My view from the back row

As our students finish their final week of classes for the semester, I have been thinking over our last year together. This was our fifth year in ministry at the University of Texas, but our first year as parents. Having a little munchkin around changes a lot about the way we do ministry – sometimes we can’t go to all the events, sometimes we have to leave early, but every time, we have to sit in the back.

thumb_IMG_3709_1024To be really honest, sometimes I resent the back. I don’t always want to be back there. I want to be in it – smack dab in the middle of things. I want to have the chance to talk to everyone, catch up on all the latest happenings, worship with everyone, and pray with everyone. But more than that, I want to do what is right for our family, and right now, that means being in the back. The back lets me find a good balance. It’s important that Madeline sees us loving God and loving others. It’s also important that our students see how we parent Maddie – how we are a team in all things. Plus, she really, really loves all the LFC hugs, and I would hate to deprive her of them. The verse that I have been meditating on all year as our family has transitioned into a family of three is 1 Thessalonians 2:8 “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well.” It’s important that Maddie is around Longhorns for Christ, because we are not only sharing the gospel of God, but our lives as well.

And while the back can be hard sometimes, I have also learned to LOVE it. See, ’m a people-watcher by nature. When Cary and I go on a date, I try and take the chair where I see the least amount of people, because otherwise, I can’t pay attention to him. And in the back, I get to see a lot! In the back, my heart swells with pride. It’s a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God. I wish everyone could see what I see from back there.

Let me tell you what I see….

In the back, I see people seriously living out the command to love God and love others.

In the back, I see an introvert singing without hesitation.

In the back, I see an engaged couple holding hands in prayer.

In the back, I see a senior wrapping her arms around a freshman.

In the back, I see new friends sharing an inside joke.

In the back, I see the seasoned leader handing over the microphone to the one she has pulled alongside her.

In the back, I see a doubter diving in to deep discussions, despite the questions.

In the back, I see courageous students sharing their unique gifts and talents.

In the back, I see church leaders “crossing the lot” in order to engage and invest in our students and our mission.

In the back, I see lonely souls bravely walk in the door for the first time.

In the back, I see old friends helping each other prepare their hearts and minds for the next phase of their journeys.

In the back, I see “The Noticers” – those who see a need and quietly fill it.

In the back, I see “The Includers” – those who always pull up an empty chair for the new faces.

In the back, I see my husband living out his passion and purpose.

In the back, I see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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It’s beautiful in the back.

Fall semester starts August 30, 2017. Won’t you join us? I’ll even save you a seat in the back.

 

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Chicken Soup for My Soul

I have never been a trendy person. I got my first pair of skinny jeans two years after they became a staple in most of my friends’ closets. I have never used a snapchat filter (and actually don’t even have the app). I did not even think about trying the unicorn frappucino.

We live in a world now of trendy words – slang, buzz words, catch phrases. And in this world of constant new buzzwords, I often have to seek counsel in our college students to explain the meanings (and usage) of such words and phrases. They explain that “on fleek” means cool, great, smooth, etc… and also that it is “so 2015”, and I am too old to be using it. They told me that “Netflix and chill” does not mean what I think, and I should stop telling them all about how it’s “my favorite thing to do with Cary”. I have no idea who Felicia is and why she is always going somewhere. And really, even my examples are not trendy – I have no earthly idea “what the kids are saying these days”… I should just stop trying.

self-care-saturdayOne phrase that I’ve been noticing in my circles lately, and one that does not need decoded by a 18-22 year old, is “self care” – those things we do just to take care of ourselves.  Now, taking care of yourself is not a new concept, but I just feel like I’ve been seeing people more aware of how intentional we have to make it in order for it to happen in our busy, over-scheduled lives. While I find most of the sentimental memes associated with “self care” on the whole pretty corny (side eye to you Mr. You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup), I do resonate with the intent and the desire.

I think a lot of us, me being one of the worst, are really good at distracting ourselves, but not truly caring for ourselves. I attended a Bible study taught by Jennie Allen a couple years ago that called this “numbing ourselves”. We want to rest, but instead of finding things that make our soul feel rested, we flip between 3-5 social media apps and scroll through the same posts for two hours. Or, we turn on Netflix and watch an entire season of a show we’ve seen five times (why yes, husband, I am in fact watching another episode of the Office. Maybe Jim and Pam will get together in Season 2 this time.) Since then, I have become painfully sensitive to the times when I am giving my soul rest / care, and the times when I am numbing myself with distractions. Jesus calls us to times of rest, but I think He calls us to intentional rest – rest in silence, in play, in art, in others, in Him – not with our phones on the couch (ouch – that one hurt). So, that is why I actually love the idea of self care.

chicken soupBasically, self-care is like chicken soup for the soul. Side note: Remember those cheesy books from 1995? My personal favorite was Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. I think every devotional I led at any retreat, camp, or youth group girls sleepover came straight from that book, and was simply supplemented with a Psalm or Proverb. Also, did you know there are close to 200 “Chicken Soup for the ______ Soul” titles? It’s right up there with “______ for Dummies”. I think the best one is “Chicken Soup for the NASCAR soul.” …. ANYWHO…… Back to Self-Care….

In case you resonate with any of this and need some encouragement, I wanted to share with you a list of the things I do for self care. My original list was about twenty items long, but I pared it down to seven. Please note, everyone’s list for self care will, and should, look different. Someone may say the “run” for self care. That someone is not me. Also of note, our self care lists can and should change. The list I made back in 2015 when I went through Jennie’s NUMB study looks very different than my list today. And I’m sure my list will continue to evolve as our seasons as a family changes. That’s the great thing about preserving thoughts in a blog! Here’s what I have right now:

Jinny’s Self Care List:

1) Take Maddie to school on Friday. Cary and I both have days off on Friday, and originally I had grand plans for our little family and ALL the adventures we would have with three day weekends every week. We were going to have ALL. THE. FUN. And then life showed up and I realized how lovely it was for there to be a place for Maddie to go (that she LOVES going to) that also allowed Cary and I to have some uninterrupted time to get stuff done. We run all, or at least most, of our errands and try to do our chores on Friday. This allows for less hurrying on Saturday, and for us to be more fully present for family time on the weekend.

2) Quiet times at the coffee shop. I was not coffee drinker before 2011. But I dated and then married a guy who loves coffee shops so we ended up hangingtreat yo self out in them a lot, and I have learned to love coffee, and coffee shops! My favorite thing to do on Friday mornings after I drop Maddie off (see #1) is to head over to Summer Moon Coffee and enjoy a cup of their magic “moon milk” latte with a book, a bible study, or my laptop (to clear out my emails, because cluttered inbox = cluttered mind). It really is the most tangible “me time” of the week. Sometimes self care means getting to work and being productive, and other times it means “treat yo self”)

Speaking of reading in the coffee shop, here’s what I’m reading right now. It’s called “Of Mess and Moxie” by Jen Hatmaker. It releases on August 8th, 2017, and if you liked her last book, “For the Love”, you will love Moxie. I’ll have a full book review here on the blog later this summer.omam

3) Monthly Check-in with health coach. I meet with a lady one Friday a month (that’s the goal, at least) just to talk about my health. We take weight measurements, talk about water intake and diet, stress levels, and make some healthy decision goals for the month. She helps hold me accountable and helps keep me from getting too far off course.

4) Bible Study. I spend every Monday night around the table with 3-10 of some of my dearest friends. We eat good food, share about the highs and lows for the week, discuss our current Bible study, and most importantly, pray for one another. It is a privilege to sit around the table with them, and no matter how crazy of a day it has been, I always leave with a fuller tank because of them.

face mask trio5) Eyebrow threading. I don’t wear makeup, so getting my eyebrows done makes me feel pretty. Self care is not always deep and reflective. I’m also really loving doing a weekly mud mask facial. It makes my face smooth and refreshed and is a great way to start the week. The masks that I am loving right now are Trader Joe’s Face Mask Trio
 

6) Go to bed early. Like 9:00pm early. 8:30pm if I’m feeling really wild. The late night hangouts are the one area I simply don’t relate to our college students on. I cannot function on little sleep. My goal is a solid eight hours every night. It makes me be a better sonographer, wife, mom and all-around personable human being. Thankfully, my daughter feels the same and cooperates with the whole “sleeping” thing.  #blessed

7) Spend too much time in a hot shower. I do not rush my showers, and would rather go without than have to jump in and out. On the mornings I oversleep or run short on time, I will sacrifice other things – like breakfast – in order to get a slightly longer shower in. One does not simply ” rinse off”.

So there you have it. I’m curious – what’s on your list? Leave a comment and let me know what you do to refill. We can all learn from each other!

Shake N Bake Okra … and I helped!

I’m sure they sell okra in Kansas, but I wouldn’t know, because the Graebner’s didn’t eat it. I could barely pick it out of a line up. Okra was right up there with zucchini and tilapia. Completely foreign entities.

I can’t remember the first time I had fried okra. If I had to guess, I’d say it was in Couch Cafeteria as a freshmen at OU. Pretty sure I thought nothing of it. But then I moved to Texas. I saw fried okra on more menus than I had in my whole life combined. Friends served roasted okra for dinner. HEB had bins of okra on sale and I actually knew what it was! I began becoming more familiar with this odd, slimy vegetable… And then I met Cary. Fried okra just so happens to be his side dish of choice. So like any good girlfriend/wife, whenever he ordered fried okra, I would always take “just a bite to try”. Soon, I too discovered an affection for the salty, breaded, fried green globs.

Cary’s mom makes very good fried okra. I’m sure that’s where his love began. We’ve been married almost six years now, and I have made fried okra exactly TWO times. Y’all, it’s a booger to make. Really, anything fried is a booger to make. You have to “dredge” it. If a recipe calls for “dredging”, you can count me out 98% of the time.

okra 3Why tell you all this? Well, I’ve been hungry for fried okra lately, but I am just far too lazy to make it. I got to thinking – is there a faster way than fried? Sure, I could just chop it up and roast it, but then you risk the slime and miss out on the crunchy stuff! And then it occured to me:

IF YOU CAN SHAKE-N-BAKE TO GET “FRIED” CHICKEN, CAN YOU SHAKE-N-BAKE TO GET “FRIED” OKRA?

And the answer is… No. Nothing beats the crunchy, greasy goodness of real fried okra. BUT my Shake-n-bake Okra was pretty good. It was super fast, easy, and the whole family loved it (yup, Maddie gobbled it up!). And it was healthier than using all of that oil. I will definitely be making it again.

okra 2

INGREDIENTS:
– 1 box of Kraft Shake-N-Bake
(includes 2 packets of breading mix)
– 1 bag of frozen okra slices
(use straight from freezer no need to thaw!)
– A few dashes of seasoning salt
(Lawry’s, Tony chachere’s, etc)
– 1 egg
– foil
– 1 gallon-sized Ziploc bag

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 400*
Line baking pan with foil (for easy clean up!)
Whisk one egg in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle a few dashes of seasoning salt into egg.
Dump bag of frozen okra into bowl and mix to coat all of the pieces with egg.
Pour both packets of Shake-N-Bake into a gallon ziploc bag (the bags that come with the shake-n-bake are too small for a full bag of okra)
Pour okra pieces into bag with breading
Shake to coat
Pour coated okra onto the baking pan
Throw ziploc bag away
Bake for 15-20 minutes (mine took closer to 20 minutes)
Cool for a few minutes, but enjoy while still warm.
Throw foil away
Put pan back in cabinet (I told you, easy clean up!)

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Across the Lot

The leadership at our church has been thinking and discussing and discerning what the future of our church will look like. Throughout that process, there has been a lot of talk involving the campus ministry – the role of the campus ministry and our students in the life of the church, and the role of the church in the life of Longhorns for Christ. It was during a time of discernment that I wrote this poem. I wrote it (and you can read it) from two perspective: as a member of UA speaking to LFC, and from LFC to UA.

ua
University Avenue Church of Christ

Across the lot
God is working
We are messy
We are longing
Filled with love
Love for God
Love for Others
There are powerful stories
Walk beside me
Tell me your story
I’ll tell you my story
On the outside
We seem different
On the inside
We are the same
This is our desire
More of Jesus
More of Spirit
More of Family
More of You
I need you
Won’t you come?
Across the lot

Longhorns for Christ
lfc

New Year’s Eve

welcome weekTomorrow marks the beginning of our fifth school year on the campus of the University of Texas, ministering with Longhorns for Christ. This means starting tomorrow, I will have been at UT longer than I was at OU. The 20 year old me just shuddered. (don’t fear Okies – I’m sooner born and sooner bred, and when I die, I’ll be sooner dead!). We have seen some tough times over the last four years, but more than anything, we have seen blessings upon blessings. Our time at UT has been graced with really meaningful relationships and changed lives. We are so grateful.

While so many celebrate December 31st as New Years Eve, in our world, August 20th seems like a more appropriate date for that title. Each year, this date makes me both reflective and hopeful. I think back on our time with LFC so far and remember all the students who have crossed our path. Some we only got to spend a few weeks with, others a semester or two, and then others who we’ve watched grow from awkward freshmen into beautiful, mature, inspiring men and women. All have been etched on our hearts. And thinking back then propels me to think forward. I get a small knot in my stomach anticipating all the new faces (sometimes scared and shy faces) we will meet over the next seven days. However, I am comforted that before we know their names and faces, God knows them and sees them. I am comforted and excited that He lets us be a part of their stories – for our good, their good, and His glory.

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Because our family looks different this year, I know my role in our ministry will too look different. I really don’t know what our journey will look like – I know some days will be hard as we try and juggle family life and ministry, but I know that most days will be so special as we watch the Spirit move on campus and in our students, and Madeline will have a front row seat to all of that. It is the exact place I want my daughter growing up in and learning from. IMG_8200We have such a sweet community of students that love our little baby so well, and I am so excited about the new friends we will meet and add to our community. Over the past month, the specific word “FRESHMAN” has come to me over and over. And so that is what I am praying for tonight, our campus ministry new year’s eve, is the freshmen coming to the University of Texas. I would love for you to join me.

Three years ago around this time, an email from a blog I follow, Chatting at the Sky, popped into my inbox. It was a prayer written by Emily Freeman (blog creator and author) for college freshmen. It was so sweet, so appropriate, so beautiful that I pull it up at the beginning of each semester and pray these words over the students about to descend on campus.

“Dear Lord,

They move in to the dorm this weekend and will bring their bags filled with clothes and their boxes filled with books. But you see what they bring in their hearts – anticipation, adventure, love, regret, anxiety, motivation, and hope.

They are a mix of excited, ready, terrified, and wide-eyed freedom.

As he looks for a fresh start, remind him of your faithfulness every morning no matter where he calls home.

As she looks for community, remind her you are always with her no matter where she may go.

As he looks for adventure, remind him how you walk on water, turn water to wine, feed thousands from just a few pieces of bread. Remind him how you bring life straight up out of death, beauty straight out of ashes.

May she have the patience to believe even when she doesn’t see results.

May he know the greatest adventures are found in your presence, the greatest love comes from your heart, the greatest hope is that you’ve made his heart your home.

When insecurity, comparison, disappointment and failure knock on her dorm room door, may she turn to you with her questions rather than run the other way.

Weave your wisdom into the fibers of his soul, bearing the fruit of confidence, clarity, contentment and a light heart.

May he not despise his humanity, rather may he embrace it.

May she not despise her body, rather may she learn to receive and respect her shape as a gift.

May he not despise his weakness, rather may he see how weakness brings a daily reminder to trust.

May they not fear failure, rather may they thrive in the midst of it.

May they not be quick to judge, rather may they be patient and curious.

Help them to find true friends and be a true friend in turn.

Help them find their voice and to use it to be an advocate for themselves and for others.

Replace her shame with courage.

Replace his confusion with peace.

Replace her fear with a love that moves within her beyond her ability to understand.

May your grace surprise them kindly.

Amen.”

May your grace surprise them kindly. Amen and Amen. Here is to another wonderful year at the University of Texas – what starts here, changes the world! 13254882_10100585634990127_6361441539026665083_o

Part 3 – Memories made, Lessons learned

It’s been 8 months since we visited the Holy Lands, and it still feels like a dream. Except I can still see it, and smell it, and hear it, and taste it… I have treasured those memories. My fellow travelers hold such a dear place in my heart. Those places and people have changed the way I read and come to Scripture. I am so grateful for the ways God provided for us both before and during our journey, from the funds to get there, to safety, to good health and good weather, to the best tour guide we could imagine – we could see the hand of God working all things out for our good. It was truly the trip of a lifetime. Over the course of our travels, I would collect several things: souvenirs, rocks, 6000 pictures (that is not a typo!), but the thing I treasure most are these lessons.

In Isreael we learned: Jesus is more than a flannel-graph. 2015 was a year that I found myself returning to the book of John a lot. It was the focus of a Bible study I was a part of in March, and the scripture and stories stuck to me for months after. Traveling through Israel, especially Jerusalem, I found those stories, those people, coming to life in a whole new way. I could smell the wine in Cana, I could see the blind man begging, I could hear Jesus shouting for Lazarus to come out of his grave, I could feel the hardness of the stones as I sat next to a well. However, the part of John that seemed to ring the truest was John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us”. He is real. He came. He taught. He healed. He loved. He saved.

In Israel we learned: how to be a pilgrim and not just a tourist.

Our friend and fellow traveler, Dr. Jeff Peterson, wrote a fantastic blog about our journey to Israel together shortly after we returned. It is wonderful, and is a great summary of what we did and learned. His article is probably the second biggest reason I haven’t blogged about it before now (the first being, oh you know, growing and birthing a baby). He speaks to our desire to be more than just tourists in this place, and instead pilgrims with a purpose. I think he articulates this thought better than I can, so you can read his thoughts HERE.

In Israel we learned: how to be a disciple.

DSC_2237Probably the greatest blessing of our trip was our beloved tour guide, Anton Farrah. Eddie had been on tours with Anton before and managed to work it out with the tour company to secure Anton for this trip. Anton was humble, strong, gentle, and people loved him (someone stopped to say hello and tell our group how lucky we were to have Anton as a guide at almost EVERY stop! We are pretty sure he trained every tour guide in Israel). He truly had scripture written on his heart. He recalled stories and people as if they were friends, and events as if they happened last week. He never quoted chapter or verse, because the bigger Story was written on his heart. Anton uttered phrases like “come” and “follow me”, as tour guides all over the world do. But they took on
a different meaning here. You really wanted to follow him. He was magnetic, and we hung on all his words, knowing we’d be richer for it. In those moments, I got a better understanding of what being a disciple means, and how the disciples felt. Until now,
I couldn’t understand how they could just “drop their nets and follow me”. But now I get it… At one point on our trip, Eddie said, “May we remember WHERE we walked, but also HOW we walked.” I thought that was so appropriate as we followed Anton. We had no worries, we just trusted and followed our teacher. May we remember to be as gracious to our Savior in following as we were to our guide.

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{In case you are curious what Anton sounded like, HERE is a video of him from Youtube on a prior tour. Skip to the 1:44 mark. He has a great accent!)

Cary and I were the youngest people on the trip by a decade. As I mentioned before, this was a trip I never imagined going on any time soon. As I thought back over these sites and these lessons, I kept thinking how fortunate I was to be going on this trip at a fairly young age. I’m so grateful that for the rest of my life I will be able to look back on these ten days and remember the sights, sounds, smells, and mostly the lessons. I do not think I am better because I took this trip, but I do know that I am better for it.

Israel: Where Jesus Walked, Part II – Oh, the places you will go!

Several weeks before our departure, our tour company sent us an itinerary in the mail. Cary and I went out to dinner that night, and I took it along so that we could pour over it together. I really should have known better… A trip I’d been dreaming of for years + pregnancy hormones = weeping into my French fries… I read places like “Bethany – tomb of Lazarus” and “Jacob’s Well” and “The Garden Tomb”, and simply couldn’t contain the tears. But one thing we learned very quickly on our trip was that we would need to hold that itinerary very loosely. Our tour guide, Anton, and our bus driver, Haleel, were very aware of what were safe sights that day and what were not, and it changed daily. We had to learn how to trust them and simply follow where they were leading (more on that later). Every single day was very full – I can’t imagine doing even one more thing. Anton knew that our time was brief and he really did a fabulous job at helping us see the absolute most we could. Our first five days were spent in Judea (with the first four of those in Jerusalem), and the last half we spent in Galilee. We never made it to Samaria, because those sites were simply too dangerous.

Here is the run down of what we ended up doing and seeing every day. I’ve included links to a few Wikipedia articles if you want more information on these sites. I also picked one site each day to highlight as my favorite part of the day (and boy, was that hard to narrow down!!)

Day 1 – October 21, 2015

  • traveling day, arriving in Tel Aviv.
  • Journey to Jerusalem by bus
  • The Hebrew University of Jerusalem with views over the “old City” and the Temple Mount

    DSC_1756We were weary after a long flight to Israel, but yet so alert (thank you, adrenaline). We were actually here. Israel. We had a panoramic view of the whole city of Jerusalem. It was the perfect introduction to this country that we would soon grow to love. I was simply overcome. I was also so thankful. I kept looking at Cary – he had made my dream come true (and he did it when I was 29 years old!). I was so thankful to be in this place with these people at this time. I would have simply been undone if I had known what the next week would hold… 

Day 2 – October 22, 2015

  • Western Wall at the Temple Mount
  • The Temple Mount
    Today was the first full day of site-seeing, and we started off with a bang! Our first stop was the Temple Mount. Jewish people are not allowed up on the Mount, so the Western Wall is as close to the site of the temple as they can get – which is why it is such a sacred place for them. The Temple Mount is now occupied by Muslims, and 2 mosques sit here – the most famous/recognizable being the Dome of the Rock, with it’s large golden dome. But what I found most interesting what the sites where the old altar would have been for animal sacrifices, and where the Holy of Holies would have been. Near there, we stood on stones that they believe were original stones from Solomon’s temple. We were literally standing on stones that Jesus might have stood on or touched. That was pretty cool. I was also really struck by how quiet it was. There were a few people walking around, but it was mostly folks sitting around in circles having quiet conversations with one another. 

    • Dome of the Rock
    • Site of Temple Altar
    • Site of the Holy of Holies
    • Stones from Solomon’s temple
  • Pool of Bethesda (John 5)
  • Saint Anne’s Church – birthplace of Mary, mother of Jesus
  • Bethlehem
  • Herodium – palace of HerodDSCN0070
  • Drove past, but didn’t stop:
    • Field where Judas died
    • Catholic cemetery where Oskar Schindler is buried

**Well, I can’t stick to my own rule… I simply can’t pick just one from days 3&4. These two days were my favorite, and the most meaningful for me. I’d love to share just a few stories**

Day 3 – October 23, 2015

  • Mount of Olives / Palm Sunday Road
    • Church of the Ascension 
    • Church of the Tears – where Jesus wept over Jerusalem
    • Garden of Gethsemane
      This olive grove was simple breath-taking. There were some olive trees that experts are dating almost 2000 years old. Their trunks were 5-6 feet in diameter! It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was also when I felt like we were truly walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Oh, if trees could talk!! There is a marker in the garden where they believe the disciples were left to pray, and just a few steps away, within the Church of All Nations, is the rock where they believe Jesus prayed. I had always pictured it a much greater distance in my head. This was a recurring theme of our trip – changing the picture I had in my mind to a much more accurate image. 
    • Church of All Nations and the Rock of Agony – where Jesus prayed before his arrest
    • Pater Nastor
      Church of “Our Father” – Lord’s Prayer written in hundreds of languages all around the perimeter of the courtyard. This is Anton reading the Prayer in Aramaic and Hebrew.

      • P1000221 caves where Jesus slept
        I have read the words “and Jesus retreated to a solitary place” before hundreds of times. But those words never sunk in until today. While we were on the mount of Olives, we saw some caves. These caves were the ones, or very siDSC_1886milar to the ones, where Jesus would have spent the night (he couldn’t stay inside the city without posing a risk to his hosts) when he did not go back over the mountain to Bethany. They would have been the place of his solitary retreats. Jesus did not go off and frolic in a meadow of daisies. He was in the desert, so his retreat was a cool cave. This was a sobering place for us to rest.  
    • Garden Tomb
       When I think back on our trip, this is the first image that always pops in my mind. And one of the best experiences of “heaven on earth” that I have experienced in my short thirty years. The Garden Tomb is one of only a few sites that still holds some plausibility of being the location of Jesus’ death and resurrection, although most will state that the most likely site is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. But while the Church is crowded, ornate, and loud, the Garden Tomb was simple, beautiful, and peaceful. When we walked in the gate, I could hear a chorus singing “How Great is Our God” in another language. I both saw and smelled the beautiful flowers, and I thought, “I just got a glimpse of Heaven”. It literally stopped my in my tracks. We took a short walk where we saw a hill with erosion that mimicked a skull. We saw the foot of the hill where public stonings would have taken place (even perhaps Stephen’s). We heard our guide, Bertyl’s, eloquent and convicting testimony. We then took a short walk back and were led to a tomb in the side of the hill. It had a track for a rolling stone, it had the place of two burial beds, it had the layout described in scripture. It was empty. It was beautiful. Many wanted to take pictures, but I simply wanted to “be”. Never have I longed to just stand and “be” as I was in that instant. There are hardly words. Regardless of where the actual site is, this is how I want to remember the tomb of Jesus – simple, beautiful, peaceful, and empty. Hallelujah.

      • Golgotha
      • Empty Tomb
      • Wine press
    • Israel museum
      • Holyland Model of Jerusalem
      • Dead Sea Scrolls
    • Upper Room 
    • Site of house of Caiaphus
    • Church of Denial/ Church of St. Peter
      • Traditional site of Fireplace where Peter denied Christ
      • Dungeon where they may have kept Jesus overnight11700858_10103531407083787_5678295443155328807_o

Day 4 – October 24, 2015 (Shabbat)

  • Bethany – Tomb of Lazarus
    Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Two sisters and a brother. That is a character line-up I am familiar with. I have always loved this trio, because throughout the gospels, you can read of their deep, real friendship with Jesus. He was their Lord, but He was also their friend. In the stories of scripture, I often find myself in their living room. I like to think we would have been friends too. Martha and I would have had a ball making a little Noah’s ark out of a melon, and little animals out of cheese… Anyway, Bethany today is a town of unrest. Anton said we could go, but we HAD to be out by 10am. We were on a mission – get in, get out. Bethany would have been a relatively short walk from Jerusalem, it’s just on the other side of the Mount of Olives. But because of a LARGE wall that has been built, we had to drive about 30 minutes, around the valley of the Shadow of death, around the large wall, to arrive in Bethany. Once there, we trekked up the hill to the site of the tomb of Lazarus. I always pictured this as a hole in the side of a hill with a stone, like the tomb Jesus was laid in, so I was surprised when the entrance to the tomb was in the ground.12185185_10103531413650627_4919684163412858343_o It was a burial vault that you had to climb down in. Anton told us that Jewish people believe the spirit remains in the tomb with a body for three days, which is why they believed it was beyond hope when Lazarus had died – he had been in the tomb FOUR days. It was little facts like this from our Shepherd that really made the Word come to life this week. It makes those miracles even that much more… well, miraculous!
  • Drove past Valley of the Shadow of Death
  • Old City of Jerusalem – Christian Quarter
  • Church of the Holy Sepluchre DSC_2051
    • Calvary
    • Tomb
    • Rock of Annointment
    • Tomb where Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea buried
  • Old City of Jerusalem – Jewish quarter
    • City wall of Nehemiah from first temple periodDSC_2085
  • Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
    Maybe it seems obvious that this would be a highlight, but in case it isn’t – remember, I was 18 weeks pregnant! There is something really special about being pregnant and making a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. I know 18 weeks is a lot different than poor Mary at 40 weeks, but with all the hills, you wouldn’t have had to twist my arm into taking a donkey up to the Church! The line to see the cave where Jesus was born was very long, and we had quite the wait in a toasty room, but being there was still really special.The flannel-graphs and nativity scenes always portray Christ’s birth in a barn, so I was surprised to find a cave (although after four days you’d think I’d get the clue that the flannel-graph is nothing but LIES! I jest…kind of…). My only regret was that our time was very short (but I’m so thankful we got in at all – they shut the doors for the day right after our group!) and I would have loved to have time to just stand and soak it all in. The group joked that I was their “Mary” on the trip, and I was again so grateful to be there, especially with my “Joseph” (Cary, obviously), and my “Elizabeth” (my sweet friend, Lee Ann). 
  • Western Wall at Night
    We were able to get a tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall, and because of that, we were down at the wall on Saturday evening, the end of Shabbat. This was a really sweet time where we were able to join the Jewish women at the wall and pray. I prayed thanking God for this whole experience. I thanked Him for being a Sovereign God. I petitioned Him on behalf of our sweet baby. I praised Him for the way He is working in our world – in the little ways and the big ways. And then I left my little written prayer tucked into the cracks in the wall, standing in silence, in awe at the thousands who had stood where I stood wanting to feel close to God, and knowing I didn’t need a wall, but still grateful for it in that moment. IMG_5243
  • Rabbi tunnels under the wall

Day 5 – October 25, 2015 – Old Testament Landmarks

  • Beit Shemesh – Philistine camp and place where Ark of the Covenant rested before going to Jerusalem (1 Samuel, 2 Kings)
  • Village/ birthplace of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father
  • The Valley of Elah – site where Israelites camped before David’s battle with Goliath.
    Today was a travel day, with little stops all along the way and lots of landmarks seen out the windows. We were able to stop at this point on our journey for a small hike. A few of us hiked across some farm land down to where a stream would be if they weren’t in drought season. Anton said that this would have been the stream where David came to select his five stones for his battle with Goliath. We learned a lot about stones from Anton this day. I always imagined David getting some big, flat rocks, but Anton said that the stones would have been small and round (they fit into the slingshot better that way. We tested this theory out, but all we proved was that we are TERRIBLE at slingshots!). In Anton’s words, “The smaller the rock, the bigger the faith.” He asked what killed Goliath, and we of course replied “a stone to the head” and he said, “No. God’s power killed Goliath, not the rock. It’s not the size of the stone, it’s the size of the God.” And we serve a big God! 
  • Hezekiah’s Well at Tel Lachish (in Judah)
    • 905966_10103531423151587_4452048719395220596_oDeepest man-made well in Israel
  • Tel Be’er Sheva / Abraham’s well
    • Where Abraham left with Isaac – 3 days walk to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice Isaac
    • Site of covenant between Abraham and Abimelech
    • Discovery of a horned animal sacrifice altar
  • Tel Arad
  • Sodom near Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Dead Sea
    It was raining for the last part of the afternoon/ early evening. As we came into the area of the Dead Sea, there was a beautiful rainbow over the sea. But what I found even more striking was the little waterfalls that were forming in the ground on the out the windows on the other side of the bus. The Bible mentions “streams in the desert”, and I got to see actual streams and waterfalls in the desert. The ground was so dry that the water just rolled down, creating these little streams all along the way. 

Day 6 – October 26, 2015 – Journey to Galilee

  • late day at the Dead Sea (we FLOATED!)
  • drove past place of John the Baptist beheaded
  • Masada – fortified palace of Herod and location of mass Jewish suicide
    I had never heard of Masada before this trip, and was so intrigued by it. I couldn’t get enough of the stories. Every room we went into, I thought of what happened there and all that happened as those Jews were under siege. There was an excellent video we watched before ascending up the mountain, and I was grateful for that information, and also anxious to read up on it more later that night at the hotel. Also, it was clearly a magnificent fortress! 
  • Ein Gedi, where David fled from Saul and wrote Psalms
  • Qumran, caves where dead sea scrolls were discovered (cave #4/11), too crowded to go into12185121_10103531423321247_8719103699977451129_o
  • Drove past Mt. Nebo, where Moses died
  • Jericho
    • Zaccheus’ tree
    • House of Rahab

Day 7 – October 27, 2015

  • Tiberias
  • Cana (John 2)
    “Jesus didn’t ask the servants to make the wine, He simply asked them to go get the water. Our job is to get the water, His job is to turn it to wine.” – Anton Farrah
  • Nazareth
    Mary was from Jerusalem and Joseph was from Bethlehem (both in Judea). The Romans were causing trouble in Judea, so many people fled to Galilee for a better life. That’s how Mary and Joseph ended up in Nazareth.
  • Zippori – capitol of Gallilee
    Jesus would have probably worked in Zippori because it was a bigger town than Nazareth (and very close geographically). At the time of Jesus, Nazareth would have only been about 35 families. Anton noted that Joseph and Jesus were not really “Carpenters” the way we think with lots of wood, but more like “furniture maker”, working with both wood and stone (more stone than wood) DSC_2355

    • roads where chariots drove (wheel imprints)
    • Carab trees (pods were what pigs ate in story of Prodigal son)
    • Where traditionally Jesus worked before Ministry
    • Buildings from Byzantine period with mosaic floors
  • Nazareth Village” – recreation of Nazareth of Jesus’ time
    I loved our time at this little recreation. I believe they said it was an old YMCA that they turned into a working farm. The tour took us all around the farm and the village, seeing the olive grove, complete with costumed workers (they actually harvest the olives and sell the oil in their shop!), the olive press, the old kitchen with clay pots, the wool spinners house, Joseph the carpenter’s workshop (with tool demonstration!), and finally a synagogue. I really felt like I was stepping through a village in Bible times. As a visual learner, I really appreciated all the little touches they had to make the whole place feel as authentic as possible (as the fighter jets flew over our heads).
  • Tabor / Church of the Transfiguration
    • View of Valley of Jezreel – site of battle of Armegeddon

Day 8 – October 28, 2015

  • Mt. of Beatitudes, site of the Sermon on the MountIMG_1054 (1)
    This was a very brief stop, we simply got out of the bus for about ten minutes, but looking out over the hillside is a memory I hope to never forget. I could almost see the people sitting all around, hanging on every word of the Master.
  • Golan Heights
  • Caesarea Phillipi (Matt. 16)
    • Temple of Pan, “Gates of Hell”
    • Origin of Jordan River (COLD!)
    • Confession of Peter
  • Tel Dan
    • Strongest headwater of the Jordan River
    • Ahab’s Temple
  • Tabgha, where Jesus fed 5000
  • Capernaum
    • About 1/3 of the gospels center around area of Capernaum
    • Home of Matthew
    • “house of healing”, Peter’s Mother-in-law’s house
  • Bethsaida
    • Home of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip (possibly James, John, and Thaddeus as well)
    • Remains of Peter’s house
  • Sea of Gallilee / Jesus Boat
    What a special way to spend an evening as we were nearing the end of our journey. We boarded a recreation of a fishing boat from Jesus’ time and spent the evening sailing on the Sea of Galilee. I could see why Jesus loved being out there. I could picture Peter getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus. I could imagine the crowds forming along the shore. I could understand the fear of a storm. We could not have asked for better weather or a prettier sunset that night. Sweet, sweet memories. 

Day 9 – October 29, 2015

  • Bet She’an
    • One of the cities of the decopolis
    • Focused on entertainment
    • Discovered the “vomitorium”
  • Tel Jezreel (home of Ahab and Jezebel)
  • Tel Miggido (site of battle of Miggido and Armegeddon)
  • Drove through Menassah to Mt. Carmel
  • Carmel (Elijah and the false prophets)
  • Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea
    There’s something special about just being on the water. This stop was not significant to me because of what had happened 2000 years ago, but instead special because of what had happened over the last eight days. Our time on the Mediterranean provided space to reflect on the things we had seen and the people we had grown to love. DSC_2917

    • Peter visits Cornelius
    • Paul imprisoned
    • Aquaducts
  • Jopa / Jaffa
    • Peter has his vision
    • Jonah
    • “cedars of Lebanon” arrived at this port for Solomon’s temple

From there, we spent one more night in Israel and then departed the next morning for America. We were exhausted (did you see that list??), but our hearts were forever changed.