Florence. You simply hear the name of this romanic Italian city, and your heart flutters at the fantasy of being courted down cobblestone streets, wooed in a quaint restaurant by candlelight, and whisked away in a horse drawn carriage. Our minds grasp for images to complete the picture from movies or television shows. And yet, all still come up short.
It’s difficult to actually rank my days visiting Italy in some kind of arbitrary best day to worst day scale. All of our days were idyllic, but I must say that Florence holds a special place nestled somewhere in my memories between my first crush, my first time meeting my husband, and my first time stepping off the plane to Europe. It’s grouped with the giddy, wide-eyed and nostalgic experiences of my youth.
We did indeed enjoy a horse drawn carriage ride through the city, which was some of the best money we have ever spent. Later we didn’t-so-much-enjoy our trek up a ridiculous amount of stairs to reach Michelangelo’s Square, but the view over the city just as the sun was setting over Florence was worth every shooting pain and heavy breath. We sat on the stairs bundled in our blanket scarves and winter coats listening to the sweet serenade of an Italian acoustic rendition of “Hallelujah”. And when we had our fill of the city and the cold air, we made our way down to find a place for dinner.
We stumbled upon what seemed to be a random cafe to warm up and use the restroom before braving more of the cold. Upon entering, we were sincerely greeted and permitted to use the restroom without yet purchasing anything. (This is highly unusual as free public restrooms are extremely rare, and establishments only allow these privileges to paying customers.)
So we decided we should fill up on some coffee and tea to show our appreciation and thaw our numb fingers and toes. The barista was a young woman, lively and encouraging. She spoke to us with such care and kindness. When we told her we were from the States, we received the friendliest response in her sweet Italian accent, “Oh! I love Americans!” We were instantly thrown for a loop. Love Americans? I’m not even sure that Americans would claim such adoration.
Pleased with our wonderful service, I ordered my favorite vanilla tea that is so uncommon in the States I can only special order it on Amazon for the cost of an arm and a leg. (I mean, $20 for a little box of tea is pretty ridiculous). I shared with her how excited I was to have this tea because I don’t get to have it at home. As she handed me my drink, she slipped me another tea bag over the counter and told me to put it in my pocket as a Christmas present. Really?! Who is this lady?? My new best friend, obviously.
As if she couldn’t have done anything else to brighten our days, she surprised us once again. She was cleaning our the hot chocolate machine, and gave us two free drinks to share. Italians know how to do hot chocolate right. It’s basically pure chocolate melted down to a liquid form that is drinkable.
We thanked her several times over for her generosity, and with such humility she told us how much we had impacted her life and that our smiles were beautiful and special to her. She confessed that she had gone through some difficulties in life but that she believed God was taking care of her through it all.
Here was our sweet sister in Christ: serving us, loving us, encouraging us. Susan and I were teary-eyed and awestruck at God’s perfect orchestration of this event. We found out her name is Iris, and she insisted we become friends on Facebook (I was actually able to find and befriend her!).
Then she gave us a recommendation for dinner, and with our map, she marked our destination with the name of the restaurant and the owner. After hugs and reluctant good-byes, we made our way to dinner.
We approached the suspected restaurant to find the head waiter standing outside to usher in customers. We showed him our map and asked if we were at the correct restaurant and told him that Iris sent us. He was excited about the connection and assured us we were in the right place. As usual, he asked us where we were from, to which we replied, “The States.”
“Yes, of course,” he replied, “but where in the States?”
We often found this particular question to be a bit difficult because no Europeans ever know the state of Ohio… Sure, they know New York, Chicago, and California, but never Ohio.
“Ohio,” we hesitantly responded, waiting for the cue to give our brief geography lesson.
To which he responded with a great enthusiastic cheer, “BUCKEYES! O-H!”
Dumbfounded and in shock we answered in almost a question, “I-O?”
What in the world was happening here?
He proceeded to point to the Ohio State University pennant inside the restaurant (which dumbfounded us all the more. Here was a classy, upscale Italian restaurant with OSU memorabilia on the walls). He explained that he had befriended an American who had traveled with him to several states and that is how he was familiar with our beloved college team.
We had the most enjoyable dinner, which lasted a few hours at least. We continued chatting with the waiter, and he really made it a special evening for us.
It was only by the hand of God that we would have been in these perfect places, at the perfect times, with the perfect people. And while with these enjoyable stories, it’s easy to see God’s plan at work, we must remember that He does the exact same thing in all areas of our lives.
Sometimes we get stuck in our own trivial circumstances that we forget God’s bigger and greater plan for the world. We exist for one reason only: to worship. At the core of our existence as Believers lies our deepest struggle to worship self or worship God. While our lives here are meaningful and purposeful with relationships, careers, and families, our lives are only but a vapor in the scheme of eternity. Our struggles, heartaches and trials are meaningful and difficult, but they aren’t all-consuming. Our lives do not revolve around what affects us day to day; our lives revolve around the Constant, Unchanging God of the Universe. It’s when we are reminded of this essential truth that our pain, our difficulties, our brokenness, our hopes, our dreams, our plans all fall to the wayside compared to God’s plan and purpose of redemption.
Even now as I read my own words of exhortation, I am encouraged as I put my complete faith and trust in a God who NEVER fails. A God whose light shines even in the darkest of circumstances. A God who keeps His promises to us. A God who loves us so much that “He would would give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure. Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer, but this I know with all my heart: His wounds have paid my ransom” (How Deep the Father’s Love For Us, Hymn).
And as promised, some pictures from our adventures in Florence!
**I’m looking for two more pictures to add: one with Iris and one with our waiter. I’ll upload them as soon as I find them!