Stones. They are everywhere. Stumbling stones, stepping stones, stones for throwing, stones for piling. In the bible, stones are used for remembering. This is a place for me to pile my own rough stones of remembering along the road I am traveling, one post at a time. They are more than mere words thrown out into the wake of my path. They are a concrete testament of God's faithfulness, provision and goodness along the way.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Clothed in Versace

We have a family tradition of reading missionary biographies together in the evening before bed. George Mueller, Gladys Aylward, Eric Liddell, Mary Slessor, David Livingstone, Cameron Townsend, William Carey, Hudson Taylor... the list goes on. One of the things that has always impacted me about these people is their ability to completely entrust all the details to God.

I remember thinking so many times how I wanted to have that kind of faith. That kind of obedience. That kind of testimony. Unfortunately we had bought into a different story... a story of our own writing, our own creative license if you will. It kind of makes me laugh now, looking back on the past year and how out of character it was for both of us. We had always said that we would only go to the mission field as tent makers, if given the opportunity to serve and yet still provide for our family ourselves. We realize now that little ultimatum is one of the things that kept us from serving the Lord here in Italy, a country with extremely high unemployment, debilitating taxes and an economy going the way of Greece.

One of the first things we had to give up in order to take this journey of faith and obedience was our independence and self reliance. This is not the kind of thing you do on your own rationale, reasoning, gumption or revenue. The interesting thing is that this mentality shift was not a struggle on our part, it was like something that happened on its own, in our hearts, while we were sleeping. That is to say it was just something we realized one day had completely changed in both our hearts. God was calling us to follow Him and serve Him, somewhere, somehow. All He wanted from us was to "get ready" and He wanted us to do so without any answers to the myriads of questions that surfaced daily for us.

My word for 2015 is TRUST and the question for 2015 has been "Do you trust Me?" The truth is, I am not where I want to be but I am not where I once was. In this past year the opportunities for God to prove His trustworthiness have abounded as have my opportunities to be tested in my trust of Him. So often when the waves start to rise, I get anxious and say "Help me trust you, God." over and over. And He does. But I want it to be like breathing. carbon dioxide in, carbon monoxide out. Conflict in, Trust out.

I hold a very smooth and precious stone in my hand right now. Lovingly monogrammed with a P for Provision but that could as easily stand for P for proof. Proof that God is trustworthy. Proof that when we live fully reliant on Him He comes through in ways that exceed our imaginings. Proof that when you give up, God gives back, and that He does so abundantly.

The background:  Pietro's Italian driver's license and the unfortunate new law that anyone whose Italian driver's license has been expired for more than five years must start from scratch, which means taking drivers instruction classes and it is very, very expensive, over $1,000 CAD. Starting out on the first level of vehicle insurance once again meant over $1,200 CAD for 6 months insurance. It may not sound scary to those of you with savings accounts and salaries, but for us, we truly have to rely on God to meet these unexpected expenses in ways we can't foresee. I laughed when I all of a sudden came to the realization that we are living our own missionary biography.

If I don't give in to anxiety, which I didn't this time, I usually unwittingly find my thoughts veering into the traffic control lane. Meaning I start to brainstorm how I can save money on groceries and gas and electricity in order to cover these expenses. Left to myself I could save a bundle by cooking on war rations and going unplugged. But that's solving things my way and that is not allowing for the P is for Providence stone to be placed in my path. God has a better way. His way doesn't involve me at all. His way tells me  "You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you." 2 Chronicles 20:17, Exodus 14:3. So I chose to trust and not deny my family meat and cheese and commit these expenses to God.  Three things happened within 10 days.

The first proof of God's provision came clear as lightning at midnight when we received our monthly remittance from MSC Canada. It included $1,500 in one time gifts from 3 churches and one individual who are MSC supporters (people we have no personal connection with besides the fact that we are MSC workers and they are MSC supporters). This is $1,500 over and above our monthly budget needs!

The second proof came in the person of a lady from our church showing up at our doorstep with a brown paper bag of pizza, bread and croissants from the bakery. The baker entrusts her (a dear lady of mercy on a very small pension with an orphaned grandaughter to raise) with his leftovers at the end of the day, to use or to distribute as she is led. God led her to our door.

The third proof, and the one that really caught my breath, was an expression of God's provision towards our girls. Its been a tough week for them.  They have given up as much, if not more, than any of us. They have been suffering the deep pain of loss of their relationships, loss of their music since we had to leave the piano behind, and loss of independence since the culture and language here still present a challenge they are not comfortable moving around freely in. Today there was another ring of the bell and the same sweet lady's voice on the intercom. Another delivery from the bakery, but more besides.

Just up the road from us is a darling little boutique that has Versace and Calvin Klein numbers cutely arranged in the window. Suffice it to say we have never gone in. We have visited the little Napoletano store further up on the other side where we found a pair of  ballerina flats for Shailey for 5 euros, but they were in need of glue after one wear. We have also enjoyed hunting for summer pj's and camisoles at the open air market, where we can find things marked down to our price range. That said, Italy is the land of "moda" (fashion) and heaven forbid any economical crisis should mess with fashion, so the boutiques continue to offer shoes and bags and brand name jeans for $100 euros a piece ($140 CAD) and Italians somehow continue to buy them.

Back to sweet little Maria Martucci at our door this morning. She had just come from the boutique where she had been told to come and pick up a last years bathing suit for her granddaughter, a gift from the proprietor since it was no longer "in fashion". While there the proprietor loaded her up with four paper bags of last seasons clothes for her to find a home for... and the little lady marched out of the boutique and up the block to our gate. When I saw the labels and price tags on these clothes my heart caught in my throat but when the girls tried them on and they fit like they were tailor made then the tears really fell. Like Jacob we have entrusted our journey to God asking Him to go before us and give us bread to eat and clothing to wear (Genesis 28:20). We just never imagined He'd clothe our children in Versace.