Today we flew into Madrid (~7 hours) and took a bus to Logroño (~4 hours) where the hostel manager, Sarah and one other volunteer (I can't remember the name of right now but I will add that in tomorrow morning!) came to pick us up - then we drove about 25 minutes to the hostel in Villamayor de Monjardín. I wrote this out during the bus ride!
More pictures and sharing about what's happening here will be coming soon - but I wanted to give the context for all that has happened to lead up to this! It is a very long story - and please forgive any redundant writing - but it truly is amazing how God has guided this (despite my own flawed thinking along the way):
“Let’s start at the very beginning, they very best place to start.” From 1st through 6th grade I learned math and science in Spanish as a part of the Spanish immersion program at my school. In 5th and 6th grade, if we were caught speaking English in class, our math teacher would make us memorize and recite a Spanish poem for him!
At that time I disliked Spanish (and math) greatly; but since then I’ve grown to appreciate learning the language when I was young, and in a way that would stick with me for years to come.
Two years ago, during my senior year of high school, my mom began to ask me about my senior trip. My brother and sister - 7 and 8 years older than me, respectively - had both been given family trips as graduation gifts from my parents. It was my time, and I was extremely excited for the opportunity to bond with my family and travel someplace new before leaving for college.
However, God had other plans!
The year before, three amazing young women from my church had decided to take a gap year before going to college. They used their year to serve the Lord through missions - and their example made me wonder if I could do something similar...
When my parents told me that we could not do my senior trip (for reasons not pertinent to this story) I’m sure they fully expected me to be upset. Heck, I’d even expect myself to be upset - or at least disappointed. But, at the moment they told me, God just brought missions to mind.
I asked if they’d be willing to fund a missions trip for me instead - and they said yes!
I was thrilled and they were thrilled. It was my time, and I was extremely excited for the opportunity to learn more about God and still travel someplace new before leaving for college.
However, God had other plans!
With that, I spring boarded into research about different organizations and possibilities. My parents’ requirements were that the trip was reasonable to pay for, that the country was safe by their standards, and that I would be able to speak Spanish while there. At that time I was VERY fixated on how limiting those requirements felt. I wanted to be open to whatever possibilities of service God may have brought forward - I felt like I wasn’t being “Christian enough” and being held back. I was being selfish, instead of being grateful for the amazing gift God had given me through my parents’ sponsorship (and also just grateful for my parents in general).
In that selfishness, but also a longing to serve God more, I felt like doing a short-term missions trip wasn’t enough. I found Youth With a Mission, YWAM, and was 100% convinced it was my calling to go to Australia. One action-packed, testimony-rich and well-edited promo video and I was sold.
I talked with my parents about taking a gap year, and at first they were very dubious. They had a lot of questions and many arguments for why I shouldn’t - and I was appalled! After all, I came up with this idea just a day before - and I sprung it on them in a parking lot after a long day out; how could they not receive it with open arms?! Surely my parents were against God and His plans for me.
Cue the huge overreaction, and you’ve got me weeping at 2am.
Now, at 2am I do not normally pick up phone calls;
when I am crying I do not normally pickup phone calls;
when it’s a number I don’t know I do not normally pick up phone calls.
But when I received a call from a number I didn’t know, while I was crying at 2am, I picked up the phone!
Sure enough, it was a representative from YWAM Newcastle where I applied and wanted to serve. Without even knowing my situation, she was able to give a lot of wisdom that helped me in that moment. She told me she thought that if God gave me a green light, I should keep going until He redirected me or gave me a red light.
So, I did. After a lot more discussion, my parents outlined parameters in which I could take a gap year (Side-note: my parents are amazing for rolling with me through all of this). I had applied to three universities, but wasn’t feeling particularly excited about any of them. Before long I was certain I would take a gap year. It was my time, and I was extremely excited for the opportunity to serve God with the year and not take the “default” path to college.
However, God had other plans!
That year our high school theatre honor society attended the Virginia Thespians Festival for the first time. We had no idea what we were walking into. On the offhand chance I would need it, I brought my portfolio. There was a portfolio review being offered that I spontaneously decided to attend. From that, one of the reviewers suggested that I present my portfolio for the college interview sessions that day. I hadn’t signed up in advance, I had no idea how it worked, AND I was a senior who probably wouldn’t apply to a different school until the end of the gap year…
but, he was adamant, so I signed up.
AND LET ME TELL YOU - every other student who came to interview that day was in all black, shiny shoes, ties and dresses, looking like this was the most critical interview of their lives.
AND ME: I was wearing ridiculously pattered harem pants, yellow vans sneakers, and a bright coral shirt with pineapples embroidered down the front - My hair was in the process of growing out from a pixie cut and was in full curliness/borderline afro state - and I was between two surgeries for a tooth implant, so I WAS MISSING A TOOTH in the front of my mouth!
I know colleges aren’t supposed to judge based on appearances, but I do think that person would look a little crazy amidst a professional lineup…
But, I stood up in front of a room of representatives from about 20 colleges, and showed my work.
Later that day my theatre director and chaperone for the weekend texted me, telling me she’d gotten a call from the festival director - that he’d told her to send me to all of the college booths - that they were asking for me.
I was mind blown. I thought that kind of stuff was for athletes. I visited every booth and told them all I’d apply next year after my gap year.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, however, was different. They strongly encouraged me to apply that year - even though it was only 3 days before the application deadline and PAST deadline for the scholarship program, they expedited my application - and when I went to the campus for the interviews, I fell in love. I knew UMBC was where I belonged.
And for a split second I thought, “God, why did you show me this amazing school when you want me to take a gap year?”
Then I realized
If the man at the portfolio review hadn’t suggested it, I wouldn’t have even known about the college interviews - If I hadn’t been so heavily considering a gap year, I never would have done the college interviews - If the festival director hadn’t reached out to my director, I never would have gone to the college booths - If UMBC hadn’t suggested so strongly that I apply, I never would have gone there.
God marked my every step.
It was His timing, and I was extremely amazed for the opportunity to witness God working so clearly in my life and to follow Him down a path I never would have expected.
However, God still had other plans :)
Notice a pattern here?
After committing to UMBC I was wary, because I didn’t want to get into a pattern of putting off missions. Very quickly, summer 2015 became packed and I wasn’t able to find an organization or go before going to college. My parents and I decided to reserve the summer after my freshman year to go.
That year, I found out about Oasis Trails through the grapevine of my home church, Chantilly Bible Church. A representative from their organization had come to speak to our youth group about what they do. I looked it up, showed my parents, applied, interviewed, got invited to come, and all was set!
But then God…said “nope.”
And for honestly too many tiny reasons to write out here, I did not go to Spain that summer. Really, God still had more in store for my heart. Last summer, I was able to serve as a staff member and camp counselor at Camp Highroad - a Christian adventure camp in Northern VA. Serving there taught me a greater humility, dependance on God, to serve through sweat and things going “wrong” and crazy campers, and really helped break down a lot of materialism I hadn’t noticed in my life. I learned so much that summer…
And God wasn’t done yet. This past year was incredibly difficult - God brought me to a rock bottom, and built me back up again from there. I feel like my heart was re-shaped, for better, through many circumstances this year. It was full of lessons and challenges I’m grateful God gave me.
This summer fell into place, and now I’m here. But God still had bigger and better plans than I could have even imagined…
Last Monday I had a phone call with my mom and dad while I was still at chapter camp with InterVarsity. We were just wrapping up some details for Spain, but at the end of our conversation my mom asked me if she could ask me a crazy question.
Mom: “Could I come serve in Spain with you?”
Dad: “We know this is your thing so you’re allowed to veto”
Me: “This isn’t my thing - this is God’s thing!”
My mom shared with me how she’d always said she wanted to go and serve, but how she’d put it off again and again - just like I’d always feared I would do. But here she was, being called just a WEEK before I was set to leave!
She emailed Bert and Betty at the hostel, submitted her application, had a Skype interview and was invited in just 3 days. Amazing.
The thing is…I never would have had the spiritual/emotional maturity to say yes to my mom right then. But literally minutes before our call, I had been praying with my friend that this summer I would be able to love my parents well. When we had the call…the answer was just so clear. God was first. A year ago, I wouldn’t have said yes to that. God’s timing…God’s preparation…even God’s influence to the prayers immediately before...
When Jesus is first in my life I am always at maximum levels of joy…because my joy isn’t dependent on me or my circumstances - just that He loves. But when I’m first…joy never really feels complete. And even if it does, it never lasts.
And instead of, "It was my time, and I was extremely excited for the opportunity to bond with my family and travel someplace new before leaving for college”
I get to say, “It is God’s time, and I am extremely excited for the opportunity to walk in it with Him, and with my family”
Because, really, I don’t need to be in Spain to serve. This is an amazing privilege and I know God has worked in everything to bring us here - but, no matter where I am, who I’m with, or what I’m doing…I hope I’ll keep learning to trust God, to serve, and to overflow the love He gives to everyone I meet.
Anyways, thanks for reading this, if you got this far! I know that was a lot - but I really wanted to communicate the crazy amount of timing and preparation God has put into this trip.
Much love and many thanks,