Wednesday, August 27, 2008

La Pausa: Reflections on my semester in Italy

[Beautiful Piazza Italia, where I often went to write, take in the view, and think about sheep]

This week marks the second anniversary of the beginning of my time in Italy. That may sound a bit dramatic (okay, I guess it is a little dramatic), but I continue to be influenced by the things I did and saw and learned while living abroad for four months. Especially now that I am starting my first "big girl" job, going back to school for my masters, and working part-time retail, I need to remember those lessons learned in the quiet of train rides and chilly nights in my apartment. I wrote this essay in November of 2006, around the time I started to prepare myself mentally to leave my little hilltop hamlet of Perugia.

When I first arrived in Italy, the Italian culture presented a great many difficulties. For instance: how Italian women could so effortlessly climb the steep hills of Perugia in stilettos while I stumbled along in flats, or the fact that my washing machine took three hours to complete a cycle—and why, for that matter, the appliance was located in my kitchen. I gawked at Italian lovers who passionately kissed in the Piazza, shivered at the thought of a cold winter in my centuries-old apartment with only six alloted hours of heat per day, and struggled to understand how the Italian word for “flower” could be a masculine noun. After nearly a whole semester here in this foreign land of romance, cappuccino, and fine leather, these difficulties have become a part of my cultural understanding, part of the brilliant beauty of Italy, part of my college experience. But the greatest of these mysteries, the one that continues to challenge me, and the one that I still struggle to comprehend, is la pausa.

At precisely one o’clock--the only time Italians are ever on time, mind you--I stop picking up wireless from the business across the street, it’s next to impossible to find a panino for lunch, and the bright orange APM buses are overcrowded with teenagers coming home from school. Everyone hurries home from work to eat pranza, traditionally the largest meal of the day in Italy, with their families and to take a nap before heading back to work. It is as if life stands still until three or four o’clock when everyone resumes their positions, albeit the schoolchildren, who stay at home unless they’re involved in sports or music. Italians refuse to be conquered by their work, or to let it completely define them.

If there’s one thing the Italians know, it’s how to live well. They savor every bite and every flavor of a meal and rest on the Sabbath, even extending it to Monday in some cases. They’re not stingy with affection—they kiss friends, family, even new acquaintances (and not the silly air kisses; they literally kiss each cheek!), know when to spend extravagantly and when to save, treat themselves to
gelato not because they’ve lost a boyfriend or need a pick-me-up, but just because, and take their time strolling down the corso or mingling in the piazza.

And so I found myself feeling, quite frankly, displaced. Not because of the language barrier, or my ancient apartment, but because I, the activity junkie, had been transplanted to the land of Cone Lickers. Yes, Cone Lickers. That’s the term Donald Miller used in
Through Painted Deserts to describe the vacationers at a ranch where he worked one summer. And even though I’m technically the “vacationer” here, I have found myself surrounded by them.

I arrived in Italy expecting mile-a-minute fun and constant activity. I was determined to suck every ounce of excitement and experience I could out of these three and a half months in Europe. Despite the warning of my much wiser sorority sister, Sarah, that my study abroad experience would likely be slow at times, I insisted that I was going to learn Italian, travel the entire European continent, and get involved in ministry all over Italy. In spite of my weekend travels to far-off places, the weeks here are slow, allowing me a chance to catch my breath.

In fact, the Italian way of catching one’s breath was a cultural nuance I learned something about even before arriving in Italy. While working as a youth director in a rural area outside of Richmond this summer, I had the opportunity to attend a forum on youth ministry with seven visiting Italian Baptist pastors. On the last morning of the conference, I rushed up to Sergio, one of the pastors, to ask for his contact information. Forgetting that he hadn’t spoken English in twenty years, I excitedly blabbed about something to him. Putting a hand on my shoulder, he said in his thick Napoli accent “Chelsea, you are wonderful. But take a breath!”

I’ve been learning a lot about sheep here. Not just because they dot the Umbrian countryside that surrounds this little hill I’ve come to call a temporary home, but because I’ve been reading a book about the twenty-third Psalm. You know, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”? Apparently sheep are really stupid. In order to rest, every obstacle must be cleared for them: danger, hunger, thirst. They literally need a shepherd, or they cannot sleep. That’s a little how I’ve felt here: like my Shepherd had to clear every obstacle—friendships, activities, work—and bring me to the green pastures of Perugia. He has had to make me lie down in them, for I am so utterly unable to be still on my own. It’s a constant struggle even here. Sometimes I just feel unable to rest while everyone around me goes on licking their gelato cones. I’ve wanted so much to soak up the Italian culture, and yet, in stubbornness, I’ve rejected the most central part of it again and again by persisting in my quest for constant activity. But slowly, I am learning the value of slowing down and the necessity of rest. Little by little, I am learning the rhythm of pause.

No matter where life takes me from here, I shall always remember the green hills that surround this cozy little Medieval city, for they will always remind me of the way life is meant to be lived. Whenever I think of them, I’ll remember to be careful with myself, to take time to linger over a meal, to enjoy beauty and ponder truth. I’ll recall the wise lesson learned from my Italian friends: that a life lived well isn’t so much characterized by busyness or productivity, but by the intentional savoring of each day. I’ll always be thankful for this time in Italy, my very own
la pausa.

Friday, August 22, 2008

An Ephesians 2 Tidbit

It seems Beth Moore has been reading Ephesians chapter 2 lately as well! Check out her latest blog post to see how she is praying for the women's gathering in San Antonio this weekend. And if you're a woman and have never been to a Beth Moore event, it is definitely worth looking into!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fellow Citizens: Thoughts on Ephesians 2, part 2

The second part of Ephesians 2 begins with the word "therefore," referring back to the previous sentence in which Paul tells the believers at Ephesus that God has already prepared the "good works" He has for them to do. The concept of unity Paul lays out in this portion of the letter, then, seems to be one of those "good works" assigned to the body of Christ as a whole. Taking our cues from the Trinity, whose members relate to one another in perfect unity and love ("The Shack" illustrates this concept beautifully), we see that unity is indeed an endeavor to which every believer is called.

This "therefore" is followed by a command to remember that we were separated from Christ when we lived in the flesh. He makes it a point to remind new Gentile believers that before Christ atoned for their sins, they/we were separated from God's relationship with Israel. And then comes the call to unity, which Christ has already provided: "For He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility." Because of Christ's fleshy death, there is now no need for us to live in the flesh, and therefore, true unity between Israel and the Church is possible. (It is interesting to note that in 70 B.C.E., a mere 40 years after Christ's death on the cross, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. While the destruction was a pagan, not a Christian undertaking, perhaps it was a God-ordained symbol expressing the shift of the Temple's existence from a physical structure to the hearts of believers.) While scholars make a variety of arguments for what is meant by “Israel” in this passage, it is clear that as those who have experienced the grace of God, we are to seek to keep peace (). Of course unity in its truest form is only possible where there exists the perfect love of Christ. It is also clear that Christ has given us everything we need to keep unity. Verses 15 and 16 say that He first made peace and then He preached peace. There is a beautiful principle in this: He only asks of us what He has already accomplished!

I can only begin to understand what this unity is supposed to look like. As I try to wrap my mind around it, I think it is one of those Kingdom concepts I have discussed previously, in that there is an already/not yet element at play. We are already called to act upon our knowledge of the Trinity and our understanding of what Christ asked of us, but we do not yet see the full implications of perfect unity and love. With that in mind and my limited understanding of eschatology as well, I believe we are called to passionately pursue relationships with Jews, both Jewish believers (also known as Messianic Jews or Jewish Christians, depending on how they choose to practice their faith in Yeshua) and Jews who are not yet in Christ. This includes support of Messianic movements that seek to preserve Jewish custom and to reach out to fellow Jews. I believe we are also to promote peace in Israel-Palestine. Even recognizing that God has indeed promised the land to His special people, Israel, we can acknowledge that Christ "has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" between Jew and Gentile.

I graduated with a minor in Jewish studies, and verses 20-22 outline the reason I’m so infatuated with Jewish culture. Verse 20 says that the "household of God" has been built on the sturdy foundation of Jewish heritage (the apostles and the prophets), and that Christ--who was himself a Torah-observing Jew--is the cornerstone. Here is the amazing part: "the structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (verses 21-22). There is no more temple because WE are the temple! Both individually and collectively as a community, the dwelling place for God's spirit, that same ruach elohim the early Jewish believers knew, is IN US! What a beautiful picture God has given his people in the stories and the symbols of Jewish teaching. He is, after all, the God who speaks to us in pictures we can understand.

"'The church, in its whole existence, must be a token of the salvation it has received. Its whole life, lived in a convincing way, would be a call to all men to believe the good news, to experience a change of heart and to unite themselves with its Messiah. This is how Israel and the Church must confront one another, not in theoretical debate, but in existential dialogue; not in an uncommitted battle of words, but in committed competition. By its whole life the Church must witness to the reality of redemption. Is this the case? Is this the witness of the Church? The Jews do not think so. The reality of redemption asserted by the New Testament seems to them, particularly in light of the Old Testament, to have been an illusion' (Hans Kung, The Church, London: Search Press Ltd., 1967, p. 149).”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

His Workmanship: Thoughts from Ephesians 2

Chapter 1 of Ephesians left us marveling at the grace of God, as seen through the sometimes difficult concepts of the Kingdom and the Trinity. As we move on into chapter 2, I'm impressed again by God's grace, as shown to us through the marked difference between life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Verses 1 through 3 paint a bleak picture of what it looks like to be lost in sin: "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience" (verse 2). Verse 1 talks about the death of this supposed "life" in the flesh, and verse 3 reminds us that we ALL came into the world this way because of the sin nature we inherited at the Fall. Note that this is not to say that our hearts are bad. They were merely infected by the choice of humanity to sin. Even so, as I read these first three verses, I find myself weighed down by all that needs to be overcome in my life.

But Paul doesn't leave us in this dark state for long. (And perhaps intentionally, the scribes who canonized the scriptures and marked verses don't even begin a new paragraph before letting Paul begin to speak about the wonders of God's grace!) He begins verse 4 with the two most powerful words in the whole passage: "BUT GOD" (emphasis mine, although I imagine that Paul might have written it in bold also). We were lost in sin, BUT GOD. We followed the prince of the spirit of the air (our Enemy, Satan), BUT GOD. We were dead in the trespasses and sins, BUT GOD..."made us alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 5). And more than offering us life, verse 6 says that by grace he "raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places!" No more darkness, no more triumph of the Enemy--Christ has made us His co-heirs that we may have victory in this life and even more in the next!

Just today my mom and I had a conversation about the gift of being able to clearly see our inadequacies. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." In light of those verses, how kind of God to remind us in our day-to-day living that we truly are incompetent (as I remarked in my last post) and incapable apart from His equipping us to live in the world. It seems that as I am made continually more aware of my inadequacy before the Father, I am more and more in awe of the "BUT GODs" that unfold in my life every day. And as we live in that continual revelation of His grace, verse 10 says that we begin to realize the good works He has prepared for us to do. We are His workmanship, and He equips us even in our inadequacy!

In the shadows; My spirit weak
Love broke through the darkness and lifted me
And I know you'll never let me go

In the storm in the raging sea
Love conquered the fear and delivered me
And I know you'll never let me go
--Hillsong United

Friday, August 15, 2008

"I'm a Mess!!"

That is a mantra I often repeat (or sometimes exchange for, "I'm a disaster!"). My experiences in Christian counseling and reading John Eldredge's books revealed that my "false self" is that of competence. I love to pretend that I have it all together. But anyone who really knows me realizes this is not the case. All too often I lose my car in an airport parking garage, travel fifty miles in the wrong direction on the interstate, or use baking soda instead of baking powder, turning the cherry cobbler into cherry mush. While these experiences can sometimes be humiliating, I've been slowly learning to laugh at my messiness (which, as my roommates and my mother can attest to, is actually quite literal in the kitchen!) Perhaps this is why I've always been so drawn to I Love Lucy. Lucy is transparent about being a mess in a way that I longed to be in my younger years. Now that I have (mostly) given up trying to appear competent, she encourages me in my learning.

I truly am a mess. So when I read about a different kind of messiness in "The Shack," I was moved to tears. I won't give away the plot of this recent bestseller, which seems to be especially popular in Nashville. Some parts are a little cheesy, and I certainly don't agree with everything Young writes, but taken for what it's worth (one person's imperfect understanding of God), it's good literature.

My favorite part of the book is when Mack, the protagonist, is working in the garden with Sarayu, the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. Here is a snippet:

It was chaos in color. His eyes tried unsuccessfully to find some order in this blatant disregard for certainty. Dazzling sprays of flowers were blasted through patches of randomly planted vegetebals and herbs, vegetation the likes of which Mack had never seen. It was confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful.

"From above it's a fractal," Sarayu said over her shoulder with an air of pleasure.

"A what?" asked Mack absentmindedly...

"A fractal...something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified. A fractal is almost infintely complex. I love fractals, so I put them everywhere."

"Looks like a mess to me," muttered Mack under his breath.

Sarayu stopped and turned to Mack, her face glorious. "Mack! Thank you! What a wonderful compliment!" She looked around the garden. "That is exactly what this is--a mess. But," she looked back at Mack and beamed, "it's still a fractal, too."

..."But it really is beautiful, and full of you, Sarayu. Even though it seems like lots of work still needs to be done, I feel strangely at home and comfortable here."

Sarayu stepped toward him until she had invaded his personal space. "And well you should, Mackenzie, because this garden is your soul. This mess is
you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but to me [sic], I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive--a living fractal."

Perhaps I need to spend even more time declaring what a mess I am--not my mind and its sometimes spastic functions, but my heart. I judge others and neglect to show grace and think of my own comfort and fail to forgive and overindulge and gossip and show contempt for my neighbor. I dwell on things that aren't lovely and refuse to be content and look to my own strength and put myself before the good of others. I am a mess!! But in all that mess, the Holy Spirit is at work because of Christ in me! God sees me, in the midst of my messy heart, as a lovely work in progress.

Let us live as beautiful messes before the Lord who sees, and chuckles, and gets out the hoe!

"...He who began a good work in you will be faithful to carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Restaurant Review: The Franklin Mercantile

I've been hearing about the Franklin Mercantile all summer, mostly from the family I live with, and I've wanted to check it out. It's known in picturesque Downtown Franklin (picture the streetlight scene from The Notebook) as a great place to grab a sandwich, but the owners recently added a dinner menu. I thought it might be a good place for dinner when my family came to visit--we've always explored Downtown Nashville when they've come in the past, so this time we decided a trip to Downtown Franklin was in order. After perusing Main Street and checking out our options, we settled on the Merc. The prices were moderate, and generous looking portions adorned the plates of alfresco diners.

We opted to eat inside, mostly because the outdoor tables weren't big enough for five. But the interior proved charming, with eclectic wooden and Formica tables topped with vintage table cloths, a cozy couch, and varying art displays throughout the restaurant. The menu boasts an impressive beverage list, but the sweet and fruit tea, served in old fashioned Ball jars, was the creme de la creme. The tapas-style dinner menu is fairly short, but full of tempting options, of which we tried several.

Matt had the shrimp bruschetta and Taylor and Dad each had the tapas burgers, which are essentially sliders on baguette with a bruschetta garnish. I consider myself something of a bruschetta connoisseur, after a semester in Italy of perfecting my own bruschetta recipe, but I was impressed with the flavor of the tomato-basil blend. Mom and I split the tapas burgers and the raspberry chicken with pecans, which was by far my favorite dish. The raspberry glaze was light, but flavorful, and the chicken was perfectly seared. An added plus was the delicious sweet potato pancakes on the side.

We were too full for desert, but I'll save that for another day. With great food at reasonable prices, I think it's safe to say we'll go back. And for those who are familiar only with the Merc's sandwiches, I heartily recommend checking out the evening menu!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Heartache of Ministry

It seems that if ministry is your heartbeat, especially church ministry, the Enemy is going to come against you through politics, backstabbing, and betrayal. Most of the friends I look to for wisdom and counsel have been in lay or career ministry at some point, and well over half of them have been deeply wounded by others in the church. My own ministry experience is no exception.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't feel at least a twinge of heart-wrenching sadness over the church I worked for two summers ago and the way things ended there. In regards to the politics and betrayal, God has been good to lend His healing balm. But concerning my relationships with those kids--my desire for them to know how fiercely I still love them, and thereby to know how much more their Father and Creator does--it tears my heart out. I understand, I think, that fiery devotion of Paul's for the believers in Rome. He so wanted to be with them, to hold them to his chest in brotherly love, and to instruct them in the ways of Christ. But he could not get to them. I feel that same burden and must continue to believe that "he is able to guard that which I've entrusted to Him" (I Timothy 1:12).

The other part of the enduring sadness is a longing. My summer with those kids bespoke something other-worldly, that glory known before the Fall. It's as if God whispered to my heart, "Do you feel that? This is what you were made for. This is what I had in mind when I knit you together." I think maybe it was so me because I was so out of my element--a sense of adventure--doing something I was good at--a sense of purpose. It was without a doubt the most beautiful season, not to mention the most fun summer of my life. It was formative in understanding my life's calling: I know that I must mentor and teach and challenge and nurture and venture out if I am to manifest even a hint of the glory God put in me before time began and restored by the blood of the Lamb.

That season was punctuated with two pivotal bookends: a painful sophomore year at school and a difficult but also beautiful semester in Italy. During my sophomore year, a time when I regularly cried myself to sleep and wondered what the Lord could possibly have in store for me that I needed the discipline of such a desert, I read Psalms 65:9-13 and my heart was deeply ministered to.

"You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly...You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty and your carts overflow with abundance." And crown that difficult year with His bounty He did! That summer was the abundance I had waited for.

Perhaps God, in His knowing that all good things in this life must come to an end so that we may someday take hold of what is better in eternity, applies that same principle to the here and now. Maybe He had to end my time at the church so that I could move on to the next assignment. What if they had hired me (as opposed to throwing me out!) upon my return from Italy? I would have missed out on Third Pres and on Tri Delt things and on Nashville and Forest Hills BC. Part of me feels it would have been worth it, but that's probably the same part that doesn't fully understand how far Heaven will outweigh this life.

"...yet I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard that which I have entrusted to Him until that Day" (I Timothy 1:12).

An Update

[An e-mail sent to friends at home/school regarding new developments in my life. If I left you out by mistake, you can catch up here.]

Hey, friends!

Just wanted to write and give you a little update on my life post-graduation. I have been mourning the loss of my college-girl days, but living in Nashville has been an exciting change! While it's been disheartening not to have a job all summer, I've used the time to visit with friends, get settled in a new city, and go to several weddings. I've also been doing some writing and starting to flesh out some ideas for girls' ministry curriculum. I've been living with a sweet family with a seven-year-old daughter and an almost-six-year-old son. They have blessed me by opening their home--and their lives--during this time of transition.

My life seems to be filled with children, actually. For the past month, I've been working at Pottery Barn Kids, where I sell kids' furniture, facilitate sing-alongs, climb ten-foot ladders, and clean up after not-yet potty trained two-year-olds. Needless to say, working retail has been quite a humbling experience! I've been thankful for the stellar discount and even the not-so-stellar income, however, and plan to continue working there on a casual basis so that I can afford to furnish a Pottery Barn/Williams-Sonoma apartment sometime soon.

The big news is that I have a "real" job! I will be working for a friend who recently opened an optometry practice called the Spectacle Shoppe here in Franklin. It's in a cute planned community called that my mom, who visited last weekend, would kill to live in :) I have jokingly said that I'll be a "lay optometrist," since I'll be helping with eye exams and teaching people how to put in contacts, so Matt made up the word "loptometrist" to describe my new occupation!

In addition to starting work in two weeks, I was accepted to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and will begin a class or two at the extension center here in Nashville next Monday. This was a big decision for me, since I never thought I was interested in graduate school! As recently as April I had said I at least needed some time off before going back to school, but as soon as I handed in that thirty-page thesis, I knew I was ready to start classes again. It's funny how the Lord prepares us for things in different timing than we might expect. Check back to keep up with what I'm learning in systematic theology this semester!

Thanks to all of you who have so faithfully prayed that the Lord would make a way for me here in Nashville! At times it's been difficult to trust that I'm where I am supposed to be, especially since I passed up a great job opportunity at my church in Richmond to move here and be unemployed!! But I can see how God has provided just a little at a time, thereby confirming the presence of His Spirit. My dear friend in Japan once pointed me to Proverbs 4:12, which says "as you go step by step, I will open up the way to you." That wisdom has really resonated in my life this summer! I've also been encouraged during this season by the story of Israel's desert wandering in Numbers 9. Verse 17 says, "wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped." Thanks for continuing to pray with me that the Lord will make clear my life's overall calling and the individual assignments He has for me along the way!

Would love to visit with those of you in Bloomington/Chicago when Matt and I are home September 18-21, and with all of you in Richmond over homecoming weekend, October 24-26! And of course if you're ever passing through Nashville, give me a holler!

Living where the cloud settles,

Thursday, August 7, 2008


On the topic of adoption (Ephesians 1), this article [click here to read] by Steven Curtis Chapman on is a good read. Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, recently lost their youngest daughter in a tragic accident in their driveway here in Nashville. Chapman addresses the issue of adoption beautifully--and I'll commend to you again Rob's sermon from a few weeks ago as an even more detailed explanation of the biblical mandate to adopt (see my post on Ephesians 1 for a link to the podcast).

Even though I'm not in a place to actually adopt, the article and the sermon have compelled me to start back up with Compassion International this fall. See for information about sponsoring a child.