My thoughts were consumed by Psalm 84 during my time in Italy. From Rome to Naples, Naples to Tuscany, and Tuscany to Milan, Jesus blew me away with all He laid out before me in this Psalm.
Before I even got in the car to go to the airport, Jesus assured me that I was at home as long as I was near Him. My happiness is not related to where in the world I am, but rather if I am found in His presence or not.
"Even a sparrow finds a home, and a swallow, a nest for herself where she places her young--near Your altars, LORD of Hosts, my King and my God. How happy are those who reside in Your house, who praise You continually." (verses 3-4)
Touring the churches in Rome. Tasting the beauty of the history of the church and wresting through the not-so-beautiful parts. Trying to wrap my mind around the beauty of Jesus Christ, coming to dwell with us.
"How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD of Hosts. I long and yearn for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God." (verses 1-2)
Sitting in my window in Rome, and even a couple days earlier in Chicago, declaring that my heart was set on pilgrimage.
"Happy are the people whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a source of spring water; even the autumn rain will cover it with blessing. They go from strength to strength; each appears before God in Zion." (verses 5-7)
I've decided to make this summer in Europe an intentional portion of my pilgrimage with Jesus. I want to go from strength to strength. I want to walk with Him through the Valley of Baca [or the valley of weeping] so that He can make it a source of spring water. I want to let Him speak to me and teach me even the difficult things, especially the difficult things, so that I can be strengthened in Him. So that I can make progress on this pilgrimage--be just a little bit closer to Jesus.
In Tuscany I encountered this heart cry for when the journey gets difficult:
"LORD God of Hosts, hear my prayer; listen, God of Jacob. Consider our shield, God; look on the face of your anointed one." (verses 8-9)
And a reminder of our purpose to strengthen our hearts:
"Better a day in Your courts than a thousand anywhere else. I would rather be at the door of the house of my God, than to live in the tents of the wicked." (verse 10)
A day in His courts. Just a day in His presence. A couple of minutes talking to Him--meeting with Him. Some time just being at His house, and we are restored:
"For the LORD God is a sun and shield. The LORD gives grace and glory; He does not without the good from those who live with integrity. LORD of Hosts, happy is the person who trusts in You." (verses 11-12).
On our pilgrimage He is our sun, our light. He is our shield. He will be gracious with us and will not withhold His goodness from us as we live with integrity. As our hearts are set on pilgrimage, we can trust Him. As we walk through the valley of weeping, we can trust Him. He is trustworthy.
I've seen Him act faithfully toward me, exactly according to His promises in Psalm 84, as I have pilgrimaged intentionally through Europe. He has given me happiness. He has been my light and my shield. He has been more than gracious and good toward me. His goodness and grace has not been limited to my inward pilgrimage but is also evident in my physical journey through Europe.
Here are some pictures for proof:
On Sunday we left Tuscany and drove 3 hours to Milan, Italy, where we stayed for one night. When we arrived on Sunday we went to see this church. Absolutely magnificent. But the church wasn't nearly as moving to me as what we saw underneath....
Next, we were off to see some remains of the imperial palace. Just as the churches and baptistry would have been fully intact and at ground level in the 4th century, so this palace would have been. This was Constantine's palace and it was from here that he wrote the Edict of Milan (named for the location of its creation) in 313. This edict legalized Christianity and ended the persecution of Christians.
The lovely blonde in the fabulous red shirt is Megan. She loves ivy and we both love the history of this place so of course we got a picture together here.
As if my heart had not already had enough, we went to the church of St. Ambrose. I loved it before we had even arrived because of the bells that were declaring the time: 4:45. We made it in time to see the skeleton of St. Ambrose (which was totally as creepy as it sounds) and sit in for a little bit of the Mass service. Here are Johnny, Megan, Lauren, Ashely, Chris, and I in the quadraporticus of the church. Quadraporticus is maybe my favorite word and is probably my favorite part of the church (the square in front). While we are talking favorites, I might as well tell you that my favorite quadraporticus is at St. Peter's Basilica.
To my delight, Switzerland is just as incredible as Italy. The beauty is almost beyond description. I don't love Italy any less because Switzerland has its own new place in my heart. These mountains reflect the strength and majesty of their Creator.
And my favorite view from our room: the Eiger, the Monk, and the Jung Frau. I love these mountains and cannot wait to explore them within these next couple of days.