The Dots Got Connected

Just look at these beautiful people! They make me smile. I get a little flutter in my heart just thinking about them.
In my last two posts here and here, I’ve been telling you about my most amazing trip to Italy. This adventure was the brain child of Laura McCollough, A Kiss on the Chic. Laura has a heart for travel, women, art and Jesus. She and her daughter, Rebecca, plan and organize every little detail of the week, from the accommodations, dinners in amazing restaurants, side trips to area gems, extra excursions like cooking classes, kyaking or motorcycle rentals. She puts together thoughtful sersie packages in each room, gift bags in the workshop and gathers two amazing artists to share and teach. But even with all of the planning and thought for each retreat, she can’t hand pick who attends. She leaves that up to God. Laura admitted that she is awestruck every time to see who God puts together. 

Of course, I’m thinking my reason for being in Bellagio is so I can do art and share faith in a beautiful setting. Which, don’t get me wrong, was exactly what I got, but God had so much more planned for me. 

Meet my new soul sista, Stacey. Her momma, who was also in the trip, came to me one day and said “Thank you. Thank you for being you.” She explained that her smart, feisty, hand-waving-while-talking 100 miles per hour, little firecracker of a daughter had always felt like she didn’t belong. But somehow seeing me being me, (Lord help me….), she felt like it was ok being exactly who God created her to be. What?!? Me too! I’ve never felt comfortable in my fast talking, highly animated, loud, goofball skin. I was always told to hush, to calm down, to be more lady-like. I’m too loud, too wiggly, too colorful. Stacey came to me with tears in her eyes and said yes, she couldn’t believe she met someone like me, like her. And we were instant pals.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.    Ephesians 2:10

I’ve always known that I am God’s handiwork. I know that I am uniquely me. I know that I have many skills and talents that are completely totally me. I know that God has great plans for me.  Yet I have had the hardest time truly feeling it in my heart. You know that feeling of love you have for your children? Oh my. I would throw myself in front of a train, swim across the ocean, gather all the stars in the sky for those three, but do I love myself that much? You know exactly what I’m saying…there is no doubt in your mind how much you love your kiddos, but do you love you?

Something amazing happened in Italy. I met men and women who were kind, artistic, funny, encouraging, brave and who love Jesus. I felt accepted and welcomed. I was eating Oh My Stars deelishus food, pasta, fish, gelato, wine! I was walking the streets in one of the most picturesque places in the world. I was with my best friend Sissy. I was doing art! I really thought I was dreaming. I was sooo happy.Then Wednesday happened. I woke up feeling a little off. Did I take my meds the night before? I was walking a very thin line, that at any moment I was going to lose it and start crying. What on earth was happening? Here I am on a boat, cruising around Lake Como on an absolutely gorgeous day with my new best friends, why am I feeling so sad? 

Then I realized I was being attacked by the evil one. I know many of you reading this are thinking I’m a little off kilter saying that. But I truly believe there is a demonic force out there that does not want us experiencing God’s goodness. It had me comparing myself to every woman there, the same women I adore and will get all mushy when I see them again. It used its cunning ways to distract me from what is true by slyly skewing the truth. He knows where our weak spots are and goes directly for the heart.

“Do you see her? Wow she really looks great in that outfit. Too bad you’re looking a little homely.”

“She is so smart! You? Hmm…can you even find your keys?”

“Look at how artistic she is! Yea, yours needs some help.”

It went on and on. Do you see where he twists the truth? Yes, she is gorgeous and looking awfully cute. That is completely true, but to turn it into a bad thing about me is not true. Is she artistic? Yes! Is she incredibly smart? Absolutely! And it was in this moment that I remembered…

These are the three books I brought with me on this trip. My bible, Priscilla Shirer’s bible study, Armor of God and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequest. His Word, the bible, is true. I needed to strap on the belt of truth of the Armor of God a little bit tighter around my core and remember the words He has spoken about me. I needed to remember His promises for me. Then the words of Shauna rang out about her struggle to be perfect. Ding, Ding, Ding!! It all became abundantly clear. All of those lies that Satan had been whispering in my ears for 50 years, I know, I mean, really really know deep in my heart and soul to.be.false. As Shauna reveals in her book, being imperfect is exactly who I am suppose to be.

Friends, seriously. I knew all of this in my head, but this was THE FIRST TIME the dots were ever connected!! CRAZY , I tell you! Crazy! Lessons learned. You were created with unique talents and purpose. Your beauty comes not from what the world says is beautiful, but from the joy of living with the Holy Spirit inside of you radiating out. Enjoy the moment you are in right now with the people you are with. Be present.Quit hurrying to fill every minute with have to’s and should’s. Leave some white space to just be.And most importantly, EAT GELATO EVERY DAY! A gelato a day keeps the grumpies away. 

You, my friends are amazing. My prayer is that the dots will connect for you. Know it and feel 

Thanks for dropping by!

Some Things I Learned in Bellagio, Italy

Twenty women and one brave man from around Noth America: Seattle, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Utah, Toronto, Southern California and good old South Cakalacky, settled in Bellagio, Italy for a week of Art, Faith and pure Italian Goodness. Well, at least that is what I thought we were going to be there for. Me, of little faith, failed to realize that God had been orchestrating this event from the start. I’ve been home for a couple of days now, and I can’t stop thinking about all that happened. Please let me share a few insights.

* Art comes in many different forms

As the Bellagio Men’s Choir sang for us on our closing night, I got goosebumps listening to the men of all ages sing songs about their special village. There was the woodworker in town who worked with his son making spoons, bowls, toys and other wooden items. Many of the ladies on the retreat delved into the creative art of photography. Each photo represents a memory or a story that needs to be told. I love this guy peering out of the window, I assume looking for his loved one to come home. I love the whimsy he has about him. So what’s the big deal about art Mary? Our God is the first and great Artist, Creator, Father of Song and all beautiful things. He created us in His image, so we too, are artists. 

*Truly, Laughter is good medicineI know, I know…I am the last person on earth who does not know how to take a selfie. On this particular night, ten of us had a table by the shore of the lake for dinner. Stories were shared, lots of pictures were taken and some funny moments happened. (Brownie, brownie, brownie, Soup!…you had to be there.) So after dinner we decided to walk around town and then thought of the ingenious idea to airdrop our photos to each other. Gathered together in front of the church, we waved our phones around to get a signal, then Poof! names started popping up…Stacey, Mimi, Sissy, IPhone2 (Uh, yeah that would be me) and JaNana. Who in the heck is Ja-Na’Na’? (Oh, and you have to say it in your best rapper voice., with your head cocked to the side and hands in a weird yo yo way. JaNaNa. It does not rhyme with banana, but sounds like JaHeyHey!) Any way, we kept thinking that some rapper dude must be vacationing here too. Also, it was fun to say. But Guess what?! Do you see that sweet, quiet woman, grandmother to two darling little girls?!? That’s JaNaNa! We busted a gut right there in the middle of town. And it felt so good. A few women have been going through a tough season of life. You’d never know it by their smiling faces, but one confessed that she has felt dead for the past 10 years or so. And here she was with a bunch of strangers laughing her heart out….and she felt sooo good.

*Don’t DelayOnly a week before our planes landed in Italy, this couple decided to join us. They were living the harried life that most of us live. Long hours of running a medical practice, raising three sons and doing the day to day crazy. Until one day their life was shook up a bit. A very dear friend of their’s was dying of cancer. This couple decided to gather the old group together to remember the good times and to say good-bye to their friend. Over a potluck dinner at the man’s home, the wife shared with the group that although having 20 or so people over for dinner while her husband is in his last days here on earth was a bit overwhelming, she knew that the time was now. Yes, please come over and visit. Don’t delay. Those two words wouldn’t leave Beth’s heart and mind. With Tim sound asleep beside her, she said “Honey, remember last year when I shared with you about that art and faith retreat in Italy?” Tim mumbled “Sign us up.” There were two openings left in the retreat, they found people to watch over the practice in their absence and seven days later, they were on a plane to Italy. Beth knows first hand, we can’t delay. We can’t wait for the house to be remodeled, or the perfect sofa or more time or when the house is clean. She confessed that she and her dear husband had taken too long to take some time off.  Their sweet friend went home to be with Jesus just a few days after the gathering of friends. The funeral would be happening while Beth and Tim were in Italy. Say yes to lunch. Invite someone over for coffee. Tell the people most special to you how you feel about them. Sing. Dance. Live with joy. Don’t delay

*Gnocchi with Bolognese requires timeThat looks pretty awesome, doesn’t it? If I say so myself it was DeLish! The gnocchi was pillowy soft, melting in your mouth. The bolognese is very simple, but requires time. Each step must be honored in order for it to be so yummy. Vegetables must be cooked alone in the olive oil until soft. This takes time. The meat needs to cook until all the water evaporates. This takes time. The wine, white or red, whichever bottle you have opened, must cook until the alcohol evaporates. This takes time. Then finally, you add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. While stirring often, cook on low heat for 4-6 hours. That is a long time. Home made gnocchi? No problem! Cook potatoes, mush through ricer, cool, add flour, egg, nutmeg, knead, roll, cut, poke n’pull, drop in boiling water, swim to surface …Presto! All done! No problem. In our split second information world that we live in, we forget that the good things in life take time. Relationships require time. Being well studied in school requires time. To learn a new skill or heal from a hurt or pain requires time. Take the time.

*Fresh is Always Best

 Before we started cooking, Elizabeta, took us to town to buy the ingredients for our dinner. First to the butcher for fresh ground meat. The grocer picked the perfect tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. The bakery wrapped up a beautiful loaf of bread. Of course, we stopped in a neighbor’s yard for rosemary, basil and oregano. Which all fit perfectly in the adorable basket I carried. Sooo cool! We cheat ourselves when we choose to take the easier option like fast food or half present relationships. The gas station food is quick but it depletes our bodies of nourishment. Going to church on Sunday’s to get our ticket punched, then leaving it all behind Monday through Saturday, leaves our souls depleted of the everlasting nourishment we were created to have in order to thrive. Pop culture, new age mysticism, even ourselves can’t and won’t ever be able to fulfill that great hole in our heart that can only be replenished by Gods love. We need the fresh, unaltered truth of God’s Word to continually, daily, moment by moment renew and revive our souls. 

This week in Bellagio was so much more than just stickers and water colors. I’m still getting teary eyed when I think about all that God had planned for me. 

Thanks for dropping by!