Buongiorno!  

We have been home for a few days now and I'm finally getting around to posting about the retreat!  We were in Italy for almost a month and all at the same time it feels like we were there forever and also like it went by so fast.  The week before the retreat we always arrive to start preparing for our group and getting everything ready.  Then the week of the retreat goes by so fast it seems like as soon as we are welcoming everyone, we are turning around and hugging them goodbye.  Then all of a sudden we are there by ourselves and it's so quiet and we don't know what to do with ourselves...  I guess it's a pattern we should get used to.

This year was so special and I hope I can convey that in the photos... but it was unique in a couple ways.  First, my Art & Faith Creative Retreats have mostly been all women, but this year we invited families and husbands to come!  It was such a different dynamic but so wonderful.  Some of the families we knew at least one person but to get to know the hubbies or children as well was so much fun.  My hubby also was there the whole time, which isn't usually the case.  Usually he comes for part of the time we are in Italy but then needs to get back to work.  But this year he stayed the whole month with us and was a part of the retreat as well!  I have to say that the guys had a GREAT time exploring and chatting and just getting time to be guys while we were having fun in our classes... I wish we would have taken a photo of all the guys.

Next year will also be open to families and I think a few of our own family friends are going to join in on the fun!  So if you are thinking of coming and want to bring your husband or family... I hope you will prayerfully consider joining us.  We are exited to see what the Lord is going to do NEXT summer as well.

But here is a photo tour of THIS year and what fun we had.  This is Part 5 in a series of blog posts, so I encourage you to look through the other posts that I shared during the week.  The previous posts also share my Pray. Wait. Trust devotional that I gave each student at the retreat.

 

Villa Melzi is a beautiful home and garden that is open to the public and rich in history.  We enjoyed many days wandering the gardens and sitting on the benches right under these magnificent Sycamore trees.  Sunday "church" for us was right here some times reading the Word of God and doing our own devotions and bible journaling.

Oh I already miss this group!  We become like a little family and I know we will all be connected because of the time we spent together... but I always wish we could have a little "reunion" again and I hope to see all of these people again some day.

Here's my space in the event room with some of our projects that we worked on during the week.  A beautiful art/junk journal by Jeanne Oliver, a prayer journal by Stephanie Ackerman and a mixed-media canvas that I taught. 

Here's Jeanne teaching and doing a devotional one morning.   I had asked each teacher to do a devotional on our theme of Prayer and it was beautiful to see their hearts and what the Lord put on their hearts to speak to everyone.  I love these ladies and am so beautifully inspired by them.  

The architecture on Lake Como is also so inspiring.  Art is everywhere here, everywhere you turn you can see the beauty of God's creation and how He has inspired people all through history to create beauty as well.

One of my favorite towns on the lake is Varenna.  It's got one of the most beautiful walking paths by the lake and it was so wonderful so spend some time with a friend of ours in his beloved home town.  He showed us things about his town and the history of his own family here on a beautiful afternoon last week.  Thank you Roberto for your time and friendship.

Here's a place I know you've seen me post many times.  Part of the reason we love the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni and why I always host my retreats here is this lakefront pool.  It's so refreshing after a day out exploring to come back here and relax.  They don't have enough apartments for all the people who come with me so I do use other locations, but if you plan to come some day to one of my retreats and you REALLY want to enjoy this pool (some people are not pool people) then let me know when you sign up that this is important and I will try my best to get you in this location. 

Another JOY of mine is to offer a cooking class with these two ladies!  This is Silvana and Elisabetta.  They are mother daughter and Silvana has a cooking class in town that her daughter helps her with.  It's such a fun time to learn from them and believe me when I tell you... the ladies LOVE this class!  It's most definitely a highlight of the trip!

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Here's one of the groups at the end of their class and meal with their Diploma's!

A day on the lake is alway a very special day during out week.  We have so much fun seeing the lake from the water and visiting some of the beautiful villas on the lake.

My friend Rita was our tour guide for this day and it was a GREAT day with her!

If Villa Balbianello is familiar to you... it may be because several movies were filmed here including Star Wars, James Bond and A Month on the Lake.

This girl... Stephanie Ackerman lights up a room with her humor.  I wish I had her sense of humor,  I just don't have that quick witted of a brain... But I LOVE to laugh and I am thankful for people like her and Jeanne that can make my stomach hurt from laughing so much!  Thankful she said YES to teaching with me again and thankful for her heart and what she so opening and honestly shared with us that I know touched lives in such a real way.  

Here we are peeking through some of the beautiful architecture at Villa Balbianello.  Isn't this just the cutest group ever??  Look at those cute kiddos we had!  Love, love, love all of them... especially "slim squeezy"  :)

Some of my favorite memories are shared over dinners together.  This can be said for most people I'm sure.. but when you have beauty and ambiance like this and such great people to share it with... it's as perfect as it can get I think!

This little cutie loves these retreats and loves helping set up and going on all the excursions with everyone.

My guy.  Words can't really explain how I feel about him.  He's always been my greatest "cheerleader" and supports what I am doing 100%.  He really got to see what it is we are doing here this time and I'm so thankful he was a part of it.

Oh, and he's just a tad bit excited about this peach sorbet... so much so that they know how much he loves it and he always tends to get the biggest bowl of it when we go here.  Don't they know I'm the one in charge... and I LOVE their peach sorbet too...  hahaha :)

On the last day we had a fun little picnic at the hotel in their gardens.  The weather did not cooperate this week very well, but we managed to make the best of it and enjoy so special times like these by getting outside and experiencing the beauty of this place.

Oh my heart.  To finally meet all of Jeanne's family this time was such a great joy!  She has an amazing family and we just adore each one.  Then I also got to have our dear friends Tom & Erin DeRusha come this year and help me with everything.  We had some special times with these people that I will treasure forever.  Thank you Jeanne and Erin so much for all that you are.  I can't believe I didn't take a "selfie" with my girl Jeanne... but I'm excited to say that I get to see her in a few days and I will make SURE that it happens!

This pasta... oh how we long for it when we are home!  My hubby asks for the recipe each year... and they don't share it with him.  (lol)  I guess it's just a thing we have to wait for when we go back each year and sometimes, if we're lucky, it pops up in our dreams when we are not there...

These cuties!  Mia is a "regular" at our retreats.  Funny, but true!  Her first time here was when she was 5 and then she came to my retreat in Paris a couple years ago.  Then we got so lucky to have her and her dad and mom this year!  The sweet connections my girls have made with the people who have come over the years is really life changing.  I'm so grateful for these connections and to have friends all over the world that we have made through these retreats.

My friend Rita.  I really love this lady and my retreats would NOT be the same without her.  If you've been before with me then you know why.  If you haven't been and will some day... then you will instantly know why she is so beloved!  Come for the art, come for the faith... come for the gelato... but you will leave with a friend in this lady, someone who is so passionate about her "lake" and believe me... it's contagious!

I couldn't resist...Sorry Rebecca & Jack.  But these two didn't know each other before this week (or 10 days to be exact) and it's pretty safe to say they became friends, as you can tell by this photo.  Rebecca loves to laugh, is quite sarcastic in her humor and has a joy of the Lord that you don't find is many young adults these days.  I can say that I never heard her laugh so much, get quite a bit of sarcastic humor thrown back at her and have someone to talk about her faith with. She also never posts pictures on IG of guys... so needless to say when I saw this pop up on my feed I was a bit intrigued!  ;)-

Gelato.  Yes we consumed a LOT of gelato!  But you walk everywhere so it's all good...  In all honestly there are so many aspects of enjoying a week in Italy that you will LOVE.  You can go with your family, you can go by yourself... or you can go on another tour.  There are many choices for you.  But I hope you will see that this choice, our Art & Faith Creative Retreat, is pretty special.  

The classes are special too!  Here's a little snapshot of Stephanie's classes.  We had so much fun making our OWN stamps! And her prayer journal is something I am using now on a daily basis.  I love this part of our time together.  To learn new techniques and really  make that connection between Art & Faith.  I will share with you on another post about how the Lord showed me how deeply He cares and how connected things are...

Here's a page I finished while I was there.  It's a page I started back at home and actually posted on Shanna Noels' Illustrated Faith Bible Journaling page on FB.  But I knew I needed to paint it with the colors of Italy, here in Italy.  I went back to Villa Melzi's gardens to sit and ponder these verses and what they actually mean for me, here in a place that I feel so called to.  To share the LOVE of Jesus with everyone who comes here and everyone we have been blessed to know here. I am in AWE of the Lords love for us and how amazing He is that His gift of love is for EVERYONE.  

I can't believe I got to spend a month in Italy with these people.  No it wasn't perfect 100% of the time.  But 100% of the time I love these people and am so thankful for them.  I think traveling far from home helps us to remember that we are here for a purpose.  Life is about people and the connections we make, not the things we attain.  I have always rather had a small home and less things so that we could travel and share those special times with our family.  It's never ever easy to do that and we have made sacrifices along the way, but it is so worth it in the end.  How many people have we heard that at the end of their life the only regret they have is that they didn't spend enough time with the ones they love.  We missed Victoria and Dany on this trip and are hoping they can come next summer... But what a JOY it is to do something you KNOW you are meant to do and be able to do it with the people you love!

And I have to give a big SHOUT OUT to this lady!  Erin is not only a friend... but was the 3rd grade teacher to Rebecca AND Isabella and she taught them how to swim as well.  She has seen my retreats from day one.  She has heard me talk about them, she has given me ideas for them and she was the first person to ask if I needed any help with them! (hahaha)  Well this year was the biggest year ever and YES, it was time to ask for more help.  She was fantastic and stepped right in and didn't get bothered by my "attention to detail"  in everything!  Thank you Erin, it was a trip I won't ever forget with you and Tom by our side!!  

I guess I'll end this long, photo heavy post with this girl.  She's now not only my helper but my business partner!  She has a heart for what I am doing and now what WE are doing here and all over the world, Lord willing.  I know we are praying BIG prayers together for what this is supposed to look like going forward.  Where the Lord is calling us to... What is should look like... and how often we should do these retreats.  So I'm blessed to see her heart for others come out so beautifully and I am looking forward to what the Lord is going to do through her in the future.

And if your noticing she is on a gondola in Venice, Italy... that's because we took a couple days and rented a car and stayed in Venice.  It was a GREAT little side trip and there may be some planning taking place for a future retreat here... but I will share more pictures from our two days in Venice next blog post, so stay tuned!

Hugs to all,

Laura

P.S.  Next years Art & Faith Creative Retreat in Bellagio, Italy is OPEN for Registration!  You can SIGN UP right here under the SIGN UP page at the top of the page.

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