El Señor & Seville, Spain–learning to trust and obey

It is the beginning of the fourth week of Easter and the beginning of my fourth week in Spain. In the months leading up to my trip, a dear Camino friend from Brazil had asked me to meet her in Seville before I was due to serve pilgrims on El Camino de Santiago in Viana at a place called The Pilgrims’ Oasis, also known as The Chill Café, a sort of living room for pilgrims in need of relaxation, a beer, tea or coffee and a place of peace where they can discuss spiritual questions and things that are important to them. I said yes.

Pulpo (Octopus) one of the foods that helped me walk across Spain
Pulpo (Octopus) one of the foods that helped me walk across Spain

We were very excited to catch up post-Camino, hear about each other’s lives, eat lots of Pulpo and drink Rioja. In the flurry of activity that included storing all my worldly possessions and heading out into the world again, I once again (see this post) forgot about Easter.

Tatianna and me sharing Rioja & Pulpo
Tatianna and me sharing Rioja & Pulpo

This trip nearly didn’t happen. So much had occurred to convince me to stay in the U.S., that traveling to Spain under the circumstances was impossible––irresponsible even––this added to my lack of concern and preparation for the first leg of my time in Spain. My friend Tatianna sent me messages saying things like Semana Santa is a “big deal” in Seville. Semana Santa rung a bell somewhere, but not a very loud one. “Que paso es que la ciudad tiene un tradición muy antigua de fiesta en semana santa y por eso la ciudad está bastane llena.” Which is to say that the city has an ancient festival tradition and because of this the city was rather full of people. Sensing how ill-prepared I was for the journey, Tatianna got a room for me at her place, a school where she was studying Spanish in the center of the city. She said we could share a room if needs be. Grateful, but still clueless, I figured Seville was a big “Spring Break” town for Spaniards.

The chocolate Easter bunny I received on my Lufthansa to Frankfurt.
The chocolate Easter bunny I received on my Lufthansa flight from LA to Frankfurt.

Other than Easter in Nepal, my Easter celebrations involved making big meals for family, attending church, and contemplating that Jesus died for me. My celebrations revolved around Easter eggs, picnics and seeing wildflowers in bloom. Some years it included Spring Break trips, laying on beaches and basking in the season of new life and wonder. But as El Señor (Español for God) and I have been on a year of adventure (I’m guessing it might be more like a lifetime now), He’d take me by the hand into one of the world’s largest, breathtaking ancient Easter celebrations.

Exhausted, the whole process of leaving LA was riddled with long delays. I asked El Señor what he wanted to teach me in all the waiting. Almost immediately he gave me a reply…

What answered prayer looked like
What answered prayer looks like

The day before I left, while sitting at a stop sign the black Cadillac in front of me with dark tinted windows had a black California license plate with “PSALM20,” written in gold letters. On my drive to the airport a gold sign fastened to a freeway overpass read “ASK JESUS FOR MERCY,” in black letters. I immediately did and thanked El Señor for color coding his messages and placing them front-and-center the way He had. I humbly thanked Him for the ability to make the journey. If I paid attention, El Señor was everywhere and apparently enjoyed giving me messages in black and gold, the colors of my sorority and the colors of my childrens’ high school. And, because He is equally playful and efficient, He made the most of my time in LA traffic.

"I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose." - Don Quixote
“I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.” – Don Quixote

Nothing is more important to me than to trust and obey El Señor. And yet I find it so difficult in practice. On good days, following His call feels exactly right and I am at peace. But on the difficult days––and there were many before I left California––His call seemed self-indulgent, irresponsible, and even flighty. These lies nearly kept me from boarding the plane. After take off I read my copy of Don Quixote, a classic story about an idealist heading out into the world. On the 400th anniversary of Cervantes death it seemed like perfect reading, even as it weighed in at 920 pages. One day I hope to read it in Spanish.

I figured I’d catch a train to Seville. No big deal. I’d been a pilgrim. I was good at last minute travel. Then I got the WhatsApp message in Frankfurt…

On my layover in Frankfort...
On my layover in Frankfort…

“Watch out” because the trains could be full. Tatianna suggested if I had time at the airport in Frankfurt that I check the available tickets from Madrid to Seville. A quick search found every train ticket to Seville sold out. The buses weren’t running. After calling a few rental agencies I reserved a car. I flew into a very cold and overcast Madrid and as I stepped into the rental car for a God-knows-how-long drive to Seville after a nearly 24-hour trip to Spain by plane, I guess I should have been daunted when Google Maps navigated the five hour trip. Instead, I couldn’t wait to drive through storied Andalucia to Seville. With no traffic at all, I passed cities I’d only seen in movies or read about––Toledo, Trujillo, Mérida on the Camino de Plata (Silver), all bathed in tangerines, pinks and purples of the setting sun. El Señor indeed had mercy on me and provided for me in amazing ways. Again. Still, on the drive down I wondered…why Seville? I had only been called there on the spur of the moment as my plans had changed at the last minute. What was there that El Señor was calling me to?

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The exhilaration of driving through Seville’s ancient city walls with Siri guiding me through crowds of impeccably dressed faithful contracting its already narrow, cobblestone streets. After pulling into the perfect parking spot, I met Tatianna on foot at the front door of my home for the holiday, Enforex housing for students studying the Spanish language (enforex.com). My hosts let me bunk with them for free when they found out I’d be serving pilgrims on El Camino––another of El Señor’s great provisions. It was no coincidence that I drove into ground zero for the Easter celebration and even less of a coincidence that after lots of catching up over pulpo & Rioja, Tatianna and I met one of Sevilla’s ancient processions on the most mundane of errands––getting my suitcase out of my car.

I couldn’t help but think how I would never see this type of pageantry to celebrate the life of Christ in America. Where I’ve had to be careful wishing people Merry Christmas, and often times default to a “Happy Holiday” greeting so as not to offend. In the country where “In God We Trust” is written on every coin and every dollar bill. There is much work to be done for El Señor in Spain, that is certain. But this beautiful moment of worship gave me perspective on the things I’ve settled for in my faith and where I hope to take it. Will you join me?

PSALM 20:

1May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;

may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.

2May he send you help from the sanctuary

and grant you support from Zion.

3May he remember all your sacrifices

and accept your burnt offerings.

4May he give you the desire of your heart

and make all your plans succeed.

5May we shout for joy over your victory

and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

6Now this I know:

The Lord gives victory to his anointed.

He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary

with the victorious power of his right hand.

7Some trust in chariots and some in horses,

but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

8They are brought to their knees and fall,

but we rise up and stand firm.

9Lord, give victory to the king!

Answer us when we call!

Jesus in Nepal : 90 days around the world

While traveling, I rarely knew what day of the week it was and dates didn’t mean much. I totally immersed myself in the experience of awakening to the world. A world very different from the one I’d known before. Easter caught up with me in Nepal and it took my breath away.

I used puppets, string games and coloring to help the kids at the Global Dental Relief Clinic pass the time until their treatments. They drew pictures of their houses surrounded by lots of very steep mountains. They drew beautiful Rhododendrons, the national flower of Nepal, and also drew lots pictures of each other. There were some talented cartoonists too. I taped every picture on the wall with torn-up stickers, as tape was scarce. The kids smiled big when they spotted their pictures and sometimes brought their friends to see the spot on the wall where their picture hung.

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I was so busy teaching them how to brush their teeth and playing with them that I didn’t really have time to admire their artwork. But one afternoon, there was a slow spell. A time between schools picking up students and dropping off the next group. While tidying the benches and organizing our supplies, I had a chance to really look at their drawings. Taped to the wall among gorgeous Himalayan landscapes and superheroes and portraits of friends and princesses and castles, there were a few portraits of…me––as a woman or a butterfly or a flower, with the word “Laura” written underneath. And next to me in each drawing, an even bigger surprise. A large cross with the word “Jesus” written in crayon or pencil. Jesus.

drawings.nepal

Somewhere between LA and Nepal I had come home to myself and the Lord. Seeing myself so beautifully in pink, gold, red, yellow and brown crayon made the transformation all the more amazing. I hadn’t felt beautiful or amazing in a very long time. They saw me the way Jesus did. I was blind. A picture of the cross was about the last thing I expected the children to draw in the mostly Hindu country. Especially with a likeness of me and my name written beside the name of Jesus. I love how the Lord likes to blow all our expectations. Humbled, I hit my knees. It would have been really easy to not celebrate Easter in Nepal. But the kids and the Lord wouldn’t let me. While applying fluoride to a beautiful young girl’s teeth it hit me…

4/19/14

I’d been doing dental relief work here and realized Easter is tomorrow. I don’t want to ignore Easter. Not this year. Not when the person sitting next to me on this entire journey has been Jesus. This year I wasn’t alone, even though at times I never felt more alone. When I thought I lost everyone and everything I loved. This year I realized I’ll never be alone. Who would have ever guessed that I would celebrate the most meaningful Easter of my life in the Buddhist section of a mostly Hindu country? Jesus.

When I was walking in darkness, He held my hand. The Spirit moved me to ask Sonam if there were any Easter services in Kathmandu. She said she wasn’t sure but she would ask around. Sonam and her husband Karma founded a local girls’ school that cares for and educates the lowliest in Nepal’s society, orphaned/abandoned girls. Sonam was such a girl. Their passion and graciousness are an inspiration.

Later that night Sonam found some Christians that celebrated Easter and arranged my transportation to the service––a brief car ride and walk through her village with a sweet, beautifully dressed, bible-carrying Nepali woman. Shortly after sunrise, we arrived at a converted mosque. Everyone took their shoes off. Men kneeled on one side of the mosque and women kneeled on the other side. Some women wore veils. A Nepali man offered me a translation machine so that I’d get the most out of the service. The teenage girls of the congregation put on a uniquely Nepali passion play that brought me to tears.

The words over the altar read: “God is the way, the truth, and the life.” Easter will always remind me of the time that Jesus spoke to me through the drawings of the children, whispering He’d always been and always will be holding tight to my hand.