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!