There are several things I'm good at. Others, not so much. I'm pretty good at baking chocolate chip cookies, giving hugs, and telling stories. I'm not that great at knowing how far things are away from me. Thus my current state—concussed. Let's just say it was a klutzy dingdong moment. My friend, Beth, advised I tell everyone it happened in my summer rugby league. I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
But as I sit in my darkened room with an imaginary hand pressing into my forehead, the energy level of a sloth, and the sensitivity to daylight of a vampire I’ve learned a thing or two,
Having a concussion forces you to stop doing everything. I didn’t ask for this Sabbath. But I got it. I was incapable of doing the things I usually did—running laps around the neighborhood, running to the grocery, running one of the kids to the soccer fields, running the dishwasher. Do we see a common theme here? But with a concussion, there was no running. Only rest. I was helpless.
I like to make sure everything is right for everyone in my family.
“Do you have your cleats?”
“Here’s your signed form.”
“Are you hungry? There’s some yogurt in the fridge.”
“Can I help you carry that out?”
These are phrases I love to say, because I love the people in my house so fiercely. I long for their days to run smoothly, for them to be fed and get where they need to be and stay safe and have smiles on their faces. I’m good at giving love. Not so good at accepting it.
But my doing was halted. Even the things I thought I’d do if I had four days in bed like reading or watching movies were taboo. I kept offering to drive, kept mumbling I was all right, kept sneaking in a load of laundry, because I wanted to be the one loving on them. But honestly, I felt weird—out of it. I’d conk out cold in the middle of the day. I wanted to be 100%, but I knew I wasn’t. I had a lot of time to think. And to pray. And when I finally accepted the fact that I was helpless, a beautiful thing happened. I had to stop running, and accept the love my family showered on me.
My kids loved on me in the sweetest ways—from building me a cozy fort complete with blankets and stuffed animals to making me meals and snacks complete with room service. It was like staying at the Ritz. My husband took over all my tasks—making breakfast, driving my shifts to practices, picking up things at the grocery, preparing dinner, and a thousand more details, while miraculously still working his job. Plus everyone kept checking on me, clearing my dishes, turning off lights so it wasn’t too bright for me, asking if I was okay. It was sweet and beautiful. The love my family gave me overwhelmed me and filled me. Letting others love me turns out to be a lovely thing.
When it’s so wonderful, why do I struggle to allow others to actively love and care for me? I’m equally poor at accepting God’s great love and care. How about you? Do you allow others to love you? Or do you try to be stronger, brush off help, attempt to do all the things on your own?
I know God loves me. I know intellectually that His love is free for the taking, that He wants to lead me, guide me, hold me. But I don't let it overflow over me enough. I'm so busy trying to get everything done trying to get everything done right, and trying to do everything for Him. I don't pause enough and let God just plain love me. Let Jesus just hold me. Let the Spirit remind me how much I am loved. When I do pause, His Love covers me like a soft blanket, tastes as sweet as the bowl full of chocolate chips my daughter brought me and makes me feel special and safe. Sigh. When I stop long enough to let God’s love sink in, it’s all I want. I want to stay there for a very long time.
I’m starting to feel more normal-ish. But if this blog is a bit jumbled, please accept my apologies, brain injury and all. Even though I’m not spot on. God’s love is. I pray as I continue to get out more, drive, perhaps even go on a walk (sounds crazy doesn’t it?) that I’ll cling to this lesson that being loved is not a sign of weakness, but a chance for sweetness. I pray the same for you. God longs to love us. God wants to make us feel better, give us rest, comfort us, renew our strength. But He won’t push His love on us. Christ wants us to come to Him. He wants us to say, “Lord, I could really use some of your love. I need You.” Find time this week to slow down long enough to truly let Him love you.
I’ve been going to the North Carolina Mountains since I was in eighth grade. My mom says she built the house there, because she fell in love with the scenery. Which I get, because the view from that little lake community nestled in the midst of the Blue Ridge peaks is breathtaking. But for me there’s another pull—in our crazy, whirlwind, hectic, busy, overscheduled lives I’m drawn to the simplicity of the mountain house as if by a magnetic force.
No one has practice in the mountains. Or rehearsal. Or meetings. Or homework. The majority of the time our phones read “No Service.” In the mountains I don’t wear jewelry or perfume or eyeliner. Everything I need for the week fits into a small duffle bag. Mostly I wear my hair in a braid.
We play outside all day—going on mountain runs, playing Putt Putt and scrambling after tiny lizards, watching their colors change as they land on a leaf or skitter onto mulch. The kids shoot hoops and play soccer tennis. My mom and I talk for hours. When we head inside it’s for home cooked meals, Scrabble and movies (this is a no streaming zone). Three of us finished the books we brought with us and dove into new ones.
I’m not saying I could do this all of the time. I wouldn’t even want to. For one thing I’d miss Starbucks, the Internet, and lipstick too much. My kids would go through withdrawal from their soccer teams and bins of Legos. But for a week here and there it’s so lovely to unplug and slow down. To not be a slave to email or texts or social media, because it’s too hard to even check them with a wayward signal. To never look at the clock, because there’s nowhere to be. To eat when we’re hungry and sleep until I wake. And when I do wake it’s to the sound of birds warming up their vocal chords in song and church bells echoing through the valley instead of the ringtone du jour I’ve set for my alarm. I walk out onto the deck, breathe in the mountain air, and open up my Bible to just talk to God until someone else rises or the urge to make a pot of coffee in the Mr. Coffee overtakes me. For me, spring break with my mom and kids is a refreshing reset from the scampering of day to day.
But I do love day to day. I love the things I do, the places I go, the things I’m responsible for. It’s just that sometimes, the amount of them, the intensity of them, the urgency of them, the fullness of them? They wear me down and stress me out. So inserting a week of Sabbath does my body and soul good.
As I re-enter reality it’s key for me to remember to take deep breaths, to admire the views, to slow down and savor even in the midst of the busyness.
When was the last time you took a real rest? How do you slow down? Where is your peaceful place? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear. Let’s work together to try and find that still, quiet place this week. And when we do, let's breathe peace in and exhale it out to the world around us.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a yellow ball climbing a tree.
I saw it, but was listening to my daughter tell a story, so I kept my eyes trained on her. But as it ascended higher in my peripheral, I had to look again. Of course it wasn’t actually a yellow ball climbing a tree, but it was a squirrel with a golden apple clutched between its teeth scaling high branches and seemingly defying gravity.
I recognized that apple as the slightly mushy one that had been sitting in our fruit basket yesterday, as the one I’d tossed out the window, because I’m big on composting and small on mushy apples.
The squirrel must have been out of his mind with joy when he saw that giant feast in the midst of the bleak frozen January ground. I imagine he’d been foraging for anything—a piece of bark, a forgotten acorn, but this apple was something he’d never even hoped for. About two thirds of the apple remained. He’d clearly already taken large, ravenous bites.
I started laughing. My daughter joined me at the window, and we watched the little guy for several moments, teetering from the weight of the apple, yet clearly clinging to his prize. The heaviness of the fruit threw off his balance and hindered his climb upward, but he kept at it, swerving and stepping, uncertain of what to do next. After several moments of amazing acrobatic feats he set the apple down in the crook of two branches and continued his climb without it.
Every move of this squirrel was hilarious. It also seemed to be speaking directly to me.
Because if God unexpectedly drops a giant piece of juicy fruit on my path this year, I want to take a bite. I don’t want to pass it by, because it’s not part of my normal routine, because I’ve never had an apple appear on my trail before, because I was looking for something else, because it seems bigger than I can handle. I want to learn how to embrace the gifts and opportunities God sets before me, even if it means I have to alter my gait, or rearrange things to maintain balance.
But I also want to know when something is not from God and when God says it’s time to be done. When it’s too heavy, too burdensome, when something I take on is actually hindering living fully for Him.
When new things come my way, I get excited and often say, “I want to seize the day, change the world, make a difference, dream big, have bold goals, get busy, and I want to do it N-O-W!” But I also want to be conscious of allowing for down time, Sabbath. So, other days I worry about taking on too much and say, “Maybe that will be too challenging, demand too much from me or my family. Maybe we should just stay home, pop on our pj’s and watch a movie?” I live on both sides of the balance beam, so where does that leave me? I guess with a giant apple clenched between my teeth, not sure what to do next.
But, God knows exactly what to do.
So my prayer this year, is to check out those apples. And if I feel God has placed them on my path, then take large, hungry bites. But as I chew them, I want to ask God again, “Now what?” And if He says, ‘keep eating’ or ‘pick it up and run with it,’ then I want to do exactly that. And if it gets to a point where the apple grows burdensome and challenging, I want to ask God again. And if He says, ‘You can do all things through Me,’ or ‘Keep running the race,’ then I want to muster all of my energy and keep climbing fervently. But… if God says, ‘It’s time to put it down,” then I want to set that apple between the crook of two branches and walk away. No matter if that means that apple is now for another squirrel, or for me to come back to later, or so I can pick something else up, or for another reason altogether, great.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?” –Romans 8:15
I think of life like walking along a balance beam, trying not to lean too far in either direction. But this doesn’t mean taking each step, methodically and measured. Yes, the end result requires balance, but the actual journey might mean sprinting full speed ahead until our sides hurt and then pushing ourselves even further, ravenously sinking our teeth into opportunities. Being feisty, scrappy and gulping down large swallows of life. But at other times it means sipping life sweetly through a straw, going for a quiet stroll, or just sitting still. It means experiencing the absolute freedom of setting down our burdens and exhaling a deep breath of relief. It means some nights making homemade pizzas with multiple toppings and dough that needs to rise all day and other nights ordering Papa Johns. At the end of a long day, both taste delicious. Both are satisfying. Both are sometimes necessary.
So no matter what God has in store in 2017—whether that’s picking something up or setting it down, let’s do it adventurously and expectantly.
In a thick fog of sleep I turned off the alarm on my phone and noticed someone had called. Who would call in the middle of the night, unless...yes! A message from the kids’ principal. Snow Day!
There’s so much magic in a snow day. Starting with the gift of being able to turn off the alarm and roll back over for a bonus round of coveted sleep. Snow days are in some ways better than weekends, better than holidays. Because on weekends and holidays my calendar is still jammed—packed full of soccer games, basketball games, cookouts, church services, small group gatherings, and if that soccer tournament is as close to that shopping center as I think it is, we can pick up the new mailbox we need at Lowe’s (yes, ours is literally falling off its hinges) and swing by Dollar Tree for the items I need to transform my blonde-haired, blue-eyed third grader into Sitting Bull for his “Living Museum” at school. Weekends were supposed to be the END of the week, time to rest from the work of the week. But I schedule them to the gills, until I have so much fun and activity, and don’t get me wrong, it is all fun, I can hardly breathe. How about you? Are your weekends as busy as your weeks? When do you slow down and rest?
But a snow day? Well, a snow day is the opposite. On a snow day all of the things that were scheduled are canceled. I have the perfect excuse to not do anything (including getting dressed), because, well, how would I get anywhere with the roads all covered in snow and ice, and if I’m not going anywhere why get out of my pjs?
And so our snow day was a much-needed Sabbath. All six of us Smiths slept until 8:00 a.m. instead of our typical 5:50 a.m. on a school day (okay, my girls slept longer), because our bodies were tired and craved the rest. I made pancakes laden with chocolate chips. Because I had time. Because no one had to eat a quick breakfast or rush off anywhere. And because chocolate chips are so very yummy. I let the kids play electronics, which made them cheer, gave me time to prepare for a speaking event, and I never once had to worry that they should be doing their homework. It was all done the night before. We ate lunch together. As a family. On a Tuesday. Even my busy seventeen-year old. We went sledding; squealing for joy as we flew down the hill, snow spraying in our faces. Afterwards we made cocoa to warm us up. I couldn’t have scheduled or planned any of these things. If my family knew we had free time, someone would have planned something for that time slot.
At the end of the day I felt tired in all the right ways, like from clomping up the sledding hill in heavy boots, not frazzled or stressed. I didn’t feel like I was forgetting twelve things on my list, because on the snow day the list got tossed in the recycler.
We all need rest. With a break from work we come back with fresh eyes, bursts of creativity, new ways to solve problems. With physical rests for our bodies they perform better, run faster, react more quickly. After a day of not to-ing and fro-ing, I could honestly say I didn’t snap at my kids all day. I hadn’t once looked at the clock and freaked out about what time it was. I wasn’t running late or actually late for anything.
On the seventh day, He rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day. Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. Gen 2:3
When was the last time you rested? Even our Sabbaths our Sundays our weekends are over scheduled. And even when we clear our personal schedules, our bosses, coaches, instructors, or teachers seem to schedule things into the free spaces, the margins we thought we’d allowed.
Since I haven’t been good at scheduling down time, God gave me a day full of it, a snow day. So how do I find more days like this? How do you? What if we declared tomorrow our own personal snow day? Or at least a snow delay? What if we hit snooze, made pancakes, or curled up with a good book instead of throwing in that extra load of laundry, sending that one last email, or running one more set of numbers or one more errand? I’m not suggesting we all become slackers, that we habitually play hooky or lie to our bosses, but what if we claimed our own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? What if we declared our own snow day, savored time with the people we love most, had an adventure, created something with our hands, got outside and breathed fresh air? What if we rested?
You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. You can start right now by opening your cupboard and making yourself a cup of hot cocoa. You don’t need any special ingredients or packets. It will take less than two minutes, be completely natural and have zero waste. And it will be delicious, warm, sweet, comforting and relaxing.
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 T sugar
the smallest sprinkle of salt
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
In a microwave safe mug mix cocoa, sugar, salt and a splash of milk. Microwave for 20 seconds to form a thick cocoa paste. Remove from microwave and stir. Pour in enough to milk to fill your mug the rest of the way. Microwave for another 60 seconds. Stir. Drink. Sigh. Enjoy your mini snow day.
If you had a snow day tomorrow how would you spend it? Leave a comment below and share your favorite way to unwind.
It started out as rain, but as we drove down the winding farmland roads we saw a flash and then felt the tremor of thunder even before we heard it. A summer storm. I flipped my wipers from medium to high, slowing my speed, taking my time. I’m not that strong a driver, so I turned down the radio and chatted lightly with my daughter in the back seat, trying to downplay how tense I was driving in the storm, while straining to maintain focus on my steering.
The winds picked up and there was so much water it was hard to imagine it coming down any harder, until it did. The metallic scent of rain leaked in through miniscule cracks between the windows and their seals.
Then plunk, plunk, the hailstones bounced off our windshield, and our roof, and our trunk. They clattered like a steel drum band, only I didn’t feel like dancing. No, I wanted to be home. I wanted to be cozy in my family room with a vanilla candle burning, but I wasn’t. And it wasn’t safe to drive. And I had precious cargo in the back seat, still chatting away about her soccer practice. I couldn’t go another mile on my own, and I knew it.
So, I pulled over into the park at the side of the road, not under a tree, in case it blew over or lost a branch, but in the middle of the parking lot. The hail still pelted against my SUV and the rain was so torrential we couldn’t see out our windows.
“I’m just going to pull over for a minute and see if the storm settles a bit. I’m going to settle myself a bit too, before we drive on home,” I announced.
“You can stay here as long as you need to, Mom.” Words of wisdom from an eleven-year old.
What’s going on in your life?
Any storms blowing your way?
Maybe it’s just light rain now, or maybe you’re deeper in. Maybe you’ve got a full on thunderstorm rocking your car and hail threatening to crack your windshield.
Because life isn’t perfect. God doesn’t promise that it will be perfect. But He does promise that He’ll stay with you.
And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age." Matthew 28:20
But Jesus can’t stay with you, if you don’t let Him. If you keep going, if you don’t pause to rest, to catch your breath, to regain your calm. If you keep driving into the storm, the storm will shake you. It’s never too late. You can pull over now and now, and yup, there’s still a chance. Pull over now!
In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, it’s like we’re in a race to get to the next destination, even if it’s killing us to do so. Veer to the berm, find a safe spot, and pull over. Inhale Jesus’ love and His grace, His strength and His peace, which is way more fulfilling and satisfying and soothing than anything the world can give you. And when you’re ready, you can start your engine again. There’s no need to fear, because He is with you. All the way.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
Yesterday my husband and I took the day off.
It wasn’t a snow day.
It wasn’t a sick day.
It wasn’t some obscure bank holiday.
But we took it off anyway.
Because we need to slow down.
I’m sure you don’t. I’m sure you feel incredibly relaxed and rested and haven’t done anything in so long; you often tell people you are idle and your time is unoccupied. Right?
If you nodded your head then I haven’t chatted with you in a lonnnggg time. I can’t remember the last time anyone responded to me about all the free time they have. It’s all about busyness, achievement, enriching, accomplishing, isn’t it? Even snails these days are zipping around racecourses and going viral. Or so the kids’ movie, Turbo, depicts. That snail is fast!
And all of those things are good. Grand even. Until they become too important. Until we forget to take time for others, for ourselves, for God.
Even Jesus, Son of God, Creator of the Universe, Savior of the World, took time off. He would wake up early in the morning or take off late at night by himself, not to check scores, or statuses or headlines. Not to file one more report, or do one more set of sit-ups or tidy up one more room. But to go up the mountain, or out of the way and pray.
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16 NIV
Jesus also took time to share meals with the disciples. We don’t have any scripture passages depicting Jesus eating lunch at His desk while working on His next sermon or scratching on pieces of parchment during meals and handing them to messengers to deliver in the middle of dinner with His disciples. But we have several passages where Jesus is dining with them, talking with them, listening to them, showing them love, and teaching them about the Father. In fact his last interaction with his disciples was a meal, the last supper. And His one of Jesus’ first interactions with his friends after His resurrection was breakfast.
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. John 21:12 NIV
So yesterday I dropped the kids off at school, grabbed a few groceries, and picked up supplies one of them needed for a project. Then I headed home. By 8:30 AM my husband and I were sitting in the family room, not at the table, not near one of our desks, not in the front seat of the car headed somewhere, but on the soft, cushy couches in our family room with the sunshine streaming in through the windows. We sat and talked for hours. About things we’ve been reading, and sermons we’ve listened to, and what God’s been teaching us. We talked about a trip we’d like to take and the state of our hearts and concerns on our minds and the blessing of our marriage. At some point we milled in and out of the kitchen, came back to the family room with our plates of sandwiches and fruit and watched a movie together. In the middle of the day. On a Tuesday. We even figured out how to work Netflix by ourselves, without any of the kids to help us. Score!
And then we went for a walk. Yes, it was twenty-two degrees outside. Yes, I was dressed in running clothes, because I’d planned to get in a strenuous workout. But, instead, we stretched our legs, inhaled crisp air, reflected on how bright azure the sky was, and exercised our souls.
And then it was time. Time to get the kids, and work on homework, and make dinner, and answer email, and run a load of laundry, but I did it more refreshed. More aware of how God is working on me. More grateful for the world I live in, my incredible husband, my amazing children. I know I can’t take every day off. And neither can my husband. But I know I need to take more of them.
It’s easy to let the demands of life fill my calendar and dominate my thoughts. It takes effort to slow down and unwind and intentionally set my phone somewhere I can’t reach it. But the effort is so rewarding. Because it allows God to restore my soul.
David got it right in the 23 Psalm (and my friend, Holly Starr, sings it so beautifully above)
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
Let God lead you to still places, lie down, rest. Let Him restore your soul.
When was the last time you slowed down? Truly took a day off? Maybe it’s time to pull out the crammed calendar and schedule one.
Be still? I've got to be kidding. Right? You are winding down the school year and all of the projects and games and recitals and concerts and awards ceremonies that go with it. You have places to go and people to say and quotes to tweet and pictures to post. You have books to read and miles to run. I know, believe me. But listen for just a minute.
I just got back from a trip to the coast of California. Every year, my husband and I turn off our phones, go somewhere beautiful, and concentrate on our marriage and turn our focus towards God. It's amazing what a little silence will do for the soul. Pretty incredible how clearly I can hear God's voice when I turn off all of the noise of daily life. You don't have to go to California to hear Him, just someplace lovely, someplace quiet, someplace where you can find peace.
He has so much to say, that God of ours. Messages for me and for you. Reminders of how much He loves us, that He's always right by our side, that He will never leave us, will always cheer for us and has created the most perfect plans just for us. Can you hear Him?
Find somewhere peaceful. I know it's hard, but do it.
Turn off your phone.
What is God telling you today? You'll never know unless you take time to be still.
Where is your favorite place to listen to Him?
There’s a scene in the movie, The Dead Poet’s Society, where the English teacher at an all boys’ high school asks his students to stand on top of their desks. Some boys pounce toR the flat surface, eager to do something quasi against the rules. Others hesitate. Why? Because they aren’t used to standing on their desks.
Have you ever stood on the top of your desk?
The purpose of the exercise is to get his students to look at things in a new way, to gain a different perspective.
This week of Thanksgiving, I’m doing just that, gaining a different perspective.
I’m on top of Rumbling Bald Mountain in North Carolina. My Internet service is spotty, there isn’t a Starbucks within an hours drive and I have a cold. Nothing serious, but the kind where it feels like my head is stuffed with cotton balls. Everything sounds muffled, tastes a bit bland, smells slightly metallic and my energy is low. But, I’m thankful, well except for the Starbucks part.
I’m out of my routine – off track – on top of my desk.
So, I’m sitting more. Gazing at the sky, listening to the laugher of my family and drinking home brewed coffee.
Since I’ve been on my trip I’ve stared at a rainbow, bright and daring, as if God grabbed a handful of Crayola markers and sliced right through the sky with a burst of color. I’ve gazed at zillions of stars, dazzling bright and white through the vast blackness of night. I’ve watched the sunset, which is more like a swirl of colorful clouds dancing around the mountain peeks. As I write this as 2:33 in the afternoon, I see the moon peeking out early. I’m up so high; I feel like if I stretched just a little further, I could grab it.
“If we want to stay on the road to faith, we have to hit the brakes, pull over to a rest area and stop.” Michael Yaconelli
In my typical day, my busy schedule I am productive and healthy and happy, but if I do the same thing everyday, all the time, I miss out on some of God’s beauty, His gifts. And in the midst of missing His creation, I also miss the chance to say, ‘thanks’.
This year I am thankful for a cold, and a view not from the top of the desk, but from the top of a mountain. Because I have no emails or tweets or Facebook to distract me, because my cold forces me to take things slowly, because I’m up where things look different, I’m gaining a different, deeper perspective. And I am thankful.
How about you? What are you thankful for this year?
I’m a planner, an organizer, and a calendar maker extraordinaire. I have four kids, which means a fun-filled crazy, busy life. If I don’t stay on top of all the practices, assignments, to-dos and errands they crawl on top of me, and smother me.
However, despite all of my color-coding and lists, I have to remember that I am not the one in control.
On a family trip to Italy we needed to check out of our apartment in Florence prior to the proprietor’s arrival to make our train to Venice on time. We dutifully took out our trash, stripped our sheets and dropped our keys in the drop box.
We rolled our suitcases thumpety-thump down the cobblestone streets to the metro, took the metro to the train station and boarded our train, surprised to see an entire class of Italian school children filling our car and our seats. I spoke with a lovely teacher whose English was even worse than my Italian. We exchanged tickets, but couldn’t figure out how we all had the same seat assignments. Together we searched for a conductor, who just as the train began its departure told us to sit tight. We’d sort it all out en route.
We situated ourselves in corners and nooks, plugged in our ear buds and flipped through books until about an hour into the ride when the conductor came to punch the tickets I’d ordered months ago on the Eurorail website.
“Ecco.” Here you go. I presented ours to him, proud of my Italian expression.
He shook his head with a sneer. “These are for tomorrow.”
“Today is Wednesday. These are for Thursday.” He said briskly, not feeling my panic, my pain, and my well-executed plans in a tangle.
“How- how could that be?” The words tumbled from my mouth. My brain churned. He pointed to the date on the tickets, which were indeed for the next day. I grabbed my travel file and frantically flipped through the itineraries. I turned to my hubby and gasped in a stressed whisper, “How did this happen? I don’t understand? Where will we stay in Venice tonight? We’ll be a day early.”
“You cannot continue to Venice.” The conductor’s voice was freakishly flat for an Italian.
Silently he pulled out his calculator and typed in seemingly hundreds of numbers. Eventually he turned the display to me. “This is your fine for riding the train without a proper ticket. You must depart at the next stop - Bologna. You may use your ticket tomorrow to get you from Bologna to Venice.”
A lengthy list of questions from me to the train worker didn’t clear up any of my concerns. The fine was enormous. We knew no one in Bologna and had no hotel booked for our four children, my mom and ourselves. We’d forfeited a prepaid night in Florence. Not to mention the blow to my ego that I’d majorly botched our travel plans and let my family down!
My stomach was like a pulverized pizza. My face hotter than the Tuscan sun. My hands shook like our train car on rickety tracks.
We paid our fine, gathered our group and got off the train in Bologna, the beautiful city of Bologna, home of robust spaghetti alla Bolognese, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, an active political community and ancient basilicas.
In Bologna we stayed in the nicest hotel of our trip, complete with luxury air conditioning and an all you could eat breakfast buffet piled high with Italian pastries and made to order cappuccino. We witnessed a heated protest by impassioned university students, noshed on zesty pizza margarita (for a fraction of a price of what we paid for it in Florence) strolled through the historic university and visited the crowning jewel, San Luca.
San Luca, named for Saint Luke, as in the gospel writer, sits at the top of approximately 300 steps covered by romantic porticoes supported by 666 arches and overlooks the lush city of Bologna from its hilltop perch.
On a 70 degree, sunny day breathing in the architecture, gazing at the sapphire blue sky, marveling at history dating back to the gospels, intoxicated by a strong spiritual presence and surrounded by the people I love most in the world, I couldn’t imagine anything lovelier. Then, two young boys pulled out their violins and played an impromptu hauntingly beautiful concert in the grassy area outside the church, providing the soundtrack for my moment.
My planner said I should be in Florence that day. I thought I was supposed to be in Venice that day. But God knew, there was no place on earth better for me on that day than in Bologna.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
Tell me below - where are you planning to go this week? Where will you let God take you if only you let Him?
Let’s be honest – travel wears a girl out. Overnight flights, train rides, crowding into hostels or strange hotel rooms, long days of working, exploring and walking plus late nights making sure you don’t miss one single thing all add up to longing – craving – aching for a cup of coffee.
But no worries! Coffee is abundant and decadent everywhere you go (even abroad). You just need to know what you’re looking for and how to order it.
First – when you’re on the road, ditch your Starbucks habit goodbye. Now don’t raise your fingernails at me in a cat hiss. Few things make me happier in the morning than a venti Estima with a shot of mocha and room for milk. However, when in Rome or Paris or Nashville or Atlanta. Embrace the culture!
If you’re in a new town, find the local coffee shop, the one with the menu handwritten in chalk on a blackboard. Ask what they’re specialty is. Observe the locals. Are they all drinking iced coffees? Maybe you should try one on this hot summer day. Is the house specialty a chocolate monkey as it is at JoZoara in Nashville? You’ve gotta try one. It’s like a chocolate, banana, peanut butter milkshake with your daily dose of java all swirled into one. Phenomenal! At Kofenya, in Oxford, Ohio the house drink is a Walk in the Woods. They might know something you don’t. Why not give one a sample?
If you’ve wandered further away from home, embrace the coffee in your new land. Most of the world drinks coffee too, but usually everywhere else it’s STRONG! Order café in France, espresso in Italy or Spain and you’ll get a shot of espresso in an itty bitty tiny white porcelain cup. It’s strong, robust and will wake up your taste buds, then your brain. If you’re used to a venti back home, you might want to order two, or drink one first thing, and another later along your journeys.
Me, I’m a “with milk” kind of girl. So in France I order a café au lait. In Italy I get a cappuccino. When in Spain my daily order is a café con leche.
I also prefer a little sweetness. Don’t look for Splenda, Equal, Stevia or Sweet N Low – those chemicals are bad news and hard to find in foreign lands for good reason. Use sugar. It’s natural and it’s sweet.
Next -- your budget. Order your coffee TO GO – a emporter (in French), porte via (in Italian), para llevar (in Spanish). You’ll save a small fortune, and maybe even be able to afford coffee again tomorrow morning.
If you absolutely can’t stand a Styrofoam/plastic cup OR need a minute to look at your map or reapply your lip gloss or text a friend, order your coffee at a counter or standing up at a café table. Don’t be fooled by the charming waiter pulling out a chair for you. He may think you’re cute, but he also knows if he gets you to sit, you’ll pay two to four times as much to drink your coffee. Who knew sitting was such a luxury?
We’re a bit like coffee ourselves. Some of us are dark or light or tall or short. Some of us are strong or sweet or hotheaded or cool. God created sassy versions and frothy versions and simple and dependable versions of people. But we’re all delicious. Don’t forget that.
Now that you know how to do it, go and open your eyes and taste buds to the rich, frothy sensation of a coffee, wherever you are. Sip. Enjoy. Repeat.
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