“Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a shop who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” Matthew 13:52
Yesterday I went into a shop owned by a woman named Eleanor, and her family. Her dad was a silversmith, her mom created cards and prints and Eleanor is a jeweler. I was immediately struck by her warm and welcoming way. Florence is a city teeming with stores and shops and restaurants, and there’s a distinct difference in passion, knowledge and motivation between those who own the shop and those who work there. Eleanor welcomed us and immediately began telling us their story. Her father is a silversmith who bought out the inventory of a different shop and opened this one with his own crafts and those he had purchased. Eleanor picked up his skill, except where he creates carafes and cups and pretty silver boxes, she creates earrings and necklaces and bracelets. Now they have over 80 artists who display items there and Eleanor knows not just every artist, but each piece of their work. She can take you to any item in this crowded little shop and tell you the story behind it and why it would – or wouldn’t – be lovely for you. She spoke with obvious pride in her store and her parents and helped me find the perfect pair of earrings and a hand painted Christmas tree ornament. I will treasure them for the rest of my life.
The man in the shop next door to Eleanor is an older, Italian gentleman who speaks next-to-no English. His tiny, tiny shop (there is only room for two or three people at a time inside) is crowded- literally floor-to-ceiling with copper pots and wooden bowls and shelves of olive oil and lemoncello. He sells fresh grapes, figs and tomatoes outside, as well as table cloths and long wooden slotted spoons that look like they have been used by Italian mamas for decades, stirring pasta sauce or ladling soup into those beautiful wooden bowls. It’s the kind of shop that overloads your eyeballs and senses and if you have any sort of story-reflex, you immediately begin imagining life on a Tuscan farm, gathered around a long dinner table with music and candles and delicious aromas wafting about.
He welcomed us into his shop with a warmth and affection that jumped right over the language barrier, pouring wine into plastic cups, while he and Whit used hand motions to communicate. I don’t know what he was saying, all I know for sure is: He was glad we were there. His shop was the place where his truest self lives, where he offers his work to the world, where he welcomes friends and strangers, providing something that they might need, and a glass of something they might want. It was beautiful.
Every day of my sabbatical, I have been reading Matthew 13, for reasons that are important to me but wouldn’t be that interesting to you. One verse that captures my attention every time is this one:
“Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a shop who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” Matthew 13:52
When I visited Eleanor’s shop, I had read that verse two dozen days in a row. Yesterday, it came alive in front of my eyes. I want to live like that. Like a shopkeeper, who knows the treasure hidden on the shelves and lives to help others find what they need, when they need it. Instead of an hourly employee, simultaneously peddling and protecting a belief system or code of conduct – I want to be the one who pours the wine into plastic cups and welcomes in the wandering and wondering. The kingdom, it seems, is a lot like that.
It took four decades for me to become it, but I am an official lover of morning. At home, I get up early and follow the same routine every day: coffee, Bible, journal, planning. I need and hour or two of sunrise and solitude in order to function well the rest of the day. Mornings are also when I do my best work creatively – all three of my books and nearly every blog post has been written in the early hours. Occasionally, on vacation or days off, I’ll sleep in, but I almost always regret it.
I went into sabbatical not knowing how I would do mornings. Would I want to switch it up and become an afternoon girl? I didn’t know, and I left myself lots of room to decide in the moment. But now, eight days in, I have a routine and I can tell it’s going to stick.
I usually wake up around 4:30 (I’m hoping that will change as I acclimate more to this time zone) and make myself stay in bed until 5:00. Then I go out to my kitchen, open the big doors on the terrace (and the city is soooo quiet at this time) and make an espresso.
True story: I’ve never really liked espressos much. They’re delicious, but so little. I want more time with my coffee than that. However, I’ve grown to really like these little guys, made in the Nespresso provided by my lovely airbnb host, Judy.
I sip my espresso and go through the daily page in the journal that I created for this trip. It’s sort of like a ‘solitude map’. It asks a different “three things” question each morning and then goes on into meditation, reading, priority-setting and self awareness (that part isn’t shown on this picture.)
This process is not at all work to me; it’s so fun to have some time to connect to the big purpose for my life and to establish some small steps for achieving it. Sometime during this part of my journaling, the church bells chime 6:00 and the city wakes up and when it wakes up, it gets big and loud very quickly. Shop doors start opening, street sweepers roll through my alley, voices rise through my courtyard filling the air around me with several languages (mostly Italian) reminding me once again that this globe is packed with people who are loved by God and I am one of those people, but only one. The quilt of cultures I’m experiencing here in Italy is breathtaking and beautiful.
When the bells chime 7:00, it’s time for a phone date, which is one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s amazing how next-door everyone sounds even when we’re a world away. (Aside: since posting about the church bells, I have heard from several who are church bell annoyed and I do not understand you people. I will defend your right to dislike them but let’s agree to never talk about this at parties.)
After that, I usually write for awhile, a blog post or poetry or more focused journaling in my computer. When I feel out of words, I get ready for the day and go in search of yet more coffee. Mostly, I make myself do this so I don’t become a hermit during my time here, also because I love seeing the city in the morning. And also because I love coffee.
This is the pretty entryway to my apartment. I love it so much. And I even love the statue, though I don’t know who that guy is (I’ve got a pretty light grasp on art history). And see that white chair in the photo by the table? It doesn’t belong there, but that’s where I keep it because this is an old apartment and the fuse blows a couple of times a day. It’s an easy fix, but I’m a short girl, so that chair saves my bacon every time.
Aw, this is Via della Condotta – the street where I live. It borders Piazza della Signoria (undoubtedly the busiest piazza in Florence where the fake David and Neptune lives), but it’s filled with shops and restaurants that I visit every day and I love it – but its not my very favorite street. My very favorite street is Via dei Neri and that’s where I’m headed.
Via de Neri has loads of lovely things to see and taste and experience. Ditta Artiginale is so far my favorite place for coffee. It’s the one place I’ve found so far that serves a “filtered coffee” (American = pour over) and it’s delightful and makes me feel closer to home while also being far away. I keep hoping Dave Beach will walk out from behind the counter, but that keeps not happening.
This routine of coffee/quiet/listen/write/coffee is working for me. I know it’s working, not because I’m producing cool things, but because I feel myself becoming more myself as I move through this adventure. I feel thoughts taking shape and dreams being born and seeds of plans being planted during this time and I’m so grateful for it.
This morning I woke up thinking about some of the old hymns my grandmother used to sing. Maybe it’s being here in all this history, away from all-things-modern America, but it inspired me to write something old and new. I know this isn’t what I usually write and it’s not particularly profound or well-constructed, but something about it connected me back to the foundations of my life, my truth, my love for Jesus and the people who taught me to search for Him everywhere.
In heavy gray
And filtered fog
When all the maps seem
Your hand becomes
my stronger stay
My hope on darker days
When shines the sun
with stubborn cheer
When all is bright and
Your hand remains
my stronger stay
My hope on cloudless days
Though I can’t see
what lies beyond
what lives within
Your hand will be
my stronger stay
My hope for
all my days
So, that’s today’s update. Mornings in Florence. They’re crazy beautiful.
Oh! P.S: My oldest, blondest daughter, Whitney, and my sweet friend Mekenzie, get here in about an hour! How excited am I? Infinity excited!
And P.P.S: Thanks to my dreamy, dreamy boyfriend for getting so many Sterns to the airport this week and remembering to take pictures because he knew I’d want them.
Please do no let my dreamy church-bells-chiming-in-the-courtyards fool you. Italy is not all rainbows and pasta and naked statues (though, WOW, there are a lot of those!)
For all of my life, I have struggled with homesickness. Even getting me out the door to go to school was hard for my poor mom and it wasn’t that I didn’t like school; I just really missed home. The problem is: I also love to travel. I love waking up in another city and hearing other languages and drinking other coffee. But travel – especially international travel – can be laborious because so many things are unfamiliar that are typically automatic. Every time I plug in my hair dryer, I have use an adaptor, which is always plugged into something else that needs power, too. Ordering food at a restaurant, finding my way through the streets, figuring out how to reset the fuse in my apartment – all these things are easy at home and difficult here. And they remind me of the things I love and miss. More importantly, they remind me that my life, exactly where it is, is beautiful and magical in ways that may not be as instagrammable as Italy, but these things are real and true and worth more to me than anything.
Three of my kids just left this morning, one left yesterday – and I miss them and feel the pangs of longing for home. So I thought maybe it would be good to just get it out there. The things I miss. To see them and acknowledge them and then move on with the adventure of this unfamiliar life.
I keep seeing cute boys that remind me of them and want to go hug and kiss them except their parents would either be really mad or ask me to babysit so they can do a wine tasting and I don’t really like either of those options.
2. Pilot Butte.
I miss my favorite running trail. I had grand visions of running along the Arno river here in Florence, but I’d have to head butt a lot of tourists to do it.
3. Steve Stern
Steve was a well-seasoned traveler who could MacGyver his way through any situation. I miss his calm presence and cool head and easy way with strangers. I also am struck sometimes by this wish that he could see this and experience it – and then I remember he is seeing and experiencing so much more than I am and I am happy for him. But I miss him.
4. Kebaba (and just generally knowing which restaurants are good.)
I know it seems silly, while surrounded by thousands of amazing restaurants, but Bend food is Bend food and I love it and miss it.
I miss having relationships that are as worn, weathered and beautiful as the buildings in Europe. They are tried and true. Real and rare and wonderful. Only in leaving do I understand the size of the space they fill.
6. This guy.
Maybe it seems weird to have two men on my “miss list”. But, it’s true, I love two men. One does not displace the other anymore than one awesome cappuccino erases the memory of the last awesome cappuccino, and yeah, I just went there. I just compared the men in my life to coffee and I’m not sorry (I am, however, up VERY early so I might be sorry later.) Cliff and I don’t live in the same city, so we’re used to dealing with distance and it’s funny to me how 199 miles isn’t really different logistically than 5999 miles. They’re both too far to meet for dinner after work. However, there’s something about being all the way in Italy that makes me feel like I might as well be on the moon. And I really miss that guy. (I had a cappuccino joke locked and loaded, but better judgement prevailed and it got scrapped.)
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it did make me feel better putting them all out there like that. Sorry it’s not about Italy, but also it kind of is about Italy because life is life, no matter where you live it.
More recaps coming up soon!
Well, Day Five was a little powerhouse of a day. It actually started the night before, with an important No.
My kids and I had been planning on going to Rome. I’ve been to Rome and I loved it, but the more I thought about going a second time, the less I wanted to. I don’t have much more information to give you than that; I just didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay and cozy in. I wanted a nothing day, even though I’ve had a couple of those in a row. My kids graciously excused me from the trip and this morning, as two left for Rome and two left for Cinque Terre, I felt pangs of something that was NOT regret. It was guilt. And it wasn’t guilt because they needed me, it was guilt because I was staying home to do nothing for no reason. As the house emptied out, though, I began to see all kinds of possibilities for the day. I made a list because I love lists. I tackled a few chores and then worked up ALL my nerve to get myself to the grocery store. Going to the grocery store isn’t hard in my real life, but it’s tricky in my directionally-impaired-and-in-a-new city life. But I really needed to go, because we are almost out of those cool little pods that go in the Nespresso machine! Yikes!
The walk to the store is 1/2 mile. On Tuesday, Josiah and I did it in 10 minutes or so. Today it took me a good 30 minutes because the directions just were NOT clear to me on my GPS. And here’s a travel tip: If you decide early on that you won’t worry about what people think of you when you have to stop mid-step, turn around and go the other way, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
When I got back to my apartment, I felt like such a winner! I had tackled the mean streets of Florence and lived to tell the tale. And I now had coffee stored up for dayzzz. I sat down to write and do some question-answering I’ve been planning to do during sabbatical (more on that in another post.) I opened the big terrace doors in my living room to let in the fresh air, sat down on the cushy couch with my computer, heard the church bells chime one o’clock and immediately…fell asleep. Like VERY asleep. I almost always take naps during the day and they are without fail, six to nine minutes long. I fall asleep and wake up six minutes later, refreshed and happy – it’s like a weird and useless party trick This time, however, I woke with a start when the church bells rang 2. Two o’clock! I had been sleeping for a whole, entire hour. I sat up, trying to reorient my brain to where I was and what was happening, and laid right back down again. Gnawing at the back of my mind was, “You should write a little.” And “You should get out and see the city.” And “You should__________________(fill in the blank with a bunch of to-do’s.)
And then I remembered the words of my super smart boyfriend the night before I left, “Don’t be surprised if you need more ‘nothing’ time than you think. It will take awhile to decompress.” I nodded along in agreement at the time, but I think I was imagining the unspoken end of his sentence to be, “Even if it takes a whole day…” But here I was, on day FIVE, still just wanting to soak in the nothing.
My discovery for the day is the continuation of something I’ve recently realized about myself: I am obsessed with finish lines. I want to move from point A to point B in as direct a route as possible. No squiggly lines.
But this sabbatical is all about not just allowing the squiggly lines, but embracing them. A straight line might be the most efficient way to get there, but a squiggly line is sometimes more valuable and even a little magical. And what is required to value the squiggly line? Death to the preset arrival time. In order to fall in love with the journey, I have to focus less on the finish line. So when I awoke yesterday, I made the conscious decision to die to the “I oughta’s” and come alive to the “I wanna’s.” I sunk into the couch a little longer and let the breeze speak soft to me. I wandered through the streets around my apartment, stopping at a few shops and another beautiful church. I called my best friend who will be coming with her husband to stay with me in a few days (SO excited!) After a long, happy chat, the sun had set and I went in search of something for dinner. My plan had been to go to the tiny panini shop beside my apartment, but it was closed. I walked a little further down a back alley and ran smack dab into…a grocery store! I cannot tell you how this thrilled my heart. No more searching for the one far away! I am so glad I had to find that silly, distant store, but SO glad I don’t have to find it ever again.
Later that night, Victoria, Stef and Josiah came home from their trip to Rome and we gathered at our favorite restaurant across the street to recap our days’ adventures. While we were toasting our lemoncello, the wonderful Metcalfs arrived back home from their excursion into Cinque Terre. We shared stories and funny moments on trains and frustrating travel mishaps and life. Just so much life. It was a day well-lived and it all started with a strategically placed NO to “I really oughta go to Rome”.
PS: Tomorrow: Lots of treasure hunting and neighborhood discovering and coffee brilliance. And pictures!
I interrupt posting about this epic adventure to thank you, my friends, SO MUCH for being so kind and encouraging. Thank you for cheering. Thank you for reading. Thank you for loving us with such big, expansive love. I adore travel and will always want to see and appreciate beauty in the world, but nothing in my life compares – or even comes close – to the joy I have in the people who make my journey on this spinning globe so fun and funny and kind and weird and wonderful. Now, onto Day Three.
Day Three: The One I’m Mostly Skipping
Okay, so real talk: Day Three was a toughie for me. It was emotional and weird and I didn’t feel well and I’m just sharing that so you know: You can go as far from home as you want, but you still take yourself and all your internal issues with you – so there’s that. The interesting part about hitting emotional snags while spending a month in Italy, is that I feel I shouldn’t. There’s this thing I do when I feel sad or frustrated that I believe is called Invalidating My Emotions by telling myself I don’t get to feel that because I have so much other awesomeness in my life. However, the whole reason I’m spending this extended time away is to dig a little deeper and discover what’s inside of me – so I grabbed some alone time and my journal and poured it all out on the page. I came away with two things I really need to learn and grow in moving forward. I’m not telling you what they are, but I think the whole situation was a net win.
I will say that the bad day was capped by a truly beautiful dinner at this amazing restaurant to celebrate my birthday and it was just so fun and wonderful. Tori and I split a gigantic steak and I don’t really think you need to know that, but it’s fun to relive. Irene is the bistro at the very hip, very beautiful Hotel Savoy. I loved it, loved it, loved it.
After dinner, we strolled home slowly, stopping to admire the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) up close. It is just unreal. It’s exquisitely beautiful and it’s dome creates the iconic Florentine skyline you’ll see in a second.
Florence is an amazing city at night. Everything feels magical, almost like a theme park but real (sorry – my American is showing) – and it’s so far felt very safe as well (Hi, mom and boyfriend! I’m safe! I promise!)
Day three was not an easy day, but it was a good, good one.
Day Four: The Day I Found My Pilot Butte
Day four dawned bright and early again because I’m still working through the time changes. I always get up early, but 5:30 and not 3:30. I will be glad when my brain adjusts to this time zone because while I love the mornings of solitude, I’m reeeeeallly dragging by midmorning.
The upside to early moorings is that it’s the only time I’ve been able to work phone dates in with my sweetheart, given the 9-hours between us and the fact that he’s, you know…working. For the past few days, I’ve sat out on my terrace in Italy at the very beginning of my day, talking to Cliff in Portland at the very end of his. True confession: it took a few days to be able to get a phone call in and I was so happy to hear his voice and it sounded so close and so normal that I may have cried a tiny bit. Sappy, I know, but true as true.
Oh, breakfast! I have been loving antipasto, like proscuitto and bread and olives for breakfast rather than the traditional Italian breakfast of pastries or American bacon & eggs. It’s easy and a fun change from my regular life to throw a few pieces of salty meat and crusty bread or focaccia on a plate, brew up an espresso and call it good. This may be a tradition that comes home with me, or perhaps Paleo will prevail.
After breakfast, Tori and Stef invited me to go to SECOND breakfast and who can say no to that? We ran into a small, pretty cafe serving crepes and cappuccino and enjoyed happy food and fun conversation.
Later in the day, while Stef and Tori toured L’Accademia, me and Josiah and the Metcalfs launched out on a long walk to Piazzale Michelangelo. Located on the south bank of the Arno river, this is the highest point in Florence and the view are epic. The walk is short, but steep – and there are about a million steps, but it was so worth it. The views are incredible, the exercise was great, and it was all just really good for my soul.
A couple of lovely churches are at the top as well:
There’s something about sitting in a place where others have come for centuries, thinking about the God they loved or the God they didn’t or the God they misunderstood. Centuries of pray-ers and mourners and seekers have whispered out their hearts and dreams and fears on these benches. They have felt the same hopes for their children and fears for their country as those I whispered yesterday to the God I love and the God I hope to understand. I won’t try to tell you that this church felt warm or homey, but it did feel sacred and it stirred my soul again toward a deeper love for our beautiful God and beautiful gospel.
Well, there’s no good way to segue from the spiritual, except to just steamroll through the transition to…stopping at a little cafe for a glass of wine on the way back to the center of the city. Now, I talk a lot about the amazing restaurants we’ve found so far, and this was not one of them. It was not a great find and our server needed a fresh infusion of passion for her job, or maybe she was having a tough day, or maybe she was tired of serving silly Americans. Just know: not all the discoveries are great ones, but they all present excellent photo opportunities.
It was during this mediocre happy hour, that David got a wonderful, brilliant idea: Wouldn’t this be the best night for pizza in front of the TV? We all said yes & amen to that excellent plan and off we went. We have a great restaurant in the alley by our apartment, so Tess and David stopped to get the food, while I photographed from above.
And this completes day four. And it was good.