Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tiny Treasures

It’s always during this time of year that I become a reflective person. Or shall I say an abnormally reflective person. I think we all do to some degree. After all, this is the holiday season and I think we just can’t help but get a little sentimental and hopeful. When I think of all the things that I have, and all of the things that many other people don’t, it causes me to stop and pause. Those things in my life, material or otherwise, are often taken for granted. And I’m the guilty party here folks. Are you the same?

I heard this term the other day: tiny treasures. I loved it. It was used in the context of trying to recognize tiny treasures throughout each day so that we can acknowledge that Jesus is very much a part of our lives. That He strategically plants these tiny treasures in our days. It really made me think of all of the little things in life that make me a happy person, a successful person, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a co-worker who hopefully makes work life a little better, a neighbor. All of these “positions” that I have in life are impacted by tiny treasures.

So given that I’m an uber-reflective person right now, and Jesus has seemingly tasked me with searching for the tiny treasures in my life, I thought that I would make a mental treasure chest with all of them as I come across them. Here is what I’ve come up with so far:

Independence – I love that I’m an independent person. I crave alone time and could honestly spend days by myself and I’d be okay. And it means that when I do spend time with people, it’s a conscious choice and heartfelt desire of mine. And it’s a way that I can let people know that they are tiny treasures in my life. I have spent the last couple of days shopping and running errands by myself. I loved it. I love that I can just create a plan and execute it with a scary level of precision.

My love for cooking – I love cooking. A lot of people really can’t cook, or at least they don’t have the desire to cook. For me, it’s a way to release energy, be creative, and serve others. I love being adventurous in the kitchen. I love trying new things. And even if they don’t turn out so great, that’s part of the fun. With my new job, I don’t get to cook as much because of the travel, so now it is an absolute treasure to spend time in the kitchen. I don’t take it for granted at all. How can I when it makes me so happy?

Seasonal coffee creamer – this makes my mornings better, period. How can you go wrong with fair trade coffee that supports orphans (, coupled with spiced pumpkin, sugar & spice, caramel apple, or white chocolate raspberry creamer? It’s heaven in a coffee mug, and an absolute treasure. I miss this when I travel. And if I’m not at home, a gingerbread latte from Starbucks will do just fine, thank you. But you get the idea, seasonal tastes are sensational!

Bible study with a blanket – I love nothing more on a Saturday morning then to grab a cup of coffee (see point above) and sit on the oversized chair beneath my window and do my Bible study, curled up with a comfy blanket and a cuddly fat cat. It’s probably the most relaxed that I ever am in life. Me, Jesus, Kenna, and coffee = bliss. These moments never go unnoticed and are definitely in my treasure chest.

Friend time – I am very careful about not taking my friends for granted. I consciously make an effort to spend time with the people who are important to me, and I am forever grateful that I have so many amazing people in my life. They are tiny treasures that have been dropped off by Jesus in every aspect of my life. And when I get to experience special moments with them, well, I am just thankful with every ounce of my being.

The sun and the moon – have you ever been so impressed by a sunrise, or sunset, or the moon, that you want to tell every person that you see to look at it? Lately I’ve been noticing them more than usual. God doesn’t have to make them beautiful, but He does. I think He must like to see us just stare up at the sky at the marvels that He creates. What a simple and beautiful way to get the attention of His people. Just remember to acknowledge Him next time this happens :-)

A short line – especially during the holiday season, we need to be thankful for short lines. I always seem to notice when I have to wait in an extraordinarily long line, but I’m going to try and be better about noticing the short ones too. And then be thankful for them. Because long lines make people grouchy, and we certainly don’t need any more grouchy people around at the holidays!

So there you have it, my mental treasure chest, with just some of the many tiny treasures that I have recognized in my life. And I try to add to that treasure chest each and every day, and throughout the day. I have found that if I take the time to acknowledge little things in my life that are going right, they really do add up, and the bad things don’t seem so bad after all.

I encourage you to retrain your thinking. Retrain how you look at each day and search for the tiny treasures that are hidden amongst your daily routine. Be thankful for all green lights when you’re in a hurry, or a perfectly baked cake. Or a moment when you experienced Jesus. They probably happen more often than you realize. And they are life’s tiny treasures.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Globetrotting: Israel, Part II, the Secular Side

If you have read the “spiritual side” blog post, then you will know that I was completely entranced with Israel. Every aspect of it just made me happy in my bones. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I hopped on the big jet plane and headed over the Atlantic (and the Mediterranean Sea!). But I was more than pleasantly surprised with what was waiting for me on the other side. I’ve already explained the spiritual side of this trip, so let me switch gears here and just talk about the personality of Tel Aviv and the amazing trip to Masada and the Dead Sea.

Life in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is a bustling city. And it is quite fashionable. With an amazing coastline on the brilliantly turquoise Mediterranean Sea, it’s no surprise that there is a lot going on in this city of about a million people. I loved Tel Aviv at night because there was a cool ocean breeze, and whether we walked along the water to a beach restaurant where we could eat with our toes in the sand, or inland to the neighborhood streets, lined with cafes and gelaterias, it never failed to be pleasant, calming, and enjoyable. And it had the most amazing sunsets! Sunsets that made you want to absorb the beauty of them and never forget the vibrant colors.

There is something for everyone in Tel Aviv. Small local shops and massive shopping malls; yummy local food and “safer”, typical Western food (one night we got $2 falafel pitas from a lovely man who was proud to share with some Americans, and another we went to a Michelin-rated local seafood restaurant on the new harbor that was expensive, and divine); meandering along the promenade at the beach or hopping in a taxi to head into the city. Whatever my mood was, whatever I was hungry for, however rushed or relaxed I felt – Tel Aviv was just right.

Someone walking down the promenade at the beach could very easily think they were in California. I arrived on the Sabbath (Saturday) which the Jewish population in Tel Aviv takes very seriously. Because it is a day of rest, the beaches and promenade were full of families having picnics, playing games, and enjoying the sun and the water. And the people of Tel Aviv are not modest by any stretch of the imagination (except for the Orthodox Jews), so let’s just suffice it to say that I saw more Speedos in a day in Tel Aviv then I really ever care to see in my life!

There are really just two things that reminded me that I was not in California: the fact that every sign is in Hebrew and the Israeli men’s obsession with this game called matkot ( I’ve included the Wikipedia link, so I won’t try to describe it, other than saying that you would never want to get in the way of one of those balls. Walking down the beach, it’s like a symphony of matkot games. And most of the men play in Speedos.

Tel Aviv also has the area of Jaffa, which is one of the oldest port cities in the world. Parts of Jaffa have narrow walkways with high stone walls, with little shops, restaurants and apartments tucked away within. You can easily get lost in what becomes a labyrinth of stone steps, but the safety of the water or the main square are never far away. A clock tower marks the center of Jaffa, and is surrounded by tourist shops, and a few streets away, local antique and flea markets. The cultures in Jaffa vary greatly since there is such history there for both the Jews and the Muslims. Currently, the oldest and probably largest mosque in Tel Aviv resides in Jaffa.

The people and the food
I can’t talk about the Israeli people with talking about religion. For most of them, being Jewish defines them. Granted, there are plenty of nonreligious jews, and there are many Orthodox Jews (although most live in Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv), all of whom have varying levels of commitment to their beliefs, just as we experience in America. But putting aside religion for a moment, the Israelis are a likeable people. They are friendly, most speak three or four languages, and they seem to have no animosity toward Americans. I will say (with no intention of creating a stereotype here), that the Israeli Jews are physically a very homogenous culture. They all come from varying backgrounds, but they generally look very similar. I was amazed at this, and it made it quite easy to distinguish a local from an American or European tourist. The most distinguishing features are the eyes, nose, and the general way in which they carry themselves. And a lot of men over there are bald. And they wear Speedos. Have I mentioned that yet? :-)

I loved that as an American, I didn’t get treated any differently then a local or any other tourist. When I travel, I love getting treated as a local (but I will take that English menu, thank you) and merging into the culture. It makes me feel at home. And in Tel Aviv, it was very easy to feel at home. For a girl who loves pickles and hummus, I was in heaven. Every restaurant we went to made its own pickles. Yum. They pretty much make their own everything. I love that about foreign lands – their food is so much less processed than ours in America and so much better for our bodies! I honestly did not have a bad meal the entire time I was there. Everything was delicious, whether it was a lamb kebab, a cheeseburger, chicken shwarma, gallons of hummus, salads, gelato, fresh fish, etc. You get the idea – I did not starve in Tel Aviv :-)

A life of constant tension
So being the somewhat ignorant and oblivious American that I will ashamedly admit that I can tend to be, I knew the extreme basics of the current situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I mean, we’re talking basic. After this trip, I am proud to say that I have a comfortable level of knowledge about the situation. I’m not a political person and I generally choose to stay out of political conversations. There are too many people in this world who don’t know enough about politics, but who speak passionately as if they do. I don’t want to be one of them.

The main areas of conflict in Israel are the West Bank (as in west bank of the Jordan River, even though it’s in the east of Israel) and the Gaza strip, in southwestern Israel on the border of Egypt. I won’t continue to give a lesson on this Israeli/Palestinian conflict (mainly because I know I would screw something up), but I will tell you how it impacted our trip. In general, there were not many noticeable impacts during my time in Israel. The biggest impact was when we were going from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, which crosses into Palestinian territory from Israeli territory. Our tour guide in Jerusalem, who was an Israeli Jew, could not take us into Bethlehem, so we had to have a different tour guide for Bethlehem who was Arab.

When going between the two territories, we had to cross a checkpoint. We had no issues whatsoever, and the entire process was very seamless for us. I have heard stories where the guards ask a lot of questions, but I think that because we were clearly a group of Americans, there were no issues.

Every man and woman in Israel is required to serve in the army; men for three years (with one month of reserve time per year thereafter) and women for two years. There are certain exemptions, but for the most part, every Israeli has served in the army. Can you imagine telling each American that they have to serve in the army? I don’t think that would go over very well, but then again, this is what they are used to and it’s all they know. And Israel does not have a large standing army. It depends heavily on the reserves.

I don’t have a strong opinion on this conflict one way or the other, but it is clear that the people of Israel and those residing in Palestinian territory (including the disputed territory) are passionate about it. This is clearly something that cannot be resolved over night, but I do hope that everything gets resolved rather peacefully in time.

My next example of Lisa-ignorance is that I had never even heard of Masada. And I feel ashamed, as this is a fantastic story of greed, insanity, ingenuity, and ultimately death and sacrifice. The day after we went to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we went with the same tour leader and driver to Masada and the Dead Sea. We drove back through Jerusalem, and then kept going east. As we drove down past sea level, we were almost instantly in the desert. It was amazing how quickly the landscape changed. We learned a lot about the agriculture historically, and today, and why certain vegetation (such as date palms) thrive, and why other plants require to much water and don’t grow well naturally.

We got a teasing glimpse of the Dead Sea before heading to Masada. Masada was built as a fortress on top of a mountain by King Herod, just before the birth of Christ. I vividly remember the three adjectives used by our tour guide to describe King Herod: excessive, paranoid, and a builder. I think these are important because they are really the only logical explanation for why he built this fortress on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

Masada was amazing. It still had some of the old original stone remnants of the structure, and we could see where the storehouses, bathhouses, sleeping quarters, synagogue, guard stations, etc. were located. We literally walked in the midst of this fortress city. To make what could be a very long story quite short, after King Herod died, and during the time that the Romans were destroying and capturing the Jews, a group of about 1,000 Jews escaped to Masada for refuge. They sustained themselves at Masada until the Romans came and sieged the fortress. Once the Romans breached the walls of Masada, the Jews decided to commit a mass murder/suicide instead of succumbing to the Romans either through death or slavery. I was so captivated by this story, and will be watching the Masada mini-series starring Peter O’Toole very soon; as soon as Netflix mails it to me!

Today, visitors can either take a cable car up to the top of Masada or hike up and down on foot. You can walk all over the settlement and even go into the cisterns that were built in the side of the mountain to capture rain water as it ran down the mountain. I’m telling you, these people were engineers. And they certainly didn’t have the modern equipment that we have today. It was impressive!

The Dead Sea
What trip to Israel is complete without a trip to the Dead Sea? Some quick facts about the Dead Sea before I launch into my storytelling:

- The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, at about 1,400 feet below sea level;
- The salinity of the Dead Sea is about 33%, which is almost nine times saltier than the ocean (from personal experience, I don’t recommend tasting it!);
- The salinity causes the water to be very dense and buoyant, which allows people to float in the water;
- The Dead Sea abounds with minerals, which are thought to have healing properties and offer up a free full body mud mask!;
- The Dead Sea continues to shrink through evaporation each year. The only major source of water coming into the Dead Sea is the Jordan River, and rainfall in the area is scarce to none;
- The middle of the Dead Sea marks the border between Israel and Jordan. At the narrower parts, you can see Jordan clearly on the other side;
- In addition to the salt content, and the minerals in the water, the atmosphere around the Dead Sea provides relief for asthmatics, cystic fibrosis patients, and those suffering from eczema and psoriasis. This is because of the higher atmospheric pressure and the reduced ultraviolet rays from the sun (as a result of being so far below sea level).

So, now that you all have a crash course on the Dead Sea, it’s time for storytelling again.

We left Masada and headed for a quick stop at Qumran, which is where the first Dead Sea scrolls were found in the surrounding caves. These scrolls have provided a lot of the history that we know about that area.

Then it was time to go play in the Dead Sea. I’ll admit, when I first saw the beach and the area where we had access to the water, I was disappointed and it was very anti-climatic. It was muddy, dark, over laden with tourists, and just overall a bit gloomy. After seeing the Mediterranean Sea and its pristine turquoise water, I was shocked to see dark, murky water. But it totally makes sense, right? There is nothing living in the Dead Sea, the bottom is mud, and the water is thick with salt and minerals.

So, after getting over the visuals, I was eager to get in. I thought that the floating properties were probably overrated and exaggerated. I was happy to be wrong! I felt like a little kid, and probably acted like one too. It was just plain, simple, fun. You can literally walk in, sit down, and float on top of the water. No effort, no struggling, no drama. Just sitting or laying in this water that is supposed to have amazing properties. I could’ve stayed in there all day.

Then it was time for a full body mud mask. Picture yourself covered in rich, black Dead Sea mud. And then floating on top of the water. It was fantastic. But it stank! We stayed covered in mud for about 20 minutes while we all took lots of pictures and tried to let it dry, and then it was time to clean up. I will tell you, my skin has never felt softer in my life. And it lasted for days afterward. Any mud that is packaged and sold from the Dead Sea cannot be near as good as the real thing,, scooped up with your own hands from the bottom of the Dead Sea. Nothing beats the real thing.

So after we’ve all showered and changed and were mud-free, we stopped to have a quick drink at the “Lowest Bar in the World” after heading home after a fantastic but exhausting day. I encourage you to get to the Dead Sea before it evaporates even more. It would be a shame to miss out on a free full body mud mask :-)

Summing it all up
So it seems that I’ve said all that there is to be said about Israel. Well, not really, but all that I think you can handle. So let me just say this: GO. Go to Israel. Experience the spiritual side. Experience the surreal elements of the Dead Sea. Experience the vitality of Tel Aviv. Experience the history of Jaffa, and Masada, and Jerusalem, and every other city in Israel that has more history than America could ever have. And then I promise, when you get back, I’ll sit with you and you can tell me all about it. And how you fell in love with it, just as I did.

(At the time of posting this, the pictures would not upload, so apologies for all of the words. I hope to upload them at a later time!)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Globetrotting: Israel, Part II – the Spiritual Side

I have been blown away. Blown away by historical landmarks unlike any other that I have ever seen. Blown away by a people who live in a country of constant turmoil, but still manage to be happy, polite, passionate, and hopeful. Blown away by the beauty of a landscape that goes from the sea, to the mountains, then below the sea to the lowest place on earth, in the span of just over an hour. Blown away by Biblical history, and experiencing where it all took place. Blown away by falafels, hummus, homemade pickles, and kebabs. Blown away by sitting at dinner with sand in my toes and a mojito in my hand. I have been blown away by Israel: a country of which I held an uncertain expectation, but which has managed to exceed any expectation that I could’ve ever had.

There are many different elements of this trip, which when added together, created probably the most meaningful travel experience of my life. In order to do this trip justice (and save you readers from an even longer novel), I broke this blog post up into two parts: the spiritual side and the secular side. This is the spiritual side. Welcome to my journey!

To set the stage, I went to Israel for work for two weeks. The work week is Sunday – Thursday, so our weekend started on Friday. I was fortunate enough to have traveled with a great group of people who were adventurous (some more than others!) and all had the common desire to see the Holy Land. So on Friday, we headed off to Jerusalem and Bethlehem with a private tour guide, and geared ourselves up for a day like we had never before experienced.

Before you read this, you should know that I’m a Christian. It’s probably blatantly obvious when you look at my blog (and let’s be honest- really only my friends read this and they know this about me anyway), but I wanted to make sure that ANYONE reading this blog knows this about me. I love Jesus. He is my Savior. I was a Christian in the land of Jews. And it was okay.

I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive taking this weekend trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem with a large group of co-workers who didn’t know me well at all, who had outspoken, mixed faith and beliefs, and whom certainly did not know the depths of my faith. This was an important trip for me, and I wanted to be able to enjoy it and absorb every morsel of spirit, truth, love, and Jesus that I experienced during this trip.

So what did I ultimately do? I took my Bible with me to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. My big, fat, heavy, NIV/The Message side-by-side Bible that weighs probably 5 lbs, and I lugged it around in my backpack. But I’m so glad I did. I loved that I had my Bible so that I could open up to the scriptures that explained what happened at the exact places where I was standing.

We started at the Mount of Olives bright and early on that Friday morning. And I opened up to Genesis 22:2 where God said to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

So I’M standing on the Mount of Olives, looking at where Mt. Moriah was. And that same mountain was where the first Temple was eventually built, and destroyed, and the second Temple was built, and destroyed, and now is where the Jewish people believe the third and final Temple will be built. It is the holiest of places in Judaism, and all Jewish prayer is faced towards the Temple Mount. And Jewish people are all buried with their feet facing the Temple Mount. When you look at it now, you see a Muslim mosque. It is the third holiest sight for the Muslims in the World. I struggle with this. But you get the idea, it‘s a pretty significant spot.

And then we start walking down the hill, on what is called the Palm Sunday walk, where Jesus began the trek to His crucifixion. And we come to the Garden of Gethsemane. THE Garden of Gethsemane. And the olives trees were amazing. They were old and creepy and huge and thick. The trees that are alive today are only hundreds of years old. They are descendants of the original olive trees that were in the garden. But I’M standing in that garden and opened my Bible to Matthew 26:36-46, and read about the place where Jesus spent the last night with His disciples. And this garden, the place where I was standing, was ultimately where Jesus was betrayed by one of them and arrested.

Not far from the Garden of Gethsemane was the Church of Agony that housed the rock where Jesus prayed in Matthew 26:39: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And again, I’M standing in that church, looking at that rock, and reading in my Bible about this agony that Jesus is going through. It was solemn and inspiring at the same time.

So as the morning is progressing, I’m just in awe of where I am. I didn’t care that I was with a bunch of my co-workers who may not have known my faith at the beginning of the morning. They probably had a pretty good idea of it at this point. And before we continued on to the point where Jesus was nailed to the cross and began the stations of the cross, we saw both the birthplace of the Virgin Mary and the place where she was believed to have been buried.

And throughout all of this, we had an incredible history lesson by our tour guide, not only from a Biblical perspective, but also from a secular perspective (if there was such a thing back then). We learned about the landscape, the agriculture, the weather trends, the religious tension, the Romans and how they lived to conquer everything, the magnificent capacity to build things, about greed and money, and most of all, I learned to appreciate the Jewish people and what they went through. And I learned to understand why they are who they are today. They are a people who have been truly formed by the past of their ancestors. It was incredible.

So we’re walking toward the gates of the city at this point, and I must pause here, because I never really understood the concepts of these gates. And I’ve read a lot about them in books! These gates are a small, miniscule piece of a massive stone wall. Nothing is getting past these walls, or through them for that matter. They were there for protection of the city. Today, the walls of Jerusalem still stand, and entrance is only through one of the several gates. The city is no longer bound by these walls, but back then, it was. And that was an important part of our history lesson.

As we’re walking through the Lions Gate, it is noon on a Friday. It is the Muslim Sabbath. And for those of you who are like me and do not understand that Muslims are as prevalent in Jerusalem as Jews are, you would’ve been shocked too. The call to prayer came at noon, and a swarm of Muslims began cramming through this gate to head up to the mosque. It was a sight to see. We proceeded to enter the gate and head in the opposite direction.

At this point, we are nearing the point of the first station of the cross, where Jesus was nailed to the cross, and the crown of thorns was placed on His head. Several of the stations of the cross are marked with a church. Others are just marked on a sidewalk or by a doorway. I won’t go into details of all of the various stations, but I will say that they took us through the markets of Jerusalem on the via Dolorosa. These markets were incredible – buried away in little narrow alleys and walkways, bright and colorful, bustling with families buying what they need to prepare food for the Sabbath the next day, fresh bagel carts flying past you on cobblestone streets – it was a complete sensory overload and I loved every minute of it.

We stopped to have lunch as a group at a local dive. We were told by our tour leader that we had ten minutes to eat. At this point, we are staring at her like she’s crazy. At the same time, plates of falafels, pita, hummus, salad, and pickles start to come out in hoards. And they don’t stop until we say stop. It was delicious and fast, and couldn’t have been better, really. I still dream of that hummus as I sit here typing.

We took a break from the crazy but fabulous local markets and from the stations of the cross to head into Old Jersualem. It was an instantly noticeable change from the Jerusalem of today, but it was just around the corner. There were areas where you could see, in plain sight, that the city had literally been built upon itself over and over again. You could see down into the guts of what used to be the city, before it was covered by new growth, and then covered again, and again. And we saw remnants of what once were magnificent stone walls. The fact that some of them were still there is proof that time doesn’t change everything.

There are quite a few apartments and small terrace-type homes in Old Jerusalem, so as we were walking down the narrow cobblestone alleys, we could smell food cooking as the families were preparing their meals for the Sabbath that followed the next day. And there were many Orthodox Jews in their full attire meandering through these alleys on their way to and from the markets. I almost felt like I was intruding on their lives. It was definitely an off-the-beaten-path diversion, but one that made me realize that there were real people living in a real city, who don’t just cater to tourists.

And then we came upon the Western Wall. Instead of trying to explain the significance of the Western Wall in my own words, I will rely upon the expertise of Wikipedia (, so that you can take the time to read about it and get a clear understanding of its history. We did not go down to the wall for lack of time, but it was obvious to anyone who saw it that it is a spirit-filled site. There are male and female sections of the wall. People write prayers down stick them into the stones of the wall. Regardless of the reasons that people were there, I was refreshed to see such an honest exhibition of faith.

As we continued heading through the markets, and learning about both Biblical and secular history, I couldn’t help but just praise God. Praise Him for not only the opportunity to visit this truly Holy Land, but for everything that’s in it. He is responsible for each person on this planet; each person walking through those streets of Jerusalem, whether they were believers or not. He loves all of us. He created all of us. And to physically be in a place with such significant history was awe inspiring. Yes, certain parts of Jerusalem were commercial, and certain parts were so overcome with tourists that I couldn’t help but want to run out of there as fast as I could, but when I closed my eyes and breathed in the air of a place where Jesus, as man, once was, somehow He overshadowed all of those other things.

My time in Jerusalem finished up with a frantic scurry to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the spot where Jesus carried the cross to His death. And nearby, the place of His resurrection! This church was one of the busiest tourist spots in the entire city. I won’t lie; it was difficult to fully absorb the significance of this place. But again, there was faith and holiness oozing out of every nook and cranny of that church if you just took the chance to notice. Even amongst the group of seemingly a hundred Japanese tourists, all with their bright yellow hats. Or the Europeans who barely managed to wear enough clothing to enter the church. Or the children running around having no clue why so many people were in tears. Or countless Americans gabbing and texting on their cell phones.

So amidst all of that chaos stood the stone that marked the spot where the cross was erected on top of Golgotha, as in Matthew 27:32-37; and the stone that represents what Jesus was laid upon for His burial, covered in olive oil and rose water and being kissed by countless people; and finally, a short distance away, the place where the tomb was believed to have been, marking the spot of the resurrection. And as we left Jerusalem, it was nearly time for the siren to go off in the city, signifying the beginning of the Sabbath: a day of rest.

Without getting into the political drama of getting from Jerusalem (which is in Israeli territory) to Bethlehem (which is in Palestinian territory), I’ll now move on to our trip to the birthplace of Jesus. There are two primary sites to see in Bethlehem, the first being the Shepherds’’ Field where in Luke 2:9-12, “an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Shepherds used to roam the field that I was walking through, tending to their sheep. And further along there are several caves, where the Shepherds retreated at night. These are the original caves, as evidenced by the black soot on the inside roofs of the caves, as a result of fires used for cooking and warmth. And these exact caves, are where the shepherds were told of the birth of Jesus.

The second site was the church that housed the birth ”spot” of Jesus and the area where the manger was kept. This was the second longest line I had seen all day. Luckily, because we were a small group, we got to bypass most of the line and sneak in the back way to see the star that signifies the spot where Jesus was born. And across the same room was the manger. Two very cool pieces of Biblical history. And something else that struck me unexpectedly was the fact that within that church complex, there were areas designated for the Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox churches to worship. It was almost like an internal battle.
After our visit to these two sites, we did a bit of shopping and then it was time to head back to Tel Aviv after an amazing day, and one that I will never forget. Religious or not, the history in Israel is really incomparable to any other place in the world. It holds such significance for so many of the foundations that the world today is built upon. My prayer is that every believer in God, and in Jesus Christ the Savior, has the opportunity to go to the Holy Land some day. And I hope more than anything, that for those who will never have that chance, that this blog has helped to give you a little better idea of what these places are really like, and that perhaps you felt, even if just for an instance, that you were experiencing it. Because it is a powerful place.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Globetrotting: Israel, Part I

I’m going to the Holy Land. I’M GOING TO THE HOLY LAND!!! It’s still a bit surreal to me. I know I’m technically going for work, but this is one trip where my priority is the weekend and getting out of Tel Aviv to see Jerusalem….and Bethlehem….and the Dead Sea….and Masada.

So I’ve been doing some research to prepare myself for this trip. Again, I’m a bit ignorant when it comes to details about Israel. Here is what I do know/think:

- Hebrew is the national language and the work that I will be reviewing will be in Hebrew, so we will be using translators to help us;

- The Israelis and Palestinians have been in conflict forever. I sort of understand the depth of what the entire conflict is about, but sort of don’t. I think I know just enough to keep me out of trouble, but actually hope to learn a lot more about what’s going on over there during my visit;

- My hotel is on the Mediterranean Sea (which I fully expect to have bright, turquoise, clear water) and the weather is meant to be highs around 80F and lows in the mid 60s…and SUNNY. How perfect is that?;

- I have heard that getting through airport security over there is a bit of a nightmare, so I will mentally prepare myself for long lines and pray for patience;

- History, history, and more history. It’s times like this that I kind of wish I lived in a country that had more history. The U.S. is so young compared to so many other parts of the world. I mean, where I’m going…’s in the Bible! Utterly unreal and amazing;

- I have printed out information about Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, and Tel Aviv, to read on the plane so that I am armed with more knowledge than the average Joe.

Other than that, I don’t really know what to expect from Israel.

(P.S. As I finish this blog post, I am sitting in Tel Aviv after about a day and a half. So forgive me for making this so short. I didn’t want to ruin my Part I blog post with actual impressions. We’ll save that for Part II.)

I’ll just say for now, that Lonely Planet just voted Tel Aviv as the 3rd best city in the world :-)