Unpacking Italy


I’m still unpacking from my trip to Italy.  

I’m unpacking my suitcase, perusing all the art supplies I brought home. I’m unpacking what I learned about creating art and living an artful life. I’m unpacking my thoughts about adventure and courage. 

And I’m unpacking the wonder at how God works in my life. 

I have a feeling I’m going to be unpacking from this journey for quite a long time.




Months ago when I first learned about this creative art and faith retreat in Bellagio, Italy, led by Laura McCollough, with guest artist instructors Jeanne Oliver and Stephanie Ackerman, I wasn’t sure why I was so interested in going.

I don’t create art pieces. I’ve never tried hand lettering or art doodling. I’m not a world traveler, since Paris is my lone passport stamp. 

Yet I felt such a strong pull to go, I figured Italy must be calling my name. 

But really, it was God who was calling me there.




Inviting me to widen my perspective, live larger, and paint outside the lines. And at the heart of it all, there he was waiting to show me yet another facet of who he is. 

I considered him in the ancient splendor of the Duomo in the center of Milan, the magnificent Gothic cathedral.

I saw him in Leonardo da Vinci’s stunning masterpiece, The Last Supper, as I stood overwhelmed in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. I remembered back to last summer when I sat in Orlando reading a book about the painting, never dreaming that I would see it with my own eyes. 

I even recognized him in the beautiful buildings of Milan as I walked the streets of the fashion capital of the world, home to the original Prada store.





Through the week, I caught a glimpse of his fingerprints on the hearts of the 24 new friends I first met as I boarded a bus for the curvy drive to Lake Como for the faith and art retreat. 

I had decided to take my chances without Dramamine but at the last minute, the ladies on the bus convinced me to take it. Even though I gripped the seat in front of me the entire way, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. 

{On the way back, I skipped the Dramamine!}





I pinched myself as I stood on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, a historic elegant hotel overlooking Lake Como, at a welcome reception to kick off our week together.

I was charmed by Hotel Florence, run by the same family for over a century, as I woke up every morning to push open the shutters to see the beautiful vista of the mountains and the lake.




I sat with serious artists while I tried to treat art paper with gesso and pick up a charcoal pencil to make my first attempt at sketching a face. 

I had been hoping for my first art lesson to be a blob of water or a feathery cloud, but here I was trying to line up a nose between two eyeballs {and not very successfully, I might add}. 

When it was time to use scissors and glue to make a travel journal, I felt relieved but not exactly more competent.




I spent the week visiting one stunningly beautiful spot after another. 

Walking through historic villas and gardens, boating over the lake to charming restaurants, savoring the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted in settings I could only dream about.

And I thought about how I got here. 






Four years ago, I wanted to write about a disappointing relationship experience as a guest blogger. But there was just one problem. I was a writer without a blog. 

With the help of some gifted friends, I launched a blog and it has forever changed me.

It has transformed, reshaped, inspired and awakened. It has encouraged, motivated, summoned and revitalized. 

But most of all it has been the passageway for me to find my way to the heart of God and to discover what my own heart has been searching for.





Now that I’m home, I’m realizing this trip to Italy is like a beautiful package swathed in layers of colorful tissue paper that I’ll be unwrapping for a long time to come. 

Every experience revealed the adventure, courage, hope, peace and joy that I was hoping to discover.

Because I found that as I stepped into the ocean, God parted the waters.



I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and with Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista. Join me there!





Comments

  1. Your photos are breathtaking! And your journey will forever leave an imprint on me. It really is true that when a window or door closes, something even greater is waiting, even if we don't realize it right away. Thank you for sharing your journey, inspiring us all to step out of our comfort zone. Where will I be in four-years? I have no idea. But your journey inspires me to continue to move forward and try something just to see what's next.

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    1. Bree,
      As it got closer to leave, I wondered why I thought this trip was such a good idea?! But I realize that doing the hard things (for me) keep revealing their worth long after they're over, and I'd hate to miss that. I have no doubt that amazing things are in store for you since you always approach life with zest and anticipation! :)

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  2. Visiting from Coffee For Your Heart... what lovely pictures! Looks like an incredible trip.

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    1. Hi Lisa,
      Thank you so much for stopping by! It was absolutely amazing! :)

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  3. BEAUTIFUL words and pictures!! Love the sentiment on that little zip pouch "embrace the journey".... sometimes it's not so much about the destination as it is about what God wants us to see along the way. I for one and very grateful that you stepped foot into the blogging world and that we've become friends as a result! I'm excited to see the next step God has for you my dear! ♥ ♥ ♥

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    1. Heather,
      Isn't the little bag adorable? Laura, the retreat leader had them waiting for us in our rooms as a welcome gift! Meeting you on this blogging journey has been priceless and I cherish our friendship! xoxo

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  4. Oh my goodness! these are so beautiful! What an amazing adventure- It looks like the movies :)!!!! I am so glad it went well and that you met God there in all the details and His tender care for you. It is so neat how he cares for us so tenderly but still pushes us into these places that take courage- and how he stretches us so we can be filled with more of Him! :) Thanks for taking us with you and sharing your pictures and heart with us too! xoxox

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    1. Susie,
      It was like living a dream, Italy was so beautiful! Adventures are exciting but hard, aren't they? You are so right that they stretch us and grow us - -sometimes in ways we can't recognize at first but much later reveal themselves to us. I'm so glad you were able to journey along with me via Instagram! xoxo

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  5. What a fantastic trip - thank you for sharing with us. Beautiful pictures.....and words. I look forward to hearing more about the trip in the future!

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    1. Sharon,
      Thank you so much! I think it will take me awhile to reflect on all my experiences but I'm excited to share them (and more photos too!) :)

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  6. I'm sitting here with coffee in hand from Holley's link-up too❤️ What gorgeous pictures from a clearly life-changing trip! My passport is ready again :) Glad you had a special time with Jesus, Valerie!

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    1. Hi Ashley,
      It was indeed a life-changing trip and I'm so glad you enjoyed the photos (more to come!) My passport is ready too, friend! :)

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  7. Ah, the colors. Glorious. The textures, the ambiance shine through. Thanks for sharing just a snippet of your time away. I felt, for just a few minutes, like I had joined you there ...

    Hugs, Valerie ... and weekend joys, too!

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    1. Linda,
      It was glorious - what an appropriate word! :) So much there to take in and I was so grateful to experience Italy, the retreat and God -- he was all around me! I wish you could have joined me - -more to share in upcoming posts! :)

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  8. The photos are just gorgeous, Valerie. What an amazing experience, all the more so because God met you there. It's such a gift when He meets our steps of faith, even the nauseated, Dramamine-filled ones, with His grace. He always shows up for us, doesn't He? Thank you for sharing a piece of your adventure with us! #belovedbrews

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    1. Tiffany,
      So glad you hopped over from Beloved Brews! God met my steps of faith, no matter how small or how giant, and every time he showed me a new side of himself. It is truly a gift -- so grateful for your lovely words here, Tiffany!

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  9. I'm so glad you had such a life-changing trip, Valerie. It's so awesome that you found the way to the heart of God and discovered what you were searching for. The pics are beautiful, and I love the little bag - Embrace the Journey. I'm looking forward to hearing more of what you learned. Hugs!

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    1. Hi Tudy,
      I'm so grateful for your interest in my adventure -- I love having you along! Isn't the little bag adorable?!

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  10. Such beautiful pictures!! It certainly sounds like this trip was yet another example of God taking you out of your comfort zone and into His presence, while making new friendships and beautiful memories along the way. Embrace the journey is certainly advice that I can heed in my own life as well!! Hope to be able to chat in person soon to hear more about this glorious adventure!! -Shawna

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    1. Shawna,
      Out of my comfort zone certainly describes it, but it's the only way to grow, isn't it? The art, food and beauty of Italy were indescribable and I can't wait to catch up with you too!

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  11. Stunning photos, amazing vistas.
    Can't wait to see and read more about your fantastic trip!

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    1. I have A LOT of photos to share in the future! :)

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  12. Oh you!!! That is an amazing recap. I have not been able to get all of my thoughts and memories together yet. What you wrote was beautiful! I am forever changed for the experience and blessed to have such amazing new friends. I will forever remember our very first evening together. As I fought back tears of being homesick and a fish with a head and a tail on the plate in front of me, because I was sitting with you and your mom, I felt comfortable and safe. Thank you for providing me with those feelings of comfort and all of the joy, laughs, prayers and amazing memories...okay, and a little sweat too!

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    1. Stephanie,
      Thank you for your so very kind words! That fish head on your plate was awfully scary! But it was a wonderful week -- even with so much sweat :) and it only added to memories, I think!

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  13. What a beautiful BLOG post on our trip together! I'm so thankful you came and had a wonderful time in Italy with us! It was such a beautiful group of ladies and I know I will be forever changed because of that. Thank you!

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    1. Laura,
      You created a stunning and delightful week for everyone! I am so grateful for your thoughtfulness and consideration (thank you for inviting Gail to join us too!) and I was so blessed to be a part of it!

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  14. It was such a fun adventure! Thank you for doing holy yoga with us. So glad to call you friend!

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    1. Susan,
      Holy yoga was amazing and I'm so glad you offered your talents to let us experience it! So grateful to have met you on this wondrous adventure, friend! :)

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  15. What an amazing gift with words you have! I love how the Lord pulls us to things and people and only later (sometimes much later) do we see the purpose. Thank you so much for coming and being so brave with that face:-)

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    1. Jeanne,
      I appreciate your kind words! You are a marvelous instructor and my week of artful living was the experience of a lifetime!

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  16. Valerie, I am so in love with your trip. Oh how I wish I was with you. God certainly has a way of showing us who he is and what he can do in our lives. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. I loved every minute of it my friend :).

    Kia / House of KTS
    www.houseofkts.com

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    1. Kay,
      You would have just loved it! So many opportunities for beautiful photos -- you would have loved the art and landscapes and of course, the fashion in Milan! :)

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  17. These photos are breathtaking!

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