Of everything in our lives (aside from family itself), house guests top our list! So November was a great month, with a visit from Grandparents Douglass, a brief stop-over by our camp friend “Sage” and the continued company of Ciely our honorary oldest daughter. Are you next? We’d love to have you here at the foot of the Alps, one hour north of Venice!

On the swim front, the girls enjoyed the Spooky Splash Meet on Halloween weekend and on Thanksgiving weekend, bested many of their long-distance times at the European Forces Swim League’s Long Distance Championship (events ranging from 400m to 1500m). Matti even had one podium finish with a 5th place in her 800m swim. Zoe dropped the better part of a minute in her 1500m swim – that’s a whole mile!! Gwen? She was a great coach’s helper and enjoyed paddling around in the warm-up pool.

Back home as we enjoyed Thanksgiving with friends and a game of Catan, we were blessed to be able to share our plenty through Compassion International’s fund for unsponsored children, joining countless donors in stepping into the gap where food is scarce as a result of a perfect storm: the war in Ukraine (a leading food producer for Africa), economic depression in the wake of Covid, severe weather, etc. We’d love for you to join us in this, if God so moves in your heart.

Moving into the Christmas season, we pray that each of y’all will enjoy the warmth of family and friends, which point forward to the Family of God with whom we’ll one day celebrate eternity – all because of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate now.

Thank you for your partnership in petition – our request for resolution within our church continues – and let us know how we can walk with you in this way as well.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A hike to the “Eagle’s Nest,” the building in the background, the place Hitler had built outside of Berchtesgaden, Germany. Yes, that is snow…

Sliding her carabiner with her, Matti stepped carefully along a narrow ledge, chattering all the while. Inch-thick metal cables run through fat metal anchors hammered into the cliff wall protected us from any long falls that might happen as we hiked these trails from the WWI era. From broad and barely sloped to almost vertical, from beautiful vistas to lightless tunnels, this via ferrata adventure across from Tre Cime (Drei Zinnen, Three Peaks) in the Italian Dolomites thrilled most of us, and our friend Ciely who’s visiting for a couple months.

Those are the amazing moments that punctuate everyday life at the foot of the Alps, where God has been graciously answering your prayers for restoration of our hearts and healing of our marriage in the wake of so many moves. Though we are not finished moving (we don’t think!) and still ask that you’d join us in requesting patience in the waiting and wisdom in the deciding, we’re thankful for God’s obvious work this past month.

We thank Him also for two passionate women who’ve asked Donna to disciple them. In a world filled with trouble and wrong, the growing light of Jesus in these gals provides huge encouragement. Please pray that God would reveal Himself and His truth to them as they study, and become even more their teacher, guide and constant companion.

Our friend Ciely who graduated last spring from WY Catholic College has folded into the family between her own jaunts to spartan races in Malta and Sparta, Greece. Our girls love listening to her read (especially Gollum’s voice in Lord of the Rings!), harvesting chestnuts and bouncing on the trampoline with her, and all the other things siblings do. She is a true blessing to us and to others whose children she’s also watched.

Even among so many wonderful things, the railroad tracks of life continue. Running alongside all these and the joy of Rich’s parents visiting, we still feel daily the pang of a family who continue to refuse reconciliation but whose lives are intertwined with ours through both church and swimming. Please pray for God’s hand in a resolution that glorifies Him. And let us know how we may sharpen the aim of the prayer arrows we shoot on your behalf as well.

Ciely stages an attack at an entrance to the tunnels

Evening in the Dolomites

One year. If you’ve ever moved, you know. You know it takes about a year to settle to the point where people begin to know you and where you begin to know them enough to really know and be known. To appreciate and be appreciated. It’s not complete at that point, only beginning. But at least it has a beginning at about a year.

This is the second time in Zoe’s 13-year lifetime that we’ve experienced this, though ironically this time is in a military community where people are gone on trips often and nearly a fourth of them are replaced each year. Yet in the midst of all the coming and going, a couple gals have begun to meet with Donna for mentoring.

Some seem to want us to lead a small group but we’re still waiting on church leadership’s approval. Please pray for favor among that leadership as well as for patience with our “lowest position” and wisdom as we meet with various folks.

School, band and swim season are swinging back into full gear, with both Zoe and Matti playing clarinet and all three swimming. Donna chauffeurs and coaches while Rich fills in as he is able around his work schedule. God has continued to bless our family, not only in talents and opportunities, but in a slow healing from the unavoidable hurts that result from moving – and more from moving so much. Would you join us in asking for God to continue this restoration in our hearts, and for our witness to His love in each of the communities we find ourselves in?

And let us know what weighs on your heart, that we might share the burden.

A riding trip in the French Pyrenees with some WY gals: Sandi’s gift to Donna

A 28 mile bike ride downhill from Tarvisio to Venzone, 2 hours NW of Venice, on an old rail trail through tunnels and over bridges galore!

See more pictures on our Flickr site.

“We love seeing the kids play!” we heard over and over as we visited Mom in her retirement home in New Jersey in early August, bringing many laughs, bubbles (see the picture below) and cartwheels with us.

Two weeks of camp followed, where all three girls won awards in their horseback riding classes (Mt Gilead Camp in Pennsylvania) and where many laps were swum (Swim Camp).

Funny how our little choices can redirect everything. As an afterthought to family swim camp, we decided to swim to the island in Lake Bled, tucked between the Alps in northwest Slovenia. It would cool us off after hiking to the famous overlook above the lake (see picture below). And the quarter mile venture, though quite cool, became the highlight of the entire week. Even Gwen (7 years old) paddled out to the docks to warm in the sun before the return journey. Matti swam like an old, open-water pro with Zoe coaching her along.

But God really showed His presence back at home, when some friends accepted our invitation for a visit. And it must have been Him who transformed our last bedroom from wall-to-wall boxes to guestroom in less than 24 hours. And as God does, He’s blessed us abundantly even beyond His miracle by the time with old friends.

Other rumblings reveal His working behind the scenes as well. From feeling the poignant lack of ministry involvement last month, Rich’s been asked to teach – granted, only this once – but thankful for the invitation. And Donna’s been asked to disciple a gal. Please pray with us that God would be the one working in these ventures. And thank us with Him for these opportunities as well as the amazing beauty and diversity of His creation all around us, which we are so blessed to explore most weekends.

What part of your journey may we walk beside you on, agreeing with you in the prayers of your heart?

Matti and Donna’s sister Ginni feeling the glee of childhood spraying bubbles all over the lawn at Vista.

Lake Bled overlook. We swam from the bottom left corner of the picture to the island.

From the mountain to the valleys to the oceans…of southern Europe…

We’re feeling a bit dizzy from swishing through forests on ziplines, floating in rolling waves in the Adriatic Sea and sprinting to the finish line in a series of races. It seems that family time for us is rarely playing board games, much as we’ve enjoyed our Catan battles this year. More often it’s biking the long, winding trails that flow from Italy to Austria, hiking rolling mountain peaks while admiring jagged alps just across the valley or climbing and zipping for hours on a massive ropes course.

While we thoroughly enjoy all that, stand amazed at the beauty of God’s creation, and thank Him each evening for the bodies and the opportunity to enjoy all this, we also ask Him daily to guide us into where He’s have us serve, either here in Italy or elsewhere.

Sandi continues to greet folks at church as he operates the great sliding glass door to the sanctuary, and to serve coffee after the service, both of which require significant training, believe it or not. As a family each Monday we help serve our Ukrainian “guests” who remain at the church. Thank God for those who have been able to learn enough Italian to find jobs and housing of their own, and for the movement of their hearts toward Him while they were our guests. Pray that their journey toward Him would continue!

While we enjoy this service in the church, and all the ways we serve the swim team, and having front-row seats to God work among the displaced people, we do long to understand what God seems to be trying to teaching us. As we move into the final week of camp, the final weeks of summer and the beginning of the autumn season, would you join us in asking God to help us understand and learn, so that we might exit the cycle of moving, and enter into deeper relationship with Him and more consistent service in His Kingdom? And since we serve shoulder to shoulder in this, our Lord’s army, let us know how we can come alongside you in prayer as well.

Mt Elmo on the border between Austria and Italy.

“Change my life and make it new…” ring out the lyrics to the SuperBook theme song. I’ve always liked the song and the tune sticks in the mind. But I couldn’t stop the tears when I played it, by special request, for a handful of “2nd grade” students at Joy Town boarding school for kids with disabilities in Thika, Kenya, not far from Nairobi. Suddenly, “change my life” took on a whole new meaning and depth – these kids may be viewed as cursed because of their differences, but at least they are alive, unlike some whose parents didn’t have the courage to face the social pressures of their situation.

That week in Kenya took us to Rift Valley Academy (a K-12 boarding school in Kijabi run on the AP system), to AIM AIR’s hangars at Wilson Field (Nairobi), to Moffat Bible College (a seminary in Kijabi where Africans train to reach their own countries with the Gospel) and to the hospital in Kijabi where many foreign and missions organizations collaborate. One of those is Bethany Kids whose travel team we joined for a day in Narok, caring for kids with significant medical challenges and their brave families, and whose chaplain Carol we joined for a couple days of rounds through the rooms in Kijabi where kids and babies recuperated or awaited further care.

What a month of contrast, with Kenya sandwiched between Zoe’s Messina Strait crossing – which raised over $700 for Compassion International – many thanks to YOU all! – and a weekend in the Dolomites on the Austria-Italy border. And in between all that, summer swim started with our entire family involved.

Even while we praise God for the opportunities and experiences He’s laid before us, would you join us in continued requests that God would lead us clearly to any specific purpose He has for us, as well as opportunity to share Jesus with fellow swim families? And let us know how we can sharpen the aim of our prayer arrows regarding the cares on your heart as well.

“Head and shoulders, knees and toes…” One of the girls’ dorms. On the right is Daisy, a sweet, shy girl, and behind her is Mercy, 17. Mercy struggles to speak and has manual dexterity only with her left toes, but she has tremendous perseverance and such a sunny character. She’s the one to requested the SuperBook theme song.

On the other side of Kenya, Zoe feeds a giraffe.

You can find many more pictures of our travels in Africa, of Zoe’s Messian crossing and of our time in the mountains on our Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donnadouglass/albums (Give me a few days to update it!)

I woke up to cowbells outside the window. Not long afterward, Gwen exploded, “Mom, you have to come see this!” With as much enthusiasm as 6am allowed, I joined her in the room with the best view of the local mountains: the upstairs bathroom. “There’s horses!” Sure enough, three horses (Gwen said it was five, but she’s seven, loves horses and dreams a little) grazed peacefully in the fenceless field across the street, the white one nearest us sporting a cowbell around her neck. After encountering on multiple occasions a flock of sheep that moved from field to field all over this area last fall, why am I not surprised?

I think God smiled at Gwen’s excitement that morning, just as I think He smiles when our hearts thrill with thanks to Him at the adventure and vistas as we hike along local trails in the Alps’ foothills, or when our hands find ways to help our church as it houses some Ukrainians temporarily relocated from their homes. We go each Monday and are now greeted by friendly smiles and greetings, though language remains a barrier. One gal is a hairstylist and gave each of our girls their first ever “real” haircut by someone besides Mom.

Our involvement with the Ukrainians is small, but God is doing big things among them. Would you join us in praying that someday they will look back and realize that God brought them out of their own country so they could find Him and return with Him inside them? One of them, Victor speaks excellent English and is a strong believer, acting as a pastor among them, even as their heartaches and hard news continue and grow.

Considering their situation, we feel frivolous as Zoe and I fly to Sicily next week to swim back to the boot of Italy across the Strait of Messina. I’m thankful she has chosen to do this as a fund raiser for Compassion International so that it has purpose beyond simple appreciation for God’s creation and its interplay with us adventurous humans.

We do ask that you’d continue to ask God for clarity as we seek to understand what place and purpose He desires for us and our little lives. And please let us know how we might accompany you in prayer as well.

Progression of teeth. Gwen went from three front teeth to only one. This was her one-day pause at two…

On a local hill top.

439 verses! When our AWANA club introduced a Verse-a-thon to raise money for Ukrainian AWANA clubs and their families being impacted by the war, we set a goal of 210 verses (70 per child in our family). And the girls blew that away! And thanks to God’s moving some of YOU to support the effort, they were able to raise over $500.

God’s been answering our prayers, too, for Zoe’s swimming of the Messina Strait in June to raise support and awareness for Compassion International – again, thanks to many of YOU, she’s more than halfway to her $500 goal. Where’s Messina? And why is she doing this? Find out HERE.

Back in our house, we have often prayed that God would protect us from Covid, and as He does sometimes, He gave us something better. Rather than a weekend of swim team meetings in Germany, away from our girls, He gave us a week of good solid rest and family time when Rich/Slick tested positive just before we left. Thankfully he experienced only minor symptoms and the rest of us had none while we slept in, played music and games…and recorded lots of verses (see above!).

Swimming seems to be our theme this month, and as we lead the local youth swim team, we need more than ever your partnership in this venture. We desire to represent Jesus well, but how that flows out in daily interactions – that’s where we need your support before the throne! Would you ask, too, that God would do His part to stir swimmers’, parents’ and coaches’ hearts toward Himself?

Stepping back to view the bigger picture, you may have noticed that we tend to move around a bit. Would you join us in asking for clarity in just what it is we’re supposed to be doing and where?

Thank you for being part of this team and let us know how we might stand beside you in prayer as well.

Morning flight up over the Alps.

YMCA of the Rockies, Columbine Point outdoor chapel

About 20 Ukrainians who’d escaped to Romania have chosen now to come to Italy and live temporarily in our church, hosted by the church members. Pray with us that their paperwork would come through quickly and we’d be able to connect them with jobs and more permanent homes, as well as to the Gospel and to Jesus. On a humorous note, the worship team taught a song in Ukrainian, written phonetically – in Italian. Imagine trying to pronounce new words by reading familiar letters that signify unfamiliar sounds – and doing it in time to music! It can only improve from here!

Thank you for sharing this meandering journey with us. Let us know how we can accompany you on your journey by coming together with you before the throne of the One who unites us into His family.

Also, if you are so inclined, the girls are raising money for the Ukraine via a vers-a-thon through AWANA in mid-April – asking for sponsors who will give either a set amount or an amount based on how many verses they will recite. They expect to recite upwards of 200 verses between them… If you are interested in supporting their effort, THANK YOU! and please email Donna, reply to this, or “comment” – all just come to us as emails. More info: https://www.awana.org/2022/03/03/our-response-to-the-ukraine-crisis/

Keystone Resort’s Outback (Breckenridge is visible behind us)

Many thanks to His help in response to your prayers, we have a functioning home. That is, there are no more big boxes in the kitchen to walk into nor piles on the floor awaiting transport to a final storage place. At least not most of the time! But Donna would still appreciate continued clarity as the move-in process remains far from complete in the low-traffic areas. But that is caused by…

An abundance of good things (and all good things come from above!)! Our church, Serenissima Ministries, welcomed us as members and has drawn us into a small group where Rich has begun discipling some of the folks. There is such tremendous need among the military community here; we need wisdom to discern where best to invest.

And we’ve been reminded again of the talents God’s built into us as Zoe achieved a yellow belt just days after beginning Karate. She and Matti both came home heavily laden with medals from the European Forces Swim Championships in the Netherlands. While we praise God for the credibility that results from this, we covet your prayers for us as we step into the leadership of the local swim team this month, both on the board and among the coaches. It is a great ministry opportunity, but easy to get swept into the performance and perfectionist modes that we are prone to.

Thank you for joining us in prayer as we wade through this time. Let us know how we can share the rescue buoy with you!

Skiing up the local ski resort on my birthday morning.

Matti ready to go!

Gwen’s dive. You can imagine how this turned out!