Feeling Unconventionally Thankful

Why is it that I find it so incredibly easy to produce a long fluffy list of things for which I’m thankful that doesn’t include a single intangible item?   Perhaps it comes from the continuous rhythmic beat of our culture that has us dancing to the drum of materialism.   Perhaps it flows out of the truth in the age-old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind!”   However, could it be that I’ve simply lost touch with the most precious gifts that God has given me–things for which I should be continuously thankful?   Could it be that the things for which I should be most thankful are things that I’ve really never been thankful for before?

How many times have I thanked God for wisely saying ‘no’ to certain fervent prayers?   How often have I worshipped Him for graciously slamming a door shut before me that seemed to be the perfect path forward?   How frequently have I bowed before the Lord to honor Him for mercifully taking away something that appeared to be ideal for me?   How regularly have I displayed a heart of joyful thanksgiving to God for sovereignly bringing into my life painful changes that were later transformational?

Rarely, if ever.

This week, the Spirit has led me to ponder the breadth of unconventional blessings that I’ve received from the Father in the form of many ‘no’ responses, slammed doors, things taken away, and painful changes.   How much heartbreak, needless suffering, and time wasting was avoided by His kind–yet unwelcome at the time–intervention?   How many new opportunities, relationships, and open doors would have been unrealized had it not been for His infinite wisdom acting to override my self-indulgent will?

Please know that not for even a moment would I suggest that our thanksgiving for material things is misplaced–heavens no!   We are indescribably blessed in the western world.   Even the poorest of the poor in first world countries has better access to basic necessities than the average person in many lands; but, I’m certain that is no new news to you.   My prayer is not that we would cease to thank Him continually for our running water, hot cups of coffee, healthy families, or gas for our car(s), but that we might begin to be thankful unconventionally, too.

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The Art of Adjusting to the New Normal

This has been a frustrating week for me (David) as I’m wrestling with the details of opening a bank account in Italy and also trying to get the correct documents for us to be able to get our Italian driver’s licenses.   Not only do I now have a better idea what it must be like for foreigners who come to the USA and start a new life, but I also can feel their annoyance in not having things work the way that they understand from their home culture.   All of this quickly boils to the surface of my heart the desire to complain…

Nonetheless, our new normal in Italy is filled with countless blessings, opportunities, and joys.   It offers untold adventures of discovery, a cornucopia of new relationships to build, and rich vistas of faith as we trust the Lord in the midst of it all.   However, coupled with the blessings are the bereavements that change brings.   I don’t think that I’m going out on a limb to say that most of us deal better with the blessings than the bereavements of change!   Why is it that our flesh so militantly resists change?   Perhaps it isn’t change itself that the flesh resists but actually changing itself…

Yes, we’re adjusting to the new normal;  but  I’m not sure that I can wrap my mind around or describe in a few paragraphs all that it entails.   However, some wise colleagues of ours have challenged us to view the perceived delays, frustrations, and hardships of our adopted culture in light of the fact that they are the new normal.   Thus, the Italian way of doing things isn’t bad; it’s just different.   This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, self-delusional, mind-over-matter scheme to convince ourselves that certain circumstances are better than they actually are.   In fact, it’s a much healthier embrace-it-for-what-it-is approach that calls us to receive–read embrace–all of the circumstances of our new environment as a part of the life that our Sovereign God has called us to in Italy.

For those of you who might be worried that we’re tattooing on fake smiles for times when we’re not feeling it–please don’t!   On the contrary, we’re choosing to see the thrilling things and frustrating things alike as provision–grace gifts–from the Lord as fodder for His furnace to make us more like the Son.   Instead of complaining and comparing, we desire to adjust and learn to appreciate.   Instead of fixating on the wait, we desire to reclaim the time.   Have we arrived?   Not hardly.   However, the Spirit daily molds us into greater lovers of this land and its people.   He daily develops our heart to make disciples among the 99% of modern Italians who are living outside the grace and glory of a personal relationship by faith with the Living God through Jesus Christ.

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How Does a Month of Vacation Sound?

The month of August in Italy is the month when everyone takes vacation.   It is not uncommon for businesses to be closed for the entire month (or at least a couple weeks). Public transportation runs on a modified and less frequent schedule since there are not as many people in the cities, and the city feels almost empty.   I am still trying to figure out how the country can function when everyone is off in August.  OK, not EVERYONE is off work for the month….but at some point or another during the month of August, it seems that most people take a week or two (or three) off work.

Where do all the people go??  Good question.   Many people go to the coast or to the mountains, some go out of the country to other European coastal destinations, but *I think* most people visit family in the small towns.   The point is just to get out of the city and have some sort of retreat for the mind/soul.

The 15th of August is the holiday celebrating the month for vacation–known as Ferragosto.  *I love Italy*  So, even if you don’t take a vacation in August, you’ll at least have ONE long weekend to escape the busy city life.

We were so blessed to be invited by Italian friends from church to join them in their vacation over the weekend of the 15th.  We went to a small town of 300 people called Pietragavina.  The region where it is located is famous for their salami.  Mmmmm.  It is a BEATIFUL town on a hill that embodies how I envisioned small-town Italy prior to coming to this country.  I would never do it justice describing it with my words, so I’ll include some pictures.

We spent a wonderful couple of days with friends from church and felt so welcomed and loved.   For me personally, it was a special time of bonding with some other Christian women.  Of course I look forward to more bonding when language isn’t quite as big of a barrier, but it was still so good to connect on some level to someone other than my husband.  I love David, but he’s not a girl. 🙂  It was so nice to see some things that are universal among women: talking about hairstyles, shaving legs, matchmaking, etc., but also to soak in and realize some of the differences.

We both came back from the weekend refreshed and encouraged.  Afterwards we were able to understand a *little* better the concept of August as the vacation month. 🙂

 

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Our First Week in Italy

Time flies when you’re having fun! I can’t believe we’ve already been in Italy for a week. Having arrived with all our bags and no complications, we were greeted at the airport by part of the “Italy team” of missionaries. We immediately enjoyed our first Italian cappuccino before leaving the airport with a brioche (pastry).   Yum.

This first week we have focused on gaining our bearings around the neighborhood/city, the mass transportation system, and starting the process of obtaining our long-term documents.   We have ventured out each day on ‘field trips’ and have enjoyed some delicious meals with friends.

It’s been a smooth and enjoyable transition thus far. Though some things are very different and will take some getting used to, it’s fascinating to observe and learn how Italians live. For the first six weeks we are in Italy, we’re staying in my (Jana) brother’s apartment in Milan while he and his family are stateside for the summer.   Starting in August, we’ll begin language school–one month in Milan and then the rest in Bologna (6-9 months).   I cannot wait to be able to communicate with people! Thankfully, David speaks well and I have been able to understand some of what is said.

I thought I’d share about our day today to bring you into our experience of adapting to life in Italy….

This morning I began a load of laundry at 9am (which takes about 2 hours to wash) then hung the clothes out to dry on the balcony. Then I swept the house which is mostly wood or tile of some sort. The mornings and evenings are cool and pleasant, but the afternoons are warm (HOT in David’s words). Since there is no AC in our apartment, we leave the windows open all the time. We hear the sounds of the neighbors, the street traffic, and the construction across the street where they are putting in a new subway–I think.

At about noon we left for Sesto Calende where the Lukers (fellow CrossWorld missionaries) live. They offered to help us go to the Comune (city offices) to fill out our application for long-term documents. This trip included hopping on a bus, getting on two subways, and boarding a train to Sesto. We  arrived  two hours later (normally a 40 min. drive) and went to the Comune.   There we were told that we were at the wrong place and we needed to go to another office that is only open on Mondays. We had waited to go to Sesto today because THIS Comune was only open on Thursday afternoons. So, we went with Terrance Luker to the “bar” and drank coffee together.   In order not to have a wasted trip to Sesto, we decided to go to the store and get a cell phone for me (Jana). We quickly learned that we cannot get a contract for a phone until we have an Italian credit card. We cannot get a credit card until we have an Italian bank account, which we cannot have until we have our equivalent to a social security number, which we can’t obtain until we have our long-term documents 🙂

So, we embarked on our two-hour trek home. While at the bus stop, we struck up a conversation with an Italian guy and found out he is a fellow believer! We were so encouraged to talk to him. We got home, ate dinner, folded the laundry, and realized it was time for bed. We will give it another try tomorrow–or Monday.

While I am tempted to be frustrated with the system and bureaucracy, I realize that it is quite a blessing that in a couple months I should be able to have all the above mentioned things (bank account, social, residency, phone contract etc).   It may take several hours of public transportation and waiting in lines, but we’ll most likely be completely settled in a matter of weeks!   I don’t even think it’s that easy for immigrants to the US!

We feel blessed to learn snippets of Italian culture through this document process, and thankful because we know God will grant us all that we need in His timing.

Here are some fun things I LOVE about Italy so far:

  • Being able to function just fine and getting around the city without a car. Lesson learned: wear comfortable shoes!
  • Delicious produce!   Everything fresh seems to have so much flavor.   At the grocery store, people are required to wear a disposable glove when picking through the produce.
  • People are always out and about walking
  • Coffee!!
  • The month of August is THE month when everyone takes vacation. The small businesses will all close down and the public transportation schedule changes in preparation for a month of slow activity in Milan.

…More to come as we learn new things each day!!!

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A New Home; A New Perspective

I supposed, on some level, that the whole crossing of the Atlantic would have seemed more dramatic to me.   Just for the record, for those who haven’t noticed, I’ve been accused of being idealistic.   I’ve labored for the past six years for the day when I would return to Italy and it’s finally here!   I can recall countless sleepless nights in seminary staying up late translating Greek or Hebrew; I’d stare out the window at the night sky and remind myself that I was enduring the momentary hardship for the sake of the gospel in Italy.   Thinking of the great need here in Italy pressed me onward in joyful submission to the call that God has placed on my life.   Now that I’m here, I know it isn’t about anything glitzy, trendy, or spendy.   It isn’t about me, my family, my expectations, or my dreams.   It is about His name, His Kingdom, and the souls of Italians.

Don’t get me wrong, it was very hard for us to walk through the security line at the airport in New Orleans after saying goodbye to my parents and just as difficult the week before leaving Jana’s folks in Arkansas.   Likewise, it was incredibly special to have our CrossWorld colleagues at the airport to meet us on this side of the pond!   I know that it will similarly thrill my heart to see precious Italian friends at church on Sunday after so many years of absence.   However, the actual journey and now our first days in Italy are the beginning of what He desires to be “a long obedience in the same direction” (al la Eugene Peterson).   Yes, there will be breathtaking highs and gut-wrenching lows–our colleagues have assured us–but that isn’t where the mettle of His ministry is worked out (here or anywhere else in the world).   He is calling us to a daily desperate dependence–a moment-by-moment intimate love affair with Himself.   That is where His transforming power is worked into our lives and His glory is subsequently worked out for the world to see…

Perhaps I read too many missionary biographies in seminary–stories of somber saints who said goodbye to their loved ones, packed their lives into their own coffins, and sailed to a far-away place with no intention of ever returning.   Yes, those were definitely inspiring stories with truth to speak into my journey.   Yet, as I sit here this morning with the sleepy-eyed glaze of jet-lag about me, I’m struck with the fact that He doesn’t want me to begin today with the end in sight.   What?   He isn’t so concerned with the results, although we pray they come.   Really?   He wants me to begin today and every moment of every day with His Son in sight–striving for faithfulness and obedience in Him–and trusting any potential results to His care.

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How Much Does Obedience Cost?

This has been a frustrating week for me (David) as I’m wrestling with the details of opening a bank account in Italy and also trying to get the correct documents for us to be able to start driving school to get our licenses.   Not only do I now have a better idea what it must be like for foreigners who come to the USA and start a new life, but I also can feel their annoyance in not having things work the way that they understand from their home culture.   All of this quickly boils to the surface of my heart the desire to complain…

Nonetheless, our new normal in Italy is filled with countless blessings, opportunities, and joys.   It offers untold adventures of discovery, a cornucopia of new relationships to build, and rich vistas of faith as we trust the Lord in the midst of it all.   However, coupled with the blessings are the bereavements that change brings.   I don’t think that I’m going out on a limb to say that most of us deal better with the blessings than the bereavements of change!   Why is it that our flesh so militantly resists change?   Perhaps it isn’t change itself that the flesh resists but actually changing itself…

Yes, we’re adjusting to the new normal.   I’m not sure that I can wrap my mind around or describe in a few paragraphs all that it entails.   However, some wise colleagues of ours have challenged us to view the perceived delays, frustrations, and hardships of our adopted culture in light of the fact that they are the new normal.   Thus, the Italian way of doing things isn’t bad; it’s just different.   This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, self-delusional, mind-over-matter scheme to convince ourselves that certain circumstances are better than they actually are.   In fact, it’s a much healthier embrace-it-for-what-it-is approach that calls us to receive–read embrace–all of the circumstances of our new environment as a part of the life that our Sovereign God has called us to in Italy.

For those of you who might be worried that we’re tattooing on fake smiles for times when we’re not feeling it–please don’t!   On the contrary, we’re choosing to see the thrilling things and frustrating things alike as provision–grace gifts–from the Lord as fodder for His furnace to make us more like the Son.   Instead of complaining and comparing, we desire to adjust and learn to appreciate.   Instead of fixating on the wait, we desire to reclaim the time.   Have we arrived?   Not hardly.   However, the Spirit daily molds us into greater lovers of this land and its people.   He daily develops our heart to make disciples among the 99% of modern Italians who are living outside the grace and glory of a personal relationship by faith with the Living God through Jesus Christ.

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Christ is King, Period. But, Do We Allow Him to Reign as Such in Our Lives?

We were recently challenged by a confession of faith that Dr. James C. Denison quoted in his recent 2011 Lenten Devotional entitled, Making Christ Your King. This quote came from an African believer who was subsequently martyred for his faith.  I pray that it challenges you as it did both Jana and me:

“I am part of the ‘Fellowship of the Unashamed.’ I have Holy Spirit power. The dye has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal in heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of compromise, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go until he comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until he stops. And when he comes to get his own, he’ll have no problems recognizing me–my colors will be clear.”

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Do I REALLY Need That?

How many times have I asked myself this week the mildly penetrating question, “Do I really need that?”   It seems to be the recurring theme of our lives this month as Jana and I begin to pack our lives into a cornucopia of rough rectangular boxes.   Many of our possessions suddenly have been reduced from the familiar shapes and warm fuzzies of precious books, pictures, and keepsakes to a precarious stack of sagging brown squares shoved into the corner of our study.   Sad, huh?

Almost whimsically, I’ve also asked random rhetorical questions like, “Do they sell zip-ties in Italy?   How about WD-40?   Any chance I can buy Splenda there?”   I think that the answer to all three questions is no. You might giggle and snort about such inquiry, but these are the thoughts of a committed planner who is moving overseas!   One side of my planning stems from an honest desire to prepare for our anticipated needs in Italy in an economical and efficient manner.  However, the dark side of that coin is my sinful desire to control my circumstances, insulate myself from change, and maintain the status quo in my life.

I wholeheartedly believe that part of His goal in sending us to make disciples in Italy is to unclench my grip on circumstance control, strip away my aversion to change, and shatter the mundane rut of routine that I so often travel.   While I don’t for a moment think that our calling to Italy is about me, I do see His hand to redeem every aspect of the transition to life there for His glory in my heart.   Anyone notice a pattern here?   Trust.   Or, the lack thereof.   My sinful flesh thinks: “If I’m able to control, insulate, and maintain, I have little need of God.”   That whole line of thinking is in itself high treason against the One Who supplies my very breath and my next heartbeat!  What kindness He shows in graciously liberating me from these freedom-stealers so that I can fully engage the exhilaration of having to desperately depend on Him by faith.

Perhaps another layer of this mire in my heart is due to cultural myopia.   I carry within me the arrogant–yet politely unspoken–belief that my way of doing things is somehow inherently superior.   While I’ve lived among Italians and have grown to love them and their culture, my pride provides much more than a simple affinity towards my country and its customs.   This is more than a simple preference for American things like fresh brewed iced tea, Craftsman tools, and Jif Natural Peanut Butter.  It’s the foundation for the belief that I have little to learn from my adopted country and countrymen–the insidious idea that somehow I’ve got it all figured out.   Father, save me from this ingrown and illegitimate thinking that reveals the ugly incurvature of my heart!   Free me to yield to all that the Spirit wishes to teach me, extract from me, and deposit within me through this precious new culture and people!

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Do I REALLY Trust Him?

“Please show me your will about _____, Father.”   How many times have I prayed that prayer?   Or how about, “Lord, make it clear to me what direction to go regarding _____.”   Likewise, I’ve often asked, “If _____ isn’t your will, please reveal what is.”   Perhaps many of you have, like me, uttered these prayers hurriedly in a crisis or fervently cried them out to God over many days…months…years regarding a particular issue of the heart.   These are classic, biblical, evangelical prayers seeking out God’s perfect will for our lives, right?   Hmmm…perhaps.   Are these God-honoring prayers of faith and child-like dependence or penetrating rays of light which reveal the depravity of our own hearts in the form of faithlessness?

In a recent conversation with a dear brother and fellow seminary classmate, I was challenged to examine this very question.   I was immediately convicted by the Spirit that, for the most part, when I have muttered the aforementioned prayers or others like them, that it  wasn’t  flowing out of a heart of faith and dependence.   Since that conversation, I’ve been contemplating this question consciously and subconsciously as well as allowing it to marinate within my prayer life.

The conclusion that  I’ve  come to is that most often when I pray a prayer like, “Please show me your will about _____, Father,” it generally comes from a heart that wants to know God’s plan now so that I can have everything clear and comfortable in my mind about the future.   My heart disposition in these prayers  isn’t  one of faith, but of unbelief.   If I was truly resting and trusting in Him regarding _____, I would be able to wait for Him to reveal His will in His perfect time.   In my impatience, I reveal the true condition of my heart. Perhaps, as my friend suggested, my prayer should be, “Father, please give me greater faith to just trust you with _____.”

Clearly, I’m instructed to ask God for wisdom when I lack it (see James 1:5).   However, that instruction comes with a warning that I  shouldn’t  expect anything from Him if I don’t ask in faith (see James 1:6-8).   Likewise, Hebrews 11:6 makes it clear that “without faith it is impossible to please God”; so, my faithless prayer cannot please Him.   However, I find great hope in Jesus’ reaction to the plea of the father whose son was demon possessed (see Mark 9:17-27): “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

I write about my experience not to project my struggle onto anyone else, but perhaps because you might occasionally find yourself in a similar predicament!  I’ve  wrestled with petitioning God like this in our journey of raising support to get to Italy.   However, this thought process has changed how I approach the Lord in praying.   Now, I find myself more frequently asking Him to grow my faith rather than to reveal His will…

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Benvenuti! Welcome!

 
 
 
 

It is our great privilege to welcome you to the official grand-opening of our online presence! After many weeks (months) of brainstorming, thought, prayer, and construction, it is finally finished!  We hope that our site can not only serve as a point of reference for friends and family to follow what the Lord is doing on the field in Italy, but also be a place where we can share about our family and how He is conforming us into the image of His Son!

We would like to take a moment to say a very special thank you to our friend Brad Hepp, who himself is a missionary kid, for all of his creative work in custom designing our page theme, helping with ideas about content, and providing the hosting!  There is no doubt that things look as good as they do because of Brad!  While I (David) tinker with web design, Brad is a professional who makes his living in this field.  We are grateful for his very gracious donation of time and resources to the Lord’s work!

Please take time to look around, kick tires, and let us know what you think!  This will be a new location where we share about our journey and welcome your interaction.  While it’s hard to have true community without face-to-face fellowship, we welcome the online interaction.  We will continue to share prayer requests and more sensitive information through our regular email updates and short Facebook group updates.  If you would like to be a part of either group please connect with us using the Contact page.

The passion of our lives and ministry is to glorify the Lord Jesus and establish His Kingdom!  We pray and labor to see the multiplication of mature Italian Christ-followers, disciples, with a DNA to spiritually reproduce themselves in others, build up the Body of Christ in Italy, and reach out beyond their country to fulfill the great commission to the ends of the earth!

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