Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Vatican

After a great weekend of total normalcy (meaning no traveling for Josh or myself, nothing on the schedule, and then finally back to church!), I'm here to get back to recapping my European adventures. Today as I sit down to type this one up I realize that I'm only on day two of ten… so I may be blogging this stuff into October at the pace that I'm blogging here lately! Especially since I finally have many things swirling around in this noodle of mine after months and months of writer's block, so I probably need to get some of it out in between these posts before it all goes away. But back to day two…

After a VERY rock-solid night of sleep on the rock-slab that our Rome hotel called a bed, we got up, had breakfast, and headed to the Vatican. My mom had set us up with another tour guide for the Vatican, and I must say, she was fabulous! I was incredibly intrigued about the Vatican, and the entire concept still just fascinates me, but where she came in really handy was for the descriptions of all of the art. Oh my, there is art EVERYWHERE. Some of you might be thinking "duh," but I seriously did not realize that. The other wonderful thing about having a guided tour is that we got to skip the line to get into the walls of the Vatican, as well as the line to get into St. Peter's Cathedral. And people were in line for two hours or more! So, if you visit during high season, I'd say it's well worth it.

But anyway, I'm not even really sure if I would do any of the art photos justice as far as explanations go, so I won't bore you with the hundreds we took. The city is pretty well laid out so there is a definite flow of tourist traffic, and for the most part we were kind of herded through everything with a ton of other people. We started outside on a terrace and then went through a building to get to one of three courtyards (which used to be 2 courtyards until they build the library to separate one of them. The third courtyard is used as a parking lot). 

Recognize that chimney??

After the courtyard we went inside and walked through hallway upon hallway of art. There was a hall dedicated to Egyptian art and then one filled with pieces recovered from the manors of ancient Rome- many statues of people and several of Pagan Gods. The ceiling in this area was incredibly amazing to me… painted plaster that was done in a form that made it look three dimensional although the ceiling was completely flat. 

Then there was a hallway of ancient maps, and one of tapestries, which I found to be incredibly impressive! These areas also had incredible ceilings although they were not only painted, but also plated in gold.

Can you believe that this is a tapestry? I was amazed.

Beyond that we entered Rafael's rooms, with amazing murals on every ounce of spare wall space- Renaissance art at it's best. There was so much to see it was almost difficult to figure out where to start! These rooms are filled with works of the greatest artists who ever lived… and it was impossible to capture it in photos, so these will have to suffice!

Beyond that we made our way into the Sistine Chapel. There are no photos allowed in there, and there is supposed to be complete silence. I wish I could say that I was just completely overwhelmed with awe to be in there, but I was actually quite frustrated that so many people continued to talk even with the security guards frequently announcing "silencio" over a PA system. The ceiling is quite amazing (especially after our guide had told us about each painting and the progression of the work… how he tweaked his design and made everything bigger after seeing the first ones complete from the ground) and to know that he spent all that time on shaky scaffolding and how long it took to complete is just incredible.

From there we headed to St. Peter's Basilica. On this trip we saw many, many churches inside and out. I have also been to several in Mexico. In comparison, this one is MASSIVE. And spectacular. I do not think there is a comparison anywhere else in the world… and again, my pictures just fall flat. You'll just have to put it on your bucket list and go see it for yourself someday!

This large altar is one solid piece of bronze and only the Pope worships under there. And as a side note (and a pice of trivia that I did not know, but maybe you did), the bodies of the dead popes are treated in such a way (withe the appearance of being a wax figure) that they are on display 25 years after their deaths. I refrained from taking photos since I found it a bit morbid, but there were many people there taking photos and paying homage to them. We can expect the former pope's body to be added into the Basilica in about 23 years.

Another piece of trivia… this statue is now encased behind a glass door because a "tourist" came in and tried to destroy it. He made some significant damage before they could stop him and they had to restore it the best they could. IT's unfortunate because out of everything in the Vatican, I thought that this was by far the most beautiful and moving piece.

We were there the day before a holy festival (the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul), and so the pope's actual garments (which he would be wearing for the festival as well as on other special occasions) were on display. Our tour guide said that she had been giving tours for years and had never seen this happen.

We exited the Basilica into St. Peter's Square, which might have impressed me about as much as the cathedral did! I think I mentioned in my Rome post that I found the city to be a bit dirty, but the buildings and landscape and everything in the Vatican, to include the square, was so pristine and well-kept. There is a statue or Peter and Paul, but I found the one of Peter to be the most interesting. He's holding two keys, one silver and one gold (although you cannot tell that in a statue, just in paintings of the same thing) which signify Jesus handing over the keys to the church, past and present (on this rock I will build my church). I have never been to the Holy City, but just to know that I was standing on the ground where Peter was crucified and walking around a city where both Paul and Peter had themselves walked was incredibly humbling. It kind of blew my mind.

These are how the Romans do public drinking fountains… they are all over the place. But since this one was in the sVatican, we figured it must be holy water.


Peter - you can see the keys in the hand that is pointing

So to sum it up, the Vatican is pretty darn incredible and certainly worth seeing. I think our experience would have been better if it hadn't been in the peak of tourist season in 90-degree-heat (and a lot of it is not air conditioned, which was surprising due to all of the artifacts in there), but beyond that, it was an awesome day. Out of all of it though, here is what amazed me the most:

As I was walking through the Hall of Tapestries, we were surrounded by literally hundreds of people. There were people going through on their own, as well as several tour groups, with multiple tours starting ever fifteen minutes. I turned to look at something and a familiar face caught my eye. I randomly ran into someone I knew in the Vatican! How crazy is that??!! And not just someone that I know, but one of my mentors in ministry, a pastor on the ARC Lead Team who dreamt up ARC Women, something I have been involved with, Lori Champion. She and her family had ended a cruise in Rome and were heading back to Texas the next day. Only God can orchestrate something like that… nothing blew my mind more on this entire trip than that moment. We traveled halfway around the globe to bump into each other… in a place all about the church. Chew on that for moment. 

That afternoon we checked out of our hotel and boarded our floating home for the next week!  Next stop? Florence, ya'll (and you would only understand that reference if you have ever driven through Northern Kentucky). Bon voyage!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Five on Friday: Pastor's Kid Edition

It's been awhile since I shared some of the silly things our kids say, so I'm gonna try and get back to it. With our kids growing up immersed in all things church and God's word and prayer and community, it's really funny to hear some of their thoughts, questions, and observations sometimes. I do feel like we do a pretty good job of making sure family comes first, and we know that our actions speak louder than our words, so we talk a lot about what God is doing in our lives, pray together regularly, and try to explain things to them from a Biblical view. We don't always get it right, but that's where grace comes into play thankfully. So here are a few funnies from our two silly pastor's kids:

Jake was scared one night so Josh went up to make sure he was okay. He explained to him that when he gets scared, he just needs to remember that Jesus is always with him. Jake asked him where Jesus was and Josh explained that Jesus lives in his heart, and he only needs to look there to find him. Jake looked down at his chest and then back at Josh with a concerned look at his face. He then said, "Daddy, I don't think Jesus lives in my heart. He probably lives in my closet."

Lately the kids have been learning about how God made the earth, the sky, the animals, humans, etc. At random, one of them will ask us if God made a certain toy or a TV show or a certain person… stuff like that. The other day Jake looked at me completely serious and asked, "Mommy, did God make poop?" That one I was not prepared for.

One of the worship songs we sing at church is "Your Presence is Heaven to Me." Jake and Lilly both sing the chorus, "Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, your presents are heaven to me." That works, too.

Jake is testing out his vocabulary and trying to figure out what words he can get away with saying and what words are off-limits. Thankfully the bad words are pretty mild, such as stupid, butt, etc. He has always called his… er… boy part a "ting-ting" (thanks to a hilarious comedy sketch that Josh and I both love) and one day he threw that out there to see if he could call someone that. I found myself telling Jake to "not say ting-ting" several times that day. Later we were driving over to the church for an evening service and he got a mischievous grin on his face. "Mommy," he said, "I'm going to say 'ting-ting at church." I really need to learn how to reprimand my child without laughing sometimes!

While we are in service, Jake and Lilly are both back in our KidzPoint ministry where they have their own age-appropriate worship and lessons with some phenomenal leaders. Upon picking Jake up one week, the gals in the preschool room informed me that after teaching the kids about the story of Joseph being thrown into a pit and then sold into slavery by his brothers, Jake told the whole class that "Daddy threw Mommy into a pit once." Yeah… I have no idea!  That kid kills me.

More than anything, we just want our kids to grow up loving the local church, and knowing that they are loved by their church family. We work really hard and they are often with us, but we play hard, too. I just pray that each of them comes to know Jesus in a real, tangible way as they grow up, so that they are not relying on the faith of their parents, but come to have a true faith of their own. As parents, all we can do is lead with our actions and our words, and pray our faces off for them to follow Jesus with all they are. And between the two of them, we may just have a future preacher and a worship leader on our hands. Either way, they are our little world changers!

Jake at age 3 (about a year ago). Sorry for the poor video quality… 
and you have to get past some crazy gibberish to get to the good stuff:

Lilly, age 22 months (also about a year ago). Time, please slow down!:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

From Rome With Love

To preface these European vacation posts, I have to first explain a bit about how this trip came about. You see, my Aunt Barbara (affectionately called Aunt B), passed away a few years ago due to cancer (ugh, I hate that word), and left several people in the family the remainder of her estate. She had no children, so my sisters and my cousins were very much who she spoiled. My sisters and I all chose different ways to continue her legacy with what she left, and I love walking into our church every week knowing that she played a major part in funding our new adventure and has left quite a mark on this city already. If you would have met her, you would have immediately felt like a friend, and that is a very frequent comment we get from newcomers who walk through our doors. I don't think it's entirely a coincidence. My mom, on the other hand, really thought for a long time about how she wanted to honor her sister's memory. She and my dad cruised Europe last year, and while they were away, she kept talking about how she wished her girls were there to experience it all with her. Having two sisters of her own, and knowing how special that bond is, and also taking into consideration that my aunt loved to travel, she found her perfect gift, and the gift really fell on us daughters! To be treated to a 10-day trip to Europe is something I would have never fathomed in my wildest dreams, and we all knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime offer! I struggled with the decision, knowing that it would come right after being away from the babies while Josh and I were in California, but I also knew what a rare and HUGELY generous opportunity this was. So after some thought and many encouraging conversations from Josh, I applied for my passport and jumped on board (kind of literally I guess). And let me just say, I am incredibly glad that I did. And we found it pretty cool that our travel agent and one of our tour guides both were Barbara's… she was definitely with us on our adventure.

Our first stop was Rome. We boarded the plane in the US at 11am our time and landed in Rome at 2am our time (8am Rome time). Since we couldn't check in, we immediately set out exploring. None of us were able to get much sleep on the plane (who can do that anyway??), so by the afternoon, many of our conversations were pretty non-sensical since our brains stopped functioning. In the morning we saw the Spanish stairs (which had some construction going on), the Trevi fountain (which was unfortunately behind a lot of scaffolding also due to some cleaning… the first time they've done this in 200-some-odd years), and ate some pizza at a little cafe. Pizza in Italy? Yes, please!

After lunch we were able to check into our hotel, take a quick power-nap, and had to meet for a 2pm tour. My mom opted for a guided tour of the Colosseum and the ruins of the Roman Forum, and while we started out strong, we were all fading as our 3-hour tour turned into one that was closer to 4 hours. But I must say, the Colosseum should be on everyone's bucket list… it is so incredibly magnificent and I was amazed at how much of it remains. I had watched Gladiator on the flight over, so I had geared up for it! Haha! There are TONS of tourists in Rome in the summer, but this is one place where the monstrous size is large enough to handle them all. It did not feel crowded in there at all, and we got great views of everything inside and out. Here are some pictures, and a short video of the inside, since nothing will do it justice like seeing it in person does!

They've recovered a lot of great sculptures and statues, most of which are in the history museum in Rome, but they do have a few on display in the Colosseum as well. And for me it was interesting to learn that there are no documented records of Christians being killed during the games (not as gladiators, but things like crucifixions, being fed to lions, etc. during intermissions) although that is widely-known and spread information. In Rome they call it a legend… so widely known that it becomes truth. Because when you think about it, why would anyone want actual documentation of the persecution of a race if it can be avoided? I just thought it was pretty fascinating. Another cool little factoid is that the arena was built by slaves, many of them Jewish and Christians (although not openly so), so this painting (which is hard to see in person, so definitely in this picture) was not a part of the plans, because it depicts their homeland, complete with the site of Jesus on the cross on the Mount of Olives (bottom left). So many people died for their beliefs, and surely died during the strenuous work to build this amazing structure, but it did not stop so many from being bold. I love it. We could all learn so much from courageous acts like that!

We probably spent about two hours in and around the Colosseum and I think we all could have stayed longer. There is just so much to see and I could have probably stared at it in amazement for hours. It also helped that the stone structure was nice and cool and it was a very hot day! We headed to the ruins of the Roman Forum next, where we also saw ruins of an altar to a pagan god, an ancient villa and gardens, the arena from the very first Olympic games, and other buildings. I honestly wish I could tell you more details about what all is over there, but very few things were labeled! We all wished that there had been more plaques and explanations, because even though our tour guide was talking us through the whole thing, by that time between the heat, the jet lag, the lack of sleep, and her thick accent, I think we had pretty much tuned her out. She was great, but four hours of walking on no sleep is a long time. Rome is pretty amazing though because you'll just be walking along a modern, busy street, and then BAM! Ancient ruins everywhere. I loved the mixture of the old and the new. It makes me realize just how young our country is in comparison!

All of us were surprised to see so many of these trees in Rome. To us, they looked like something you'd see on the plains of Africa, but they were everywhere. Sea pines is what they're called.

We finished the day with a pasta dinner at a quaint little restaurant, and my sisters decided that they hadn't had enough and went back out to see the Colosseum at night. I had the energy, but the thought of the stuffy subway and the crowds turned me off to the idea. We were crammed into very full and stifling hot subway trains several times in the day, and a shower and comfy bed (although I later learned that the hotel was beautiful, but the bed felt like a sheet of plywood covered in sheets… not that I cared at that point) sounded much, much more appealing. It looks like they had a great time though!

Rome in a day is A LOT, but we had to make the most of it since that's all we had! In all honesty, aside from wanting to see the Trivi fountain when it's not being cleaned (because that thing was FAR bigger and more grand than I ever expected) and going with Josh and the kids to experience the Colosseum and the Vatican (which I will post on next) someday, it was not my favorite city. Some people complain that New York City (one of my favorite places) is dirty, but it is nothing compared to Rome. Sure, there were clean parts, but I witnessed many people littering, there's tons of graffiti everywhere, and a large portion of the people smoke. And don't get me started on the bathrooms… I'm just thankful that businesses in the US find it totally acceptable if you just need to run in and use the restroom, even if you did not buy anything. I didn't realize what a nicety that is! And honestly, going at a different time of year when it isn't so hot or crowded would probably be a nice change too… busy season always has better prices, but the experience is never quite as nice. 

Sorry for the picture overload, but you are going to have to expect that as I get through these Europe posts… this is somewhat of a journal for me, so I want to make sure it's all included. Our day in Rome, however, all four of us carried a camera. It's mind-boggling how many pictures we have from that one day (as well as how many we've lraedy deleted!). As the trip went along, we carried less and less, so that thankfully there wasn't so much to weed through. There was so much to see, that there was a photo opportunity at every turn… a photography lover's dream.  Hopefully it's understandable.  :)