Friday, August 12, 2011

God's Big Surprises

Overall my favorite thing about the Europe trip might be the Sagrada Familia, but a very close second is Assisi, Italy. I loved Italy in general; relaxed, yet exciting. Beautiful, yet simple. Happy, yet tranquil. Italy was just generally a great blend of everything, and Assisi was especially wonderful.

The city is small and built into a mountain {as were most of the cities we visited}. The city has a village feel; all the buildings were old and stone and arranged around winding cobblestone streets. While in Assisi, we actually got the opportunity to visit a real monastery. {It was, in fact, THE monastery where St. Francis of Assisi lived.} We even got to meet a real monk.

But the thing is, I'm not Catholic, as I'm assuming you know, so I was a little skeptical about the whole thing. Was the monk going to go off on tangents about saints and mass and Hail Mary?

My first impression of Brother Alesandro was what I expected. He was an average-sized, unassuming guy with a special air about him that comes from being close to God. But then he surprised me.

He told us the history of the church first. Inside the beautifully grand monastery is tiny chapel, a church within the church. Hundreds of years ago, the tiny chapel was in the middle of the woods, and St. Francis lived there. Eventually the bigger church was built around the chapel to preserve and expand it, but the little chapel is the very same one where St. Francis once stood.

Then Brother Alesandro explained to us what St. Francis was searching for: the ultimate life. St. Francis realized that to find complete joy and fulfillment, man has to look outside of himself. St. Francis looked to God, and found THE truth, THE life, THE joy in Him.

"There is only THE truth," Brother Alesandro told us, squeezing his eyes shut. "Truth must always have 'the' in front of it, because if it is 'a' truth, then it is not Truth. If there is more than one truth, you may have a truth and I may have a truth, and if they are different, neither of them is the real. Truth must always be 'the truth,' and the only way to find it is through God."

Next Brother Alesandro led us down the aisle of the sanctuary into the tiny chapel that sat at the front. "I would encourage you to pray," he said. "Even if you do not believe in God, pray anyway. And I will tell you how: prayer is to go inside your heart, to open up your heart, and find the deepest, greatest questions and to give them to God. Find the biggest questions in your heart and offer them up to God. That is prayer."

I thought that was the most beautiful explanation of prayer I'd ever heard.

Next we went into a room downstairs and sat down. Brother Alesandro told us that he preferred not to talk anymore, but to let us ask him any questions we wanted and he would answer them as best he could.

Now, the group I was with was not a Christian group. Oh BOY were they not a Christian group. I just knew that if I didn't ask a question, no one would at all and we'd sit there forever in the most awkward silence the monastery had probably ever seen. So I asked God to give me something to say.

He didn't.

I sat there, without a single good question coming to mind. Come ON, God! I thought. Give me SOMETHING! But he just didn't. I sat there panicking quietly, hoping Brother Alesandro wouldn't hate us for being so completely silent as the grave--

Someone raised their hand. Who was that? It couldn't--no...

It was one of trouble-makers, probably the worst guy of all.

Then after Brother A answered his question, the trouble-maker's main partner in crime raised HER hand.

And then the girl I'd vote Least Likely to Speak Up asked something.

And then something amazing happened: this girl, quite possibly the most morally bankrupt individual I had ever met in my life, started crying. Huge tears and quiet sobs and hopeless shoulder shaking wracked her tiny little body.

I think my jaw actually dropped.

Now, I knew all things were possible with God, but I did NOT see that coming at all. This girl, just the night before had been in one of the guy's rooms for a just a LITTLE {okay, a LOT} longer than appropriate. The night that before she'd snuck out and gotten just a LITTLE {or a lot} more alcohol than she could handle. And not two hours before she'd been cussing like an absolute sailor.

And somehow, God had her right where he wanted her.

Our hotel that night was close to the monastery, and the girl went back. She talked to Brother Alesandro that night. And the next night, she went back again.

Two days later, she was almost back to her old antics, but I know something special happened to her in Assisi. God is seeking her out, and I know he's not giving up. He works in the strangest, most mysterious ways.

Just think, if I had spoken up and saved the day with my wonderfully spiritual questions, none of that might have happened. It just goes to show you that sometimes when it FEELS like God's left you hanging, it's because he has something even better in the making. Believe it or not, God knows better than I do XD {Shocking, I know.}

So if you ever think about the crying girl in Assisi, say a quick prayer for her. God hasn't forgotten her, and I hope I never will either.

Matthew 19:26 "Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"


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