Thursday, July 12, 2012

Our Engagement Story

Jordan told me back in December that he was planning on waiting until after I got back from Summer Project in Italy to propose. We had decided to wait for many reasons, one being that Jordan really wanted me to be able to co-lead the project in Italy since I had been praying about it and looking forward to it for over a year. Because I'm marrying a man who is so gracious and kind, he sacrificially wanted me to have that experience without the stress of a wedding on my mind. 

I went to Italy suspecting nothing, although behind the scenes since January several of my friends and family were preparing for Jordan to visit me while in Bologna. Our team was in Bologna for about a month, and it was a normal Friday. I was headed to a bakery for my meeting with my co-leader Karl. Thirty minutes passed and I hadn't seen him....I was starting to think he wasn't going to make it, and I had no minutes on my Italian cell phone to call him. So I headed back to our apartment. There Karl's wife, Keri called him and said he was in traffic (totally random since we never drove in Bologna.....but what I didn't know is he was picking Jordan up from the airport!) I waited for Karl at the apartment and suggested we go to Caffe Zamboni, my favorite coffee bar, but Karl wanted to go to another one down the street (Jordan was waiting for me at Zamboni). 

After our meeting we headed to Zamboni to meet Keri and another staff girl, Caitlin, for our staff meeting. Karl directed me to the front of the building where I saw one of our student guys on his cell phone -- I waved and said hi but he didn't acknowledge me -- turns out he was giving the single that I was walking in!!! When I walked into the cafe I immediately saw Keri and Caitlin and said hi -- when Karl turned me around and said "Someone else is here to see you." 

I saw Jordan and I couldn't believe it. So many things were running through my mind, my heart started beating really fast and I was trying to wrap my mind around how he got to Bologna!!!! We sat down at a table and he explained that he had been planning this trip since January, had talked to Karl and the staff in Bologna to work it all out, and that he was really excited to be there. He said he wanted to come to Italy to see what the ministry was like there, spend time with our team, but most importantly to see me and share some things with me. It's at that point that I started noticing Keri taking pictures of us and two of our students capturing everything on video!!! I clued in -- this is a proposal!!! After that, I can't remember what he said -- some amazing words about me and why he wanted me to be his wife. Shock stole my memory of that sweet moment! The next thing I remember he was getting down on one knee and asking me to marry him -- I said yes!! 

I was totally surprised.... I could have never imagined that he would fly to Italy to ask me to marry him. We spent a sweet 4 days together, experiencing Bologna together, introducing him to my Italian friends, and getting to even go on campus and share our faith together with Italians! It was so fun and a time I will always cherish.

And a little video of my *crazy* glad this was captured.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Tearful Goodbye

Last night we had dinner with a Cru staff couple, and three STINTers (STINT is a one year international internship with Cru). Matt and Ashley, a young married couple on STINT left yesterday to return to the United States after a year of serving in Bologna. Last summer an Italian student became a believer through a year long friendship built with a student who came on summer project, and has developed a deep friendship with Matt over this year. Matt has been meeting with him, teaching him about Jesus and how to grow in his faith. As Matt and Ashley were leaving dinner, our friend started to cry. This seems normal in America when we say goodbye to friends that we know we wont see for a long period of time, but this specific encounter was much different. I looked over to another one of our teammates who looked at us and said "we have no idea what that feels like." Our friend is staying in Bologna and saying goodbye to his closest friends, to his Christian community. We are that community. The reality is staggering and hit me all over again.

As I've been processing the past 6 weeks, God has knit my heart closer to the heart of our Italian friends. There are few followers of Christ here, so when our team leaves, these friends who are new believers are left with just each other. Imagine your church right now. Any church in Dallas for that matter. Now imagine two Italian college students. I have roughly 1,000 people in my church back home, they have 10.

Today we said our goodbyes to many sweet friends. It still blows my mind that they have come to trust us and love us so deeply within a few short weeks. I can't help but believe it's the light of Christ overflowing from our lives that they feel such a strong connection to. It was a tearful night, friend after friend asking "when will you be back in Bologna?" I don't know.

If you are reading this, would you consider praying consistently for the city of Bologna and the people here? Pray for the two new believers at the University of Bologna involved with Agape. That they would grow in friendship with each other and plug in to the evangelical church in town, where they can meet other Italian believers their age and build community.

Would you even pray about coming for 1-6 weeks or longer to dig up the soil and plant gospel seeds here in Italy? It is a hard place, in desperate need of laborers willing to love the Italian people.  Thanks for praying as the seeds that were planted here this summer take root and grow over the years.

Friday, June 1, 2012

In Their Eyes

Before I got here I knew that many Italian people did not know Jesus, but actually being here has made it real. That sounds so childish and obvious, but for some reason it has hit me hard. Last night a university student asked why we were here, after I explained he said Bologna was not a good place to try to talk to people about God and Jesus, because they are so far from God. He put himself in this category as well.

I look around and I see people who are really hurting. They don't trust people, they hate the government, the lack of jobs, the insincerity in people. They are starving for authentic love and friendship. They try to find it in standing up in protest. They have given up on the church because of all the hurt and pain they've experienced because of it. They have lost family members and friends and have no way to reconcile the pain. I look into their eyes, and there is no joy. They really do look like they have no hope -- they aren't pretending. It's burdensome, but in it I remember the faithfulness of God. One girl accepted Christ as her Savior since we've been here -- God is moving and working through the gospel going out......over time it is changing people.

Pray for University students to stay in Bologna despite talk of more earthquakes. Students are fearful so are staying home (not taking trains into the city) to stay safe. This is causing the campus to be deserted, and we desperately want to befriend the people here. Pray pray pray.....

Ruins of the city walls in Bologna
"They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven......“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.'"
Nehemiah 1:3-4,8-9

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Empty Mass

When we arrived yesterday, most of us felt in a daze...........18 hours of travel and by God's grace we made it to Italy. As we were driving to our apartment all of us in our taxi agreed we felt calm, like we were home. Here's a few pictures of our new home from our short walk around the city yesterday:

Fresh Market 3 blocks dream come true


walk down that ally to our apartment

During our walk, we visited several churches just to look around. David, who is on staff here with Agape (Cru in Europe), told us we might see about 15 people at mass on any given day, and they'd all be our grandparents age. As we walked through we noticed a couple nuns singing and what seemed like a service going on. It was mass. One person was sitting in the pews worshiping as a handful of tourists perused the church. This is the heart breaking reality of Christianity in Italy. I couldn't help but get teary eyed watching the scene, knowing that the churches here are no more than museums, with a lost world right outside the door. What an immediate reminder of the work that needs to be done here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

La Bella Vita

I really am living "the beautiful life." Our team arrived in Dallas on Friday along with 9 other teams heading to places like Greece, Ethiopia, and East Asia for Summer Project with Cru. Since the minute our teammates met, they have loved each other. Our times together this weekend have been exciting, anticipatory and full of laughter. I truly am in love with each of them. Last night we were commissioned to go into the summer and share the best news in the world with people who desperately need to hear the message of hope found in Christ. Some of the people we will meet in Italy will have never heard a clear explanation of the gospel message. Many will have never met a follower of Christ before. This is so exciting!!! What an incredible privilege to be the first to share the gospel with someone and to be a part of a team that breaks new ground in launching a movement of multiplying disciples in a nation. We truly don't deserve the honor it is to be doing what we're doing, yet God has chosen us and is pleased to use us. Amazing.

As I looked around our table at commissioning last night, I was overwhelmed. The fact that our 9 students and 4 staff were sitting around that table is no small thing. God has already moved mountains to get each of us here. From expediting passports and not knowing how to pay for it, to financial support coming in literally at the last minute, to heart changes in family members and parents, our team has already been through so much.

For me, it feels like my emotions have been on a roller coaster this weekend. From day one, I have felt completely inadequate. God is good to cause me to feel this way. I have spent the last two weeks preparing and praying, planning and making sure that every last detail was in order. But when I arrived at briefing this weekend I could not have felt less prepared. The reality is that I am stepping into a world of complete unknown. Leading a team and being charged with shepherding our students for a summer is a weighty task, and Karl and I cannot do it alone. We need the Spirit's power and strength. I need to rest and rely on God's grace and security. Without Him I truly am nothing. The words of Paul are so true for my heart today and throughout this weekend: "And I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." 1 Cor. 2:1-5
Amen. So true. I know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, and that is more than enough.

Some of our team at our last Tex-Mex meal in America :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Prostitution of Our Souls

Girls thinking through idols in their life

Recently I led a devotional time for a group of college women on the subject of idols. I framed our discussion on the truth that  I have recently discovered in my own life: idols steal our hearts from Jesus in an entanglement of false hope. In a commentary I read while preparing for this time, John Piper explained that in our relationship with God, there is no singleness. We are either faithfully married to God and completely devoted to Him, or we are a prostitute.

A prostitute? I had to stop and think about that.... I look at my life and think it's pretty far from "prostitute." But God's standards are not our standards, and in the book of Hosea, He lays out in pretty thick language how He feels when we run away from His love and into the arms of other lovers.

How often do we think of our idols (the things we put our trust in other than Christ) as inconvenient at worst? No, Hosea explains that our idolatry is equivalent to cheating on our husband with multiple other lovers. Except in this instance it's worse -- way worse -- as God is our faithful and loving husband, and we are the adulterous wife giving herself over to prostitution.

The book of Hosea is probably my favorite book in the Old Testament. Mainly because it has the strongest language concerning the idolatry of Israel and of us even today. Sometimes I need God to make His point loud and clear. And quite honestly, I have a hard time seeing the idols in my life, so Hosea really lays it out for me in a way I can understand. In the book, God makes the prophet Hosea marry a harlot so that he could experience how it feels for God to be married to us. The book gives the picture of an unfaithful wife (Israel in the text, you and me today) continually running away from her husband and after other lovers.

God comes after His bride with discipline and love, in Hosea 2:1-13. Look at the harsh language: the shame of nakedness, slaying her with thirst in a parched desert. Most of the times our idols look like blessings, right? A career, boyfriend or girlfriend, even fulfilling Christian activities, yet God says He will expose all that has the appearance of blessings as a forest the wild animals will devour.  Ouch.

Do we ever really think we'll get to this place? When we go for that next job promotion, how often do we even notice that we are looking to it for the affirmation and acceptance only God can give? Once more, do we really think we are putting ourselves in a position to experience painful thirst, suffering, nakedness, and years of wandering around in the dessert alone?

All the girls at our morning devotional we call "Mug n Muffin"

Before we give in to complete hopelessness, let us remember that God also has tender love for His bride -- Hosea 2:14-23. Isn't this language amazing? He will speak tenderly to her, He will make what was once ruining her, a door of hope. Jesus offers the restoration our hearts are truly longing for. No amount of "free time" and no level of order in my house and life will ever really give me what I'm looking for -- true joy. Only Jesus can give that. He is the living water my soul thirsts for. (John 4:10)

His promise? He will recaptures our hearts. As in all our attempts to find love outside of Him, the adulterous wife cannot find real love in the idols she is chasing. She will go back to her husband, not begrudgingly, or because she has found something newer to satisfy her lust, but out of repentance (turning from self and toward God).

"She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, 'I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.'"
Hosea 2:7

I could go on, but there are far better resources out there for digging out our idols than what I can share. Here are some of my favorites, and the ones I used with these college women. I hope they help you as you seek to uproot the idols in your life and turn face-to-face with Jesus, the REAL lover of your soul.

Diagnosing Our Idols

Tim Keller -- Idols of the Heart

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Feeding Children in Ethiopia

A couple of weeks ago, Cru had their annual Winter Conference in Fort Worth, TX. During the conference students packed meals to be sent to our long term team in Ethiopia, who will be delivering them to the poorest of the unreached people groups in their scope. Students from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana raised $19,000 before the conference to make this effort a reality. It was by far one of the most fun outreach experiences of all the Winter Conference's I've attended.

Please pray that as the STINT team in Ethiopia serves the physical needs of these children, that opportunities will arise for the Gospel to be shared and transform the lives of people in this area of the world.