A Note On Two Years

Last week we celebrated our second full year here in Italy. To say that these past two years have been an adventure would be an understatement. There have been countless things to celebrate, to grieve, to learn, to gain, and to lose.

As we reflect on the past two years here in Italy I’m reminded of Jesus’s promise in John 15.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

If there’s one thing that we’ve found to be consistent over our two years here in Italy it is that when we are listening well to the Spirit of God and obey courageously, we see God do some incredible things. We’ve learned, as Dallas Willard puts it, that when we “internalize the words of God and put them into action” we experience fruitfulness and the easy and light yoke Jesus promised.

As with most things (as we continually experience with God), abiding rarely looks like we think it should. Abiding in Jesus often pushes us past places of comfort. It often invites us to wait. More often than not we’re left being misunderstood. The incredible thing is that when we lean in, God shows up. That is the story of the past two years here in Italy. We’ve waited, we’ve listened, we’ve obeyed, we’ve been misunderstood, we’ve traded in a lot of the comforts that we were accustomed to for a new and often strange culture. But, in doing so, we’ve seen God transform our hearts and the hearts of those around us.

With each passing year may we learn to more fully abide in Him that we’d bear much fruit for His glory.

May the Kingdom of Heaven reign here in Italy as it is in heaven.

Why don’t they have……here?

There’s Diane Lane’s living in Italy and then there’s living in Italy.

Imagine you’re staying in a Bed and Breakfast somewhere in the hills of Tuscany. Every direction you look you see nothing but perfectly lined vineyards underneath the golden sun. You’re in the middle of a 3 week vacation through Italy. You’ve already seen the Colosseum, you’ve climbed the Duomo, you’ve taken a traghetto through the canals of Venice; the vino, the espresso, that incredible pasta you had overlooking the Duomo with the waiter who spoke great english and laughed with you as you tried to pronounce “grazie.” But, when it’s all over, you head home on your 8 hour flight where the unlimited wine makes you pine to be back in that cozy villa.

Now, hold on to that image.

But instead of hills replace it with a view of really old buildings that are in desperate need of maintenance, literally everywhere you look out your window. The scent of cigarettes and exhaust follow you everywhere you go.

That tuscan sun, it’s actually fog and clouds that blanket the city much of the fall and winter making it feel as though the walls that surround the city have now completely collapsed on you and enveloped everything.

That waiter, well, he actually doesn’t speak any english and grows increasingly irritated with you as you fumble through your food order.

When you visit a place for a short time you almost always find yourself with a romanticized view of those experiences. However, the longer you stay in a place, the more the realities of your new culture begin to set in and push up against your own cultural expectations. The nice shiny parts of that place begin to wear off and disorientation starts to set in. That disorientation is what experts call “culture shock.”

Now imagine you’ve just woken up and began your morning routine. Your kids have already been up for an hour or so but had been playing (read: without fighting) quietly enough to allow you to stay in bed a little longer than usual. You make your coffee, take your shower and sit down for breakfast. Suddenly, much to your early morning surprise, your doorbell buzzes. You open the door to a 65+ year old Italian woman, who, before you can even get a “buon giorno” out of your mouth, immediately unleashes more words and gestures than your B1 Italian class could have ever prepared you for. For the next 5 minutes (which actually feels like 20), an onslaught of Italian words reign down on you with a fury and emotion that could fell a dragon. You understand exactly what she’s saying (thanks in part to her continual repetition of the same two sentences), but you don’t have the words (or hand gestures) to appropriately respond. So, you stand there and press repeat on “capito” and “mi dispiace” until she realizes you don’t speak so well. Finally, she leaves. You take a breath, and go back to the table to finish your breakfast.

Sometimes, living in a place is just plain ridiculous. Sometimes you say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes you laugh when you should have showed empathy because you misunderstood the situation. Sometimes you hate the fact that you can’t get more than a spoonful of coffee. Sometimes you want something other than pasta for dinner. And sometimes you wish you could tell an old Italian woman how two year olds make a lot of noise and that you’re not purposely disrespecting them.

Transition from just visiting to actually living challenges you, pushes you, tries you in ways that you may never have expected. The challenge is to look at the honeymoon for what it is and hold those differences in tension. The vision of what was (or what you thought was) many times is dismantled and rebuilt 1000x over. And that’s ok, and actually pretty healthy.

We are learning more and more every day that getting adjusted and acclimated to a new culture is a process. A long one.

People way smarter than us name 4 stages of culture shock that one often goes through in the culture shock process.

Honeymoon. Negotiation. Adjustment. Adaptation.

It’s easy to think of these as a linear process, but as we’re learning, the reality is that you move in and out of these stages with great fluidity. As our experiences here in Italy continue to collide with our cultural experiences from the US it’s easy to allow self doubt and feelings of alienation to creep in.

“I wish I could speak better.”

“I know what you’re saying, I just don’t know how to respond.”

“Why don’t they have…..here?!”

“Our neighbors must not like us, they clearly don’t want to to talk to us.”

The better we are able to recognize, name, communicate, and actually understand why these different pieces of culture cause us stress or frustration the better we are able to hold the beauty and frustration in a healthy balance. And the easier it is for us to remember: this is normal. This is part of the process. This too is only a season.

We can celebrate the beauty of Diane’s Tuscan sun and at the same time mourn the reality of a winter spent in fog and car exhaust.

We can remember that incredible prosecco and yet long for a cup of coffee that fills a 16oz mug.

We can show ourselves grace because learning language is hard work and takes time.

We can know that the anger of an old Italian woman probably goes deeper than just being woken up too early – chances are good she probably just wants to be heard.

As missionaries we must learn to simultaneously celebrate and mourn. We know that God uses all of our experiences to shape us and form us, but our ability to be open and aware to how they are shaping us is a continual challenge and invitation.

We must step forward in faith, knowing every season is, in fact, a season.

Celebrate that which is good, mourn the losses.

It too shall pass.

 

Scarves when it’s 90?

“Oh the food though…”

When Americans think about Italy they often have a very specific (and more often-than-not, romantic) view of what Italy is like. Many we have met have been to Italy on a vacation or two and had the time of their life. To be honest, Italy is beautiful, it’s charming, romantic, enchanting, and just about every other adjective you could imagine to use. Italy is a country with a rich and complex culture; but as we are learning everyday, there is a vast difference between traveling to Italy for the “vacation of a lifetime” and actually living here.

A while back, the author John Maxwell remarked, “All the best leaders in the new millennium will be missionaries.” Even for us, that seems like a pretty bold statement.

Why do you think he said that?

In a flat, globalized world it seems as though we are always crossing cultures–or at least we should be–and we need to know how to do that well if we hope to be fruitful. As our family prepared to move here and, as we live here now our prayer has been, “Lord, help us learn and understand Italian culture.” We recognized early on that our ability to connect the Gospel of Christ to Italian lives is intricately connected to understanding culture.

The author Annie Dillard once asked, “Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?” It’s easy to take a hurried and shallow look at God and miss the amazing. It’s just as easy to take a hurried and shallow look at culture and miss it’s depths. Each day, we try not to “do culture” like people “do God.” Rather, we try to allow God to open our eyes and our minds to see what “tourists” might miss.

Culture is a funny thing however. It’s a bit complex and can be difficult to get our arms around it.  But it’s worth studying because along the way we grow to better understand places, people, God and ourselves. One way of describing culture can be to identify patterns. Every culture be that a national culture or a sub-culture such as a particular business group or social group have engrained patterns that inform who they are…it’s our jobs as missionaries to learn and grow to understand the culture(s) we find ourselves in. 

As we approach our 4th full month of learning how to live here in Italy, we’ve been reflecting on a few of the differences in culture that we’ve experienced. Each day we gain cultural insights; and more often than not the assumptions that we brought over with us are not the whole picture. Here are just a few cultural differences we’ve experienced.

  1. Efficiency. “When in Italy – doubt” should be Italy’s catchphrase. When you move to Italy you have to unlearn everything you’ve ever known about things happening in a common-sense sequential manner and you have to learn the new system of nobody knows how things work, when, or why. It’s fascinating. Very little seems to be intuitive and you can’t easily figure stuff out without asking people. In order to thrive you really must hold EVERYTHING with open hands. Just because you can pay that bill at the Post Office doesn’t mean the next bill that you receive can be paid there.
  2. Space. The US is enormous so it’s no surprise that Americans are accustomed to space. Big cars, big houses, big yards, and about two feet of space between themselves and other people all the time. Italy is not gigantic and in most cities here the people live packed into a small apartment. They don’t require the same personal space. One of the first things that we noticed when we first arrived is that strangers touched me (and our kids) all the time and nobody says, “sorry” or “excuse me.” At first it seemed rude, but then we realized later that it’s because there is simply nothing to be sorry for. Sometimes you run into other people….and that’s that. We won’t even get into driving here…suffice it say…there’s no space…either go or get out of the way.
  3. Levels of neurosis. Italian culture is pretty calm compared to American culture (in SOME things). Things that would send a typical American into cardiac arrest usually won’t get more than a shrug from an Italian. For example, bad dinner service. If an American has to wait more than ten minutes to order he’s going to burn down the restaurant. In Italy? Calm down! The waiter will get here eventually (after twenty five minutes). Cutting in line…well, it’s just your fault for not protecting your space. It’s the same with chaotic driving (couldn’t resist) or an array of other things that seem like the end of the world to Americans. Italy seems to understands the concept of taking things in stride and choosing what you get up in arms over. Now…if a child hurts themselves…look out, you’ll have every parent in the room tripping over themselves to make sure that the child is ok.

To really understand culture, and to interact with it in a way that can bring profound change, but as we are learning, it’s not enough to simply observe the differences in culture. We must go deeper by asking ourselves, “Why do people behave that way?”  That question looks for meaning it looks for values that are held by a people group. Below the surface, below observing differences, are the things that influence behavior, and if we desire to see change and transformation that will be significant and durable for any of us, the change must take place below the surface – at a heart level. 

We recognize we have a ways to go before we enter into heart level spaces and conversations – but we continue to be students of culture. We are grateful for the cultural guides God has put before us who can translate culture and give us insight into the “why.”

But to be real honest some things may just continue to ever be veiled in deep mystery – like, how is it 90 degrees outside and you’re still wearing a scarf…and jacket?!?!

Ciao from Italy!!

We made it! It’s hard to believe that we have been here for almost 2 months!! Our transition has been all sorts of things: fun, challenging, exciting, frustrating, fast, slow, and everything in between. Needless to say, we’re grateful to be here. We have seen God show up in remarkable ways over the past two months. We’re thankful for his faithfulness and provision as we’ve navigated the ins and outs of life in Italy. As we’ve said before, Italy is wonderfully complex. We are learning, and yet, we still have so much more to learn. As we get acquainted with our city we wanted to give you a little taste of our neighborhood and day to day life. Here are a couple of pictures to give you a little idea of what Perugia and our neighborhood of MonteLuce looks like.

Our street.

 

Chiesa di MonteLuce – our neighborhood church.

 

“Universita per Stranieri” – Our Language School

 

Etruscan Arch – This was built in the 3rd Century B.C.

 

Piazza IV Novembre – The heart of Perugia.

 

Rocca Paolina – built as a symbol of strength and defiance against Rome.

Thank you for your prayers and your words of encouragement over the past couple months. We’ll update more soon (we’re still waiting for internet to be set up). God’s already gave us some key connections and sweet relationships. Can’t wait to share more soon!