05.30.10

Fish dinner, diesel fumes, and friends

Posted in Ancona, culture, family, food, friends at 2:21 am

Some good friends of ours invited us to attend a fish dinner down by the port. The area of town is called Gli Archi (The Arches), and all of the buildings have a large sidewalk in front and are covered with huge arches.

The dinner was a benefit for some non-profit organization. They spread out picnic tables underneath the arches and everyone mingled around until the boy scouts hurried by to take tickets and bring the food.

There is a street right in front of the arches, and it’s one of the main ways into town. Traffic tapered off as dinner went on, but the occasional bus or streetbike roaring by quickly reminded us to hang on to the kids.

When people think of Italy they often think of a fancy restaurant or a big plate of pasta. They picture wine glasses and pizza. And to be sure, the big fancy Italian dinner is something we enjoy about living here.

But as I sat, scrunched on a flimsy picnic bench with family and friends on either side, I realized that I would much rather have dinner sotto gli archi than in some fancy restaurant. The seafood pasta and fried fish was great, but not nearly as great as the company. I found myself smiling as Trey chatted with Maurizio, as Silla grabbed Francesca to take her for a walk, as Marco brought over a huge dessert that he bought before the pastry shop closed. Dinners like this are just as much for the company as the food.

But … the food was delicious, too!

05.24.10

Volatility

Posted in finances at 9:57 am

There something that I’ve never been quite able to explain to people when we go back home: the effects of the exchange rate. I think most people don’t really get it because it is just completely unfamiliar. How can a dollar not be worth a dollar? I ask people to try and imagine that over the course of two years, your paycheck decreases by 20%. And the cost of living increases during those same two years. And somehow you have to find a way to pay the bills and support the ministry.

This chart shows us the dollar/euro exchange rate from today all the way back to the day we’ve moved here in April, 2005. Recently, the exchange rate has dropped down to about where it was back then. But those two big humps in the middle are what make life pretty interesting.

It’s a helpless feeling. I honestly don’t even understand how the exchange rate gets decided. I know the banks are involved, and there’s something about investor confidence, and possibly a dice role and the phase of the moon. But it means that sometimes my rent payment is $1,232 and sometimes it’s $960. Sometimes the grocery budget is $158 a week and sometimes it’s $123. Sometimes a tank of gas costs $113 and sometimes it costs $88.

We also hate it because we see our supporter’s money, the people who make such big sacrifices to see a church planted in Ancona, worth less and less and no one can do anything about it.

Except for God. Sometimes he has people send a little extra support one month. Sometimes someone in Italy surprises us with a gift. Sometimes we find something we need on sale at just the right time. And sometimes … he has the banker whose hand is on the dial marked “dollar/euro exchange rate” shift things in our favor so that we can pay the light bill.

05.21.10

Milestones

Posted in Newsletters at 1:34 am

Last month we hit a milestone in our ministry here. Five years ago, we were a scared little family of five, getting on an airplane with thirteen rubbermaids full of all that we owned, ready to conquer the world, but not having much of a clue about how to do that.

We struggled through language school. We fought against the differences in the way of life here. We watched our kids battle brand new schools where Italian is the only language spoken. We got a little beat up along the way. We’re different people than we were when all of this started. Our teammates may have even taken some of the punches we threw when times got difficult (but like good teammates, they stuck around and pulled us out of the pit). And here we stand, five years later, content to be working with this great little church in Ancona, Italy.

Well … mostly content. We still have our ups and downs – more ups than downs for sure. God isn’t finished molding and forming us. The team is different than when we started, but it is still there for us and helping us press on. And the more we get to know the people in Ancona, the more we long for them to experience the grace and love that God gives us every day.

In these five years, I’ve learned to relax a bit. I’m pretty high-strung. I get stressed easily. I learned quickly that if I didn’t stop trying to control everything that we wouldn’t make it here. I had to learn to make little jumps of faith – trusting that God would be there to catch me. We’ve faced financial difficulties, problems with our legal status, misunderstandings in the church, even the stress of a childbirth overseas.

Lots of people in Italy know about the Bible, and many could probably recite a story or two. They may know about Jesus or about some of the things that he did. But making that jump from knowledge to faith is a big one.

So I feel like I can kind of relate to those around me. Getting friends to talk about spiritual things with me is like asking them to make a little jump of faith. Challenging people to read the Bible to see if what they believe holds up to what is written is a little jump of faith. Me trusting God to take care of us day by day is a little jump of faith. A jump here, a jump there … isn’t that really what life as a Christian is about?

Sometimes I wonder … did God call us to Italy just so that He could work on some of my issues? Can the changes He’s making in me be an example for others?

Thanks for sticking with us for these five years.

05.18.10

Nostalgia

Posted in culture, ministry at 9:31 am

It’s spelled just like the English word (I’m guessing we stole it from Italian). But it’s pronounced a bit differently: no-stal--a. And it has about the same meaning: longing for the past, wishing for things that once were. But the Italian word has a nuance that we don’t have in English. It also means homesickness.

Every now and then I get hit by a little no-stal--a. I find myself spending time on Facebook looking up people back home. I call people for no reason just to chat. I wonder what so-and-so is up to right now. Cultural things that are normally just differences become irritating. The line in the post office seems longer, the cash register at the grocery store less organized, the bureaucracy even thicker. It’s easy for me to work from home instead of forcing myself to be out. I find myself retreating into my little introverted world and I have to force myself out (or maybe find the right people to coax me out).

I wish I could find a cause for the occasional outburst of no-stal--a. I think it seems to come after a certain length of time in Italy. Sometimes a particularly stressful event with the culture sets me off (there’s another blog post cooking about this very thing). And then it just kind of goes away and life starts to feel a bit more normal. But then, when you live with your feet in two different countries, with family and friends on both sides of the Atlantic, surely a little no-stal--a is normal, right?

05.02.10

Life without Grandparents

Posted in church, culture, family, kids, parenting at 2:49 am

One thing I have been struck by lately is how involved Italian grandparents are in their grandkids’ lives. Italians seem to have much less of a desire to leave home to find jobs or an education, and so extended families living nearby is more common. In many Italian homes, the husband and wife both have to work to make ends meet. And so the kids head to grandma and grandpa’s house after school. There is a lot of gray hair as I wait to pick up the kids after school or as I drop the kids off at soccer or swimming.

But it’s more than just free babysitting. Italian kids seem to enjoy a closer relationship with their grandparents. And it’s made me realize how little contact my kids have with theirs. It really does make life harder. I know my kids miss out on that special bond with grandma and grandpa (and it’s our fault – we’re the ones who moved here). They miss getting to know adults who are less busy and have more time to focus on kid-stuff. Heidi and I miss having someone who can watch the kids for date nights (which hardly ever happen when the going rate for babysitters is $15/hour). I think even our church misses out on the wisdom that grandparents bring. The internet does allow a bit more of a connection than would normally be possible via letters and phone calls. But the distance is still there and still changes things.

And I have yet to find a way to fill that gap.