Jesus is Home

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{My Mom opened the door and saw my Dad standing there with the biggest grin on his face. “I looked into his eyes, and I felt like I was at home.”}

Something I have discovered while being away in college is that home is where the people you love are. This means I have several homes: California, Tennessee, and a new place to add to the list… Spain.

It’s February and I realize that I have reached the half way mark of my year abroad.  From building some really good friendships here, singing in the Campus Choir, and volunteering with the AfterGlow team, Spain has become more like home. I am trying to soak in every minute because I know that these last three months will pass by quickly. Hiking to the mountains with friends, feeling encouraged by choir songs, and sharing who Jesus is to us as an AfterGlow team have been some of countless memories these past months.

Just a few snapshots of my life in Spain…

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Adventures with friends!

There’s something about being with good friends in nature that makes my heart happy. Seeing the breathtaking views that God made is the perfect way to spend Sabbath. It has become a tradition of ours to hike up the mountain behind the school and have worship at the top. After singing a few songs, a few of us share how we’ve experienced God during the past week and then pray together. I am so grateful for these friends that I can grow closer to Christ with. The moments when we can’t stop laughing and the moments we can’t stop talking about Jesus are the best.

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Campus Choir

Along with adventuring with friends, singing in the campus choir has also been an amazing experience. I think it is so beautiful how God reveals Himself through music. Last week we were singing a song called “Yo vere” (I will see) in a semi-circle and something special happened.  As I listened to the basses, the sopranos, and the altos sing their parts,  I felt His presence. The song contains these lyrics at the end, “Para ver al Rey su manto de justicia debo utilizar y en su fiesta allí sin prisas… Le veré” which means, “To see the King, I must use His cloak of righteousness and at His party there, without haste…. I will see You.” Even though it had been a stressful week, God used the song to remind me of the hope that I have in Him and His soon return.

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AfterGlow Fam

Lastly, being part of the AfterGlow team is one of many reasons that Spain has become more like home. I love it how our group has become like a family. It reminds me so much of my Campus Ministries family at Southern. Just as the CM team has had such a significant impact in my relationship with God, the AfterGlow team has helped me grow as well- especially in the area of being vulnerable.

Three weeks ago, the AfterGlow team put together a vespers that was about who Jesus is to us personally. As a group we wanted to give people various perspectives of a relationship with God. Five members of the team had the chance to the finish the sentence “Jesus is…” and share a brief experience. I had the opportunity to tell a short story that night…

For me, Jesus is home.

I remember asking my Mom when I was 16, “Mom, how did you know Dad was the one?” She smiled and began, “Well I had just started my first teaching job in Houston…” My Mom explained that she was far away from home and was feeling homesick. My Dad (solely a friend to my Mom at the time) decided to fly from California to visit her in Texas. Upon arrival, he stood outside the door of my Mom’s apartment and rang the doorbell. My Mom opened the door and saw my Dad standing there with the biggest grin on his face. “I looked into his eyes, and I felt like I was at home.”

Years later in Spain I felt homesick during Christmas break. It was the first time in 21 years that I was not at home with my family for Christmas. I was missing my Mom’s hugs, my Dad’s “cheesy” jokes, and playing basketball with my brother. But, how awesome it is that Jesus loves us through other people, such as one of my best friends. I told her how I was feeling and she prayed that “When I look in Jesus’ eyes, I’ll feel at home.” Her prayer touched me because it reminded me of my parents’ love story. Little did I know how much more Jesus would touch me in the week to come.

A week went by and as I was doing my devotionals, a sense of peace swept over me and I truly felt at home spending time with Jesus. Since then, devotional time has become I’m at home time with Jesus.

For me, home is more than California.

Home is more than Tennessee.

Home is more than Spain.

Jesus is Home.

It feels good to be home, Jesus. I looked into Your eyes and I just knew.

https://youtu.be/kS-ItZaO2K4

Robbed by Monkeys

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Hey Mom, just got robbed by monkeys.

{What Roberto did for me that day is the definition of selflessness… He thought of retrieving my phone back, instead of worrying if the monkeys would bite him. His first instinct was to help.}

“How was your trip to Andalucía?” asked my mom over Skype. I smiled and said, “Oh it was good! Haha got robbed by monkeys.” “What? Monkeys??!” my mom exclaimed.

During the school’s trip to Andalucía  this past October, we had a chance to visit Gibraltar, a British overseas territory. I felt like I walked into London when I first saw the city. There were red call boxes and British flags along the streets and I heard people speaking English! After wandering around for a bit, we rode the Gondola up the mountain. I never imagined what would happen when we arrived at the top: a unique encounter with two evil monkeys.

My friends and I loaded off the Gondola and walked down the pathway. We were curious why a couple of people had stopped by the railing and soon found out  that they were watching a monkey drink Coco Cola. Perfect SnapChat moment I thought and pulled out my phone: mistake 1. And mistake number 2 was pulling out my plastic bag from my backpack to reshuffle my items. Almost immediately a ninja monkey sprinted towards me and grabbed my plastic bag and ripped it open. The monkey stole my souvenir red call box and took it out of the package. I was slightly scared and amused at the same time. Good thing the souvenir was only 5 euros. As if reading my mind, the evil monkey’s twin grabbed my phone and sheer panic mode set in.

My most prized possession was in the hands of a monkey and I had no idea if I would ever see it again. I wasn’t worried about the phone itself, I was more sad about all the pictures and memories on the phone being lost forever. I was afraid to try and get my items back because I knew these monkeys were known for being viscious. Thankfully, another ACA student, Roberto, was nearby and stared the monkey down and grabbed my phone back. A minute later, he walked down the pathway and chased the other evil monkey that had my souvenir. “Here you go, Sonja,” Roberto said as he handed my items back. “Thank you so much!” was all I could think of saying. Roberto had risked getting scratched and bit by monkeys to get my phone back. A simple “thank you” did not seem like enough.

What Roberto did for me that day is the definition of selflessness. Roberto did not need to help me, but he decided to anyways. He thought of retrieving my phone back, instead of worrying if the monkeys would bite him. His first instinct was to help and nothing less. This story reminds me of the many people in my life that have helped me even when it was inconvenient or in some cases, dangerous. When I see this type of love in action, I see Christ more clearly and desire even more to love like Him.

  1. My Dad- Found 70 carnations, 40 red ones and 30 white ones, within two hours after he got home from work for a flower vespers I was planning at school that night.
  2. My Mom- Made 3 trips to San Francisco so that I could receive my Visa for my year abroad studying in Spain.
  3. My “sister”, Julie- Sacrificed sleep multiple times so I could talk to her about life.
  4. My brother, Joseph- Ran behind a moving car to pull me out of the way.
  5. Jesus- Left His heavenly home and died on the cross so I could have salvation. He constantly pursues me and reminds me everyday that I am forever His daughter and completely worthy of His love. I’ll never forget when He told me, “You’re worth every drop” (Ephesians 1:7).

Knowing that Jesus thought of me, and He thought of you, above all makes my heart beat a little faster and inspires me to love a little deeper.

Crucified,
Laid behind a stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone.
Like a rose,
Trampled on the ground,
You took the fall
And thought of me,
Above all.

– lyrics from “Above All” by Michael W. Smith

https://youtu.be/SzOgA2RV6Hs

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The Enchilada Story

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Life Group Fam!

{I’m sure Jesus had quite a kick sitting at our table for the enchilada story. Somehow I always knew Mexican food was His favorite.}

We all have that “go-to” embarrassing story, an appropriate story we share when it’s our turn during an icebreaker game in a room full of friends and people we barely know. My favorite one to resort to is “When I was six at Disneyland…” Sometimes I think I am being sneaky by mentioning only the Disneyland story, but my close friends know me too well and will almost immediately say “But what about the enchilada story?” with a smirk on their faces. If I had a dollar for every time this has happened, I’d be a millionaire. There is no way to escape sharing this really embarrassing story, especially when all of them laugh like hyenas and anyone that is clueless is dying to know. So here it is guys, the Enchilada Story, the story I never seemed to have lived down.

There were exactly two weeks left of my freshman year at Southern and I decided to make enchiladas for a vespers with my friends. The plan was to make the enchiladas Thursday night and serve them for dinner at the Life Group vespers Friday night. Hassel-free task right? Or so I thought…

10:30pm, Thursday night- After my roommate and I arrived back from a trip to the grocery store, I hiked up the three flights of stairs of the dormitory to meet up with a friend. My friend had fearlessly agreed to help me complete Mission Impossible: make 70 enchiladas in one night. We set up our stations in the kitchen and began cooking. Agent Double 07 ’s assignment was to make green enchiladas and mine was to make the red enchiladas.

11:30 pm- Later that evening, my friend and I had reached our halfway mark and took a small break. I turned off the burner on my side of the stove and sat down at the table. Because my friend forgot to turn off the burner on her side of the stove, some of the green sauce started to burn a little. We immediately turned off the stove and opened the window. After fanning some of the smoke out of the kitchen it still smelled bad so I opened the door to the lobby.

12:00 am- “Enchilada 67, 68, 69, 70!” I exclaimed to my friend as I finished heating up the rest of the tortillas on the hot skillet (70 enchiladas because you all know how much college guys eat). We were finally done and sat down at the table to celebrate. That’s weird, it kind of smells like… WHY DO I SMELL SMOKE!? I sprinted to the stove to see that my side of the burner was still on and there was a lot of steam rising from the skillet. No fire, just steam and smoke. My friend and I grabbed the skillet and put it by the window, fanning the smoke frantically. A few minutes passed and we thought everything was fine, until the fire alarm started ringing…

12:30 am- There I was, outside the girls dormitory freezing cold and worrying if everyone would find out all at once. To this day, I am thankful that it was dark outside to hide my guilty face, especially as I stood by my two friends. On my left side, one friend says “Why would someone be cooking at 12 o’clock at night?!” while my other friend on the right side of me says “Yeah, it’s ridiculous!” I mumbled in agreement, “I know right, who’d be in their right mind to cook so late?” Eventually the head dean announced that there was no fire and it was safe to return inside the dormitory. Okay good, I thought as I walked back to my room, these sleep-deprived girls won’t stone me alive tonight.

Long story short, my friend and I returned to our rooms and then to the scene of the crime where our 70 enchiladas were neatly stacked in casserole dishes. We explained to the deans what had happened and thankfully, they extended grace along with some practical cooking tips.

The story doesn’t end there though.

On Friday evening, all ten of my friends are sitting around the dinner table at my “adoptive family’s” house for the LG vespers. While waiting for the enchiladas to heat up, we had played some icebreakers outside. Three icebreaker games later, we were finally eating the enchiladas.

Hopefully the story stays a secret… “So girls, were these enchiladas worth the fire drill last night?” asks my friend with a grin on his face (he had heard about the story earlier from a previous conversation). The girls at the table stared blankly at the enchiladas processing his comment while my two friends that I was sitting between stared at me intensely (these were the same two friends that were standing by me during the fire drill). “It was YOU???” they said at the same exact time. They took another bite of their enchiladas and then said, “Yep, they were worth it.” ☺ [That, my friends, is forgiveness.} PHEW… Almost simultaneously, everyone bursts into laughter, including me, and all of us at the table- friends and adoptive family- laughed for a good five to ten minutes.

Along with the dinner story time, the night was unforgettable. After dinner, our group walked outside into the crisp air and gathered around the circle of chairs that were set up on the backyard patio. We sang campfire songs, laughed for days, played the “yarn ball compliment game”, and participated in “With this rag, I want Jesus to use me to…” I’ve never experienced a worship so special before where everyone shared something so raw and personal. Our group had started out as friends and now we were family, a family willing to share our struggles and lift each other up. A few tears later, we ended with a hug-line. While we were singing the last song, it started to sprinkle gently on us and I glanced up at the twinkling lights of the canopy and gazed higher up at the stars. As time seemed to freeze, I thought Let me never forget beautiful moments like this Jesus- enchiladas, friends, laughter, tears and all.

I’m sure Jesus had quite a kick sitting at our table for the enchilada story. Somehow I always knew Mexican food was His favorite. Thankful that my God loves to laugh! He is so good and so personal. He laughs with us; He cries with us, He loves us.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

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Food Network Image: If any of you were wondering, the enchildas were not burnt. 😊

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“Move to the Truth”, one of many icebreaker games that we played at Life Group

His Presence

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{There’s something special about feeling the wind blow gently against my hammock, learning to simply “be”, and knowing that God is present (Psalm 46:10).}

Two months have flown by and I still find it surreal that I’m studying in Spain for an entire school year. Excitement, apprehension, and confusion have been some of many feelings that I’ve felt. So much has happened, such as taking new classes, confusing myself with Spanish verb tenses, and building new friendships. But it hasn’t been all fun and games, especially the first week of school when I was missing everything and everyone I was familiar with. Something I have learned about myself the past few years is that I love new adventures but I am resistant towards change. Ironic, I know right? New experiences are great but being away from family and close friends is hard. Anyone else in the same boat?

*My thoughts during the first week of school*

(1) Spain is so much fun, but I wish my close friends from Southern were here to share these experiences with me.

(2) I want some close friends here to have deep conversations with.

(3) Somehow, I need God to say He’s got me.

Little did I know that even though I was craving words from God, what I needed was His presence, simply His presence. Later that week, I looked around my room and saw my hammock tucked away on the bookshelf. “Time for a Jesus date” I thought and smiled to myself.

After a quick hike up the mountain by the dorm, my friend and I set up our hammocks. It was the perfect place, my spot to simply be. Settling into my hammock, I looked around and saw the most breathtaking view. Orange trees on the hills, blue skies, and green shrubbery made up the idyllic landscape. I started writing out my thoughts to Christ in my prayer journal and it just flowed. As I felt the gentle breeze blow throughout my hammock, it reminded me of the Holy Spirit. It was then that I felt God’s presence, when He hugged me with the wind. Even though there were no audible words, I knew what God was saying with the hug: “I’ve got you Sonja.”

There’s something special about feeling the wind blow gently against my hammock, learning to simply “be”, and knowing that God is present (Psalm 46:10). Feeling at peace, learning to be still, and knowing God’s presence is all part of a relationship with Him. It’s not an easy process, especially during the silent periods. Slowly yet surely He has helped me shift my prayers from “God, fix this, fix that…” to “Your will God, not mine. In the meantime, let Your presence be enough for me…” Sometimes my own brokenness has held me back from spending time with Him. But broken or whole, Jesus tenderly calls me to run into His loving arms time and time again. He’s present and ready to hug us, when we are present and ready to receive it.

“Well God” I thought as I walked down the mountain, “I guess this isn’t my spot anymore, but our spot.”

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)