… and continued! (From the last blog post). I’m going to give you all a warning: this is a beast of a post, it’s pretty long, and unfortunately, there is also no video in this blog 😦 But it is a super great story that gives some insight into the transformations happening in my life over here in Colombia.
First, some background info to paint the scene for my little story. In the months leading up to this YAV year, I told my parents that I’d return from Colombia a man. No longer a University Student who’s in limbo between tweenhood and adulthood. No longer the boy that I was, worried about how entertaining my life was for me. No longer self-concerned, worried about my personal desires. But a man, that’s both ready and equipped to lay down my life for whatever the will of God may be for me. This story will give a bit of insight into how that man is developing.
So this whole blog post idea came about from a conversation with the good ole’ mama bear. Being the mom that she is, she was asking about ways in which I’ve noticed growth in myself since I arrived in Colombia almost 5 months ago. As I rummaged through my memory for the countless ways in which I’ve noticed room for growth, and growth itself, one story really struck me. I shared it with my mom, and immediately afterwards she said (I think exactly), “You should totally write a blog post about that!” So here I am, writing a blog post about it, getting up close and personal 🙂
Once upon a time, in a land far far away from home, lived me. It was about 4 months ago, and I had recently left the security of my Colombian YAV group to move into my new home of Carepa, Antioquia, Colombia. I was pretty unsure of just about everything in my new life, especially the new language. Everyone around me spoke a language that I hardly understood, and somehow I was expected to form relationships with all of them.
Within all of these new Spanish speakers, I had my one little refuge, David. David spoke a little better English than I did Spanish at the time. So between his broken English and my floundering Spanish, we were able to communicate quite well. Naturally, we became friends quite quickly:
Being the great friend that David was, he would make sure to invite me to as many “outings” as he could. About 4 months ago, he asked me if I wanted to go to a quinseañera.
Heck yes I want to go to a quinseañera!! Not only will I to get to experience a new tradition here in Colombia, but that tradition is a birthday party! I mean it doesn’t get much better than that. Sounds like the makings of an extremely great time, am I right?
I was wrong. Upon arriving to the quinseañera I quickly found out that David didn’t actually know anyone there. Rather, he had been invited to sing a song with his friend Sandra. So given that neither David nor I knew the birthday girl, or anyone else there, we silently seated ourselves off to the side at our own table. This is the only bad picture I have to try and show the layout of the party:
I want to emphasize that little phrase:“we silently seated ourselves.” Yes, this means we walked up to the party and sat down at a table without saying a word to anyone. Not a happy birthday to the birthday girl, no cómo estás, not even an hola. To make things even more awkward, we arrived super early. When we showed up there was only one other family (probably family) in addition to the birthday girl’s family. I can only imagine what they thought as they watched some random guy walk up with a gringo and seat themselves way off to the side without saying so much as a word. Now, we were “with” Sandra, who knew the family, and that’s probably why we didn’t get asked who the heck we thought we were. Even now, as I sit here writing this, I’m getting a good laugh out of imagining what must have been going through their heads.
So in keeping with our vow of silence to the outside world, we silently watched as the quinseañera slowly filled up with more friends and family, none of whom we knew or said anything to us. Eventually, after about an hour of us sitting there, the party officially started. In keeping with all birthday parties I have ever attended, I expected some type of birthday party activities, which I was fully ready to participate in. Even given our dud of a time building up to the party, I remained completely optimistic, knowing that once the party started there would be some fun to be had.
I was wrong again. Turns out a quinseañera is a line of family members and close friends giving speeches about how the birthday girl has grown, and how great of a person she is today. I’m sure all this is quite touching to hear, given that you know the person it’s about, and of course that you can understand the language being spoken. I knew neither of the two. But of course, being the good Spanish studier that I am, I tell myself I’m going to use this as a learning opportunity to focus and try to pick up as much Spanish as I can.
For those of you who haven’t ever had the experience of trying to focus on a lecture or speech that’s in a language that you only somewhat understand, here’s exactly how that’ll typically go. At first, I’m all ears: I’m going to further my Spanish understanding, woohoo here I go!! In the very beginning, I’m able to just accept that I don’t understand plenty, so I try and focus on what I’m able to pick up immediately, and ignore what I can’t. After about two minutes tops of that, I start getting “stuck” on words that sound like something I know, but I need to think about the word to translate it. Because of these words that I get “stuck” on, I start missing large chunks of the conversation and have to pick it back up 15 seconds down the road. Eventually, during one of these getting “stuck” periods, while I’m thinking about what the conditional conjugation of the verb decir (to say) is, my mind will wander to: “Wow, that girl’s shoes are super flashy. Colombians wear really nice shoes in general. My shoes probably look bumish compared to theirs, I should have brought my other pair I left in the states. I wonder if Nemo (my dog) is still reminded of me by my sent that’s on the shoes I left. I wonder how my sent smells. Can Nemo just smell his own sent all the time? I bet that’s annoying.”
So like that, within 5 minutes tops, I’m lost to Lolla Land in my head until I snap out of it and realize that I should be trying to pay attention to the Spanish. And so the endless struggle will continue.
When we were at probably about the 3rd speaker, about 20 minutes in, I’ve already cycled through the paying attention and being lost in Lolla Land stages a few times, but at this point in the story, I’m in the Lolla Land stage. There I am, thinking about God only knows what, when I’m sharply brought back to reality: “Did I just hear my name?”
After a quick look around the party to see where the noise came from, I notice that the speaker is looking in the direction of our table… and seems to be pointing at me. I knew that there were no tables behind us, as we were at the edge of the party, but there must be someone standing behind me that this lady is pointing at. I pull the classic: look back behind me over both my shoulders. Nope, no one there. Whelp, I have no idea what this lady is pointing at, or what she could possibly want from me, so I’m just not going to do anything.
Once she had noticed that I was refusing to take ownership of the fact that she had pointed at me, she repeated: “Alexander, el misionero de los estados unidos.” (Alexander, the missionary from the United States). Crap, so this lady is definitely talking about me! Gosh dangit, what did I miss?! What does she want? She must just be pointing out that there is a missionary from the US in attendance, give her a little smile and a hello wave.
After my nervous waving of hello, the speaker must have realized that I was totally lost. She then slowly repeated my name again, along with what she had probably originally said. I don’t remember exactly what she said in Spanish, due to the utter shock I was in at the time, but this is what she was asking: “Do you want to say a few words for the birthday girl?”
Are you absolutely kidding me?!! Is this even real right now… Not a single soul here has said a word to me, how do you know my name, much less that I’m a missionary? And why are you asking me to give a speech?! I have not the slightest clue what the birthday girl’s name is, much less anything else about her, and you’re asking me to say something about her, in a language I don’t speak, in front of 100 fluent speakers of that language, at her quinseañera, that she’ll remember for the rest of her life?! This has to be a joke…
In the brief 5 seconds that followed I was so completely shocked and panicked that I didn’t know what to do. Red faced and wide eyed, I quickly turned to David for some kind of help or support, who in turn burst out laughing amidst the complete silence. Even if I had to give this speech in English, there’s still no way I could do that. I have to give her a reply.
I turned back to the speaker and couldn’t even get a word out, all I could do is shake my head no. Thankfully, she took the hint that there was no way I was getting up on that stage to say anything, and continued on with the speech she had written out in-front of her.
A few minutes later, once David had stopped razzing me, once I could no longer hear my heartbeat in my head, and once a new speaker had taken the stage, I asked myself: why would that lady ask a completely random stranger to speak at her niece’s (as I found out later) quinseañera?
Even before the next thought popped into my head, I got a response, a response that wasn’t mine. It was God, and he was speaking to me crystal clear. Instead of trying to remember or explain anything, I’ll show you exactly what I recorded in my YAV notebook (which I carry around with me everywhere) in that very moment:
“Said this year was to become a man. That happens when I realize I can’t be the boy who timidly follows and expects to be led, but (when I) take confidence in myself to be the leader God intends me to be for ALL others around me.”
So here’s my up close and personal: I bold the word confidence because that’s what I’ve lacked. I tend to doubt myself instead of take confidence in myself. I’m afraid of being wrong, afraid of disappointment, afraid of failure, afraid of what people might think of me, and afraid of appearing as something that people won’t like. I’m done with all that now, in my weakness God has made me strong. I’ve started a new chapter over here in Colombia: trusting in myself to be that man God is making me into. Fun little side note here to really pull that all together, the Spanish noun for trust and confidence is actually the same word: confianza.
The woman that asked me to speak at her niece’s quinseañera didn’t know anything about me. She had no idea what I might have said, and nonetheless she trusted me. She thought I was fit to be a part of that small group of people who had the opportunity to say something about her beloved niece, she had confidence in me. Even there, in a foreign community, surrounded by people that I don’t know, with plenty of my elders around, she saw me as a leader.
Meanwhile, my mentality had been to follow David around wherever he went. I had taken the role of being a puppy on a leash, following along wherever I was led. To take the backseat and timidly let others lead is usually easier. It doesn’t require that I put myself out there, and doesn’t require too much effort on my part. I can just follow, instead of setting an example; I can just sit back and watch, instead of taking the initiative; I can just be silent, instead of speaking. And just like that, I can easily shuffle my way through most situations life throws at me.
But that’s not the way God wants me to live. That’s not the way a man lives. That’s not the way I’ll live.
The next time I’m asked to speak at a quinseañera, though I still have no idea what I would say, I’ll have the confidence to get up on that stage to be the leader God has made me.