The tightening of anxiety in my stomach was palpable as I packed my bags. I was slightly nervous to leave my kids for ten days straight as my husband and I flew off to Italy for the trip of a lifetime. At the exact same time, I couldn't wait to leave. The relaxation, rest, and uninterrupted face to face time with my husband was gladly welcomed. We had moved to New York four years prior, and had only been away for one weekend together since the move. In the time leading up to this monumental trip, we had planted a church with 3 growing communities in New York. We had also welcomed our fourth child into the world, and there were no signs of life slowing down. We truly needed this time away together. Mentally as I wrestled with all the justifications for this trip, I had to consciously step out of the imaginary line where mothers readily wait to receive guilt (from the pit of hell, you know the one I mean), so I could focus, complete packing my bags, and step onto that airplane with my love sans kids. My four babies were very happily staying with my mom and dad, aka Nonni and Poppy. They're weren't even any tears as I said goodbye, except my own.
The moment we landed in Rome, I completely reset. Knowing my kids were happy and thriving back home with my family caused me to let go and just enjoy the trip. We did everything your average Roman tourist would do; we took in the coliseum, the spanish steps, gelato, gelato and more gelato. We walked through Ancient Rome and read every plaque we came across to drink in all the history we possibly could. We saw the ancient temples, the Arch of Constantine, the crumbling aqueducts, St. Peter's Basilica, The Sistine Chapel, and then we ate some more gelato and pasta - probably in that order.
The evening of our last day in Rome we had a good friend back in NY tell us that we needed to go to Mamertine Prison. It didn't sound familiar to either of us until he further explained that it was where the Apostle Paul was imprisoned and had supposedly written the prison epistles from. The moment I heard that, my heart was set. We packed our bags that evening and prepared for the journey to Capri the next day. But before we left to catch our ferry, Mamertine Prison was added as our final destination in Rome.
I woke up the next morning with a sober expectation that this was going to be a pivotal day. We mapped out the walk to our destination only to discover that it was five minutes from our hotel. We set out on our journey, hand in hand, silent, pondering what we were about to behold. We walked down a narrow set of steps pointed towards the Roman Forum beneath Palantine hill at the bottom of the "sacred road". We approached the bottom of the stairwell, and to the left was a small door with a tiny room fit with posters and a small sign that said "Mamertine Prison". No line, no fanfare, just a humble door that opened up our world to the prison whose dank, damp walls witnessed words flowing down from heaven to an impassioned man who obediently wrote each of them down. Words that echo throughout eternity and have deeply transformed my life.
I saw a sign that said tours started at 11am but it was only 9am and my heart sank. I knew we had a certain time that we needed to catch a cab, to catch our train on time, to catch our ferry on time, to get to Capri. So we humbly asked, "Are we able to go in and see the prison? We have a train to catch and can't wait till 11:00am?"
The women at the counter paused for a few seconds looking at us with a blank, emotionless stare. She responded in a dull tone, "Well, normally I would make you wait for a tour... but, yes. I will let the two of you go down, and I'll give you a personal tour as well."
Inside I was dancing but trying to play it cool, because I didn't think my emotionless tour guide would think well of me doing a happy dance after she had just broken the rules and let us go down to see a precious piece of history. We placed our four euro in the donation container, and followed her down the steps into the prison.
The moment I placed my foot on those steps, I began to do the silent ugly cry. I was trying to keep quiet and not bellow out into the echoing chambers of the prison. Violent sniffles and uncontrollable tears was all that I allowed to come out. I was well and truly instantly overwhelmed. I kid you not, the moment we set our feet on those stairs, a tangible sense of the presence of God rested upon us and didn't leave us that whole day.
The room we entered used to be an old cistern that they turned into a prison. Prisoners were lowered down through a small hole in the roof to a circular, damp, dark room no larger than 20 feet in circumference. There, in the room was a column that Paul was chained to, and out of his passion for Jesus with a pure desire to see the Gospel to move forward, he wrote letters to the churches to help them, to open their eyes to see the truth that we now have in written form today in the precious words of the bible.
I didn't know what to do? Was I supposed to tap my head, heart and shoulders in the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit? Was I supposed to sing a hymn? Was I supposed to get down on my knees and pray, pull out my bible and journal and have a quiet time? I just wanted to sit there and fall apart at the sheer knowledge that a man spent time down here passionately writing part of a book, THE book that has changed my life more than any other book on the planet. We stood there in silent awe, lacking words to put together a sentence that could describe all that we were taking in, and before I knew it, the moment was over. We needed to go…
We stood back outside, personal tour complete, looking over Ancient Rome at the place where Julius Caesar's dead, murdered body was laid to rest. As I gazed across the old city, I imagined Paul being dragged past the temples, each designated to a pagan god, flogged and mocked for his passion for Jesus, and then lowered into the prison that was right behind me. I was overwhelmed. A fresh passion to read the word of God came alive in me. Any laziness or apathy to delve into my God given inheritance within the Word of God was kicked out of me and I couldn't wait to go and read my bible again.
Then just like that - it was all over. We had to run to go and grab our cab, to catch our train, so we didn't miss the connection to our ferry. I shook myself out of the beautiful haze I was in, and we began to walk swiftly back to the hotel to grab our bags and catch our cab. When we got to the train station, I was in absolute shock at the polar opposite environment we found ourself in. We walked through the doors, and were overwhelmed by scammers asking us if we needed "help" with our bags, or getting tickets. I'm not gonna lie, I wanted to punch a few people in the face. Didn't they know we had just had a holy moment in Paul's prison? I wanted to put my Christianity on hold just for a few moments to give them a piece of my mind.
My husband Paul, waited in line for our tickets as I sat with the bags. I noticed Paul motioning to me furiously mouthing something like "Keep your eyes on the bags! The scammers are circling you!" I just got frustrated and gave Paul a look that communicated something to the effect of: "You watch the bags! I'm still trying to have a holy moment in my head but these scammers are up in my business!"
Eventually we got our tickets and got on the train. We sat across from eachother and I sat next to a guy with (I kid you not) the worst, steamy breath I have ever smelt in my life. I was trying to breathe through my mouth but I didn't want to swallow his breath either (insert gag reflex). Of course he needed to talk on the phone a majority of the train ride so his breath just kept coming at me in copious, moist waves of oppression. I turned my head and tried to sleep. Once he got off of the phone, I turned my head and dozed off to sleep.
We reached Naples where I gladly farewelled my bad breath train buddy, and into another cab we went. I think he may have been trained by New York cab drivers as I was thoroughly nauseous stepping out of his cab to catch our ferry to Capri. Again, more lines, buying more tickets, to go on more journey to get to our destination. Many people say they love to travel, but I'm convinced people actually love the destination. For the most part, we don't like what it takes to get there.
After we boarded the ferry, OF COURSE I sit behind the parents who don't discipline their children. Again, I am TRYING to remain in the very holy moment I had at Mamertine Prison, but NO, the child in front of me is staring at me, singing to me, jumping up and down trying to get my attention, sticking his hand through the crack trying to grab my book and all I want to do is yell at his parents but I don't speak Italian! Any other day I would love this kid because to be honest, I love children! I mean I have four beautiful children of my own, but at that moment I was in need of some personal space. I put on my hat, sunglasses, and headphones whilst starting to read a book wishing that the rest of the world would just fade away so I could process my emotions. The journey was really starting to get on my nerves.
After we arrived in Capri, we got off of the ferry and stepped straight into heaven. I have never seen anything more beautiful than the island of Capri. The colors were straight out of a storybook. It looked as though this island had descended out of heaven just for Paul and I. I needed someone to pinch me just to make sure I wasn't dreaming because surely it wasn't real. People really don't live in a place so magical right? I mean, I had started my day off in a prison, had just been on an irritating journey (to say the least) to get to my destination, and now I was standing in this breathtakingly beautiful place? I was spinning again. The extremes of the day were becoming a bit too much to take in.
Now we had booked into a hotel that two friends of ours told us we should look into. When we did look into it online, we nearly had a heart attack at the prices. and swiftly booked a room equivalent to a servants quarters. I mean we wanted to stay at this place, but only within a certain budget in mind. When we walked to the end of the pier, our drivers awaited us standing with extremely exceptional posture and dressed in all white. "Mr. and Mrs. Andrew?"
"Um, yes, thats us."
"Come with us, we'll get your luggage."
Still overwhelmed and trying to take in all of the breathtaking scenery, we were taken to a pristine white van with leather seats and given bottles of water. As if that wasn't enough, they were poured into nice glasses for us for the "journey" up to the top of the island called Ana Capri.
When we got to our hotel at the top of the island, we were greeted by more people who already knew our name and stood with exceptional posture. We walked into the hotel to check in and I’m not going to lie, I didn’t want to touch a thing - it was all so pristine and beautiful. I felt like a three year old in a china shop, like I just didn’t belong. I had this deep overwhelming sense that I didn’t deserve to be in this place…
When we got to the counter, the hotel concierge checked us in and then whispered with a huge smile that she had a surprise for us… “An upgrade… A very nice upgrade.”
Okay, surely she has the wrong people, but no - the upgrade really was for us. They escorted us up to our room and when they opened the doors I tried not to fall over. It was bigger than our NY Apartment with a view that took your breath away overlooking the Italian sunset! I thought to myself, “Stay cool, Andi - stay cool.” I tried my best to not act overwhelmed but I was, and when the bellman walked out of the room I fell on the bed allowing the waves of emotion from the day to roll over me. I was trying to process why this was such a big deal when really I should have been so excited. Why did I feel like I didn’t deserve this?
I guess It felt wrong to be in this beautiful, elaborate room when my day started out in a prison. I felt more humbled in the prison, like it was okay to let God speak to me there, but for God to place me in a room fit for a queen, um, no thanks - I can't reconcile this.
Looking up to heaven from the comfort of my plush king size bed I said something to this effect; "I'm not comfortable with this God. It's a little over the top and hard to process. Starting your day in a prison, and then ending in an over the top hotel that's like a palace? I can't handle this."
Then I shut my mouth as the internal processing began... "Why am I so uncomfortable with this? Why don't I like being lavished with God's love? Why don't I ask Him for more? Why am I more comfortable getting revelation in the prison than I am in the palace? Why do I have an aversion to being treated well? Why do I feel like I don't deserve an upgrade like this and everyone else on the planet does? Why do I feel like I have to apologize to people for taking a nice trip with my husband and falling more in love with him? Why does it feel more spiritual to tell people about my experience in Paul's prison then it does telling people that we got upgraded in a nice hotel? Why can't I just tell them about both? God what will people think about me? God why do I care so much about what people think about me? God, being in the palace feels like a prison because I can't enjoy it... why?!?!?"
Then I heard God say as clear as anything to me... "Andi, all of your life you have been serving The God of just enough, but I am the God of more than enough. And I can take you from a PRISON to a PALACE in just one day if you’ll go with me. Sometimes it’s an irritating journey but I have a place for you at my table."
Um, okay. Wow! The poverty spirit I had been unknowingly operating under was now officially revealed. I cycled back to the memories of growing up in my family having just enough - happy and content, always with enough to get by. My parents were hard workers, and we weren't poor growing up but we definitely weren't rich. In our marriage, we never have gone without, but we've never lived extravagantly by any means. I truly believe it's because I've tithed sinced the day I got saved at 19 years old on July 31st 1998, that I have never lacked for anything. But whenever "more" came up, I have unconsciously kept myself at bay in every sense. Not expecting too much, or getting too extravagant in what God wants to do my life. Basically, not hoping too much incase those hopes are dashed on the rocks, or not wanting to be unnecessarily over the top. I'll have "just enough" my whole life thank you very much. Just enough healing, just enough miracles, just enough finance, just enough joy in my calling... Just enough. I had unknowingly allowed this belief system to seep into several areas of my life.
I heard a whisper from heaven interrupt my thought process... "I need you to be comfortable in the palace, because it's a place of authority, and it is for others. Andi, in your spiritual life, I can take you from the prison to the palace in one day, you just have to go with me. You need an understanding that what you allow me to do within you in the prison, will ready you and transform you for authority the palace. I will deliver you from the prison and take you to the palace. And yes, the palace is for you, because I love you, and desire to lavish that love upon you tangibly... But the palace is for others and you must bring them here with you."
I was reeling. This day was too much to take in, too much to handle, yet at the same time I gratefully welcomed this fresh revelation like gentle waves crashing on the shores of my heart in desperate need of transformation. It was in that moment I realized I needed to step fully into my authority as a daughter of The King, called to the palace of my inheritance to see others rescued in like. To take my mountain, slay the giants on the way, and live in freedom.
There is a table that has been prepared for you in the palace…God want’s to take you from the prisons of your captivity, rescue you, and take you on a journey to wholeness (albeit irritating sometimes) to sit at the table in His palace. It’s at The Kings table that you find your true identity, are taught to walk in wholeness and then are moved to bring others with you on the journey because the love you have received is too overwhelming to keep to yourself.