Category Archives: Italy

Mass

Cathedral in Tuscany

On that first morning in Montalcino, I strolled down to breakfast on the hotel patio that once were the barracks of the town. The outside wall plunged deep into the greenery below to reveal awe-inspiring views of the classic Tuscan landscape below. Picturing a table for one to enjoy the view, I was surprised to see a table full of people from my class that wasn’t to begin until evening. I nearly ducked and covered but was spotted and invited to join them. We exchanged names and cities of origin, made small talk and navigated the awkward beginnings of connection while I secretly planned my escape.
Janeen is a chef in her 70’s who doesn’t look a day past fifty. She is from New York with an accent and authority to match. After I had taken a few bites of my fresh yogurt and peaches, and doctored my tea just so she announced she was going to Mass, as if, of course, we would all join her. Without much thought, I nodded. Church sounded good to me. Mass though? I admit I felt a little intimidated. Being an English speaking Protestant pastor’s wife, fear of awkwardness has kept me from attending church in Europe where Catholicism dominates. I had been to a few Catholic Mass serviced with dear friends growing up, and that was difficult enough to feel like I fit in and could follow the routines, let alone the idea of trying to follow along in another language. Moments like these are good for me, to remember once again what it is like for someone to think of coming to church with me. I am always seeking to get past the culture of church that would ever make anyone feel like an outsider. There is something so beautiful about ritual though, and I have come to appreciate more and more the Catholic approach to following our shared savior.

Janeen charged us up the cobblestone hill to the church as if we were running late for the F-train to Manhattan.

“I have been to church everywhere I travel to. Synagogues, Mosques, Temples, wherever I can get my God fix while I travel.”

“Oh, I said” a little curious about what Janeen really believed. “So, what kind of church do you attend in New York?”

“Presbyterian” she said “I am a Steven Minister at my church there and attend every Sunday. I have to have my Sabbath.”

I just smiled at her and followed her confident stream into the Cathedral. There I watched her cues, and those of the locals, for the ups and downs and hallelujahs and amens. Themes became evident in the little bit of language I could translate. Then we began to sing and sounds were familiar. My heart started to beat faster and that familiar lump lodged in my throat. I sang through. The words that I stumbled and jumbled over in trying to speak the language flow effortlessly, beautifully even, off my tongue as I sang them. Italian hymns translated in my heart and I was worshipping the God I know intimately, who transcends language and culture, everywhere.

Then the Lord’s Prayer…

Padre Nostro

Padre nostro che sei nei cieli
sia santificato il tuo nome
venga il tuo regno
sia fatta la tua volontà
come in cielo così in terra.
Dacci oggi il nostro pane quotidiano
Rimetti a noi i nostri debiti
Come noi li rimettiamo ai nostri debitori.
E non ci indurre in tentazione
Ma liberaci dal male.
Amen.

The familiar rhythmic hum, the same pauses, the purposeful prose of these words enveloped me into this community, reminded me why we do this together, why we gather. Never are we alone. Our God, our same God is with us, and we gather to celebrate and symbolize our trinitarian relational faith..

Padre Nostro translates to “Father Who is Ours” I love that.

Mass was followed by a long shared lunch under an umbrella on a patio in town. We shared the daily special ravioli and a salad as if we’d done it a hundred times before. She tasted my Chardonnay and I took my first sip of the trip of Brunello. After swapping stories about faith, kids, motherhood, careers and passions I was bonded to Janeen for a lifetime. My mother-like God-loving full-of-zest-for-life new friend from the other side of the country, on the other side of the world.


Process or Prophecy

I signed the waiver detailing the inherent risks in travel and read the recommended reasons for travel insurance. One was to get my body home in the case of my death. I feared leaving my children, “what if something happens to them while I am gone?” I thought, “what if something happens to me and they have to endure the loss?” It was unbearable to consider.

But suddenly I had arrived in Italy and Scott was with me and everything was as we had remembered on our honeymoon. I was happy and at peace. It was warm, the sun was shining and we were walking hand in hand down a cobblestone street in Montalcino, smiling at one another and taking it all in. The road was wide with tall stone houses all in a row to our left and the low town wall beside it with a view of the bright green Tuscan landscape rolling beyond. Even the furniture in our room was familiar, pieces had come from our home. I felt welcome and secure.

Then Scott was gone and I was walking by myself again along the road looking out over the bright green hills touching azure blue sky, signature cypress trees, and a few terra cotta colored villas when two parachuters came gliding slowly down from high above. It was a breathtaking sight, I felt the allure of their adventure. Except one was having trouble. The red parachute was billowing all around his body, sucked to him with only small pillows of trapped air inside. His arms and legs were flapping frantically to push it away and up so that it could gather air again. My heart was pounding as he started falling faster. I started running toward him. Someone must help him! I must do something!

Running closer I knew I was helpless. I was too far away. Immediately I prayed, big, strong, you-better-hear-me-God prayers and I ran to the edge of the green, then gasped for air, and jolted awake.

Body sweating, heart still racing, I was trembling as I looked at the clock, 4 a.m. I started to cry, the dream like a postcard image burning bright colors in my mind. It was too real, too symbolic. Was it process of prophesy?

Over the next few days I couldn’t shake the fear I felt in that moment and wondered if I was going to be able to do this, if was I making a big mistake. Our family has already been devastated by grief, could I knowingly make a choice that involves some level of risk? Oh Dear God, these inevitable losses will happen someday, I know full well, but please not now, nor anytime too soon, I just don’t think I could bear it quite yet.


Hoping for Italy

Tuscany

I heard of the trip years before, three or four maybe, when I had gifted my husband, the writer-in-residence of the relationship, with a class studying narrative non-fiction. He’s written poems and lyrics, a screenplay, a book, an inspiring blog, sermons to change your life, and short stories that earned him English Department Scholar for his graduating class at Whitworth. He’d been to 6 continents by his late twenties and has plans to visit Alaska and Greenland as final frontiers, until the next destination calls. A writer and traveler, perceptive and proactive, I’ve loved him and wanted to live the adventures of life with him from our first encounter.

But that is him, and much as I could talk on and on about the great things he’s done and how wonderful he is, this is about my adventures though, lest I fall habitually into my most accustomed role as supporter and encourager of all that is around me, and not so much what is within.

It feels crazy to think of taking this trip at this time. My baby daughter broke her arm this week after bracing herself from a fall. We were up multiple nights caring for her in her pain, in the ER and as she transitioned to life with a cast. My husband’s busy season of work begins next week. I have so many end-of-the-year-events for my kids that I am having trouble keeping track. We are still living amongst boxes and unpacked bags in our new home. What kind of wife and mom am I to leave my family at such a time? Let alone the expense! As a church, and as a family, we are currently in a season of seeking to live more simply in order to raise money for wells to bring water to people in need in Africa. We will not draw from that donation, but still I struggle with Christian guilt around things like this. (Luckily I am married to my pastor who understands grace and celebration of life far better than I and continues to bless me with reminders)

We live a full, FULL, life with our 7 year, 5 year and 17 month old children, careers, ministries, volunteer work and activities. I am a binge and purge sleeper, rare that I get myself to bed at a decent hour, but relish it when I can luxuriate in it. What mom with any passion in addition to motherhood does get regular sleep? It is at night when all the ideas of my days that go untapped unleash. I get a few paragraphs into a blog, (but rarely have time or bravery to edit and post), pen a journal entry to one of my children capturing an epiphany of their personality, significant moment from their day or a prayer for their life, or daze out over a few hundred e-mails I must deal with at some point, so why not now? feeling that fleeting wink of a high like I have actually checked something of off my ever long to-do list. Life as a mom makes the hours in the margins bulge.

May I make myself perfectly clear though, I adore my life as a mom. I embraced motherhood like I did swimming, diving confidently, deep and excitedly into waters that felt more like home to my immersed body than dry land ever had. I have relished it, found purpose for my in life in it, and in seasons, have sought to maintain my identity as an individual with interests before and beyond early it. It is easy for these pieces of myself to feel lost, like all those little mismatched socks in the ever-bearing pile of laundry. The demands of mothering are constant, require more of me than I sometimes have to give and are wrought with rewards beyond measure.

Following my recent miscarriage (two and half years after the devastation of our stillborn son) Scott secretly inquired to see if there was still room in the writing class to Montalcino, coming to the realization that recent circumstances in our lives, including the miscarriage, could make the trip a possibility. I felt a call to write a few years ago and have sought to follow that as time and life circumstances have allowed. One of those pursuits was a writing class this fall in Seattle where I had learned of the Italy class and had kept the flyer for the trip on my bulletin board ever since, even brought it with us on our recent move to our new home. Scott and I spent our honeymoon in Italy, a whole week exploring the Tuscany and had particularly enjoyed the small hill town of Montalcino known for their Brunello red wine, the most reputable in the country. I remember reading in Anne Lamott’s book Operating Instructions about her life as a new mom that she had been a food critic at the time. How wonderful, I thought, to eat amazing food and be able to write about it. I thank God for every meal and have had experiences with food like that felt divine. I held hope that one day it would all come together to go and learn how to form gratitude for delicious food into inspired words. One day, when I was not pregnant or nursing. One day when we had a little extra money set aside. One day when we could use some airline miles for tickets and the kids could be cared for while Scott worked and I could leave my work and obligations for a bit and, and, and…one day.

There was one spot left, this would be one day. This is why I love my husband. Not because he is regularly so extravagant (he is typically wisely frugal) but because he believes in pursuing life experiences. He makes things happen.

When I met Scott at a Young Life fundraising event we were both nervous young college students speaking to a room full of respectable donors about our love for God and our love for kids and our dedication to ministry. We were each immediately smitten in hearing the other’s passion and priorities. I was volunteering at various stations throughout the evening and when Scott coincidentally kept showing up in the vicinity I gradually realized this was on purpose and gained the courage to notice and respond. Our first conversation is etched in my mind. A piece of that was discovering he was studying American travel literature and after graduation planned to travel to every state in the lower 48 states of the U.S. and write a book about it. He spoke with such assurance, humility and purpose that I knew he meant it; rare for a young college graduate, or anyone I’d ever met for that matter, to have such a vision and follow it. I knew him for 3 life bonding months before he left. Much as my heart ached to see him go, I knew he must in order to be the man he was created to be, and the man I would always adore.

In addition to securing my place in the class, Scott booked airline tickets scraping together some hidden air miles and made arrangements for the care of our kids; things I needed to come together well in order to feel any peace about going. He kept telling me it was so important for our kids to see me follow my dreams, to offset the mom-guilt he knows plagues me whenever I feel like I am being self-indulgent, much as I agreed with him. I preach self-care, but still it is hard to feel worthy of such an experience. It was also very scary to think of being apart from my family when life so recently reminded me once again how unpredictable our days can be; both a motivator to pursue my passions while I can and to never leave the vicinity of my loved ones.

So I am off to Italy, to follow a dream and a call, learn a new craft, relish some time of creativity and solitude, and meet new friends from all over the country. I will ache for the voices and hundreds of moments of physical contact I have with my husband and little ones who hug and climb and cling and fall and need me throughout the day, as I need them.

This is how we live – longing for togetherness and connection even as we seek to live out our unique purposes and passions as individuals. The beauty of it all is how we dance, in and out of sync, sometimes solo and adrift moving to the rhythms we alone perceive and sometimes in embrace aware of the joy and shelter we share in and create as we move. We sing and we cheer and we smile and we delight when we gather in our living room with music turned loud passing baby and big kids up and down and around for swings and for dips and stealing a kiss or a twirl, remind each other of why we seek so purposefully to capture and cherish this beautiful life we have been given.