Occupy Life: Spanish at an Irish pub

This is another in a series of posts called Occupy Life. Each day you and I occupy physical time and space, making bold statements about what is most important in this life (whether we’re holding picket signs or not). Other entries: pancake battertying ribbonsAlejandra,  Lunch HourDelaney and Roland or the original post Occupy Life: Things One Might Do While Unemployed.

The scene is an unlikely one – Iowa’s attempt at a small Irish pub – but as good a place as any to brush up on my rusty Spanish skills. I’ve given up thinking my heart is capable of uprooting and replanting an endless amount of times. Instead, I believe my heart has magical roots that span states and countries and oceans. And maybe for that reason, I still kind of introduce myself as 100% catracha. If you don’t understand, then you probably aren’t Honduran. But, it might explain why the invitation to tell stories of Honduras in Spanish made my skin tingle.

The excitement came like a flood as I talked about all the faces and places and valleys and mountains that led me to discover a fuller picture of my God. And then I realized my words tripping over words may not make any sense to my friend – especially in Spanish. I offered to switch back to English, but my friend said my blabbering was preferable to Rosetta Stone.

And then it hit me. The words flew out of my mouth accompanied by hands waving and another wild (probably unflattering) smile stretched across my face, “a la orden!”

“A la orden” is a Spanish phrase that means, “at your service” and it was thrown around as often as Midwestern “hellos” when I was in Honduras. I noticed whenever one of my high school girls complimented another on an outfit, the response was always, “a la orden,” which meant that the outfit or shoes or whatever could be borrowed at any time. It was “at their service.” I started to think that we should have the same response whenever anyone compliments our talents.

My friend looked amused. I was trying to gather my jumbled excitement and put it into words… words that could somehow communicate how passionate I am about this idea that NOTHING I can do/say/sing/write/give is mine. Nothing. I don’t own my talents. There is no Caroline Copyright on my abilities. It’s ALL the Lord’s and it is ALL on loan for the purpose of loving God and serving others.

Right there in that cozy, Irish-looking booth I gestured and exclaimed and squealed and probably got more excited than the average, sober Irish pub-goer. But it was like re-discovering this beautiful Truth in a new context called Ames, Iowa.

I live here. I work here. I serve here.
How can I love God by making my every talent available to others?

Oh, you like my whimsical bubble letters? Let me know when you need a poster made.
Oh, you like the way I chase your kids around? Let me know when you need a night off.
Oh, you like my acapella singing at work? Let me know when you need a karaoke buddy.
Oh, you’re looking for a Spanish speaking buddy? Let me know the time and place.

Seriously, just TALKING about a la orden makes my heart sing.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy
by turning compliments into acts of service

a la orden: iowa

Okay, let me give you the skinny:

a la orden (in spanish) means at your service

In some Spanish speaking countries, you’ll hear it as much as you hear “Hola,” which was the case when I lived in Honduras for the past three years. Bus drivers, taxistas, people in cafés and people on the streets – they all say “a la orden” for one reason or another. But it wasn’t the common-ness of the word that got me hooked, it was a few particular instances.

I noticed, when I hung out with my high school girls, they would ALWAYS compliment each other on the clothes they wore. The girl wearing the complimented clothes would nearly always respond with, “a la orden.” After a little investigation, I found that this translated to, “Oh, thanks! If you want to wear it – it’s yours anytime! Just ask!”

This was their way of saying thanks for the compliment:
Girl 1 compliments Girl 2 on her blouse
Girl 2 recognizes the compliment and then makes the blouse available to Girl 1
Girl 1 could then ask to borrow the blouse if the need came up

Pretty simple.

So, I started wondering what would happen if we did the same with our spiritual gifts AND the material things we own. I wrote about it here and here and here. What would happen if we offered the things about our lives that draw out compliments? Because, generally, the things we are complimented on are things we get pretty excited about. A shirt, a car, an art project, guitar playing skills, hanging out with kids… you can fill in the blank with a possession or talent that has sent some compliments your way.

THEN, you take that compliment and turn it around to say:

a la orden

Yep. You make that gift, talent, or possession available to whoever recognized it was good in you.

There is nothing good in me (I know that for certain), save Christ. So, whatever is good about what I do, think, say, or have is only good because of Christ in me and I can’t be selfish about Him.

This is the a la orden philosophy that I realize is not anything new or revolutionary (my friend and I found GOBS of a la orden examples in the Old Testament). But, it was something that put flesh on the bones of “put others ahead of yourself” and has kept me accountable to keep at it.

In Honduras, my friends and I kind of went crazy. We made “a la orden” a verb and a noun. We would have a la orden parties, a la orden discussions, a la orden clothes (if you so much as mentioned you liked it). We carried food and toys and clothes in my car to a la orden to the kids at stoplights. We tried to remind each other of the things we needed to make available to others – that we shouldn’t and couldn’t hoard the good things God has given us.

Now, I’m taking this sweet Spanish phrase to the great plains of the Midwest.

It’s been interesting, but I guess it means helping with wedding plans, talking beside a campfire in the middle of the night, babysitting, meeting for coffee, calling my Honduran students who are now in college, talking on skype, driving to Colorado to encourage a sister who is struggling, functioning as a taxi for church events and a shuttle service for a mission conference. It means farming (and providing some un-farmer-like comedic relief) and writing and jumping like popcorn during game time at AWANA. It means letting a future missionary take me out for coffee and answering all her questions about “how to get there” with “Trust in the Lord, my dear.”

It means a lot of things I never thought it would, but it always means thinking less of me and more of others. If I’m holding on to something to tightly, it might be something I should try to give up – like time and physical treasures.

I’m excited to find out there are OH-SO-MANY ways a la orden lives on here. I do miss doing a la orden lifestyle with my community in Honduras, but I figure we’d better spread the love around and what better place than Iowa?

Here are some of my favorite a la orden buddies.

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Here is a beautiful tune for your Tuesday! Enjoy!

give yourself away

Today was a day that made living “a la orden” (see also here and here) a beautiful, precious gift! I sang a few songs at an all-school assembly this morning and then picked up a trumpet for a third. The band teacher, Dave, is pretty good about affirming gifts in other people… and when he found out I could play trumpet a few years ago, he hasn’t let me forget it’s a gift I should be sharing. And I can say I’m glad he hasn’t!

Then I had several conversations in my office where I said several times, “I’m going to be honest, okay?” and I just got down to the nitty gritty and it was completely received on the other end. Lately, I’ve been asking for recommendation letters from colleagues and several of them mentioned my abilities to meet students where they are. With that kind of affirmation, I’ve got to make it available… and when I do, it’s like EVERYBODY wins! I’m using my gifts (God-given), students are getting blessed, and God is getting the glory!

So then, there’s this other ability people have pointed out called “you’re crazy!” ….. Don’t laugh! I really do think it’s a gift!! I get SO much energy when people revel in joy. It’s CONTAGIOUS. Anyway, people call it different things, “ability to relate,” “crazy,” “energetic,” “young” … and, well, I’ve got to use that gift to the glory of the Lord, right? Because it’s only him that’s allowed me to be so willing (at the cost of awkwardness and embarrassment) to go all out in search of joy! Tonight we did just that. Our plans changed a zillion times, but the mission trip kids (after riding down the mountain in the back of a truck) ended up in the mall doing a scavenger hunt of my devising. We arrived out of breath and sweaty at our final destination with hilarious stories and pictures to share.

I LOVE IT. I seriously LOVE being available and not because I feel so important, but because I know anything good in me is the Lord. Anything I have worth sharing is the Lord’s … I am not my own! And when I share the gifts He’s given, I receive SUCH JOY and blessing to see Him at work!

Today is a day for rejoicing! In terms of routine and calendar, we were a bit early to be blaring “Because He Lives” from our trumpets this morning at the all-school assembly. But in terms of the Truth of Christ’s power over the grave we were every bit right on time. I love to proclaim with my whole heart God’s victory over the grave because it is my victory as well. I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ … so I will be joyful in victory and joyfully available to share my gifts so that His victory over the grave might be boldly proclaimed! It’s truly more blessed to give yourself away.

Today marks the beginning of Semana Santa and I can’t wait to see what other joys the Lord has in store!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy!

Several of my students have a new “favorite” song and I am equally joyful at its truth as I am at their excitement about it! It’s a perfect preparation for this week: