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 seen from the bus


Moon rise over the Dead Sea

The Baby is 15: This One's For Him

You've done it.  My boy has gone and turned 15, had another birthday and grown a few inches taller.  Five to be exact.  You're catching up to Dad.  Reminding me of your height at every opportunity.  Picking me up bending down when you give me my morning hug.  Tall and more man like than baby.  Shaving for the first time this year.  Camping out alone in the woods.  Landing a job at the local rock climbing gym.  That story is one for the books.  You were being you and helping a younger than you kiddo.  Your kindness was noticed and the next thing you know the  manager was handing you an application and scheduling an interview for you.  Well done.  That is character shining through.  This summer you were baptized.  In a lake at JAM camp.  An opportunity was given to you for a tryout with Sporting KC youth academy in Kansas City.  We spent almost a week there while you trained with the team, walked the locker room and stretched in the weight room.  Experiencing all the amenities of a top notch program.  In the end there wasn't an opening to be filled by you on the squad but you held your head high and allowed the experience to motivate and spur you on.  I'd be lying if I said my Mama's heart didn't feel that defeat every bit as deep.  I see you come alive on that pitch.  Leading and encouraging.  Learning.  I saw loads of that while you played your first season with Middle TN Fire.  Whenever I saw your teammates huddled with arms draped over each other's shoulders I knew you were learning a lesson far more important than any footie match could teach you.  I'm grateful for those moments.  Those boys that lead and taught you.  New friendships have been made in this last year.  You joined a new youth group, began a new discipleship relationship and started high school.  Still home schooling, for now.  Still training in the mornings, only now you drive away with a friend often times.  There are moments when I can not wrap my brain around that one.  You learned some magic tricks this year and at every family gathering you would perform for us.  Cards, straws, coins, you name it and it became a prop for your slide of hands.  I even considered giving you school credit for your newly learned skills.  Mostly due to the amount of time you invested in learning said tricks.  You also traveled to Cali for your week with Poppi and Nani, where you spent the week surfing, deep sea fishing and making memories with family.  14 was a big year for you.

Baptism with Pastor Travis- Summer 2016

On the pitch in Savannah, GA - Fall 2016

And yet, you are still just as tender hearted and silly as ever.  Thing 4, I pray this year of 15 is full of hope and wonder.  Adventures rooted in Jesus and chasing hard after His call on your life.  I pray for humility, you do know that is the mark of the best kind of leader.  I pray for love, big and bold and an attitude of gratitude for this one precious life you've been given.  I say it every year, it is a holy privilege to be your Mama.  Truly.  Fifteen holds so much for you, I believe that.  Let's walk this journey together. Sharing.  Communicating.  Laughing.  Finding the magic in the everyday and being present together.  Praying big prayers.  Standing in the messy and hard side by side, finding strength in Jesus.  You don't always like our reasons or answers but I promise there is reasoning behind it all.  Especially the "no's".  Our words hold weight and when we speak them I pray they bring life to you.  Encouragement.  Courage.  You are stepping into man-hood.  I pray that you understand the meaning of that.  You have had some great examples to witness.  I pray you know that it is healthy to cry.    Healthy to feel deeply.  Healthy to allow others to see that in you.   I pray that you live out Jesus' definition of man and not the worlds.  I pray fervently for your future.  For the responsibilities you have now and those that lie ahead.  I pray that you understand the value of every person you encounter.  I pray you know how to say no and when to say yes and you respect others' decisions for the same.  I pray that you bring peace and unity to your generation.  I pray that your strength continues to flow from the Holy Spirit within you.  I pray and prophetically speak discernment and wisdom to fill you.  At all times.  I pray for forgiveness and grace for you.  I pray that when you make a mistake you admit it.  When you fail, you remember that it is just the beginning.  And I pray your ears are open and your mouth closed when necessary.  I pray this year of 15 is remarkable in an unforgettable way, Thing 4.  I love you so much more than you know.

Happy, happy birthday Thing 4!

Machu Pichu xo