One of the things Michael and I thought was exciting about moving to the Philadelphia area is its geographical closeness to several big cities. We'd love to take some weekend trips and have fun exploring, though most of those adventures will probably be put on hold until we get some warmer weather.
Because St. Valentine's Day weekend coincided with President's Day this year (aka: a 3-day weekend for my husband!), we decided to take advantage of how close we are to D.C. Initially we weren't sure if we should go anywhere, but once we discovered that two of my best friends from college would also be in D.C. that weekend we were completely on board (sometimes you need that extra little incentive to willingly travel and stay in hotels with a teething baby, you know?).
Overall it was a nice weekend filled with quality time as we made a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, explored some more of the Smithsonian, and were able to meet up with my dear friends.
Socially, Michael and I agreed that one of our favorite parts was when we met up with my friends at the National Gallery of Art and got dinner together. Spiritually, however, we had some beautiful experiences that left me feeling as if we had just done one of the most romantic things I could think of for St. Valentine's Day!
For starters, neither one of us had ever been to the National Basilica. We tried so hard to make it fit into our schedule when we attended 2013's March for Life, but limitations caused by metro construction combined with my first trimester fatigue led us to instead use that time to take some much-needed naps.
|We finally made it! About a year later after we first tried.|
When we arrived at the Basilica we began with the lower level (read: stroller accessible entry level). Gabriel was so well-behaved as we strolled through shrine after Marian shrine, stopping to pray along the way. Our little boy was so interested in everything going on and especially loved all the shiny displays and statues. He made little more than a peep as we wove through the entire level, including the chapel in the crypt where we knelt before the tabernacle and prayed as a family (which for Gabriel simply meant sitting in the stroller and peering at us as we prayed). I had so much fun pointing out all the images of Gabriel the Archangel to him and he got really excited when I took him to the front pew of the shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes.
|At first this room was crowded - but slowly people trickled out until this was the lasting image I saw before walking away. Be still my heart.|
After spending an hour in the crypt, we stopped for lunch, changed Gabriel, and headed upstairs for more shrines and more time spent in prayer. Gabriel finally started to get hungry so I chose a nice spot in front of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. I didn't capture any pictures with our camera, but I did manage to whip out my phone and got this:
|Hands down the most beautiful and peaceful place I've ever nursed my son|
The whole time we were there I wanted us to light some votive candles but I wasn't positive which Marian devotion we should chose. We decided to choose Our Lady of Guadalupe because of the several ties and constant devotion I had to her during my volunteer year in Chicago (the year we dated, got engaged, and Michael became Catholic). Then, as we rounded the corner to enter the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine, something in my heart just said "yes. This is where we should light our candles."
|+ Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros! +|
Honestly there were so many breathtaking images of Our Lady that I just cannot put into words. We spent nearly another hour in the main level and I'm pretty sure I teared up slightly when we came upon this...
The entire experience was better than I think either Michael or I could have imagined. How appropriate it felt to spend the time our world recognizes as a "holiday of love" to be in the presence of our Lord while we stood side by side as husband and wife with our baby in our arms, all the while venerating Our Blessed Mother. I honestly can't think of anything else we could have done that weekend to feel more loved and loving towards one another.
As if that weren't enough, we had one of the most amazing encounters in the gift shop before we left! We noticed a man and woman and quickly realized that we had met the man (we'll call him "T") before...at a Theology on Tap session when we lived in Ann Arbor. What a small world indeed!
Michael approached T and we all shook hands, re-introducing ourselves and meeting his friend, A, for the first time. And you know what happened next? We proceeded to chat with them for nearly two hours. Two hours!
It seems so crazy to think about, but we hit it off with these people who were practically strangers to us and when we parted ways they had invited us to join them at A's house that evening for some food and games. Unfortunately we weren't staying near there and had other plans (that included Gabriel being in bed on time since he slept horribly the night before). Otherwise we gladly would have joined them.
The entire encounter with T and A left us feeling so mystified by the ways God works in our lives. I could go on and on about it, but suffice it to say that we left the Basilica feeling blessed beyond belief...and as if we had some new friends we would be happy to welcome into our home if they ever head our way.
God is just so good. All the time.
“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”