I always get to this place - this moment that is the turning of the calendar in to a new year - and I realize just how much of our USA culture and worldview continues to be ingrained in me, even after all these years of being away. I first realized it in Peru. The new year came about and my mind automatically moved in to reflection and goals mode. What went well in the old year? What do I want to improve on in the new year? What plans need to be put in to place for the coming year? Lots of reflection and self-evaluation, then using that to make plans for the new year. It’s also a time of year when my mind automatically goes in to health mode. I need to get back to the gym. I need to do better this year with my physical fitness and my health habits. I need to get in to a rhythm of healthier eating. What struck me in Peru was that, for the first time in my life, no one around me was thinking these things! How could it be that no one else was reflecting and planning? How is it even possible that the rest of society was not making exercise plans and healthy meal plans? I mean, it seemed that absolutely NO ONE had turned the calendar page and realized that a new year had begun!
Then it hit me - this is a part of my North American culture that I was unaware of. I did not realize that all this reflection and planning was cultural. Nor did I realize the effect that media has on our culture when it comes to all this health and new year business. Think about it… what is on TV commercials and talk shows and magazines right now? Diets! Gym promotions, exercise plans, etc. The new Weight Watchers plan. Planet Fitness has a deal going. Rachel Ray is cooking special meals to help you lose that holiday weight and start the new year right. Guess what’s on sale at Target and WalMart and IKEA and everywhere else… organizing supplies, planners, ways to get yourself in order so you can start the year off “right”. By the way, you need a new yoga mat.
Guess what, folks. This wasn’t happening in Peru. I realized that during our first year there and I had a little moment of panic. How will people go forward and achieve their goals if they don’t reflect and plan and make goals in January?! WHAT KIND OF CULTURE IS THIS???? (Yes, I freaked out, just a little.)
So, newsflash… it isn’t happening in Spain either. Nope. No big season of health and gym membership sales. No big discounts on planners or calendars or office supplies. No big promotion of self-help books or yoga mats or diet plans. January is just January.
Even now, ten years after moving out of the USA to live a life of service overseas, that strange feeling wafts over me in January. Even though nothing around me is promoting it or selling it, I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be in reflection and planning mode, and that I need to get back to healthy habits.
Billy and I have begun a monthly process of reflection and planning. It just works better for us. It keeps us a little more focused and a little more accountable to our various goals and projects, and we can make course corrections quickly to keep us on track. It also helps us to celebrate the little things and take stock of what’s going on. It’s easy to miss the little achievements and celebrations if you wait till the end of the year to try to reflect. And it’s really easy to find yourself way off course if you only visit your goals once a year! So, once a month, we have a day that is set aside for reflection and planning. We take a critical look at various aspects of our personal life and our work and we decide how to proceed. In some areas, we might be doing pretty great and have things to celebrate. And in other areas, we realize that we have let some things slip or we haven’t given enough attention to certain goals and we make corrections.
While we’re on the subject, let me share with you a recent celebration that came to light. One of the young ladies who taught for us in the educational projects in Peru recently connected with us. She (Tania) stays in touch and often sends us messages via Facebook messenger. Last month, she sent a message saying that she had been back to Iscos (one of the towns where we had a school outreach and discipleship program) and she had gone to visit Julia. You might recall that Julia was an older woman, a widow, who opened up her home and gave us a room to hold classes for our school children. She cooked meals for 30 kids every day in her kitchen and allowed us to have classes in her home for several years. In the afternoons, she opened up her home so community women could come and have bible study and workshops. Along the way, she became a believer through the discipleship of our young teachers. In many ways, she became a mother to us all and a grandmother to all of our students.
Tania went to visit Julia and then sent us a message. She said that Julia continues to be a believer and continues to read her Bible daily and try to continue learning. She said she will forever be grateful and have fond memories of us and of the school program, and she wanted Tania to specifically send a message to us thanking us for our time in Peru and telling us that we are still loved and remembered, and that the Bible teaching and discipleship that was done continues to live on. WOW! That was an awesome note to receive!!!
Then, Tania went on to give us even more! She asked for prayers for her new business endeavor… she has opened a school in Lima and is modeling it after the work that we did in Iscos and Patarcocha. The school opened in December, with the goal of reaching entire families for Christ via the education and love shown to their children. Again, wow! Those young teachers not only continued the work that we started in Peru, but they have now taken it in various directions and it has grown to something we never could have imagined. One of them continues to work in the area where we began, one of them answered a call for teachers to go in to the most unreached and dangerous parts of the jungle, and now Tania has opened her own school. All remain faithful to their calling and passion… to use their passion for teaching and for children and families, and to live out their calling of discipleship and loving others through their vocation.
Never during any of our reflection or planning did we foresee the future or the fruit that would occur in Peru. Honestly, that’s all God. What we did was to daily walk alongside those teachers, daily pour in to their lives, and stay true to our calling and passion. God did the rest. And we trust that this will be true in Spain as well. We reflect and we plan, we try to focus and be true to our calling. We daily practice our passion of loving and empowering people, of caring for others and walking alongside people in whatever life throws at them. And we trust that God will do the rest. He always does. He’s in the business of showing up and amazing us!
It is sometimes tempting to assume that you know all there is to know about a subject. That you have exhausted the learning process on a particular issue and you’re finally ‘there’, you are an expert. As a teacher who is a firm believer in the inquiry method, I’m here to say, “Look again. What else do you see?”
When I was teaching science, I absolutely loved using inquiry. It’s based on looking deeper, asking questions, and digging for more. It’s learner-driven. It is deeply rooted in observation. It’s hands-on and experiential. I love it!
When I became a coach, I immediately fell in to that same vein of questioning. “Tell me more. What else do you see? What other factors are at play? What more is there to learn here?” When I truly fall in to that groove and the inquiry process takes hold, I’m in heaven!
I was recently on a phone call with some friends and we were discussing our recent move to our home in town. It’s a new situation for us, mostly because we have been living in the country and not in the middle of the city for the past 4 years. There is a different dynamic to life and a different rhythm to how things work now, and we are slowly learning those differences and finding our footing here in ‘city center’. So, we find ourselves in the learner seat, students again, asking those crucial inquiry questions of ourselves and our surroundings. One of our friends asked how it was going and what we were learning—specifically, what is new that we hadn’t seen before when we lived in the country. Hmmm… I hadn’t thought of it that way. I had to think for a second. What’s new for us?
One thing is cleaning the outside of the house. I knew that most Spaniards are fanatics about cleaning the house. Homes are swept and mopped and dusted daily. Windows are cleaned at least once a week, if not more. In fact, a clean home is such a high value in this culture that if you are injured or disabled in some way that would affect house cleaning, a home helper is covered in your health care and sent to your house to do these tasks for you while you recover! Y’all, that’s serious!
What I hadn’t realized was that cleaning OUTSIDE the house is just as important as inside. I’m sure there is a spiritual devotional blog in that somewhere, but today is not the day for that. I’m just here to tell you that it is expected that you will go outside and sweep the sidewalk AND THE STREET in front of your house for the entire length of your property. You should also take your soapy mop water and a stiff bristle broom out and sweep/scrub the sidewalk. Don’t forget your windows and door… you must take a duster out there and dust the window sills and any window bars or decorative ironwork and the front door. I’m not talking once a month. I’m talking several times a week! One day, I was outside sweeping my sidewalk and the neighbor came alongside me and started sweeping the street. We swept together and chatted and I caught the subtle hint of the unwritten neighborhood rules. She said that she usually sweeps one day and another lady sweeps on the next day and they sweep the entire block. The implication was that I would sweep every third day and I would sweep the whole block. Okay. Note taken.
Dress code… Spaniards care a lot about how you dress and that you are dressed appropriately for the appropriate activity. You shouldn’t wear yoga pants unless you are going to yoga. You don’t wear exercise clothes unless you are going to the gym. Not to shop, not to a restaurant, not to the grocery store - only to the gym. Appropriate clothing is important. And makeup - I have been told on more than one occasion I forgot my lipstick today. *sigh* HOWEVER, we have found these rules to only apply after 8am. If you go out before then, anything goes! If you walk to the bakery to buy your morning bread and you go before 8, feel free to wear your robe and slippers. If you go out to walk the dog and it’s before 8, pajamas and tennis shoes are fine. No shame. Greet the neighbors. Flash that lipstick-barren smile. Hold your head high - it’s not yet 8am, so it doesn’t count yet.
Part of loving your neighbor is figuring out how to be a part of the neighborhood. We’re still learning the intricacies of life in town… we’ll keep you posted!
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!