“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
I’ve missed sharing with you over the last couple of weeks as Ron and I had the opportunity to travel to Italy to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. It was a vacation, it was time away, but it was also a time of great blessings. Immersed in a different culture, a different language, different food, and plenty of new adventures, for me there were a number of memorable “God-incidents.”
We began our time in Italy in Venice, a unique “city” comprised of 118 islands joined together by 400 bridges. In preparing for our time in Venice, I’d read a little bit about the area and was intrigued to find Venice was the home of the first Jewish ghetto (the origin of the word!) Joining thousands of other folks we gawked at all of the main sites surrounding St. Mark’s Square- including St. Mark’s, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs and the Bell Tower, all beautiful and grand and definitely built to impress. After taking in the main tourist spots, we were set free to wander the city on our own.
Immediately we headed for the Rialto Bridge and the farther we got from the city center, the farther we got from the crowds of tourists. Thanks to Ron’s skills with navigation we eventually found the Jewish Quarter. Walking into the quarter was like wandering into a completely different world. Rather than opulence of the rest of the city, these buildings were taller to accommodate the increased population density and very plain. We found all of the sites I’d read about- the Jewish museum, and a memorial to the many who lost their lives in the Second World War (all but 7 of the ghetto’s residents!)
Wandering down the streets of the Jewish ghetto, bright colorful artwork in a window caught my eye, and the titles of the piece tickled me- il gatti di ghetto (the cats of the ghetto). Entering the shop I struck up a conversation with the owner, who spoke amazingly excellent English. Over the course of the next hour, we were blessed to see the artwork of his wife, including an illustrated Torah, and their collaborative works of the six days of creation and a creative rendering of world peace, and amazing works of micrography- including the Via Dolorosa using the entire text of Isaiah. Asking if we wanted to see their studio, he locked up his shop and walked us to their studio in a building down the street, over 500 years old. Together he and his wife had raised 7 children on a kibbutz in Israel, while his grandmother owned land in Florida! Hearing this intriguing life story, we realized none of this encounter was planned. Walking away we knew it was one of those encounters only God could engineer.
The amazing thing is that all of us have a story. Our stories are unique and yet in some wonderful way, our stories are incorporated into God’s much bigger story. At home or far away, on a plane or in line at WalMart, walking down the streets of Venice or the streets of Pensacola- each of us has an opportunity to celebrate and explore the stories of those around us. This week I invite you to celebrate your own unique story. Take a few moments to reflect on the ways you have seen God at work in your life. This week I also challenge you to listen to someone else’s story, maybe in an unexpected place, maybe intentionally going where you would not ordinarily go, and listen for the intricate and amazing ways God is at work.