A Post for Polo

I never planned on becoming one of those people.  You know, the ones that talk about how their pets are part of the family.  Well I did and I was.  That was clearly evident when we received news that our beloved Polo had lymphoma and he was deteriorating quickly.  For a week he had refused his food, had labored breathing and declined our long walks around the park.  I noticed the symptoms but attributed them to a cold and then the bladder issues began and there was no turning back.  I am aware this may be too much information for some, but for me, I woke up with a pull to write Polo's story because it was so intertwined with our family's.  And I miss him.  A lot.  

Our girls had petitioned us for a dog for years.  I believe since their brother had been born, so we were going on at least three at the time we started considering the notion of adding more crazy to our chaos.  It was then, with Husband Jared and I both working retail management positions full time that we agreed to "get a dog".  The caveat was that Thing 4 needed to be potty trained before said pet could be acquired.  Ha.  At the rate that was going I seriously believed that I had a few months, at the least, before we would be asked again.  Little did I know that a few weeks later on a rare day off as a family of six the Things and I would wander into a Petsmart and discover it was adoption day for the local animal shelter.  Hmmm.  We looked through the glass and then we spotted him.  I am almost certain the kind volunteer took one look at us all and thought "this ones in the bag".  He opened the kennel and brought the sweetest, most rambunctious pup out to meet us.  "Oh, we're just looking", I said.  And then two minutes later, after being introduced to "Mohamed", his name at the time, I was calling Husband Jared and asking him to meet us in the back of the store.  Ahem.  So much for a united front and waiting until that whole potty training thing happened.  I could not resist the cuteness.  First, of my Things talking in sweet, high pitched voices and secondly of this odd, yet endearing pup that was staring through my soul with his big black, eyeliner eyes.  

If you're wondering, yes, Polo did become ours that day.  Although he wasn't able to join us at home for a week, which left us more than enough time to purchase all gear puppy related.  Never mind an actual training class or a book on dog behavior.  We were parents of four children under the age of five, we had this one in the bag.  Laughable I tell you, that's what that thinking was and is.  Anyhow, after spending a gazillion dollars on all the necessities we welcomed our pup home.  The big decision weighing on everyone was his name.  With four Things all invested in this process we tried to be democratic.  Which means, everyone (the kids), wrote their two top choices for his new name on a piece of paper.  Our plan being that which ever name was drawn out of the hat would be his name for life.  Needless to say that did not go exactly as planned.  Doggy-dog was the first name drawn, after that Mohawk and it digressed from there.  The noise level was rising and everyone thought theirs was the best fit.  That is when I looked across at Husband Jared sporting a "Polo" brand shirt with the trademark embroidered polo player and I might have shouted, "his name WILL be Polo".  And there you have it folks.  Democracy out the window, order undone.  Parent rule wins.  He has been Polo ever since.  Or Polo-lolo, or Lollipop, or Marco-Polo and any other of 100 names he has been called. Some of which do not need to be mentioned here.  

So life with a dog and four Things under the age of five commenced.  Kennel training was a nightmare, the puppy had more energy than any of us had to give and he thought he was herding sheep for a while with our four chasing him around the yard.  Thing 4 was just the right size for him to jump on and paw at.  Funny enough, none of the Things seemed to mind.  They would chase him around the back yard for hours.  All four taught him how to climb our stairs and patiently carried  him up when it was time for bed.  It was all too sweet.  Most of the time.  I had no recollection of what life with a puppy would be.  Exhausting and frustrating would be my two choice adjectives.  The dog was insane.  He would jump over our bed, mess the covers and dart from room to room, snagging the berber carpet we had at the time.  Better yet, when I would try to stop him, he'd stare me straight in the eye and run the other direction.  Yes, funny.  At least now it is, at the time, not so much. 

We survived those early puppy months and then Polo had his first plane ride.  In June of the following year Polo boarded his first flight to GA, where Husband Jared and Uncle Jeff would be meeting him and then driving him to TN, our soon to be new home.  I owe Uncle Jeff and Aunt Natalie a debt of gratitude for all the time they invested in Polo.  He had his first taste of a normal schedule, boundaries and rules at their home, along with his cousin Bobby Jackson, the Horel's new puppy.  Polo learned not to jump on the counter, or people, and he also learned how to walk properly on a leash.  Go figure.  It wasn't all roses over there.  I love hearing the story of Uncle Jeff catching Polo with his paws on the counter and then how Polo skidded across their floor trying to run away from his master at the time and Uncle Jeff tackling him.  The dog was fortunate not to be sent away at that point.  

Soon after the rest of his family arrived and he took up residence with us.  The Things could be found chasing him around the neighborhood.  That is after they had left the storm door open and he darted out of the house thinking this was a fun game of run away.  We did get to know our neighbors well though.  There are countless stories to tell here.  Trust me, I could go on and on.  Polo spent so much time in the backyard here, it was fenced in and one spring day we were planting a garden with the Horel's and Bobby Jackson did not like what Polo was doing, Polo never was a fast learner and so he got the worse end of it was a piece of his ear missing.  I was devastated, wrapped his ear in gauze and didn't want to leave him because it wouldn't stop bleeding.  He was fine.  Here's the thing about Polo he was resilient and forgiving.  

After four years of living in TN we moved abroad and Polo went on another adventure, to AZ this time.  He spent the winter there with Poppi and Nana and then returned before the summer heat to live with Gpa and Mema until our return.  Polo logged some miles that year and learned about scorpions and desert animals and then ducks and turtles and just how tiring swimming in ponds can be.  He had mellowed out a bit at this point, well, at least somewhat.  It was a necessary survival mechanism living with four Things and having to be flexible in your accommodations.  Polo then road tripped to MN, our soon to be new home, with Husband Jared, spent his first night in a people hotel and then had a few weeks reprieve from all of us at the pet hotel.  According to Husband Jared he was quite the road trip companion.  Once we were settled in our new home we picked him up from the kennel and I don't know who was happier, us or him.  It was as though part of our family was missing. Even while living in Turkey I missed our walks and having him greet us at the door with his wagging tail.  In MN Polo learned about winters and icicles on his beard and paws.  He sledded and walked on the slippery ice and enjoyed our walks through the prairie.  Usually.  I must share one of our favorite stories about Polo at this point because it took place in MN.  All of us were gathered in the dining room when Polo realized there was a crumb left behind.  It was under the bar stools and he poked his head between the slats when he was stuck.  Of course this startled him and his head was lodged in between the slats of the stool and he couldn't get himself free.  Once we realized he needed help we came to his rescue but anytime we are reminded of this shenanigan the laughter ensues.  Or maybe the time he ate two pounds of raw Italian sausage that was supposed to be our Christmas eve dinner.  Then there was the time he ate a dozen chocolate cupcakes, wrappers and all.  He loved butter.  Anytime sticks of butter were within reach on the counter he would help himself and then stuff the wrapper in the couch cushions, hoping to hide the evidence.  Four years later we were once again moving.  This time back to TN.  Polo road tripped with us, no flights necessary,  and stayed in a people hotel too.  His manners left a little to be desired and he dropped a nice present for all the guests in the hallway.  Oops.  Such is life traveling with a dog, who most of the time thinks he's a person. 

It was cold in MN!

Snuggled in his favorite place, my bed. 

Now the present, for the past, almost, two years we have been in TN, Polo included.  We began noticing he was slowing down but then he would surprise with a youthful run or play time and we would happily continue about our business.  He no longer ran away when off the leash and was accustomed to sleeping on our beds, usually Thing 4's.  The two of them have a special bond.  I like to think that's because they grew up together.  Thing 4 would always be right in Polo's face, staring into his eyes, squeezing him, kissing him, etc.  You get the picture, right?  He tasted his first "pup-cup" from Thing 3's Starbucks and life was good.  And then all of a sudden it wasn't.  

We all kidded and talked about his demise, I think because we all believed he was going to live forever, or at least until he was sixteen.  The Things would ask about getting a puppy to help Polo feel young again, or make comments about what we were going to do when he was gone.  Even I would.  In my heart I hated to even fathom that notion.  He was my sidekick.  My shadow and dare I say, my buddy.  When no one else was home he and I would have some great conversations.  Stirring discussions about nature, what was for dinner, if we should go on a drive with the windows down.  All manner of topics.  He would curl up underneath my desk when I was writing or grading school work.  Polo made it painfully obvious that he was not himself any longer.  It hurt us to watch him suffer and still when it came time to make the decision regarding his diagnosis it wasn't easy.  We wanted to hang on a bit longer.  Go on one more walk.  Have him chase one more treat around the house just so we could watch him when he looked like a rocking horse.  But that wouldn't have been best for him.  So we had to say goodbye.  Friends, let me tell you that was not an easy thing to do.  Watching our Things grieve Polo was rough.  I couldn't keep it together.  It was almost as if he knew.  There was a blanket waiting for him in the room and he laid down immediately.  We showered him with love and held his fu-man-chu face in our hands and rubbed his ears, all his favorite spots.  I kissed him and cried into his neck.  And then it was over.  

I woke up today looking for him, waiting for him to come running down the stairs to go outside.  I walked over to his water dish to refill it, only to realize Husband Jared had already moved it.  Weird, how an animal can become so entrenched into our daily routines and our lives.  Polo existed with us.; A part of our family and by doing so I learned so much.  It sounds cliche and I hesitated to even write this post because of that, but he did teach me and I did love him.  We all did.  He taught our children about responsibility, caring for something other than yourself.  I learned about forgiveness and unconditional love.  It did not matter if I had punished him thirty seconds ago, he would still come to me with his tail wagging, licking my hand and wanting my attention.  Especially if I had bacon.  Polo was loyal.  Our wanna-be courageous guardian.  Although, really, he would just bark until you were close enough for him to lick and sniff inappropriately.  He tried.  Regardless, I felt safer when I was the only human in the house if he was with me.  The dog was not typical.  He lived outside the "dog" boundaries and I loved him even more for it.  Which in turn is an applicable life lesson as a human too.  Be you, no one else can.  Polo had a gentle, mellow spirit with children, with adults, with other dogs.  It was who he was.  He was sad when his people weren't around.  And now we will be sad without him.  So here's to Polo, you are loved and you will be remembered.  Thanks for loving us for 12 years, it was a good run.  

A Weird Day...(a few months ago)

I am sitting here at Starbucks.  My intent was to have a reading hour while Thing 4 was at training but alas I could not resist the urge to write.  I just experienced the most kind encounter with an older gentleman.  Earlier in the day I held a woman while she was convulsing on the asphalt.  What a Monday.  My day began as usual, before the sun and with Husband Jared heading into work.  Start the kettle, pack the lunch, dish out our Juice Plus and blend the protein shake for breakfast.  Done and done.  Then off to the morning training session for Thing 4 and a run on the trails for me.  I could hardly wait.  A podcast was streaming through my head phones and I was off.  In the zone if you will.  On the turn around one of the walkers I had passed was down.  As in laying on the pavement and moaning in despair.  I stopped, checked in and realized her friend was in a panic.  She quickly called 911 and held this stranger's head in my hands, allowing her shoulders to rest on my legs.  Her sweet pup was in a state and jumped onto his owner's chest, nipping at me as I tried my best to offer support.  With the 911 operator on the line we were making progress, although the sweet lady was not coherent and I wasn't sure just what to do, so I prayed.  I cried out to the Lord, in my mind, and asked for a quick response from the paramedics, for help, for peace, for healing and for love to be felt.  That was literally the only thing I had to offer, other than my sweatshirt for warmth.  We, my new found friend Tami, and myself, waited and listened for sirens and attempted to comfort Marissa, who lay in my lap, with Willow, the pup.  And there we waited.   Speaking words of comfort, rubbing her back and trying to illicit any manner of response from her.  Another bystander, an angel in my mind, offered assistance and called the police and aided in tracking down said emergency vehicles to show them our whereabouts.  Thank goodness for kind people.  Still waiting, Tami and I shook our heads and shared looks of concern and helplessness with one another.  What does one do in that situation?  I had certainly never experienced anything quite like that before.  Ever.  This woman apparently has no history of such incidences and to be honest, I was becoming more worried by the minute.  She wasn't opening her eyes, any response we did receive was a head shake or barely audible answer to a one word questions.  We were counting breaths and holding her hands, reassuring Willow and on the lookout.  Finally we heard sirens so I bolted down to the road to flag them down and it was a police officer.  Thankfully he was in communication with the paramedics but the four of us just sat there, mostly clueless.  Occasionally the 911 operator would ask for us to count breaths or give her a status update but other than that, nothing.  And then the ambulance arrived.  Only after another episode which we did determine was a seizure and screams of agony from the patient just before her body gave way and went limp.  It was terrifying.  I am not sure if it was more the not being able to offer relief or the lack of knowledge surrounding this sort of situation, or maybe being a total stranger.  In my mind, it was a combination of all these things.  Once the ambulance determined their course of action I had yet another first time experience;  I rode in the back of a police car.  Yep.  My new friend, and I were sped away to our waiting vehicles.  With that the incident came to a close.  We hugged, exchanged phone numbers so I could be kept apprised to the outcome.  That was it.  She left for the hospital and I went my  own way to collect Thing 4 from training.  On that short drive I attempted to process it all.  So much.  Then Husband Jared called and I was sharing the details with him all he could say was I am so thankful you were there in the moment to offer help.  God knew just what they needed and that was you.  Wow.  Overwhelmed with emotion his words were a balm to my shaky heart and mind.  And isn't that the truth, though?  We are simply asked to show up.  Allow Him to ordain our days.  Work through us.  Later on in the day I received a text.  Tami was catching me up on the doctor's report, the next steps and as we exchanged messages it was apparent that we were both a jumble of scattered thoughts.  She spoke sweet words of gratitude to me and in agreement we hoped for the best possible outcome and complete healing.  The latest update I received confirmed that what the doctors had originally thought was the  worse diagnosis was in fact treatable and Marissa is expected to recover fully. Praise the Lord.  Through this interaction I was once again reminded of  the importance of being available.  The act of paying attention to those in need.  You know, the ones right in front of you.  Yes, thank you Jesus for that "subtle" nudge.  

Gillian is Seventeen!

Girl, what a year 16 was!  You wrote in my Mother's Day card this year, which always falls shortly after your birthday, "thank you for being there for me because I know this year has been hard".  Oh sweet girl, it is my privilege to "be there for you", to walk beside you and shine light on the dark, to speak truth into your struggles and to hold you when it is all too much.  And let's be real, it can be too much for all of us sometimes.  You have blossomed in this year of 16.  Truly.  Your Dad and I have seen an air of confidence about you that wasn't there before.  A deeper smile, a louder laugh and a lightness that has been fought for.  Way to press in and do the work.  Please don't ever stop.  This one precious and wild life is a gift and I want nothing more than for you to live it to the fullest with Jesus.  In this year of 16 you were invited to be a part of the Nehemiah team with Royal Servants and you spent all summer traveling and serving with them.  From Poland to Slovakia and Israel too.  You returned to us marked.  In the very best way.  A love for Jesus and his people that was so much more than where you started from.  More knowledge and new friendships that took you to Boston and made you hungry for adventure.  Your volunteer role with Freedom Reigns moved  to a new level and you are leading a session and have been asked to train one of the new horses.  I just witnessed you working with Dancer for the first time and it was something special for certain.  There was a countenance in your positioning, the way you communicated with the horse, the calmness.  It was so beautiful to watch.  Your level of horsemanship has increased ten fold this year.  You planned a trip to London and Paris with your Dad to visit the Le Cordon Bleu campuses in each city.  After an email chain of conversations with admin representatives you had scheduled tours and asked questions.  And so off you two went.  A whirlwind of a visit, filled to the brim with sight seeing, housing inspections, tours and eating.  Not to mention a special birthday dinner at a Michelin star restaurant.  You showed initiative and a commitment to your dream.  You began a new discipleship relationship and we have seen the fruit of that in many ways.  Not to mention, you started a new job with Starbucks and are now sporting the green apron.  Whew, what a year!  So with all of that, all of the new and unknown I pray you enter into this year of 17 boldly.  Unafraid.  Ready for change and ready for a new chapter in your journey.  I pray you continue to love, to speak the truth, to be you.  Beautiful, known and created in His image,  YOU.  I love you Gilly-Bean, happy 17th birthday!

Israel Day 9-11

Our time in Israel is quickly coming to an end.  I could sense it too.  The days were becoming longer, fuller and a certain urgency was tangible.  With the agenda full and the importance of this place I surely did not want to miss out on anything and yet at the same time there was so much to process already.  Here we go with our last few days in this beautiful country.  

We visited the Israeli museum and gained perspective on the city.  Within the museum walls are original scripts found on the Dead Sea Scrolls with descriptions of where and how they were found and what is written.  There was also a trip to the market, where my five senses came to life. So much to take in.  Lunch at a fish and chips stand, wandering through crooked streets and alleyways, stumbling upon a tiny coffee stand and watching the students navigate bartering, purchasing and enjoying treats of local fare.  My very favorite things to do while exploring. 

Lunch in the market!

To scale model of the city of Jerusalem

The bus traveled dirt roads and hills to take us to the Elah Valley, the site of David's memorable battle against Goliath.  While sitting and reading through scripture of that fight I was reminded of David's faithfulness in the everyday.  The way he developed his relationship with the Lord, daily through praise and worship. It was powerful being on this hill overlooking the valley, reading the story of what went down here. I could see David, small and mighty, Goliath too, full of ego and confident in his stature, almost certain of victory.  And then in a way only the Lord could, the unexpected won.  

Valley of Elah

One night we walked to the ancient citadel of Jerusalem, around the tower and into a viewing of the Tower of David Night Time Spectacular light show.  And spectacular it was!  The lights displayed within the courtyard of the Citadel depicted the history of Jerusalem over 4000 years.  I sat mesmerized by the music and the craftsmanship of not only the ancient walls we were sitting within but the story being told on them.  

We traveled to Bethlehem early one morning and as we did the stark contrast to what we were leaving behind was obvious.  It is a Christian Arab town under the PLA and as we entered in I was unsure of what was waiting for us.  There is the Church of the Nativity, originally built in the 4th century and then replaced with a larger more ornate church in the 6th century.  Within this building are segregated areas belonging to various religious sects and just beyond the Greek Orthodox altar are steps leading to the Grotto of the Nativity, said to be the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus.  Nearby is another chapel, where she supposedly laid Jesus after his birth.  This tour was heady and filled with information, more than I could absorb.  While useful and helpful in understanding context and geography my conclusion is that there is skepticism around exactly where the birth took place.  And understandably so, none of us living today were present then.  Moving on.  We stopped at the Shepherd's field where angels could have appeared to the shepherds announcing Jesus' birth.  There we paused and offered our own worship in the form of songs.  The day continued in Bethlehem with a trip to an olive wood factory.  We saw the master carvers at work and the pile of olive wood waiting to be turned into masterpieces.  Their shop was filled with the most beautiful nativities.  Side note, there is also a coffee shop in Bethlehem known as "Stars and Bucks", not to be confused with Starbucks as we know it and most definitely not the same.  

At work in the olive wood factory.

Shepherd's Valley overlook.

City steps in Bethlehem.

Leaving Bethlehem we saw a different kind of scenery out our bus windows.  Watch towers, barbed wire and military personnel in search of land mines.  How surreal.  I don't really have the words to accurately describe what I saw or what I was thinking as I took it all in.  

Another stop on the itinerary was Golgotha, known as Skull Rock and the Garden Tomb.  After gaining some perspective on location and our whereabouts I realized just how close in proximity we were to actual neighborhoods and city living while at these sites.  Life has been built up around them.  And yet here they are, withstanding the test of time.  There we were.  The supposed location of the tomb where Christ was buried and then rose.  The grounds are beautiful, meticulously maintained and we sat and listened to a brief explanation about the mountain side, where a bus transit lot is adjacent.  Once again modern life continued on as we heard these ancient stories.  A line was formed to enter the tomb and even if it isn't the actual place where Christ was buried the real life viewing of it is otherworldly.  Beyond the photo opportunities is a quaint chapel and there I sat, with our group, waiting to partake in the elements of communion.  To celebrate our time in this sacred land together and worship our King who rose from the dead so we could have eternal life.  It was beautiful.  

We're almost there and yet there is still so much.  We entered the Western Wall Tunnels and saw the largest single cut stone in the world, weighing in at 600 tons.  Underground we continued witnessing Herod's grand design and impressive architectural conquests.  On to Bethesda.  The place where Jesus healed a paralytic, as told in John 5:1-15.  A man that had been an invalid for thirty eight years, who sat waiting in the colonnades for potential healing.  And when Jesus came to him, he asked, "do you want to be healed?", the man answered that he had no one to help him into the pool, and when the opportunity would arise someone always steps in front of him; Essentially leaving him without another way.  Jesus told the man to get up and walk.  And he did, immediately, leaving the area.  Just like that.  Maybe it was in the asking.  Maybe in the believing.  Whatever took place here was a miracle.  And not the only one in this place.  But this one, this one spoke volumes to me.  The man asked.  Jesus did not hesitate.  He granted the man's request.  Then the paralytic got up and walked.  He did not have to worry about someone stepping in front of him.  He didn't have to push or shove, fight or negotiate, plead or compromise in any way.  He got up and walked.  Right after asking.  There is a lesson in there for me.  Also, this was one of two miracles Jesus performed in Jerusalem.  Interestingly enough, they both took place at the water, the one referenced above and the other at the Pool of Siloam, which we had seen at the outlet of Hezekiah's tunnel.  St. Anne's Church, the church of Mary's mother, is located near the Pool of Bethesda and we walked in awestruck.  The acoustics in this place were phenomenal.  Our group formed a circle and began singing and my heart just couldn't contain itself.  Pure and holy.  On to the Holy Church of the Sepulcher, the more likely place that Jesus was buried due to excavations uncovering a rock quarry wall where tombs had been cut into during the first century AD.  The grandness of this church caught me off guard.  Up the steps there was a service taking place and priests walked the entry way with outstretched hands waiting to be kissed.  I felt a certain heaviness in this place and I didn't spend too much time inside.  We walked the Via Dolorosa, otherwise known as the "way of agony", a Catholic created path of the traditional Stations of the Cross.  That lead us into the marketplace.  We had time in the market to explore in small groups and once again barter and shop and take in the local fare.  This area and market was a bit different as we were in the Muslim quarter.  The negotiating did not come as easily and there was a noticeable shift.  Not one to accept the first offer and most definitely not one to pay asking price in a street market I walked away empty handed quite a bit.  Sometimes to my own detriment because I simply forgot the exchange rate or was being too stubborn to accept defeat.  Which of course wasn't really defeat but a bruising in my prideful way.  Yes, I am aware.  I only hope I didn't offer too terrible an example for the young eyes watching me.  I did walk away with a few treasures for the family and some ice-cream that I even attempted to bargain for.  And in the end Thing 2 and I along with our buddy had quite the adventure.  Lessons learned for certain and if nothing else I can laugh at myself now, and I did then too!  What a contrast to the holy singing I mentioned not sentences before.  Hmmm.  

Western Wall tunnels.

My girl.

Singing in St. Anne's Church.

Pool of Bethesda- five porticoes mentioned in the Gospel story (John 5:2)

Via Dolorosa

Walking within the Western Walls.

Light streaming in the church.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

While we were within the Western Wall we visited the outside of it.  The place where prayers are offered and pleadings are made for the glory and light to return.  Men and women are separated in this place, and underground within the men's area is the foundation stone.  On our side there are women and children, covered and not, tourists and not.  There is wailing, which the wall is aptly named for, there are tiny pieces of paper tucked in between it's stones and backwards walking to exit the place.  It is so much to digest.  In one place.  At a single time.  On an isolated visit.  The history, the conflict, the pain, it comes to a head for me here and I am about undone.  I want to understand and yet there are some things that are not meant to be understood.  Or at least that is what I tell myself in the moment.  

The Western Wall

And with this brief description of our late afternoon Ramparts Walk we are just about at the end of our journey.  Psalm 48 was referenced while we stood and waited to began our walk.  In this particular Psalm God is touted as the defender of Jerusalem, His presence is glorified and His power praised because He is within this city, as was believed because of the Temple's presence here.  Let it be so.  We walked up and down the stairs, peeked in the lookouts and it struck me what a mighty city Jerusalem is.  At the end of our walk we prayed and it was powerful.  Hearing the hushed words of our group, pouring out hearts and crying out to the Lord for this city and her people.  I wonder if there has ever been a more beautiful act of worship than offering thanksgiving to our Savior.  

View from the Ramparts.

And now to our final meal together in Israel.  We had a brief window of time to return to our hotel and shower before our trek home began.  In a frenetic pace we divided boys and girls into single rooms, showered, packed and readied ourselves for the journey to our last meal at the table as a group and our flight home.  Dinner was at a small restaurant off the beaten path, a hidden gem if you will.  We even drove on the Road to Emmaeus and landed in Abu Gash, the very place that Samson would have been "hanging out", so many centuries ago.  The tables were covered with platters of delicious food, local to the region and we devoured each and every bite, all while we laughed and shared a special memory of our time together with the entire group.  I'm not much for speaking in front of large groups but this act of remembering and celebrating and sharing marked me.  I relished this time hearing out loud what was significant about this time from everyone, including our tour guide, Aaron and our trip leaders.  The students had been preparing a song for our extraordinary tour guide and bus driver and so when dinner was over, photos were taken and goodbyes exchanged they made a tunnel and sent Aaron and his family as well as Elie our bus driver off with fan fare, in the very best way!  This group knows how to celebrate well!  And from there it was karaoke on the bus all the way to the airport and laughter that filled the bus.  Never, ever a dull moment.  

Table #1

Table #2

The goodbye tunnel! 

And with that we boarded our plane and headed back to the United States.  First stop, Minneapolis.  That was a sweet lay over for Thing 2 and I.  We were able to say hello and give hugs to a few friends and then we waited for our next flight.  After about 36 hours of travel time we landed in TN and were oh so happy about it.  It was a remarkable ten days spent in Israel and I will be forever grateful to have shared that experience with Thing 2.  

Us, worn out but still smiling in Nashy! 

Israel...Day Six - Eight

* I am writing this many months after the fact.  I know I've mentioned it before but there is something to be said for the in the moment memories.  Some thoughts were captured in my journal entries while abroad, others I am recalling and doing my best to put to paper.  The photos help.  My natural inclination is to rush through, place some pictures on the page and call it done.  I am trying not to do that but to share some thoughts, heart promptings and otherwise with you from a trip that has marked me in ways hard to convey.  Thank you for reading, thank you for not expecting much and thank you for your patience.

Another day.  This time no running outside, a quick work out in the hotel gym and then it was off to breakfast and the day's agenda.  I won't lie, today had me a bit worried.  Hezekiah's tunnel was on the docket and I can err on the side of claustrophobic if I'm not cautious.  I about worked myself into a tizzy, on the inside of course.  After all I was a chaperone and I'm supposed to be the one keeping it together, right?  Hardly.  Let me back up.  Our day begin at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.  We walked through the grounds, touching the stones, standing where Jesus would have, looking at the agora, the steps to the Temple Mount and the Huddah Arches.  I pondered the Temple Mount this morning.  Mostly in ways I hadn't been able to give context to prior to this trip.  It's significance.  The state of the sacred site currently.  All the battles waged over the ownership and how it must grieve our Lord to watch His people.  Thankful to have confidence in the redemptive power He holds and the restoration that will come.  One day.  For now, we're moving on.  I am inclined to head in a downward spiral discussing these issues and I can get tangled up in the politics, religiosity and historical significance of it all.  This time I say no.  Not today.  We'll move on to our next stop.  At least I think it was our next stop.  We went to Hezekiah's tunnel.  The walls enclosing this site had a golden harp embedded  in them.  A center piece, if you will.  To say here, David was here.  We watched a short movie before preparing to navigate the tunnel system.  King Hezekiah built this tunnel system to bring water in from the Gihon Springs to the Pool of Siloam.  It spans 1600 miles and over 100 years ago a six line Hebrew inscription was discovered that describes the construction and creation of the tunnel.  This day we walked it.  Thing 2 and I were towards the front of the line and I felt much more secure there.  Against my better judgment I proceeded with my cell phone flash light.  While it provided comfort I did worry about dropping it in the calf deep water we were treading through.  Thankfully that did not happen.  I was able to capture a single photo of my girl and I with big smiles.  Our group started singing while we were wading through and it brought such relief.  The sound of their voices echoing off the stone walls and a group in unison was oddly reassuring.  In some places even I had to duck and I couldn't imagine what it would have been like to be down there, in the darkness and dampness day in and day out carving out the stone.  A remarkable feat for certain.    We continued from the other side, or maybe we visited David's tomb first, either way off to the site of David's tomb, supposedly, and a place that many call the "Upper Room" as referenced in Acts.  There is a room beneath filled with graffiti that connects the "home church" that Jesus speaks of.  That had me intrigued.  Home church is something that resonates deep within me.  The way it was done in the beginning.  People gathering in homes, being welcomed in,  allowing the Holy Spirit to invade them and love prevailing.   Yes please.  No frills.  No activates for one and all.  No mass produced worship stage.  No pre-written, stamped out sermons.  Presence.  Authenticity.  Unity.  The architecture had me captivated with the arches and stone and high walls, vines hanging down and the acoustics echoing in beautiful chorus.  We ventured to St. Peter's church of denial and Caiphas' house, possibly the place where Jesus was arrested and stood in prison. It was there, in what felt and looked like a jail cell, that thing 2 read scripture.  I stood on the steps, staring at her.  Almost in disbelief that we were in this place together.  That the words she read actually happened here, where we were.  The gravity of that never ceases to amaze me.  My days are running together here , but since the title of this post is, days 6-8, just know that all these sites were seen within the span of those days.  I think.  We made an unexpected stop at a new museum of sorts, the Friends of Zion, by Mike Evans.  Essentially this space is dedicated to the unsung heroes and figures that have partnered and remained committed to the state of Israel and the history of the Jewish people.  There are various floors, each representing a time period and filled with stories.  Upon our exit of the museum we stumbled upon an interesting sign reading, "Time Elevator".  As in, time travel?  We were taken by it's suggestion and thus ensued the photos and story telling.  Amusing.

The Western Huldah Gate

In the tunnel

Within these few days was our visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.  Whew.  This one took it all out of me.  We were able to walk the exhibits on our own, going at our own pace, stopping where we pleased and spending time with our thoughts and questions.  My take away, where was the church?  I mean come on people.  There are numerous recounts of individuals offering assistance, sacrificing their own safety and making a way.  What I didn't see was a mark or set apart note of how the church body came together to be the church body.  Don't get me wrong, I am no historian.  I wasn't there, didn't live through it or experience it first hand.  And I won't claim to understand the time in which the church lived through this.  As Husband Jared often says, there are no surprises in history.  We can look back 1000 years and then today and see similar strife, hardship, persecution, even the political climate.  What I wasn't prepared for was the exit from the museum.  A vast and open view of the city. Peaceful.  Holy.  Sacred.  This moment stood apart.  After the darkness and heaviness of the museum this respite was welcome.  I paused and processed.  Reflected on what was seen and taken in and just took a few breaths.  I felt a weight that I didn't when we arrived here.  Or more accurately, that I hadn't given much head space to.  The Jewish people's history.  The persecution they've endured, continue to endure and how they have triumphed and will do so again.

In addition to these great sites, we spent time in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It wasn't what I had envisioned it to be, at all.  To begin with, it was across from a church, the Church of All Nations, named after the sixteen countries that assisted in it's building, and while beautiful it still seemed a tad out of place.  There was more than one gated entrance and I came to find out after the fact that the  area of the garden we were in is overseen by a group of Mormons.  I found that to be interesting.  In the garden we walked and prayed and the students spent time reading letters from their family members.  I perused the garden, finding trash and then forcing my mind to return to Jesus.  To the time He spent here.  The trees may not be the ones standing from His time but they are an outgrowth from them.  There may be modern structures surrounding me and the sounds of cars filling the air but if I closed my eyes I could see it.  Him there, the betrayal, the heartache and the agony of knowing what was to come.

Garden gate

And to finish these few days we visited the Mount of Olives with a stunning vantage point of Jerusalem.  Or at least the peaks surrounding the city and where so much of our history was lived out.  We paused for photos and I stared out into the city, studying the city walls, looking at the gate that has been closed and guarded by a cemetery.  The stories that could be told here about the shrines that Solomon built for his wives, David fled here when Absolom was hunting him, the place where Jesus began His journey into Jerusalem on a donkey and the place where the Holy Spirit was promised to the disciples.  There we stood.  Holy ground once again.

From the Mount of Olives

Through the Old City Gate


Twenty years ago you and I begin this journey together and here we are with you entering a new decade of life.  As we sat at the table this year and I remembered your birth story I thought about how afraid I felt.  Scared that I would mess you up, that I wouldn't be enough, that you wouldn't be proud to be my daughter.  I remember sending your Dad a page when I was headed to the hospital.  I drove myself and checked in and he came running in shortly thereafter.  We sat in that hospital room unaware of just how much your little six pound self would impact our lives.  I can say with confidence today that in that moment that you made me a Mama I have never felt more.  More everything.  The feeling has been multiplied but never the same.  We became a family that day.  Thing 1, I hope you know just how proud I am of you; That I love you more than you will ever know or understand.  I am certain that I have made mistakes, messed some things up and hurt you.  I also know that you are a gift from our heavenly Father and you are His before you are mine and there is peace in that for both of us.  So as we move into this year of 20 let's recall all the ways He has been faithful in your year of 19.  

A graduation from Kairos in Seattle.  A solid 6 months of new and change and learning how to navigate that.  New jobs.  It took a couple that didn't quite fit to find just the right one.  A venture into the collegiate world at Nashville State.  Two semesters in and dare I say that you have enjoyed learning in a new way?  A new car.  Purchased all on your own.  More adulting and weighty decisions made.  You are becoming and unbecoming all at the same time.  An avid researcher and seeker of knowledge.  Pushing boundaries and testing the waters, crafting words to share and teach.  Moving beyond the surface in your own way.  Looking for justice and mercy in a world that doesn't always look like that.  You've been reading all manner of books and underlining pages and that brings your word loving Mama such joy.  You have a way with little ones and it is evident in the stories you tell about your "boys", the two that you nanny.  You're never one to shy away from speaking the truth and offering a different perspective.  You love the urban life, you crave art and creativity and diversity, and you enjoy adventuring to find those things.  All characteristics that have shown through more so this past year.  Keep being you, no one else can.  Again I say what a holy privilege it is to witness as your Mama.  Always and forever your biggest supporter.  Always and forever your champion.  

Here is my prayer for you in this upcoming year, a gift in and of itself.  Don't forget: You are loved and adored by a creator who knit you together in my womb, knew you before you entered the world, numbered your days and knows exactly how many beautiful curls are on your head.  As always I pray for wisdom and discernment as you make choices and decisions moving forward.  I pray for your heart, that it is guarded and protected, held carefully, yet I pray you love in big and small ways. I hope and pray that when you don't know where else to turn you press in heavy to Jesus.  Even when He seems silent or distant, He is there.  Always.  Waiting for you, pursuing you and loving you first.  I pray for truth tellers and Jesus lovers to walk into the doorway of your life.  I hope for your strong friendships rooted, deep and steadfast.  I pray for opportunities to have courage and be brave.  Taking a risk for the kingdom is always worth it.  I pray that when the cost is steep that you still say yes.  I pray you know when to say no and that your motivation is pure.  I pray 20 is the best year yet.

You, beautiful daughter of mine, made me a Mama and I thank you for that gift.
Happy 20th birthday my Sunshine Girl.

Israel...Day Five

And now for the most physically challenging day in Israel.  Masada.  The snake path trail.  The students had been gearing up for this for a few days.  Mentally preparing, sharing pep talks and placing bets, or maybe challenging one another according to capabilities.  Have I mentioned how hot it was while we were there?  I have lived in Arizona and the heat we experienced was oppressive.  Not to mention we were scheduled to be climbing a mountain.  Not too long before our trip a young tourist had fallen off the mountain and had a horrific accident due to the climbing conditions, namely the extreme weather.  The authorities were quite cautious and for a few brief moments we were actually told we would not be able to climb.  Our trusty guide, Aahron, was able to speak with the powers that be and we were allowed to hike.  Here is such a metaphor for my life.  Maybe you can relate?  We began our walk to the beginning of the trail, part way up the small-ish hill we realized that we were going the wrong way.  Thankfully not too long of a detour but a detour nonetheless.  Quickly down the hill and towards the start of the path we went.  I was laughing to myself all the while thinking, why didn't we see the sign?  How did we walk right past that?  Who is in charge here?  Where was the guide?  Oh wait, I was the guide.  Or something to that effect.  I let the group down.  We laughed about our mishap but it was one of those where you think to yourself, "I should have known better".  Essentially it was not a huge ordeal but after the fact, since I've had time to process I know there is something more there.  Similar to the experience the day before at Bethsaida.  Around every corner a lesson waiting to be learned.  Blaze a new trail.  Do not fear.  Pay attention.  Go your own way but know that I will redirect you how I see fit(as heard in my best Jesus voice).  Wink, wink.  So here we go, the hike.  My darling Thing 2 ran ahead with her buddies, racing to the top in break neck speed.  I had aspirations of being there with her, side by side but the Lord had an alternative plan.  That was in the back of the group, bringing up the rear.  Hmmm.  I morphed into a cheerleader of sorts.  Shouting my best "you can do it's" up the hill to the young ladies in front of me.  Offering water and encouraging us to make it up the next set of steps before we paused for a break and photo op.  This was tough.  The heat was oppressive, I worried about those in my charge and I just prayed.  And then when we were close enough to the top I heard voices.  No, I hadn't lost my mind.  Students that had already completed the path were at the top shouting down words of praise and encouragement, championing their peers.  This will go down in the books as one of my most favorite memories.  That was a picture of a generation rising.  Celebrating each other, rooting until the very last one crossed the finish line and holding one another up when they weren't able to make it on their own.  Wow.  I was floored.  Surprised and moved to tears.

On the way up.

We did it!

Israeli Flag, tall and proud.

Me and my Israel roomie, happy to be at the top! 

And again, what are we doing with our hands?  I'm just not sure, either way, we climbed Masada, enough said.

That was the climb.  From there we walked the "stronghold", that is the Hebrew translation for Masada and it is the place where David fled Saul.  I can certainly understand why.  The view is something otherworldly.  Overlooking the entire valley and secure, hidden and seemingly safe.  Until it wasn't.  We had quite the view of the Dead Sea.  Here are a few stats regarding the Sea, in case you are unaware as I was;
1. the sea is formed from the Jordan River and other small streams
2. it is 50 miles long and 10 miles wide
3. it's shores are 1300 feet below sea level
4. the deepest point of the sea is 1300 feet
5. the fresh water evaporates, thus leaving the salinity and mineral content at 25%
6. the water in the sea is 30% heavier than ocean water
So there's that.  Thus explaining the health spas and resorts that have begun to spring up around the area.  There are supposed health benefits in the mud and waters here, not to mention the area is pollen free.

Alright, moving on the En Gedi Springs and Oasis.  We rode the bus down the road to the oasis that David wrote about in the Psalms.  Unassuming and hidden from plain sight one would not know that there were water falls, lush greenery and a welcome respite from the heat behind the rocks and hills.  I heard the rushing water before we actually saw it.   The Psalms began to take shape, assuming a life of their own and it was breathtakingly beautiful.  I dipped my head in the waterfall and it was more than refreshing.  It was such a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat and demanding environment.

The Springs.

And Israeli soldiers, standing guard.  There were loads of soldiers at En Gedi and my girl in particular was quite intrigued by them.  She boldly walked right up to them and asked for a photo.  Of course.  Then the other girls joined in too.  Because soldiers.  

On our way to En Gedi.

Our day was not over just yet.  From the desert oasis to the tent of Abraham.  What a journey.  An educational tourist site and the place where I would ride a camel, not once but twice.  Also the place where I experienced one of the most memorable meals while in Israel.  The intent of this special place is to transport it's visitors back to the days of Abraham and Abraham himself welcomes you once you have dismounted from your camel.  He opened his tents to us, brought in the best food, the most comfortable pillows and we sat around his tables.  Listening to his stories, viewing the desert surrounding us all while I allowed the sounds and smells to carry me to another time.  The food.  Oh the food, it was a feast for the senses.   It is safe to say that we all had quite the appetite after our hike that morning.

The feast in Abraham's Tent.

Camel riding buddies.

My first camel ride with Jessica.  

And my second camel ride, with Laura, my roomie.  

Well hello there.

Our bus ride to the hotel was a quiet one that afternoon.  Everyone processing the days activities and sights.  We entered Jerusalem and made our way around the windy streets to our hotel, home base for the next few days.

Post dance party in the hall.  Just the three of us, myself, Laura and Thing 2.  We celebrated Anson's 18th birthday and when the room cleared we returned for an after hours dance party and booty shake. Needless to say we needed to be hydrated for said activities.  It was a good, good day.  

Israel...Day Four

Today began with a morning run through the city streets of Tiberias.  Again, I watched the city wake up.  On the docket today, a wooden boat, which reminded me somewhat of the smaller gullets we saw in Turkey.  The waters were calm that morning and our captain attempted to cast a net and retrieve fish from the water.  Similar to how Jesus and His disciples would have done it so many years ago.  I walked along the benches on the boat, pausing to peer over the edge, trying to look down into the water and imagine.  I allowed my mind to float away and picture Jesus on this very water.  Calming the waves.  Reaching out for Peter.  Standing on the water.  Alive.  Here, in this very place.  I mean, how does one even begin?  It was here, around this water that Jesus’ ministry began.  Tiberias, Capernaum, these cities were the hometowns of Peter, James, Andrew, John and Matthew.  They are described at great lengths in the Gospels.  And me, well I was able to walk there too.  I swam in the water.  I ran the modern day roads built upon these historical places.  When we crossed the lake, we went on shore at a museum, one that housed a boat they believe to be dated to Jesus’ time, over 2000 years old.  It had been found buried under water, completely preserved.  The entire process to excavate and rebuild the boat took over 9 years.  Remarkable.  And we were able to see it, walk around it and watch a video on exactly where this important piece of history was found, how they went about dating the wood and then the preservation of the vessel.  From here we traveled to the Jordan River where some members of our group were baptized.  I dipped my toes in the water and mostly just let the tears flow as I watched.  Never fails.  I was in the singing mood today, on the bus and at the river, I hummed worship tunes and clapped wildly as our friends emerged from the water a new creation.  We traveled to Best Shean, the place where King Saul was beheaded, a town where excavations have unearthed eighteen different cities and the place where in 749AD an earthquake completely destroyed the city.  We walked the streets, shouted in the amphitheatre and imagined what life would have been like with the shop fronts restored and open, the mosaics intact and the pillars standing tall.  Or at least that is what I did.  And I watched.  I watched the young adults run from ruin to ruin exploring.  Lunch was served by a small falafel stand nearby and today I distinctly remember ice cream treats following said lunch.  Maybe because it was especially warm this day or maybe because I love Magnum bars, either way it was enjoyable.  Again we had a bus ride to our next destination, Qumran, the desert mountains that hid the Dead Sea Scrolls until their discovery centuries later.  Never mind the heat, we saw the exact place where they were brought up into the light.  Let the weight of that sink in just a bit.  And then the Dead Sea.  Our hotel was gorgeous, more of a resort than a hotel.  Gorgeous grounds, a pool, gym and access to the Dead Sea, not more than 100 steps from door to sand.  The salt mounds that collect in the sea could be seen on our drive but I do not think that any justice was done to this body of water.  It is unlike anything I have experienced before.  Salty, yes, but the water was this mesmerizing shade of blue-green.  I stepped in and then turned and floated.  Yes, floated in knee deep, rather warm water.  Mud from the "floor" was strategically placed in buckets and quickly became something like war paint and then once photos were taken washed off and the floating continued.  This afternoon was filled with down time and journaling, quiet time and pool antics, a work out and moonlight walk.  It was this night that I witnessed an Israeli fighter jet pass over. Actually I heard it before I saw it and by the time I looked up I was just an afterthought.  At home I've heard it said that the sound of the fighter jest is the sound of freedom, here I'm not certain what the people would call that.  Later in the night I would be visited by Thing 2 and a group of her friends performing a Jewish dance in our hotel room.  That is something I won't soon forget.  Seems they made friends at the hotel and wanted to share in their joy!  And isn't that a piece of travel as well;  Experiencing life with the locals, learning about their lives, their celebrations, their routines and rituals.  I do believe so.  

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure."
Hebrews 6:19

View from the boat

2000 year old boat, excavated from the Sea of Galilee

Jumping for joy at the Jordan River

Beit Shean


The Dead Sea...as seen from the bus


Moon rise over the Dead Sea