Monday, November 29, 2010

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Hello AGAIN!!  Holy wow!!  Yet another week has literally flown by!  This time next week I will be jumping in my pants because Mom and Grandma start their journey to see me ONE week from tomorrow!!  Not that I'm not jumping in my pants right now - I've been counting down with Mom since day 40 :]  Anyways, not much has happened since we last spoke - it's really been winding down here.  But there are many things to talk about!  First of all, the song of the week: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Casting Crowns has been hitting me hard this week (since it is now ok to listen to Christmas music! - and here's the link, I want you to listen to it while you read!  I'll talk more about the song towards the end once I've told you about this time of Thanksgiving!

So.  It has been getting COLD here and I'm crossing my fingers that I will be able to see snow in this beautiful city before I return home.  I found some fantastic knee-high, hand-knitted wool socks that have literally saved my toes from frostbite!  I swear, Italians have skin of steel.  The house is NEVER above 60 degrees and the old radiators from the Jurassic period do nothing for warmth.  So it is perfectly understandable why Kelsey, the girl who always has cold appendages anyways, needed some super-duper-extra-warm socks. Anyways, I got to talk with my niece and nephews and sister which totally made my week.  Conner read me a Thomas the Tank Engine story for my bedtime story and even showed me all the pictures (this was over Skype).  It amazes me every time I see them, how fast they are growing up!  I still remember falling asleep with Jaffer on the couch when he was only a few months old!

Thursday was Thanksgiving as you all know.  And it was my first Thanksgiving away from home and my family.  However, I had SO much to be thankful for this year (although I am always thankful for these things every day).  I am so thankful that I went on this trip, for it has not only shaped me into an entirely new person, but it brought me so much closer to God than I ever imagined it could.  I have a new-found strength that I never knew I had until I was faced with this challenge - and that strength is through Him.  I am forever thankful for my wonderful family and friends who have become my family that have made me into the person I am today.  I am thankful for the blessed years I had with my beloved Grandpa, who I know has been here with me every step of the way on this new path I am trudging.  I am thankful for all of the wonderful people of my program which you see in the picture below (and I want to name them off because every single one of them is a light in this place: Sam, Madeline, Kevin, Aurora, Zoe, Sarah, Rachel, Kate, Tad, Leslie, Sydney, Kim, Betsy, Alex, Steph, Hanna, Alyse, Carolyn, Max, Erin, Amy, and Elizabeth).  That picture was taken at our Thanksgiving dinner that our wonderful director, Jodie Mariotti organized.  It was a truly great celebration together, although I did start crying for my family in the middle of it!  

The next night I went out to dinner with about half of the program for Carolyn's birthday which was one of the best evenings we've had together yet.  It's bittersweet how close we are becoming now at the end.  The next day I got to spend a couple hours with my good friend Tad where we walked up to my spot where I have conversations with God.  It was fun to share such a special place with him and it was nice for me to see this place again on such a beautiful, cool fall day. 

So I did say I would talk about the song of the week!  The lyrics of this song are incredible and, of course, are speaking to my heart this week.  "I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play.  Mild and sweet their songs repeat, of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  And the bells are ringing, like a choir they're singing.  In my heart I hear them, peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on Earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  But the bells are ringing, like a choir singing.  Does anybody hear them?  Peace on Earth, goodwill to men.  Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right shall prevail.  With peace on Earth, goodwill to men."  What this has been meaning to me lately is the culture that is all around me and the constantly arguing family I am faced with every day.  It seems like there is no peace here - no one likes each other, no one respects one another.  But then I am constantly reminded of God's presence in my life and that He never sleeps.  He is constantly working, constantly watching, and always ALWAYS loving us no matter where we are. 

My experience here has been incredible and I'm a little sad to see it come to an end.  But as one of my friends so rightly said to me one day, "God gives us these seasons for a reason.  So live it up until it's time to start another season!"  My season here is about to end, and I am a little sad to see it go.  But at the same time, I am excited to see what the new one brings.  I am home literally three weeks from today and I am ecstatic at the thought of seeing everyone and being in their presence!  Love you and miss you all more than you could possibly know!  Until next time :]

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bottle It Up

It is yet that time of the week AGAIN!  I cannot believe how fast this time is going.  It seems like just yesterday that I thought, "It's time to write my blog again!"  I can't believe it was a week ago.  Well, I guess a lot has happened since I last blabbed away at you, so I guess I will just run with it!

Let's see.  Well Florence has been dreadful.  We have had one sunny day in the last week and the rest it has been a non-stop downpour.  I guess this is what winter is like here!  I much prefer snow.  Forgiveness has been at work still in my life and every day I am feeling better and better. 

On Friday, we went to Pisa for a half day.  Pretty much the only cool things about Pisa are the cathedral, baptistery, and the leaning tower (pictured above).  It was an enjoyable day, and our professor even treated us to coffee and hot chocolate after we stood around talking about altars for two hours.  I guess she thought we were all good sports ;)  But that night - THAT NIGHT - was the best thing that happened this week!  Those of you who know me, know that I am an avid Harry Potter fan.  I grew up with those books and actually get tears in my eyes at the thought of the saga finally finishing.  I even play as the snitch-runner in the Hope College Quidditch Club!  Shows you how much of a nerd I am!  Anyways.  About 15 out of the 23 students in our program went to see HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS together!  It was truly the best evening together I think we have had yet.  It is really quite bittersweet that now that we have a little more than two weeks left, now we get so close to each other.  Sure, we all had our little circles of friends that hit it off immediately, but not we are ALL coming together.  It's lovely, but sad at the very same time especially since we are all so far away from each other upon our return to the US. 

The rest of the weekend I was pretty lazy.  I only ventured out into the great outdoors to have lunch with some friends and watch a movie afterward, but then returned home to watch more movies.  I did homework too, but I mostly just watched movies.  I also have a new painting idea working its way into my mind that makes me even more eager to get home so I can whip it out (there's a clue below as to what it will be of)! 

However, the most important lessons I have been learning this week have been on patience.  I am eager to get home, eager to finish strong, eager to see family and friends.  I also struggle with people in my life that really push my buttons and attempt to drag me downwards.  So I have been forced to be very patient not only with them, but with my eagerness to finish.  I know that if I snap at people and get fed up with them, I will regret it.  I know that if I wish time away just to return to the boring old 231, I will regret it.  So I have been learning to live for today, look forward to what is ahead but also enjoy what is around me because it's not going to be around much longer.  God has made some miraculous changes in me.  I knew that the moment I started praying for patience that He would test me!  And boy has He!  But I know that these changes are all for the better.

So, family and friends, I patiently await the day I see you again upon my return to the good old U.S. of A.  Maybe next week I'll have something more interesting to write about ;]

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Sweet Love

Well, it's about that time of the week again!  This past week definitely hasn't been as eventful as earlier ones, but it was just as meaningful as a stepping stone in my life.  Every week I get hooked on a single song, this week it being One Sweet Love by Sara Bareilles.  The beat and the lyrics were really hitting home and I always like to share that with you!  The line: "Only close my eyes and you are here with me, A nameless face to think I see, To sit and watch the waves with me till they're gone," and the line: "No ordinary wings I'll need, The sky itself will carry me back to you," have been especially meaningful - and you'll get the meaning later on in this blog. 

This week felt like such an accomplishment - I got all of my Christmas gifts taken care of!  So now the little money I have left can be used for myself and small trips around Italy with the greatest of friends.  I had a great Saturday date with my friend Aurora, where we went shopping together, went out to lunch, got gelato at our "spot", exchanged movies on our computers, and bought Harry Potter 7 tickets (in English, thank goodness!)!  As silly as it sounds, I am beyond excited to see the first installment of the movie.  Because I grew up with those books!  Harry was 11 when I was 11!  I still remember reading the first book in 5th grade at good old Willow Hill! 

Anyways, this week has been uplifting for me.  I've been praying a lot for the strength to get past certain events that have happened recently in my life, and for the ability to forgive.  I had three wonderful conversations with three wonderful people, and through them I was able to take different things that each of them said and apply them to my life.  My soon-to-be cousin, Nick, helped me to realize that I matter - I know that even if he doesn't realize it, that was God speaking to me through him.  My bestest friend in the entire world, Mischa, called me on Skype (and this was the first time we have been able to talk since I've been here!) and she helped me to realize that forgiveness takes time.  Sometimes you feel as if you have forgiven the person, and other days you just want to wring their neck because you're still so angry.  Just knowing that has helped to change my mentality.  I am still hurt and disappointed and sometimes angry, but I am slowly forgiving them.  God is constantly proving His reliability with me.  As soon as I started praying for the ability to forgive, he gives me three monumental conversations to give me exactly what I was asking for.  He is proving to me that all I really need in life is Him, that His love for me compromises all other things.  It is still beyond me why He cares so much for as small of a person as myself.  And He keeps telling me that He just does, and that is that!  In the words of God through Josh (my third monumental conversation of the week) "It's the mystery of unconditional love and desire.  No one will understand it because He doesn't have a reason.  It's just who He is.  If He needed to have a reason, then God would be subject to that reason.  Nothing is above God... and God is love, with no reason or need."  And also "I AM  that I AM," as He speaks to Moses through the burning bush.  He loves us because that is who He is. 

So those are my realizations of the week, blessed family and friends!  I am 22 days away from seeing my mom and grandma in the Florence airport and I could not be more excited to share this place with them!  I come home on December 20th in the evening and I expect to see you!  That's all for now.  Know that you are loved and missed from all the way across the ocean :]

Monday, November 8, 2010

After the Storm

Sorry for such the long wait!  I didn't really have anything to write in the week after I returned from Scotland, so I thought I would wait until I returned from my trip to Rome!  We spent 4 days and 3 nights in Rome, seeing anything and everything humanly possible in our little time there!  So here are the tales from my adventure in Rome - even I still can't believe that we managed to do all these things in 4 days!

So the first day when we got there we went straight to the Catacombs.  The Catacombs stretch for 8 kilometers (or about 5 miles) all walls upon walls full of dead from the Greco-Roman era.  I have to say that it was especially unnerving walking past these stacked tombs, some of which still contained the bones of those deceased.  It was cool and damp and very dark.  Seriously one of the spookiest places I have ever been.  After that we went straight to the Vatican!  In the Vatican Museums we saw multiple works of art from ancient Roman times like the Laocoon (pictured above), masterpieces by Raphael and his school of Athens, and the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo!  The Sistine Chapel is so much bigger than I ever imagined, and so much more incredible and magnificent than any picture can do justice (I managed to snap a photo - shown below!).  Then we visited St. Peter's Basilica where I got the privilege to see Michelangelo's Pieta - it is beautiful and perfect in every way possible.  After St. Peter's we were free to do whatever we wanted in the evening, so we found a wonderful little restaurant where we got pizza and wine - the perfect end to a long day.

The next day, we got up early to visit the Colosseum!  First we got to go out onto the rebuilt stage and enter the Colosseum as a gladiator would.  It was mind-blowing to know that I was standing in a place where so many gladiators, animals, and even Christians lost their lives so many years ago.  Once we took enough pictures we went DOWN BELOW THE STAGE!!!  Thanks to my mom insistently telling me that I should look into going down there because it had just opened to the public for the very first time, we went!  It was INCREDIBLE (see pic below)!!!  Being down where the gladiators and animals were basically kept prisoner until they were sent above to their imminent death was mind-blowing.  It is extraordinarily untouched and yet so well preserved.  Then we got to go up onto the third tier of the Colosseum to where the women would have watched from.  And of course that was where the best views of all were!  After exhausting our time in the Colosseum, we went and saw Palatine Hill, the Forum, and Capitoline Hill, which were all just as fantastic as the Colosseum.  After that we got some time to ourselves where a group of us went to the Trevi Fountain and made a wish!  We also went to a creepy church that had chapels made out of human bones (that was more unnerving and creepy than the Catacombs were), and we went to the church where Bernini's St. Theresa in Ecstasy is.  That sculpture is truly one of a kind.  Thhhheeeennnn we met up with our professors again to visit the Pantheon, the church where Michelangelo's Risen Christ is kept, and another church that has a chapel with wood panels decorated by Caravaggio!  It was a truly fantastic evening ended with the best gelato I have ever had yet in Italy!

The next day we went to the Villa Farnesina where we saw some works done by Raphael and his students, which were pretty awesome I might add!  Directly after that, we went to Castel Sant'Angelo - those of you who have read and/or seen Angels and Demons, would remember that this is the castle the popes escape to when their lives are in danger.  The view from up there was spectacular and the archangel on top is definitely worth seeing (pictured below!).  We had a break for the afternoon where we got to do some exploring and eating lunch before we met up with the group again to visit San Clemente (a church built on top of two Mythras temples).  THEN we visited the Capitoline Museums to see the greatest collection of ancient artwork in the entire world.  It was an incredibly long day!  And yes, I still can't believe we did all that!

Sunday we visited Palazzo Massimo, which also has a wonderful collection of ancient art.  We also visited the Baths of Diocletian and did a little shopping before we went to the Villa Borhese which holds several works by Caravaggio and the very best of Bernini's sculptures, my favorite of which being his Daphne and Apollo.  We weren't allowed to take pictures so sadly the picture below is not my own :(  Rome was incredible and it stands as my favorite city that we have yet visited - yes, I even like it more than Florence.  My eyes were always kept busy and we saw SO MUCH in such a short amount of time!  Even though it was tiring, I wouldn't change a thing about it.  Anyways, friends and family, sorry to have kept you waiting so long for an update!  Know that you are all loved dearly and that I look forward to seeing you very soon!  Heck, it's November already!  Oh yeah, and I am officially 29 days away from seeing Mom and Grandma in the Florence airport!!!  Love you all very VERY much!