In about 2 hours, I’ll board my last train from Santa Maria Novella and end this summer chapter in Florence. I’m absolutely ecstatic for the next two weeks and getting home, but I am sad to say goodbye to this home. The following is my humanities final, and I think it does a pretty good job of summing up my thoughts on my time here…
“Stories fill our lives in the way that water fills the lives of fish.” I read this in an article somewhere and it got me to thinking. The same article defined a story in its broadest sense as anything told or recounted in the form of a casually-linked set of events. The word story can be replaced with account, tale, narrative, anecdote, legend, history, and the list goes on. Stories also create meanings. To say what something means is to say how it is connected to something else—the link between events. A group is connected based on their mutual knowledge of stories. HUF is a 3-month experience where a group of students is submerged in a new culture and for 3 months, we learn about stories of history, talk of stories back home, and create new stories together. It is a unique opportunity that shapes our lives in ways we may not even be aware. It is this concept of a story that has woven and written its way into my heart this summer as a major building block for what is to come after I leave the gates of this villa and return home.As Dr. McLarty pointed out in his time here at the villa, “at Harding, we sing.” Singing has played a large role in our summer, and a number of those times have been at devotionals. Several devotionals stand out in my mind as defining moments of this summer. One occurred pretty well into the summer at a time when tensions were running pretty high and a negative, complaining vibe seemed to fill the walls of the villa and the walls of all of our hearts. So one night, we all decided to go out on the terrace and have a positivity time. We wound up singing and talking and sharing our favorite stories of the summer so far. One other devotional in particular stands out to me, and that is the one we had on our last night in Paestum on the beach. It had been a great, relaxing day, but I had a few things occupying my mind and my heart from back home, and the loose topic of the evening was peace. It was something that was hard to hear at the time, but it was exactly what I needed. After praying for peace and sleeping off what I credit to sun delusions, I woke up feeling like a new person ready to take on the final week at the villa. Coming together with the group for a time of worship in all of these amazing places we have had the opportunity to visit is an experience incomparable to any other and I am blessed for the times I have been able to worship God with this amazing group of people.
Chapel is easily taken for granted, but I love the time spent focusing my mind on God and starting the day off with songs and thoughts that seem to put the day in a new light. Like devotionals, several chapels have stood out to me this summer and provoked further thought. These chapels specifically have kept me wondering and seeking and pondering life all summer long. Jay Walls spoke about life being like a limp piece of spaghetti, but followed that with talking about passions, purposes, and missions. He gave five steps to follow to pursue these qualities—pray, study, be willing, consider the options, and be courageous. This hit home with me since I currently have no idea what my future holds, no clue what I want to do or even what I would like to major in—in a sense, no directions and no ideas to grab and run with. So after I hear Jay’s chapel and have a minuscule freak out on still not having anything planned out for my life aside from where I am going on free travel, ex-HUFer Brandon comes in and talks about Michelangelo and how he described his talent as unveiling and chiseling away the unnecessary marble to reveal the masterpiece underneath. It is as if the exquisite sculpture is already formed inside, it just needs someone with a chisel to get rid of the excess. Brandon’s point was that God is doing that very thing with us, His children, His masterpieces. Now I am really grappling for what purpose these seemingly connected chapel talks (stories?) serve for me when John Mcallister comes and talks about how he as an author picks an end goal for his books and relies on blind confidence and faith to get him there. Perhaps that is what God is doing with me. He has an end goal in mind and we must live boldly and blindly to unveil that goal.
It is crazy how everything manages to connect. Obviously this summer has been about learning as much as anything else, if not more so. In Bible, in Humanities, even in Italian, many classes revolve around stories. Most of the masterpieces we have seen this summer have not gotten their fame and recognition based solely on the magnificence of the paint on the canvas. The term masterpiece encompasses with it a story behind the hand of the artist or the particular piece that adds to its glamour and finesse. It is a combination of the story portrayed and the story behind its completion that makes it memorable. In sculpture, Bernini is my favorite sculptor because of his ability to so greatly tell a story in his marble creations—there is movement, there is life. Perhaps there is not always a beginning, middle, and end to the story, but there is a story and stories give life. Stories enhance understanding. Stories build connections.
So where does my story go from here? I cannot with certainty answer that question, and I am okay with that. Bob Goff summarizes it better than I can at the end of his book Love Does. The epilogue states the following, “You’ve read the stories in this book, but what’s better than all of those stories are the ones you’re continuing to write with your life. If you’re like me, I’d ask myself at the end of a book called Love Does—so what do I do? It can be a tough question to answer, honestly, but it can also be an easy one. Let me tell you what I do when I don’t know what to do to move my dreams down the road. I usually just try to figure out what the next step is and then do that…what’s your next step? I don’t know for sure, because for everyone it’s different, but I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up. Something you already think is beautiful or lasting or meaningful. Pick something you aren’t just able to do; instead, pick something you feel like you were made to do and then do lots of that.” So that’s my plan.