Italy

So I am back from Italy. IT. WAS. AWESOME!

I saw so many awesome things; met a TON of cool people and the food…OMG the food.

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And, the best part…this trip was a fast and a major test on trust.

Let me explain.

Oh, FYI, I am going to bounce around in this quite a bit. Sorry, not sorry. But bear with me…

Every September my church does a fast.  We fast for different things: our promises, salvation for the lost, our nation, etc.  We were to pick a pleasure and a food.  So I ask God, “Okay, it’s September. What am I fasting this time? Is it sweets? A meal? Caffeine? Social media? Routine? (This one is tough for me; I am a serious lover of my routines)”.  As I am going through all of the things I could possibly fast, God interrupts me:

God: Italy is your fast.

Me: Are you sure?  Because this sure feels like cheating…

God: Trust me; this is your fast.

Me: You mean I can eat all the pizza, pasta and gelato I want?

God: I’d like you to practice some restraint and not go nuts, but yes you may eat those things.

Me: SWEET!!! Best. Fast. Ever!!!!!

So this trip is a fast. Great! I honestly thought :”Oh man I really lucked out this September; I get to explore a country on my own, eat awesome food and meet new people. Not really giving anything up at all…

Or so I thought.

God took away all comforts of the familiar, the known and the routine (which I LOVE) for me on this trip. It was just Him and I. I haven’t had time like that with God since I moved away for college when I was 18.  When I landed in Rome, there was no one to pick me up, no one to guide me as to where to go. I had to depend on God, for everything.

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And for that reason, I could have NO FEAR.

Before this trip happened, God did a TON of uprooting this year. Tons. Anything, anyone fear related had to go. It didn’t matter if it was close family or friends…it was gone. And it hurt. I couldn’t understand why it had to be that way and so sudden. I wanted to fix things, try to repair the broken things and confront the fears but God said to yield..and it was gone. Originally I thought it was because of the cancer diagnoses, and I needed solid people and things around me but I was wrong. It was for this trip. I could have no fear doing this trip. None.

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You see, when I am afraid, I can’t hear. I can’t hear God, any voice of reason or logic.  I can’t see.  All I hear are voices of doubt and panic and they are louder than my Father’s voice. Everything within me goes into self protect mode, I push God out of the way and I lean on my own strength. It’s dangerous enough doing that here at home, but even MORE dangerous operating like that in a foreign land. So I couldn’t have fear influencing me in any area of my life, no matter who it came from or where. It had to go.

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The only time I felt fear on this trip was on the plane to Rome. When you are flying, American Airlines has this screen where you can pull up a map to see how close you are to your destination. I usually love looking at that little map, but when I saw that my plane was closer to France than New York, I slightly panicked.

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” Oh snap! America is really far away!”

In that moment I wanted to reach out my arms and grasp for the tiny bit of America I could see left on that map. It finally felt real to me that I would be on my own, just me and whatever belongings I had in my suitcase and back pack for TWO WEEKS. The thought started to form in my head:

“I am al…”

God: “You are not alone.

 

So when I land in Rome, it is pouring. When it storms in Rome, it storms. The thunder is literally shaking the train station, there are people everywhere, everything is in Italian and I am thinking…”What on earth have I gotten myself into?”

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My first stop in Rome was to be  ICF Rome, a Christian church that was 45 minutes from the train station if I walked. Since it was storming like crazy, I had to use the bus. My original plan was to get to their 9:45 service for bible study, stay for the 11am church service, grab lunch then head back to the train station for my train to Padova at 4pm.

Yeah, that plan didn’t happen.

It took a while for me to figure out how to get euros, then how to get bus tickets, then how to figure out which bus to take and then find where the buses were to get to the actual church. By the time I got on a bus, 9:45 had come and gone, but hey! I found the correct bus.

One of the biggest differences between Italy and America is signage. Street signs aren’t really a thing over there. Sometimes a street name is carved into a building, or written on a wall. So when you are going somewhere you REALLY have to know where you are going and what you are looking for or else you get lost, fast.

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I did not want to get lost, because I REALLY wanted to make the church service because: A) it was storming like crazy outside and I really didn’t want to sight see in this weather. B) The church would be dry and warm unlike me, who was now soaking wet with a very battered umbrella. C) I really wanted to go to church because this was the whole reason for this stop and I didn’t want to wait in the train station until 4pm so I was pretty determined to make church happen.

So as I am on the bus contemplating all this and trying to figure out the bus stop from the directions I was given, God speaks up:

God:  “You should ask for help.”

So I turn around and smile politely at the lady behind me. “Parla inglese?”

She smiles nervously, pinches her fingers together and says “A little” I then try to explain where I am going and what I am trying find and we spend the next five or so minutes trying to communicate. She decides that it would be best to find an English speaker for me. She turns to the lady behind her, asks in Italian if she speaks English and thank God…she does! Even cooler, she’s going to the same church I am going to!  How cool is God?

So I got to church. The service was great, I met really nice people who helped me get back to the train station and I had some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

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That’s pretty much how this trip went. God led me along everywhere and provided everything.  He was my pilot. He guided and I followed. When I needed to speak up and ask for help, he provided help through anyone I met. When I needed to follow Him and just learn how to read a map…I learned how to read a map. (I disobeyed  in Verona and tried to do things my own…and ended up with an unwanted shadow for three hours. Lesson learned.)

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And the best thing: other than that brief moment on the plane…I felt no fear on this trip. None. It was awesome to do this without fear. I knew with everything in me that He would take care of me and I could just lean on Him. It was so freeing, and since I had that peace; I had a blast.

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There are so many more stories to share but this is getting long. But I’ll leave you guys with this: I am  determined to no longer let fear control  my life in any way at all anymore. Fear is stupid  if it is holding you back from what God has called you to do. Heck, even if you don’t believe in God, fear should never be the reason for not doing something you want to do EVER.

Fear is the enemy’s way of stealing your joy and robbing what God has for you. Christian or not, the devil doesn’t discriminate.  He hates all of us, he loves to steal and he uses fear (among other things) to steal from us. And it is so not okay. So if you feel fear and you want to do something, do it afraid. God will be there. And if you mess up (and this is a perfectionist talking) that’s okay, because God restores.

So that was my  fast/trip. It was God’s way to restore in me something I managed to forget along the way: God’s got my back, I can trust him and with Him I have no reason to fear..

Jeremiah 29:11- “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.”

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Countdown

I can’t believe that I am a week away from this trip! Craziness. This time next week, I’ll be on my way to Rome. I CAN NOT WAIT.

Earlier this week, I had a little freak out. I started going over everything in my head that could possibly go wrong, and started scaring myself out of this trip. My biggest fear was going alone…the thing I was most excited for, I was now scared of.

God calmed me down and said…

“Alexis, you’re going to be fine. You’re with me. I will place good people in your path. You’re going to have a blast and meet so many wonderful people. This trip will change you for the better. Trust me.”

We had this conversation several times. God is so patient; He was willing to repeat the same thing over and over again to reassure me that  I was safe and not to worry.  Every now and again, the worry will try to pop up, and I remind myself that I am going to be fine and God will be with me.

My other big fear for this trip was planning it. I decided to go the route of planning this whole thing by myself. Initially this was difficult because: I HATE MAKING DECISIONS. IT TAKES ME FOREVER. I must explore every single possible outcome and scenario in my head before finalizing anything. The biggest reason I do this is because I don’t want to make a mistake.

The last few big trips I took were handled by very Type A super organized people. I love them for that gift. I wish I had that gift ( I can tap into it every now and then, but it is very rare). It is nice not to be a decision maker and just follow along. If a mistake was made or something went wrong, I didn’t have to worry about it. I could just conform and follow a new plan. So the fact that I was now the lead decision maker was TERRIFYING.

God sat me down and said:

“There are no wrong answers in this. This is your trip. You get to do whatever you want. If things don’t work out, that’s okay. Be open to mistakes. Be open to things going wrong. You can learn from this and make new plans.”

So  I am still trying to wrap my head around this concept. Mistakes are okay. They help you grow. What’s not okay is not taking action because you are afraid of taking the wrong action. That’s operating in fear and that is NOT OKAY.  So although it took me forever (as in I am still finalizing my last tour/ activity today), I have an itinerary down. I can’t believe I planned this.

I am going to try hit up 9 different cities in 14 days.  These are the main places I will be: Padova, Venice, Verona, Florence, Rome and Naples. I am a bit nuts to try and see so many places, but I can’t wait to do this. Here’s some of the activities and places I will be:

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Venice: I arrive here on 9/11. I plan to wander around a lot, and take a Gondola rowing class. To ride a gondola in Venice is around 104 bucks for 20 minutes!!! Ridiculous! You can learn how to push your own gondola for the same price, so hey, I figure I do that instead.

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Gardaland/ Lake Garda:  I arrive here on 9/13. I saw pictures of this lake  early on and knew I just had to go. Then, I found out a theme park with a roller coaster that I’ve wanted to ride was located here.  It’s one of my bucket list roller coasters so I had to go. I bought my ticket today.

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Tuscany: I signed up for a Tuscany in One Day sight seeing tour on 9/16. We’ll get to visit, Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano. There’s a farm house wine tasting tour and country side lunch. I get to climb the Tower of Pisa, which I can’t wait to do. Plus I get to be on a tour with people, so I get a break from myself for a day.

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Naples: I am the most excited for this tour! I get into Naples on 9/20 and will be taking a food tour on the back of a Vespa. I saw a video of Vespa rides in Naples several months ago and knew I wanted to go. I originally set out to rent a Vespa and do it on my own. After wise council from God and several friends, I decided to do the tour instead. On the tour, I’ll get to see a chocolate factory, make my own pizza, and try various Neapolitan foods and deserts. I can’t wait.

When I am not doing tours I will be doing a lot of wandering. I can’t wait to do that. I get lost a lot, and I am kind of looking forward to doing that over there. There’s going to be so much to explore. I know I can’t do it all in 14 days, but I plan to make the best of it.

I’ll try to update and post pictures daily if I can. I’ve already promised to check in daily with my coworkers to let them know that I am still alive.  If you want to follow my photos, check out @apeachincali on Instagram. I’ll post a few here as well.

So that’s it. This peach will actually be a peach in Italy next week. So excited!

 

 

 

 

A Peach… in Italy? Yup.

2016 sucked.

Sorry there is no light and happy way to put that. It sucked. Bad. When it left, I felt torn to shreds. Uprooted. Lost. Unsteady. I was so happy to see it go.

As I sat in a coffee shop with one of my friends, trying to smile through the leftover pain of 2016, my friend asked:

“Alexis, what is one thing you’ve always wanted to do? One thing that you’ve always put off because you felt too scared to do it?”

“Italy.” A small bit of the joy and excitement that I’d lost waved over me.

Friend: “Then you’re going to Italy.”

My friend and decided to be accountability partners for big things we were supposed to do this year. She’d check on my Italy process (passport, flight, etc) and I’d check on her prayers for the cities process.

Now, when I promised to do this, in the back of my mind I thought: “There’s no way I’m going to Italy this year. It’s expensive, it’s not practical, it’s extravagant. I don’t NEED to go to Italy. I WANT to go to Italy, but I don’t really need to. It’s not going anywhere.”

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Isn’t it beautiful…

In the middle of my talking myself out of going, God spoke up.

God: You should go to Italy.

Me: Um, why? Shouldn’t I be saving money for practical things?

God: I want you to do something for you that you love. You love Italy. You’ve wanted to go since you were 12 years old; you even pretended to be Italian just to feel connected to the country. You were supposed to go after your mother died but didn’t. You’ve put it off for years. You’ve put yourself last for even longer than that, especially last year. I want you to do something for you, just special for you. Get your passport and go to Italy.

Me: Speechless

So I turned one of the large open walls in my kitchen into a giant vision board. I covered it in verses to map out my promises of the year. In the middle of that, I placed a big map of Europe, and highlighted  Italy. I bought a giant calendar of Italian cities. I sat down and worked out a budget for a two week trip. I did my taxes super early and received a NICE tax return; which God made me promise to use for my trip.

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Once I knew I had the funds and was 100 % sure I could go, I filled out my passport application and got my passport photos…

Then life happened.

I was thrown back into health issues that I thought were resolved. Weeks earlier I was preparing for going to the passport office and purchasing my plane tickets. Now I was meeting with surgeons to have a section of my lung removed. Possible cancer they said. I’d miss two to three weeks of work as I recovered from the surgery.

God: You’re still going to Italy.

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I can’t believe I get to see this.

While I am relaxing at a friends place on medical leave, I finally work up the courage to purchase my tickets. Despite not knowing how long it will take my disability insurance to kick in so that I have income, I select my dates in September. Feeling a bit nauseous and excited at the same time, I click “purchase”. God congratulates me on trusting him and then states:

God: “Now that you’ve purchased your tickets, things are going to happen that are going to make you question what you just did. You’ll feel afraid but I want you to trust me.”

Me: “Not liking that statement, but okay. I trust you.”

I was diagnosed with cancer the next day.

God: You’re still going to Italy.

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Naples. So beautiful.

So here I am, with Stage 4 thyroid papillary cancer (very treatable and not terminal) planning a trip to Italy. And totally at peace with the cancer diagnosis, the extra surgeries and treatment. It makes no sense and I can only attribute that to God.  I have asked questions about affording the medical bills this treatment will bring, and God says, “You’re still going to Italy. Trust me.” And I am. And it’s weird. Because usually I am super anxious about this kinda stuff and right now…I’m simply not. I’m just trusting and taking things one day at a time.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been moments of sadness and some anger. At one point, when the darts of the enemy kept coming, I reminded God of the word he had for me: restore.

Me: “God, I don’t feel restored. Honestly, I feel like things are being ripped apart.”

God reminded me that sometimes before something is made new, the old has to be destroyed and yes, it will hurt. He then showed me an image of a forest, trees cut down, ground and stumps blackened by the fire. It looked as if all was lost. Then, He showed me a vibrant green shoot coming out of the ground. Despite the wasteland around it, that shoot was growing vibrantly.

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“That’s you.” God said.

So I don’t know how much more of the forest God plans on clearing in my life. I know there will be more painful things, but I all I can do is lay down and trust God. I can’t fix it. I can’t control it. I just have to trust that God will take care of me. He’s done amazing so far; the love I’ve received from my church family has been amazing. It’s actually made this whole mess fun because I get to see and experience His love for me through others, and who doesn’t love that? Nothing has been required of me; I just get to receive love. It’s a pretty sweet deal. The only things He’s asked me to do is to love myself, trust and obey Him and plan this trip to Italy.

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Pisa. I can’t wait to see Pisa.

So finally, after years of putting it off, this blog will finally be used as it was intended…telling about the solo adventures of this peach in Italy. I’m going September 9th through the 23rd. I start in Rome.

Here are the cities on my “must see” list: Rome (obviously), Pisa, Venice, Naples and Pompeii.  I’ll be there for two weeks, and if I get a little bit of time in each of these cities, I’ll be a happy peach. I’m still working out where to start,whether to go hostel, hotel or Airbnb and how long to stay in each city. Pisa, Pompeii and Venice can be done in a day. Rome is downright overwhelming. But I have time to figure it all out and am tapping into my Type A personality to get some planning done. It’s exciting and exhausting but can’t wait to see what I come up with.

I’ll try to update my travel plans as they get more solid. If you have any tips for cities that I should see feel free to comment. Thanks for reading and even bigger thanks if you decide to keep me in your prayers. This year may be rough, but I am hopeful and looking forward to what’s ahead.