Back to the Basics: Bread and Wine

IMG_6224Italians take food very seriously. Their food is an art, their table is a gathering space, and a meal can last hours. They don’t just eat to nourish their bodies, they savor every second at the table. 

In America, it’s common to see families eating in front of the TV (guilty), people drinking smoothies on the way to work (guilty) and people scarfing down food just to make it to the next thing on time (also guilty). I love food, but I also get really anxious when I feel there is “wasted time.” Having this mindset was difficult in Italy because nothing about the dining experience was fast. On our first day in Rome, we were scurrying along the cobblestone streets trying to make it to the Colosseum for a tour. But we were absolutely starving! So we stopped at a restaurant, expected it to take a family of five about 40 minutes to eat, and we ended up staying there an hour and a half. All I could think about was the time-type a personality over here-and I found myself getting annoyed at the waiter. My mom could tell I was frustrated, but she reminded me not to expect the Italians to operate on our time table. They aren’t American. We can’t just demand our way in a foreign country.

I’m really grateful for that reality check, because it shaped the rest of my time there. Whenever we were at meals, we reminded each other to just enjoy the culture. Sure, the waiter might take thirty minutes to come take our order, but he’s giving us more time to talk. The restaurant owners might bring us all champagne or shots of limoncello, but her way of thanking us for our business. Everything about a meal might seem extravagant, but that’s the Italian way.

We saw families sitting around a table talking for hours while passing a bottle of wine among them, slowly, enjoying every sip of Marlot. We saw couples, both young and old, enjoying the bread that came before every meal. Recognizing the way the food became sacred as they sat across a table from one another. We watched as teenagers never once took out their cell phones when seated next to their parents and grandparents.

By the end of the trip, I found myself really enjoying a meal for the first time. I felt more relaxed when nothing was rushed. My family actually talked to one another instead of texting under the table.

We started to savor the moments spent around the table just as the Italians intended. 

Then I came back to America, and I genuinely miss Italian meals. They see food as an experience, and the table as a vital part of a family unit. They believe community can’t happen when one skips the bread and wine. The bread and wine do not just serve as food and drink. No, bread and wine represents who they are.
If you think about it, even Jesus recognized the importance of bread and wine and the table. At the last supper, he led the first communion, and Christians have been drinking wine (or grape juice) and bread (or crackers) ever since in order to honor Him. When did we step away from the table? The ancient tradition of gathering community around a meal is long gone among American culture. But why?

Would it be so inconvenient, so difficult for us to step back in time and get back to the basics? The Italians sure don’t think so. I think it’s time we start to recognize the sacredness of the table. To remember we weren’t created for such an individualized society. We were created for bread and wine (or grape juice if you prefer). We were created for community. We were created to actually enjoy food, and the connection that mealtime allows. We were created to savor. There’s so much more freedom enjoying a meal the Italian way. 

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What Simone Biles Taught Me

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I am an Olympics fanatic. My first crush was Apollo Ohno (speed skater) and I fell in love with him during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. I followed Shawn Johnson’sstory during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and am convinced we will be BFFs in heaven. And when I was in elementary school, I dreamed about winning a gold medal in gymnastics even though I couldn’t land a cartwheel. (still can’t)

So when the Olympic games rolled around this year, I was all in. Honestly, the fact that we missed the opening ceremony because we were in Paris genuinely made me sad. (I realize that most people think this is silly because I was in Paris, but I’m Olympics OBSESSED. Try to understand)

My favorite event of the summer games is always gymnastics. There’s something mesmerizing about how graceful and strong the women are that makes me emotional every time. So before the games, I had been keeping up with Simone Biles, and was excited to see her compete. When the games started, I began following the U.S. team members on social media, because I find that it’s even more fun to cheer someone on when you know their story.

And I was shocked, honestly. Every single member of the U.S. team has a personal faith. Aly Raisman is the only one who is not a Christian, and she’s very proud of her Jewish heritage. They are so vocal about giving God glory that it’s humbling. Even when they fail, or they are disappointed in their performances, they give God glory and share Bible verses on their various accounts.

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Simone Biles’ story is even more heartwarming. Her mother was a drug addict, and she was placed in foster care. She had no relationship with her father. But her grandparents decided to take in Simone and her siblings and raise them as their own children. They took her to church, and encouraged her to pursue gymnastics. Simone has every right to be bitter and defeated. Yet, she recognizes grace. She is a product of Christian parents who value life, love, and family. That’s a redemption story. Hers is a beautiful picture of how Jesus loves and chooses us.

Can you even imagine the 2016 games without Simone Biles? I can’t. But if her grandparents hadn’t chosen to graciously adopt their daughter’s children, we might be experiencing gymnastics world with such a powerhouse.

Her story makes me want to live graciously. To see opportunity where some would see failure. To encourage everyone to choose life, to tell those who feel worthless: you matter. Everyone’s life has purpose.

Simone Biles’ testimony is beautiful and an incredible testament to her parents’ faith. It’s an honor to see her compete.

With two more events left, let’s cheer her on. Go Team USA!

(image from Simone Biles’ personal Instagram account)

Making the Most of Meaningful Moments

originally posted on my other website Becoming Rooted


 

You know those times when your insides feel full because you’re just consumed with joy? There are some moments that are so wrapped with beauty and grace that you feel like dancing or laughing out loud. These moments can be dancing in your car to your new favorite song, giggling with friends, eating a great meal that you created, or traveling to somewhere new for the first time. You feel light, free of expectation and fear. Whole.

I like to think of those as God moments. As times when Jesus smiles down on us and sprinkles blessings. We all have these experiences, but how often do we remember to give thanks?

I’ve been feeling really convicted about trying to focus on the positive aspects of my life instead of letting negativity cloud my thoughts. It’s really easy for me to complain instead of live with gratefulness. Yikes, even writing that sentence makes me cringe.

 So this week, when I decided to meet up with old friends for dinner and dessert, I tried to savor the moment. We laughed until we cried, telling stories and musing about the future. And the moment helped my heart feel whole and complete, even though I didn’t even know it had been fragmented. And I gave thanks. I told Jesus how grateful I was for the time spent with meaningful community. For the beauty of conversation seeped with meaning.

 And you know what? It made a difference. Having a grateful attitude made the night seem even more special. It made me realize the Lord had blessed me immensely. My spirit needed that reminder.

 Next time you experience one of those meaningful moments, say a prayer of thanks afterwards. Remember that the Lord wants to bless you, but He also wants you to recognize his blessings.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Hebrews 13:15

Twenty-Four Hours in Venice

My family just came back from Europe and we had a whirlwind vacation to Italy and France. While we were in Italy, we decided to take a day trip from Florence. We used Rail Europe to book our train tickets, and they were very helpful along the way. It ended up being my favorite day of the entire trip! Here’s some snapshots and tricks we learned along the way.

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Beautiful sights from the bridge’s along the city
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Flowers are everywhere in this city

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venice is the most difficult city to use Google Maps. We ended up getting re-routed the entire time we were roaming the streets, but we had the most fun when we were wandering. Ditch the maps and enjoy getting lost in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. 

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The Grand Canal view from the water taxi
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Google maps led us here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were so glad that we decided to skip the tours of Saint Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace in Venice. The city has a lot of culture and local charm on its own. Also, it’s so easy to get lost in the city, if you’re there for a limited time it seems like a waste to spend hours on a tour.

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St. Mark’s Square
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The Grand Canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone told us to skip the gondola ride, but it ended up being the highlight of our trip! Our gondolier was so funny, and sang to us as we enjoyed our ride. The city was so crowded that it was relaxing to take a break on the gondola. It’s expensive, but the views are worth it  in my opinion. What are your favorite spots in Venice?

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The view from the gondola
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You don’t want to miss this view

The Instagram Trick You Don’t Want To Miss

 

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A few months ago my friend let me in on one of her travel secrets that completely changed the way I plan trips. Most people think Instagram is just a good social media tool, but it is actually your best friend when it comes to traveling and picking restaurants.

Whenever I’m going to a new city, or looking for a good restaurant to try in my hometown, I immediately check Instagram. Most restaurants have Instagram accounts now, which let customers post pictures of their food and leave comments. I always go to the magnifying glass on Instagram, search the name of a restaurant I’m thinking about trying, and see if the food looks edible.

A simple search led me to the Instagram account of one of my favorite restaurants in New York:

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Seeing pictures of the food helps me choose places to eat. I even use Instagram to help me find new restaurants in my hometown.

If the restaurant does not have their own account, then chances are someone has posted a picture of the place using the name of the restaurant as a hashtag. Simply search the name of the restaurant as a hashtag, and pictures of the food will pop up.

Combining the words lets you easily search the restaurant as a hashtag:

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It’s also helpful to search destinations on Instagram by using the “Places” tab. By searching a destination, you get ideas about how to dress, and what types of entertainment are around the area. When planning my recent trip to New York City, I used Instagram to help me decide where to eat, how to dress, and read people’s comments about the destinations I had planned to go to.

A quick search of the Brooklyn Bridge shows me a map, gives me photo shoot ideas, and shows me how to dress:

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Sure websites and guidebooks are helpful, but Instagram is updated in real time, and allows everyone to give an unbiased opinion. Plus, by seeing other people’s pics, it’s easy to find the most Instagrammable locations!