Spreading Joy with Laughter

Tonight I am especially thankful for friends who make me laugh. They can make me chuckle to the point of tears; in fact, I have almost peed myself on multiple occasions. It’s only now that I realize how beneficial these laughs are to me. I suffer with anxiety. I describe it as something I suffer with because it is a daily problem that I face and have faced since childhood. Anxiety has affected each day of my life and has disrupted my health at times.  Normally I have it under control, with the help of a little lexapro and a big dosage of puppy love.

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Mikey, my walking anxiety relief (most of the time)

This past week, I have had two anxiety attacks. An anxiety attack for me feels like I can’t breathe. As I come into the attack, my breath begins to speed up and get heavy. I become completely unaware of my surroundings and my heart races impossibly fast. I can’t explain what sends me into an attack, only that it is terrifying.

I have a lot of things to be stressed about this week: exams, a presentation at work, and a trip to Italy. To make things worse, I left Mikey home with my parents and now I miss him terribly. I have been biting my nails to the point of bleeding, skipping meals, and I can’t sleep.

To say the least, my week has sucked. The thought that I will be in Florence, Italy in less than 48 hours helps most of the time. That is, until I begin to get anxious at the thought of getting anxious in Italy. It’s an endless cycle. I have had no desire to do anything outside of my daily routine, because heavy anxiety comes with the whisper of depression.

Tonight, I was able to breathe again. Two of my closest friends came over to make a Christmas video. The video’s purpose is to bring a little joy to those who watch it. The video is goofy and a little stupid, but that’s okay. During the hour we spent recording and joking around, I had not a worry in the world.

I hope that this article reminds others how important their friends are and how impactful we are on each other. Be kind. Be outgoing. Laugh. A lot.

Please enjoy the video that allowed me to breathe for a moment in time.

Merry Christmas!

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Leroy

After ten years of being homeless, he decided it was time to settle down. Although he now travels around the country to live with his children, Leroy stays faithful to the homeless community in Knoxville, Tennessee.
When asked for his personal piece of advice, Leroy, 71, said “Even if you’re stuck in a situation that you can’t get out of, if you believe in your heart, He will pull you out.”
Leroy has been a Christian for fifteen years or so, after one specific frightful night. While staying in someone’s home, a fire began to erupt in the kitchen. After failing to put it out, Leroy prayed to himself “if Hell is this hot, I can’t do it.” To this day, he prays on his knees each morning and night, thanking God.

Leroy has fourteen kids spread around Tennessee, California, Florida, and Delaware. Although he travels to stay with all of them, he somehow always returns to his home city, Knoxville. Whenever he is in the area, he volunteers at Love Kitchen and local churches, using his experiences and faith to encourage other homeless people.
“Being homeless, you shift yourself from place to place. Often, people are addicted to drugs and alcohol because they have given up. They think life is not worth it, God doesn’t love them.” This is why Leroy dedicates his time spreading God’s message throughout the city, to tell others his story and spread encouragement.
Like many others, Leroy used to have drinking habits. He would make his own moonshine, continuing to make and drink it until one day, he began to get sick. Throwing up, he begged God to “take the taste out” of his mouth. The next day, as he lifted more alcohol to his lips, he felt the sudden urge to pour the entire bottle out, so he did. He hasn’t had a drop since.
Leroy has dozens of fascinating and scary stories from living on the streets.

According to him, the most terrifying moment was in 1972, when he got lost in the Everglades. By the time he realized how lost he had become, it was dark with nothing around but a small empty fruit stand. Barely able to see his hands in front of his face, Leroy managed to make it to the stand for the night. Looking around, he noticed two pairs of glowing eyes from about 30 feet away. He was being watched by two panthers. Luckily, they didn’t come close enough to hurt him, only scare him. In the morning, he was arrested by state troopers for endangering his own life. After two days in jail, the state department got him a ticket to Orlando, Florida.
Leroy is currently waiting to begin living in his own apartment, with the help of local church, Redeemer. As much as he loves living with his kids, he says he wishes to have a home of his own. He also claims that if he ever gets enough money, he would buy a house and let other homeless people live there, as long as he trusted them.
Leroy and I met each other at Lost Sheep Ministry, a local organization that feeds the Knoxville homeless community each Wednesday. He has become a kind friend to me, someone who always smiles and gives me a hug. His story is the first of many volunteers and homeless people from Lost Sheep.

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That Time When a Stranger Gave Me Money for a Boobjob

It was the last night of a long trip in Europe. The final destination was Dublin, Ireland. To start our evening, two friends and I headed to the Jameson Factory. We were planning on taking a tour through the factory; however, all of the tours were booked by the time that we arrived. Little did we know, this minor disappointment turned out to be the factor that started our night of a lifetime.

Bummed out, we decided to at least grab a drink at the bar before leaving. They had delicious and fresh whiskey drinks. Boone drank a whiskey straight up while Katy and I both ordered a drink that involved lemon, thyme syrup, orange peel, and honey.

Our attitudes were all the same, let’s drink these and go home.

To top off our disappointing night, there were no more tables available. After noticing us looking very tired and lost, a very kind man offered for us to sit with him. The three of us were always trying to meet new people during our trip, so we didn’t even hesitate to sit and get to know him. As I sat down, I couldn’t help but notice that there were seven or so empty drinks already on the table. So, either this guy had friends that already left, sat at a used table, or he was already very drunk.

He was hammered.

For the next three hours, Katy and I sat in humiliation. This man was an extreme pervert and with every drink he lost the little social filter he already had.

At first, his jokes were funny. He poked fun at himself, complaining in detail about his sex life at home (or the lack of one). He showed us pictures of his dogs and wife. Then, he dropped a bombshell on us.

He boasted to us that he was a multimillionaire. I’m not sure about Boone or Katy, but I didn’t believe him. I thought to myself, this is some sad, drunk man trying to talk himself up. I entertained his stories about flying on his private jet and about his winning racehorses. There was no way this guy was seriously rich. He could barely speak a sentence without drunkenly drooling a little down his chin.

Throughout the course of the evening, this man bought us five drinks each, at ten dollars a drink. Katy and I were only able to finish about half of a drink before he got up to grab us more. We didn’t mind though, it’s not like we were wasting our own personal money. Boone wasn’t enjoying the five free drinks as much as we were. Whenever the man went to grab more drinks, Boone would grab my drink and tell me that he wanted a fruity drink instead of another straight up.

Each time he bought us a drink, he would toss a fifty euro at the waiter. (Im not kidding, the poor waiter had to pick it off the ground. He didn’t seem too annoyed to be earning such large tips though.)

As the evening wore on, the man apparently noticed my boobs, or the lack of them. He decided that I needed to do something about this. Handing over his credit card, he told me to go get a breast enhancement surgery. He wanted to help me.

It was very difficult to explain to this man why I wouldn’t accept his money. Finally, I was able to persuade him to put the credit card away. He said to me, you’re right! I shouldn’t take the credit card, his wife would notice!

Instead, he pulled out seven hundred euros and put them on the table.

The stack of crisp euros sat on the table for the next hour untouched by everyone except the man. He would pull a fifty off of the top to tip the waiter. Don’t worry, he told me, we will go to the ATM and get you more money after this.

Almost five hours after sitting and talking with this man, Katy, Boone, and I began to give each other the ‘lets leave soon’ look. We had heard enough of his drunken stories and were finding his come-ons less and less humorous. Instead, his comments just became more vulgar by the minute.

For those reading this article, I have spared you all of the disgusting and demeaning comments he made, especially towards Katy and myself.

Never again do I want to hear about the things an overweight, drunk, old man wants to physically do to me. I do not want to hear any more detailed questions about my own sex life. And I definitely I do not want to be told to “move my arms” so that someone can get a better look at my chest.

Having said all of that, I can still say that this was the best last night of my trip.

After making an excuse to leave, the man said he wanted to take us to dinner. No, I said, and please take your money. He told me to hold it for a minute while he went to get his limo for us.

And then he disappeared… without taking his money and without leaving a name.

So I got a boob job.

Just kidding. Boone, Katy, and I treated ourselves to wine, dinner, and dessert at one of the most famous restaurants in Dublin. It was amazing.

The next day, out of curiosity I attempted to find him online. I searched the phrase “canadian multimillionaire horse racer” and there he was.

Looking back on it, I wonder if he remembers anything that happened or if he just woke up with an empty wallet. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me.

It was a delicious meal.

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Finding Love Abroad

A Blog in the Life

This post is about my summer abroad and my Italian romance that bloomed while there. If anyone who reads this is inspired to go travel, I have accomplished my goal.

I first learned about my study abroad program from a hippie professor during a lecture. She was teaching a course I was enrolled in, Public Relations 270. I was intrigued by the way the program sounded, so I went home and dug into thorough research. I found that the city was small and beautiful. I could totally see myself living in Italy.

I had hundreds of concerns that overwhelmed me at the time. What if I didn’t receive scholarship? How expensive will travel be? Is it going to be safe?

All of my concerns faded with time and with all of the encouragement from study abroad alums, friends, and family. I received a generous amount of scholarship, allowing me to make…

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Finding Love Abroad

This post is about my summer abroad and my Italian romance that bloomed while there. If anyone who reads this is inspired to go travel, I have accomplished my goal.

I first learned about my study abroad program from a hippie professor during a lecture. She was teaching a course I was enrolled in, Public Relations 270. I was intrigued by the way the program sounded, so I went home and dug into thorough research. I found that the city was small and beautiful. I could totally see myself living in Italy.

I had hundreds of concerns that overwhelmed me at the time. What if I didn’t receive scholarship? How expensive will travel be? Is it going to be safe?

All of my concerns faded with time and with all of the encouragement from study abroad alums, friends, and family. I received a generous amount of scholarship, allowing me to make the final step into changing my life.

Finally, the day came. I was leaving America for Siena, Italy.

 

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Here is a photo of Katy and I about to head for our gate to Siena. You may not be surprised to hear that this picture was forced by our parents.

I studied in the quaint city of Siena, Italy for a total of five weeks. During this time, I took a 400 level Public Relations course and let me say, the professor was not easy. That woman isn’t playing around with grades. Luckily, outside of class she’s a pretty chill woman with millions of fascinating stories from a rockin’ career. Also, she’s very earthy and hippie, which makes her pretty cool in my opinion.

Waking up early every morning, I would get coffee from my block’s coffee shop, attend class, eat pasta, buy wine (which was very cheap), study in the park, and eat more pasta. My roommate and I had picnics all of the time; sometimes we brought bread and cheese to eat with the wine, which we always brought.

During the weekends, I would travel to other cities. That is how I met Leonardo, my Italian hunk.

During my first weekend in Italy, four friends and I went to Elba Island. After taking a ferry, we were picked up in a small, red truck by a small, Italian woman. She was our Air BnB host and spoke no english. The roads were windy and she had terrible driving skills. This made my poor friend Robert, who was forced to hover in the bed of the dinky truck, scream like a girl a good half of the time.

Lorena, the host, had prepared everything prior to our arrival and it was beautiful. Perfect, in fact. She was extremely sweet and eventually called her son to help her translate. That is how Leonardo and I first met, in a way. We spoke on the phone multiple times in order to communicate with his mom.

Although I didn’t see any photographs of her son, our WhatsApp conversations had become flirtatious. I joked with his mom about marrying him. She thought it was hilarious when I said Leonardo, pointed to my wedding finger, and called her mom. Maybe she was just laughing at me and didn’t actually understand….Actually, she was probably just laughing at me, now that I think about it.

Back in Siena, I was able to watch something called The Palio. The Palio is a six horse race that has been performed since the city’s creation. Siena’s twelve districts compete in it and there are many long-lived rivalries. The race lasts about five minutes in total. But after learning the history, living among the month long preparations, and standing four hours to see the race, I might say this was my favorite day of all my travels. I highly recommend researching ‘Siena Palio’ on YouTube.

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This photo was taken the day of the Palio. If you can’t tell, there are thousands of people crammed into the city’s center. The horses race around the circle of people.

I also got to do things like take a cooking class, wine tasting, hiking, and eating. SO.MUCH.FOOD. I left America disliking wine and came back a connoisseur, I’m sure all of my American friends hate how nerdy I am about wine now.  Also I’m pretty sure everyone hates me for talking about my summer constantly. How could I not? I miss it every single day.

Aside from Elba, I visited Pisa, Florence, Napoli, Capri, San Giminano, Grosseto, Cinque Terre, and Rome.

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Here we are in front of the colosseum in Rome. After this picture we discovered a local restaurant and I had the best lasagne of my life. That is what I remember best about Rome, the lasagna.

In Pisa, I scheduled a time and place to meet Leonardo. I was very nervous, thinking of movies like Taken and Taken 2. What if he was some weirdo who just wanted to drug an American girl and take advantage of her? Or worse… what if he was ugly? Just kidding. I was excited to meet him no matter what, although looks were going to be a bonus. I knew he was in college as an aerospace engineer, his mom was a sweetheart, and he had been very polite over text. What could possibly go wrong?

To my pleasant surprise, I arrived to see a handsome, nerdy, and very Italian boy. He brought along his dog, a gorgeous golden retriever named Achille and met me at the train station. He wanted to go for a walk and get gelato. So that’s exactly what we did.

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He would probably kill me for posting a picture of him but oh well. Here he is on our first day of meeting. Does he look in love with me yet?

After my program ended, I took three extra weeks to backpack around different countries. I spent time in Switzerland, Spain, The Netherlands, France, Germany, and Ireland. I hiked the Swiss Alps, ran with the bulls in Pamplona, walked down the red-light district in Amsterdam, drank wine by the Eiffel tower, stayed with a German family in Stuttgart and hiked through the black forest, and drank beer in Dublin. None of this would’ve been possible without the push to study abroad.

My favorite of all of these countries was Switzerland. Although the prices were ridiculous, the views made it all worth it. Below is a photograph of a portion of the hiking in Switzerland.

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As for Leonardo and I, after spending many days together in Italy, he decided to come to Ireland with me. After an amazing week of being together in Dublin, we agreed to date. Basically, I just completed every girl’s dream of falling in love with a beautiful Italian man. We have now been dating for two months, which is pretty good for an across-the-ocean relationship.

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Here is Leonardo and I after spending a long morning exploring Dublin.

All in all, I spent eight weeks in Europe and I cannot wait to go again.

The language barrier can often be uncomfortable. I once got locked inside a bathroom stall and no one understood what was happening because they did not speak English. I was sweating like a pig inside an un-air conditioned public restroom, with ten minutes before my ferry left for Capri. In Switzerland, I missed a train because I could not find an English-speaking person to guide me the correct way. But these are the memories I love, the excitement of being in a foreign country and immersing yourself in it.

Studying abroad taught me so much about myself and my future. It exposed me to new experiences, encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, and allowed me to embrace other cultures in a way that is impossible to do in America.

I believe that everyone should get an opportunity to study abroad. Whether a student wants to study in Africa, India, Italy, or Australia, it doesn’t matter. There is exciting food, music, people, and customs just waiting to be explored. The world is an amazing place and by exploring it, you are learning more than you ever thought you could.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be lucky enough to find a foreign romance.

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Throwing my coin into the Trevi fountain in hopes of returning.

 

 

Is this Adulthood?

I don’t know why children, preteens, teenagers, and young adults rush to adulthood. I am currently in the category of young adult and am just now realizing how unprepared I am for being a self-supported adult. I am half-way through my college career and just completed my first phone interview. The interview in itself wasn’t too intimidating. There were the typical questions: What are your weakness? Do you have any communication horror stories that you learned from? Do you have any questions so far?

To every question I was asked, I never had a complete answer. No, I never had any questions. In my opinion, he described everything perfectly to me. Why is there so much pressure to have a question? This led me to ask silly questions that seemed unimportant from the moment it left my lips. Do I have any horror stories? The moments with customers that do not deem well, I usually tend to forget. I do not have specific moments of growth ready to explain. All in all, I would give my first phone interview a solid 7/10.

Is this the beginning of my adult life? Awkward phone interviews? By this time today, I have showered, made coffee, had a phone interview, emailed professors, and have begun a blog. My seventeen year old brother has yet to crawl out of bed.

I yearn for the days where I was content with watching Netflix all night, sleeping in all day, and waking up to finish my summer reading. Now, I am tired by 9pm and I am only twenty. I can’t even legally have a drink yet but I am expected to maintain a job, do well in school, pay bills, and make adult decisions. Well, in my opinion, doing all of these things successfully deserves a drink! Maybe two!

Our elders expect us to act as if we are thirty but then speak to us as though we don’t understand what it will be like in the future. I am not saying all of this to complain, I enjoy the benefits of not having a full-time career, not having to pay all of my bills alone, and not having full responsibility of everything in my life. I am just saying that the college students in their last two years of school need more credit. We may not be ‘adult’ yet but we sure are pretty darn close.

Later today I have to endure a second phone interview and Monday I have an in-person one. My brother will probably sleep through those too.

God, Give Me Guidance!

I can’t express how many times my journal has read ‘God, give me guidance’ over the last few months. It pains me to ask for answers time and time again, knowing in the back of my mind that He is constantly giving them to me. Instead of constantly asking for guidance, I should be seeking the ones that are surrounding me daily.

But here I write, once again, God…give me guidance!

As many of you know, I just spent the last two months in Europe exploring the countryside as well as myself. I learned so many things. I learned that I have a knack for finding kind strangers to guide me in any country, that I love traveling more than anything in the world, that being away from everything does nothing but pull me closer to God, and so much more. In addition to the plethora of things I learned, I also came back with many questions. Will I ever see Italy again? Will my new relationship last? Will I continue to seek God everyday? When will I be happy to be back?

Don’t get me wrong, seeing my family and Mikey (of course) took so much weight off of my shoulders. Being away from them always reminds me of how blessed I am in so many ways. I hoped that being able to reach out and be with my family would take this longing away, this longing to return. To travel. To explore.

With this in mind, I pray. I pray not to travel but that God will show me what my purpose is in life. Instead of praying for a successful romance, I have prayed for God to show me his purpose in this relationship. I constantly pray for the Lord to be with me, to let me think of Him in all that I do. I have asked, pleaded, and cried out to God. I have gotten on my knees in over seven countries, all asking the same thing from God.

God, why do I feel so unanswered? Give me guidance!!!

The thing is, whenever I sit to write a blog, I begin to write whilst very emotional and clouded. I almost always come out of writing very clear-headed and smiling. I wouldn’t claim to be quite clear-headed right now, but I sure am smiling.

God has been guiding me this entire summer. He guided me to a random island in Italy, where my romance began. He guided me to my best friend and roommate this summer, who helped me grow so very much. He is the reason for my life changing summer. He pursued my heart. Although He kept me questioning, which at times gets a big annoying, He kept my eyes on Him.

I guess what I am saying is, by asking God for guidance, I am exactly where I need to be. And that puts a smile on my face, no matter what continent I am in.

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Falling in Love with Italy

Ciao! Italy is a wonderland of beautiful nature, mouth-watering pastries, and passionate people. The images stuck in my mind of the vibrant green scenery will forever keep me yearning to return. As I sit here with a glass of Sangiovese red wine in my left hand, a Pulitzer Prize novel on my lap, and a breathtaking view of rolling mountains and the Mediterranean ocean, I already wish I could stay in this wonderful country forever. Aside from the piercing blue ocean and endless vineyards, I have come to appreciate the culture.

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Being American, I came to Italy expecting it to be not much different; I expected to see heavy Americanization. I couldn’t have imagined how wonderfully different it is. The peacefulness of the people and country is constantly surrounding me, a quality rarely found in America. This persistent quietness has allowed me to appreciate things that I have never thought to before. The food, oh the food. Where to begin? While I did expect the meals to be maginificent, I didn’t expect the culture of eating and speaking quietly and appreciating every bite as you take it. Everything I have eaten has been organic, grown by the locals that rely on your business for their living. Due to the lack of chemicals and preservatives found in almost every meal in America, I feel healthier than ever! So although I am constantly eating goodies such as gelato, pizza, calzones, pasta, and just bread in general, I know that I’m putting decent food in my body. In return, my body is gratefully staying healthy.

 

Then there’s the drinking. Last week, I sent a selfie of myself with a beer to my dad as a joke. He wasn’t amused in the least. What is often misunderstood in America of under 21 year olds drinking in Europe is that the drinking being done is purely for taste. I haven’t had a meal without at least a beer or a glass of wine. I learned to appreciate the taste when mixed with my meals. I am not drinking for an end goal; I am drinking in moderation. I can appreciate Italy’s famous vineyards with each and every sip.

My life here is a dream come true; I now know how much I would enjoy living here in the future. Italy has been wonderful to me and I know who to thank; God has been constantly showing me His light during the duration of this trip. From strangers finding a way (despite the language barrier) to stop me from getting off on the wrong train stop, keeping me safe in dangerous areas of towns while traveling, and leading me to a wonderful summer romance (yes, I like an Italian college student here). I have no idea what the Lord has in store for me but I cannot wait to find out. For now, I can only continue to pray for His hand to continue showing me His plan.

So far, I have visited Florence, Pisa, Elba island, San Giminano, Voltera, Naples, Capri, and next week I will visit Venice! Stay updated for more!

How a Muslim couple inspired my faith.

Last week, a Muslim couple inspired me to work harder in my faith. I met this couple on a nine hour flight from Chicago to Rome.

My friend Katy and I were on our way to study abroad in Siena, Italy. The plane we were on was overwhelmingly packed with fellow travelers, all hoping for a quick-passing and safe journey. I could not explain to you how I felt during those nine hours, as words would not be able to sufficiently explain the excitement, nervousness, and uneasiness I was struggling to conceal on the quiet flight. Midway through the flight, I was woken up from a very pathetic attempt of a nap. What woke me was the stirring of the Muslim couple sitting beside me. The couple stood up and made their way to the area near the bathrooms. A group of passengers were already standing close to the area, all waiting their turn for the restroom. Instead of grabbing a spot in the growing line, the man pulled out a rolled up mat. Carefully, he bent over and gently unraveled the mat onto the plane’s floor. As his wife stood patiently, he slipped off his shoes and stepped onto the mat. I watched curiosly as he began a series of bows and performed what I assumed was a prayer. Once he finished, he put his shoes on once and again and stepped aside, nodding to his wife. His wife, a beautiful woman with a caring face, proceeded to take her turn in prayer.

As I watched this, I couldn’t help but wonder how often these prayers were performed. I waited until the man’s wife returned to her seat beside Katy and I, then I quietly asked for her attention. She smiled at me and gratefully answered all of my nosy questions concerning her faith and culture. She explained that she prays to God five times a day. Wow, I thought, I can barely remember to pray once a day. Sadly, I admit, I probably pray far less than I need to. I told her that she inspired me, being confident enough to get on her knees in prayer in front of hundreds of people. I said it takes a lot of courage to do that. She looked at me and simply stated, “No, it isn’t courage. It is simply my devotion to God.” I smiled at her and told her thank you, turning back towards the seat in front of me. In ten minutes, this stranger had taught me something very important.

The couple’s peaceful prayer forced me to question why I felt as though I can only pray silently in my room, so as not to disturb or offend anyone. God used them to teach me to not be afraid. Praying and worshipping God should be something I am proud of, it should promote my love for the Lord and inspire others. I should be brave and make disciples. I should shout from the rooftops how great my God is.

So, thanks to two friendly strangers, I have decided to make my month in Italy a faith journey. I am going to worship the Lord whenever and wherever I see his love and beautiful creations, which is everywhere. I am going to use the experience of traveling, only made possible by Him, to both grow in my faith and proudly demonstrate it. Thankfully, Italy’s beauty constantly reminds me of how awesome the Lord is. God truly is amazing.