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By G.G. Vandagriff
When I began writing my twelfth book, The Only Way to Paradise, I didn’t know if it would be literary fiction or chick-lit. I knew only that it would be about four troubled women on a “healing journey” to Florence, Italy. I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me.

My husband accompanied me on two research trips, and I enjoyed visiting a cooking school, a spa—all the places my “Crazy Ladies” would go. I didn’t realize the potential of my writing. These first two trips gave me plenty of atmosphere, but I was completely blinded by the art and countryside. I failed to see Italy’s true treasure. My book remained superficial. I was very dissatisfied with it. As a dedicated Christian, all my books have some relationship to the Savior.

Then in the middle of the winter, I got a strong impression to go back to Florence.

The first week I raced around in a frenzy, exhausting myself and not really learning anything new. Finally, I spent a long time in prayer, asking the Lord for guidance.

It was at that time that the extraordinary things began to happen. I became acquainted with agape. This is how I described the first episode in my blog:

“From Florence: God Had Other Plans
“I was exhausted, there is no other way to say it. But, having to take a day off is something I never plan on. The fact is, I needed some perspective. I came to Florence to ‘do a job’ and I wasn’t doing it. I had this ‘scared little girl’ feeling that I had come over here with the specific intention of doing away with. (There’s something wrong with that sentence, but you get the idea.)

I knew that my mantra ‘Have Confidence in Your Competence,’ was not leading my actions. Nothing was. I was just reacting—mostly to pain. After a day in bed, the pain was finally gone, so I regrouped, wrote down my research goals, and then consulted my handy-dandy Rick Steve’s guidebook and a map. This morning I consulted with Elisabetta (my Italian ‘mother’)on some vital questions, and I had my day planned down to the minute in a way that would not tax my strength and result in renewed pain. I felt competent once again. In control.

“Don’t ever say that. Despite what you may think, you are NOT in control.

“Scarcely was I out the door this morning than I saw my bus pulling away. In an attempt to catch it while it stopped for traffic, I tripped and fell FLAT on my face. My glasses miraculously survived (they are only held together by superglue at this point and I am blind without them), but I sustained a real whack to my right hand, shoulder and knee. The wind was knocked out of me, and despite the wonderful Florentines that instantly surrounded me with solicitude, I couldn’t get up right away, though I kept reassuring them that I was fine.

“That is when God opened the windows of Heaven and endowed me with the sweetest experience I have had since I last held a grandchild. A young man, not more than thirty,(I am sixty-three)stayed by me, gathered my scattered belongings, and coaxed me off the sidewalk a little at a time, finally hoisting me all the way. Then he put my hand through his arm and insisted on getting me to the corner where there was a cafe where I could sit down. Overcome by his kindness, I was bowled over when he asked me what I would like to drink. I asked for a coke and went for my purse to get the money (they are expensive over here). He waved me off and went for my coke and coffee for himself. Then he sat with me, calming me.

“We were soon talking about the genius of Brunelleschi (who invented the first dome, seemingly brick by brick) and how it gives him such joy every time he passes the Duomo. He went on to say how much he loves seeing views of it from high places. I have not yet been to Fiesole (the town perched in the Tuscan hills over Florence), but he drew me a map with roads, showing me the best place to walk for a good view. We talked for approximately 45 minutes. He got my website address because he was curious about my books. Then he went to pay the bill.

“To my surprise, he returned to the table with a ticket for four bus rides! I thanked him over and over in English and Italian. He was the Good Samaritan to the nth degree. And the thing that is beautiful about it, is that he is not alone. The Italians are just like that. (Elisabetta was not at all impressed by this story, only by the fact that I denied her a chance to mother me and went with a stranger instead.) I have been reminded that that kind of selfless love is what my characters are moving towards in the book I came here to write. This young man was a reminder of why I had to come to Italy to write it.”