Sevilla: The Soul of Spain

IMG_3031     The air smelled of oranges, the heat radiated spices and the very ground seemed to vibrate with the music and rhythmic stomps of a 500 year old Flamenco tradition.  Everywhere you looked you could taste the culture and feel the intensity of this city.  Madrid may be the life giving sustaining heart of Spain, but Sevilla….Sevilla is the soul.


IMG_3289Just like the powerful Flamenco dance, Sevilla is a city that captivates you with its intense passion, mysterious sadness and old secrets.  Like any exotic temptress, its the mystery that draws you in.  You suddenly have a deep desire to expose the stories behind those soulful sorrowful eyes.   As you navigate the labyrinth of ancient streets, dark alleys, and ornate plazas that comprise the beloved Barrio De Santa Cruz district you can’t help but be captivated by this city and wonder at her past.  Every corner you turn there is another chapel, mosque, synagog or cathedral that exposes a new layer, yet gives no answer to the city’s enigmatic charm.


There is also a beautiful story of intricate Moorish architecture and artistry.  The city is mysterious, yes, but it it is also beautiful and full of flavor, color and life.  I had the best mojito of my life on a rooftop bar overlooking the gorgeous and enormous (3rd largest in the world) Cathedral de Sevilla.  I stood in awe of the  lavish rooms,  decadent court yards and exotic gardens of the Moorish Palace Real Alcázar.  I have visited several fascinating places but this palace built in the 14th century one was one that truly left me speechless.  It was unlike anything I had every experienced before.  I had no words to describe the paradise that I had entered with its intricate maze of gardens and ponds and palm trees.   I had no idea that such a place like this  could exist in real life.

IMG_3197  IMG_3064I didn’t really have a plan of action as I wondered the city of Sevilla.  Like most of my travels I just set out aimlessly to see what I would see.  On my way to a city park I stumbled upon the Plaza De Espania and I instantly knew I had just discovered the best jewel of the city.   This larger than life plaza became my favorite spot in all of Spain.  This colorful courtyard  was built for celebration!   It was a magnificent square that was specifically designed to showcase Spain in 1929 world fair and it brings to life the beauty of Spain and its unique culture.  It too is among the top of my favorite spots to visit in the world.  And between you and me, that is saying something.   IMG_2935

Sevilla is one of my all time favorite cities.  It has so much to offer and so much to give.  Every corner you turn there is something new to see and discover.  It has such a rich history and is simply dripping in culture.  I loved every second of my trip.  I will never forget exploring the vibrant bustling night scene which literally ended with fireworks.  My heart is still recovering from watching a powerful performance of a real flamenco expert.  Her intense performance had so much intensity and soul I couldn’t help but feel her pain and heartache she stomped and moved passionately across the stage.  Her emotions were so vivid and real that the audience truly felt them with her as she expressed them in dance.  I still wish I could accurately capture the larger than life architecture sprinkled amongst the palm trees throughout the city.  If you want to truly know Spain and her beauty, life, heartache, and mysterious charm you must visit Sevilla.  Only there can you truly get to know the depth of her character and soul.


Redeeming Love


Last month I returned to Spain.  I had not traveled for a few months and I was getting restless.   I mistook these feelings of restlessness as a superficial need to satiate the little bug inside that feeds on travel and adventure.  This human weakness might have contributed to this building desire, but I now believe there were more powerful forces at work.

God needed to talk to me.  He needed me to truly stop and listen.   And He, being my creator and God, knows my heart better than anyone else.  He knew that during this particular journey my heart would be most readily available and my ears would be more receptive to His message.   This is often the case when I travel and perhaps why I pursue it so fervently.    I am not usually the type to be silent or still.  My life is always in a constant state of movement and I am very rarely alone.  I flutter from one social gathering to the next.  As a true extrovert, I gain energy from being in the presence of others and have several different groups of friends that appease my need for social interaction.  However, when I travel, I find myself alone for hours on end; at airports,  around cities, parks, beaches, forests, ect.   Don’t get me wrong, I have become quite an expert at finding “stranger friends” to talk to along the way.  These friends are always blessings sent by God to teach me and quench my need for human interaction, but on the whole my travel experiences force me into a mindset of  introspection.  When I travel, I truly slow down.  I truly listen; to myself, to my heart and to my God.  I am silent and still and my heart is in a state of constant gratitude and worship.  This provides the perfect platform for God to teach and mold me.

This particular trip my soul was in perfect communion with God.  I finally began to understand something He has been trying to teach me my whole life.  The completeness of His perfect love.   I have always had a hard time understanding unconditional love.  When people meet me it doesn’t take them long to recognize that I am habitually apologetic…..I’m sorry.   This stems from my unconscious fear of doing something wrong to loose peoples love.  Now multiply that fear by a million and you can understand my inability to understand why a perfect God could love someone as imperfect as me.  I have never truly believed that I was acceptable in His sight.  I believed in the forgiveness I earned from the death of Jesus but I never truly understood the completeness of that forgiveness.  If I am being honest I have always seen God as someone who merely tolerated me.  I could not picture God’s love for me as it is described in the Bible….the kind of love a groom feels for his bride or a father feels for his child.    However on this trip God opened my heart and showed me the power of his amazing grace and redeeming love.

God used several mediums to explain this love to me during this trip to Spain and  proved his love through several blessings.  One powerful tool was the book “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers.  I very rarely take books with me when I travel as I don’t often have time for them.  This time I made an exception and I started reading this book on the 5 hour buss ride from Madrid to Granada.  This fictional book is an allegory of the Biblical story of Gomer and Hosea which is in and of itself an allegory of God and His people.  The novel tells the story of a righteous and Godly man who rescues and marries a prostitute.  The prostitute cannot understand his forgiving love and kindness and runs away from him to rejoin a life of prostitution….THREE TIMES!!  Throughout the book it is so evident the love the man has for his wife and how deeply her desertion hurts him.  The reader feels so confused…why would she run away from such perfect and complete love?  Doesn’t she see that He really does love her and that she is the only one who won’t forgive her past and move on?  Why is she wasting her life listening to lies of  her worthlessness while the Author of Truth is screaming promises of love, forgiveness and redemption?    This truly is a powerful novel and I highly recommend it to any woman who sometimes struggles with understanding God’s love.

This book started an amazing dialog between God and myself during my stay in Spain early this April. I, like the woman in the novel, never felt fully accepted by God.  I never believed I deserved God’s love.  However this book helped me understand the foundational and most liberating truth.  I was right.  I don’t deserve God’s love.  I am a sinner and what I deserve is death.  But God loves me anyway!  This is the life changing earth shaking Truth with a capital T!  It is the one that Satan tries so hard to conceal!  He makes us feel inadequate and like we have to earn God’s love….which is impossible and therefore fuels our feelings of inadequacy.   The truth is there is NOTHING we can do to earn it.   It is given freely and completely.  That is the beauty of the gospel.  It has the power to turn a hopeless story of sin and its consequences into a story of perfect and merciful redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

This trip to Spain was truly a love story between me and God.  The entire week I remained in His love and my joy was made complete just as Jesus promises us in John 15: 9.  There were times I thought my heart would explode for the joy and love I felt.  There were times when I could not contain the worship in my soul and I wept.  I wept  in Retiro Park when I realized all of the amazing ways God had taken the hopeless situations of this past year and turned them into demonstrations of His glory and love.  I wept when God used a painting at the Thyssen-bornemisza Art Museum to speak directly and clearly the promises of my future.  I learned how to abide in His Love and God poured His blessings like rain on my life and my soul.  With joy, rather than condemnation, I began to understand what only a truly redeemed sinner can.  In a spirit of continual worship my heart  happily sang  “I don’t deserve this love or these blessings” and God’s quiet, constant and graceful response was the same “I know, but I love you anyway.”

Spain: All in God’s Perfect Timing

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.24.23 PMSpain.  Just the word alone elicits an almost Pavlovian response from all of my senses.  Suddenly, I smell the oranges of Valencia and hear the pounding of the Flamenco dancers under palm tree lined pavilions in Seville.   Spain.  My mouth waters for the taste of olives, jamón, wine and paella while my soul aches for the creations of Gaudi’s genius and my heart yearns for Madrid’s ocean of culture.

It took me a long time to get to Spain.  In retrospect, it was a trip almost 10 years in the making.   My obsession started in 10th grade when I took my first Spanish class.  I worked harder in this class than any others.  I vowed to one day live or study in Spain and therefore I worked tirelessly to learn the beautiful Spanish language to the best of my ability.  Oh- How many nights did I fall asleep at the wee hours in the morning going over another deck of Spanish flashcards!?

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.09 PMThe opportunity was never right in High School, but I told myself I would student teach in Spain.  This was something that I planed for and pursued all four years of college.   My senior year I was accepted into the international program at my school and I was on my way to Spain at last!  However, something fell through at the last moment and my placement was cancelled.  I was devastated.  Spain had been my plan for the past seven years and suddenly it was gone…like a puff a smoke.  I sobbed that night.   Spain was taken from me and I didn’t understand why.

We say,  “Things Happen for a Reason” often in our society.  This gives us something to say to those who have had disappointment in their life.  We say this when something happened/didn’t happen the way we really wanted it to go.   We say this to sound humble and gracious, but it takes a lot of grace to actually KNOW in your heart that things happen for a reason; God’s reason.  Sometimes we never know why things truly happen, but God has a perfect plan for our lives we just have to have faith and humbly know that that He who created the universe and He who IS and WAS and IS TO COME may have a better grasp of what is good for us than we do.  In this case, however, I have the unbelievable gift of knowing why Spain was “taken” from me.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.35.40 PMGod, in His infinite wisdom had more planed for me than my impatient heart could have ever conceived.   Instead of spending the last semester of my college experience off campus, He gave me one of the most rewarding semesters of my life.  I was able to host a comedy show call Friday Night Live, I fulfilled my duties as a VP for Student Government, and I was voted by my classmates to be IWU’s Senior of the year at graduation.  If I had been in Spain I would have missed out on all of those blessings and I would have peddled away so many precious “last moments” with my dear friends on a campus that I LOVED.

photo-14_2More importantly, God’s choice to not send me to Spain allowed me to say goodbye to my grandfather.   My pops, a man who more closely resembled Christ than any other man I have ever met, fell very seriously ill the last month of my college career.   He truly lived a life of love like that described in First Corinthians 13:4.  My pops was patient and kind. He did not envy, and did not boast. He was not proud, self-seeking, nor easily angered.  He did not keep a record of wrongs.  He did not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.    Pops was a farmer.  He loved the land, and worked hard everyday to glorify God and live a life producing all of the fruit of the spirit.

Because I was not in Spain, I was able to be there when he got sick.  I can still feel the whiskers on my cheek from when he kissed me goodbye for the last time on this earth. I cherish that moment above any other in my life so far.  That last kiss on my cheek from him means more to me than any study abroad experience ever could.

I could praise God and His wisdom for that reason alone.  But God is even MORE faithful than I could ever imagine.  I may not have been able to student teach overseas, but instead God blessed me with the opportunity to spend 8 incredible weeks in Spain.  This was God’s plan, not mine.  And as always, His perfect plan was infinitely more superior than the one created by my limited human brain.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.45 PMThe summer after my second year of teaching I got the opportunity to live with a family in Madrid in exchange for a few English lessons. Instead of six weeks of stressful student teaching, defined by me yearning to explorer the city while being held captive by grading and lesson planning duties, I spent two beautiful, perfect, unrestricted months soaking up every ounce of experience and culture possible.  I spent my days blithely wondering around the city of Madrid, observing life, reflecting and growing.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.31.56 PMSpain changed me.  It was an incredible experience, for numerous reasons in which I hope to share in future posts, but most importantly it demonstrates how faithful our God is.  He knows.  He Cares.  And He is continually weaving together a stunning masterpiece that is my life.  Our God is so faithful and in control and if we patiently seek Him and His will, sometimes we get to see the intricately beautiful ways He mends and molds our threads together to create a masterful work that glorifies Him and His unending goodness.

**** Side note:  11 is my favorite number and Spain ended up being my 11th country.  It was the 1st of 11 countries I visited in 2011. (11 in 11).  This post randomly ended up being my 11th post. God is just so good and just so clever sometimes!