Connecting Spirituality & Christianity

What is the difference between spirituality and religion? What is the difference between spiritually and Christianity? What is the difference between finding God and finding yourself? 

These are all questions that have the same answer. They are one. There is no difference at all. 

When people try to overcomplicate or turn these questions into political debates, creating walls between friendships and wars between boarders, my heart is in turmoil. Why do we live in a world where we accept the answers to things we do not fully understand for ourselves? Why don't we investigate who we really are and how we relate to the world around us before judging ourselves or one another? Have we accepted false truths into our hearts because someone else said it was so?

When I really starting diving into the worlds of spirituality and Christianity this year I became increasingly aware of how separate people wanted them to remain. After studying reiki, yoga, and Catholism, it appeared bizarre to me that some people within each of these communities had a big problem with the others. There is the belief that 'spirituality' and 'Christianity' are on two very separate planes of existence. There was great irony in the fact that many of the individuals who claimed to be 'extremely spiritual' or 'devote Christians or Catholics' were consciously judging and holding prejudice against those that were different then them. By not being open to the world and the differences of those around us, we have actually moved further away from God then coming closer to understanding Him. Yes, there are demons and sources of evil within every community, but why does spiritually and Christ have to remain separate? 

This year I had a fellow parishioner warn me about the practice of yoga and reiki being 'demonic' and 'dishonoring God'. I wanted to tell this person directly that the reason I had come back to the church in the first place was because I had been so moved by God and Holy Spirit through meditative yoga and reiki treatment that it transformed my faith. I had an extreme conversation in heart. I also noticed great discomfort in some of my yogi friends when I decided to go through with my teacher training and mentioned that I wanted to bring back yoga to the states with a Christian focus. I couldn't understand how many yogis could claim to be 'spiritual', yet not contribute their overall peace and enlightenment to a source greater then themselves. It absolutely stumped me.  

I cannot speak for the experiences of others, but I want to share with you one story that bridged the gap for me.

To preface, when I was a child I collected hundreds of sea shells on a beach I visited every summer. I used to pick up all the sea shells I could find, including the broken pieces. I never got very far down the beach as I'm sure you can imagine. The plastic bucket I carried would often grow heavy and overflow with all sorts of washed up debris. When my father noticed this silly tendency, he gently encouraged me to pick up only the sea shells that were whole. I told him that I couldn't do that because no one else wanted the broken pieces and they deserved to feel loved too. More then 15 years later, my Dad still has boxes of broken sea shells in our attic. 

So, this year I starting attending yoga Nedra classes. A yoga Nedra class is a guided meditation that is lead by the teacher who reads a script and helps bring students into a relaxed state of awareness. When I first started attending classes, I was at a place in my life with a lot of confusion and heartache. My self-worth and confidence had plummeted to an all time low, and going to yoga was one of my 'happy places'. So there I was laying on the floor in this yoga Nedra class in savasana, (although fully awake and present) and in a deep mediation. The teacher's voice faded in the background and suddenly I felt like I had left my body. I experienced something that some might consider a 'vision'. I like to call it a direct conversation with God.

In this vision, I was on a beach, alone. I saw a small girl in the distance. Everything felt so tangible. The ocean breeze, the salty air, and the soft glow of the sun behind the clouds. The girl had long, dirty blonde hair and was wearing a red dress. I couldn't see her face and she quickly disappeared from my line of vision like a cloud dissolving into thin air. When I turned around to see if I had imagined her, she was standing directly behind me. I came face-to-face with my six year old self. She had bright eyes and a smile that stretched widely across her face. She had both her hands behind her back and giggled as if she had a secret to tell me. I bent down on my knees and asked her what she was hiding. She stretched out her arms and presented a beautiful, white, bay scallop-sea shell. I learned this year that sea shells are considered a symbol of divinity and perfection due to their perfect symmetry. If you look up the San Damiano crucifix that spoke to St. Francis, there are shells that boarder the cross for this reason. The little girl said to me, "You are whole. Don't you know, you were never broken to begin with?" and then smiled. Tears streamed down my face as I took the sea shell and held it to my heart. She disappeared and so did my meditative state of higher consciousness. I remember recognizing that I was still in the room and had landed back in my body. Whatever my yoga teacher had said I completely missed, and wasn't sure what I had just experienced. It didn't make any sense at the time, yet I felt perfect and complete in that moment. I had encountered an experience with God and with myself. Because God is in me, God is also in you. We are not separate from one another; we are one. And when we come to the realization we are all one with God, we can begin to tap into what God wants us to realize about ourselves. That we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And every person who is one with God is capable of harnessing the Holy Spirit and experiencing God in every moment we choose to see Him. We are perfect in His eyes. We are whole and divine like sea shells, regardless of the brokenness we may feel inside. 

How do I know this is real? Because this is only one of several experiences I've had throughout my healing journey. I have never shared them openly with others because they are personal and unique to me and my individual relationship with God. I don't need to tell you what I have or have not experienced to convince you that God is real. Because you yourself have to make up your mind about whether or not that is true. When we start wrongly searching for tangible 'wonders and signs' outside of ourselves we will never encounter God. When we have true faith and do not need to see to believe that He is real, that is when we begin to uncover Truth.

So the thing that really struck me after this experience was trying to understand why there was an enormous gap between the communities of Christianity (or religion) and spirituality. Why weren't they one in the same? What is the difference between honoring God with the intention of Christ in my heart in a yoga studio versus in a church? I do attend mass every Sunday (which in Spain has been four weeks of Catalan dialect), but my point is that when you are 'truly enlightened' or growing in your faith, there is no reason to discredit one or the other. One can use both to grow in spirit, mind, and body.

I pray the rosary every day and whenever I do so, I am in a state of meditation. Depending on how focused I am in scripture or prayer that day, the deepness of the meditative state can vary. When I pray, I can feel the sensation of reiki flowing through me. My hands feel like they are on fire. Although reiki is a practice described as 'healing energy medicine' that originated in Japan, I think it can also be described as the Holy Spirit moving through people. 

I have noticed that while religion tends to exclude people, yoga tends to be all inclusive or secular. Let me expand on these thoughts:

Reasons why religion tends to exclude:

  1. Because 'I' as the individual want to have authority in the church community. 
  2. It is easier to judge others then open our perspective to the things we do not understand or haven't discerned for ourselves in the name of Christ. 
  3. The ego becomes bigger then God and we lose site of the fact that to truly act in a godly way, we must act in love (therefore not judging our brothers and sisters as being 'incorrect' but rather finding a way to lead them closer to God and to Christ).

Reasons why yoga tends to be too inclusive:

  1. Because our society has moved towards a secular approach to life.
  2. It is easier to be 'all-inclusive' then to speak truth, out of fear of offending someone.
  3. 'We' as the society have put a higher importance on material goods, celebrities, & status, making us blind to our spirituality and direct connection to God. By honoring these things we give them power, and therefore search externally in other people (like gurus) or false sources of happiness. 
  4. Tying a specific religion or idea to yoga doesn't sell yoga business.

I have a real issue with all of these approaches. Both yoga and religion can be used in amazing, structured ways that allow individuals to grow stronger in both their personal development and spiritual well-being. They are both purification tools to help us grow deeper in our spirituality. It is normal to want to be a part of a community of like-minded individuals who believe the same things that you do, but when choose to accept answers to the things we haven't take the time to explore for ourselves, we loose site of the true divinity within us. 

It is my dream to own a yoga studio one day that has God and Christ at the center of all of these things. There is no reason for anyone to look outside of themselves to find God or something greater then the good we are all inherently born with. We are one with Creation. We are equals. We are children of God

If you want to truly know God, get to know yourself. Open you heart up to the possibility that we are not separate. When you really look from within and have only pure love in your heart towards others, things start to make sense. It starts with you. If you want to know the true difference between spiritually and Christianity, there's only one way to find out.  

Hello World, You've Taught Me So Much

Hello my friends. Today I am feeling a lot of gratitude for this journey and everything the world (or at least the corners of the world I have visited thus far) has taught me. I have to admit that over the past two weeks I have struggled and felt conflicted about posting updates on my travel. From the beginning, my blog was intended to draw people in towards love and encourage others to set themselves free of the ideas and beliefs society has placed upon us all in different ways. When you have your own blog it seems very self-aggrandized and that is exactly the opposite of what I wanted my messaging to be. Remember for a moment that I removed myself from social media for six months and the most difficult part of sharing my story with the world was knowing that I was going to have to subject myself again to the 'false reality' that social media represents. My intention was not to use story as a platform to flaunt my travels, consequently creating feelings of comparison or jealousy. My intention was to express vulnerability and authenticity and share with others my personal journey of self-discovery in order to encourage others to do the same. I want you to know that finding a path in life that makes you feel fulfilled and also spiritually connected with the world is possible, even when it feels like you are stuck. It doesn't have to be through travel or quitting your job or doing an intensive yoga teacher training and blogging about it like I have chosen to do; it could be anything that breathes life into YOUR soul and being.

So keeping this in mind, I want to gently encourage you to explore the areas of your life that you are restless in. I know that all the areas of my life that I feel most uncomfortable in are usually areas that I need to investigate further and dedicate more time to doing some inner-work in. Does the immediate gratification of getting a 'like' on Instagram or the distraction of having your phone attached to you add fulfillment to your day? Do you feel unhappy at work or feel like you are contributing a 'greater good' to society as a whole? If not, how can you incorporate something into your life (like a new hobby or volunteer opportunity) or take something away (like limiting your cell phone or social media usage) and replace it with something that authentically fits into your individual talents and the gifts you bring into the world? We all have talents and gifts that are meant to be shared with others. Even if you don't yet know what those gifts are, remove the possibility of searching externally for happiness and instead spend time observing yourself. I can promise you that it doesn't matter where you are in the world; if you are restless within your soul, you will remain in a state of unhappiness. Although my travels have many distractions and present new and exciting learning opportunities everyday, the majority of my trip has been time dedicated to self-exploration, reflection, and personal improvement. I have so much time at train stations and airports and buses to be in my own thoughts (which was something several months ago I was extremely afraid of) that I have had to relearn myself completely. I have had to learn how to love myself and forgive myself and let go of things I have no control over. I have tried looking at every challenge and suffering in my life as a ’teacher’ and an opportunity for personal growth. When we draw inwardly and strive for self-growth, the things, experiences, and people that make us feel connected to the world naturally fall into place and add to our overall happiness and sense of self-worth.

To continue this theme of self-discovery, I have learned that while social media is a double edged sword, I personally have to be careful of how and when I use and allow it in my life. I want to use it for the good and share with you what I’ve learned, with the hopes that it can change your heart the way it has changed mine. So here is a summary of what I’ve been up to over the past two weeks:

After departing Medjugorje, I hopped on a bus and headed back to Split, Croatia for a day where I took a biking tour by myself and enjoyed the afternoon eating sushi and an aqaci fruit bowl by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. I bought a ticket for an overnight train that slept three people in a triple bunk ‘single sleeper.’ Fortunately, my sleeper had two other women in it and although they didn’t speak any English and I didn’t know a single word in Hungarian, we got along perfectly. Around 9pm they offered me a small glass of smooth Hungarian liquor. Although it went against my better judgment to accept drinks from strangers, it seemed appropriate for the tight space we were confined to for the next ten hours. I was glad that I did because sleeping on a train felt a bit like boot camp hazing. Around 4:00am, police officers woke us up with an evasive bang on the door and bright flashlights, checking passports at border control. I have to admit that regardless of the number of times I’ve had my passport stamped, there is always this ping of anxiety that creeps in while they are examining it. Fortunately I ‘passed’ and arrived in Budapest the next morning. After checking into my Air B&B, I spent the day venturing the streets of Budapest, visiting Europe’s largest Synagogue, the Jewish Historical Museum and took an evening ferry tour by myself on the river between Buda and Pest. Very few people (including myself before visiting) know that the river separates the two cities that were once at odds with one another. They served wine and champagne on the ferry and I ate dinner next to a lovely Australian couple that told me all about their travels.  Every interaction I have had with strangers has been absolutely amazing and opened my mind to different perspectives, possibilities, and views of the world. When you travel alone, you have to depend solely on the kindness and helpfulness of other people, which has taught me the universal language of love. Regardless of language barriers, if you ask for something kindly, people are mostly likely going to respond to you in a compassionate or helpful manner. It doesn’t mean that I can afford to be naive or unaware of my surroundings, but I think so many people are uncomfortable or fearful of the idea of traveling alone because they condemn the world as a dangerous place. I have come to learn that the world is not dangerous. There are only dangerous people who do not have peace within themselves that use fear as a tool to gain power. Acts of terror happen everywhere, in every country, and in every city. We cannot anticipate when they will happen and we have allowed this fear to shape our lives and perception of the world. What we can do to counteract this fear is choose to have peace within ourselves and pray for those who do not. Prayer can change the world. Peace within ourselves can change the hearts of others. And love conquers all. 

After spending the night in Budapest, I took a train the following morning to Frankfort, Germany, where I spent three fabulous days with my distant-relatives. Their names are Heidi and Dieter, and Heidi is my grandmother’s cousin. They visited the states twice when I was a child and I remembered their infectious enthusiasm and love they extended to me and my sister during their stay. When I arrived in Frankfort and saw them standing at the end of the platform, I felt like I was being reunited with grandparents I had grown up knowing all my life. They embraced me with kisses and hugs and I couldn’t help but cry tears of joy while they were assisting me with my roller bag suitcase. It was so authentic and such a loving embrace. On the metro back to their home I plainly stated that my birthday was the following day, not expecting them to have any idea. Much to my surprise, they said “Oh we know!” and proceeded to tell me all the plans they had made for my ‘special day’. My grandmother had told them weeks in advance and the following morning I woke up to a beautiful birthday breakfast and gentle knock on my door that accompanied a cup of coffee. Dieter proceeded to do this every morning throughout my stay, and I later learned that it was a daily ritual for him to bring his wife a cup of coffee before starting their day together. Heidi and Dieter were unable to have children, after Dieter miraculously recovered from polio as a child, and instead of dwelling on the life and family they could not have, they’ve spent many years of their retirement traveling all over the world. It was incredible to look at their pictures, hear their stories, and see the way they embraced with one another with constant sweetness and infectious laughter. I was astounded to learn that all of their family members has either died of old age or hadn’t survived the war, and was even more shocked to know that the only family that remained was my grandmother back in the states. I became very emotional after catching a glimpse of a Christmas card picture my family had sent them in 2008 that they chose to frame and hang up on an office space wall. In the room I was staying in, there were also two smaller picture frames of me and my sister as children. These people loved me like their own granddaughter, and throughout the weekend I starting called them Oma and Opa. I spent the next two days picking their brains and asking them for every piece of information they could share with me about our family tree, the war, and the history of Frankfort. My great-grandfather was Jewish, which is why he had to flee to America with my great-grandmother and grandmother. My grandmother was only five. For the beginning years of her life, she spent them living in the same apartment as her cousin Heidi, after hiding my great grandfather from the authorities. We visited their old home together, and Heidi pulled out a box of black and white photographs that we spent hours looking through together. On my last day with them, they presented me with a small prayer book that belonged to my great-great-great grandmother. It was the most beautiful and treasured gift they could have ever given me, and they promised to send me the box of black and white photographs containing our family’s history. I couldn’t believe that these people who hardly knew anything about me had not only welcomed me so willingly into their home, but also wanted to share their lives and legacy with me. I can’t explain what it was like parting ways with them, other then to tell you that a part of my heart remained in Germany with them. I now have a third set of grandparents and their love will always have a special place in my heart. 

They dropped me off at the Frankfort airport on July 2nd and I arrived in Barcelona for the start of my yoga teacher training. The course I am taking will last 28 days and certify me to teach hot or room temperature Vinyasa yoga. The reason I want to be a yoga teacher is to bring back the practice of yoga with a Christian focus and help others grow both physically and spiritually sound in mind & body. I recognize that there is a HUGE disconnect and gap between spirituality and the teachings of the church today, but contrary to most people’s beliefs, the yogi lifestyle has so many principles that closely align with Christianity. Yoga has been around for thousands and thousands of years and at its core it has rich history in spiritual exploration, philosophical reflection, and scientific experimentation. I think with all spiritual practices discernment is important, but I was shocked to discover that many people within my perish and other Catholic Churches across the United States demonize yoga as ‘dishonoring God’. The type of yoga I have chosen to study, which is a line of Ashtanga Yoga, is not derived from Hinduism or Buddhism, but rather ancient mantras or texts known as the ‘Vedas’, which were considered divine information that ancient sages in the Indus Valley received through mediation. You could compare it to the book of Psalms before the Era of Christ. From the Vedas, a set of guidelines known as the ‘Yamas’ and ‘Niyamas’ were created to help others interact with the outer world and purify their inner being. These practices are the foundation of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. According to one of the most fundamental practitioners, Patanjali, “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards the breath and sustain that direction without any distractions. When this state of concentration is reached, then the man will join God. The final aim of yoga is to achieve a stable mind in a healthy body. Yoga is not a religion. It is knowledge, a discipline, and experience that fits the circumstances.” I love this description of yoga because it is so essential for us to understand that yoga is not dishonoring God, but rather strives to draw closely to His presence and honor Him by living through principles of integrity. The highest and most revered Niyama is referred to as ‘Ishvarapranidhana’, which means complete surrender to (or worship of) God. All of us are tied together through our Creator and I don’t believe you can study yoga or reiki or religion of any kind without really understanding that God’s presence is involved in ALL of it. His presence is in all of us. And His greatest desire for us is to have peace within ourselves and with one another, thus creating a direct line of love that honors God himself. He is our only Judge and unless we begin to strive to achieve peace within ourselves and one another we will never enter His Kingdom. 

I am astounded by the things I am learning and how inner-connected everything is. It was all written by one hand. We are not so different then you think. I only want to continue sharing these teachings with you. I pray that peace is within your heart today, and if it is not, examine the parts of your life that are disturbing your peace. How can you change your heart for the good? Every day Mother Theresa asked our Blessed Mother Mary, "Replace my heart of stone with your Immaculate Heart." Thank you for taking the time to read this and opening yourself up to the possibility of love. 

-M.ELIZABETH

 

Medjugorje

After much discernment and prayer, I decided to spend a full week in Medjugorje. Although I would have liked to visit two of the countries I had on my list this week (Austria and Prague), I know that the only thing my heart was truly desiring was to grow closer in God's love. Medjugorje was the place to do it and after discovering I could be in town for St. John the Baptist's day and the Peace March (on June 24th) I couldn't pass up the offer. The anniversary of when the apparitions first starting occurring in 1981 also falls on June 25th, which is a day for celebration in Medjugorje as well. To back track for a moment, I have recorded videos below explaining my connection to Medjogorje, how I heard about it, and what Mary, our Mother, invites us to do to grow closer in our faith. Medjugorje is such a significant place many pilgrims come for worship today because in 1981,  Mary, the Mother of God appeared to six children on a hillside, now known as Apparation Hill, and the apparitions continue to take place today. The six visionaries were entrusted with ten 'secrets' and little has been revealed about what these secrets entail. Three of the visionaries received all ten secrets and stopped receiving daily apparitions of Mary. The other three have only received nine of the ten secrets and continue to have daily apparitions of Mary. As you can imagine, these children are now grown adults and continue to testify the blessing that God bestowed upon them. Many doctors, psychologists, and specialists have studied and tested these individuals throughout the years and it was proven that they were experiencing a form of  'unexplainable ecstasy' that would later dissolve. Many criticized the authenticity of these apparitions over the years, yet she continues to appear and speak to all those who are willing to listen. On the 2nd and 25th of each month, two of the visionaries are given a message to translate to the rest of the world. I had the privledge of being in Medjugorje when the message was revealed on the 25th of June. These messages can be found online at www.medjugorje.org. Over the course of history, Mary has appeared on earth in many places, including Fatima, Portugal, Tepeyac hill near Mexico City, Lourdes, France, Knock Ireland, Rwanda, Belgium, and today in Medjugorje. Mary has told the six visionaries of Medjugorje that this is the last time she will appear on earth. I cannot draw conclusions about what this means for our world, but I think she is preparing us for what is to come. All of her messages boil down to five concise thoughts:

  1. We are called to PEACE

  2. We must strengthen our FAITH

  3. We must CONVERT our HEARTS

  4. We are called to PRAYER

  5. We are invited to FAST

So what do these messages mean?

Our Lady's call to peace is a call to peace in hearts of man on earth and in heaven. We can be at peace on earth and get a taste of what heaven is like, only through our submission to God's love. God desires us to be at peace with ourselves and with our brothers and sisters. By brothers and sisters, I mean every human on this planet. In all of Mary's messages to us she calls us her 'little children'. When I look around and see all of the unrest in our hearts, the animosity we have towards one another and our unwillingness to change how could we not be, but little children? By having peace with God we can allow that peace to manifest within our own hearts, families, relationships and beyond. 

Our Lady's second message is a call to strengthen our faith, which can only be done by converting our hearts. 

Conversion of the heart doesn't necessarily mean converting from Buddhism to Christianity or from Christianity to Catholicism. It is a direct request to purify and cleanse our hearts of all things that lead to sin. By purifying our hearts, we must remove from our lives what is not fruitful. Drugs, alcohol, money, greed, vanity, gossip, putting value on material possessions or goods, blaming or detesting others. A conversion of heart means looking inside ourselves, or looking in the mirror if you will, and understanding that all of our unhappiness in life stems from the choices we make as individuals. When you remove the blame from others and come to understand that we truly are brothers and sisters, then we are able to start loving each other as such. I myself had an extreme conversion of heart this year and was able to start looking at others from this perspective. I realized we are all flawed and so in need of each other's love and forgiveness. There were several days I spent looking at total strangers and reminding my heart, "This is your brother, love him as your love yourself." Even when I looked at people who were angry or unhappy, I was able to identify that their unhappiness only stemmed from the fact that they hadn't yet been exposed to God's love.

When we convert our hearts, we turn away from sin, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and "the last will be first and the first will be last". When we become poor in spirit (or give of ourselves willingly to others) we inherit the land of God. Mary also urges us to go to confession and confess our sins to God at least once a month. One priest in Medjugorje compared it to taking a shower. He said "If you don't go to confession it's like not showering your soul in seven years." Medjugorje is known as the 'Confessionary of the World' because so many people have been moved by the Spirit to go to confession. I went to confession twice while I was here, and the lines were impressively wrapped around the church and in every corner surrounding the confessionary buildings. I used to think confession was so daunting and uncomfortable, which is why I understand why many other Christians struggle with this concept today. It is difficult enough to admit our faults to ourselves, but before God and a priest, who is usually a total stranger to us, can be uncomfortable. But there is no confession that a priest has not yet heard and may I gently remind you that priests are only our intercessors to having a closer conversation with God. Yes they are human, but they have taken on a holy life and completely abandoned themselves and everything else to God. Mary calls priests today the 'shepards that look over my flock'. I encourage you to not look at the past corruptions of the church, but rather on the good deeds that so many priests and men of faith have dedicated their lives to today, in good faith. I would like to also include the women or nuns who have devoted their lives to God's call. We should look at them with complete reverence and grace.

We are next called to prayer. Mary asks us to pray with our hearts. This means to not simply state our prayers like we would a grocery list, but rather reveal to God all that we are in need of. She urges us to pray for others that have not yet come to know of God's love so that more souls may be saved in salvation. Who knew that prayer alone could change the outcome of wars and natural laws? Did you know that when Mary appeared in Rwanda in a small village in 1982 by the name of Kibeho, she gave a warning to pray and repent, repeatedly warning them of the blood bath coming in 1989? Did you know that when our Lady appeared in Fatima in 1917, she came to ask for the consecration of Russia and when the Catholic Church denied it, millions of people died because of the communist regime? Did you know that when Pope John Paul II finally did consecrate Russia to Mary's Immaculate Heart in 1984, communism collapsed less then five years later? Each and every one of our prayers count and sometimes when we think our prayers are not being answered by God I encourage you to ask yourself if you have truly converted your heart to Him. Like the parable of the lost son, God favors the prayers of a converted heart far more then the 'loyal son' who has not changed at all.

Another way to pray is with the Rosary. If you already have constant dialogue with God, I would encourage this as the next step. This is like our time machine back into the New Testament and Jesus's life. I didn't grow up praying the rosary, and for me, this was unfamiliar. I bought a small foldable card off of Amazon for $2 about a month ago, containing the various mysteries as a 'cheat sheet' so I could learn them. This card has added so much value to my life because it has not only encouraged me to learn the mysteries by heart, but gave me the courage to add one rosary to my prayers each day.  Start off with dialogue and if you feel moved, pray the rosary as well.

The last (and most difficult invitation in my opinion) is our call to fast. Mary first asked us to fast on bread and water on Fridays (the day our Lord was crucified) and then later on Wednesdays as well (the day our Lord was betrayed by Judas). I first heard about this call to fasting through Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo's book 'My Heart Will Triumph'. I was shocked that I had never heard of this invitation, let alone that it had taken me 23 years of life before ever hearing about Medjugorje. The reason the Medjugorje apparitions aren't yet recognized by the Catholic Church is because the apparitions are still occurring to this day (and let's be honest, the church at times can be a little slow to respond to the mystics of the world). So this call to fast is more-so a tool to help us in our prayer life. I tried fasting for the first time on the Wednesday I say the Pope and I have to admit this was no easy task. The first six hours I was occupied with my excitement in seeing the Pope, but when this excitement dissipated, I surely found myself exhausted and envious of all those that were eating wholesome meals. I was so annoyed by my pressing hunger that I even went to bed at 7:30pm. And when I did, I had nightmares related to issues that have affected my own personal self worth and most recent relationship that I desperately wished would come back to life.  It was strange because I  noticed that despite my restlessness, I was also in constant prayer. It was as if there was a spiritual warfare going on within my own thoughts as I laid my head down on the pillow. But when I woke up the next morning, I felt like I had gained some sort of clarity. When I arrived in Medjugorje, the first time I heard a priest preach about fasting, he said quite plainly, "Fasting eliminates all of the demons inside our minds. It not only helps us gain spiritual clarity, but also dissipates the difference between rich and poor. When the rich fast, they become poor in spirit and in doing so, it helps us remove ourselves from earthly restrictions." I was blown away by this description that had so accurately conveyed my first fasting experience. Little did I know that I was releasing demons that were innately crushing my spirit. Now when I fast, I feel gratitude and love for God. I am in constant prayer all day. I feel less attached to my possessions and even food itself, which I love SO MUCH. Fasting can dramatically change our hearts, and I want to remind you that this is an invitation to gain more spiritual clarity. You do not have to fast if you are sick or recovering from an illness. I would highly encourage those that wish to fast to start off in small amounts. Substitute bread and water for perhaps one meal, instead of a whole day. Then replace two meals, until you feel like fasting for an entire day. 

Again, all of these things are an invitation to God's call. No one can prove the mystics of the world, let alone if Elvis is still alive or if this is just a great conspiracy theory of our country today. After being in this place, I feel in my bones that this is truth. Our Lady calls us to Peace, which is God. God is The Way, The Truth, and the The Light. I pray that Our Lady's call can captivate your heart as much as she has mine. 

Love and Blessings, M.ELIZABETH


Cultural Snapshot:

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The Risen Christ, (which is pictured above) is a statue made completely of bronze and started weeping 'Christ's tears' after the statue was commissioned. It is a phenomenon which cannot be explained today, but is often a place where many pilgrims come for prayer and healing. I have seen the weeping knees of the statue myself, and there they fall inconsistently, sporatically and in a way that cannot be explained other then by God himself. 

The annual Peace March takes place on the feast of St. John the Baptist and on the eve of the Apparition Anniversary. Thousands of pilgrims participate in the peace march, which starts in front of the monastery in Humac at six o’clock and go to the parish of St. James in Medjugorje. 

Week 1 & 2: Italy

THANK YOU

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Hello my friends! I want to say first and foremost, thank you, to everyone that sent love and positivity my way over the past fourteen days. I was overwhelmed and astounded by the responses I received and the courage I was a witness to for all those that shared their personal struggles and triumphs with me. Please continue to share your thoughts; in the vastness of the universe, I pray that you come to understand that your individual stories do matter and can change the lives of those around you. Let your voices be heard. Your words mean so much to me. For all the times I doubted myself in sharing my 'hope story' with the world, your courageous hearts have made it clear that there is purpose in all of this. I want to clarify that my message was never intended to demonize or draw negative attention to the actions of others, but rather bring others closer to a place of healing and love. The only way to love is through forgiveness, and I hope this serves as an invitation to all who read this to explore the individual depths of your soul and spiritual connection to the world. 

I will do my very best to update my travel page once a week, so if you are interested in following, please subscribe on the 'Contact' page under the 'About' tab. These two weeks officially mark the first fourteen of the total seventy two days I will be abroad. I want this to be a journey I can share with you. One that can give readers a glimpse of the world while sipping a cup of coffee or tea in their pajamas. I myself am still wearing my pajamas as I write this, and although we are are on different sides of the world, do not forget that we are still so very much alike. 

I want to give both my personal experiences as well as a cultural snapshot of each city/ country I visit, so that readers can gain brief knowledge about the cultural customs and history of each place. Although it will not be as informative as a history course, or captivate everything within my heart, I hope it expands your knowledge and views of the world. This week has been very special to me because I was able to spend it with my entire family on my mother's side. We arrived in Tuscany Saturday afternoon, and stayed together in a large villa that is unlike anything I have ever seen. It was once an old mill that was transformed into a beautiful Tuscan home in a town called Loro Ciuffenna. The property is entirely surrounded by woods and a natural stream that can be heard from every open window. The villa is made entirely out of stone and there are various nooks and crannies throughout the home that have private seating if one desires to spend some time alone. My favorite seat has been on a long wooden table that has a shaded awning made entirely out of wood. Every time I sit down to write, someone is invited to my table. Over the course of a week I've had many personal and blessed conversations with all of my family members. When they leave me, I am completely absorbed by the impression the conversation left on me, as well as the hymns of natural sounds. The way of life here is slow and patient, yet everything grows with authority. The plants are Jurrasic, wild strawberry patches can be found along the sides of the house sprouting like weeds, and the flowers bloom with passionate intention, making them hard to ignore. It took me a full week to adjust to the six hour time difference and many nights I laid in bed listening to the stream and meditating on all that I've seen thus far. Throughout the two weeks in the Tuscan villa, my family and I have taken several days to travel amongst various cities in Italy. We've visited Florence, Venice, and hiked the foothills of the Cinque Terre (known as the five terraces) along the Mediterranean coast. I started my holy pilgrimage with a trip to Rome and then headed onward to Assisi, where I have began my travels alone. Despite the busy days, I’ve found myself in a deep peace, wondering why I didn’t decide to move to Italy all together. Maybe one day I will.

After my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad in Florence for six weeks and I have been dying to come back to Italy ever since. My experiences encouraged my family to make Italy a vacation destination and this year that dream came to fruition. It was magical being able to share a piece of my heart with them. Now please allow me to share it with you:


Day 1-2: Florence

After arriving the Tuscany, my family took a day trip into Florence. After dodging the narrow streets and crazy drivers, we parked our cars at the train station and managed to navigate our way to the correct platform, which was an event in itself. When we arrived in Florence we spent the afternoon visiting various churches, galleries, and walking the streets that still remain so familiar to me. I tried giving my family a tour the way my teachers did many times, yet there weren't enough words or time to capture the timelessness of the city in just one day. We went to the Gallaria de Academia which is home to Michelangelo's 'David' and many of his other unfinished projects. Although extremely successful, he was also the king of 'unfinished projects' and had many failed attempts at sculpture. Although he tried to recreate 'The Pieta' many times throughout his life (sculpture of the blessed Mary holding Jesus after his cruxificition, located in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome), he could never duplicate it. It is very cool to know that even Michelangelo, a Renaissance master of his time, also had extreme imperfections and failures as well. 

After passing the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, I took them to the apartment I once called home in 2014. There is a picture of me crossing the street next to the green panel windows I opened everyday on my street level apartment. I remember that on St. John the Baptist's Feast day, which is like Florence's Forth of July, my roommate and I watched the parade and fireworks from our windowsill and celebrated with a bottle of wine. We talked about all things and I remember feeling so fortunate to have spent a summer abroad with someone who was real, authentic, and unlike many other people our age. It hardly seemed like three years had passed since the two of us had sat there together, laughing and talking about our dreams for the future. It felt surreal to know how much has changed since then, yet to also know how much good has come from my return. 

My family and I moved onward to the flea market near the Fontana del Porcellino (or the Bronze Boar), where it is customary to place a coin in its mouth and make a wish. It is said that if the water washes the coin from the pig’s mouth and it falls into the grate below, you will have good luck and you will be sure to return to Florence. It turns out that the fable was true after all! 

After venturing through the city, we had dinner near Giotto's Campanile (bell tower). Traditional Italian meals are not at all like we perceive them to be in America. When the average American thinks of Italian food, they often picture spaghetti and meatballs or fettuccine alfredo. I hate to be the person to break this kind of news to you, but these dishes simply do not exist. While it is tradition to serve pasta with most meals, meatballs are only an Americanized 'add on' that is only served separately as a second course in Italy, if served at all. Alfredo does not exist and depending on the region you are in, béchamel sauce is often substituted for ricotta cheese in lasagna dishes. Most Italian pastas include vegetables or seafood and if meat is served, it it almost always advertised separately on a menu as a second course/ main dish. Most extended traditional Italian dinners include an appetizer, first course, second course, and dessert. While they are not huge in portion, there is certainly a lot of food which is intended to be served over a 2-3 hour span of time. I found it comical to see many of my cousins fidgeting in their seats and asking when we could leave, because it is not at all what we are accustomed to in America. Italians value socializing at the dinner table, which is very opposed to our society of convenience, where it is expected to eat on the go, stop at a fast foot restaurant, or eat at your desk while working. Many restaurants here are only open briefly for coffee in the morning or sandwiches for lunch, are closed for several hours in late-afternoon, and then re-open around 7pm for dinner. Italians don't usually start dinner until 8pm and when my family arrived any sooner, there was often no one else (besides other Americans) at the restaurant!

I had veal scaloppini for dinner that night in Florence along with a fabulous glass (or two) of Chianti wine, and we capped the night off at my favorite gelato shop!

Cultural Snapshot: Florence

The city of Florence has a rich history dating back to the Roman Empire in which economic and commercial activity thrived. Florence was the birthplace of Renaissance culture and art in the fourteenth century and continues to remain evident throughout the city today. The Ponte Vecchio is the only original bridge arching over the Arno River that survived World War II because Hitler took a 'particular liking' to it. The Baptistry and Duomo (dome) are in the heart of Florence and are hard to miss as the central church of Florence. The idea is that one would be baptized in the baptistry and head directly into the church following the service to be blessed directly by God. The Galleria de Academia is the home of Michelangelo's David and other works he never finished. David was never meant to be seen at the ground level, but rather on top of the Duomo, which is why his hands and head appear to be of significant disproportion. The Uffizi Gallery is the other main art gallery in Florence which is home of The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, The Doni Tondo (or 'Holy Family') by Michelangelo, and The Original Madonna by Giotto and many other famous works. Florence was home to the Medici family who ruled between 1434 and 1737 as the wealthiest family in commerce and banking. Their legacy remains throughout the city today. 


Days 2-5: Venice

On Monday and Tuesday, my immediate family traveled via train and water taxi to Venice. Together we roamed the streets of the ‘romantic city’ and did touristy things like hitch a gonadal ride, feed the pigeons in St. Mark’s square, and have dinner on the waterfront. We took an elevator to the top of the Campanile di San Marco, which is the bell tower in Venice with a spectacular bird’s eye view of the entire city. The most memorable part of the trip for me was being able to see St. Mark’s tomb in St. Mark’s Basilica (the church in Venice). The church ceiling is covered entirely with gold mosaics (which are images made from the assemblage of many smaller pieces of glass or other materials). My neck hurt by the time we left because I could not unglue my eyes from the ceiling. Getting to see St. Mark's tomb directly under the church alter, was also an astounding site to see. We spent our second day in Venice taking a boat tour to various islands. We stopped at Murano, Burano, and Torcello, which are three of the most famous islands of Venice. Murano is known for their glass around the world, Burano is considered the 'lace-making island', and Torcello was the first island ever inhabited. 

Cultural Snapshot Venice:

The history of Venice dates back to 400 A.D. when the Roman Empire collapsed and many people were seeking refuge from barbarians that were sweeping through many Italian cities. The first settlers escaped to nearby marshes and found refuge on the sandy islands of Torcello, Iesolo and Malamocco. Although the settlements were initially temporary in nature, the Venetians gradually inhabited the islands on a permanent basis. Although many people think Venice is one large mainland, there are actually 118 small islands connected by numerous canals and bridges. The buildings in Venice were not built directly on the islands but rather built upon wooden platforms that were supported by wooden stakes driven into the ground. Venice is home to St. Mark’s square which contains the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist. The story goes that two Venetian merchants stole his remains and brought them back to Venice by ship after Venice had declared Mark as their patron saint. It was welcomed in triumph and they had the basilica built in his name. 


Day 6-8: Cinque terre

The Cinque Terre was an experience that does not do it justice on paper. The Cinque Terre is known as the ‘5 Terraces’ which are five towns perched on the mountainous terrain alongside the Mediterranean Coast.  Each of the five terraces are within a few miles of one another and can be hiked during certain seasons throughout the year. You need to purchase a pass in order to get from checkpoint to checkpoint, and if you ever take a trip to Italy, I would absolutely make this journey a priority. I spent one day in the Cinque Terre when I was abroad in 2014 and I was able to hike one of the foothill paths with my friends. It was a venture that left such an impression on me that after showing my parents pictures, it became my mother’s personal mission to get herself there one day and hike as many of the footpaths as possible. When she fell ill with her autoimmune disease two years ago, the dream seemed even further away. Which is why this trip was both a celebration and a personal testimony to her good health today. She even wore her Natural Life T-shirt on the first day that says, “Somedays you just have to create your own sunshine.” I can’t tell you the joy and happiness I felt for her throughout these two days we were together. We spent the night in the quaintest of the five towns and hiked three of the four foothill paths. It was absolutely terrifying but well worth the labor. For several hours you’d be hiking up steep, narrow steps, sweating profusely and feel like you were hardly making any progress, and then you’d turn around or reach a peak and be a witness to God’s ultimate beauty and perfect design. For a moment you’d forget all the turmoil it has taken to get there and be completely absorbed in the view. My aunt may disagree, as she continued to tease me along the way that this was not her idea of ‘vacation’ and for extra punishment for suggesting the idea, she was going to make me hike all the way back! But even she was a good sport about it, along with my uncle, sister, brother, father, and four cousins, ranging in ages 12-18. These trails are not for the faint-hearted, and I would recommend taking a full two days to get through them all if you plan to hike them. With two days we were able to take our time, shop around, and enjoy the delights each terrace had to offer. The terraces are known for their sardines, pesto sauce, and cheesy facottia bread. We made sure to have them all and at dinner we even dared to order fried sardines off the appetizer list! They were absolutely delicious!

Cultural Snapshot cinque terre:

The Cinque Terre is located in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia. The names of the five villages are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Day 8-10: Tuscany

On the days in between hiking, train hopping, and venturing through various Italian cities, we rested at the Tuscan villa. Although I had every intention to wake up before the sun, I often found myself hitting the snooze button out of pure exhaustion from the previous day’s activities. But each morning waking up in the villa was even more spectacular then the last, and I often enjoyed an espresso or a cup of coffee in the shade outside with a small plate of proscuttio and melon. My cousins and I hiked alongside the creek by the villa and we found various pebbles and stones that were beautifully shaped and thousands of tadpoles laying low in a shallow pool nearby. One afternoon a photographer came to take family pictures for us and later that evening our hosts prepared a spectacular Tuscan meal for all thirteen of us. We learned that it was bad luck in Italy to set a table for thirteen, so there was always a fortieth plate placed somewhere on the table. Our lovely hosts are pictured above, along with the beautiful place settings and delicate appetizers they served us. My cousin Colin and I both share June birthdays, and since I will be away for my birthday this year, my grandmother insisted we celebrate it together. Our hosts made this magnificent tart cake display with wild strawberries, cherries, and individual yogurt cups surrounding the tart. It was incredible. We sat outside for many hours after dinner and laughed and drank wine. 


Day 11-13: Rome

Rome was everything and more I had hoped it would be. I was initially most excited to hear the Pope speak, but it was actually through humbler encounters that lead me deeper into my faith.

The first day we arranged as a travel day and when we arrived we had time to do a bus tour that gave us the ability to stop a range of historical sites. The buses arrived in fifteen minute intervals, allowing tourists to spend as much time as they liked at any particular site. We saw the Collosium, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, and had a lovely dinner at a restarant that our AirB&B host recommended. I ordered the chicken ‘roman style’ and it was covered in a red pepper tomato sauce. Another customary drink in Italy that we all tried for the first time was an orange spritzer that contains Persecco and Aperol, which is a sweet Italian liquor. It was incredibly refreshing. We finished our meal with another European custom: nutella crepes. I don’t know what it is about Nutella that has every European craving the stuff, but they even sell it in gas stations. I plan to take full advantage of it while I can. Molto buono! 

The second day we got up bright and early and took a tour of Vatican City, which included the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. I have a little bit of information about this as well as the church history in the ‘Cultural Snapshot’ if you feel compelled to skip ahead. We had a cab driver that said, “One lifetime is not nearly enough to experience all that there is to see in Rome,” and that statement is entirely true. Although this was my second guided tour of the Vatican, I could not stop asking questions or scouring for details I had missed the first time. I did actually miss a full thirty minutes of my first guided tour after getting lost in a gift shop to purchase a crucifix. I felt fortunate and somewhat amused reflecting on the experience. This time I wouldn't have to run through the basilica as rudely as I did the first time in a total state of panic searching for my group. The highlights from the tour included seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta, standing before the tombs of previous popes in the basement of St. Peter’s Basilica, and seeing the Sistine Chapel. The moment my grandmother stepped into the chapel her eyes filled with tears. I myself started crying at the thought that I was able to share this moment with her. There was a priest in the corner and our tour guide asked if we desired a blessing. My heart beamed and after looking at the expression on my grandmother’s face, we all huddled around the priest as he prayed over us.  It was overwhelming to stand in such a beautiful place where people from all over the world, speaking in different tongues, were gathered to witness a piece of history. I felt the grace of God come down upon us all as the priest lead my family in prayer. I knew God was working in the hearts of all of my family members in different ways, and it was both a humbling experience and a real blessing. 

We were also able to see the tomb of St. Peter the Evangelist. Saint Peter was the first Pope recognized by the Catholic Church, as Jesus instituted the need for a church figure in Matthew 16:18, "Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means 'rock'), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it." Peter was an imperfect man, denying Jesus three times before his death and fleeing Rome before his own crucifixion. It is humbling to know that one of Jesus's most trusted friends and apostles, was flawed, just as we all are. Peter returned to Rome to face his own death, where he was crucified upside down at his own request, because he saw himself unworthy to be crucified the same way Christ was. I prayed to St. Peter while standing next to his tomb, and asked that God help purify my soul. This was one of several moments that helped renew my spirt. 

Another moment happened by chance. A priest recommended we stop at the Scala Sancta (or Holy Steps) and a church containing relics from the cruxifixction called Santa Croce Gerusalemme. Both the Holy Steps and the relics in the church were said to be brought back to Rome after Jesus's death by St. Helena. The church we ran into by accident, and if you google Santa Croce Gerusalemme the artifacts it contains are unbelievable. There wasn't a sole to be seen around the church and I wondered why more people were gathered at Trevi Fountain then making themselves witness to the relics involved in Jesus's death. I would highly recommend reading more about the relics, because I could write an entire post on the effects they left on me. I do however want to talk about the Scala Sancta. 

The Scala Sancta is a stairway of 28 white marble steps in a building near the Archbasilica of St. John. According to Catholic tradition, they are the same steps that Jesus Christ walked up on his way to trial with Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Religious pilgrims in Rome who visit the Holy Staircase ascend each of the 28 steps on their knees in return for a sizable plenary indulgence (forgiveness of past sins) that amounts to 9 years for each step, as decreed by Pope Pius X. I decided to climb the staircase and I can't truly convey how emotional the experience was. I felt extreme humility and shame that we allowed our savior to be condemned in such a humiliating and painful way. The staircase was encased in wood to protect the marble and the hard surface was uncomfortable and difficult to scale on your knees alone. I had to crawl on both my knees and palms to support myself and several times I slipped and imagined the pure rejection and exhaustion Christ felt as he fell three times on the way to his own death. I felt deep mourning within my soul for his pain and sacrifice. His suffering was patient and horrific, yet he did not retaliate for he knew it was a part of God's greater plan. Even if it was only for a fraction of a moment, it was overwhelming to get a taste of the extreme vulnerability and grief Christ may have felt as he walked up those stairs. 

On my last day in Rome, the rest of my family went back home while my mother and I stayed to hear the Pope speak. Although attendance was free, you needed a ticket to present at the gate. I acquired mine through a group of nuns that oversee the general pulpit and had emailed them a month in advance. If this is something you wish to do in the future, I'd be happy to send you the details about acquiring tickets. Mass is held every Wednesday morning at 10:00am, but the Pope went around the square in his Pope mobile starting around 9:30am. We arrived at 7:45am to get second row seats and when he drove by us I was so overwhelmed that I didn't take a single picture. I was in tears and fortunately my mother was able to take some good pictures instead! The Gospel was first read in Italian and then in eight other languages, including English. The Pope gave a ten minute sermon and then the highlights were translated back. After receiving a blessing, the mass concluded close to 11:00am and the audience all sang the 'Our Father' in Latin, which is the universal language of the Catholic Church and the first language the Bible was transcribed in. The entire experience was overwhelming, incredible, and one I will surely never forget. 

Cultural Snapshot:Rome

Rome's history spans more than 2,500 years and is renowned as one of the founding cities of Western Civilization. Along with its central place in the history of the Roman Empire, Rome also has a significant place in the history of Christianity. Up to the present day it endures as the Vatican City, the home of the papacy, which is the office held by the pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church. The worldwide Roman Catholic Church is administered from the Vatican City, which is considered it's own independent state within Rome and the world's smallest sovereign state. Today, Rome is a modern, cosmopolitan city, and the third most-visited tourist destination in the European Union. Rome has been described as a global city and is known worldwide as the "Eternal City." As one of the few major European cities that escaped World Wall II relatively unscathed, central Rome remains essentially Renaissance and Baroque in character. The historic center, including numerous religious and public buildings, is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. 


Day 14: Assisi

Today marks the first official day of travel on my own. My mother dropped me off at the train station yesterday and I headed to Assisi! I arrived in early evening and enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant that TripAdvisor had recommended. There was not a sole to be found on the streets or in the restaurant I ate at. A stray cat joined me on the chair next to me for dinner. This lovely woman waited on me and we conversed in broken English. She asked if I wanted salad, pasta, or meat. I jokingly laughed and exclaimed, "All three!" and before I could correct myself, she brought me half a pitcher of wine, a salad, a pork chop and a bowl of pasta. I couldn't help but laugh, and felt fortunate to enjoy it out on a terrace that overlooked the city. I read for a while and took in the view. This is it. This starts your 'big girl' adventure, I thought to myself. I felt a little unnerved knowing that I was now all alone; there was no going back now. I reminded myself that this was just another step. A small leap of faith necessary in my growth towards God and towards love. Her dog joined me towards the end of the meal and I was grateful that he sensed I needed a friend.

All of my anxieties were eased when I woke up the next morning in my single room apartment flat. I had an email notification confirming that I had a scheduled tour to see the city of Assisi. It turns out there were no group tours available, and to my amazement this charismatic woman in her late seventies greeted me to give me a personalized-private tour. She stood outside of St. Francis's Basilica waving and calling to me, "Megan! You have found me! I am here! Come here, child!!" I was fifteen minutes late and completely out of breathe after realizing I had met her at the wrong church. It was a rookie mistake. She was forgiving anyways, and the two of us had the most wonderful afternoon together. She took me all across Assisi and educated me about the famous frescos on the walls painted by Giotto, as well as his master, Cimabue, from whom he learned the technique. She explained to me the significance of the Tau cross, which can be seen in the grass courtyard of the St. Francis's Basicllia next to the large letters PAX; latin for Peace. The Tau cross was first recognized in the Old Testament by Ezekiel where he describes the poor of Israel being instructed to leave the mark on their forehead to be saved from extermination. It was therefore recognized as a sign of salvation. Tau was later adopted by early Christians and St. Francis because the form immolated the cross on which Jesus gave his life for the salvation of the world. The symbol can be found on nearly every street corner.

After learning all about the life of St. Francis and St. Clare, whom is also a saint honored in Assisi, I took on a personal mission to find the street pedlar that made leather bible covers. I had a friend back home who had the most beautiful personalized one of her own, and the only information she could give me was that this man was in Assisi. My guide led me to his shop, which was completely vacant, aside from a sign in the window with the address of his new location, about ten minutes outside of town. I got into a cab to find the shop, and was largely disappointed when I found it was also closed. I called the number on the door and after explaining myself, the owner told me he would come in (although it wasn't during his normal business hours) and make an exception for me. When he arrived there wasn't a cover on the shelf that fit my Bible, so he made a new one and at my request put a tau cross on the front, and an M on the back signifying Mother Mary and Jesus. I was overjoyed that my labors had been worth the wild goose-chase! I included the address of his new shop in the pictures above, and if you ever have a chance to go to Assisi, stopping in this man's shop is a must. 

I capped off the evening with a delicious meal at a local place in town and had the mushroom truffle pasta and boar stew. 

Cultural Snapshot:

A holy city for Christians, Assisi is a destination for pilgrims wanting to the see the place where Saint Francis was born, lived a life of humility, chastity and rebuilt God's church, and died. St. Francis is celebrated as the Patron Saint on October 4, where thousands of pilgrims come each year in lieu of the celebration. Having been the birthplace of the Franciscan order since the Middle Ages, Assisi has been the center of the Franciscan order and the movement’s diffusion throughout the world, focusing on a message of peace and tolerance, especially in regard to other religions. St. Francis was born into a life of luxury, but in his early twenties decided to give all of his possessions back to his father, including his clothing. He heard God's call while praying before an old Byzantine crucifix at the church of San Damiano, where reportedly the crucifix spoke to him and told him to rebuild God's Church. Francis obeyed and devoted himself to Christianity. He was the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. Stigmata is a term used to describe bodily marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet. Padre Pio is the most recent documented saint to have developed the stigmata which were studied by several 20th century physicians. The observations were reportedly unexplainable and the wounds never became infected. St. Francis died at the age of 44, and only two years later, he was canonized in an official Church ceremony in Assisi, on July 16, 1228. On that same day Pope Gregory IX laid the first stone of the future Basilica, destined to become the “mother house” for the Franciscan Order. His remains were lost for several years and then rediscovered, where they can be seen today in the St. Francis's Basilica.


NEXT ADVENTURE:

This week I will be traveling by train, ferry, bus, AND taxi to get to Medjugorje, Bosnia which is the  next stop on my holy pilgrimage! I will be accepting prayer requests to submit as offerings, which I will send a notification out about next week, explaining in greater detail. In the mean time, please continue to pray and think about your own personal prayer requests for God. You can learn more about Medjugorje and the apparition miracles at https://www.medjugorje.org

June 02, 2017 Message from Mother Mary to the world:

 "Dear children, as in the other places where I have come to you, also here I am calling you to prayer. Pray for those who do not know my Son, for those who have not come to know the love of God, against sin, for the consecrated - for those whom my Son called to have love and the spirit of strength for you, for the Church. Pray to my Son, and the love which you experience from His nearness will give you the strength to make you ready for the works of love, which you will do in His name. My children, be ready. This time is a turning point. That is why I am calling you anew to faith and hope. I am showing you the way by which you need to go, and those are the words of the Gospel. Apostles of my love, the world is in such need of your arms raised towards Heaven, towards my Son, towards the Heavenly Father. Much humility and purity of heart are needed. Have trust in my Son and know that you can always be better. My motherly heart desires for you, apostles of my love, to be little lights of the world, to illuminate there where darkness wants to begin to reign, to show the true way by your prayer and love, to save souls. I am with you. Thank you."

 

And so the Adventure Begins...

It has always been a dream of mine to travel the world. It was something I believed I'd get to eventually; something I'd pursue when I had more time, money, and was in the 'right place' in my life to do so. But when exactly is there a 'right time'? When I came to humble understanding that all we ever have is right now, my perspective dramatically changed. If we allow ourselves to only indulge in our dreams when the 'time is right' we may never get there. We will continue living for the weekends, for that next vacation, or for the right career, and it is likely we won't ever take that leap of faith that could transform our lives. 

With this idea in mind, I stepped into a greater awareness of myself and how I related to the world. The dreams I once believed were unreachable suddenly seemed superfluous that I hadn't tried pursing sooner. Planning for an adventure like this did required a lot a saving, preparation, planning, and holding firmly to my faith in God, but He did prevail.The Lord God is my strength, and He has carried me through it all. 


So my adventure begins with a family vacation in Tuscany, Italy, in celebration of my grandmother kicking cancer's butt in 2016. Together will be visiting Venice, the coast of the Mediterranean in the Cinque Terre, the timeless city of Florence, and making a trip to Rome to see the Pope speak from his pulpit! From there I will take two weeks to travel by train throughout various European cities including Assisi, Split, Medjugorje, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague. After reading more about St. Francis of Assisi and the six visionaries of Medjugorje, my heart was yearning for an immersed spiritual experience and I decided to make part of my trip a holy pilgrimage. I would highly recommend reading about the six visionaries and the history of Medjugorje on their website, for their story is fascinating and beyond compelling. After reading Mirjana Soldo's book, "My Heart Will Triumph", I couldn't deny the authenticity and truth in what God has in store for us. We are but fragile in our own human existence and while our time is limited here on earth, our relationship with God is eternal. 

 At the end of these two weeks I will end up in Frankfort, Germany, where I have the opportunity to stay with relatives on my birthday who currently reside there. 

From Frankfort, I will fly into Barcelona, Spain, where I will be taking my 200+ hour yoga teaching certification over the course of 28 days. It is my dream to bring back the practice of yoga with a Christian focus and give others the opportunity to meditate on scripture while strengthening both the mind and body. I know that yoga can be a controversial issue to some Christians today, but I believe intent matters and I want to offer my insight and knowledge to anyone who is willing to listen. Yoga is the only form of physical activity that gently massages your internal organs while also strengthening and repairing many systems within the body. The physical poses and stretches brought me body awareness in a time that I could hardly recognize my body at all. Meditation helped center me further in Christ and sent me on a spiritual journey that has transformed my life. I hope that down the road I can help others do the same.

When my teacher training is complete, I will continue onward to visit Lourdes, France, where I hope to be bathed in the holy waters of the Grotto of Massabielle. This site is considered holy because it is where Mother Mary appeared and a spring emerged from the grotto. 

From Lourdes I will head onward to Bordoeux, where I plan to immerse myself in the culture of old world wines for two weeks. My trip ends in Paris, France after seeing the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, of course. This page will reflect updates in my travel so that I can share a part of my journey with you.

This is my dream.  It is both exceptionally scary and fantastic. It is my hope that my adventure can inspire you to understand that anything is possible, even in the most difficult of circumstances. In January, this was all just a pipe dream. A small sliver of reality. It was only made possible by my belief in God and my own healing and realizing that I was worthy of all of my dreams. The details simply fell into place. Transformation is painful, but it is through the peeling back of layers that we can discover the truest versions of ourselves and the fullness of life. You have an innate truth that has been telling you all along. Do not allow others to silence the truth within you. You are worthy of all of your dreams too. If you only dare to ask yourself, "How am I going to get there?"

"Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." -Matthew 7:13-14