth certificates of two baby boys, both stillborn. I saw little faded footprints stamped onto the treasured pieces of paper. I saw a glimpse into her pain. I saw her mother’s heart. I saw her.

After my visit to Sujen’s house, I struggled to put the experience down on paper for my interaction report that week in language school. It was more than just a cultural experience for me. After reading aloud the first few paragraphs, my Spanish disintegrated, and I dissolved into tears under the weight of the kindness I felt from Sujen. I simply lacked the vocabulary to describe it.

In English, I apologized to my teacher. I said, “I just don’t have the words to describe how much it meant to me that she invited me into her home, and that she loves me like that!”

My teacher had such a tender heart. She told me, “But April, we see who you are in your heart. And we can tell that God’s love is there even if you don’t have the right words to say in Spanish.” After that, I began to relax in the knowledge that God’s love was indeed shining out through the cracks in my paltry Spanish and my nervous, introverted social habits.

We don’t need to worry so much about being missionaries who want to save the whole world. Instead we need to see ourselves as women with the love of God in our hearts, just looking for friends with whom to share His love.

 

 

Things I DON’T miss

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We talk a lot about things that we miss from home when we are overseas.  But today I’m going to talk about the things I DON’T miss from my life in America.  This is a video of my son snow-blowing my parent’s drive way.  Obviously this is fun because he never does this in Costa Rica, but if he had to do this all the time, it would lose its charm, I’m sure.

We got to go home for a few weeks at Christmas time to attend a Missions Convention and spend time with family.  One of the first things my big, 16-year old son did when we arrived at Grandma’s house was to stretch out on the carpet and roll around like a dog.  We have no carpeting in our Costa Rican house.  If we did, it would mold.  So it’s fun to walk around barefoot on the carpeting when we get home.  What I didn’t miss was the static electricity that it produced on our clothing and hair.  My skin immediately dried to scales and cracked along my finger tips.  We all developed crusty noses and dry coughs from the sudden lack of humidity we experienced from December in Minnesota.  I don’t miss dry skin!

We no longer have the appropriate clothing for winter in Minnesota.  The kids keep growing, so every time we come home, we have to ask the other family members to save hand-me-down jackets and boots to get us through a couple of weeks.  We used to have a Rubber Maid bucket stored at my in-law’s house full of all our winter coats, snow pants, mittens, scarves, boots, etc, but it disappeared mysteriously.  No one knows where it went.  This past Christmas, one sister-in-law had been saving a box of clothes for us until she discovered that the cat had been using the box as his litter box.  Thankfully she just threw the whole lot away.  So we don’t have winter gear.  I really don’t miss all the bundling up that is required to survive winter.  Nope, don’t miss that at all.

And along those same lines, let me just say that those people who say they could never live without the 4 seasons don’t know what they’re talking about.  I used to say that too, but now I officially HATE winter.  It’s wicked.  Give me a tropical Christmas any day.  I don’t miss the snow and the cold.  Last year I had people send me pictures of snow via Facebook.  That was enough for me.

Finally, my last thing that I DON’T miss is paying full price to go to the movies.  I know it’s kind of random, but let me tell you that we pay about $5 to go to the movies here in Costa Rica.  Now, let’s qualify that.  Some movies come out late and some don’t come at all, but we get the block busters.  All children’s movies are in Spanish with no subtitles.  I feel stupid when all the children around me are laughing and I’m thinking, “What did I miss?  What’s so funny?”  Sometimes we DO go to movies in Spanish, but they just aren’t the same.  For example, Horton Hears a Who just didn’t work in Spanish.  Dr. Seuss doesn’t translate well.  And we saw some Angelina Jolie movie where the dialogue was in a Pakistani language with English subtitles.  Then they put Spanish subtitles below the English ones!  I left that movie with a headache.  Once I watched Madame Butterfly with Spanish subtitles- English actors, playing Japanese characters, singing in Italian, with Spanish subtitles.  I felt so cultured after that.

But our movie-going experience here in Costa Rica is still far better than in the States because we have something that not many of you have up there… the V.I.P. theater.  If we pay a little more, we can watch a block buster movie in the comfort of our own leather recliner!  A waiter comes to take your order while the previews are playing.  You can order anything from sushi to fancy coffee drinks to hot dogs and popcorn.  Your food is delivered to your recliner in style!  And it’s still cheeper than going to the movies back home!  I can’t figure out why this idea hasn’t caught on in the States.  So I have to say, I don’t miss over priced, over crowded theaters.

I guess some of us are just luckier than others.  🙂

Heart Language

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It does not matter how fluent I am in Spanish, there always seems to be a point at which the words coming out of my mouth feel inadequate to describe what is happening in my heart.  When I hit that linguistic wall, I know I need to revert to speaking my heart language.  There are some things that are just better expressed in your native tongue.  For me, the top two situations that require English are Praying and Expressing Love.

Probably because both love and prayer come from the deepest part of my heart, I have a hard time breaking my thoughts down into verb tenses and indirect object pronouns.  Finding the right words is hard work, not the work of the “moment”.  My mind refuses to violate my emotions by forcing them into an unnatural form, twisting and tangling the strings of the heart until they no longer play a pure tune.  It’s like contaminating the deep well of sweet caring with the sweat of labor.  Some things just need to be expressed in my heart language.

For some time now, I have had a desire to tell our best Costa Rican friends just how I feel about them.  I want them to know just how much their friendship has meant to me.  I want them to understand how special I think it is that they would take a risk and get close to a foreigner… especially knowing that we are missionaries who come and go every few years.  It is a lot of work to be friends with someone who struggles to communicate in your language.  I wonder if I would have the courage to be that kind of friend if the shoe were on the other foot.

I want to tell my friends that I love them so dearly, but I just can’t find the right words in Spanish.  I want them to know that I see the risk they took, I appreciate the work it takes, and I am so very thankful for their patient love.  Our friends have opened their lives and their homes and their hearts to us.  They have shared their food and their family.  They have given us more than they will ever know.  They have, in many ways, gone against their own cultural current and opened doors for us that we could have never opened on our own.  Their sacrifice does not escape me.

For a long, long time now, my friends have been silently precious to me.  When I am with them, my heart pulses telepathically.  I love you dear friend!  I love you!  I don’t know how, but I think they can hear my heart beat.  I think they know that my heart is open to them.  They can sense it, though I can’t express it.  I love you with my heart language when my second language doesn’t feel like enough.  And I look forward to the day we meet again in Heaven and we both will speak and understand the language of the heart.

 

Thanksgiving in English and Spanish

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This past Monday I taught a little lesson about Thanksgiving for the Chapel at the school where I teach.  I wrote it in both English and Spanish.  My neighbor, the 4th grade teacher, is a Costa Rican and the two of us tag-teamed reading the lesson.  I thought it would be fun for some of you to see the lesson in both English and Spanish.  Now I warn you, I have not had anyone edit my Spanish this time, so if I really screwed up… don’t tell me.  So here goes nothing:

Thanksgiving

It is one of the most popular American traditions to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Next to Christmas, Thanksgiving is the most popular holiday of the year in the United States.  The traditional story says that the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with an Indian named Squanto and his tribe.  They feasted together and gave thanks to God for their friends, the Indians, who helped them and taught them to hunt, fish and farm in the New World.  But most of this story is just a myth.

The first official Thanksgiving was declared by President Abraham Lincoln, during the American Civil War.  In 1863 Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.  It was a day to thank God for his mercies even while the nation was at war.  The people were to ask God for forgiveness for their sins and to pray for the families who had lost a loved one in the war.  And finally, they were to pray for peace.

Today Thanksgiving has become a time to gather with family and give thanks to God for his blessings.  Even people who don’t believe in God celebrate Thanksgiving.  For them it might be more about the food and football, but they also focus on the blessings of family, friends, and prosperity.  As Christians, we do thank God for his many blessings and for our families, but we are most thankful for Jesus Christ who brought us peace with God himself.  As we eat turkey and celebrate God’s goodness to us, let’s talk together about all the things we have to be thankful for.

Día de Acción de Gracias

 Para celebrar ‘El Día de Acción de Gracias’ es unas de las tradiciones más popular en Los Estados Unidos.  A lado de Navidad, este día es la feria mas popular del año.  La historia traditional dice que los romeros la celebraron su primera cosecha con un idigena se llamaba Squanto y su tribo.  Ellos comieron juntos y dieron gracias a Dios por sus amigos, los indigenas, quien los ayudaban y los enseñaban a ellos para cazar, pescar, y cultivar en El Mundo Nuevo.  Pero la majoria de esta cuenta es solo un mito.

Oficialmente, el primer Día de Acción de Gracias era declarado por El Presidente Abraham Lincoln, durante la Guierra Cival de Los Estados Unidos.  En el año 1863, Lincoln proclamó un Día de Gracias Nacional para será celebrado en el ultimo Jueves de Noviembre.  Era un día para dar gracias a Dios por sus misericordias mientras la guierra nacional.  La gente tenga que pedir perdon a Dios por sus pecados y que orar por las familias quien han perdidos en la guierra miembros de su familia.  Y por ultimo, ellos debieron orar por paz.

Hoy, este día ha sido tiempo para pasar con la familia y dar gracias a Dios por todos de sus bendiciones.  Incluso las personas que no son Cristianos.  Para ellos, podria ser mas sobre la comida y el partido de football, pero tambien ellos sen enfocan en las bendiciones de familia, amigos, y prosperidad.  Como Cristianos, tambien damos gracias a Dios por sus bendiciones y nuestras familias, pero especialmente somos agradecemos a Jesu Christo quien nos compró la paz a nosotros y Dios mismo.  Mientras comemos nuestra pavo y celebremos la bondad de Dios a nosotros, vamos a recordar juntos sobre todas las cosa que tenemos que agradecir.

 

I’m such a Pretender

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Here on wordpress we have these little hover cards that connect a picture to our blogger avatar. So the other day I hovered over someone’s picture and read the bio that came with the avatar.  This person described himself very simply and ended with “and I pretend to go to the gym”.  That gave me a little chuckle.  I thought, “Well he’s a step ahead of me!  I don’t even PRETEND to go to the gym.”  But that got me thinking about the little things in life that we all pretend we do.

For example, have you ever pretended to know what you’re doing when you’re really just winging it?  “I meant to do that.”  Sometimes pretending that you know what you’re doing is the way to fly under the radar, like when you’re wandering through a part of the building where you’re not supposed to be.  “Just act natural.”  Sometimes it’s the way to go with the flow and learn as you go along.  “Pretend you know what you’re doing.”  And sometimes it’s a way to hide your inadequacies.  “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.”

So here’s a short list of Things I Pretend to Do:

~ I pretend to exercise.  I lay down in bed at night and think, “My whole body aches, surely I did something strenuous and exercis-ish to induce this much pain.  I’m sure I was in constant motion for the last 18 hours.”

~ I pretend to follow the news when I really don’t care that much about what’s happening in America.  I don’t live there and it annoys me that Americans think that what happens in their country is so important to the rest of the world.  It isn’t.  (And I don’t care about celebrities either.  It seems like a lot of the news now days is about them.)  

~ I pretend to understand finances when numbers really just go in one ear and out the other… same reason that I can’t remember dates or telephone numbers.  That’s why they invented speed dial!  (I only remember Josh’s old cell phone number which now belongs to a friend.  If I ever have an emergency, I will probably call him instead!)

~ I pretend pray more than I do, sometimes I just make lists in my head or fall asleep mid prayer.  Mostly I just worry and call that prayer.  I’m not proud of that, but it’s true for a lot of us, I think.

~  Sometimes I pretend to understand what people are saying to me in Spanish when I’m really just a sentence or two behind.  For example, yesterday a teacher stopped me in the hallway and started speaking to me about something.  I nodded and murmured “uh-hu” a few times.  But because my brain was in full English mode at that moment, it took me about 3 sentences to capture the THEME of this conversation.  Once I realized WHAT she was talking about I was able to mentally back track and think, “now what did I just commit to do?”  I was going with the flow and pretending I understood each word when I was really racing to catch up with her.

That’s my life immersed in a second language.  I pretend I know what’s going on around here.  I pretend like I know where I’m going.  I pretend like I’m supposed to be here.  I pretend like nothing’s wrong.  And most of the time it all shakes out in the end.

Kick my Crutches out from under Me

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I’ve heard many times that when a person loses one of their senses the other senses become more sensitive and acute in order to compensate for the loss.

I have been speaking Spanish for 6 years now.  I have “Good Spanish Days” where things flow smoothly and “Bad Spanish Days” where my words are clunky and awkward.  I have days when I can’t understand anything anyone is saying to me.  I have days when I want to hide in my house and not speak Spanish to anyone.  I have days when I dread, I mean dread, going to a meeting or get-together because it’s all going to be in Spanish.  I used to loathe going to church and sitting through a 5 hour Spanish service with my 20 minute attention span.  (Those were the days I would end with a migraine from concentrating so hard.)  When I get nervous or angry, I sound like an babbling idiot.

When we first started learning Spanish I wanted to tell everyone I spoke with, “I know I sound like a 2 year old, but I’m really quiet intelligent in English.”  I was usually a sentence or two behind in any given conversation, and even when I wanted to participate by the time I formulated a reply, the moment of opportunity had long passed.  Having my language abilities drastically limited was like receiving a devastating wound, like losing a limb or losing one of my senses.  I felt handicapped, marginalized, ignored, depressed and frustrated.  It changed me in ways I will never be able to fully explain.

Before we left for the mission field I was a pretty shy person, very private and not inclined to talk much with people I didn’t know.  After 3 years of being immersed in Spanish every day we returned to Minnesota for our first furlough.  I noticed the change in my personality right away.  I couldn’t stop talking to people- total strangers- everywhere I went!  It was like I had 3 years worth of English words bottled up inside of me and someone shook the bottle and popped the top!  I just gleefully exploded on the people in the grocery store line behind me, the kid working the McDonald’s drive thru window, anyone in a coffee shop… And the weird thing was that I knew I was  acting like a lunatic, but I couldn’t stop!  It was like having an out of body experience where I saw myself freaking out all these quiet, Minnesota Scandinavians and inside my head I was telling myself, “Shut up!  These people don’t care that you’ve just moved back from Mexico.”  But it was just so EASY to speak now because it was in English.  I had changed.

Another thing that I noticed about myself was more spiritual.  Because my natural crutch of English had been kicked out from under me I found myself relying more on my spiritual sensitivity, especially in churches and in God-related settings.  When I didn’t understand the words of the song, couldn’t understand what the pastor is saying, didn’t have the Bible verses memorized in this new language I actually could FEEL the Holy Spirit much more quickly and more intensely than in the past.  It was like being blinded, yet suddenly seeing with my heart.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but because I had lost something so vital to me, something that helps me relate to those around me, my spirit was cleared of lots of clutter.  I couldn’t excuse my non-participation by saying “Oh, I don’t like that song” or “This guy is boring to listen to”.  My language crutch was gone and I had to stand alone- and that’s when I noticed God standing beside me and supporting me.  It was a painful and sweet experience.

I still have bad Spanish days.  I’m getting better, but I’m probably the least fluent missionary on my field.  But I would rather feel God close to me than to not.  I’d rather stand with the support of God than to stand on my own and ignore my crutches.  Please God, Kick my crutches out from under me and help me to stand with you.