Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lazy Tooth Fairy

Sunday, poolside, while waiting for the baptism, one of Jacob's molars fell out. Excited by this surprise prospect for financial gain, Jacob was quickly disappointed when Monday morning, under his pillow he found his tooth, still neatly sealed in a ziplock bag. The same happened Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning. Jacob, who is quickly drawing close to the age where he should be seeing through this thin veneer, began to wonder if something was wrong with the Fairy, or if maybe he was doing something wrong. I assured him (blushing) that the Fairy would eventually do her job.

This morning, after the Fairy finished working on some emails at around 2 am, she snuck into Jacob's bedroom and reached under the pillow (on a high bunk-bed). The movement and faint sound of fingers on ziplock woke the despairing boy and the Tooth Fairy quickly dove under the bunk bed, hoping she hadn't been seen. Unfortunately, Jacob stuck his head over the edge of the bed and said, "Dad?". I smiled and said, 'Hey buddy, I'm just checking on your tooth.' He looked under the pillow and saw his tooth still there and fell back asleep after I reassured him she would come later in the night.

Whew. So, I went to bed and set my alarm for a few minutes before 7:00. Jacob stumbled into our room at 6, complaining that she STILL had not come. I told him to lay down and when he'd fallen asleep, the Tooth Fairy made the switch. At 7:00, I told Jacob just to make sure one last time. He was pleased to see that the trade had been made.

These kids these days! Their consumer expectations are something else! I would apologize for the Tooth Fairy, but really, one Euro is equal to $1.30 today and at that rate, it is no wonder she's scrambling, digging through 'Change for Vacation' jars to pay her clients.

So, lazy Tooth Fairy? In the end, all excuses aside, I guess this time she was.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pool Party

This morning we met Maurizio outside the piscina comunale downtown at 10:00. The rest of our team and the Italian couple that are part of our Life Group came too (Matteo & Silvia). We had gotten permission to use the small side pool, used for aqua-biking, as long as we hurried and as long as three people paid, everyone wore sandals or blue-protective booties and those that got in the water wore swimming caps - ah, pools in Italy.

At around 10:45, everyone was there and we gathered together and I spoke to the group saying that Maurizio's path toward Christ has been a long one, with lots of ups and downs, but it has led to this point, to this day where he has made a choice. Then I turned to Maurizio and asked him those important questions: do you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for you and that he was raised? Do you choose to make him your Lord? Maurizio said, "si". Then I had the great pleasure of baptizing him.

There was lots of cheering and hugging, laughter and tears. It was a great moment. We stayed at the pool for a while - Maurizio loves the water and asked if we could just stay for a while. The kids got in with me and everyone else pulled up a chair and talked.

Around noon we met up at our facility where we sang, laid hands on Maurizio, watched his video and then ate together. It was neat to see all 18 of us together from both Life Groups. While we ate together, we shared the Lord's Supper - Maurizio's first after having given his life to Christ.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers - please keep them going for him as he and I continue this discipleship process - that he would continue to learn, begin to minister and always be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Jacob's Budgeting

My brother and sister-in-law, Tim & Shauna Casey, are coming to visit in June of this year and we are excited! We are in the process of planning our time together. Venice? Pisa? Stay here in Ancona? Jacob asked me this morning where we would go and when I mentioned the possibility of Mirabilandia, he asked me how much it would cost. I told him that it would be around 15 euro per person. He headed straight for Heather's desk and proceeded to make his calculations. He told me, 'Dad we need 105 Euro. We better start saving.'

Monday, February 12, 2007

Quick Housing Update

OK - sorry to keep lots of you waiting. I spoke with our landlord and he said we could leave our apartment without any penalty - he was very understanding. However, we did go up and look inside the apartment (they made a new key) and it was smaller than we remembered...a lot smaller. All four of us, Harrison is too young to vote, agreed that after everything, it just wasn't right for us. Sooo, we are going to look at two more apartments hoping to find something that would have a small yard or terrace as well as save us some money. Thanks for praying!

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Had you been a fly on the wall in our rented facility here in Ancona tonight (aka La Via), you would have witnessed the Italian game reminiscent of an illiterate version of Bingo. I honestly can't tell you who won because it was so crazy. Two pre-teen boys drew numbers at the kitchen counter and yelled them out while I repeated them on the microphone to the crowd of 34 kids and adults who checked their cards, ran up to the counter, yelled over the noise, complained because their numbers weren' t being drawn, and talked on their phones. This is tombola. Anna handed out the dollar-store prizes to the winners (literally 99 euro cent store prizes, which according to today's exchange rate is $1.29). Delicious snacks (it was BYODS), crazy games, a Nintendo projected on the wall and lots of socializing - it was crazy, but fun. We were able to interact with a few families from Jacob's class with whom we have never had the chance to before. It was also the most family-oriented party we had been a part of.

Unlike most we had been to, this was not a birthday party - just a class get-together. They had hoped to host it at a sports complex but since it was booked, I offered the use of our office/facility and they were delighted. I believe it was a very positive step into several people's lives and am glad for the opportunity to have this place used like this.

We keep going, taking a day at a time, making the most of every opportunity. Tomorrow night is our monthly Encounter featuring Carlo and the band (the theme is Valentine Blues). We're expecting quite a turnout. We'll keep you posted - wish you could be a fly on the wall tomorrow night!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

To Move or Not to Move

Sunday morning we pulled up in front of the apartment a few minutes early and by the time we were all five out of the car, Harrison in stroller, hats and scarves in place, the landlord and realtor were standing outside the building. We greeted the owner of the apartment, a simple, soft-spoken man in his fifties. We waited around while they tried to open the doors and were soon told that they couldn't open it!? Soooo...we stood on the terrace and I went down our list of questions. We talked a little bit about details and possibilities. He told us that the garage wouldn't be immediately, if ever, available. Heather peeked in the window and the living room was smaller than she remembered.

So where are we now on this decision? Pretty torn. Here are our action steps:
-involve YOU, our friends, supporters and family
-continue asking God for wisdom
-talk to our landlord (tonight - Tuesday)
-go see it one more time when the key/door is fixed

Thanks for your prayers - we'll keep you 'posted'.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Not So Neutral

Well, we've continued to pray and we know lots of you have too. Heather has been doing lots of measuring, planning and thinking. I've taken some pictures and talked to the real-estate agent. We've asked for the garage to be included for extra storage. Sunday morning at 9:30 am we will be seeing the apartment again and meeting the landlord. We ask that you would continue praying with us for the following:
-favor with our current landlord
-finances involved

We'll update you here on the blog to let you know how it goes. I am nervous about it but feel confident that it would be a good move - giving us access to a house with a yard and terrace, a location which makes it much easier to get out and be with people, very close to a bus stop (same buses that come to our current apartment), as well as saving us a little bit of money each month.

Picture Info:
1st: the 3-story building, the one we're looking at takes up the ground floor

2nd: most of the yard - not big, but it would allow Heather to grow a small garden and at least give the kids something to play in

3rd: the terrace; the door there is the back-door which opens into the living/dining room

Pancakes, the Sea, and the Steering Wheel

We have a book in our family, its origin is mysterious, which contains on its last page a secret formula, which allows me, Daddy, to create delicious, fluffy pancakes to the delight of my harried wife and my sugar-starved children. Our Saturday morning started with a hot stack of these.

I had promised Jacob that I would take him somewhere special today and he graciously allowed his little brother, Harrison, to go with us. We bundled up and headed out to Portonovo.

Portonovo is a hidden little beach at the foot of Monte Conero, about 15 minutes south of Ancona. During the winter months it is almost completely empty which makes it a great place to walk and skip rocks and take a nap. We played for a while on the beach before climbing up on the bigger rocks that form a wall to protect an old Napoleonic tower. There we found a perch, our special, little place and sat in the sun and watched the fog roll in from the sea.

After a while, I glanced back to my right toward the beach and to my surprise, saw our friend, Maurizio, standing there. We've known him for a few years now and I've studied with him and challenged him on numerous occasions to give himself completely to Christ. The analogy I have used repeatedly with him is that of a steering wheel. He needs to let Jesus take control of his volante and let him steer his life. He is somewhere on that path toward surrender, but keeps fighting and making excuses. Who doesn't?

He recently told me that he didn't want to spend time together anymore and that he wanted to take his own path, and so there has been a week or more of silence between us. I motioned him over and he climbed over the rocks to us and when he recognized us became overcome with emotion. He had the Bible we'd given him in his hand, worn and used, as well as a book about the sea.

We gave each other the Italian greeting on that precarious rock and he told me that he had been planning to come to our Life Group tomorrow and tell me he was ready to give up the steering wheel. He's said this before, so I didn't proceed down to the water's edge, as you might expect most missionaries to do. Instead, we sat on the rocks, both of us laughing at the 'irony' of running into each other there when the rest of the morning I saw maybe 5 people in that area. We walked around Portonovo. He carried a sleepy Harrison on his shoulders. We looked at the seagulls and ducks and then parted ways. He will be coming tomorrow to fellowship, worship and share with us and I am convinced of this:

He is a man that desperately needs to be set free. He is torn by voices and a myriad of spiritual lies. He is lonely and hurt. Our church's challenge to him, as we've welcomed him and loved on him, has always been, trust US when we tell you to trust your life to GOD. Only then will he be filled and cleansed and changed.

Friday, February 2, 2007

A Couple of Confessions

First, I must confess something. I am jealous. I just found out my youngest brother, Tim and his wife are going to hear Harry Connick, Jr. in March. (This is Tim's third time!) I love Harry. (Need evidence? Know what we named our third child? OK - not really.)

And now for a second, albeit longer, confession. Wednesday I met Josh & Sergio near our office and we climbed in his dad's Rover and he drove us the 30-minute trip to Castelfidardo - home of the handmade, Italian accordion. Quaint little Marchegian village - we walked around for a while - I was amazed at the number of accordion shops mixed in with the typical stores. Even the bars and caffes used accordions in their decor.

What brought us to this town was a lunch meeting with a priest which Sergio and his mother had set up for us - they thought we would enjoy meeting him. Last week was the annual 'Week of Prayer' where the Catholic church organizes special events together with local Evangelical churches to promote unity and I guess Sergio had hosted or been a part of one of these meetings which is where this whole idea of getting together came up.

Like you, perhaps, I have a certain image of what a priest looks like and behaves like, partly due to Hollywood's influence and partly due to living so close to the 'priest factory' which is this lovely boot-shaped country we call 'home'. As we stood in front of the City Hall, eavesdropping on Sergio's phone conversation and wincing at the sharp smell of cat urine, I watched as people walked by and kept wondering when he would show up. When a sporty, little GT drove by and I got a glimpse of a guy in plain clothes smoking a cigarette behind the wheel I didn't even think twice about it until Sergio said, 'Here he is.'

Andrea, the priest, got out of his car, greeted us and then quickly disappeared into the church that was behind us, reemerging a few minutes later, a very disarming smile on his face. He has a very youthful (after all, he IS only 33) way about him and walks as if he's accustomed to playing soccer. On our way to Sergio's car we passed a group of teens and one of them walked right up to Andrea, the priest, and asked him for a cigarette. He told the kid, 'Non ne ho una.' and a few steps later proceeded to pull a package of cigarettes out of a pocket and as if to soothe his conscience read us the warning labels out loud, "Not for children", "Smoking can kill you".

In the car, I sat in the back with Andrea, the priest, and we talked about where he studied (Ancona & Rome) and where we had studied and what we were doing. We both seemed fascinated with each other's backgrounds. We ended up at an amazing little trattoria, owned and operated by a distant relative of Sergio's. Because Andrea is a priest, we were allowed a table in the upper room, usually reserved for special guests (the mayor of the town was at a table behind us).

I had the tagliatelle con piselli e prosciutto with a grilled pork chop and side salad and it was delicious; as was our conversation. We talked about lots of things and were joined near the end by Sergio's mother (a High-School biology teacher) who drank an espresso with the rest of us.

Throughout our time together, I was able to ask him some of the questions I'd always been curious about regarding the life of a Catholic clergyman - one of these was, "When and how often do you have to wear your priestly clothes?"

This question came up after Andrea, the priest, had stepped outside for a quick smoke, so he was a little more relaxed. He smiled at my curiosity and answered very confidently, with an air that told me it wasn't the first time he'd been posed the question. "There is a canonical law that states a priest must always wear the specially prescribed clothing. But I don't. I figure that on the minor things like this, God will show mercy in heaven." I smiled and expressed my approval. Josh and I both told him how much we appreciated him being real and authentic, able to really connect with people. He said he believes that no one should be above or below him - but that we should all be on the same level. (He also, recalling memories of his girlfriend during his first years at the seminary, thinks priests should be able to marry.) We exchanged phone numbers and he said he was going to try to make it to our next Encounter coffee house.

As Sergio drove us home and I sat in the backseat with his mother making small-talk, watching the rolling Marchegian countryside out the window, I couldn't help but wonder what God is doing. I'm seeing him move and work in ways that I haven't seen in the nearly seven years we have been here. As Andy Stanley puts it, I feel like I'm being presented with a truth which is like a blinding light, and I can either run back into the comfortable darkness or stay in the light and let my eyes become accustomed to it and see things around me as they really are, in light of a Truth I had not known before or which I had chosen to ignore. I confess that I don't know where this is going - but when God moves, I want to be on board.