Friday, August 31, 2012

just remember i love you

so our last big fling was the national church retreat that happened at the harding villa in florence last wednesday to sunday.

there were about 60-70 italian christians here for this annual retreat and it was such a great time of encouragement and building up of our faith.

so, i already told you about the youth retreat and how powerful and emotional that time was for us. however, the feeling had not yet hit me that this is the end of our stay in italy (for now). that this would be the last time i would see some of my favorite people (for now). then it did hit me. one evening before dinner ryan began some spontaneous singing of some newly translated worship songs. holy lord, here i am to hit me. i lost it. then i couldn't get it back. the floodgates of emotion had been opened :) my mom is laughing right now because she knows that this "cry at the drop of a hat" thing is something she gave me. but it wasn't the drop of a hat. it was huge. 

we are wrapping 2 of the hardest and most wonderful years of our lives. the most bittersweet feeling i've experienced. i'm a completely different person than i was 2 years ago because of things that happened here and the people we've known. it feels so strange to leave it. maybe i'm being dramatic but i don't think i am.

the beautiful thing and the thing that makes it even harder is how sad the italians are too. they love us unconditionally just because we came. they are used to americans coming and and leaving in 2 years but they don't hold back love to keep it from hurting when we leave. they love us strongly and unconditionally regardless. it's moving. god is using that. 

so basically after the emotional breakthrough, i walked around like every moment was moving in slow motion. like i was watching a movie. hyper aware. telling myself to remember every detail. soaking up every voice, every smile, every hug. i'll remember it all.

sunday after church telling everyone bye was pretty awful but i know that our work and relationships with these people aren't over. 

i couldn't be more thankful.

here are some photos from the week.
angela italian melissa and american melissa

gennaro antonio and us
the youth
italian laura antonio and francesca
the kids
our kids class
marco the peters natale and ryan watching gennaro do magic
my kindred spirit marta
elison and matteo
matteo and the soccer game
giuliano joele and giacomo on the triumph
the talent show
under the beautiful olive trees 
the water fight

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

silly love songs

one of our last projects of our time here was a youth retreat and a national church retreat that both happened last week. 

we planned the youth retreat to be right before the other one so the kids could do both and not make 2 trips to florence this summer.

when they do retreats here in italy they are always great and uplifting but they are usually geared more towards self and strengthening our personal faith. of course that is wonderful but we wanted to add something this time. 

when we started planning earlier this summer we decided that the theme was going to be "sono secondo" (i am second) and that on top of the fellowship and studies and speakers we were going to serve together. 

we wanted to involve them in the acts of service that have become so much a lifestyle to us and show them how easy and important it is to serve others all the time and in the places where we live. 

it's so funny how much we can talk about doing something, knowing it's the right thing to do and then forget/not to do it ourselves. we don't want that to happen with these teens. 

so it started out with serving the meal together at the train station sunday night.

monday morning we went and sang and had a devotional with a lady from our church who can't get out. 

that afternoon we went and sang hymns at the nursing home that we've been volunteering at this year. 

words will never be able to explain the power and movement of the spirit through these kids in these few days. it was like we just needed to put them into these situations and they took off running. a lot of them had never done any of these things before and you could tell that when their "religion" met this service and acted it out it was like they found an answer to an equation they'd been searching out for a long time. 

you could feel the spirit's power and you could see in all of their eyes that something amazing was happening inside of them. the way they were carrying themselves and speaking with each other. there was so much substance that i hadn't seen before. they were all restless. in a good way. in a way that i knew they were going to go back to their cities and be a little bit changed.

this had nothing to do with anything we did but everything to do with the fact that our god is an all consuming fire and when we let him loose in our lives he will accomplish his will and it is indescribably beautiful. the only time that happy tears weren't welling up in my eyes in those 3 days was when i was cooking or asleep.

so...after all that we had the big national retreat at the villa for the rest of that week. these kids weren't done. they couldn't stop talking and seeking and praying. we saw that too. you couldn't miss this power that was swirling around. it was so tangible that all you could do was cry and be thankful that you and these kids were experiencing it. it was the most emotional week of my life. 

whenever i did see ryan during this week (we were both busy) all we did was tell each other stories of something amazing that one of the teenagers had told us that they decided to do. tears. joy. 

growing up in a huge and awesome youth group, i was always exposed to beautiful opportunities to serve others and see the relevance of it in this life especially as a follower of jesus. it was so normal for me and every other teenager in my youth group. 

the thing about these kids is that a. they don't have youth groups/youth ministers/youth activities, maybe there are 4 other teenagers at their church if they are lucky, they are strong but alone young christians b. they just went from thinking they are the future church of italy to realizing that they are the church now and not being intimidated by that but embracing it.

they are unstoppable.  

i believe we just got to witness the beginning of a huge transformation in the churches in italy. i believe i saw a miracle.

then another miracle. at the end of this glorious week together, 3 of the boys (all around 20 years old) talked to ryan, eric, and peter bell and told them independently that they wanted to change the direction of their lives, find work in florence and move here to help the church of florence. what!!!! one of them is giving up moving to london for university, one of them is giving up a steady job and all 3 of them are moving away from their families!!! this was their idea people! are you amazed by god's spirit? i can't get over it.  

florence needs jesus, especially the young adults (something ryan and i tried and tried to do but were not very successful at) and these boys noticed and decided they just want to evangelize here. whatever it takes. 

i'm not amazed at how awesome god is. i knew. but i'm so so so incredibly thankful that i got to watch this humongous continuum come together in front of my eyes and 3 lives shift direction exactly towards the will of god and leave their own behind.

thank god with me.

here are photos and the video from the youth retreat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

let's stay together

ryan preached on sunday!

he did an awesome job. 

god did awesome things through him. 

i wish everyone we know could have heard the message out of his mouth but since you couldn't i'm bringing it to you. in english.

it's way worth the time it takes you to read it.  

i hope it encourages you as much as it did me. 

go hubs, i'm so proud to be your wife. 

go god for making ryan.
his message:
two weeks ago, laura and i were traveling in southern france with kyle as a last 'good-bye' to him. during our trip, i read a book called a million miles and a thousand years, by donald miller. he is a believer in jesus and has written a few books about the christian faith and his personal journey towards christ. one of those books, blue like jazz, is like a biography of his journey to faith in jesus. in a million miles and a thousand years two men come to donald with the idea to make a movie about blue like jazz. while they are discussing the possibility of making this film, he thinks to himself "is my life significant? am i living a significant life? if my life was made into a film, would people be interested? would they care?". these questions struck me too. 
i began to ask myself the same questions. is my life a good example of doing the things we've been challenged to do on this earth? what kind of story am i living out? what kind of stories are we telling our friends, spouses, children, grandchildren, etc. with the lives we are living? how can we live out better stories? how can we help the people we love to live better stories? 
miller writes the following: 'if you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. you wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. the truth is, you wouldn't remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. but we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. the truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.'
so, if we are challenged to live a significant life, a better story, how do we do it? we are the protagonists of our stories. god has given us the possibility to choose the path for our life. i'm going to share 5 ideas from the book to encourage us to live better stories.
1. protagonists desire greatness. when i say greatness, i'm not saying importance or popularity. i mean greatness in the qualities for a christian life. greatness in love, greatness in joy, greatness in peace. jeremiah 29:11 says, "'for I know the plans I have for you,'declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"god has a desire for us to live full lives. in john 16:24 jesus reminds us to ask in his name and "receive, and your joy will be complete." an example of a protagonist who desired a full life is the woman at the well in john 4. in verse 15 she said to jesus, "sir, give me this water so that i won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." we know that this woman hadn't lived a beautiful life, but now she desires a different life, a full life. she wanted the greatness that is only found in jesus. are we seeking to find the greatness that is only found in jesus?
2. protagonists make decisions. miller says, "a hero isn't a hero unless he makes a decision." a person who lazily watches their life pass by is not a protagonist. i wonder what the story of the apostles would have been like if they hadn't made the decision to follow jesus after he told them, "follow me". a follower of jesus can't remain neutral. we have to decide to follow or not follow. there isn't another option. jesus explains this clearly in luke 9:57-62. are you watching life pass you by? to live a significant story we must decide to follow jesus. following is active. 
3. protagonists face their fears. miller wrote, "the commandment repeated most frequently in scripture is do not fear. the bible says that more than 200 times. that means a couple of things, if you think about it. it means we are going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn't let fear boss us around." i can see times in my life where i have allowed fear to control me or prevent me from being a man full of the spirit of god. in my opinion, satan has a great advantage when he uses fear. he knows very well how to specifically use our fears and how they work differently for everyone. we cannot let him paralyze us in our fears. psalm 27:1 says, "the Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? the Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?". 2 timothy 1:7 says, "for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 1 peter 3:13-14 says, "who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? but even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." i wonder, are we facing our fears or are we allowing our fears to create boring stories and boring lives? do not fear.
4. protagonists die. as followers of christ, we have to die to ourselves. galatians 2:20 says, "i have been crucified with Christ and i no longer live, but Christ lives in me. the life i live in the body, i live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." don't sing the church song in your head, think about what those words really mean. no longer i live...but christ living in me... to live a great story, we have to die to ourselves. we have to realize that we are not here for ourselves, that part of us died. are we ready to sacrifice everything for our story? is it worth it to give up everything? an example that comes to mind for me is a woman who lives here in florence named stefania. at a time in her life she was homeless and living in the street with 4 children. day after day not knowing if she would be able to feed them. eventually by god's powerful hand, through the city of florence, she was given work and began building a material life for her children. later when she had a home and her children were grown, she thought about that time in her life when she didn't have anything. at that point she decided to give back for the help she had received. using basically all of her money she bought an abandoned building and began feeding and housing the poor and homeless in florence. she sacrificed everything. no longer i live...but christ living in me...
5. protagonists experience meaning. the author wrote this: "we live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn't mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. it's a good calling, then, to speak a better story." as christians we were called to live differently, in a way that has meaning for us and brings meaning to those around us. in ephesians 2:1-10 we see what our meaning is. verse 10 says, "for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." an example of a person who has found the meaning in his life is my student paolo. he was one of my first students when i got here almost 2 years ago. when we studied together it was really difficult to communicate and create a friendship. he's in the italian army and after our first semester was called to serve in the middle east. after several months, he returned to florence and called me immediately. i was shocked that he would even want to hear from me but i could hear in his voice that something had changed in him. we met soon after that conversation and he told me that he was tired of talking about jesus. he wanted to do in His name. from that moment we began to serve together. this guy who was difficult at first to even have a conversation with was challenging me to do something in jesus name. he experienced meaning. 
we are called to be in a story about something much greater than ourselves. we have to live lives full of love, joy, and peace; we have to make decisions; we have to face our fears; we have to die to ourselves; and we have to open our eyes to and experience the meaning god has placed in the world. my prayer for all of us is that we answer the call to act in the name of jesus and live a better story. no longer i live...but christ living in me...
i hope it inspires you to seek god's word and experience meaning there. and i hope god's word makes it impossible for you to be still or quiet or boring.

ps i read the book, a million miles and a thousand years, too while we were in france and it's super good. i suggest it. i'm on a reading kick, trying to make it a habit. it's so much better than tv. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

don't stop

i'm in the middle of reading of book by craig groeschel wierd: because normal isn't working. his little message at the beginning says: "this book is dedicated to everyone who is sick of normal and is ready for something better." 
he's talking to those of us who are realizing that just because something is normal or majority (even/especially in the christian community)that doesn't mean it is right, fulfilling or biblical. 

he focuses on the topics of time, money, relationships, sex, and values. he feels like in those areas as americans, we have stopped aiming towards right or biblical and our goal has just become normal. is that true? i kind of feel like it is. it's killing us, i think. and everyone seems too busy to be happy, myself included. 

so far the book is great. really challenging. i suggest it. let me know your thoughts if you decide to read it or already have. 

anyway, i wanted to share a piece that got me from the section about money. specifically about being rich
we must go from the normal mindset about money and wealth to a radically weird view: gratitude for all we have and stewardship of its use for the good of all. this shift requires us to break out of our usual consumer framework and place ourselves within a global perspective. if you earn thirty-seven thousand dollars a year, you are in the top 4 percent of all wage earners alive today - certifiably rich by anyone's definition. if you make forty-five thousand dollars a year or more, you are in the top 1 percent of wage earners in the world. in order to honor god with your wealth, you have to admit that you are rich. most people won't do that. it's not normal. 
i'm thinking a lot about this and practicing it. saying "i'm rich". i said it to my mom yesterday. it feels weird at first but it's true. i am. you probably are.

then he goes on to talk about giving and its really great. he talks about spontaneous, strategic and sacrificial givers. i want to be a sacrificial giver. 

like the dad gum believers in macedonia who paul says were "very poor" but their joy "overflowed in rich generosity". that doesn't even make sense! they "begged" paul for goodness sake to share their gift with the jerusalem church! what in the world? that is sacrificial giving. the thing is, i can't imagine that they were sitting around thinking about what it would look like in their lives if they gave in this weird way. it was an impulse. a reflex. i want to learn to give like this. like a stupid idiot. like i truly believe that it is more blessed to give than receive. like i would be happier giving than getting. 

the only way to learn that is to do it. pray for me as i do. 

a quote to end with: 
sure, it's weird to believe that it's more blessed to give than to receive. but it's also the most life-giving, eye-opening truth about money that we can ever learn. do whatever you have to do to make your eyes generous.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

against the wind

this is a special newscast (kyle's traveling tradition) for my grandmother "frankie".
i got kyle's photos from our france trip and realized that he had taken all the pictures with us in them. 

because it will make my mom and grandmother happy (they like faces not landscapes) i wanted to post some more france photos that we are actually in.  

after this, no more talking about france. or pictures. 

photo cred to kyle and his tripod. i just took some editing liberties.
those are flamingos in the background
showing him my flamingo feather


ps we had an awesome night in town last night with some friends and then they came with us to talk with and feed the homeless. blessings all around. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

california dreamin'

we went to france with our friend kyle as one last european adventure with him before we move back to the states. we stayed in the national park of verdon gorge (biggest canyon in europe) and also visited the towns of avignon, arles, and cannes. we had so much fun and saw some incredibly beautiful things. we can't thank our families enough for making it possible for us to have this one last great fling in europe (for now).

just wanted to post some of my favorite photos from the week.