Rome…more than a Cliche’

After a breathless 24 hours in Switzerland we crossed into Milan and Lake Como… on our way to the eternal city.

Lake Como is the freaking bomb. Simply put… if you’re in the area, you MUST GO.

It exceeds the hype unlike most everything else in life. We managed a four-hour regional train excursion from Milan to Varenna, arriving before dawn. It was worth every bleary eyed moment of lost sleep to see the rose-colored sky as it hit the snow-capped peaks of the epic Italian Alps. varenna_topslider_11

Imagine a picturesque Italian village nestled in a surreal mountain landscape, add the most beautiful lake possible and then sprinkle some pixie dust. ūüôā That’s Lake Como.

After a two stage breakfast of homemade fruit croissants and local cheese, bread, and cappuccino we hit the rails back to Milan for our ultimate destination. The views of paradise firmly etched in our hearts for a lifetime.

Roma didn’t disappoint. At the risk of living a touristy clich√©’, we had chosen to take our kids to see the eternal city and the quintessential history of Rome and Vatican City. We stayed at a great little hotel near the Colosseum for three nights and made the most of every moment.¬†

We bought the sightseeing bus (hop on off)  passes and they were surprisingly helpful to have! Distances and weather often kept us from easily walking from downtown shopping in Rome to the Vatican or Forum areas without a ride and the narrated audio headphone option gave us a greater appreciation for the architecture and significant history hidden all around us.

In Rome… EVERYTHING is beautiful and old and historical. You cannot see or grasp it all… so you have to pick what and where you will go and commit.

We did exactly that. We bought tickets to tour the Vatican Museums / Sistine Chapel and Colosseum along with the Roman Forum. (a full 3 days for anyone to tackle!)

We walked the cobblestone streets around Trevi Fountain, toured the Iconic Pantheon, and we ate a lot… drank wine, water with bubbles and pounds of bread. We soaked up a golden sunset on the Spanish Steps (view below) and shopped the unique boutiques of the old city.¬†rome-on-a-budget

I would highly recommend each site or area mentioned as ‘must see’s for any who visit Rome. It’s a clich√©’ for sure, but they are all breathtakingly beautiful and somehow an essential experience for gaining a better understanding of the world and it’s abundant cultural diversities.

In Rome you will hear dozens of languages, see every kind of style as tourist from Asia to Africa, Russia to Brazil and nearly ¬†every culture in-between. There are so many diverse groups, families from every corner of the globe and all of us are in ‘awe’ of the wonder that surrounds. No one pretends it’s not affecting them… we all openly stop to stare and gawk. Inspired and overwhelmed by the power of this eternal city… as the history and beauty cast’s a profound spell over any who take the time to see.

I cannot speak of Rome without mentioning the food. It’s everything you hoped it would be and more… our favorite was a little tiny landmark restaurant, La Carbonara.¬†(English is not a guarantee here, but struggle on and order the house specialty, you will not regret it.)

The various eateries and coffee shops that dot every block are all little treasures in themselves. Food is freshly prepared or baked on the premises… it takes time, forces you to slow down and savor the moments. Another wonder of Rome… the pace of your life shifts and suddenly you’re not in a hurry, not anxious to be somewhere… like time is standing still.

That moment of slowed pulse and renewed joy is the pure beauty that is Rome.






European Roadtrip- Switzerland

Zurich from O’hare via Swiss Air.

Non-stop, cramped…and great food. 9 hours in the air and Christmas day ’16 was in our rear-view. The transition from the dreary – dirty – deafeningly loud Chicago to landing in pristine Zurich International was profound.

Such contrast sets the stage for your introduction to Swiss culture.






Perfectly ordered.

You will need to know some phrases in German, and sometimes French. But in general, english speakers will get along just fine with the well marked railroads and city streets.

This is Switzerland.

A land of the clean and orderly life. Modern and and wealthy it exudes efficiency and cleanliness. Most of the buildings are crisp and new, well maintained and sharply styled. If they are vintage or old buildings, they are restored and in nearly new shape… nothing is left to rot here. Restrained in style, cities leans towards minimalist modern and it’s inhabitants indulge in all things european and luxurious… Audi, Prada, Mercedes… BMW and Gucci to name a few.

Middle class in Switzerland is upperclass everywhere else.

The country is a superb demonstration to thousands of years of financial success and political restraint. It’s natives are friendly, competent, and prepared. No slackers here… no street bums or slums visible. It’s a huge shift in culture from the obvious decline of Chicago’s aged infrastructure to one of the most modern and influential cities in the world.

It’s a shock to step out of the Swissair flight into this near utopia. A powerful testament to the Swiss people and their ability to not only survive, but thrive in the center of so much chaos and cultural confusion that is and has been past / present / and future Europe.¬†

Yet buried in the all of the efficient and modern facade lies a simple and honest soul.

The Swiss past intrudes in a balanced way…with Railway lines and old train stations linking past and present. Gorgeous, iconic swiss villages still exist here, hiding a ¬†charming and gentle world of disneyesque valleys, lakes, and peaks. Worthy of Cinderella herself, the Swiss countryside is painted with green hills and white capped Alpine scenes. Each postcard view peeking through, just enough to remind you of the old country. Of the past and patient Swiss ways.

They hint of their passionate pursuit of skiing and climbing, hardy athletic lifestyles…of cheese and fresh food. From the simplicity of a summer marketplace to the heritage of the ‘old’ city hidden behind modern glass and steel business parks.


Old Town – Zurich

The shopkeepers, farmers, and people less complicated are still living, working, and operating like their forefathers did five hundred years before.¬†Behind the excellent freeways… are small, tight, cobblestone streets.

Contrasting the reflective glass of a highrise are small, leaded, windows with stone buildings and slate roofs. Swiss treasures on display in their modest spaces… cheeses, custom made watches, suits, and garish clocks all dotted in-between by the finest in chocolate and fruit pastries. These clusters of old houses, shops, and churches define for visitors…the best of their distinctive past.

Life is good in Switzerland. Very good. 

Their economy as stable as any in the history of the world. Bankers, businessman, and brilliantly careful… this small nation is less in size than the state of Tennessee and has about the same population. Yet it’s political and financial strength are legendary and world ranging. Unequaled banking service and fierce neutrality mark it’s national identity. But along with all that fiscal stature are more earthy natural charms. Alpine lakes, towering peaks, and remarkably beautiful villages make for world class scenery and dream-like horizons. ¬†In my opinion… Switzerland is a ‘must-visit’ for any Yankee looking to grasp a piece of the European puzzle.

For our family… Switzerland represents more than beauty and poise, it’s our heritage. Four generations ago my paternal and maternal great-great-great grandparents migrated from Switzerland to the US. Their DNA leaving its mark on our mountain loving, cheese eating… watch collecting… Mathias clan.¬†


Alpine Village

Some things are beyond cliche’ and I wanted my kids to see and know where they come from and why we’re like we are. From our family’s annual Christmas cheese fondue to our OCD desire to stay ordered and efficient… we are Swiss from the inside out. It’s cool to see your homeland and begin to understand the pull of hundreds of years of previous generations and grasp the origins of habits deeply held in our family… all perfectly¬†at ease with the ways of another place and time.

This was to be our first and last stop in Europe (we flew in and out of Zurich). It formed the context for our past and future…however, Italy was next, and it’s unique differences would represent the ‘passionate present’ of life.¬†

Blog 3 of 3 is coming next…. and we have a train to catch and some serious ancient history to discover.

PS ¬†– If in Zurich.. and it’s New Year’s eve… make the trip down to the lakefront and stand on the bridge at the stroke of midnight. Have some local¬†gluhwein¬†(a very warm mixture of ¬†mulled or spiced wine) and enjoy the spectacle of 100K¬†+Swiss natives ushering in the new year with fireworks and furs. Huddle up when you do… it’s cold out there!




RoadTrip Europe… an Epic Adventure and Epiphany

We long to leave our ‘mark’ on our kids. To transfer some of the essential threads of wisdom and knowledge acquired from our travels… a communication of our heart to theirs.

For my wife Paige and I… this was the trip to do it.

The sobriety of seeing our lives racing into middle age and the growing, stark, shadows of mortality… led us to take the plunge as parents. To invest in one last-epic-roadtrip, an adventure to share as a family before everyone scattered.We could see our lives forever changing with marriages and in-laws, grandbabies and graduations. All of what has been would end… and what will be was about to begin.

A rite of passage from following our lead… to blazing their own path. A time to expand their lives from what they knew to what ‘could – be’. As the saying goes, “it was time to make old ceilings into new floors!”¬†

After a careful scrutiny of our schedules… it was quickly determined we only had one week to make a European roadtrip a reality. Christmas day to New Year’s day. Seven days to hit the road and rails, to fly over the big pond and back. Literally, we had only one week out of a year when all five of us could travel freely and still satisfy our work, education, and ministry commitments.

So… Christmas being our ‘favorite’ time of year… we determined to surprise them by planning the entire trip without telling them where or when we would be… just letting them know they would need a passport, 1 backpack for clothes and a pair of good walking shoes.

Three days into the planning we were exhausted. Coordinating flights, train schedules, hotels in foreign countries and sightseeing tours was intensely complicated and very difficult to sort out the ‘good’ from the ‘hype’.

As an experienced domestic and Canadian traveller, I used Southwest Airlines, my mobile Marriot app and the popular Trip Advisor¬†website for 90% of my own booking. For a European trip… this was a whole different ball-game.

Try booking rail tickets 2 months in advance for five from Zurich to Rome and see how complicated things get with Google? 

Long story short… we discovered a very simple, and very helpful social media site known as “Thumbtack“. A professional services finder, this app / site is an amazing and simple way to get Travel agencies to bid on your trip. You can give them a basic budget, dates, preferred countries to visit and personal preferences for hotels and travel and zing-zap, they get you up to five bids from different agencies to compare. It saved us thousands of dollars and took the hassle out of planning such a major trip. Highly recommended.

In a few days we had chosen our agency, locked in a budget, purchased airfare, rail tickets, hotels, sightseeing tours and had an itinerary to follow from day one to seven. A wonderful experience for us, the agency we settled on was out of San Francisco, and did a tremendous and economical job of getting us the best hotel locations, train seats, and tours we could afford. Their familiarity with the european world and specific cities we wanted to visit was so helpful and so much better than trying to figure it all out piece by piece from various websites, reviews, and articles. (Terra Travel Group link)

So how did this ‘Epic” trip go?

Tune in later to find out… let’s just say it didn’t disappoint. ( this is one of 3 blog posts to detail out our European adventure)


St. Peter’s Square – Dec ’16

Our next seven days would become a reference point from which all of our family history could be considered. The passion and excitement of new discoveries would be forever shared between us… an epic treasure of sight and sound, flavors and feelings… an awesome and unforgettable gift for the senses and spirit to touch and absorb.

An “Epiphany” of sorts…

It reminded me of the “fullness” of God’s love for us… His desire in wanting us to experience His world with all of it’s richness and beauty, to explore and expand on our knowledge of what is good, and true, and right in life.

St. Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus says it like this…¬†“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15¬†from whom every family[¬†in heaven and on earth is named, 16¬†that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17¬†so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith‚ÄĒthat you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18¬†may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19¬†and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20¬†Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21¬†to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV) Biblegateway source.¬†

The Suddenness of Life

Parents… it’s a strange world as you get older… after two decades of ridiculously busy… it get’s quiet.

My wife and I said it over and over this past week… it was all so ‘sudden’…. Dictionary; “refers to the quickness of an occurrence, although the event may have been expected” : (ie.¬†a sudden change in the weather.)¬†

Graduations… engagements, marriages, births, deaths, dementia, and everything in-between.¬†Life is moving forward, with or without us. ¬†jessica-graduation-2

We knew these transitions, these major life moments were coming… watching others for years go through it before it came to us. We get the big idea…there is a cycle to life and there are specific seasons…moments for beginning and ending. A time for dying, birthing and aging…but no one can express to you how it ‘feels‘. ¬†

The years and weeks of anticipation… drag so slow in the moments and then life will sneak by us in a heartbeat.¬†Everything once so familiar, now absent. A life built around our kids, or a spouse… now vacant. We wonder at the empty spaces of our days and pause… tempted to linger in the past, we risk missing the present.

Christ said it like this…¬†34¬†‚ÄúGive your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don‚Äôt get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Matthew 6:35 MSG)¬†

We can mourn the passing of what was…AND enjoy and love what is. We should be prepared to celebrate and treasure life, past – present – future. It’s all in the perspective we choose. Life isn’t to only be savored and slowly poured… it’s also a huge rush of living and loving, bringing life and dying. It’s¬†all about the stuff in-between. The sharing of hope and suffering, of pain and passions… nothing in living is ever passive.¬†

Only a fool would consider the future with casual disregard, ignoring the suddenness of our lives and the moments we’ve been granted. Wouldn’t it be wiser to treasure the gift¬†hidden within our journey.

What will you do with your ‘gift’?¬†

Pastor B.

PS – from poet R.L. Sharpe:

Isn’t it strange how princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people like you and me
Are builders for eternity?
To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass and a book of rules.
And each will build, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone.


Is it a wonderful life…?

As the title implies… a thought or two from my favorite Christmas movie…

Jimmy Stewart’s classic performance as “George Bailey” (from the iconic 1946 film “It’s a wonderful life”), always sets the tone for my annual exuberant gush of seasonal joy.

Yet… it begs the question…“IS it a WONDERFUL life?”

So many rushing by, so much of life hidden behind the busy… it takes a profound event to slow us down enough to consider the deeper things. For George Bailey… he faces the moment of his despair with desperation… while all of us watch and hope all over again that he’ll see beyond his profound grief into the true wealth that is his amazing life.

But when it’s no longer a story, and the grief is real… things shift and we’re left wondering. “Is it a wonderful life?”¬†

It's a wonderful life, 1946

It’s a wonderful life, 1946

Recently my family has experienced some very dark news, a loss of hope and the inexorable pull of mortality come too early. It’s a bitter moment that brings sadness and despair, but also clarity and renewed appreciation.

As we hurry through our days… let’s slow down enough to consider the ‘why’.¬†I can’t answer the question for you… and neither can George Bailey, but it’s important to think about. It’s important to remember what truly matters in your life…¬†for me, it’s all about relationships.¬†

The weight of our life is contained in our relationships, they are ‘the’ most precious gifts of all. The gift of being loved and loving, ¬†the precious privilege¬†of a genuine friendship, the gift of giving and receiving comfort… of shared¬†grief… these are the truest things we can ever achieve.

It’s not in our IRA fund or the number of mortgages on our house… it’s not in our kids GPA’s or a starting spot on the team. It’s in the relationships we forge along the way that we define our lives.

This Christmas let’s all remember George Bailey and act accordingly…

Pastor B.

PS – as a pastor, I would be derelict if I didn’t point out the ultimate relationship being offered to us… and to George Bailey. It was and is with our creator. His interest in our well-being and desire to be a part of every detail of our life is well demonstrated in the Christmas story – as well as in my favorite movie.

The Flaws of Family…

Every year we gather as families. 

Turkey and Football, Black Friday and Tryptophan Thursday… the family together… In one place… for an extended period of time.

That will create some drama. 

Sometimes it’s good drama (hugs, love, affection, and cheek pinching) and sometimes it’s bad. (arguments, old grudges renewed, hostility and offense)¬†family-thanksgiving-drama-modern-family

The question for each of us, how will we respond?

Of course families have emotional baggage. Of course we struggle to ‘like’ the one’s we love. That’s life. That’s family. Expect it.

Don’t revel in how bad it (family) really is now that you’re back in the thick of the fray. Don’t marvel at how much the past mirrors our present, or how the old habits of your family are like Kryptonite to your Christian testimony of today.

My encouragement, my exhortation… enter the Turkey gates this year with renewed humility and hope.

  1. Humility – accepting your¬†own flaws. Acknowledge and accept that you need as much forgiveness and grace as anyone before arriving… ¬†If you do, you’ll be in a much better position to extend some grace to your annoying whoever… ūüôā
  2. Hope – trust that as God is actively at work in changing you… He is also working with those around you. That means… your family can change!

Remember… it’s the mix of good and bad that make it all so interesting. One thing we know for sure as followers of Christ, He expects us to learn to love each other as He loves us. That means to forgive and to be reconciled (*means to make things right) with our families.

Oh… and for those of you who are parents….your kids are watching.¬†

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor B.




Waiting for the other shoe to drop…

Ever find yourself worrying about why things are going so well?

Seems silly…

That fearful anticipation of what will inevitably go wrong in the very near future, waiting for the ‘other – shoe – to – drop’. A ¬†day-to-day fear for some, a distant hovering apprehension for others.

However you describe the anxiety of the unknown, It’s real for all of us. I find myself guilty of pondering the ‘what if’s‘. Over thinking and watching for whatever’s out there and looming in the dark. Listening for an unknown danger just out of my sight, or something hidden over the next life horizon … a circumstance about to catch me off guard.

Why do we do that?

Are we just conditioned to expect the worst… or is it something deeper.¬†Are we cynical and afraid because we¬†distrust¬†ourselves, not convinced God truly cares about us? About me… ?

Today I’m sharing some personal insights related to the uncertainties that torment so many of us. Here are three powerful truths to combat the unknowns of our lives.¬†header_faith

  1. God isn’t trying to punish us. He’s come to save us. To redeem our lives, not stomp us in the dirt. Anything else is a lie. A deception designed to make us distrust.¬†

  2. Good and Bad things are relative to our perception in the moment. What may seem like a tragedy on day one can transform into a blessing within a few weeks. Faith is trusting God can and will use anything in our life for good. 

  3. Trusting means letting go of control. Anxiety is wrapped around our need to know. Being a Christ follower, means we’re surrendering our independence for His will, not our own.¬†

These 3 reminders are anchors for me on days when I can’t quite relax. When my heart is racing and I don’t know why… I can pause and pray, and remember the truth.

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Parents, our world is full of crazy. Listening to the news can wipe away a week of rest in a moment. The mailbox might have a letter we don’t want to see from the doctor… or our kids might bring a note home that turns our stomach to lead. Whatever your fear…take it to God, remember these 3 truths and watch as it fades.

You’re not in this alone. To prove my point, I’m starting a brand new PodCast/Blog (Brilliantly Brave Parenting) with some friends at iShine and the TGA (Tween Gospel Alliance) to illustrate how everyday parents are living extraordinary lives.

Pastor B.

PS – Read and pray this passage of scripture anytime you need relief. Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV) – Source¬†¬†6 ¬†do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7¬†And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”