Friday, September 28|Matt's Blog

Matt’s Blog: Sabbatical Reflections – Italy

*This post is a part four in a series of five posts, in which we have the privilege of hearing from Pastor Matt about his recent sabbatical experience. We are excited for him to share his reflections, learnings, and ways God moved in his life while he was away.*

Roxanne, Gelato, and the Renaissance

We have arrived at my hands-down most favorite part of sabbatical – my time in Italy with Roxanne. Don’t get me wrong, there were amazing moments throughout every single day of my sabbatical! But sharing this experience with my wife, as we celebrate 26 years of marriage and raising kids, will forever be cherished time. I like to joke that having time alone with Roxanne in Bakersfield would have been great (no shade, Bakersfield friends… okay maybe a little shade) but to be able to explore the sights, sounds, and tastes of Italy together was an amazing gift.

We absolutely LOVED Italy – these are our people!

We might not be Italian by ethnicity but we are honorary Italians by culture. The energy, art, architecture, history, food and beverages, gelato, and late night dinners were life giving. We loved staying out late eating at local restaurants that spilled out onto old stone sidewalks and streets filled with people of all ages and stages of life. The community feel of Italy was inspiring.

We traveled by train to Milan, Venice, Florence, Assisi, Rome, Vernazza, Recco, and finally beautiful Lake Como. We covered a lot of ground on foot, averaging nearly 8 miles a day, but we didn’t want to miss a thing and loved exploring each town, city, and coastline. I didn’t mind the hiking and walking because it meant more room for gelato! The gelato was abundant and superb, and most certainly a gift from God. 🙂

Another gift during this sabbatical chapter was experiencing the creativity and beauty of God through the incredible works of art, especially the sculptures and paintings by Michelangelo. I was particularly struck by his two Pietà sculptures. Pietà, meaning “pity,” are pictures or sculptures that depict the Virgin Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus Christ in her lap or arms. They are powerful pieces, especially Michelangelo’s second, which he sculpted toward the end of his life. In it are Jesus, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus. However, Michelangelo carved his own face on Nicodemus, as a way of symbolically saying to God, ‘I know what you did for me Lord, I am grateful, and I am in the family picture. Remember me!’

It was moving to see God’s creativity expressed through these Renaissance masterpieces.

Throughout Italy, we were drawn into the beautiful art and architecture. Rox and I took bike tours in both Florence and Rome, which was such a wonderful way to experience those cities. It offered us the ability to learn from our tour guides and really immerse ourselves in each place. Our guide in Florence shared a fascinating emerging discussion happening among current artists there, who say that while celebrating the art of the Renaissance is valuable and important, they ought to also be building on that legacy and continue to be a city marked by extraordinary creativity.

They say we can’t just live in the past, we also need to continue to create beauty today – I say Amen!


Exploring Italy with Roxanne was amazing and each day felt like a new and fun adventure. She is a true gift from God. We make a great team, and it was good for my soul to be reminded of that as we enjoyed this unique time away together. Roxanne is not only my wife but a soul friend to me. She is adventurous, curious, thoughtful, caring, fun, encourages and challenges me in my walk with Jesus, and appreciates my humor. She loves learning and interacting with people from different cultures, and she was “pretty much” okay with me having gelato every day – have I mentioned how much I loved the gelato?!

As I re-enter into normal life after my sabbatical, it’s a priority to me to be more intentional about setting aside time for Roxanne and I to get away alone together throughout the year. Date nights are fun and also part of an intentional rhythm of life, but the value of getting away for a few nights throughout the year is irreplaceable. Being able to focus on our marriage and enjoy uninterrupted time together is so healthy and so essential. I want all of the marriages at Flood to be healthy and thriving, and that means Rox and I modeling that and encouraging other couples as well. We desire for Flood to be a community marked by hope and healing and healthy relationships!

Ciao! See you Sunday!

Pastor Matt