I Can’t Roll My R’s

Mi professora habla a la clase.

She talks fluidly, with ease in her own tongue. The language is beautiful to me. And I listen eagerly, trying to soak up every detail, sound, word. Spanish is like music to me — music that I cannot ever get enough of.

And then she talks of la romanización y las romas. And she rolls her r’s so beautifully. Again and again and again. I know I shouldn’t be jealous — she is from Argentina, after all. I was born and raised in Canada with English as my only tongue for the first fifteen years. But I can’t help but wish I could speak Spanish as well as mi professora.

I don’t know why or how exactly that this language became my love. It started as duty then grew into interest and then fell upon passion.

But sometimes, I feel that this passion is purpose less. I’m studying theatre. I want to be an actor. I cannot see where Spanish will fit into my life right now. And I can’t speak well — my upper-level class is killing me slowly, I leave every class discouraged, and I can’t roll my r’s.

I don’t remember learning how to talk. I’ve always been able to speak, as far as I can remember. But now, as I sit in class every Tuesday, its like I cannot talk again. I struggle to produce what I want to say in words. I open my mouth but nothing comes out…

I feel stupid and awkward. Like the cat’s got my tongue and walked off with it. I am humbled, quiet and down trodden.

And I’m realizing that’s what learning a new language is about. Its about being humbled. Its about learning how to learn. It is re-learning how to be and speak and live.

And that is hard. Difficult. Impossible, almost.

But it is necessary for me, I’ve decided. As hard as it is. As humiliating, as agonizing, and as much as it makes me cry every Tuesday night.

There is something magical and strange that keeps me there, sitting in the spinny chair, uttering words that don’t make sense, sputtering mistakes, and trying to roll my r’s.

And so, even though it doesn’t entirely make sense, I will stay.

Por siempre.

The Leaves Are Swirling

I’m really behind on blogging. Really, really, super behind. I feel bad because I’m just replying to lovely comments from last week and I know there are still more to reply to from before I went to university. And my emails tell me that there have been some awesome blog posts lately, but I haven’t had time to read them because the leaves are swirling.

But in my “behindness,” I’ve been thinking a lot. Yes, I have time to think even though I don’t have time to relax except when I sleep. My classes make me think. My profs inspire thinking. The people I see on the bus and the friends I’ve made put new ideas into my brain. Leaves are swirling and its hard to catch up.

I liked university very much on the first day. But the second day was hard, bordering even on awful. On Wednesday, I came down with a terrible cold while reading Flannery O’Conner’s “The Enduring Chill” for English homework (great story, by the way… just not when you feel like you have an enduring chill, too). That cold kept me up for most of the night. Traffic made me arrive just in time for the Spanish class I was already nervous about. The class, which is second year, was very difficult or the girl who skipped Spanish 12. The prof spoke in Spanish pretty much the whole time and we had to speak in Spanish a lot, too. I didn’t know if I could do it. My Acting class was just exhausting with my cold and then when all I wanted to do was go home and cry, the bus was too full. The leaves were swirling in too many heaps and falling all over me.

From that paragraph, one might gather that I hate university now. Well, I’m pretty sure that was true last Thursday. And sometimes when my group has to go first for the Art History presentations or my Spanish prof tells us we have a test on Tuesday, I really do feel like running away and never coming back. I wonder if I’m really cut out for university. “God, why did you ask me to come here? Because it doesn’t really seem to be going that well.” The leaves are swirling too fast.

But the leaves of grace fall quickly down and cover my tears. Because there are blessings indeed. I really like all of my profs. I’ve made many friends. My English prof assigns the best stories and leads awesome discussions! When I don’t have a cold, Acting class is amazing because I can just relax and explore. And my Spanish prof is very nice and encouraging. The leaves of grace tell me that I can do it, that I am good enough, that God is greater than all my fears.

So I’m trying to pray and pray and pray. About everything. About everyone. On the bus, in my classes, while walking around, and in bed at night. I pray for strength, courage, love, joy, peace, and leaves of grace to surround me. And I know that since the Lord has called me here, there is a better plan that my worries could not imagine.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and peitition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Espera, Por Favour

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been waiting for something.

I waited for the cake after dinner. To be in my first play. For my birthday to come so that I would be the same age as my friend, Kaleigh. I waited to jump on horse back and have my first solo in a play. At sixteen, I spent nights of desperation in wait for a special friend to call and the last days of this summer waiting for school to start. Once, I waited for my grandmother to die. I’ve waited for tests, celebrations, emails, and death. Ever since I was little, I’ve been waiting to grow up. Now, I’m seventeen and seemingly starting that life yet I still have to wait.

Today at Spanish, I helped the students with verbs. Tener. Ir. Ver. Hacer. Estar. We talked about meanings. To have. To go. To see. To make or to do. To be. And we conjugated them in different ways. Yo tengo. Tú vas. Él hace. Nosotros estamos. It all made foggy sense to them, I think. Learning a language takes practice and lots of waiting.

“Elizabeth,” one student called. “What does esperar mean?”

Her words struck my heart, yet I answered calmly. “Esperar means to wait.”

All of a sudden, I was in Mexico again. Dirt was on my face and clothing, my braids were wispy and cheeks rosy. Little children clamoured around me, begging with their eyes and foreign lips for piggy back rides. I was overwhelmed by a flock of several children. They swarmed me on all sides and I said in that moment, Espera, por favour.”

It was a beautiful memory and I yearned to go back to that place where it all began. I glanced at my textbook, wishing it could take me to the country where it’s bonito words are spoken. But then I remembered my decision from last weekend and the realization that God was not calling me back to Mexico this summer. My heart sank like a ship and I asked God why again. “Why can’t I go? Why must I wait? It’s been almost two years. Haven’t I waited long enough? I miss it so much and I promised I’d go back.”

And then I heard my fifteen-year-old, swarmed-with-children self say those words once more. “Espera, por favour.” And I remembered, esperar means to wait and that is just what God wants me to do right now.

Because promises made in the quicksands of life are easily dissolved. Since what we want isn’t always what is best. And as God knows just what I need. Sí, I will wait. Wait to go back to Mexico and see those shining faces and say “Espera, por favour.” Wait until January to go to university. Wait to have a boyfriend. Wait for God and His perfect plan and the things that I really need instead of the things that I don’t. Espera, Elizabeth. Espera, por favour.

But I dislike the word wait. It’s ugly and unromantic and far too overused. So, I’ll wait en Espanol. Sí, for it is a melody that way. To esperar is bonito and God’s plan is a song of amor. 

Yo espero porque Dios.

What about you? ¿Esperas tambien? What do you have to esperar for these days?

Part 6: Love Is Not A Foreign Language

This is the sixth part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer,  a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first five parts, click here.

One of the biggest worries of a missionary or anyone who is going to a country where another language is spoken, is how communication is going to happen. When I went to Mexico, I was no exception–although I had been learning the language for the past year I still only knew a very beginner level and did not feel that I would be able to have all of the conversations that I needed to have.

I laugh when I think of this now because, oh how wrong I was! What on earth was I thinking that I wouldn’t be able to communicate properly? No, I didn’t become fluent as soon as I crossed the border nor did the Mexican people magically speak English. The solution is simply this–love is not a foreign language like we so often make it out to be.

I was picking up garbage at our first outreach when a  girl in a  grey t-shirt with a picture of the American flag on it and a knit bag around her shoulder came up to me and started speaking in fluent Spanish. My brain panicked as I didn’t know what she was saying, what she wanted or what to say back. I tried to use what I knew of Spanish and listened to her and I finally figured out that she wanted to help! Great! But what do I say now? I thought, panicking at one of my first all-Spanish interactions. I stuttered and mumbled for a bit, explaining that I only spoke a bit of Spanish before she finally said simply “Si?” and I replied with the same response, almost laughing at how silly I had been to forget the word for yes! She smiled happily and together we walked around the neighbourhood, up and around the little hill, picking up candy wrappers and pop cans and putting them in the big bag that I carried. By and by some other girls came. I would say words like “Bien” and “Gracias” and we all smiled a lot. Later my friend and I went and joined the soccer game, I told her that I liked her bag and asked her if she had made it (I actually don’t remember how I did this one!) Then we handed out the hair things and stickers that I had brought, and she watched us do the dances that we’d practiced. Finally, it was time for us to go–she asked me if she could have the remaining stickers and this time I remembered my “Si.” I also gave her a comb that I had to which she replied with a big grin and a “Gracias.” We said adios with a big hug and a smile.

My first Mexican amigas and me.

I was handing out stickers and trying to be friendly and meet new people at that same outreach when I spotted a shy little girl by the bouncy castle. I offered her a heart sticker and she shyly nodded her head. Placing a big, pink heart on her hand I smiled and said “Amor” (love.) I watched her face light into a smile.

This little girl was just adorable!

We played hide and go seek and duck duck goose. I ran around with them on my back for hours, skipping and jumping with their little bodies on top of mine with other children by my side, clamouring for my attention, begging to be next. We ate lunch together, side by side. I helped a little girl with her banana. I took pictures with them. We laughed, we smiled, we talked. Then we played some more, I ran with them on my backs again. And even though I was more tired than I had ever been in my life, I still hated to go. I would have run with them for hours if I only could have stayed. And we hugged big hugs as we said “Adios.”

One of my best memories ever…

We painted together, Coolio and me. We talked about the things that we liked such as sports, school, and church with the knowledge I had for the conjugating the verb gustar and the little vocabulary I knew. He was patient with me when I stumbled and when I was slow. We smiled and we laughed. Before he left, he asked my Mexican friend how to say something in English. He turned to me and said “I love you Elizabeth!”

Wonderful Coolio, with some friends, outside of his church.

I stood in the chairs of church, listening to the songs sung in the beautiful Spanish language that I knew little of, taking in the atmosphere before me: two or three Mexican families, in addition to my team, smiling, singing and totally on fire for God. The pastor, a woman about five feet tall, read verses and said prayers in Spanish, loving God with her whole heart as she did so. We performed a drama for them and they all clapped when it ended and the girl went back to God. They sympathized and clapped again over my friend’s testimony and replied with Amens to my youth pastor’s translated sermon. They sang again and I watched and listened, feeling the love of the room even though I did not know the language. A little boy looked up at me from his place in front, and I smiled. He reached his hands up and we clapped our hands together. I looked up to see the pastor and I was worried that she would not like what I was doing but instead, she smiled broadly in approval. They invited us to the beach and we spent the afternoon there with them, eating lunch and taking in the beauty of Mexico together. When it was time to go they wanted a picture with us. The pastor hugged me good-bye, we all smiled, we all laughed.

When I look at these memories, I often wonder how they happened. When I think on them, it seems like I said so much to these people when really, the most that I ever said was hello, how are you and what do you like to do. But I guess that’s because there is more to loving others than that. Smiling, laughing and touching are things that anyone, of any culture, language, or country has the ability to do. Love is universal. It is not limited because of where you were born or what language you speak. Love is boundless, it is not restricting. Most importantly love is beautiful because of the God who created us for that very purpose–yet, so often we forget how to love, and how to say those words. The language of love has sadly been lost in our society by the foreign words of hate and evil that have no place in our lives.

If I learned just one thing in Mexico though it is this: we were born to love and because of that, we can love no matter what. My friends who helped with the garbage taught me that. The children at the VBS who clamoured to ride on my back and hugged me good bye taught me that. And precious Coolio, who told me that he loved me taught me that. No, love is not a foreign language.

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