Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Faith is Belief that God is Real and that He is Good

(Back) Robinson, me, Bradford, DiCaro, Duffin, Nickle; (Front) Mikesell, Hurlburt
Let me see: what can I tell you about his week?  I did a lot of walking (walked all the way back from Monreale twice this week.  It takes 2 hours or so, but what can you do when no buses are running?).  I slept when I could (which wasn't much).  I ate lots of food...yeah.  We have had meal appointments every single day (2 on Christmas Eve), and they are continuing through part of this week.  And, it so happens that dinner appointments include our entire District.  Pretty great, huh?  Seems that members love having us all together, and therefore, put on a generous spread for the whole lot of us.  It's a riot!

Bustin' at the Seams
One of our biggest meals was with Sorella Carrera.  She's a super good cook and a very sweet woman, but she stuffs you to explosion point, and gets offended if you don't eat or finish her food.  She made us bread, rolls, broccoli rolls, spinach pastry, crescent rolls with hot dog - and she gave us more than one of each (Italian hostesses fill your plate for you).  We thought that was the first dish.  NO.  That was only the appetizer.  The first dish was a meal-size portion of Pasta al Forno - baked pasta with meat and cheese and sauce.  Then meat rolls.  Then sausage.  Then fruit.  Then cannoli.  Then cake.  Then cookies.  It was RIDICULOUS.  I thought I was going to explode.  Can I just not eat for a week?  Oh, wait - we have member dinner appointments EVERY DAY.  Really, it's a blessing, but if any of them are like Sorella Carrera, I just don't know how I am going to survive.

Saint Stephen's Day
Luigi and Guido from Disney's Movie, Cars
In a land boasting dozens of holidays and holy feasts, Christmas is surprisingly low-key here.  Officially, it's a long season, lasting through the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January). The day after Christmas is Saint Stephen's Day (like the carol, Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen). It's a national holiday.  So, Christmas Eve, Italians don't do much, but the day after Christmas is a big feasting party day.

Our District got together and watched Monster's University (adorable!), and Cars (Anziano Duffin's all-time favorite) in Italian.  Anziano DiCaro says that in the Italian version, the
two Italian cars, Luigi and Guido, have accents from Emilia-Romagna (Bologna) and Venezia (Venice) respectively.  Super entertaining.  We watched the movies on Thursday then headed straight to an internet center to Skype with our families.  AWESOME!  Clearly the highlight of my week.

Auguri - Best Wishes!
Our only day that we managed to have time to work was Saturday, so we went out to do some Finding.  The weather has been getting colder and colder and wetter and wetter. Scarves are my best friend.  I can see why Italians like them so much.  Scarves are necessary here.  Everyone is gearing up for New Years (Capo d'Anno is what it is called).  Like I said, they celebrate Christmas here until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, so everyone still says Merry Christmas as they pass on the street.  Actually, for the season, Italians say "Auguri" ("Wishes," as in Best Wishes, Congratulations). It's really cute seeing people greet each other on the street with huge smiles and cheek kisses saying, "Auguri! Auguri!"

Palermo: Big City Appeal - Small Town Feel
Two people chatting from their balconies
Something I've noticed about southern Italians is that they are creatures of comfort - in a good way.  They live long lives because they avoid stress however possible.  They eat well, sleep well, and they live to be happy.  Charming.

A distinct difference between southern and northern Italians (that I've seen from those who have moved down or visited from the north) is that southern Italians are extroverted.  Northerners are reserved, more business-like. Down here, everyone is friends and family.  They don't really differentiate.
Palermo Women

This familial warmth gives the big city of Palermo a small-town mentality.  Everybody knows most everyone else.  They trust one another.  Take each other at their word.  Palermo is a city of hospitality, for sure.  People greet each other in the streets, stop and chat at local fruit/fish vendors, they call to one another from their balconies.  They know how to visit and enjoy because everyone is considered family. Truly, one of the endearing things about Palermo.

Palermo's Trash Problem
I hate to admit it, but my charming Palermo has a dirty side.  Yep.  A huge trash problem resides in Sicily's capital.  Piles of trash line streets, fill corners, and heap in alleys throughout the city.  In some roads there are refuse-related traffic jams where two-lane streets are reduced to a single lane and the vehicles traveling in each direction have to take turns getting through the bottle neck.
So, what's the deal?  No collection system set up?  A garbage worker's strike, per chance, or a union dispute? No, No, and No.  Wish it were so easy. Apparently the city outsources refuse collection to a company that is actually Mafia Incorporated.  Palermo residents pay the highest rate of taxes for garbage collection in Europe, and the garbage stays where people leave it. Sad.  Where does the money go?  I think you can answer that question.  A local lawyer got a hold of a copy of the refuse collection contract.  It says, in essence, that the city council must pay the collection company's salaries whether the garbage is taken away or not.  It also says that the garbage company will decide how many employees it needs to hire in order to not collect the rubbish.  What?  

With a city that seems to have cornered the market on family ties, you'd think they'd take a little pride in their homeland.  So what does this mean for shabby-chic Palermo?  I suppose she'll have to hold her grunge with grace until some people decide to clean up their act. 

Heads-Up for the New Year
I've learned to duck through doorways
Once a year, however, some mounting rubbish is not from negligent corporations.  New Years is this week.  The mission has a rule that all missionaries must be in our apartment by 6pm New Year's Eve and then in our house all day for New Year's Day.  Reason?  Seems that Italians like tossing pots and pans and furniture out of windows for the New Year.  Apparently, it's a long-time symbol of letting go of the past and looking to the future.  Most of Italy has since abandoned the tradition, but heads up on the streets of Naples and Palermo, Sicily.  They're still in the process of letting go.

Speaking of heads-up.  I had to get a picture of me in front of a typical Sicilian doorjam (right).  I do not understand why they insist on making doors so short here.  Oh well.

While locked indoors for New Year, our District plans on celebrating by having a Mexican food party with nachos and burritos and chips and guacamole.  I know - more eating, but this time we'll be able to control portions.  Bueno!

Random Pics of Transportation in Palermo

Vespas everywhere!

Fruit Truck

The mule can probably pack more than a Fiat

Bread vendor and his wagon

Faith is a Belief that God is Real and that He is Good
I am nearing the end of the Book of Mormon, so it looks like I will finish it in time for the new year.  From personal studies, Faith is a thing I have been pondering.  Faith at its basic level was described by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon:
Believe in God; believe that He is,
that He created all things, both in heaven and in earth;
believe that He has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth;
believe that man doth not comprehend all the things
which the Lord can comprehend.
Mosiah 4:9
Most have basic faith that God is all powerful, all knowledgeable, and can do all things.  We can get behind that.  But the profound form of Faith - the kind that leads to peace of mind and even to miracles - comes in the next level.

We all believe that God can do all things, but do we believe that He will do what we want or need?  That depends.
     It depends on if our will aligns with His will.
     It depends on if our want is what we need.
     It depends on if our desire is what is best.
You see, before we ask God for anything, an important truth to realize is this: Faith is not only a belief that God is real and all-powerful, but that He is Good.  And since He is Good, He will always have our best interest at heart.  Let me explain further with this verse.
Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name,
which is good,
in faith believing that ye shall receive,
behold, it shall be done unto you.
Moroni 7:26
True, right?  Ask for what is good, believe, and receive!  Sounds easy.  But, what if what we ask isn't necessarily for our good?  What if we ask for something, in faith, and He does not grant it?  Then what?
     What if we ask for healing, and He says, "learn from the pain"?
     What if we ask for an end to financial struggle, and He says, "learn to cherish what you have"?
     What if we ask for the life of a loved one, and He says, "I have greater plans at work"?
What if what we think is good turns out to be inferior to God's Plan?

Faith, then, is a choice to believe that the One who made it all hasn't left it all to chance.  He still heals hurts, guides the lost, sends light into darkness, and is actively involved in giving you a life of growth (not always in ways that you expect).

God Will Always Do What is Right
One thing I've noticed: The big question that Christ usually asks people before He heals or helps is "Do you believe...?"  He is not asking necessarily if we believe He can do the act.  What He is asking is if we believe He will.  It's much more personal and tries a deeper level of faith.  Reminds me of a plaque on my mom's dresser that says, "Faith is not believing that God can, it is knowing that He will."  
Will what?  Grant every wish? Guarantee every desire?  Cater to every whim?  Heaven's no.  Life is supposed to test us.  Besides, we aren't smart enough to comprehend what we need for our optimum growth.

But when He has made a promise and He's slow to answer - we trust.  Trust His timing and believe He will come through with a miracle because He is Good and will always do what is best.                      
"Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want.
It is the belief that God will do what is right."
Max Lucado
Bottom line:  There's no guarantee that He will respond to what we want.  We hope He will.  All we know for certain is that He is Real and that He is Good.  And, because He is Good - He will always do what is right. That's faith.

(This idea inspired post in family blog You Can't Always Get What You Want June 2014)

Here's to a Capo d'Anno of Greater Faith and Abundant Blessings!

Sorella Ashley Nef

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