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!

A Dream Come True

A little over a year ago, I was watching Superman plan, make lists, line things up and train for his next adventure. He was getting ready to climb the highest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley to celebrate making it to his 50’s.  When he turned 40, he climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland. The man knows what he wants and goes for it. 

 I thought to myself, “Mar, what the heck would you do, if you could plan a dream get-away?” Hmm…in my wildest dreams? Yeah. Dream big, girl. 

I would love to do faith based art in a beautiful setting. So I got to looking. As my mom would say, “Ask the Google.” So I did. A couple of retreats came up in the search. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m completely sure that Wisconsin is a beautiful state, but it wasn’t quite the exotic beauty I was looking for. There were some in other places around the country, but I really felt strongly that it needed to be focused on Christ. I wasn’t having much luck. Oh well….

Two days later, I got a blog post from an artist I drool over.She was inviting readers to join her in Italy. WHA-THE-WHAT?!? ART-FAITH-BELLAGIO, ITALY!!!  All in the same place? Crazy! I screamed out “Superman! Get this…(blah, blah, blah)…in Italy!” Never. And I mean NeVer, did I think that I would actually do it, but I just thought that it was pretty cool. Then my sweet husband says very casually, “Sounds cool. You should go.” ?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Her said “AHHHH!!!” 

Then Superman added “But you can’t go by yourself.” No problem I thought , as I was speed dialing Sissy.A year later, Sissy and I toasted to an amazing adventure ahead. A week ago we made it to Milan in the only way that MerryMary could do it. It was an adventure from the start. Being the great thinker of all possibilities, Sissy packed for every situation, thus having a suitcase weighing 12 pounds over the limit, before a $100 penalty. I opened up my bag and we put ten lbs into my suitcase. Her bag was still a few pounds over and not knowing how the new guy at the ticket counter would react, I put my foot up to the scale and kinda sorta helped the numbers. Having on shoes with rubber toes, I was able to lift the scale up ever so slightly to bring the numbers down into free zone. The next morning in Milan, a van was picking up the retreat participants at the hotel and taking us to Bellagio, an hour and half away. While Sissy and I were a eating breakfast these two beauties sat down at a table near us. “Could they be part of our group?” While in the little girl’s room with an alarm ringing, I ran into the younger lady. I asked her if she was with the Art&Faith Retreat, she said she was. She also confessed that she was the one who pulled the emergency  cord in the stall by mistake. All of a sudden a waiter and manager came into the bathroom and started knocking on the stall doors. “M’am, are you ok?” This poor lady in the last stall was just minding her own business, doing her thing, when the staff starts knocking on the door and jiggling the handle thinking she was in trouble. Let’s just say, Courtney and I slipped out with a giggle.

The four of us joined the rest of the group downstairs and met our new friends.  We loaded the bus and landed here an hour and a half later at the The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Italy. Whoa. Just gorgeous!This is the hydrangea path that led to our apartments for the week. The apartments are part of the hotel.Snacks and sweet gifts awaited us in each of our apartments. The view stunned us.Am I really here?!Shanna Noel, the beautiful, wise, creative, joyful, sweet soul of Illustrated Faith, inspired us with her testimony and encouraged us to explore different ways to be with God in our bibles.Washi tape, stamps, stickers and paint…oh my!Junelle Jacobsen, funny, whimsical, talented, shepardess, radiant beauty of Yes and Amen challenged us with sketching and water colors. Love letters from God, my unfinished piece about what my bible means to me.Yummy treats in the bakery shop window. Painting with water colors definitely took me out of my comfort zone. We toured Lake Como in a hand built boat.We ate amazing food in some amazing places.We walked the neighborhood streets, watched the boats in the harbor, smelled the flowers and were filled with awe at the beauty all around us.This Italian cutie taught us to cook.TiramisuGnocchiBruschettaGelato was a must…e.v.e.r.y single day.We laughed. We cried. We laughed until we cried.Mothers, daughters, sisters, friends…Here’s to you Bellagio! To your breath taking sunsets…To the blessing of friendships…..To pizza and Jesus…Until we see each other again.