A few years ago, when I lived in Spain, I went on a weekend trip to Extremadura, which is basically a lot of desert and a few Roman ruins. It was a school-sponsored trip, so our accommodations were classed-up considerably from the cheapest (safe) hostel we could find online, which is what we usually went for, to a formal hotel.
I don’t remember the exact problem or what caused it, but I had some kind of trouble with my room key. Because of it, I couldn’t get in my room. Exhasperated, tired, and hungry, I complained to the guys from my school who were hanging out in the hallway. One of them cut me off and impatiently told me to go down to the front desk, “You’re not shy, and you speak Spanish fine. What’s the problem?”
I could speak Spanish, but I only liked to use it around people I knew well. I knew I didn’t speak it flawlessly, and I was afraid of sounding stupid–especially at the concierge’s desk in a fancy hotel. I hated that I couldn’t get my thoughts and ideas out exactly right, so most of the time, I didn’t even try.
I’ve barely used the language at all since I returned to the US in the winter of 2011.
But Spanish has been on my mind lately. I’ve taken to reading el mundo at lunch and started mentally walking through what a phone conversation would be like if a Spanish-speaking person called the church.
To that end, I’ve been waiting, hoping, thinking, planning, praying, but only sortof expecting to use it.
Today, I was talking to a woman at a big, annual church work day in apartment complex that needs some love. I walked up to her because she was alone, and I like helping people feel part of the group.
We had a comfortable back-and-forth conversation, and eventually she told me about how she usually doesn’t like speaking in English. She’s afraid she’ll mess up. I thanked her for her willingness to converse with me, even though it was hard for her.
Then BOOM. No fear. No nerves. No hesitancy.
I started talking to her in Spanish.
My new friend and I talked a little more about our families, and then we went our ways. But while I was walking away, I realized that what had just happened was really, really good. I’d voluntarily swapped places with someone who was uncomfortable by putting myself in the vulnerable position.
It was a discovery that became my MO for the rest of the day. I asked a group of shy, little girls who would barely talk to me to help me with my Spanish, and by the end of the day, I had a long shadow that followed me everywhere. All we talked about was Disney princesses and jump rope, but sometimes what you talk about matters a lot less than the time you spend together.
I grew-up doing the work day thing. I know how to get work done, start a party with a bunch of kids, introduce myself to their parents, help make people feel comfortable, and seek Kingdom breakthrough with people who think that God would never do anything here. It was awesome today, just like it always is.
But doing it in Spanish–woah, that’s new.
As an added appendice to this story–I so seriously should have gotten in an accident on the way home. I didn’t see past Shirley’s head in the passenger seat and attempted turn directly into an oncoming car, but even though I was still pushing the gas pedal, the car didn’t get any faster. In that split-second moment of “what just happened?,” I looked down at my dashboard. The car had slipped into neutral (??!??); major, major accident averted.
Yeah, awesome day.