Monday, December 31, 2007

Pictures from Christmas!

These are all pictures from our trip to stay at the Lillistrand's for Christmas, near Florence. We had an amazing time, renting the apartment next to Agape Italia's country director's apartment! The Lillistrands adopted us as family for those days, letting us participate with them for dinners and even bought us little gifts. It was a terrific experience, having a surrogate family for that time, enjoying and relaxing in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. I have nothing to profound to write, just lots of pictures. Have no fear though, I am working on profound posts...maybe. Hope to share more with yall soon. Enjoy, Happy New Years... and check out http://www.myspace.com/willhoge . I found him yesterday and think I really enjoy his stuff.
You are supposed to rub his snout for good luck... I thought I would bite it.
The people I got to tour Florence with (Nicole, Joel, Matt, Emily, Me, Amos)
I am proud of taking this picture. That is the only surviving bridge in Florence from WWII
Florence was lovely... good view from Piazza del Michaelangelo
I took the typical holding-up-the-tower picture, but thought I would try to kick it over... and looks like I am booting some old guy in the behind.
It really is quite amazing how much it leans
My surrogate Christmas family (Kanda, Charmaine, Greg, Sara, L, Joel, Sophie, Amos, Ryan, Matt, Debbie, Me)
That vineyard behind me has been producing wine for 1000 years... I was in a cool place for Christmas.
Bilbo the dog was cute, had a great name, and loved me.
Joel's OSU pj's and my OSU santa hat represented well.
Chilling, eating at the Lillistrands... they were amazing.
Sophie is darling (here she is burying Amos in books)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Once

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/once/
This film (Once) looks brilliant and I want to see it. If anyone has seen it, let me know what you thought. I post this website because it has a free download on it (right below the music player) of the song off of the movie that I am in love with. Check it out, download it, enjoy, and dont ever say I never gave you anything :) Much love

Friday, December 28, 2007

Pipe Adventures


This may disappoint some of you, but I occasionally smoke a pipe. It started when I bought my first pipe in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was this really cool, ornately carved pipe and I always thought smoking a pipe was kind of classy, in an old man sort of way. And one of my heroes from when I was a little kid smokes a pipe occasionally, so I bought one so I could occasionally smoke with him. When I say occasionally, I mean maybe once a month I will smoke. Anyway, long story short, I now own a pipe from Russia, Macedonia and Italy. Any country I have lived in for longer than two weeks.

What is the point of this story, you ask? Well I am getting there. Because I occasionally smoke, I enjoy looking at pipe stores here in Rome. I had yet to find a good one here in Rome until last night. Matt had noticed some cool pipes in a Tabacchi store window near the Pantheon and so we decided to go check it out. We found the shop and entered and I asked (our entire encounter was in Italian), I think, "Do y'all have pipe's here?"

The lady behind the counter asked me to follow her into the next room and pointed downstairs and said wait and disappeared behind another counter, saying something about a key. I was confused. Matt was confused. Amos was confused. Did she want us to go downstairs? She reappeared and motioned for us to follow her downstairs. We went down into this room with a bunch of locked doors, one of which she unlocked and we followed her in. And my jaw hit the floor.

The room was full of pipes. And when I say full, I mean quite literally, the room was full of pipe and pipe accessories. I was in awe. The price range went from 40 Euro to over 175. I found long stem Gandalf-esque pipes; there were classic pipes, Sherlock Holmes pipes, fold-up pipes, glass pipes, wood, leather... something for everyone, I guess. We felt like celebrities, being allowed in the secret, locked, room full of 1000's of Euro worth of pipes. And that it all I got. Just wanted to share that story and the accompanying picture with you. I will post about how Christmas and Pisa and Florence were later. Hope you enjoy and can appreciate the amazingness of this room with me.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Oh yea, more Christmas gifts...

Check it out. The Autumn Film. Rocking band, good people, free music. And they are great (I got to see them live...5 times)... so go this link, download their FREE 4 song EP, and support them with your money later. Click on the first link for their website (you can listen to a couple of their songs there without downloading anything) and the second link to go straight to the free download page. Much love
The Autumn Film - 4 song EP for Free

Merry Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas from the Rule Family. This is a blast-from-the-past photo that I just got of my family when I was... I dont know, around 6 years old. I am the cute kid in the front right. Enjoy this and the rest of the post.
So this isnt really my thoughts on Christmas or Christmas Eve but it is Christmas Eve here in Rome right now (12:46 as I begin this). For todays freebee, check out this video on you tube http://youtube.com/watch?v=4Z2ljWwIaHs. You may not enjoy it but I thought it was beautiful and thought the idea was really cool, like the music was a journey through memory.

In other news, here is something I wrote a little while ago. I didnt post it when I wrote it because I was still hoping to hear from RelevantMagazine.com and see if they would post it (they still havent told me yes or no, just that they would read it and get back to me). So here it is for you, my few faithful. Much Love. Merry Christmas. Christ is born.

God Loves That Guy

“God loves that guy.”

These four simple words have been hitting me with all the subtlety of a baseball bat to the head for the last twenty-four hours.

“God loves that guy.” The chorus to a song off a new CD by Andy Gullahorn was the catalyst to something that had been bothering for a couple days. Let me explain by starting from the beginning.

It usually takes me a while to pick up when God is speaking to me, so it often takes a couple swings for his truth to sink in. The first swing was a book I am reading, “The Divine Conspiracy” by Dallas Willard, which is rocking my boat on some assumptions I have had for quite some time about living the Christian life. There are no new truths revealed in the book, just old truths told in a new way. In a part I recently read, he says

“In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he gives an awesome list of those who, continuing in their evil, cannot “inherit the kingdom,”: “fornicators idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, active homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers” (6:10). Then he adds, “And such were some of you, but you were cleansed, made hold and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

If I, as a recovering sinner myself, accept Jesus’ good news, I can go to the mass murderer and say, “You can be blessed in the kingdom of the heavens. There is forgiveness that knows no limits. To the pederast and the perpetrator of incest. To the worshiper of Satan. To those who rob the aged and weak. To the cheat and the liar, the bloodsucker and the vengeful: Blessed! Blessed! Blessed! As they flee into the arms of The Kingdom Among Us.”

This didn’t really sink in on me. I guess it is “Christian theology” that I have always heard, that everyone can be forgiven. So I read it, thought “cool” and kept reading. Granted, this blessing comes with the condition to “flee into the arms of The Kingdom Among Us,” but of course it is available for all who turn from their own ways. That is what I have always been taught.

The second swing was the recent shooting in a church in Colorado. Here is Rome, Italy, I can be out of the loop of American happenings so the first I heard of the shootings was in email from a friend. He sent an article on the woman who took the shooter down and who saved the day. And he added some angry (albeit sarcastic, I later learned) words for the gunman at the end of his email.

It upset me. I thought, “How can he not forgive this guy if Jesus offered forgiveness to the very men who nailed him to the cross.” So I sat in my own self-righteous tower and stewed over how to best respond to my friend, how to “correct him.” I am sure the part of me that I usually keep hidden was saying, “If only my friend could learn the true meaning of God’s love. If only he could learn to forgive as Christ forgave, like I have learned.”

Then I listened to the song by Andy Gullahorn. And he wrote about a suicide bomber. The family deserter. And followed each story by “God loves that guy.” Simple words yet I couldn’t shake them.

And it became personal. What if that suicide bomber killed my brothers, my parents? What if that guy that deserted his family was my dad? What if that shooter had been in my church, killed my best friends? I stopped all the theorizing about “God loves the rapist and the murderer” and made it personal. Would I still want God to love that guy?

And the sad truth was, I probably wouldn’t. I talked to a friend who doesn’t believe in God earlier this week about forgiveness and boldly told him, “I would try to forgive anyone for anything.” Later, I talked with my Christian friends about how I would punch a guy in the face for trying to inappropriately touch a friend of mine on the bus. No, God doesn’t ever condone sin, yet God offers forgiveness to the sinner if they will turn.

“God loves that guy.”

I still can’t shake it. And my bastion of self-righteousness is beginning to crumble. God loves that guy. And I… well I have a hard loving people. Yet I am called to do that. If I call myself a Christian, a follower of Jesus, then I am forced to pay attention when he says, “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matt 6:15)”

If I refuse to forgive, I refuse to acknowledge my need for forgiveness. My common need for a savior. Because according to the standards set by Jesus, I am “that guy.” I am a liar, a thief (stole from my sister in elementary school), a cheat (tests in high school), an adulterer (Matt 5:26 doesn’t let me off the hook easy), a murderer (Matt 5:21-22). How can I refuse forgiveness when I myself am in desperate need?

Forgiveness isn’t natural. Yet it is to what we are called (Ephesians 4:32).

“God loves that guy.” God loves me. Simple, childlike though it may be, there is probably more profound truth to the old song “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” than I will ever know. I want to learn to love like that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Gift to You... Pictures

Here is my Christmas present to you... pictures of me. Enjoy. More will probably come soon. Merry Christmas!
The lady who took this was old... and didnt know how to operate a camera... hence the great pic. But it captures me and Juan and Andrea (in Santa suit), two of my best Italian friends here. Andrea is hilarious... was running around most of the day in the Santa suit. Hilarious.
Yes, I really am in Rome, not just sitting in my basement sending out letters and writing fake blogs.
Alan read the Christmas story at the staff party... it was great.
Joel probably got better pictures at the staff party, with his fancy camera
But the kids loved me (look at the love in their faces :)
Our friend Ana cooked us the biggest meal I have ever eaten (with maybe the exception of Christmas/Thanksgiving feasts). It was incredible, good Peruvian food.
With a number of courses... it was good and Matt was my model for the pics (and he didnt eat that whole thing)
Every shop in Rome has Christmas stuff in the windows. This was quite impressive



Christmas Thoughts

One, I HAVE INTERNET! Amen, praise Him. What this means is that I will hopefully have some high quality posts during this Christmas season. What an amazing time of the year, yea? For how much I love Ohio in December and miss it, I really do enjoy Rome at this time of year. It seems like every side street has lights draped over the street, courtesy of local shop owners. A million fake stars in this polluted city where you can hardly see the real stars is really quite a lovely thing. The air is crisp and cold (rare I am told for Rome at this time) and there are Christmas markets set up in just about every piazza, including my home turf of Piazza Bologna. Besides Christmas shopping for other there, I have bought myself sour peach candies and a crepe with Nutella that reminded me of Palacinki (anyone who has been to Macedonia, can I get an Amen!). I was going to try to write something profound here for Christmas but instead decided that can wait a little while. Instead, I want to share with you what someone else wrote about Christmas.... Linford from Over the Rhine wrote this and I thought this part was brilliant. For the entire essay, check out http://www.overtherhine.com/music/recordings/cd05/cd05b.html . But for the part that I love, here 'tis.

"And what brings me back are a few simple truth's that rings me like a bell still. While the Buddha suggests that we empty ourselves from all love, thereby freeing ourself from all that can cause pain, subsequently finding rest, this baby in the barn grows up and argues that we should love everybody, including ourselves, our neighbors and yes, even our enemies, and the ensuing pain will work on us in the same manner as a sculptors chisel on marble. And perhaps, ultimately, the answer to every moral and ethical question can be found in the simple mysterious words of the baby in the barn who grew to be a man: Love the creator of the universe with everything you can muster, and your neighbor as yourself. "

I would love to copy the entire essay for you because it is absolutely brilliant writing but just check it out on his website... thanks. More to come later. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Still Dont Have Internet

I still dont have internet, so for a brief break, here is a brilliant Christmas Mix. In addition to this mix, I highly recommend a couple complete Christmas CD's. Michael W. Smith's "Christmastime", Amy Grant "Home for Christmas", Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God", and MercyMe "The Christmas Sessions" and Over the Rhines "The Darkest Night of the Year" are at the top of my list. What am I missing here... fill me in in the comment section. I know I left some classics out... tell me what HAD to be included that I didnt.

1. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
2. Winter Wonderland/White Christmas - Mercy Me
3. Angels We Have Heard on High - Relient K
4. Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
5. Silent Night - MercyMe
6. Christmastime - Michael W. Smith
7. I Celebrate the Day - Relient K
8. Emmanuel - Amy Grant
9. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear - MercyMe
10. Christmas Canon Rock - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
11. All Is Well - Michael W. Smith
12. Labor of Love - Andrew Peterson
13. Rocking Around the Christmas Tree - MercyMe
14. O Holy Night - David Phelps (amazing version, trust me)
15. Behold the Lamb of God - Andrew Peterson
16. Theme of My Song - Andrew Peterson (the two go together)
17. I Heard the Bells - MercyMe
18. Silent Night (duet) - Over The Rhine
19. The Night Before Christmas - Amy Grant
20. Mary Did You Know - Clay Aiken

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

That Guy

Go to this address http://www.andrewosenga.com/blog/ and scroll down one post to the one entitled That Guy (Dec 12)... click on the song (That Guy - Andy Gullahorn). Listen to it. I didn't have tears in my eyes but man, it is good. Simple. Profound. Do it, hope you won't regret it. I don't think you will.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Love and Marriage (not for me, in general)


Prayerfully, quite soon I will have internet in my apartment. And when I do, you are in for a treat, dear reader. Because I have a lot of ideas and stories to tell. But for now, I was asked this question in an email by a dear, trusted mentor of mine. "Why is marriage (or some kind of relationship with the opposite sex) the main theme of music , literature , and movies, yet so little Scripture focuses on this....Scripture talks about what we need to give instead of utopian dreams of what we are going to get. What is it that Scripture does talk more about ? What should our priorities really be??" ... So this is my response to this... enjoy and respond with your own ideas.

I have had the chance to think (very briefly and writing this blog is a way of me processing through this) about marriage, priorities, and what the Bible says about all this. I think that music, literature, and movies all hit on this theme of marriage because a lost (and found) world is looking for love. The closest example that we can come up with of love (and don't tell me Jesus didn't talk A LOT about love) is marriage or sacrifice. If a movie doesn't hit on marriage (or often the case, simply sex and "commitment"), it often has the main character make a sacrifice.

Scripture is a story of redemptive love, of a God redeeming us from our fallen state and uniting in a relationship with us… perhaps there is something redemptive about marriage. About taking two individuals whose first care is themselves and having them make a commitment to caring about someone else more than themselves. A little redemption is often found in self-sacrifice. Perhaps this is part of the reason Christ refers to the church as his bride. He showed the ultimate in love of putting us above himself… "for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many."

As a single guy, all too often I hope that love will be found in a relationship with a girl/marriage. I think there is some truth to the cliché saying that "you will find her when you least expect it, when you stop looking." If I stop looking for love in the arms of a girl and start finding the love I need where it can only be found, in the arms of Jesus, then I can begin to understand true love. Instead of a love that is a roller coaster ride because we humans are fallible, I can find a constant love in a constant God.

Do I think that scripture talks more about what we need to give instead of utopian dreams of what we are going to get? Yes. But for Mr. A and other married couples, they probably understand that marriage and love is about what we can give, not what we get. Yes, getting figures into the equation and we are always excited to get, probably more often than we are to serve. But the more that we learn about serving and the more like Christ we become, the more of a joy it is to give. Our priorities should be in learning to love like Christ… I think that marriage is often a byproduct of learning to love… and through marriage we often learn to love more.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

More to come later

Sorry I havent posted in a while. What can I say, life is busy and I am delinquent from time to time. Expect something this weekend... so for the few of you who read this, I will try to make it solid, well worth the wait. In the mean time, happy December. Weird that it is almost Christmas. And for the completely random side-story, I got a package from my sister today with a hand-turkey made by my nephew (and two from my two nieces) that said below it, "The turkey is sad because he is going to get eated!" I loved it. Ciao ciao faithful readers. Until next time.

Friday, November 30, 2007

I am lazy... Thanksgiving continued

So I am mildly lazy... I say this because I dont want to write a lot more about Thanksgiving. I am sure your imaginations can fill in a lot of the details. Sure you might not think about the juggling in the hall, hand-turkeys plastered all over the wall, or genuine amazement at "Everything is so sweet. No wonder American's eat too much" (sweet potatoes, sweet carrots, sweet rolls, pie, jello... I guess there was a lot of sweet stuff.) But if you want more, check out one of my teammates blogs at http://saraneumann.wordpress.com/. She was a little more diligent than I at describing the night.

In other exciting news, this week was pretty good on campus. I got into a conversation with a guy Monday (he was reading an English book... I had to strike up a conversation, right?) that was great. It was actually quite amusing. I sat down next to him on a bench (sound familiar, Lindsey?) and noticed his english book and asked him in Italian what book he was reading. He was a little surprised that I was talking to him but he showed me anyway. I explained (still in Italian) that I was American and didn't often see students reading english books... and then didn't say anything more, but pulled out my journal to write a little (I was too scared to continue, cause I didn't know what else to talk about). He started reading again but then stopped after a minute or so. Seemed to be thinking. Then turned to me and asked, "Why are you here at Villa Mira Fiori?" So we began to talk and probably one of the most encouraging things he said was "I would like to be as sure as you are someday about my faith. Maybe someday but I am not now." So we are going to meet again this coming week.

On Wednesday I had probably the most encouraging conversation of my year so far. No joke, this was amazing. I had already been shot down by two different guys (me: "Parli inglese?" them: "No. Perque." me: "lavoro per un organizazione...." them: "ok. ciao") when I walked up to this guy eating his lunch and asked him if he spoke english. He said he spoke a little and asked why did I want to know. I more or less gave him the spiel about working for an organization of americans and italians and how we want to speak to students about what they think about spiritual things. At this point, I was a little discouraged and thought I would get shot down again (oh me of little faith), so he surprised me when he said, "Questa e una bella cosa (this is a beautiful thing)." So I sat and began to chat with him.

Turns out he is 'believer' but doesn't really know what that means in it's entirety. He just knows that he has a relationship with God. I asked him who he thought Jesus was and he said, "My brother, my friend. Because of Jesus I can have a relationship with God." We covered the four basic points of the gospel (God loves us, we mess up and the penalty for our sin is separation from God, Jesus died to pay this penalty and then rose to conquer death, we must accept this and follow him) and he agreed with all points but didn't really know a whole lot (these are his words, not mine). It was so encouraging to listen to how God has brought him to this point, how he had searched for God and despite not really having anyone teach him, he had figured out these basic points. He did think that the Bible had two Gods (Old and New Testament: Judging God vs. Loving God). It was good to talk about how the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the new, but he punishes because he wants to draw us back to him. He said "Oh ok, so he must punish us if he loves us because he doesnt want us to be hurting ourselves." The last thing he said to me before we exchanged numbers was "I have had a lot of coincidences in my life that I know were not coincidences, that were God. I think you are maybe one of these, that God sent you to talk to me." So praise God for these two guys, for how God is working in the hearts of Italians, and for how God loves us enough to not give up on us, to send his Son to die to pay our penalty and make a way to have a relationship with Him. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy Slapsgiving (err.... Thanksgiving)

Slapsgiving is a reference to How I Met Your Mother... not always appropriate but HILARIOUS show... to see Slapsgiving, click here. Now that that was completely irrelevant, here are some pictures from our Thanksgiving with students. Picture this... two days of preparation. 2 turkeys, 10 homemade pies, 35 kilos of mashed potatoes, 12 cans of green beans cooked into green bean casserole, 12 cans of corn, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, jello, sweet carrots, rolls and hand turkeys for all. Cram 55 people into an apartment meant for 3 girls, have students bring the drinks and you will get a lot of wine (have to be careful about doling that out slowly) and you will get one interesting party. Because Italian's haven't celebrated Thanksgiving before. Or at least most of them haven't. It was fun, busy, exciting, exhausting and well worth it. We got to share the gospel, I got to juggle (true story, I am friends with Giovanni who is a sweet juggler and is trying to teach me). So enjoy these pics, more fun stories coming later.
The feasting table
Bryan (US staff) and other italian buddies
Me and my good friend David
Taking pictures of Matt doing the honor of cutting the turkey

Prayer Letters

I just figured out how to turn my prayer letters into JPEG format so I can post them here... so here are a couple of my past prayer letters including the one I just sent out today, which probably hasn't reached anyone yet... so you, lucky reader, can be the first to check it out. I think if you click on the image, it will turn it into a bigger picture so you could actually read it.



Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kingdom Questions

I tread no new ground as I seek to understand what it means to proclaim the Gospel and struggle through the questions that accompany this search. I think it is strange that as I am here in Rome for the sole purpose to tell others about Christ, I find myself asking, “What is the Gospel that Jesus is asking us to proclaim? Is that what I am telling people?” I think that the answer to the first question is I don’t fully understand and am ashamed to say that the answer to the second is often no.

The question of what is the Gospel is the essential question that we all need to ask and answer. I know the answer in part. I know that it is a story of the Creator and his love relationship with his creation (us). Of our fall into self indulgence and the story of the promise of redemption and the fulfillment of that promise. Of a renewed relationship, of following a risen Savior, of learning how much we need to trust and rely upon the One who knows us better than ourselves. This much I know about the Gospel.

But what I don’t know, what I think I am beginning to figure out, is what does that mean for those who call ourselves Christians. What does it really mean to be a Christian? I am reading a book called The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard right now and he says that, “the only thing made essential on the right wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual sins. On the left it is the removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a gospel of ‘sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message.”

I know that ‘sin management’ is not the Gospel that Jesus talked about. Despite this, I am certain that I have fallen into one or both of these categories because they are simple, easy and not too difficult to accept. The Gospel, quite literally, that Jesus preached was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 5:17).” The reason I have been asking questions about the Gospel is because both parts of Jesus’s words throw me for a loop.

I am a coward. Telling people to repent is not in my comfort zone; the honest truth is that I would much rather tell people that God loves them and leave out the part about God calling them to change, to repent. The sad truth is that I often settle for this. I offer a gospel of ‘sin management’; “God loves you, sent his Son Jesus to take away your sins, and you just need to accept that and you are a Christian.” Yes, God does love us and yes, Jesus did come to take away our sins, but he calls us to repentance. God tells us to repent, to turn from our ways.

The part that I love and am just beginning to understand is that he tells us to repent (turn) FOR the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Once again, to steal from Dallas Willard, “the gospel is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed. This was Abraham’s faith too. As Jesus said, “Abraham saw my time and was delighted” (John 8:56).” God is calling us to repent because there is something better! Because he is calling us into a life that is real, that is better than the superficial life that we are living by ourselves.

I really don’t have a good handle on this; I feel like I am simply beginning to learn of the truth that God laid out for us in the Bible. But I have realized two things. One, God is calling us to repent/turn and if we are to present the Gospel in a way that is true to Jesus, we (specifically me) need to talk about this fact. The second thing I have realized is that God is calling us to more than sin management; He is calling us to true life, to something better than our meager self-supported existence. He calls us to something better.

This leaves me with hope. I know that there are cowards like me in the kingdom of heaven, because of the present reality that I can live as a child of The King (John 1:12-13). It means also that I have been charged with a responsibility to be an ambassador for The King, to accurately represent what he says (2 Corinthians 5:20). It means that the life that He is calling me to live is something better, is real life (John 17:3). And for that, on this Thanksgiving, I can be thankful.

Links... seriously you need to check this out....

Here are some links you need to check out... seriously... I dont do links often, so when I do, you know I love them....

Video:
Lifehouse - Everything skit
I am not an emotional guy. I am sure some of you have seen this movie... a group performed this on campus on Wednesday and I broke down crying. And I had seen it before. Check it out. Seriously.

Andrew Peterson - Holy is the Lord
I love Andrew Peterson and this video is not an official AP music video but does a great job with the song. Yet another thing that almost brought me to tears the first time I watched it.

Reading:
Between Hating and Forgiving
This link is only two paragraphs... you need to read this. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Settling on this Side of Jordan
Challenging... I thought it was very well written.

http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=236#comment-397
"I know this isn’t necessarily what the movie is about, but in this moment Ratatouille reminded of what the best art can do in us – art done with devotion, care, and great love. It restores us and reminds us of the promise of a more beautiful time, both a time passed and a time to come. It names us and gives us back to ourselves. It makes us children again in that it makes us feel wonder. It awakens the possibility of love, redemption, forgiveness, and rebirth."

Friday, November 16, 2007

FastWeb...or SlowWeb

Ok, so my internet is down... FastWeb is the compaany and the previous contract has run out so we need to work on a new one... so no new posts for a little while but be excited about the next one coming... cause I am. Love to you all, hopefully I will post again soon. I still check my email so if you want, feel free to shoot questions or say hey at christopher.rule@gmail.com

Monday, November 12, 2007

Life Isn't Always Peaches and Cream

Once again, I am convinced I have the cutest nieces ever (this is Peyton and Kalia)

I hesitate to write this post (but isnt that picture great) but I figure it is honest and I hope it can be encouraging to someone... if not, well you have simply got to look a little more into the life of Chris Rule than you ever expected.

Today was a rough day, not exactly the kind of day I love having on campus. English Club was kind of typical, with only four or five people showing up. Pray for me and Kanda as we try to figure out where God want's us to take this thing and what to do to try to attract more people. I did, however, get to hang out at English Club with David, a buddy of mine who is cool as all get out and an atheist. I think today I felt for the first time pain at how someone was thinking... I think, when discussing free will, he said "If I choose hell and this separation from God, God has to respect it." Man, that breaks my heart. So pray that God will break through to David's heart because that is the only way it will change.

The reason that the day was tough (besides the mild EC discouragement) was that I went to Citta Universitaria (another campus of La Sapienza) and got there (alone) and simply froze. I sat on a bench for 20 minutes and prayed and was freaked out. I dont know what it was, if it was a lack of trust in God or what but I was freaking out and not wanting to talk to students. I eventually worked up the nerve, tried a couple conversations and got shot down so I left.

But here is where the story gets a little more encouraging. I got off my bus stop and decided to swing by Villa Mira Fiori (the first campus I was at today) and look around, if for nothing else, to make myself feel better for tucking tail and running from Citta. I got there and was trying to figure out the professors schedules that they had posted when I heard, "Ciao, Chris." I turned and saw Eugenio, a guy I met last week. I ended up talking to him and three of his French friends for a while before leaving (he helped me figure out the schedules too). So, once again, despite my cowardice, God managed to have the last conversation of the day be one that encouraged me. I know it doesn't really communicate by simply typing this, but this was huge for me. I was discouraged... yet God shows up. I dont know why He doesnt give up on me, but I guess he still has a plan for me. This is encouraging.

So keep praying (especially for guys like David, or Andrea and Juan, or Ilaria (girl) and Adriano). Pray that I learn to be strong and courageous because God is with me (like my nephew Brayden Kai... don't you wish you were friends with him?) Much Love

Creative Writing Attempt

This freaks me out to write this, because this is completely not my style, but here is my attempt at creative writing... let me know what you think. If it is negative feedback, I will just choose not to publish it :) But in all seriousness, if you think this was worthwhile, let me know and I might try it more often. This (very short) story isn't exactly autobiographical but it has elements of truth woven into it. I tried not to be overtly spiritual in it but still wanted it to communicate a point... so yea, enjoy, let me know what you thought.

Enough

Worn out. That’s how he felt that evening, sitting on the front steps. It wasn’t the well worn, classic feel of an antique; no, at 22 he was too young for that. Everything he thought should have filled up his reserves instead brought him to this point. It shouldn’t be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

His work was what he loved. Fulfilling, meaningful, bringing life to others and himself. Yet something was missing. He couldn’t put his finger on it but something was lacking, some part of him was trying too hard to grasp onto a reality that can never be seen.

So he sat.

And waited.

Not sure what he was waiting on, he sat and stared. Stared across a scene of rolling hills and small villages dotting the country-side. This wasn’t America the beautiful, it was Italy the ancient. And he felt it. The oldness was palpable.

In America, if you wander into the hills of Kentucky, or Tennessee or even the mountains of Virginia, it felt different. Newer, like there was promise still waiting for those who sought it with all their might. Problem was, most sought and rarely found the elusive American dream. But there was still that hope.

Here, the country he gazed across had the feel of sameness. He somehow felt that the town that he now gazed at in the distance could have just as easily been an outpost for ancient Rome. 2000 years ago farmers likely gathered olives and grapes from these Tuscan hills much like they did now.

Perhaps some Roman soldier, a veteran of many campaigns, used the same ancient farmhouse, where he now sat, as his retirement home. A place to grow old. To enjoy peace.

Peace.

That was what he sought. Peace from the thoughts, the fears that pestered him. The questions that he knew would never be answered, could never be answered in this life. So he sat and waited and wanted the day to come where his faith became sight.

He smiled dryly. “Only 22, what am I thinking? I don’t even know.”

So he sat.

And waited.

The colors changed as the sun sank across the sky. Not even close to dinner time, yet the golden hour had already hit. Trees became holy canopies, glowing in the setting sun; the grass became an inviting carpet, soft and lush; everything gradually transformed into something different under the influence of a dying sun.

What was once a simple Tuscan country scene became something more. It was filled with life. Not the life of living things, of people or animals, but it felt alive. It glowed with a warmth that seeped into all things, even into him.

His thoughts continued to follow their meandering path yet instead of angst they were now consumed with the beauty before him. He pulled out a camera and then put it back away. It could never capture this, he thought.

Beauty. Something far deeper than the models plastered across the bus’s and city walls. Even deeper than the beauty of the girl who had taken a piece of his heart. Beauty that a radiant bride begins to hint at, or a breathtaking sunset begins to touch, or a soaring aria makes you feel. Yes, this true beauty that he beheld was something you feel.

So he sat.

And waited.

Refreshed. As if life was gradually being poured back in. Yet none of the questions were answered. But he was ok with that. None of the proof was laid out, concrete in front of his eyes, able to touch. Yet somehow it was. Somehow the beauty laid in front of him was proof. Enough. For now, enough.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Two Week Update (creative writing to come soon)

I apologize for taking so long in getting this update out, though I hope the pictures from last week helped provide enough of an appetizer so hold off the hunger. But then again, who am I kidding. You guys really aren't waiting for my updates... or are you? Anyway, to give a quick rundown on this post, it will be last weekend's Agape Italia conference in Tuscany, the plague, this week with nostro capo Glen, Rome Round tables, and really anything else I dream up as I write this.

Last weekend (really beginning on Thursday) was an Agape Italia national team conference called "In Missione Insieme" (In Mission Together). It was a wonderful time, where the teams of STINTers (the program I am doing) from Solerno (S. Italy), Roma, Firenze (Florence) joined Italian and American staff in Rome, Firenze, Pisa and Bologna. It was so encouraging to meet our national leadership and really get to know them, to hear a bit of the vision, and to experience the fall essentials (good food, football, falling leaves and fall weather). I loved it and the place we were at was beautiful. Check out the pictures below if you don't believe me. Some take away points/highlights for me were as follows:
+ Hearing the vision of Agape, how we hope to partner with the body of Christ everywhere to take the gospel to all Italians. It was exciting to hear that we aren't here to build an organization (Agape), we are here to help fulfill the Great Commission (found in Matthew 28:18-20)
+ Playing in the fall weather: I got the throw a football around, play a little bit of soccer, hike, get in a leaf fight, enjoy a cool Autumn night... it was a beautiful, much needed, even spiritual, thing.
+ Hanging out with the national staff: Our director, Greg Lillistrand, is such a cool guy; Elfi, our Italian expert who is from Rome, simply puts a smile on my face; Kip, on staff in Rome, is the first person I have met who seems to always have laughing eyes; the Malcolms are an American couple who has been here so long that they talk to each other in Italian.... I could go on and on.
+ Agape Italia is beginning to partner with Malawi and a country in the Middle East to do humanitarian stuff while sharing the Gospel. It is, as Haswell Beni said (quoting someone else), "Our organizational mission does not relieve us of our Christian responsibility."
+ Being reinforced that, as Colossians 3:3-4 says, to be fully alive is found in Christ. I love that concept, being fully alive. I love how that being fully alive is found in pursuing Christ, not pursuing everything else (job, money, studies, things)... I have seen that in countless lives of people I know and love and respect... I want that to be true of my life.

The negative thing about this conference is that afterwards, SO MANY came down with the plague. Three from our team were hit hard, five from Solerno, and a number of staff... throwing down (makes more sense than throwing up), fever, shakes, nausea... we even made a facebook group for it. This week was spent with nostro capo (our boss) Glen, in from the States to check up on us, encourage us, teach us, and buy us dinner. Good deal, eh? He and Julie (staff from Miami) have spent the week with us and although it took time away from campus, it was needed and encouraging. Now we have something called the Rome Roundtables going on... really what this is is cool people from partnerships all over the US have come to learn together how to best reach Rome, Italy or any other big city. I have quite enjoyed hanging out with Keith, from Crusade Headquarters and a buddy of mine's Dad, who is both insightful and knows how to laugh.

I apologize if this is starting to get random, but here are the last notes... I met a guy name Giovani this week, who I will most likely continue to meet with to help him practice English and hopefully share the Gospel. He is an amazingly talented juggler (we met because I was watching him juggle and struck up a conversation) and was trying to teach me a few tricks. Needless to say, I am a novice. Also, pray for a couple meetings I have with students this coming week: Andrea, Juan, Ilaria, Adriano, Giovani.... I am really praying God uses our times together to communicate His message to them. I love you all, thanks for reading, I will probable post tomorrow my attempt at creative writing.... scary thought.

If you have made it this far, check out The Drop link to your right... interesting music. Or The Rabbit Room.. writing that is better than mine. As always, leave comments if you want. Much Love.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pictures....

My next blog post is going to be something ambitious. I am thinking of taking a shot at creative writing and posting it on this blog. That mildly scares me but I think it will be fun. Also, I want to fill you all in on my weekend somewhere north of Firenze (Florence), in Tuscany. So expect big things... in the meantime, here are some pictures to give me some more time...

The sweet team in Solerno... "Get mad at the camera, show me angry!"

We had communion at the top of a nearby mountain, close to a old monastery... very cool experience

Walking up the Via Di Silencio, the Silent Way, where we were alone to our thoughts: just us and God, again, a great experience.

My new best friend, Becca, hanging out with me.

This sunset was breathtaking...literally.

Becca running amidst the beautiful autumn colors.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

How many Andrea's are there in Rome?

This has nothing to do with me in Rome, but it is my niece, and she is adorable (Leeny, hope you don't mind me putting her on my blog)

The reason for the title of this post is because in the past week I have probably met 15...ok more like 7 or 8 Andrea's. Before you start thinking, "oooo Chris is trying to pick up girls in Rome," Andrea is the Italian version of Andrew. And most of them are pretty cool kids.

Before I dive into this week, go to www.indianagazette.com and click to go to the pumpkin contest...vote for the Frumkin Family entry... it is my friend and c-ruleinrome consistent blog commenter Greg's nephew. So vote for him and hook a little kid up.
Also, check out this short story .... great stuff coming out of the Rabbit Room, so check it out.

As for life in Rome, well it goes on crazy hectic fast but fun. This past week was wild as we tried to evaluate how our first week went and how to move forward. One of the things we decided was to not have La Bella Vita this week and instead have a student party where we had fun but also sought to get into spiritual conversations. So, to find out how that party went on Friday, keep reading... as I describe the events leading up to that.

Ever have a conversation that you walk away from and think, what just happened? I had a number of those this week; some were good "what just happened" and others were in a "did I make any sense there?" One thing I am continuing to learn is how I need trust God more in presenting the Gospel. I struck up a conversation with a guy named Max this week because he was reading a English music magazine. He liked to listen to Christian hard rock because he said he likes that music and their songs have a positive message. We talked about the Gospel but I am pretty sure I butchered it in my attempt to communicate what I wanted to communicate. I think it is easy for me to get so caught up in the goal and the excitement that I don't listen very well (either to what God is saying or the person I was talking to). The least I can do is trust God to use our conversation. I am glad he is in control in the end and I am not.

One conversation that went terrific was with Maria-Vittoria and Ricardo, two Physics students. Great people, fun to talk to, both agnostic. I asked Ricardo at one point why he was agnostic. He responded, "I searched for God for a couple of years and couldn't find him, so I don't know if he exists." He said he would need a physical manifestation of God to believe, as would Maria-Vittoria. Kanda (who I was sharing with) asked that if you saw a physical manifestation, would you believe it or would you just try to explain how it could happen naturally? Great question, and Maria said she would probably try to explain it away. Good honesty, even if it is sad to me. But then she hit me up with this money question. "Why do you believe what you believe?" And you know what? I didn't have an immediate answer. What I would have liked to say (but didn't) is because it is too real to me. I have read enough about Jesus, seen His work in others lives, that I am absolutely convinced that Jesus is real. For me, when it gets down to it, if I didn't follow Jesus, it would be a choice. I dont think there will never be a point where I will say Jesus doesn't exist and isn't the Son of God and one with God; it is a choice of will I follow or not, not is He who He says or not. I think that is the question that it ends up boiling down to. Will you follow or not? If you have questions about this, please email me.

Some of the most exciting conversation I have had have been with people who don't speak English very well. Both with a these two guys Daniele and Simone and with another two guys Ricardo and Andrea: man, our conversations were so amazing but a lot of it was trying to figure out what the other person was saying. Someone watching us would probably scratch their head, confused by the mixture of languages and hand motions. And believe me, after such a conversation, you use hand motions like life is a game of charades. Both conversations with these guys went great. Daniele and Simone were friendly enough to grab cafe with us, talk about life and decisions, and the Gospel. Me and Joel are hopefully going to meet up with them this week. Ricardo and Andrea came to our party on Friday.... which leads in to the party.

First of all, let me surprise you all and say that I hate hosting parties. I hate that first half-hour. I feel like a kid on his first date, desperately trying to impress yet feeling as if there is a squirrel running around inside (dont ask why a squirrel, but butterflies are boring). So I was pacing the apartment at the stroke of 7:30 (when our party began), wanting to escape somewhere, anywhere but there. Yet, faithless though I am, our party was soon rocking. Seriously, the turnout was much higher than I expected. Highlights included Matt Reis belting out opera for Andrea (another Andrea that I invited), talking to Ricardo and Andrea (different than the one I just mentioned) for a couple of hours about their slice of Paradise and a short film that we watched, and finally leaving at midnight to go to bed, exhausted. It was so encouraging to have so many people there and to get to meet so many more Italians.

Some final thoughts (because I am exhausted right now)... I think I have the gift of tongues. I say that jokingly yet half serious because of the fact that I had some conversations entirely in Italian last week. I don't know exactly how it happens but God constantly brings to mind what I have learned when I am talking with students. If you tested me right now, I would probably fail, but this past week, it was fun. Also, I was walking home today thinking about the dilemma of this blog... how personal do I get? How vulnerable do I make myself for all you readers? So here is what I was thinking about that prompted these thoughts... sin sucks. Serious, it is sometimes and all-or-nothing throw down battle with Satan. He doesn't want me telling people about Jesus and he doesn't want me living the way Jesus wants. So he fights for my mind, my thoughts, my actions. So pray for me with that. Also, one thing I have realized (over and over and over again), when I don't connect with God, something is missing and I turn to other things. For me, when I don't connect with God I either want a relationship or want some other thing to fill that void. It isn't even necessarily a relationship with a specific girl, it is simply wanting someone to fill that void that I should be filling with God. I don't recommend that... fill the void with God, it is much more satisfying.

Thanks for reading, much love to you all, and thanks so much to Jeremy and Katie who sent a package and Matt and Megan and Mom who have sent letters. Love you guys, you made me feel loved.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two Kinds of Christians (read and you will find out)

My favorite Englishman, Andy Dixon came to visit us in Rome. This is Matt, Lauren, Andy, Kanda, Sara and Amos at the Vatican

Life certainly has taken a turn into the fast lane. Up until this past week, I felt like I was cruising along here in The Eternal City but this past week, the speedometer went from a Vespa to a Ferrari (like the cherry red Ferrari I passed jogging yesterday... it was beautiful... but I digress). You see, for Italian students at La Sapienza, the school year did not start until last week; for us, last week was go time. We hit up campus for the first time and what a wild ride it has been.

The madness began with preparation; 3,000 fliers and 100 posters for English Club and 10,000 fliers and 40 posters for La Bella Vita, our weekly meeting. Amos and Joel did an amazing job planning LBV, with this past week's topic being Cambiare Il Mondo (change the w
orld). So Monday, after Italian lessons in the morning, we went onto campus. With La Sapienza, there are two campus's; Villa Mira Fiori is more or less the language campus and Citta Universitaria is everything else... more or less. Monday I stayed at the Villa because that is wehre we will be having English Club on mondays. For the first hour I put up flier for the first hour because I was too scared to go out and start talking to people. Sometimes the truth looks pretty weak when you write it out. Well, now you know it, sometimes my fear gets the best of me.

At 1:00, Sara and I set up the English Club sign and stood by it, doing our best to look friendly and inviting and probably succeeding (at least for me) at looking nervous and timid. Still, I got into two conversations that went absolutely no where (seriously, I am highly uneducated at Italian politics and Che Guevara). Then I met Filipo and Daniele (the first of many Daniele's I have met and am sure will meet). Both approached the English Club sign together as if it were a suspicious package at th
e airport; take a look, talk to each other, take a few steps closer and look, whisper more to each other until I finally said, "Ciao, parle inglese?" We got to talking about what English Club would be, Daniele bought me a cafe (translated shot of espresso), and we talked for an hour or so. Didnt really share the gospel per se, but we had great conversation and I hope to meet more with them this week.

The last story of that day was Alessandro. By the end of the day, everyone else had gone to Citta so I was all by my lonesome at Villa Mira Fiori and I was, well, slightly feeling alone. I knew I needed to find an Italian to chat with, but I didnt want to initiate... so I did everything I could to procrastinate while praying for God to lead me to someone. He pointed out Alessandro, sitting about 20 yards away from me. I can always tell it's a God tug because my heart beats faster, I get butterflies in my stomach and know what God wants me to do. So after much internal arguing, I went over to talk with him. I introduced myself told him what I was there for and asked if we could talk. He said he was an atheist. "Thats cool, can we still talk?" I asked. The conversation didnt start out so good; I tried to use a survey and to the first question his answer was, "Thats tough... next question?" But his answer to the second question, What is
the worst thing a Christian has done to you?, surprised me. And I quote: "Well, there are two kinds of Christians. There are the ones who actually follow the teaching of Jesus and those who just say they are Christian, like a cover. I dont think that the real Christians really do the really bad stuff. If you are following Jesus, you wont." Wow. I was floored. We continued to talk and 20 minutes later he gave me what I take as one of the best compliments I have ever received in my life: "You, I am pretty sure you are a real Christian."

Crazy stuff like this leaves me feeling so undeserving. I went into the day scared. I went into that conversation reluctant, dragging my feet, wanting some way out. I came out of it marveling at how big God is, how he can use someone like me to get into a meaningful conversation with someone who views, atheism, are diametrically opposed to mine. I love how God can do that. The rest of the week was a lot like that first day. Me, being scared and reluctant and constantly praying for God to help me, and God answering with good conversations. They weren't always great; I met two g
uys we will call my "F-word friends" because that was every other word, I met guys who weren't interested in talking, who only wanted to talk politics, who couldn't speak any English (though my Italian is rapidly improving... I love it). We experienced a disappointing first meeting where only 6 or 7 Italians came. But I can honestly say every day I would have at least one conversation that reaffirmed, "I am made for this. We are made for this." If you call yourself a Christian, a real Christian, the Bible says we are "Christ's ambassadors." This is what you are made for, to bring the King glory. I will get off my pulpit, but before I do, take time to really wonder what it means to be a Christian. I dont have it all down. I am FAR from it... I think being here makes me realize how much I doubt, how scared I get, how little my view of God is... but it has also helped me begin to see who God is, just how big he is. I am excited to learn more.

Life here in Italy is great, exciting, becoming normal.
The weather is changing quite rapidly to Autumn and I desperately want to play a good game of tackle football. I still fall in love all over again with this weather, with the idea of seasons changing and Thanksgiving around the corner, hoping for fires at night yet coming home to a cold apartment of great guys, and walking around at night in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I look forward to filling in you all in more. As always, comments are appreciated, emails appreciated, and Mom, congrats on figuring out on how to access a blog. Love you. Much love to you all.

Last Friday we had a dinner at one of the staff couples here, Alan and Tina Lyle's place. This is their darling daughter Becca, who was one of the cutest girls I have ever met (behind my nieces of course) with Amos and Lauren. We had a terrific supper of salad, BBQ chicken, Parmesan potatoes... oh it was glorious.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Giving... and cheating


I promised my facebook group that I would have a blog post by the end of today, fully intending to fulfill that promise with a well-thought out blog about the Gospel and a copy of my October prayer letter. That will have to come later because it is 12:30, I haven't even started my Italian homework and still am not done with my prayer letter. Life goes fast, eh? But, as I try to be a man of my word, here is my post. If you want something funny, click on the link to Matt Mikalatos on your right... he is hilarious.

I am listening to a mix I made for my family and one of the songs on it always hits me hard. It is called "I'll Give" by Smalltown Poets. Now I feel like posting song lyrics are cheating for a blog post, but since it is late, I promised and this was on the first CD I ever owned, I call it far. Here are the lyrics that challenged me... check it out

"Yesterday I lived for me
and I was so alone as I could be
then I saw you and how you give yourself away

and I want to live for you today

I'll give and I'll hold nothing back


My love is a lot like me

wanting nothing less than everything

but I know your the only love thats true
and only giving makes me close to you

I'll give and I'll hold nothing back"

Thanks for checking this out, more on giving and the Gospel later. For now, I ask for your prayers this coming week. It will be an intense one as we go onto campus full time for the first time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Long Overdue... and just plain Long

Dear wonderful blog readers,
I apologize that this post is so incredibly long overdue. To make up for it, I will try to make this post incredibly long. But, like that wonderful holiday that just passed (Canadian Thanksgiving), it will hopefully be a proverbial feast for your minds. I have, quite literally, been jotting down notes on what I want to write this week as I post my blog and as a result, I have way too much to say. I will pick out the "tasty" morsels and hopefully make it worth your time reading.
Our first team picture in Rome (L to R: Kanda, Matt, Amos, Joel, Sara, Lauren, Yours Truly)

First of all, life in Italy! This past week was a wonderful week of actually being legitimately busy. I have struggled at times, feeling as if I am not earning my paycheck while I am here but this last week was great. We did so much planning and we welcomed our final team member, Kanda Strohl to Rome. It is so good to finally have our whole team here and it has been great for
me, because Kanda and I are working together on planning English Club. English Club is a tool to reach Italian students; we plan discussions on various topics and invite students to come and practice their English. The first four weeks topics are Free Time Fun, Conflict, Trust and Relationships. The questions that English Club asks all lead towards spiritual conversation, which opens the door to tell students about the Way, the Truth and the Life. I truly do believe Jesus is a message worth sharing and I am excited to see how God uses English Club to communicate Truth. The other committee I am a part of is Evangelism Strategy; this is a fancy way of saying we think of ways to best reach the campus with the message of Jesus. Joel and I have been hard at work designing surveys and coming up with a game plan.

Life as a person in Italy is great too (not just as someone working for Campus Crusade). My cooking skills aren't quite Mama Rule-esque yet, but I do believe the outcome of the various dishes I have made proves that I have her blood running through my veins. We don't eat out that much but when we do, it is sampling what the Italians call Pizza: in English we call it pizza :) But pizza here is quite different than in the States; same basic principle but thinner and with more unusual ingredients. We have a great pizza place about 100 meters from our front door. We also have a wonderful cafe/pasticceria (bakery) half a block away. Me, Joel, Matt and Amos (usually me and Joel) often spend from 8-9 at Bar Agostini, sipping cappuccino, eating chambella (basically a rockin' donut) and feasting on what God's Word has to say to us while listening to our iPod. Talk about a great way to start off the day.

We have been working hard at language learning the Italian language as well. Our old tutor, Alessandro, had to leave the country for a prior commitment and was replaced with a new tutor named Alessandro as well. We have three lessons a week, for two hours a lesson. The lesson, which is done mostly in Italian, leaves me feeling like someone took a boxing glove and punched my head for an hour. It doesn't so much hurt as it has a dull ache. Which is why I need to practice even more. But I claim the little victories, like having a conversation with a little old lady named Natalina at church in all Italian... I understood everything said and she understood me for the first minute... and then was lost again.
Love this picture of L (Lauren) and Me, sitting in the street with Il Coloseo in the background
Other things that have been going through my head over the past week include trying to listen to God, new Italian friends, "in the news", my aversion to spending money, wonderful free music websites, prank calls and missing home... I will proceed to write about them in that order, so skip around to what you want to read.

One of the big things I have been trying to do lately is figure out what it means to listen to God. I know God wants to speak to me because I am his child but I still havent quite figured out what it means to listen. I get so caught up in life that I dont see God working through life. And let's be honest, it is pretty easy to look around at the proverbial wind and waves of life and cry out like the disciples, "Lord, dont you care if our lives go down the drain?" (Chris Rule Paraphrase Version). So this week I was at Bar Agostini, with my cappuccino and chambella and was praying for a number of things and then stopped and prayed, "Lord, teach me to listen." Then I stopped. And waited. And tried to listen to what God was saying to my heart.

Usually when I do this, my mind goes 1,000,000 km/hour (trying to get around to this European metric system) and I think about everything from the weird dream I had to the sprinkles on my donut. This time was different. I was looking around as I sat at the table outside and noticed a little girl walking across the street, holding her Daddy's hand. She was probably no older than 2 and seemed to be still trying to figure out the walking thing. She was taking those so-big-I-will-probably-fall steps but because she was holding on to Dad and he was holding her hand, she stayed upright. Then I noticed a little guy, a little older than my nephew, so probably around 4, walking with his Dad. He was walking fine but wasn't holding onto his Dad's hand so he was looking around and wandering towards whatever he looked at. His Dad kept stopping and having to call him back. I felt like God was saying I am that kid. I can spiritually "walk" fine on my own, but if I am not holding my Heavenly Fathers hand, I wander all over the place. This doesn't always even mean blatant sin but it is where I shouldnt be; I am not following my Father. He continually stops, calls me back to following Him. I want to be like the other little kid. I want to take steps in my walk with God that are too big for me. I want to believe God for things that are much larger than what I can do by myself. If I am holding onto my Heavenly Father's hand, then somehow that step that should leave me falling on my face instead ends with my Daddy catching me and helping me take another step.

I cant really think of any transition except for I thought that was cool and I think Italians are cool too. So I have been meeting some Italians and hanging out. This past week I hung out with Francesco and Matt (my housemate, not italian but can bust out killer opera in Italian). Francesco is brilliant; just graduated, knows more about motorcross and motorcycle racing than anyone I have ever met and knows the history of Rome like the back of his hand. We were hanging out at The Spanish Steps and these random (read not-so-intelligent) American tourists asked if "these are the steps they are supposed to go see?" Francesco gave them a history lesson on it, which reminds me of how precious little I know about American history. Sad. The other guy we hung out with was Mario. He lives in Frascati, where we went to hang out with him for a day. Little town outside of Rome, and he knows it's history fairly well too. Kid has a killer sense of humor, although he didnt like Lord of the Rings, which was hard to get over. Cool guys, I cant wait to meet more of them.

For your IN THE NEWS segment of the blog, I read an article about a marathon running that recently set the world record, running the Berlin Marathon in 2 hours, 4 minutes and 26 seconds. His mile pace? Oh not too fast only running 4 minute 45 second miles FOR THE ENTIRE MARATHON. Absolutely incredible. I think the fastest mile I ever ran was around 6 minutes. The other in the news event was a group of students who came up with their own pledge of allegiance because they are upset that "Under God" is in the pledge. Doesn't really bother me that they are upset, I guess that is what America is all about, freedom. However, I thought it was interesting that their new pledge starts "
I pledge allegiance to the flag and my constitutional rights with which it comes." I mean, that is wonderful and all but (and I know I am not original in bringing this up) we always talk about rights and never about responsibilities. People are so concerned that they should get what they deserve that giving gets lost in the shuffle. Just a thought, something to promote discussion/thought.

One of the great things about this year is that I (hopefully) will learn about myself. One of the things I have already learned is how averse to spending money on myself I am. Food is maybe an exception (and music definitely is), but when it comes to buying for me, I am pretty stingy. I (once again, hopefully) dont think that is true about giving gifts but we were at the one mall in Rome, buying stuff for the apartment and went into a clothes store, H&M. Nice store, reasonable priced, great looking clothes... and I couldnt bring myself to try on anything or buy anything. I just done need any clothes so I cant buy it. Thought it was interesting. So I thought I would share.

For those of you who have made it this far reading this blog, here is a reward. Go to www.archive.org or just click on this, "Live Music Archive" and hopefully it will work. It is an unbelievable collection of live music from a ton of terrific artists. I recommend checking out Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Dave Barnes, Matisyaho, and Bela Fleck to start... or find your own because there is a TON of music there. And it is free. And legal. I think.

Last and maybe least, I must tell you of a wonderful prank call I pulled on my brother Dani (otherwise known as Dani Jon = DJ). DJ is a wonderful brother, I idolized him in High School because he was (and is) terrific at basketball and football, is funny, a great 2nd grade teacher, and has got SOUL. I love him. Which is why I had to prank him. I called and left a message on his answering machine as Hank, a State Farm agent who is letting him know that his insurance wasn't paid on his car... for the last three months. He called back and Amos, my roommate, answered, "State Farm Insurance, this is Amos." DJ asked for Hank, we played a little background music, then I picked up, "This is Hank." What proceeded was pure brilliance on my part. Not to toot my own horn but you cant blame DJ for falling for it. After a couple minutes (yes we kept it going for a while), I laughed and told him it was me. He responded with endearing terms of love, thanking me for loving him enough to prank call him (read: he called me names because he is too far away to hit me). I loved it. We had a great convo. I miss my family and close friends. I realized for the first time this week that I am not coming back for a year. I am ok with it, dont get me wrong, and it is great to talk and get emails, but I miss them... and probably will no matter where life takes me.

So thats all folks. Thanks for reading and praying and posting on here, for emails and prayer requests. I love you all and am praying. Until next time, God Bless.