A couple nights ago Jon and I had one of those moments as parents that you wished so much you could have frozen in time. As we were eating dinner, out of the blue Arianna said, “Mama, I want to go to Italy.” I replied with a reminder that we are going to go to Italy, but we have to wait until the baby comes (is born). Coincidentally we were enjoying pasta made the Italian way topped with fresh Parmesan brought back from my fall trip to Italy, but we’re pretty sure it was more than pasta that prompted her comment. And that statement was just the intro to the moment I’m referring to.

Let me pause here to give a little background. We’ve had numerous conversations with Arianna over the past 3-4 months about going to Italy, but the key is that they haven’t been initiated by Jon or I. They all start with Arianna.

The first time she said, “Mom, I want to go home,” which wouldn’t necessarily be odd except we were already “home” at our apartment. I was a little surprised by her statement but thought maybe she’s still adjusting to our new normal and explained, “Sweetie, we are home. This is where we live as a family so this is our home” to which she dismissively replied by telling me, “No, mom. I want to go to Italy.” That really caught me off guard so I mentioned something about how we will go to Italy again, but for the sake of her toddler mind I didn’t expect her to understand that it was probably months off, so I focused on reiterating that this was our home right now.

I chewed on that little conversation for awhile. Arianna was born in Italy and lived there for most of her first two years, but we have lived back in the States now for the past year. We’ve shown her pictures of friends in Italy and videos of her when we were living there. We talk about it periodically and use some Italian words now and then. But we don’t talk about it constantly and certainly not about the details of moving back. We want her to enjoy the good things about being here for now and stave off the grief of the transition that will ensue when we do go back. So at first I just brushed the “I want to go home” conversation off as an interesting little exchange and thought that at the very least I would be grateful that when the time comes to go she has such a positive attitude about it. Since then, she has initiated that same conversation at least weekly even remaining resolute about wanting to go “home” to Italy when we discuss all the people and places that we will have to say goodbye to and miss when we do.

So back to that freeze worthy moment the other night. As we casually had another conversation about returning to Italy it occurred to both Jon and I, seemingly simultaneously, that we should explain to Arianna that the baby’s arrival is not the only thing we are waiting on before we can go. We took a couple minutes to explain to her that we also need to find more people who want to help us by giving money so that we can go back to Italy to help the people there (to put it in toddler speak). We reminded her of some families she knows who are our partners and talked about how they give us money so that we can help people in Italy (again financial partnership in toddler speak). We told her that we need more people like them before we can go and suggested that we need to pray every night as a family that God would help us find the people He wants to join our team. Then came that moment (the one we wished we could have the ability to turn back time to)…

Arianna put down her fork, took our hands, and led us in prayer right there. How I wish I had that prayer recorded. She prayed with the simplicity of a child yet somehow such maturity of understanding and with such hope and conviction. Among other things, she prayed for Jesus to help us find “the people” so we can go to Italy and she thanked Him for all “the blessings”. Jon and I stole glances at each other that spoke volumes of how we were in awe of our little girl and what God was saying to her and through her.

Not only is it such a comfort to our mommy and daddy hearts that Arianna is excited to go to Italy, but it’s such a precious confirmation to us that we are meant to be there. Jon and I both have only grown in our conviction that we are supposed to serve in Italy, but it’s been incredible to see the way God has clearly put Italy in our daughter’s  heart too. There just isn’t another explanation for it. From all appearances, she hardly remembers anything tangible about her life there and much of what she knows of her life now – people in the States that are absolutely precious to her – she will have to leave when the day comes to depart. Yet she is convinced that we should go and not shy about telling us so!

As we look ahead to the New Year, it is with excitement and some dread. We are delighted to meet that little baby girl when she comes, God willing, in the spring. We are eager to see who God prompts to partner with us (watch out if that’s you because you’ve got a passionate almost 3 year old praying your way on to the team!). And we are thrilled to move back to Italy, hopefully early in the summer, to start another term there. The dread is for all the transition that’s required in between and the inevitable unexpected challenges we’ll face along the way. It’s exhausting and emotional just thinking about it let alone going through it. But what a joy to listen to Arianna talk so enthusiastically about going back and to pray alongside her for His provision of people to join our team of partners to make it possible!

God has done so much we wouldn’t have expected or imagined in 2015. So, with Italy in our hearts, let the journey continue in 2016!