Tag: Miracle

11Feb

Miracle on Via Luigi Rizzo

Last week, I told Part 1 of our move to Italy—specifically, the part where I concluded that the whole thing had been a horrible cosmic prank designed to undo me. Part 2 has a decidedly different ending though, and I can’t think of a story I’d rather be sharing for my final post at A Deeper Story. 

Here be miracles, folks:

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

After a summer clinging to the kind of faith that leaps oceans, I had entered autumn and found that my grip was spent. I couldn’t buoy up my own trust anymore. I was weary and anxious and displaced, and I needed God to be the miracle-worker I saw on the pages of children’s Bibles, cloning loaves and fish for hungry crowds, calming the turbulent sea. I needed God to be Emmanuel in a very real way.

Instead, I found myself profoundly, terrifyingly alone.

The third morning after Dan flew back to the States to wrangle with bureaucracy, I woke up feeling like a puddle of my former self. Insomnia had done a number on me the night before, and two-year-old Natalie’s requests for me to get up! and make breakfast! and plaaaayyyy! ricocheted wildly against my veneer of sanity. I thought about our empty refrigerator, the dishes crusted into Seussical stacks around the sink, my husband’s absence, and the contractions squeezing into me and concluded that if I got out of bed that day, I would surely die. It was all too much.

I can’t do it, I told God, burying my face under the covers. I can’t go to the grocery store or take Natalie to the park or ANY of it. I just can’t. I don’t know wh—

The phone rang.

It was so unexpected, such a perfectly cued interruption to my woe, that curiosity pulled me out of bed. I choked back the panic I experienced every time I had to communicate in Italian and answered the phone. An acquaintance from our new church replied, speaking slowly enough that I could follow: “I was just calling to see if I could take Natalie out to the park this morning! Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, could you use any groceries?”

Now, by nature, I’m the kind of girl who’d turn down offers of help while lying semiconscious in the path of an oncoming bullet train because she doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone. Something switched in me that morning though. Desperation had dissolved my pride in self-reliance enough that I could see God’s choreography in the moment, and I wasn’t about to turn my back on it.

“Grazie,” I told the caller. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

When serendipity alights on your shoulder like that, you don’t expect it to stay. You marvel at its plume and the bright tilt of its head, knowing its attention is a rare and unforceable gift, and then you watch it leave with as much good grace as you can muster. I was amazed by the temporary relief I’d been given from my isolation and more grateful than I knew how to say in any language. However, exhaustion was pulling me under the surface of panic again by the next evening.

I don’t know how I’m going to cook dinner tonight. It feels like I just finished cleaning up from lunch, and I’m so weary, so utterly weary, and Natalie needs so much, and everything’s depending on me, and I just wish we had a pizz

The phone rang again. This time, it was a girl I’d met a few weeks earlier offering to bring over a hot pepperoni with olives.

The same thing happened every remaining day until Dan got home. I would start to crumble with fatigue and overwhelm at the sticky mess left on the floor after breakfast, and the phone would ring with someone asking to come mop for me. Someone else came to vacuum. Others washed dishes, cooked lunch, scrubbed the bathroom, played with Natalie, sent over care packages, and ran errands for me so I could rest, and each offer arrived at the precipice of my need. Serendipity was quickly becoming a regular at our house.

I’ve never made it all the way through The Brothers Karamazov (with due apologies to my World Lit. professor), but this quote from it still captures me:

“Miracles are never a stumbling-block to the realist… The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognized by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I realize that miracles are several centuries out of vogue, and I’m as predisposed to skepticism as a housecat. I have twitched while hearing about how God gave someone a front-row parking spot or made two hours of sleep as restful as eight or prevented some likely allergic reaction. I’ve imagined God shaking his head in amusement that his followers would see divine intervention where there was only coincidence.

I began to get a different picture of God during my week of small rescues though. I could have viewed those phone calls as “an act of nature,” I suppose, or explained them away as human kindness and nothing more. Maybe if I hadn’t felt so powerless against my circumstances, the realist in me would still be stepping over miracles as if they were part of the original landscape. As it was, however, I couldn’t help seeing the reflection of God’s smile in the steam coming off my pizza or in the just-scrubbed floor tiles. His presence filled that lonely little apartment every time someone stopped by to help, and the faith that had gotten me through the summer was still just sufficient enough for me to recognize myself in the presence of miracles.

I know that the mention of divine intervention opens up a can full of worms and questions and broken bits of people’s hearts. I don’t pretend to understand why God seems to alter some situations and leave others to run their courses. What I have learned, at least within the small scope of my experience, is that the existence of miracles in our day-to-day, twenty-first-century world has a lot to do with our ability to recognize them as such.

How we hear the ring of the phone when we’re drowning in loneliness… How we view the blooming of moonlight in the dark… How we interpret a front-row parking spot when our schedule’s turned urgent… How we mark the flutter of wings against our shoulders, serendipity alighting one too many times for us to keep mistaking it as chance. “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” writes James, and sometimes faith simply means letting our exhausted, lonely hearts believe it’s true.

image source

30Jan

When God Brought Me to Italy to Perish

You may have seen the recent announcement that Deeper Story is closing its doors. It’s hard for me to imagine the upcoming year without it, both from a reader’s perspective and as one of its writers. That site has consistently swept my generalizations and misconceptions of Christianity off their feet. It’s answered the question of why we believe what we believe through the medium of story, and I’m going to miss it like I miss Blue Bell ice cream.

Before it closes though, I’m getting to share one last story. I wrote about it here on my blog back when the events were unfolding, but they’ve grown in significance and clarity since then, picking up new dimensions in their expanding context. This is the more complete story of our move to Italy. It’s also a study in modern-day miracles.

Part 1 of 2 is up today (Part 2 will go up in a few weeks before Deeper Story closes):

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

It’s not easy for me to think about the fall of 2007.

Actually, “not easy” is a wild understatement in this case. Opening pickle jars is “not easy.” Putting snow boots on a toddler is “not easy.” Willing my mind to revisit some of the most emotionally intense terrain of my life, on the other hand, is about two degrees this side of impossible. The anxiety is still there. So are the first discordant notes of depression. Upheaval, insecurity, a sense of displacement so strong I could drown in it—they’re all there, preserved museum-quality in the halls of my memory.

But then again, so are the miracles. And that’s why I’m here again, two degrees this side of impossible, willing myself never to forget.

/ / /

My husband Dan, our two-year-old daughter Natalie, and I spent the summer of 2007 in total life limbo. We’d moved out of our home in Delaware at the end of May, fully expecting to ship ourselves and all our possessions out on the next flight to Italy. It was all set. Dan had been offered his dream job in the country we had long hoped to adopt as our own, and our bags were packed. Every step of the process so far had been ridged with God’s fingerprints. But then the paperwork we needed the Italian government to send us for our move was “delayed.” (This, as we later learned, is bureaucracy speak for “never gonna happen.”)

The documents didn’t arrive by our move-out date, and they continued not arriving over the next two months as we camped out in friends’ guest rooms and stretched every dollar left in our checking account as far as it would go. We were surrounded by grace in those two months; our friends’ generosity kept us afloat, and we were led again and again to trust that God had our backs despite the maddening bureaucratic roadblock. My pregnant belly was stretching along with our disposable income though, and we had to make a decision: We could either scrap this new direction for our life, or we could book a flight to Italy without the right paperwork or any guarantees and try to work out the details once we got there.

We chose Option #2.

Looking back, I turn green around the gills thinking about all the risks we took with that decision. So much could have gone wrong, and the fact that we arrived without incident on the doorstep of our very own Italian apartment that August is its own category of grace.

This isn’t to say though that the worry and upheaval through which my mind had waded all summer evaporated. If anything, my anxiety grew thicker, muddled by the confusion of a new language and new cultural customs and new everything down to the way we told time. (Dinner at “twenty-one minus a quarter,” anyone?) This newness was a mental barrier as real and high to me as the historic walls of our adopted city. I was petrified by the enormity of what I didn’t know.

Also, I was now squarely (roundly!) in my third trimester of pregnancy. Any mama who has cared for a two-year-old while massively pregnant can tell you that staving off exhaustion in itself can be a full-time job. My body was as weary as my brain, and I felt like I was always skirting the edges of the preterm labor that had complicated my pregnancy with Natalie. I lay trapped awake by worry every night. If I’d had any illusions about being in control of my life before that autumn, they’d certainly hoofed it back to the land of make-believe by now.

Then two things happened simultaneously to kick the intensity notch of my world up to Level Orange. The first was that Dan left on an eight-day trip back to the States to take care of the paperwork we had been unable to file all summer. The second was a familiar tightening across my lower belly that started one evening while I was eating dinner. I was thirty-three weeks along, the exact point I’d been in my first pregnancy when I’d gone into preterm labor. I began to have contractions that were sporadic and harmless, but the timing was enough to send me spiraling imagination-first into worst case scenarios.

I couldn’t shake my fear that our baby was going to be born prematurely while Dan was out of the country. And what if things went horribly wrong for him and he was denied reentry? My terror was so acute that it spliced itself onto my sense of reality. I felt stranded in this place, so far from friends and family, unable to communicate in my own language, responsible for a two-year-old who needed more energy from me than I was able to give. I sympathized with the Israelites in Exodus who wailed that God had brought them into the wilderness to perish.

Hadn’t he just done the same to me?

Abandoned, abandoned, abandoned. The refrain began at the epicenter of my fear and was soon taken up by every cell in my body. I knew I was being dramatic. I knew that basing my understanding of God on my current circumstances was not only poor theology but straight-up idiotic. I had been so uprooted by the past few months though that my better judgment couldn’t find solid footing. As I saw it in those panic-stricken moments, God had lifted us over the stacked odds and deposited us safely in Italy only to pull that sense of safety right back out from under me. This was it then, the punch line of whatever cruel joke he was playing on our dreams.

I felt more alone than I had ever been in my life—relationally, culturally, and spiritually desolate—and I didn’t have the courage for whatever was coming next.

Only, what came next turned out to be as far from what I’d predicted as abandonment was from the truth.

/ / /

[Continue to Part 2.]

image source

 

5May

Rolling With It

A few weekends ago, we attended the opening of a friend’s scooter rental shop. I had done a bit of editing for his promotional flyers, and he’d promised me an afternoon on a Vespa in return. “Sounds great!” I’d said, smiling wide and hoping no one would notice the muffled strains of panic issuing from the closet where I’d bound and gagged my common sense.

I don’t do well with things that roll, see. Just about everyone I know could tell you a story of how I forgot to brake when my bicycle started down that one hill or how I did a perfect 90° flip my first (and only) time on a dirt bike or how I fell off and was subsequently run over by that mammoth handcar I’d agreed to joy-ride through our college campus. And we’re not even going to mention my “experience” with skateboards. Much like dogs and Chuck Norris, things that roll can smell fear, and I’ve only become more afraid as the wisdom of passing years has confirmed that I really should stay as far from wheeled devices as possible.

My adventurous streak wouldn’t let me pass up the chance to ride a Vespa through the Italian countryside though. Plus, the girls were practically levitating over the idea of a family scooter excursion. I could do it. Surely I could do it. Audrey Hepburn made it look so… well, possible… and I see fourteen-year-olds riding them through traffic every day. How hard could it be?

Scooter ride - empty scooters“Hello Bethany. Come and ride on us. Come and ride on us, Bethany. Forever… and ever… and ever.”

Friends, you have no idea. I don’t know which was worse: that I had Sophie on the back of my scooter or that a few dozen friends and acquaintances were watching when I made that first tentative twist to the throttle. We were still in the parking lot, and my scooter sprang—sprang, I tell you—toward a parked car. True to form, I completely forgot about the brakes and only just averted collision by skidding my feet against the pavement. Hoping that the onlookers would think I’d totally planned to do that, I gave myself a quick pep talk centered around the word “BRAKES” and turned my scooter toward the road. Another slight twist of the throttle, and we were lurching forward like a drunk cheetah. “BRAKES!” my brain told me, so I squeezed the brakes for dear life… and we promptly toppled over.

As women began shrieking and men began running over to help, I had a full second to contemplate the strong, capable, dignified image that none of those people would ever hold of me again. Neither Sophie nor I was hurt (and I avoided inspecting the scooter under the principle that ignorance is bliss), but every drop of my poise was now splattered on the pavement, a tragic afterthought. Our friends helped me pull the scooter upright, and one kind man told me not to let emotions overwhelm me, just to breathe, to keep breathing. So I did. I breathed and reminded myself that I had come here to take on a challenge. And what if it was more challenging than I’d hoped? Now that I’d already dispensed with dignity, I had nothing left to lose by trying again. (Well, other than life and/or limbs, but I was trying very earnestly not to think of that at the moment.)

Sophie, wise child that she is, declared that she would not be riding with me anymore, so I left her in the care of our friends and set out on a little practice run by myself. The scooter wobbled and weaved, but I was able to get the hang of it after a few blocks—how to pull on the throttle without giving myself whiplash, how to slow down without resorting to bodily contact with the pavement. By the time I made it back to the parking lot, Dan and Natalie had returned from their practice run, and it was time for the real deal, the family scooter excursion we’d been promising.

Sophie would only agree to go with Dan, so Natalie took one for the team and climbed up behind me. The four of us set off into the Umbrian countryside just as the afternoon began to mellow toward evening. The colors were glorious: fields of glossy green rippling to each side, pink and white buds in various state of undress on the neighboring trees, blue mountains in the distance, and a warm goldenrod sun nodding down on us all. Natalie kept a running commentary behind me as we rolled along, and I found myself in an odd state of in-between. Half of me was loving the afternoon—the beautiful setting, the rush of movement, and the fact that I was getting this experience with my precious little family. The other half of me was vibrating with tension though. I had trouble trusting that I was in control of my scooter; I was all too aware that the slightest wobble of the handlebars could send my daughter and I down a ditch, off a bridge, or into the path of an oncoming car. By the time we returned the scooters, my whole body was shaking from the discordant mix of fear and elation and self-respect and chagrin.

I wasn’t planning to share this story in public, ever. In fact, I’ve been prepared to deny everything should any of the witnesses bring it up (mercifully, no one has). I found myself thinking about it this morning though in terms of our last few days of self-employment, and the analogy was so exact that I couldn’t not share it with you. See, self-employment is squarely in the category of things that roll.

Just because you’re running a business doesn’t mean that you’re in full control of it. These three years in the entrepreneurial game have included plenty of false starts and retries for us, and it often feels like we’re gripping the handlebars more to hang on for dear life than to actually steer the thing. On this side, there’s a ditch, and on that side, there’s bankruptcy, and what if one of these wobbles turns into a full careen? What if we don’t get any new clients this month? What if that quote is turned down? What if we’re already caught in the helpless sideways momentum of a crash?

Tension is only half of the experience though. The other half incorporates and validates the whys of setting out on our own: to feel the wind full on our faces instead of through the seams of a cubicle, to follow the direction of our instincts rather than of someone else’s protocols, and to experience the unfiltered joy when our bravery pays off. And it does. Over and over again, we’ve found ourselves the grateful recipients of enough, which likes to sweep through the door at the last minute to remind us that we are in the presence of miracles.

We would always have regretted not choosing this path.

I have to remind myself of that on repeat when the bank account dips dangerously low and I’m confronted by how very little control we ultimately have over our future. Weeks like this last one tend to find me white-knuckling my way through prayers and giving myself pep talks that do little to assure. I want onlookers to think that we’re old pros at this, that we’ve totally got self-employment down, but the truth is sometimes as undignified as wiping out on your Vespa in front of a crowd of people you can’t unfriend. Lord have mercy. And please also strike them all with amnesia.

But then days like today dawn, days in which a single phone call or email changes our outlook on the next few months from terror to delight. These are the days when we remember why we love the roller coaster thrill, when the adventure of it all makes us grin and clasp hands and lean into the movement as if embracing a friend. We are still shaky, you bet. Exhausted too. But despite our weariness and the worries that we know will merge back into focus soon, we’re remembering how very much fun things that roll can be when you relax enough to roll with them.

Scooter ride - Having fun.png

15Apr

The Ride of Our Lives

“Self-employment is like nothing else on earth,” a friend told us three years ago when the job that had brought us to Italy ended. “One month, you’ll be feeling wildly successful, and the next, you’ll be praying for enough money to put food on the table. It’s a roller coaster. You’ve got to be prepared for that going in.”

We were. At least, we were prepared to the extent that I had been as a kid plunging into the dark of Runaway Mountain for the first time, gripping the safety bar and reminding myself over and over again that the coaster had never killed anyone. (I didn’t think…) Dan and I truly didn’t know what to expect, but we were sure that self-employment was the right direction for his career. We had considered other options, prayed at varying degrees of desperation, talked the whole thing over every which way we could, and finally wrestled our fears into a shaky semblance of trust. This was what my husband was meant to do, I was certain.

That certainty came at a heavy price for me though. On the last day of Dan’s day job, we found out that he would not be receiving his final few months of paychecks, that the tenants renting our house in the States were being evicted for failure to pay, and that our Italian bank account was blocked. I kid you not. If you can stomach a bit of raw honesty, here is an excerpt from my journal entry that day:

“I don’t know what to do with the tension curled up like a thousand knuckled fists inside my belly. I want to pray, but I keep thinking about what a friend going through tough times wrote on her blog this morning: “I still believe in the power of prayer.” Well I don’t. If you believe that praying effects change, then you have to believe either A) that we are convincing God do our bidding or B) that God is withholding his will until someone thinks to ask for it.

I’m much more willing to believe that prayer is simply a good spiritual practice for focusing and connecting our thoughts with God, but I’m so not in the mood today to commune. I need answers, both global and personal, for trusting that he will have anything to do with the outcome of the tangle we’re in now.

It’s not a good place to find myself.”

I think that I worked as hard on trust those first months as Dan did at establishing his new biomechanics business. While he was wrangling website code and traveling to meet clients, I was wrangling fears as thick-limbed as gorillas and traveling my own daily—and sometimes hourly—journey out of panic. At the time, I was working as an English teacher, which helped keep us afloat… but it also tugged the energy out from under me like a cartoon rug. I worked during the hours that my little girls needed me most, and Dan’s business trips made our home life a logistical nightmare. We were exhausted and strained and frayed all the way to the core.

I’ve found, though, that this kind of desperate, minute-by-minute living is the ultimate breeding ground for miracles.  Even as expenses continued to mount—our car’s epic breakdown, a drug operation being discovered in the basement of our rental home, and the Italian government booting us out of the country… all within the first four months of self-employment (seriously, Universe??)—we always had enough. We even got Disney World, and the kind of care that I felt from God during each last-minute upswing bolstered my courage enough for me to quit my job.

We’re three years into being on our own now—Dan an entrepreneur, I a freelancer—and I’m finally getting used to the ride. That is to say, my knuckles are no longer white and I am no longer actively preparing myself to live under a bridge. I would in no way call this experience easy. Having to provide work for ourselves, to keep forward momentum and always be on the cusp of some new possibility is exhausting. That’s the flat truth of it. However, we are also sustained by this work: by the thrill of doing what we love, by the freedom of directing our own time and energy, and by the unknown heights of potential climbing in the dark ahead. We are still sure that this was the right direction to take.

A family who has been friends with us for years finally asked this week what exactly Dan does, and we both laughed in understanding because “entrepreneur” is such a non-description. It means someone who starts businesses, sure, but that doesn’t exactly bring my husband’s day-to-day activities into focus. Actually, come to think of it, there is no such thing as a day-to-day activity in Dan’s world. There is only one day at a time and whatever menial or creative tasks will advance the project he’s pursuing. Today, for instance, he’s spending the morning on the computer working on Training Lot—a platform he’s setting up to help people make and market training videos online. Later, he’s going to join a pizzaiolo friend to film an authentic Italian pizza-making process, then he’ll put the video up as part of a publicity push to get votes for a startup contest he’s been selected to participate in.

Here’s my favorite of the promotional videos he’s made so far (though I might be unfairly biased toward those two bilingual girls of ours):

We’re on a part of the roller coaster right now that I think of as the Sideways Spiral of Death—you know, the part where the g-forces are sucking your brains into outer space and you’re doing your damndest to see through the stars and avoid throwing up if possible. This is all part of the startup process. I know this because we’ve been through it several times now, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Dan’s in the phase of trying a new venture that’s all momentum and effort and wild uncertainty, and I’m right there with him pushing past the exhaustion and clinging as loosely as we dare to the hope that this idea will be one of the success stories.

Only time will tell. It feels crazy vulnerable to be telling you all this. I’d much rather you think of us as stable and prosperous in this life we’re carving out for ourselves. I’m tempted to wait on telling you the self-employment stories until we have it all figured out (which we will someday… right?), but then I couldn’t give you the chance to be a part of them with us. And I would really value your companionship today.

Here’s how: If you took five seconds to open this link and click “like” on Dan’s video, you could help him advance to the next round of the Summit Kilimanjaro startup contest. He was already chosen as one of the top 200, and if he remains in the top 50 by Friday, he’ll be eligible for some awesome networking and publicity opportunities. He doesn’t have all the connections or financial backing that some of the other contestants are using to get ahead, but he does have a pretty great business idea, and your thumbs up would be a huge help. Really, five seconds. (If you then shared the link with all your friends on Facebook, we would both do a happy dance. Just saying.)

If any of you have struck out on your own before, I would also love to hear how the experience was/is for you. The more of us on this coaster, the more it will feel like a party rather than a death trap, non? And hopefully I’ll have a new miracle tale to share with you (quite literally!) in the near future.

6Nov

Grace as: Three-Week Smiles

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

~~~

At first, I saw only the string of miracle-buoys in our wake—the friends whose windows of hospitality had perfectly coincided with our needs, the airport officials and new olive-skinned neighbors who had made our move as smooth as choreography, the precious immigration documents issued like stepping stones just as we needed them, and finally, her, our Sophie-girl, born as plump and serene as a Budai the day after the local maternity wing opened.

We had followed our heart-pull across the sea to Italy, and I knew we were living the stuff of story with a brilliant Narrator whispering plot twists into being. I could have gone hoarse tallying up the good in our lives. I knew how much I had to be grateful for, I knew with all my might, but that wasn’t enough to stop black water from spilling over the sides of my mind. In retrospect, I realize I should have expected this, made some kind of provisions. After all, there was the toll from mothering a two-year-old throughout an exhausting pregnancy, the depletion from several months of suitcase-living, the strain of our move, and the cultural obstacle course I faced every time I left the house. Once postpartum hormones swept in with their rusty machetes and guerilla raids, I fell straight down a year and a half of the darkest mental dark.

There are many kind souls in my life who would have helped me had they known, but the bars trapping me at the bottom of my own mind were so very thick; I simply couldn’t reach beyond them to ask for help. To this day, I still don’t know what I could have asked loved ones to do for me short of a lobotomy. I felt isolated and unlovable, incompetent and crushingly sad. I knew that my own un-wellness was hurting my family, and the guilt magnified my sense of hopelessness. I could almost taste how completely my faith had abandoned me.

While I would never want to relive that year and a half, I can now see the fairy lights projecting their faint, ethereal ballet through the deep of it. I was never alone; I just hadn’t met God-is-Love yet, didn’t know to recognize the flickers of peace and beauty as gifts rather than flukes. That recognition would come in time, gently, free of the urgency or harsh exactitude I’d always associated with religion… and in the meanwhile, I had her.

The beginning of cannibal kisses

This wonder-baby of mine, she started smiling on purpose at three weeks old. I can’t tell you what that did to my heart except to explain that I was on the last precarious edge of overwhelmed, home all day with two tiny children and next to no energy. I was reeling from the impossibility of mothering two little girls well, their needs and fledgling complexities cupped like live minnows in my hand… and then my newborn grinned wide into my eyes. I’ve never met a person in my life with such uncontainable joy, and when she would nestle up against me, all milky contentment and round-cheeked delight, I could breathe again.

Sophie didn’t heal me—that was never her role—but she lifted me out of my own heaviness more often than I can remember. From the very beginning, she lavished affection on her big sister, assuaging some of my mother-guilt and forming a sweet sibling bond. She brought laughter back into our home, cultivated silliness, and adored without reservation, and not to cheapen her personhood or individual significance in this world, but I can’t help seeing her as a gift.

Sunbeams in the darkness, love when I felt unlovable.

Grace.

Sophie turned five last Wednesday, and I still can’t wrap my brain fully around the idea of my baby in kindergarten, chattering a thousand Italian words a minute with her best friends, trailing golden hair like a comet on the swing set. I still snack on her cheeks before bed—our own darling and slightly disturbing Cannibal Goodnight—and she still hugs wholeheartedly. However, she has grown so thoroughly herself that I can’t lay claim to her the way I did as a drowning mother five years ago. I no longer need to, which is a gift for us both. Now, I’m simply grateful for these years we get to coexist, to imprint our unique brands of struggle and beauty on each other’s lives, and when I look back, I see her babyhood as a miracle-buoy floating in our wake.

Five-year-old smiles~~~

{I’ve always had trouble comprehending the word “grace” as it’s used by religion or defined by Webster, but something in me knows it’s integral to who I am and who I’m becoming. In this Grace as: series, I’m attempting to track it into the wild and record my peripheral glances of it, my brushes with the divine. Come along with me? You can follow along via TwitterRSS, or my piping hot new Facebook page… and as always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comment section!}

Previously:

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

14Sep

Deus ex Machina

The girls started school two days ago, and all week has felt like a series of false starts and double takes, even if we have managed to get them to bed on time every night. (Us parents, not so much.) We’re stumble-adjusting to a new schedule and forgetting some things and vastly overthinking others, and when the water and electricity both went out on Wednesday, I took it as the universe personally heckling us. It’s been a hard summer, and I often just want to hit a pause button on all forward motion and let the days pile up around me until I finally feel there are enough to go around. I’m worn out. You already know this.

But here’s what you probably don’t know—

This week last year, my husband went to his last day of work for an employer who then announced he would not be paying Dan for the previous few months of work and vowed to thwart his freelance venture.

That same day, we received notice from our rental house in the States that our tenant was being evicted for failure to pay.

During the eviction process, a drug lab was discovered out of our basement there. The police got involved, and our resulting legal and house-repair bills were staggering.

The investors for Dan’s new project backed out without explanation and stopped answering their phones.

A very large, very needed check bounced.

And then this happened.

We had no money left, our freelance prospects were uncertain at best, and as I sat in a deserted train station off a deserted country road on the last day of September while our car was being towed away for a month-long rehabilitation, I honestly didn’t see how we were going to make it. I couldn’t tell if God was listening or not, but I sent him an earful of uncensored panic anyway. It was all very Children Of Israel circa Moses, convinced as I was that God had led us to the freelance-desert only to abandon us here.

Looking back at that moment from a whole year ahead produces something in between panic by proxy and mute gratefulness. It’s not that we’ve had the easiest run since then, but the miracles! I once heard someone say that the American ideal of self-sufficiency doesn’t leave much room for experiencing divine provision; we tend to hide our struggles from each other and subdue problems with a credit card, and this immediate stamping-out of neediness can also stamp out miracles in the making. It was a hard concept to get my head around as I tend to see self-sufficiency as next to godliness, but in the year since our sky fell down around us, we’ve seen the truth of it so many times.

Just as the investors were backing out last September, a company Dan had bumped shoulders with over the summer called to offer him contract work in his field. His first business trip after our car broke down paid the exact amount we needed to get it repaired.

Then on Christmas week, the very day we were going to be deported from Italy, we received the last piece of paperwork we needed to renew our visas. This was a bureaucratic impossibility, yet it happened.

On an impulse, we decided to fly out of Munich where, at the check-in desk, we discovered Natalie’s passport had expired; however, because we had never been residents of Germany, they were obligated to let us return to our country of citizenship. Had we tried flying out of Italy, we would have been stranded. (You can read the whole story here: Of Stupidity and Love.)

Two weeks before our January return flight to Italy, a series of unforeseeable “coincidences” allowed Dan to get the special kind of work visa he needed.

Two days before our return flight, our prayers for Disney World were answered.

And ONE DAY before our return flight, my visa was also granted.

We made it back to Italy together, and that in itself would have been marvel enough for the year… but fast forward two months when, the very same day that we were going to lose our house in the States, new tenants singed a year-long lease. The very. same. day.

I couldn’t make this stuff up, and even my diligently skeptical brain can’t construe this last year as a string of coincidences. We are still here, in our beautiful Italian home, with our car and our health and our work and our possibility-filled future, and to write that down is to look a miracle full in the face and say “I see you.”

Lest you think this saintly stoicism is a way of life for me now, you should know that I’ve spent plenty of days this summer panicking in God’s direction. I’ve got the Children of Israel routine down pat—You delivered us from deportation and foreclosure and living under a bridge only to abandon us in the freelance-desert again! Also, this pasta from the sky thing is getting old. This is why it’s so good to have anniversaries, to look back and see former crises as water under the bridge we were never doomed to call home.

Had we not reached such extremes of neediness, we might not have recognized God’s touch for what it was. To be really, uncomfortably honest, I probably wouldn’t have acknowledged any of those miracles above had the situations not been so desperate and the timing so precise. I default to doubt when there’s any wiggle room for interpretation. We ran out of wiggle room last September though, and the resulting provision we experienced was an undiminished gift. Safely ensconced now in a new September, even with its false starts and double takes, I am keenly grateful for the reminder that we’re still in this crazy, wonderful, epic story of ours… and that our writer has a particular affinity for Deux ex Machina.

26Jan

Prayer and Pixie Dust

This might sound crazy, but I prayed for Disney World.

By the tail end of our month in the States, our Christmas trip was beginning to resemble a parade of unavoidable expenses—tolls, Urgent Care x 2, gasoline x a million, and ever-mounting bureaucratic fees for the paperwork we had traveled to get—and despite the gorgeous generosity of friends and family who welcomed us in, we just couldn’t swing a day with Mickey Mouse.

That realization hurt like a choke chain yanking us straight back to our credit card bill. There we were in Orlando for the last time in our foreseeable future with a few days to spare and two little girls who spent a solid 45 minutes in the Disney Store pretending to be princesses.  The girls weren’t expecting anything more, and maybe that was part of why I ached so much to take them… especially Natalie who softly read every Disney World billboard we passed on the way to get her broken arm set. So I prayed.

You should know I’m no good at praying. The church traditions of my past have left a script in my mind from which I rarely find words to deviate. I don’t know how to be honest with my head bowed and eyes closed. Instead, I’ve learned how to feel, careful not to muddy my heart’s surface with thoughts, and I imagine that I’m directing that feeling toward someone who cares. This time, logic scolded me for asking God for something so frivolous when people all over the world struggle with very real needs. My brain followed this up with a cynical laugh because really, I expected someone to just up and offer $400 worth of tickets to a strange little family from Italy? My heart wouldn’t stop hoping though, so I blocked out cynicism and logic and felt as earnestly as I could, following up with “please.”

And wouldn’t you know, someone just up and offered $400 worth of tickets to our strange little family two days before we returned to Italy.

Words can’t express.

The girls leading the way - 2

We’re back in Italy now, adjusting to the time difference and unpacking far more than we remember packing, and if jet lag weren’t already doing the job, my gratefulness at being home would keep me in a waking stupor. A string of miracles is the only thing that got us there and back again, which anyone who’s ever approached Italian government offices with a deadline can confirm. We’re starting 2012 with little certainty but with enough hope and possibility to make up for it fifty times over, and each time the choke chain has started to tighten this week, I’ve relaxed back into the glow of this—answered prayer, extra pixie dust included.

Disney World collage

© Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.
Site powered by Training Lot.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.