Friday, February 28, 2014

Post 59

***100th Blog Post! Whooooo!!!!***

OK. I was going to write about how much I enjoyed blues band practice yesterday, but now I find myself in a pickle. As I was prepping to write this post, a colleague commented on how she likes me because I'm a very free and open person. It was at this point that I then felt compelled to mention that this was all thanks to God. It turns out my colleague is also a woman of faith, and we just had a wonderful conversation about the importance of God in our lives, but being short on time, we've made plans to go out one evening and talk about our testimonies. Awesome!
God is good.

Now, as for the blues band, it turns out that we are one member short, because the harmonica player who also sang as a sort of interim vocalist, no longer wants to play with us. He feels that with my addition to the group, it has taken on a direction that is not faithful to blues and he's not really diggin' it.

I'm sorry to say it, but I sense some male chauvinism in this. Blues has been a heavily male-dominated musical tradition, yes. And as a young woman I am certainly not going to sing the way Muddy Waters and Junior Wells did. But come on, let's not forget that women can sing the blues too, and we have had many an impetus to at that.

I am stretching as a vocalist here, but now that I've started to listen to the female versions of some of these sogns, I'm realizing that my interpretations are not that far off from theirs. In the group I am not going to sing from a male perspective (except for "I Got a Woman". too good to mess with, hehe) because that's just not authentic. I wouldn't be singing a blues I could relate to, and it wouldn't be fun.

We all are learning a bit of give and take and looking to bring our styles and preferences together, understanding that some will have to be set aside. For me, that means we don't do all jazz pieces, and for them, that means learning a few jazz pieces. For all of us it means time studying and crafting areas of our talents and abilities that we might not have otherwise, and that my friends, makes this all worth it. :D

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Post 58

So! It's update on that conversation yesterday time!

I first approached the young man who posted the photo on Facebook, and asked him if he would feel comfortable with me having this conversation with the whole group, after I shared my feelings with him. I basically made it clear that while I am capable of laughing off jokes and comments like what they made, not everyone is able to do that. My limit was reached with the Facebook post, but other people's limits might have come as soon as the first time the joke was made Friday evening. I basically told him about micro aggression without lecturing him about it. I said that I've been hearing these jokes my entire life, and they stopped being funny a long time ago. He was really good about, apologized, we hugged, and he promptly removed the picture from Facebook.

When I shared this with the whole group, it was in the context of many other things we were talking about. It was almost as if last night was, "I need to get this off my chest" night. I think everyone had something they needed to clear with someone else, and so all in all it was a good evening to broach the conversation of racial sensitivity.

The only thing is that I think I was a tad bit misunderstood. My main concern was for new or young Christians or visitors to the group, who might not be able to so easily brush off unintentionally or otherwise insensitive jokes. Instead of the issue of these jokes being in and of themselves inappropriate getting addressed, the member who had elected herself head of the evening's proceedings brushed it off as, "Well it's good to know people's personal limits." I mean, hand wave and all. But no matter. Good change is not often achieved overnight, and all good change is worth fighting for.

It was an evening of important growth, coming together in community, and new depth of relationship. After all, if you do not feel safe to share the sorts of things we shared and have the sorts of conversations we had, then there's not much trust or depth of friendship there.

I'm quite pleased :).

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Post 57

It's Friday night, like many a night in Milan this time of the year. We're a lively group of young people and the festivities have just begun.He moves over to walk next to me and we start to talk.

"I think Black people are beautiful," he says.

What I'm hoping he means is, "I think you're beautiful."
These types of bumbling, somewhat offensive compliments always seem to be more fun because I'm in Europe. But I know he means well, and isn't it just a bit flattering? I like to think so.

We walk down uneven Roman roads, usable even now, and pose for a group picture. The romanticism of the evening is enhanced by this group photo, as I am reminded that my ideal way to start a relationship seems to be coming true. In this world of instant gratification, I'm pleased with the pace this is going. We look at the picture, and someone thinks it's amusing that I'm harder to find than others. Ah, the classic 'Black people at night' joke. I brush it off, even laugh along at how fresh and clever this all is, but then I've reached my limit.

"Basta, dai cambiamo argomento."
"That's enough, come on let's change the topic."

Imagine my surprise then, when I find myself the center of a game, a joke on Facebook a few days later.

"Chi trova Allegra vince."
"Whoever finds Allegra wins."

This time I'm not flattered, and I am less apt to find the humor in this situation. Now, I could choose to focus on myself and explore the myriad ways in which I took offense or could have taken offense in this matter, but the teacher in me instead prefers to see this as a learning opportunity: a teachable moment, as we sometimes say. I have the opportunity to lovingly encourage others to enter into another level of sensitivity. This, my friends, is living the dream. Well, to me at least.

In all of this I am learning that I am much more comfortable with confrontation than I used to be, and that I have grown and healed a lot regarding matters of race. I'll be sure to update on how the convo went. :)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Post 56

You are like a fire shut up in my bones
There's a feeling of unrest, of something not quite right,
If I hold You in

I am filled to overflowing, and my worship is an outpouring of my love for You.
It is a response to Your love for me.

I've got to show You off like fine diamonds or precious pearls.
I have gone deep to where You've led me,
and my reward is abundant, uncountable.

I cannot hold You in .
I will not hold You in.
You are invaluable to many but all are invaluable to You.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Post 55

I fix my eyes on You, my Rock and my Redeemer.
In my own strength I am capable of little, but through You I am more than able.

You prepare the way for Your servants.
You set before them a goal unachievable by human effort,
and You bring glory to Your name by making a way.
Indeed, the Lord goes before those whom He has called,
and they need only walk in the certainty of their victory.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Post 54

This was probably one of the most spiritually packed weekends I've had in awhile. I guess I had some catching up to do.

Anyway, to continue, Saturday after relaxing, Alisa and I went to the worship team's evangelistic concert. It was interesting because the locale didn't want them to say the name of Jesus in Italian, where people could understand, and asked them to sing in English. To top it all off, the main singer was hit by a car while making his last pizza delivery and spent the night in the hospital with seven stitches. The guy who stepped up to the plate wasn't as well versed in the songs or in English pronunciation, but all things considered, he did quite well.

It was a lovely evening and I'm happy to see how the team has grown. A lot of young people are on that team and it looks to me that they've fully dedicated /rededicated their lives to Christ.

Sunday was wonderful! So wonderful, in fact, that it deserves its own post, which will come in time. Let's just say that it was fabulous, I received a wonderful word from God, and I spent a delightful afternoon fellowshipping and dining with friends.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Post 53

As if I needed another late night...

This here post is my down time in Biella, where I've gone to visit for the weekend. Visiting Biella this weekend has proved challenging for a number of reasons, the main one being staying out late again on Friday and then getting up early Saturday morning to bike across town and store a bike I'll be using in my apartment. Keep in mind also that I've been fasting.

Now, I might have liked to sleep in, but it seemed that no matter what, that wasn't going to happen. I was in touch with one girl in particular from my cell group, and she wanted to hang out on Friday, expecting me to ensure Andrew's attendance ;). I was willing to go out for her sake, but even more so willing to go out when a certain someone texted me asking if I was going out this evening, and telling me about the group hang out the other girl had already told me about. Now, a text is not much, but when I guy says multiple times that he's shy, it's nice when he musters up the courage to at least type a few words and hit 'send'.

Anyway, my usual Friday night praise and worship was moved to Sunday, so I felt no qualms about going out. Well, then my friend called asking when I was free to worship, and I reminded him we said we'd do Sunday. Alright, so that was cleared up, and I was free to hang out. Andrew hangs out all night with his old friends from Milan, which makes sense since Friday was his last night in town, and I hang out with my cell group buddies.

I end up splitting a crepe with Mr. Shy Guy, and at the end of the evening everyone pretty much put us together in their minds. Well, that's what I'm assuming, at least. Now it's time to wait and see if God does ;). I imagine that's the more important matter. 

There was another new person, and so we all talked and had a nice time. However, I am used to worshipping and praying for long periods of time at least once a week, and so on Saturday as I was rushing through my lunch of bread and cheese (all I would allow myself for the fast, mainly because I didn't want to pass out from biking across town), at the last minute I grabbed my guitar to bring it with me to Biella. This turned out to be an excellent decision.

What ended up happening was a rather intense spiritual battle involving worship and prayer working together with one of my partners (!) in missions, Alisa. It was so nice to be able to work together in two, because as I was worshipping, people would try to distract me. Seeing Alisa continue on undisturbed really helped to keep me focused. I really feel like there was an important spiritual breakthrough that took place in the lives of some of the people present where we were worshipping and praying.

It was really intense! One man kept trying to come in and three times his dog ran away from the courtyard of the church's cafe/restaurant, sending him chasing after. We were doing this for about two hours, and one of the guys in the courtyard kept joking about wanting to unplug me, because I just kept going. Afterward Alisa and I rested and went to the pastor's house, and that was when I took the time to rest and do some writing. Just amazing.

It really was a day of divine appointments, because even on the train that I caught at the last possible moment, Alisa and I met an American woman who we were able to share our testimonies with. What a day!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Post 52

By the time Thursday came around and was done you can quite rightly guess that I was as tired as... I can't think of any flattering similes so I'll refrain from inserting one here.

Monday I was out late worshipping and praising, Tuesday I was out late with my roommate and Andrew, Wednesday I was out late with Andrew and my cell group, and Thursday I was out late again with the blues group I now play with.

I felt so bad, because I was literally falling asleep during practice. Here are all these older married men huffing it out on a late night, going out of their way to pick me up and bring me back home, and I'm the one who can barely keep her eyes open!

Either way, we had a much better rehearsal this time around, namely because I was much more comfortable and had a better grasp of the music. Really, it was a pretty cool. We're trying to figure out how our styles are going to meld, and they are already bringing in jazzier more gospel influenced pieces because of me. Honestly, those are the styles my vocal style and abilities are more suited to.

Stretching with some blues pieces is wonderful, but it's nice to be able to do Fever, Cry Me a River, and I Got a Woman. They've taken my suggestions really well, but as happens with Italians, are not too keen on change that happens too fast. They've told me they want to focus on what they already know, and then we'll slowly start adding in 1 or 2 new pieces, every now and then.

This is already much faster than I anticipated, given that statement. When we start playing shows, it'll get even more interesting!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Post 51

Wednesday evening found me with little to no money on my phone. Well, no money on my phone! It also found me with many phone conversations to make. Because my phone is a piece of crap that literally cannot support whatsapp, I am often left out of cell group communications. Therefore, I had no idea where the group was meeting, and I needed to know more so than ever because I was bringing a seeker with me. Through a series of textmessages and some judicious usage of my roommate's landline, I was able to figure out plans for the evening, and Andrew and I were on our way.

It turns out that we were not meeting in a pub after all, but that we were going to someone's house for dinner and sharing, conversaiton, that kind of stuff. Excellent.

Everyone was primed to share testimonies and bring Andrew in. All sorts of English I never knew my cell group members were capable of was coming out, and I couldn't decide whether I wanted to feel proud or cheated. hehe

I decided to be happy. We prayed, we sang, we shared, and we trusted in God to do the real work of changing hearts. I am 100% sure that good seeds were planted in Andrew's life, and I am going to trust the Great Planter to grow that which was sown, and ensure that the soil of his heart is fertile.

At any rate, Wednesday was a lovely evening of walking and talking, and even a little romance, as Andrew thought one of the girls in my cell group was cute. Ihave my own romantic hopes as well, but again, I'll refrain from writing much of anything on that topic. ;)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Post 50

Meeting Andrew

So, as my roommate and I are both terribly busy, she was not able to inform me that two men were coming into the house. So the weekend that Andrew arrived saw me dressed (thank goodness) with my room door wide open, digging through my closet. I saw two rather good looking men come in and I thought, "These must be Elena's friends." She had mentioned before that an American friend was coming and that a mutual friend was dropping him off at her place.

It was a bit like the dear caught in the headlights. They had keys so I know they didn't mean any harm, and once the clearly notable New York American accent came out of Andrew's mouth, I received even further confirmation that this was indeed my roommate's American friend.

In the excitement of some of my friends from church coming over that same afternoon, I was a complete mess in the kitcken and sliced open my right index finger while trying to slice fresh mozarella. It's like, the softest thing on earth besides soft butter.  Anyway, Elena's Italian friend came to the rescue and whipped up a more than passable meal in no time.

Back to the present. We hung out yesterday and it was quite a nice time, except that I had one beer too many. My roommate and I both teach, and you sort of need to have your wits about you if you want to do it well. We are both also incredibly cheap dates, and as I sat there pushing the beer away and wondering how this was damaging my testimony, my roommate gamely finished off my last beer for me so I wouldn't feel awkward about leaving it. So nice of her.

We all stumbled back home, Andrew less so than Elena and I, and we made half understood plans for the next day.
I'd talked to Andrew about God, and my cell groups had even witnessed to him in English while I had been changing in the bathroom before Saturday's festivities. He was interested in hanging out on Wednesday, and I was more than happy to take him to Bible study with me. :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Post 49

As often happens, I am becoming quite the busybee. I am being attentive of this, however, because I do not want to burn out. This week I'm setting aside time for fun, but more importantly, for sleep. This didn't happen as well as I wanted yesterday, and honestly I doubt it will happen at all this week, despite my not-quite-best efforts. My roommate has an American friend visiting from New York, and I imagine I'll join them for an outing this week, likely even tonight. Tomorrow my cell group and I head out to enjoy the city and talk about our walks with God over an apperitivo, and Thursday evening I meet with the blues group. Friday I'll probably want to collapse, but I won't because friends who are no better rested than me will want to hang out together. Whoo!

Today is a gorgeous day though, and I plan to enjoy it and get some sun.Here's how I feel about the weather in Milan.

Ode to the Sun

Oh sun. Oh sun!
I finally see you peaking from behind the clouds.

Oh sun. Oh sun!
It's so nice that it's not raining today.

Oh sun.Oh sun!
Thanks for coming out to play.
Please stay for many, many days.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Post 48

Today was one of those "divine appointment" days. You know those days when you find yourself having wonderful meetings that just sort of happen in a Deus ex machina sort of fashion?
Well that's what the day was like.
I woke up feeling like something the dog dragged in. However, when your name means 'happy' it's kind of difficult to walk around being a killjoy, and so I rallied myself with some wonderful praise music, texted a few friends for support, and in no time I was up and at 'em again. I felt a still small voice telling me not to worry, that I'd get where I was going when I needed to get there, and that the television and bike situation that I needed to resolve would work itself out.

This was true. Someone offered to take care of the television for me, and I was told to chill and pick up the bike on Saturday, when I'd have more time and could take it easy. From there I found myself meeting up with a friend and it turns out that we have both wanted to work together in missions, and just didn't know how to ask each other. It was like two people crushin' on each other who didn't know how to say "I like you." (This is a personal problem not restricted to work/missional relationships...)
We were able to have a lovely lunch together, and I was greatly encouraged by our time together. Such a blessing! Later on in the day I met some friends for worship and prayer, and we didn't actually finish until around midnight! We met and started with worship, and then we prayed. We were praying for a good two hours before anyone thought to check the time. I got home quite late, but I am so glad for this day.
I know that good things are soon to come, and I know that I am equipped to handle whatever comes my way ;).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Post 47

I was sure yesterday that I would not leave that church building still single. I am still single, but I remain hopeful. The youth pastors, a married couple, talked about men and women, relationships and all that jazz, and even encouraged some of the youth to get a move on with things.
All the single people were asked to raise their hands. Then we were told instead to stand up and take a good look around. It was slightly awkward, but I’m sure it was also wonderful confirmation for some of the folks too shy and/or ill connected to otherwise figure out whether or not the person they liked was single.

Pastor Stefania shared the message for the women, and she talked about Rebecca and Isaac. The main point of the evening was seeking first the Kingdom of Heaven and trusting that everything else will come as it should. We will find ourselves in the right place at the right time in all areas of our life if we remain in God’s will for us. I’m inclined to agree with this assessment.

After the message my cell group mates and I hustled down to do the last minute final preparations for the party. It was all rather exciting, and I daresay the party turned out quite well, against my expectations.
 Some of us came down in our romance movie costumes and some of us had to change downstairs. I was one of those people, and I found the most secluded section of the place where I changed in peace. Not being bound by modesty as women are, one of my cell group mates did his business behind the coat rack, and then he sort of didn’t stay behind the coat rack and I got a view of how many hours he puts in at the gym.

Be still, my heart.

My roommate meant to tell me before the party that she though he might like me, judging by the way he watched me when we were all at my place eating lunch and rehearsing for the play. I refrain from having an opinion, as my discernment in this area has been terrible as of late.

On a side note, I think it’s a major misconception that women don’t struggle with lust. We are not any less sexual creatures, and we have our fair share of desire. At this moment I am once again trying to navigate everything in a manner pleasing to God.
I’ve always had intense feelings, but the memory of that one time I prayed for my sensitivity to go away and God answered and I felt so horrible and empty and not me that I franticly prayed for God to give me my feelings back and instead help me navigate them in a manner pleasing to Him (phew!), makes me not want to pray away any of my libido. I rather like my libido, thank you very much. I just need to be attentive. Besides, what I’m looking for goes much further than just physical attraction, and that's not even at the top of my list. (It is on the list though...)

I’ve been told that Americans tend to be more repressed. For many people here, taking off your shirt might not be that big of a deal. I had one student run around in his little euro-male shorts while I waited for him to change after a lesson, and I was thoroughly scandalized. He seemed unperturbed.

Attraction is a beautiful gift and I daresay a necessary ingredient in any relationship (or at least in any relationship I hope to be in…), but it needs to be placed in perspective with other things. At any rate, my current goal is to navigate this set of my feelings well. I know that I can with the help and power of the Spirit. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Post 46

Coffee shop

I’ve seen this scene in countless movies. Mug in hand, cloudy day, the intellectual/brooding/what have you type stares pensively through the window. You wonder what he or she is thinking. Clearly, it must be important. You’ve been trained to think so. In a subconscious attempt to make myself seem the important thinker, I’ve mimicked this pose. Now that I am conscious of this I try to subtly shift. Perhaps if I arch my back just so, lower one hand so that the mug is actually held by it’s handle, and put it down when I’m done drinking, I’ll add on a layer of sensuality and sophistication to this pensive persona I’m constructing.

But wait, what do I do with my hands now? I know, I’ll start writing.
Let’s see… aha! Here we go, da da da…

Ok, so now I look like an intellectual, sensual, sophisticated writer! It could be worse.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Post 45

This post is coming in a day late, but it'll be posted for the 14th nonetheless.

So. Yesterday.
I'd say yesterday was a lovely, lovely day.
I went to sleep looking forward to the rest that awaited me.
Up so late, but oh so worth it. Dinner with friends, worship. Oh, I'm sure the heavens parted! We sang new songs of praise, growing in worship, growing in community, growing in Christ.

I was tired from the rush home from my afternoon English class, but this student is strong and it's almost refreshing to work with him. He was kind about the many calls I received during our lesson. After all, it was Valentine's Day, and even he had asked to move our lesson up so he could make dinner with his girlfriend.

Crushed, a press of perfumed people, some bearing flowers, all bearing the hot close press of bodies on the 14 tram. A very kind elderly lady made space for me to sit with my bags and my guitar, and given my tiredness from the day's English lessons, I received her generous gesture and responded generously with thanks for her kindness. A few minutes and I'm home, having an early lesson with one of my newer students.

On my walk from San Babila through Duomo to catch the tram, there are many performers out. I wish I could stay to listen to them more, but I'm in a rush. I wish I could join them! Such a lovely evening, all lit up with the night lights and the glow of the people around, so many holding hands. This is so refreshing after an English lesson that was far from easy, as so many children were rowdy. I wonder if I'm losing my touch with these kids. I wonder how to make learning English interesting for them again.

A ride to Lorenteggio, pizza at Picasso Bar, and learning the name of Totò. God is good! I will ask all of the staff their names. It made her so happy! And why shouldn't we all be on a first name basis? I've been going to that restaurant for over a year now.

Last class, what a disaster! We did manage to finally get a conversation going, but it sure took some effort! But the class on immigration, what an eager group of students. My colleague tells me that they never behave this well for English, and that it's clear now that the topic is interesting for them. They shared with me their opinions on a global (or not so global) society, and I shared with them my experiences in Kalisz and growing up between worlds. We looked at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the children who grow up between countries and worldviews, and children who grow up in one solid place, ending on an idea of identity. Then we moved toward the reading we were supposed to have done the week before.
At the end of the class my colleague asked me to print my blog posts on Kalisz for her, and she looked them over while I assigned homework. The last minute or two of class I left for the students to do as they liked. As my colleague and I answered questions and prepared to leave, she looks to me and says, "You're a very special person."

Praise God! I almost can't believe I made it to work on time!
Rushing, gotta catch that bus, gotta catch it!
Sit and wait.
Rushing, can't miss the tram, quick good morning to the lady who sits at the door.

I definitely read my schedule wrong...
I wake up to what should have been a lazy morning.
I wake up this morning with a sense of expectancy.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Post 44

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. I feel like I've been avoiding writing about it, and despite the fact that my church small group is planning the "day after Valentine's Day" party, I'd conveniently forgotten about it. Now that there are but few hours between me and this most saccharine of days, I find myself not so sweet on it.

I want to break out in "Single Ladies", dance, outfit and all, and incite someone get a move on. After all, if you like it then you should put a ring on it. Right? Right.

My current single status doesn't bother me terribly much though, especially as I'm sure there's a purpose to it. I'm excited about the life around me, the life in me. Like tonight for instance, I'm going to sing with a blues group. It's mostly a jam session to see if we gel musically. I'm woefully unprepared and kinda-sorta know three out of the fifteen songs they sent to me as a sample of their repertoire, but when genres are based largely on improvisation that becomes less of a problem. Right? Right.

At any rate, I'll be updating on this and all other things I mentioned that need updating. I'm about up to my neck in things, activities etc, and so I find that it's becoming that much more important not to slack off spiritually. This season will pass (this weekend after party clean up :D), and I won't be as busy, but when other busy seasons come (and they will), I want to be sure not to make slacking off a habit.

It's amazing how much I got done today though! No matter how busy we get, I feel it's always worth it to have a little talk with Jesus.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Post 43

Hot chocolate. Different from what I'm used to.
Thicker. Still good.

It's bright here, and I feel my mood brightened by the lights, the festive atmosphere, and of course, the hot chocolate.

Of all the things/names/titles/labels I've ever taken on or were assigned to me. 'Teacher' is one of my favorites. I greet students and they greet me as I sit here writing about one of life's simple pleasures.
Lessons planned and backed up for safety, colleagues busy with different class schedules, I eat in peace and enjoy tihs moment of sweet, hot chocolate.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Post 42

Today I'm not sure what to write about. I feel like I always feel like I'm on the verge of something. I guess a feeling of constant growth isn't necessarily a bad thing, except that I often like to feel that I've actually arrived somewhere. Perhaps always arriving is a better way to look at it.

Anyway, I've been reading Brother Yun's second book and he talks a lot about embracing suffering. It wasn't clicking until I read in Matthew, when Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where He was tempted. Le by the Holy Spirit! This completely turns the whole Prosperity Gospel concept on it's head. Jesus was not led to a desert oasis to bask in comfort while those in the desert surrounding him suffered. He was led to the wilderness where He could share in our suffering and go through what we go through.

And so I step back with new perspective on the difficulties I have faced here in Italy and elsewhere, and I wonder as I go forward, how to embrace suffering. It is certainly true that the month my bank account here was blocked saw me step forward in financial faith in a way I never had otherwise.

There's a balance and a level of discernment here. Embracing suffering does not mean I don't put up a spiritual fight. I feel it means the exact opposite. Knowing that God is in control means that every situation in which I find myself will work for my good, because I love God and am called according to His purpose. It means that in Christ I have nothing to fear, because I can do all things through Him. It means that I therefore have a spirit of power, love and self control. It means I face every challenge as if I've already won, because really, I have.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Post 41

The other evening I was out with some people from church. My closest buddies weren't around, but I decided to foray into unchartered territory and expand a bit. Admirable enough, I suppose.

I am not the best at inserting myself into conversation when I'm with a group of unknown to little known people. I figure if there are two groups of people who are pretty good friends and I'm the odd person out, they should be extending courtesy to me. However, I remember that my prayer this year is to seek to serve and not be served, so despite failing multiple times, I put myself on the line until we were finally all introduced.

The first time I tried I don't think anyone heard me. The second time was interrupted to take pictures, and no one felt it was necessary to continue until I started for the third time to remind them of my presence. There was this annoying Catania/Sicily rivalry competitive thing going on, and people got a bit caught up I suppose. At one point I pulled out a book and started to read. But then I thought that might have been rude, and as we all know, two wrongs don't make a right. (I am fully aware of how this is a passive aggressive jab...)

It took a great deal of self control not to cry, if I am to be honest. I just wanted to be included in conversation. When other people found conversation lacking, or didn't hear very well (the main lady didn't speak loud enough), they turned to their cell phones. I don't have a smart phone. Unless I play that one jewel matching game that came with my 20 euro phone, I've got nothing. Hence the book that I decided to then put away.

You see, when you actually want to talk to someone, you talk to them, even if it means you're talking over me to talk to that person, still not actually including me in conversation. Each time I tried to engage the girl in front of me she engaged with her phone screen. And last minute including me in your "Sicilian people" photo out of some last ditch effort to include me then show everyone the photo but me, tag them all on FaceBook and not bother with me, well that just don't cut it.
But you see, as I have resolved to be servant hearted, I sought for what I could learn from this situation. Things are not always going to go my way, and people are not always going to act in what I perceive to be good taste. In the end I had a lovely evening chatting with the guy next to me, and occasionally one of the guys on the other end of the table.

Look, we're not perfect, none of us, but if we're going to be showing the character of Christ we need to actually show it. That means reaching out to others when they're the odd person out, and forgiving others when they don't reach out to you. In sum, it means taking us out of the center of our universe, and putting in Christ. Those moments of suffering were nothing compared to the rejection Christ experienced on our behalf. Now, that doesn't make the experience hurt less, but it does offer some perspective.

We've got to wake up. We need heart transplants in a bad way. If we cannot be loving with each other how on earth are we going to be able to love the world and be Christ's hands and feet? We've forgotten that God's work in us doesn't end with us. There's a whole world out there that we're called to minister to! When we fellowship with each other, put away the phones! When you are a professing Christian people watch to see your testimony.

What kind of testimony are you going to give?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Post 40

This is one of those songs that spontaneously come out of a time of worship. To be specific, it started when I was leading worship during that Friday overnight prayer and worship time. I developed it and this song came out.

I don't know why the video sucks monkey butt, but you can hear the song, which at the end the end of the day was the goal.

I sing a love song to my Father
I sing a love song to my God
You deserve the highest praises
All of me wants all You are

You send Your Spirit all around me, dwelling in me

Chains are broken! Awaken!
We are free in the Spirit.
We're free in the Spirit.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Post 39

As many imagined would happen, I am doing quite well back in Italy. I'm even now making new friends and expanding upon previous friendships.

Currently I've been living for about one week in my new apartment situation, and I and my roommate get along fabulously. I have grown up enough now to be able to live with other people, and our schedules are such that we don't bother each other because we're both busy bodies. We manage to walk to work together most mornings, and we have evening chats before bed as well.
She speaks many languages, and we help each other out with English and Italian. She writes, as I do, plays guitar, and sings (I know, right?). She has a lovely boyfriend who is often over for the weekends (I'll get there eventually...), who also speaks many languages, and is a photographer. Speaking of which...

Everyone is trying to find me a husband.

Well, I should say that everyone is trying to find me an Italian husband. Half Italians are okay, provided they have Italian citizenship. What I love about this is how shameless my coworkers and other friends are about it all. I think someone at church is cute, everyone's pulling/praying for me to catch the fish and pull him in, as it were. I have a private lesson with a handsome young guy, he gets slipped in as option number two if church guy doesn't work out. Cousins have only been discounted because they were "too stupid". One mainly because he's racist.

Past colleagues get called in hopes of finding English mother-tongue openings, trips are planned to show me off to international schools, and offers of resume tweaks are consistently popping up.

In all honesty, I wish my friends every blessing in their endeavors.

I am now, however, at a place in life in which I have placed everything in God's hands. Maybe all of these people around me are functioning in a God-led manner, maybe not. I do know, however, that the work God begins in a person He will bring to completion, and when He calls someone to a task and/or a place, He provides all that is necessary to do the good work.

So, whatever may come, I have resolved to be at peace with it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Post 38

Ohhhhhh my goodness.

Ok. So today I started what I thought would be a harmless unit on immigration, ethnicity, and race in Italy with a third year class. We were supposed to have a short discussion orienting their ideas around Italy, and then move on to the reading about diversity in the U.K. However, maybe one student had their book, and since my goal is to get the students speaking more than anything else anyway, we started an impromptu lesson going deeper into diversity issues in Italy.

I've never before had to establish safe space in a classroom, though I think now that any other times I lead these types of discussions, no matter the setting, that it will be the first thing I do. Anyone who knows me or has read any of my blog understands that diversity issues are deeply personal and important to me. Therefore, I made a concerted effort to keep myself out of the discussion and encouraged students to answer honestly. I'd say I got what I asked for.

What came forth were glaring disparities in the way certain immigrant groups are perceived. With African immigrants, 80% were considered to be thieves, drug dealers etc, and only 20% "normal people". With European immigrants, the division was 50-50. The further east one goes, however, the closer these immigrants get to the statistics on African immigrants.

It was around this time that I began to pull things out of what my students were telling me. They mentioned again and again that this is what they saw around them. This was their reality. I wanted to honor that while challenging them to give their reality a second glance. I asked if there were any immigrants in the classroom, and there was: one student from Morocco.This was when I began to tease apart the statistics, draw out the stereotypes, and point out disparities. Why is it that immigrants of color are thought to be the worst? Whose fault is it that no one has a job? What do people come here for? What are there experiences when they get here? What is this nation's responsibility to refugees and other immigrants, if it has one at all?

I then asked my students what they thought of me. The ones who responded had nice things to say. Then I got personal with them, and that's when they got personal with me. I told them that when I am on the street I am not seen as American. I am perceived as an African immigrant just like every other person of color walking by. "If I don't open my mouth," I told them, "no one is going to know I'm American." In fact, very often I've surprised people by telling them I was American, and some people were so fixed on me being African it took them awhile to place the United States on their mental map.

I asked my students to share some more, and as often happens, the focus turned to the one immigrant student to share her opinion. Up until this point she had been silent. At first she was hesitant to share because she "risked killing someone in this class and ending up in jail", but once the words started, it was like a dam had broken and a rush of words spilled forth. It soon became apparent who that student was, and the high energy charged the classroom up faster than I knew how to handle the situation.

I inserted myself between the students, and then I set the ground rules that I never thought I'd needed to set. I clearly established the rules for safe space and healthy dialogue with the students, encouraging them to listen to everything someone says, whether or not they agree, and then respond to the statements, without calling each other names.

One of the ideas that came up was that of being a global citizen. Continuing on in this unit, I asked the students to think and write for homework about where they place themselves in the world. Do they feel fully a part of the environment they find themselves in? Why or why not? What types of things might influence someone to feel more of a global citizen than a citizen of where they come from or are currently located?

As we closed the class, I emphasized the importance of respect for one another, and I shared that I've chosen to forgive in the past, and I choose to continue to do so in the future. I imagine that I'll be sharing my Kalisz story with them next week.

When the bell rang there was an audible sound of regret, and I feel that for the students they felt they were on the verge of important growth. I am so happy for them! They chose to open themselves up to a new teacher, and we were able to have a discussion that I feel is important for this group of students in particular. I saw many looks of dawning comprehension as new connections were made, and so I consider today to have been successful. I know that there are still students with whom I do not share opinions fully, but they have begun to look with fresh eyes at their lived situation, and in the end that is what I want: not to make up your mind for you, but for you to question and critically engage with what you see and hear, so that you do not allow others to either.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Post 37

After trying to plan a party my cell group ended with an extended time of worship. It was wonderful, spirit-filled, and just... awesome. For the first time I felt a clear prophetic pull, and as I was writing while we sang, I began to write as if God were speaking. I'm still not sure who this is for. I can relate to it but I'm not sure this was for me. At any rate, I was afraid to share it, and then one of our group leaders prayed for us to be free and share prophetically. So I did. Here's what I wrote.

Let me sing you a love song.
Let me tell You how much I love you.
Let me show you how I've bled for you.
Let me in.

Let me show you the plans I've set for you, the founts of life overflowing, affecting nations, hearts, minds, ALL for my glory.
Let me in!

Share with me the greatest love story there ever was.
The greatest love story there ever will be.
Will you taste this love?
It's yours for the taking.
I'm yours for the taking.

Then I wrote something else and our other leader shared a message right after that I felt was for me and confirmed what I had written. He said he felt someone was worried about their future, and God was telling them to rest in Him, and know that He had it all under control. Here's what I had written.

I named you in the womb.
I have set your paths from the very beginning.
Trust me. Keep your eyes on me.

The last piece I wrote is what I'll end this post with.

How beautiful is Your presence.
How wonderful, how magnificent is your inner court.
it shines bright with Your majesty. Yes, it is resplendent with Your light.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Post 36

So, my cell group is planning a Valentine's Day party. Lord...

It turns out that only two of us have romantic partners, and the rest of us are not-so-subtly trying to join the ranks. The party is supposed to be organized for the entire youth group, consisting of at least 100 people, and all 10 of us are expected to be ready for February 15th. As a reminder, we started planning this today.

And by planning, I mean talking over each other for an hour.

I have volunteered to act in our little skit that will be drafted the morning (I hope...) of the party, and am also part of the decoration crew. There might even be a little talent show organized that I will sing in. There might also be themed dress.  I realized rather quickly that my choices Current top of the list of heroines of romantic movies to dress as is ...(drumroll please)... Disney Princess Tiana.
Given the rather large of amounts of "there might be's", this venture is riding on faith. Definitely.

Love is literally in the air.

People have been casting calf eyes at each other all month. Literally. Like, since that all night prayer meeting. (I don't care if it hasn't even been seven days into the month yet. It's still all month!)

I was hoping we'd do something more like, I dunno, a reading of Song of Solomon. Or maybe we could talk about keeping oil in our lamps so that we'd have enough when the groom shows up. But we are in Italy, and a certain city is only like an hour away. So of course everyone wants to do Romeo and Juliet. So original.

I think I'm too hard on my teammates. It's not as if I'd come with anything better. Either way, I'm excited to see how this turns out, and you can bet I'll be writing about it ;).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Post 35

The only thing that upsets me about entering the month of February is that I can no longer figure out what post number I'm on using the day of the month. No matter. There are more important things, such as the fact that in the U.S., it's Black History Month! Whoot whoot!

I've been wondering how to celebrate this month and keep it relative as I live in Europe. As you can imagine, there isn't exactly a month like that in Italy. However, I have found that a lot of my classes are covering civil rights issues. A rights issue is always worth covering, I say.

So yea, here I am, teacing again. It's funny because I was not very eager to begin doing this again. Maybe it was being home, or maybe it was the idea of teaching without having rested much from activities and traveling. Either way, I was not excited. But then I remembered how I felt last year, even up until I went home for Christmas.

I loved doing this. And judging by the flash cards and encouraging stickers I gushed over and immediately purchased (well ok, Mom paid for them...) in the dollar store when I went home, I felt that deep down that hadn't changed. So I prayed, and then I prayed some more. My first class didn't go so well and I finished with a sore throat. I kept optimistic, however, and the next day was marvelous! I mean, who knew that comparing and contrasting A Brave New World and 1984, and reviewing Lord of the Flies could be so much fun!

My afternoon class was a little more rowdy, but I've learned now that these students respond better to flash cards (of which I now have plenty) and games where they can move a bit.

So all in all, I feel that my teacher heart is restored, and in a sense so is my missional heart. When I can better love my work and my students, and I can better share the heart of Christ. Words don't convince anyone of anything. It's the testimony of a life lived through actions. I pray that mine remain rooted in Christ.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Post 34

A friend asked me to send a write-up of what I do in Italy. Here's what I sent her.
What I do in Italy.

It is somewhat difficult for me to piece together what it is exactly I do in Italy. What I am not doing in Italy might be easier to handle. I learned long ago that we bring ourselves with us wherever we go, so all of my energy, thoughts, and interests have followed me to Italy, and I have found a way to engage and be engaged with all of me.

My day job, you could say, is teaching English as a Second Language. My internship through the SITE (Study, Intercultural Training, and Experience) program doesn’t pay enough to keep bread on the table and a roof over my head, and so my second job is also teaching ESL, but with elementary aged students. I also do private lessons, translations, editing of theses, and other such things.

Despite the largely minimal interest in learning English, I’ve had some wonderful times in the classroom, and I’ve always enjoyed a good challenge anyhow. My real passion, however, is being a missionary. I pray for my students, and my faith and desire to see them grow and reach their potential helps me through the more difficult lessons.

When appropriate, I share my missionary heart with my students. One of my favorite moments was when I told a class that my future goals were to be a missionary in Italy, and they reacted with utter incredulity. What followed was a wonderful discussion on the over emphasis of Africa as the “starving continent” where the missionaries were “really” needed. I shared that spiritual health and healing is important everywhere, and often “those starving people in Africa” are in better spiritual health than the well-to-do people in Europe and the U.S.A. I explained that to me a missionary is someone who has a mission, and that I can follow my mission to serve God to the utmost wherever He calls me. It’s okay that He didn’t call me to Africa. It wasn’t a fluke.

While pursuing this mission in Italy I have come across a wonderful body of believers. I strive to encourage everyone I come across. I’ve been praying that my mindset be changed so that I seek to serve, and not be served, and that I always take advantage of opportunities to be loving. I’ve been praying this for a month now and I am finding out that I am not nearly as loving as I thought I was!

In my church here in Italy I serve by leading worship in my small group and encouraging people on their walks with God. They encourage me too. The praise and worship jam sessions at my apartment have been some of the most fulfilling times of my life artistically, relationally, spiritually, and emotionally. I’ve also gone to Poland to lead worship during a week-long retreat with other members of my church, and I sang in Italian! Talk about amazing opportunities and experiences. I love intercultural worship, and hearing other countries in Europe worship in their languages was wonderful.

 In April I plan to be able to speak at a conference in Moldova for ESL teachers who are also missionaries. By sharing experiences from my journey I hope to encourage them on theirs. So, what do I do in Italy? To quote the great Jill Scott, "I'm living my life like it's golden."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Post 33

This poem came out of a recent quiet time.

I know You and am known by You
I will sing Your praises in the morning
I will sing Your praises in the afternoon
I will sing Your praises in the evening
I will sing Your praises by night

I love You and am loved by You
Though the waves get higher
I will not be overtaken
Though the darkness tries to frighten
It cannot overcome Your light

You are ever faithful, oh Mighty God
You sing a song over me
You sustain me through all
Here in Your presence I am glad
I am where I belong

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Post 32

February begins!

So, this overnight prayer service, I can definitely say, was the first time I've led worship for the church I currently attend in Italy, outside of a small group context. I'd been leading worship at small group meetings somewhat regularly before I went back to the U.S. for Christmas.

Not long after attending this church I wanted to join the worship team, but one thins after another prevented me from being involved in the way I had hoped. After this last night though I feel, I am sure rather, that everything happened as it did for a reason. I think a large part of my motivation was self aggrandizing. I cared more about people recognizing me and my talent than the God who gifted me in the first place.

Over time I've been laying these feelings down as the Holy Spirit reveals to me. I stopped pursuing the worship team, the very platform from which I had hoped to launch myself. I was happy with small group worship and I am sure that was the better place for me.

I questioned why I volunteered for prayer service until I decided to stop always doubting and second guessing myself. If God trusted me with these gifts why shouldn't I trust that He was leading me to use them in a holy manner? Why shouldn't I trust that He had brought me to where I needed to be? I knew my motivations would be revealed to me.

I think the enemy tries to keep us in a place of fear, especially regarding past mistakes. If we trust in the healing and transformational power of the Holy Spirit then we cannot have fear. I would have missed a wonderful time of worship and sharing the word had I allowed fear to get the better of me.

It was almost like Kalisz again: a beautiful body of believers worshipping in different languages, all unified by our love for Christ. Beautiful.
Here's a pic someone snapped during worship.