Why Are Prominent Evangelicals Denouncing Christianity?- My View

Just in the last week, I have seen two different headlines of religious news that I have found shocking but, in many ways, not surprising. What am I talking about? Former Desiring God contributor Paul Maxwell leaves the Christian faith published in Christianity Today April 10, 2021 and A Pastor’s Son (John Piper’s son) Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok published in the April 12, 2021 edition of the New York Times. What these two people have in common is that they are connected to John Piper. Paul Maxwell wrote for his website and of course, Abraham is his son

So who is John Piper? According to his website, Desiring God, “John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.”

Here is a more personal look at who John Piper is according to Roger Olson, on his blog Patheos,

I first became aware of the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement (YRRM) before anyone thought to give it that moniker. I was teaching theology at Baptist-related Bethel College and Seminary (now Bethel University) in Minnesota. John Piper had left the faculty to take the pulpit at nearby Bethlehem Baptist Church about a year before I arrived. He was still much discussed by students and faculty alike and seemed to have been a polarizing figure on campus. People tended either to love him or despise him. I had read his article about “Christian Hedonism” in HIS magazine (the now defunct publication of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) before then and had met Piper when I first visited Bethel a few years before joining its faculty…

Not long after taking my teaching position at Bethel I began to hear colleagues calling certain students (mostly males) “Piper Cubs.” It wasn’t long before I could identify them myself. They tended to quote Piper a lot and be passionate about Calvinism. One told me I wasn’t a Christian because I wasn’t a Calvinist!

Over the following years (approximately 1984 to 1999) I witnessed the beginnings of the YRRM. It was born and then grew and coalesced around Piper’s pastoral conferences at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

John Piper, in my opinion, has been one of the major factors in instigating and teaching a newer, more radical form of Calvinism that has swept the evangelical churches of America. Fifty years later, we are seeing the damage and the backlash of this movement in some people very close to this man.

Of course, it is not the man himself, but what he taught that can lead to total spiritual confusion if one really thinks about what he is saying. I would like to mention a few of his teachings that resulted in my husband and I personally stumbling from the faith we held into a land of questioning and doubt, struggling to regain a foundation for a faith that is workable.

I first came face to face with John Piper’s foundational teaching position through the use of his videos while participating in a Sunday School class at our church. One Sunday morning while watching a video, Mr. Piper, was talking about how everything is pre-determined in life and that we are just nails being used by the hammer of God. “Yes, I am a Calvinist,” He declared. What’s a Calvinist? I had never heard that term.

As soon as we got home from church, I proceeded to look up Calvinist. Whoa! I was shocked with what I found and more shocked to realize that something I had hoped to never encounter was in the midst of seemingly the most evangelical of churches. It is the belief that “every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause (including sin).” More specifically, for those of you reading this who have no idea, from this belief springs several principles outlined in Calvinism by an acronym -TULIP. T stands for Total depravity which most Christians would agree with. We are totally sinful and cannot save ourselves. What would be in dispute would be the belief that goes along with this that we are also totally unable to believe the Gospel message (dead) without God making us believe (or regenerating us before giving us salvation). U stands for Unconditional Election or the belief that God arbitrarily chose, through no action or attribute of the creature (us), before the world was formed, who He would give the gift of salvation to (predestination) and who He would “pass over” or damn to hell. L stands for Limited Atonement or the belief that Christ died only for those who God pre-elected and not for the whole world. I stands for Irresistible Grace or the belief that if God has chosen you to be one of His “elect” that you cannot resist His saving you. P stands for Perseverance of the Saints. In other words, since it is already pre-determined who will be saved, one’s salvation (if so chosen) is guaranteed.

The most often voiced justification by evangelicals for Calvinism that I hear is that “God is God,” “God can do whatever he wants,” and “we all deserve hell so any one God choses to save is receiving his grace and mercy.” First, the overall problem with the Calvinistic viewpoint, as I see it, is that the premise from which the whole doctrine is built on is faulty. I do agree that “God is God” and “God can do whatever he wants.” I also agree that if God decides to save some and send others to hell that is his prerogative but who does that make God into? Why would a loving God make creatures with the whole purpose of throwing most in hell and selecting some for heaven? Is that a God of Love? The response of John Piper is that it is to show God’s glory. What….?? If one can’t know if they are one of the “chosen elect,” than what is the purpose of living a life of honor – you will go whichever way you are supposed to regardless? Also if this teaching is true, then what was the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross to save us? Everyone already has their pre-determined stamp on them, so Jesus dying for our salvation would make no difference. This whole teaching raises so many questions about the Christian faith and what does the Bible really say?

The response of so many people to these articles recently about prominent evangelicals who are renouncing Christianity is Cluck, Cluck “They weren’t really ever Christians in the first place.” I am not sure if that makes them feel better about their own salvation or what. I don’t have to wonder why Paul Maxwell, Abraham Piper, Joshua Harris, Marty Sampson and others are angry and confused. They have finally realized that the teachings they have been exposed to are false and unworkable for a life of faith that is meaningful.

If you are interested in a more detailed understanding of our faith story and how Calvinism affected us, you can buy my book, Once an Insider, Now Without A Church Home by Amanda Farmer on Amazon. It is available as an old fashioned book, a digital book, or an audio book.

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=once+an+insider%2C+now+without+a+church+home+by+amanda+farmer&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Educated” by Tara Westover – A Review

A Mama Swan and her cygnets (young)

            I am always looking for new books to read. I especially love non-fiction novels about the lives of others. I want to know how they dealt with the experiences in their lives and how it worked out for them. I came across a book entitled “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is a New York Times best seller. My curiosity was triggered, and I bought the book.

            It is a story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in a Mormon family in Idaho. Even by Mormon standards, her father especially, is an outsider in his own faith tradition. Eccentric might be another term that one would use. Tara and some of her other younger siblings are never sent to school and their so-called “homeschooling” is basically no schooling. Her father believes school will contaminate his children to the world- a world in which he sees himself as God’s prophet.

            There are so many psychological and religious issues in this story that I can relate to on so many levels from my own personal experience. Although, I grew up Mennonite and not Mormon and the religious beliefs are different, the cultural dynamics are similar.

            First, Tara grows up in a family where the father is the ruler and women are seen as needing to always be submissive to men. This is a standard Mormon belief as well as one of many evangelical Christians, but her father uses that belief to control and to manipulate his family into a separate kind of lifestyle ruled by paranoia of everything “out there”, religious superiority, and an expectation of family loyalty. He does this through demanding an adherence to a distorted preaching of his faith as the one and true faith, by shaming his children if they so much as show any interest in how others live and attempt to copy that behavior. I couldn’t help but make that connection to my own father. Though my father was not nearly as off-center as Mr. Westover, I recognized the same behavior from my childhood. The result is the child feels alone and unable to connect with anyone often for life.

Socialization is important for all

            Tara finds herself alienated from everyone in her world except her family. She sits alone in Sunday School and of course, she has no friends for two reasons. She feels different from everyone else and her father makes sure that she has no time or opportunity to cultivate friendships with others. He stresses that girls she meets are not good enough for her. Her father uses his faith to condemn them as not living the way a person of God should live. She, therefore, feels guilty for even wanting to associate with such “wicked” people.

            Tara, even after she leaves home and goes to college, finds herself unable to fit in and at odds with pretty much everyone. I don’t think she, for many years, recognizes that this is a result of the socialization or lack thereof from her home life. It is deeply and complexly rooted in the emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural dynamics of her early years. I find it interesting that she titles the book, “Educated,” as if obtaining an education is what moves her to a place in society that she is accepted as “normal” by others. The lack of education is a handicap and with certainty will keep her a captive in her father’s strange world, but it is not what makes her feel alone, strange, and like she doesn’t belong in the new world that she explores. Getting educated will not fix what is broken inside of her from her childhood. It only gives her a better platform from which the self can say, “Now I am somebody.” I did the same thing. I went to school and got a master’s degree and a job that is viewed with respect and awe. And while working in it, I feel strong, accepted, and like I have worth. But outside of it, I still feel friendless and different from everyone else. I watch Tara as the story progresses feeling this total alienation from others and struggling with it. From my own experience, I have learned the feeling never goes away. One simply has to learn to be comfortable with being alone and knowing that this is who I am.

            A part of her psychic also does the same thing that I did with my family even after leaving. It longs for the love of one’s parents and siblings. Tara, like me, keeps coming back to the family trying to convince them of reality and what is right. Even though on a logical level, one comes to understand that one’s family is mentally unhealthy, there is this deep seated need to stay connected to them. Afterall, if those who bore you and nurtured you in childhood don’t love you, then why would anyone else especially God. Tara loses herself and becomes mentally unstable for a year after she realizes that her family does not want to know the truth that one son has been viciously abusing other members. Her parents are not interested in addressing the problems in the family and the highest value of loyalty makes everyone choose to accept “the delusion that they are one big happy family” which will allow them to remain part of the family. Tara realizes that the family “truth” and loyalty are more important than loving her. This is devastating to her.

What really destroys her is that her mother betrays her in this battle to expose evil. Her mother one minute acknowledges to Tara that she knows about and will speak to her father about Shawn’s unacceptable behavior. But when there is an actual confrontation, her mother turns against her and sides with her father. Her mother tries to destroy Tara’s reputation and character.  For the mother to stand against the patriarch of the family requires too high of a price. It reminds me so much of my own mother who swung from seemingly being rational to total denial and perpetrating vicious attacks on my character. It leaves one very confused and in the case of Tara, she cannot concentrate enough to even study. She falls into a deep depression. She had this deep-seated hope that her family would change because of her speaking the truth. But her family, like mine, was incapable of changing. Denial is a powerful substance that keeps the system stable no matter how dysfunctional. Only the individual has the power to change and often doesn’t because of these pressures from different aspects of society to conform, especially the family of origin and one’s religious community.

If you enjoy exploring the complex dynamics of families, “Educated” is a compelling read. My books “If You Leave This Farm” and “No Longer a Child of Promise” also explore many of the same dynamics. My third book, “Once An Insider, Now Without a Church Home” explores the same dynamics and pressures within the evangelical church as found within the family. One is only a friend and a member as long as one follows the dictated expected behavior and norms.

I appreciate all those who have the courage to write their stories. It helps me to know that I am really not alone and that I don’t need to be ashamed to share my own story.

                                                                                                Amanda Farmer

www.farmgirlwriter.com

www.calvinism-faith-crisis.com        

A Camping Adventure 2019 – Boone, Iowa

Butterfly garden At Reiman Gardens

I love camping but putting up a tent and sleeping on the ground is good more for groans than a fun time when one reaches 60 years old. So I get brave and ask a friend if we can borrow their tent camper for this year.

            “I have to tell you the lights don’t work,” she informs me.

            “Not a problem,” I declare, “Do you care if my husband fixes it for you?”

            “That would be fine.”

            We pick up the camper on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before our planned trip in order to have time to make the repairs and test out our pop-up tent raising ability. Our friends and Hubby struggle to get the camper trailer hitched to the truck. The latch doesn’t want to drop over the ball hitch and as stated, the lights don’t work – not even one of them. But the hitch finally cooperates and snaps into place.

            At home, my Hubby who is wearing a neck brace after obtaining a C4 fracture from falling down a customer’s stairs, has the privilege of backing the camper up by the shed. He accomplishes this with ease in spite of not being able to turn his head. That little camera on the tailgate in back of the truck is a nifty addition to the backing up task. But when we go to unhook and crank the stand down, the hitch has no intention of releasing the ball on the truck.

            “How about a little WD40?” I suggest.

            Even after a soaking in the magical fluid, the hitch remains tightly locked. Looks like we are going to be attached to this truck from this day forward.

            “Maybe if I drive the truck ahead a little,” is Hubby’s thought.

            He coasts the truck a few inches. With a snap, the hitch rotates down and the ball releases. Oh Wow! It might have worked better if we had thought of that sooner.

            A couple of days later, we decide to make sure we know how to put up the camper before we set out on our journey. My hubby gets out his electrical handyman – his voltage tester. All the electrical connections test out as working and when we put the connections together, all the lights work except the right rear one. What was wrong with it? Maybe the connections were a little corroded from sitting around and that WD40 did its magic there too. At least there doesn’t seem to be a significant problem.

            We start the process of cranking up the popup top. We make quite the pair. My hubby in his neck brace and stiff me trying to crawl around under the bed ends to insert the stabilizers and under the camper to put the feet down. I peer inside the camper as the roof moves skyward. A small rivulet slides down the inside screen and pools on the kitchen counter. A larger pool gushes off of the expanding canvas into the front bed.

            “Stop,” I holler, “We need to catch the leaks.”

            I sop up all the unwelcome water with 2 blankets close by. Still, the dampness meets my hand as I touch the bed surface. The same dampness is present underneath the mattress. Time to set up the fans and dry out the interior. We are not really sure where the water actually came in. This could be a rude awakening if it drips on us in the middle of the night. We are hoping it just came from the unsecured opening in the top. At least our excursion has resulted in us feeling proudly confident in our ability to set this thing up even as cripples.

            The next order of business is to change the hitch on the truck that we will be using to one that allows the camper to tow more levelly. It soon becomes apparent that the current hitch has been on the truck far too long. It is rusted into place. The WD40 can is emptied and the hammer is swung over and over. The hitch does not budge. I craw under the truck and try to hammer from the backside. Soon I am covered in rust stains and WD40 spatters. Light beige colored pants really are not a good choice for this job.  Hubby soon goes off to town to buy another can of WD40 and we begin our efforts again. Was that a little movement that I see? After over an hour of spraying and hammering, the hitch begins to move with each bang of the hammer. “Hurrah!” I cheer. “You have done it.” Now we are ready to camp.

July 11, 2019

We get up at the usual time of 6:30 am. Hubby makes a trip downtown with instructions for his help and I feed the cat, move the calves around, and get the rest of our stuff together.

We have no problems with hooking the camper and soon are on our way. I think I have done well this time, but I am sure there is something that I have forgotten. Even with his neck brace, Hubby feels he can drive with a little assistance from me. We do have to stop at the shop and pick up his sunglasses.

We make several stops during our travels and realize that the camper trailer lights only work sporadically. Oh well! It pulls well with the pickup with being able to use the truck trailer braking system. The last time we towed a popup camper with our Toyota RAV 4, it made us extremely light in the front end and difficult to handle. That time we had to stop and move our bicycles to the top of the car to distribute the weight more evenly.

Garden Gnome

We decide to stop at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa run by Iowa State University. We wander through flowers and vegetables and butterflies- paths that twist and turn amongst beautiful waterfalls. It is a warm day but not totally uncomfortable.

Around 3:30, we head for Ledges State Park by Boone, Iowa. We miss the entrance on our first pass through. I am expecting a well-kept, well-staffed entrance booth. The sign that points towards the “Park Office” seems misleading. It looks like a maintenance building, not what I think of as a park office. After realizing we have passed the park, we swing around in the middle of the road and head back again towards what I think looks like a park entrance building. It is the right place but there is no one staffing it. It seems to be a “register yourself” kind of thing. Well, we have reservations, so we decide to just go set up our campsite. And there is the green reservation card waiting for us.

Our trial run of setting up the camper at home pays off as we are efficient and competent. Starting our little Coleman camping stove does not turn out quite so efficient though. It has been probably five years or longer since we have used it and Hubby just can’t get it to light. He pumps and he pumps and he pumps but it just won’t light. Of course, when all else fails and it looks like there will be no supper, one should read the directions. Reading them slowly and carefully is helpful too. It says “turn lighting lever up, with a lighted match over main burner, open valve completely and light. After flame turn blue, turn lever down.” Clear as mud. Which is the light lever, and which is the valve? Hubby does vary his technique and at least we get flame- leaping dancing orange flame but it is flame, just not blue flame. After some more fiddling around, he finally gets the flame under control and supper is in the making.

And I now discover what I have forgotten – the water jug to carry our water. It wouldn’t be camping without a major forgotten item. I search through the camper and come up with a shiny blue covered cooking pot. That will work dandily.

We sit outdoors in the warm evening glow and enjoy the birds singing, the mosquitoes chomping on us, and the myriad sounds of nature. We do realize that the bathroom is quite a distance from us. Around the circle, down the road, turn right, walk another ¼ mile and circle again. Bummer. Don’t think I will be going over there in the middle of the night.

July 12, 2019

Scritch, scratch, scratch, scratch… I am awakened in the dark of night. What is that scurrying in the grass outside of our camper? Hubby is awake too and hands me the flashlight. I press the light against the screen of our sleeping area. Two sets of shadowy eyes glare back at me from the top of the picnic table. Ugh… I had left one empty package from our supper on the picnic table as I forgot to take it away with the garbage. It was weighed down with the water kettle. But those little bandits have found it and are busily chewing away on the smell of chicken and noodles. At least it is not a boogie man.

The night cools off and the air becomes deliciously cool. We snuggle down in our sleeping bags, but I still have a hard time sleeping. Hubby rolls over every hour or so, rocking the camper like a ship on the wavy sea. I briefly wonder if those cheap metal poles designed for holding up this extended sleeping end of the camper really are strong enough. I have visions of us awaking looking at the ground.

We finally slide out of our bed around 7 am and begin the routine for the day. Our breakfast consists of fried sunny-side-up eggs cooked over our gas stove. This morning, the lighting of it goes much more smoothly. Hot chocolate, Italian bread, and donuts complete our meal. After cleanup, we are soon on the road to the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone. We have tickets for the 11 am train ride. Or at least, that is what I thought. The gentleman at the desk looks at me and says, “Do you have reservations for the 1 pm train?”

            Huh? I pause. “No, we have reservations for the 11 am train.”

            “Well, there is no train at 11 am on Friday. Your reservation is for Saturday.”

            I stare at the ticket and then I stare at my watch and back at the ticket. “Ah man. I must be mixed up. I thought today was Saturday.” Anyway, its nothing new to me to be confused. OK, I guess we will come back tomorrow.

            Hubby and I wander around the museum for a while and then decide to head out and explore. One of the items of interest that I had come across on the internet and in travel brochures was the Kate Skelly Memorial Train Bridge. I could not find an address for it and one person who had commented said that he had to travel some country roads to find it. Google had marked it on a map for me as being east of Boone at about U Ave off 190th St. We leave town driving east. I do like the coolness of the truck in the 90-degree heat but as we drive along, Hubby questions our direction. “We have to go down to the river. There is nothing but flat farmland here. There would be no reason to build a railroad bridge here.”

            Finally, I pull out a bicycle map Hubby has picked up and study it. Maybe our underlying information is wrong. The Des Moines River runs west of Boone and for the railroad track to cross it, the bridge needs to be on the west side of the city. We turn around and head west. There are no signs anywhere indicating where this bridge might be. First, we follow a major route west from Boone. Once we cross the Des Moines River with no sign of the bridge, we realize we have gone too far. Time to turn around again. I remember a road that we passed earlier that indicated it was a dead end. Maybe that is the one that goes along the tracks and will give us a view of the famous bridge. As we drive along, the road gets curvier and rougher. We bounce down the hill over rocks and washouts until we reach the end of the road.

            “Well, that was a waste of time,” remarks Hubby.

            “Wait, Look,” I point through the trees. “There it is.”

            And sure enough, the tall stately bridge is visible in the distance through the trees. We tiptoe through the flood ravaged backwaters to the edge of the De Moines River. What a magnificent view! We are only wishing that a train would come over the bridge about now and Hubby would have the perfect photographic opportunity. But it is a hot day and the mosquitoes think we are tasty, so we do not linger long. We make our way back up the rock-strewn path and turn down another washed up road that has the potential to take us maybe to the other side of the bridge further downstream. This road does take us over the double railroad tracks on our path downward to the river. “Look for Trains,” says a big sign on a trailer. There are none to be seen.

This gravel road does give us a different vantage point, but the bridge seems further away, and we soon retreat to the coolness of the truck. As we drive back up and make the turn to again cross the tracks, I state the obvious, “Look for the train.” The words are no sooner out of my mouth and whoosh, an engine whizzes by followed by a second one just a few seconds later on the second track. Together the trains hurdle towards the Kate Skelley Bridge. “Ah Man! I wasn’t ready for that one,” blurts Hubby.

It is obvious that this tourist attraction is not advertised and only accessible to those who seek diligently. Hunger and heat soon drive us back to the campgrounds though, where we throw together a lunch of spam sandwiches, chips, and Oreo cookies. Then it is nap time.

We spend the afternoon driving around checking out Madrid and many back-country roads. We locate another high bridge, the High Trestle Trail Bridge, just out of Madrid that is used for a bike trail. The easiest access is a mile walk from the parking lot to the bridge. We shake our head that no, we do not want to walk a mile in 90-degree heat. We will come back later this evening when the sun is going down and it is getting cooler.

High Trestle Trail Bridge

Later in the day, the sky has clouded over, so we decide to leave the campsite around 8:25 pm for the drive to the bridge parking lot. The sun is orange in the sky and sinking toward the horizon. We will be too late for a sunset picture at the bridge, but we are hoping with it now being cloudy that it will not be so hot. The trail slopes gently downward through the trees- not a hard walk. Even so, the sweat bubbles out on my brow and soon is making rivulets down my back. The mosquitoes decide to check us out as well and we soon slather more Deet on our already coated arms and face. Hubby keeps saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

            “Aren’t you glad we didn’t try to walk this at 2 pm this afternoon?” is my comeback. It is only a .4-mile hike to the actual bike trail. There we are met by masses of people moving rhythmically toward the bridge – like worshippers drawn to the object of adoration. We melt into the flowing crowd. Bicycles with lights and loud music blast past us while the slower walking people meander along. Now that we have reached the trail, it is only another .5 miles to the bridge. However, with sweat running places you don’t want to know about, it calls for fortitude and the persistence of putting one foot ahead of the other. The air is still and hangs heavy in the slowly darkening sky. The moon sits high in the sky and thrusts lengthening shadows for the silhouettes now moving on the path.

Des Moines River From Bridge

            As we near the bridge, we can see the white light that illuminates the entrance pillars. The bridge itself is another .5 miles in length as it spans the Des Moines River from 130 feet in the air. Part way across, it is lit by blue LED lights. This is the spectacle we have come to see. It provides a photo opportunity for my hubby’s hobby. Below us, the river flows lazily along illuminated by the light of the moon. We spend about a ½ hour on the bridge and then turn to trudge our way slowly back to the parking lot on the now dark path through the maze of ambling people and speeding bicycles. A moonlight walk on a hot July night does hold some romantic essence to it.

July 13, 2019

The fans in the camper keep us cooled down enough to sleep. We get more rest than the first night. I awake to rain splotches on the canvas. But it doesn’t last long. The weather is cloudy providing some measure of relief from the heat. It is actually quite comfortable this morning. Hubby cooks some pancakes for breakfast and then we decide to head out to the Kate Skelly Bridge again to see if we can catch a picture with a train crossing the trestle. Rain drops splatter on our windshield as we drive, and we decide that we do not want to be drenched for our train ride later. Rather than going down by the river, we stop on top of the hill where the trains pass by before entering the trestle. Soon it stops raining. Then I notice the railroad signal has changed to green on one track and to red on the other.

Train coming off Kate Skelly Bridge

“I bet there is a train coming on each track. One going one way and one going the other,” hubby deduces.

            “I bet you wish we had gone down below,” I respond.

            “Yes, but it’s too late now.”

            Within ten minutes, we are graced with a train horn and a speeding train. And then another one. Bummer. We should have gone down to the river and waited. We have missed the opportunity.

            We head back to Boone for our lunch train run at 11 am – the one I thought we were supposed to do yesterday. It is an 11-mile trip to Wolf, IA and back in the comfort of air-conditioned reconditioned train cars. For some reason we are the next to last ones called to board and they need to ask us who we are.

Boone Scenic Railroad Train

            “We have room for you. Don’t worry,” says the conductor.

            As we are seated at our table, he brings us two tickets, “Here are your tickets.”

Hubby and I raise our eyebrows at each other and shrug. We already have tickets. Did we mess them up by picking up our tickets the previous day? We will never know.

            The ride is pleasant. It is hard for Hubby to turn to see out with his neck brace and to top it off, he is the one going backward. They stop the train at the trestle so that we can look out and take pictures. There are no guardrails on the tracks. It is straight down from the railroad tracks to the valley below- a little too freaky for this “afraid of heights” person. But the scenery is magnificent and when we think we have been forgotten with the food; it arrives. We have pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes. Our ride ends around 2 pm and we head back to the campground for a nap.

From the top of the railroad trestle

            During our morning drive to Boone, we had discovered the canyon and sandstone cliffs that are part of the campground. We decide to return in the afternoon. There are several places where the water flows over the road and we need to drive through it. This morning, no one was around but now there are crowds of people picnicking and frolicking in the water. The sweat again pours out of us with little exertion and to walk seems like a huge effort. But I am drawn to the water and I take off my shoes and socks and go wading. I expect a shock from the cold of the water, but it is warm like bathwater – hardly cool enough to cool one off. But it does feel sweet to the feet. Then I remember I probably should not be wading with my cell phone in my thigh pants pocket – just in case I fall in.

Children line the sides of the road where the cars drive through the flowing water and cheer for each car, “Faster, Faster, Faster.” Many drivers comply but Hubby just smiles and waves at them. I wonder how many cars end up with flooded engines from this practice.

We head back to the campsite mainly because we are not tolerating the heat very well to relax some before our supper. We struggle with the camp stove again as we do at every meal. Beef stroganoff is the food on the menu followed by Smore’s. It is too hot for a fire, but one cannot go camping without roasting marshmallows over a fire and making finger licking smore’s. The fire is soon crackling away. We settle into our camp chairs to read until our one bundle of wood burns away and the mosquitos are urging us to “take it indoors.” I decide to leave the garbage on the table until we make a trip to the wash house before bed. Then we will go by the dumpster and dispose of it. We are only in the camper an hour before we decide to make our last trip to the bathroom and turn in. I pick up the garbage bag and realize it has two huge holes in it and the garbage is spewing out on the table. Son of a biscuit! In that hour, the racoons have stealthily made their visit. So much for delaying the delivery of the garbage to the proper place of disposal.

            As we prepare to get ready for bed, we try to figure out how to get undressed and redressed without flashing the community around us. We don’t have privacy curtains. Last evening, there were no neighbors around but tonight, we have neighbors on all sides. The solution we decide upon is to turn out the lights and change in the dark. It really is not that dark as the moon is moving towards full and there is light reflected from the adjacent campsite. I am confidently washing up and feeling quite secure when out of the door of the camper next to us comes a man with his flashlight. It hits me full in the face. Really? This is annoying. And then he sits down or so it seems, and it continues to shine into our camper. Is he watching? Is this entertainment? He probably doesn’t even know that it is pointed our way. But I do. I end up having to crouch down behind the stove to be insured that I am not providing a peep show.

July 14, 2019

We climb out of our bed around 7 am and Hubby cooks our breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Then it is time to tear down and head out. The temperature is already climbing, and rivers of water pour off of us. Our plan is to visit the Iowa Arboretum just south of the campground before heading home. The day is beautiful, and the flowers are magnificent, but Hubby and I move slower and slower. The heat has sucked all the energy out of us.

“I think I am going to throw up,” he says. Time to get ourselves to the cool truck and start our journey homeward.

            We make one last stop in Clear Lake, Iowa looking for the Guardian Wayside Chapel which Hubby has seen advertised. The ad says it is located on South 24th St. There is no house number. I type a random 620 into the GPS. We follow our guide’s instructions to exit the freeway and take the second left. We drive maybe a ¼ mile on 24th street and the GPS announces that we are at 620. No more than it has said that than Hubby declares, “There’s the sign.” I don’t see any sign but good thing his eye caught it as it is weather beaten and peeling. That was way too easy. Maybe it is the guardian angel that has led us to it.

We walk back a grassy path into a secluded area of the woods in the middle of this city and there it is – a beautiful white chapel. It is quiet inside and peaceful and we spend a few minutes meditating as I read the story of the chapel’s history aloud.

Then it is time to find a place to satisfy our hunger and travel the remaining miles home. Our journey into nature has been successful. Our creaking not-quite-as-bendable bodies say, “thank you” to the popup camper and its owners for putting an extra few feet between them and the hard ground.

Does a GPS system operate like Our Heavenly Father?

085May 20, 2017 marks 30 years of working for Mayo Clinic. My how time flies. Part of being honored by Mayo is being allowed to choose a gift from an on-line catalog. There are thousands of choices for consideration. As I scroll through the countless pieces, I realize that there isn’t really anything that I need. A bicycle would be nice but I already have a bicycle, albeit it doesn’t always shift so well. Finally, I settle upon a Global Positioning Device. My hubby and I have never owned one and have always laughed at those who use such things, sometimes to their detriment. Does no one think anymore? Now, I shall see if I can join their ranks. Maybe it will help to lessen our total frustration of trying to navigate together when we go traveling.

I open the box when the device arrives. There are no directions. The manufacturer must think that everyone is capable of figuring out electronic boxes. After finally getting it mounted in the car on the only place that the suction cup will stick (right in the middle of my radio screen), I decide to see if it can find my hubby’s apartment or shop in town. “Unable to find address” is the only response I seem to elicit from it. Oh, great. The next day, Sunday, we decide to drive to the Bluegrass Gospel Music session, part of the Bluegrass Festival, being held at Houston, MN. This is the perfect opportunity to try out this device. I soon realize trying to type in the address while we are driving is impossible. I am getting more and more frustrated as the car bounces just a little each time I hit a letter. Finally, I am able to input the street address but it has no place to enter the city and state. Fifteen minutes of failing at getting correct input, then having it tell me no such address exists leave me fuming and agitated.

Alright, I say to myself, we are just trying to have a nice day and I am getting totally bent out of shape over a small box that talks to us. I take a deep breath. Finally, I am successful in having it recognize where we are trying to end up. It does faithfully lead us to the right destination. Going home is much easier. Since I previously entered our home address, I just need to hit “Go Home” to start the little brain thinking. We soon discover that we can mess with its little computer brain. Each time we turn the wrong way, it patiently recalculates, and tells us to turn again and again in an effort to get us back going the way it thinks we should be going.

105All of a sudden, it hits me. A GPS system is like our Heavenly Father up above. Once we decide we want to follow Him through life, He plugs in the “home” address. He gives us the steering wheel to the car (free will) and tells us to drive towards home. All along the way, He guides us with his calm gentle voice. If we turn the wrong way, His voice keeps talking to us, trying to get us back on the right road towards home. He doesn’t condemn us. He doesn’t scream at us. He doesn’t scold us. He just gently recalculates each time we make a wrong turn and instructs us again and again until we finally turn back in the right way. And unlike the GPS that has no instruction manual, God has given us an instruction manual. We just need to remember to read it.

For the Love of a Dog

PetsFamilyJan2013 143“Come Bella,” I call from the bottom of the stairs. I repeat the summons several times before Bella staggers down the stairs and stumbles out the door to go potty. I sigh. A feeling of hopelessness creeps through my chest and into my heart. For several days now Bella has refused to eat, no longer desires to play, and lies upstairs puffing. She has grown thin and emaciated. I am at my wits end. I took Bella to the vet for the third time three days ago for these same symptoms. “She has a temperature of 104 degrees F,” was his verdict. We do not know why.

Early in January, during her last excursion outdoors before bedtime, her frantic barking alerted us. On the security camera, we could see her aggressive stance as she faced off with some unknown creature in the yard. A few minutes of protecting “her” property and she returned to the house, seemingly unscathed. But a few days later, she seemed mildly lethargic and had stopped eating. I wasn’t too worried as she has had times of skipping meals in the past. She continued to bring her indoor ball to me when I would come home, begging me to play. I did notice a small area of black on the bottom of her tongue. I don’t remember her tongue having a black colored spot there. I quickly dismissed my observation as irrelevant. One evening, I noticed very bad breath arising from her mouth each time she delivered her treasure to me. Whew! That smell was enough to knock me over. Still not giving it much thought, a few more days went by. One evening, as she stood panting, waiting for me to throw her ball, I noticed part of her tongue was missing and the remaining slit looked swollen and infected. So maybe that is why she wasn’t eating properly.363

After a trip to the vet for some antibiotics and prednisone pills, Bella began to eat regularly again and to play like her long-forgotten puppy self. Being between 7 and 8 years old, she is no longer a puppy so it was obvious that the prednisone had transformed her into the energetic frisky dog she once was. It seemed that all was back to normal. All of us were happy and returned to other life concerns.

But the good times were not to last. About 4 days after the last of the prednisone pills, Bella again started skipping meals. Oh well. I’m sure she will come around in a couple of days and be OK.

“Bella is not eating at all,” my concerned hubby conveyed to me a couple of evenings later. “And it seems like she is puffing more than normal,” he continued.

Oh dear. I had to work for the next day so I couldn’t make an appointment until the following day. “She has a fever of 104,” was the vet’s observation. “Let’s just treat her conservatively with Doxycycline for a couple of weeks and see what happens.”

That sounded good to me. Bella has always been an easy dog to give pills to which makes treating her easy. Wrap the pill in a piece of meat and give it a toss. She just opens her mouth wide and swallows whole whatever you are tossing her. Over the next couple of days, she slowly improved and went back to eating and behaving normally.power pole and birds 145

One day, however, while taking her for a walk, she was panting with maximum open mouth. As she and I puffed to the top of a steep hill, she was slightly above me and I had an unimpeded view into her open mouth. I noticed two slits on her tongue running lengthwise with her tongue further back in her mouth. That is weird. Is it possible that she has a rough or sharp tooth that is cutting her tongue? This really doesn’t make any sense.

I stopped at the vet clinic the next day and asked to make an appointment to have her sedated so that they could inspect her mouth and teeth for mechanical reasons for the slits and poor appetite.

“I would like to have you finish the antibiotics and then come back and we will take a look,” was the desire of the veterinarian.

OK, I guess I can live with that as Bella seemed to be totally back to normal. I made the appointment for a week later on March 30. I was hoping that they could also clean her teeth and x-ray her front shoulders while she was sedated as she had been limping on her front end off and on for over a year. Apparently, I did not communicate this well as when I brought her in for her appointment, I was told they did not have time to do all I was requesting that day.

“Then let’s make a new appointment when you can do all those things while only sedating her once,” I requested

“We are very busy and don’t have any opening for any kind of surgery until April 11.”

That date is almost two weeks out but I agree to the change. After all, Bella seems OK at the moment. Several days later about 4 days after completing her course of doxycycline, Bella has stopped eating again. By the following Friday, it is evident that she is seriously ill. “Bella is not going to make it to her appointment on Tuesday,” I explain to the receptionist who agrees to take her that day. “Can you draw labs too and check her for Lyme’s disease?” I implore.

They sedate her and inspect her mouth. “Her tongue looks pretty rough,” the receptionist conveys to me when I pick her up, “but it is completely healed. The only thing the doc finds abnormal is that she is running a fever of 104 degrees again. He left some antibiotics for her.” I pick up the bottles and look at them. There is a bottle of Flagyl and one of Amoxicillin. The course of treatment is for 10 days. I was hoping that he would give me more of the doxycycline since it seemed to work the last time. “I want to give her doxycycline again and try an extended course of antibiotics,” I explain to the receptionist. “Did he check her for Lyme’s” I continue my questioning. She shouts to the veterinarian who is working in the back room and he shouts back to her, instructing her to give me two more weeks’ worth of the doxycycline. I am frustrated by the lack of one-on-one communication and the inability to get what I believe is needed. He did not believe it necessary to check for Lyme’s so did not draw that test. “All of her other labs look pretty normal.”

“Alright, I will try this,” I say, “but I don’t think it is going to work.”

By now, Bella is so sick that she refuses not only her regular food but all treats as well. It has become impossible to get her to take her pills. She just smells what I have to offer and turns away. I want to cry. If I can’t get her to take the pills, she is going to die. “I can’t handle another loss,” is the sentiment expressed by my hubby. What am I going to do? There are two pills to give morning and night. There is nothing to do but pry open her mouth and shove them down the back of her throat with my fingers. Hope wells up each morning and I hurry down to see if she has started to eat her food.  But each morning and night, it lays untouched. Three days go by and Bella shows no signs of improvement. Each day, she slowly deteriorates. She no longer asks to play, she no longer walks with me and goes out only to urinate. She does continue to drink water and urinate which is a good sign but I have resigned myself that she is going to die and there is nothing I can do about it.PetsFamilyJan2013 196

“Should I make an appointment for Bella at the clinic where I work?” reads the text from my daughter.

“Yes, go ahead,” I respond. What can it hurt? I see no hope with what we are doing.

With a sense of foreboding, I take Bella 30 miles to this other vet clinic. She reacts weakly to the Lyme’s test. She is still running a 104 fever. But this vet and I agree to put her back on doxycycline at a higher dose and for a month. This vet also gives me a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to reduce the fever and a drug to increase her appetite. Will it work? I do not hold out much hope but it is the last ditch effort. Is it silly to pray for the recovery of a dog, I wonder? At this point I don’t care how silly it is. We pray every night for Bella to get better.

The problem this new regime creates is that I now have five pills to get down her throat every morning and she is not the least bit interested in our attempts to help her. There must be a better way. When I took care of cows, we had a pill gun to give pills to uncooperative cows. What can I use to make a pill gun? Then it comes to me. Vaginal estrogen cream and vaginal anti-fungal creams come with applicators. This is unconventional but I craft one into a pill gun for Bella. I find that if I mix some yogurt around the pills, they slide out nicely and into Bella’s mouth. Ever so slowly, Bella gets better over the next week. She begins to ask to play again, agrees to go for short walks with me, and gingerly starts to eat small amounts again. She still won’t touch her dog food but readily gobbles down the cat food. If she wants to be a cat, I guess we are OK with that for now. My hubby and I cheer when she finally gulps her pills wrapped neatly in bologna. Will this recovery be permanent or will she again relapse when the month is up? Only time will tell. I never realized the love of a dog could pull so hard at one’s heartstrings especially since my heartstrings tend to be loosely tied.

The Final Day – Traveling Home

11-17-2016 Thursday

Today is our last day in Israel. It is chilly and only partly sunny. Our first stop today is at an archaeological dig site to shift through debris from the temple mount. The temple is occupied by the Muslims and apparently, they decided to expand their mosque without contacting the antiquities authority as required. Truckloads of artifacts and debris were hauled away in the night and dumped on the Mount of Olives.

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Lecture with Directions

Sifting through buckets of stones is not really my cup of tea but we are here so participate we do. We are assigned to a sieve kind of thing in groups of four. Son-in-law, Daughter, Hubby, and I are a group. We are to dump a bucket of the debris on our wire sieve, wash it with a garden hose and then sort through it. Things that we find that are old metal, pottery, mosaic, glass, bone, or unusual stones are to be picked out and put into a muffin tin. The whole mess looks like regular old stones to me and what little interest I had is soon gone. Hubby sticks with it.

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Sifting rocks

Picking up pretty stones is more his thing. Other groups have some success with finding valuable items. Our picking is mostly a failure.

We board the buses again about 10:30 to make our way to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It is a somber experience as we remember the many lives lost through the cruelty of the Germans. The sad reality is that world leaders are now trying to tell people that it never happened. I cannot understand this phenomenon – how educated people can deny this tragedy. It is also unfathomable to me how men can be so depraved and heartless on one hand and on the other, there were those who risked their own lives and futures to save as many Jews as possible. What I am most shocked by is that Christians in the early centuries after Christ returned to heaven (200-400AD), considered the Jews subhuman and persecuted them for not accepting Christ as the Messiah. We eat our noon meal at the Holocaust Museum then relax for some time standing in the sun until everyone is ready to go.

Our last stop of the day is in the garden which contains one of the places believed to possibly be the burial site of Jesus. Our tour guide is a Swedish gentleman who talks to us about the garden and about Jesus sacrifice for us on the cross. As he is explaining about the Hill of the Scull

where Jesus was crucified, a booming loud speaker blares out the Muslim call to prayer. It is so loud we cannot talk above it and need to wait for the call to be over. Often, we are told, the Muslims call their people to prayer more than the 5 times required by their law just to interfere with the Christian activities such as this. Trying to protest or stop this kind of behavior would result in WW III so the behavior is quietly tolerated.

We make our way to the garden tomb and each one of us gets a chance to take a look into the empty tomb. Then we gather together on some benches to sing hymns and worship. Pastor Mark brings us a short message and then communion is shared together. The communion cups are made of olive wood and we can keep them as a remembrance. The wind has started to pick up and it is quite chilly as we sit there. It is 4 pm by the time we wrap up the service and head back to the bus and the hotel.

Several people, including Daughter and son-in-law, want to get off at the Jaffa Gate to do some last minute shopping so the bus makes a drop off stop there. The rest of us go back to the hotel to rest until the 6:30 drop off time for taking our suitcases to the bus. Then it is time for the last supper. A gourmet meal it is.

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Bus 2 Group Photo

We board the buses at 8:30 pm for our trip to the airport where we say Good-bye to our bus driver, Shalom, and our guide, Eli. Our excursion through the airport turns out to be a stressful challenge. We are first told to get our boarding passes at the many kiosks designed for such purposes. Brother, his wife, Hubby, and I are successful at doing so. However, by that time, we realize that all the other 100 some have been told to just get into line and we are left at the end of the line. Son-in-law and Daughter have left us in the dust. They are far ahead at the front of the line. I keep thinking having our boarding passes and luggage already checked should allow us to bypass some of this line but it does not seem so. My stomach muscles are getting tighter and tighter as this line progresses with the speed of a turtle. I keep looking at my watch and thinking that we are going to end up missing the plane. As we are all standing in line, we find out that El Al Airlines have overbooked the flight by at least 15 – 20 people and they are asking members of our group to stay. Apparently, the pilots have also been on strike since Sunday which we knew nothing about. Just last evening, all flights were canceled.

The clock has ticked away an hour and a half before we finally reach the first security point where they compare our passport with our face and ask numerous questions. This one we zip through. Then we are told to get into the line for checking our bags in.

“Can we check our bags in somewhere faster?” I ask “since we already have luggage tags.”

Of course the answer is, “No, you need to get in that line.” As the man points to the line that snakes around 3 rows of slowly crawling snails. I am starting to feel somewhat panicked as we wait again for 30 minutes. Finally, we head for the next stop which is the physical security checkpoint where we need to go through the metal detector. We are allowed to keep our shoes on which makes this line move at incredible speed. As we leave the metal detector, I look around for the signs pointing to the D concourse. I see nothing like that. Confusedly, I lead my pack of four around in circles. Finally, I decide to ask. The TSA agent I ask is visibly irritated by this ignorant idiot, “You have to go through passport verification first,” she snaps. I have no idea what that means but head towards a line marked “foreign passports.” Another official looking lady waves toward some strange machines on the wall,” You can use those automatic ones over there.”

OK, I have no idea what to do with those things but I wander over and read the directions which say, “Put passport under scanner.” Amazingly, it likes my approach and prints me a little ticket. Feeling confident that we are now on our way, I tuck everything away and we are funneled through 1 small opening towards the boarding area.  No wonder I could not see it before. We have not gone more than 20 feet and we come to more machines that indicate we need to scan our pink card to get through. “Pink card? I don’t have a pink card.” Then I realize this must mean the little slip of paper we just got. It has a faint ting of pink across the top. Finally, we reach the boarding area. Are there any more hoops to jump through I wonder? We have about a ½ hour wait before boarding the plane. They make an announcement that any liquids we have bought cannot be brought on the plane and that they will be going through our carry-on bags looking for liquids. You can’t be serious! Again? This line moves quickly as the search is not terribly thorough. The last straw awaits me on the plane. We realize Hubby and I do not have exit seats as I paid for and we are stuffed into the middle of the plane with someone between us. I make myself at home in the middle seat regardless. It makes no sense for someone to want to sit between us. When that person finally arrives, she is fine with our arrangement as it will put her husband just across the aisle from her. In all the confusion of the Airline’s overbooking and moving people around, we are left to stuff ourselves in the regular seats for 12 hours and the money I paid extra for exit seats has been swallowed up in the mess.

Other than being unable to breathe or move properly for 12 hours, all goes well with our flight. We land in Newark, NJ 45 minutes late but safe and sound back in the US. Our connecting flight to Minneapolis is uneventful. We break through the heavy clouds into light rain. By the time we retrieve our bags, it has started to snow heavily. Welcome to winter in Minnesota.

This time the hare beat the tortoise as we get home before my brother and his wife who drove home from the Newark airport.1313

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Part 4

11-16-2016 Wednesday

 

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Sunset over the desert

Clouds darken the sky today for the first time since we have arrived here. The temperature is chilly and I surrender my belief that it is still summer by putting on a sweater. We are on the bus by 8 am and headed for Masada.

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Bedouin sheep

The drive south along the Dead Sea is beautiful in its own way. We pass areas of what they call “desert farming.” They drip irrigate using the sewage water from Jerusalem to save water.

As we go further south, the land becomes more barren with huge hills of wasteland to the west. Masada is the ruins of an ancient city built upon the top of a 1000-foot-high flat top hill. King Herod, the Great, first built one of his fortresses high on this hill. Later, it became a place for the Jews to flee for refuge around 70 AD when they were defeated by the Romans in a crushed uprising. After 3 years of refuge, the Romans are able to breach the hill and all the rebels there die. It is an awesome sight to look up at this hill high above our heads as we drive into the parking lot. If one were young and ambitious, he could hike up the Snake Trail to the top of Masada. None of us are either of these, so we board a cable car/Tram to be hoisted to the top. We are told it holds 80 people and they are serious about this as they jam pack us into the car. I am starting to feel the rising panic of claustrophobia when I find I can’t move.

It is a beautiful day here – not too hot and not too cold. We spend about an hour and a half at Masada exploring the ruins and viewing some of the great inventions of Herold the Great. Probably the most remarkable invention is the water collection and storage system.

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Israeli flag over Masada

The one or two huge rains per year are the only source of water. As we stand listening to the tour guide, I hear a clatter of something on the stone. It is Hubby’s glasses lens. He has lost the screw to hold the frame together. We brainstorm as to how to fix this but can do nothing about it at the moment.

Around 12 noon, we head back down on the cable car and board the bus for the Qumran Caves Museum. This is where we will eat lunch. It is the usual chaotic scene getting through the lunch line. We see a group of Mennonites who instantly make contact with Brother and his wife. That is how it is with Mennonites. They recognize each other anywhere and feel a bond. We exit through the gift shop to wait for our tour guide. I notice a bunch of sunglasses and we decide to buy a pair in the hopes that we can use one of the screws to repair Hubby’s glasses. Getting through the checkout line is a bit of a challenge as people are everywhere and buying the skin care products manufactured from the Dead Sea. I finally am able to get outside into the crush of people there. Our guide today, Bruce, finally is able to get us away from the masses to explain the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We make a short tour of the Essene ruins and then head back to the bus.

Our last stop is the beach of the Dead Sea.

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Dead Sea

I do not plan to float but simply to wade. The Dead Sea is 33% salt so the water is toxic if taken orally or gotten in the eyes. We receive our towels and make our way gingerly down the steep hill that once was the banks of the Dead Sea. The use of the minerals and water from the lake for commercial purposes has caused the shores of the Dead Sea to recede several hundred feet over the last 40 years. The mud is a dark gray color. I step gingerly into the water. As I move one foot ahead of the other, it drops over the edge into a hole. After several attempts, I decide to move to a different location and am able to enter the water. As I stand there watching others smear black mud all over themselves, a man holding a cell phone steps into the water in the place I formerly tried.

His leg disappears into a hole and down he goes, cell phone and all. Now why would someone take their cell phone along into a salt bath? Is my question. After wading about for approximately 15 minutes and getting splashed by others falling down, I decide it is time to get out before I end up totally wet. After washing off my feet, Hubby and I find some ice cream to enjoy at a small picnic table under a spreading tree. Hundreds of chirping birds seem to be perched in its branches. I am just about done when I feel a wet drop on my forehead from above. Gross! A bird has just pooped on my head. It is time to move on back to the bus.1226

We are back at the hotel by 5:45pm and catch up with Daughter and Son-in-law who did not accompany us today but decided to wander around by themselves and relax. I spy the pipe cleaner on our suitcase and use it for the repair so badly needed on Hubby’s glasses after we can’t get the screw out of the new sunglasses we bought. It works. Only one more day before it is time to head home again.

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus Part 3

11-14-2016 Monday

 

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Overlooking Jerusalem from Mt Scopus

Today hands us another beautiful sunny morning to greet us. We are on the bus and heading for Mount Scopus by 8 am. Here we spend a few minutes having photos taken of our bus and of the whole group. Winding through the narrow, hilly streets of Jerusalem is quite the experience. Buses sometimes miss each other by inches. This morning, because we are going to Bethlehem into Palestinian territory, we have been asked to bring our passports and we need to exchange our Jewish guide for a Palestinian one. Israeli citizens are not allowed to cross into Palestine. A change in plans is made because of the number of people and the times of mass at the Church of the Nativity and we are taken first to a shop in Bethlehem where Arab Christians make beautiful decorations using olive wood. I wander around the shop and am somewhat disillusioned by the prices. There are some beautiful praying hands with the last supper carved on the palms. It is almost $3000. Well skip that. We finally settle for a small camel, a shepherd, and a sheep for $85.

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Machine making multiple olive wood figurines at once

A short trip to the basement workshop finishes out the visit to this shop. We are informed that our bus has a water leak and we will need to divide out onto the other two buses to make the trip to the Church of the Nativity. We feel like foreigners on this other bus. We need to walk awhile after exiting the bus. The walking trip feels chaotic with all the people on the street. “Use your horn liberally” seems to be the expectation of the day especially when the American tourists are in the way. Masses of people resulting in long lines are at the church. The church is under re-construction so leaves something to be desired for picture taking. We do not have too long of a wait to get into the cave with the Star of Bethlehem and the areas where baby Jesus was laid. I am saddened by the shrines built to commemorate everything. I just want to see the simple cave in which Christ was born.

We attempt to get back on the same temporary bus after we leave the church but we must be confused as Hubby can’t find his camera bag and the lady in the seat that we think is ours, thinks we are deranged. We finally get on the right bus and are headed for Shepherd’s Field which is a preserved site showing what the cave might have looked like that the shepherds lived in and the field where the angels proclaimed that good news of Jesus birth to the shepherds.

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Inside shepherds cave

We all gather in the cave for a reading from the Bible about the angels coming to the shepherds and we sing Joy to the World together. By now, I am getting extremely hungry and irritated due to a lack of bathroom stops. I am going to the bathroom whether we have time or not. Our bus is repaired by the time we are done at Shepherd’s field and it is back to the correct #2 bus. This feels right and comfortable.

Lunch is at a kibbutz that now caters to guests because the city has surrounded them and taken their fields. It is the same mass confusion getting through the lunch line but we finally do it. We keep losing either Brother and his wife or Daughter and Son-in-law in our lunch lines’ confusion. Our next stop is the upper room where Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples. It is not the actual room which has been destroyed and rebuilt but the actual place. This room is also believed to possibly be the place where the disciples waited and received the Holy spirit at Pentecost.

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View from Caiaphas house toward Jerusalem

Hiking through the upper room, then up the steps to Caiaphas’ house gives one the general idea of the distance and site of these important events in the Bible. Our last stop is to see the dungeon or prison cell where Jesus might have been imprisoned and tortured the night before his crucifixion. This is something I have never thought about before. We sing an old hymn here.  As we walk up the hill to the buses, it has grown dark and a huge moon is just rising over the horizon. It is supposed to be a super moon, the biggest one since Israel became a nation in 1948.

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Moonrise over Jerusalem

11-15-2016  Tuesday

The day is a little cooler today. Breakfast is the usual time of 6 am and we are on the bus by 7:45 am. We are headed today to explore the old city of Jerusalem. Our first stop of the day is to view a 15 minute 3-D film of the history of Jerusalem. We emerge into the bright sunlight and sit on a bench while Eli, our guide, talks to us. Eli is an entertaining and informative guy for a guide. He in mild -mannered and always has a joke to share or is laughing at himself for his own foibles.

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Eli’s cap “I am their leader – which way did they go”

Maneuvering steps going down to an archaeological dig of David’s Palace is the next order of business. We then make our way through the City of David and enter the old aqueduct system of many years ago that has been re-excavated. It is 2 foot wide by approximately 5’ 10” high. It is bordered on both sides by stone walls. We file through the tunnel single file. I am somewhat claustrophobic and have to keep telling myself I am fine. At one place the tunnel is so narrow, Hubby has to go through sideways.

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Narrow passage

We squirm our way through what seems like hours of walking until we come out under the newer excavated western wall and emerge again into the light. After some more education, we circle up around above the Western Wailing wall and come in through the metal detectors. The Western Wall is all that remains of the temple and visiting it brings the visitor as close as possible to the Holy of Holies. Men and women go through the metal detectors separately and then are expected to visit the wailing wall separately. I point out to my brother that the Western wall section for men is longer than for the women even though the women’s side is packed. Brother points out that the men have podiums to stand at and the women have chairs to sit on.

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Western Wall – Men’s side

In other words, “the men are to preach and the women are to be quiet.” We both laugh. This is reference to the beliefs of our upbringing.  I do not wish to leave a prayer on the wall as I believe God hears me equally from wherever I pray. However, we do make our way to the wall and touch it. I feel no zing, no electric shock, no special revelation from heaven.

We leave the western wall and walk through the Jewish quarter and into the Armenian quarter for lunch at an Armenian restaurant. We have a relaxed hour and then it is back out to walk through the various quarters of the old city. We stop at the pools of Bethesda. Our last order of the day is to walk the stations of the cross or the Via Dolorosa. I think the most touching part of the afternoon is acapella singing in the chapel of the only church left from the era of the crusades.

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Singing

A lady who grew up Mennonite leads us in the traditional way of singing Amazing Grace and It is well with my soul. Wow, how I miss that singing and those old hymns.

We continue our trek along the “Way of Sorrow” through the narrow over-crowded streets. The weather has turned and a cool chill breeze has sprung up. It is growing dark by the time we leave. The bus in not waiting as we are told it will be and we spend at least ½ hour wondering if we are going to be picked up. One last stop of the day is at a shop for us to shop. I see nothing new and/or that I can afford. They have swapped buses again because ours is needed for a trip to the airport. We get on the wrong bus before we decide that this doesn’t make sense and get back off.  (to be continued)

 

 

Walking Where Jesus Walked

11-10-2016 Thursday First Day in Israel – Sleep Walking

 

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View from Tiberius hotel room

We had a fairly smooth 10-hour flight. I think I phased out for maybe an hour but never really slept. Hubby and I had good seats in the exit row with lots of room but it also tended to be the area people wanted to congregate to talk. There were also 3 babies close by that spent a good amount of time crying. We arrived in Tel Aviv around 6:30am. I went to get Hubby’s camera bag out of the overhead bin. As I was doing so, a coat flopped out too. As I tried to catch the coat, the camera bag got away from me and flipped back over my head, landing right on the 7-8-month old baby. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt but I was horrified and his mother, I’m sure, thought what a careless person.

011Getting through customs actually went well but then, there was trouble with the belt bringing out the luggage bags. An airport worker finally came crawling up through the luggage chute and started throwing bags around. We soon had our luggage and gathered in a group. There are about 120 people. We are assigned to Bus 2. Even though we are dog tired, we set off on our tour route for the day. We start by visiting Caesarea

by the Mediterranean Sea. The huge coliseum is our first stop. We trail along looking at the different areas of the destroyed city. The sun beats down on us. It must be over 80 degrees and I feel like I am going to fall over. I am not dressed for summer and my sweater soon comes off. After a couple hours of walking, we get back on the bus for a trip to

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View from Mt. Carmel

Mount Carmel where Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his offering. This was to show the prophets of Baal who the real God is. We climbed to the top of the roof of the Catholic church built on the spot and look out over the Valley of Jezreel where the battle of Armageddon is to take place. It is an awesome view. It is 1:30 pm and we are getting very tired and hungry, grouchy, and have little stamina left. We board the buses one more time for our trip to the destroyed city of Magiddo (or Armagadon) where we are told we will eat lunch at a restaurant there. I sigh when I see the long line at the restaurant. Serving is cafeteria style and the line creeps along slowly. It seems like mass confusion in the restaurant. I buy juice which costs $3 a glass.  We finally get food. Everyone is at their wits end. Daughter ends up in tears. Soon, though, we feel refreshed after we have eaten and head up the trail to the gate of the city with many ruins under it. The walk down 182 steps to the water source of the ancient city is like going into a cave. We climb back up some 80 steps and board the buses for the hotel @ 4pm. We have a chance to rest ½ hour before heading downstairs for supper. After supper comes a refreshing shower and a collapse into bed as I can no longer keep my eyes open. The biggest problem in getting to sleep is that I feel like I am moving and moving and moving. Outside, there is a shofar being blown over and over and a huge amount of noise from a party. That’s when the ear plugs I have brought along come in handy.

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Fireworks on Sea of Galilee

11-11-2016 Friday

Wake up call was at 6:30am with breakfast at 7. It is always chaotic in the restaurant with the hotel trying to feed masses of people in a short time. I had some fruit and yogurt that did not taste at all like I am used to. Daughter says she is hot and does not feel well. I dig out my small supply of Tylenol. Once a nurse, always a nurse. I am a walking drug store.

It is a beautiful, warm quiet morning. We walk to the boat dock and board a wooden boat built like the fisherman of Jesus day would have fished in. Hubby and I got the very front where the breeze touched our faces and cooled off our hot bodies. We have about an hour for our sail around the Sea of Galilee. They stop for a brief time of devotions and then some praise songs are sung over the loud system which is uplifting and beautiful. The boat is docked at the museum that contains the 2000-year-old actual remains of a boat from Jesus time at Nof Ginosar.

From there, we travel on to Capernaum where Jesus spent 3 years of his ministry. There is a Catholic church built over where Peter’s house was found. We explore the remains of a synagogue and basically the village of Capernaum.  We then drive around to the kibbutz at Ein Gev and eat our lunch at the restaurant known for “Peter’s Fish.” Hubby and I both have the whole fish, cooked without scaling and with even the eyes remaining. It doesn’t taste too bad if one can get past the eyes staring back at you.

The day remains warm and beautiful. We climb back onto the bus and head for the Mount of the Beatitudes. It is a beautiful spot with flowers and trees and another Catholic church built on the grounds. We have 15-20 minutes to walk around and enjoy the scenery. We make one last stop on the shores of Galilee where many people wade in the water. Another church, The Primacy of Peter, is located here. It has beautiful stain glass windows.

By 4:30 pm, we are headed back to the hotel for supper and rest. Supper is probably the most chaotic meal I have seen yet. The waiting line wraps around the cafeteria. Hubby & I get some basic food and then decide to give up trying to get more food.