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 in the Footsteps of Jesus – Part 2

11-12-2016 Saturday

 

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The Shepherd

An early breakfast is served and we are on the bus by 7:30am. Our first stop is the village of Nazareth. It is a restored area designed like the original village of Nazareth. I really enjoy this stop. There are characters acting as the shepherd with the sheep and our guide explains passages of scripture such as “separating the sheep from the goats” that Jesus talked about and “going through the narrow gate”. This refers to the smaller door into the house so the animals couldn’t enter. We visit the carpenter shop where Son-in-law, as the youngest man, is chosen to try the rope run hand drill.

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The olive press

From the village of Nazareth, we move on to the Church of the Wedding of Cana. Due to double booking of the church, we wait almost an hour to get in. Once we get in, we sing “How Great Though Art” and then have a short devotional by one of the pastors, Pastor Mark. There is no dearth of pastors in our group.  I have counted 4 in this group of 120 people. Pastor Mark then leads those of us who want to through a reciting of our marriage vows.

We leave the church about noon and drive to the south side of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan River leaves the sea. We drove from Cana across farmland spread in both directions. One could look to the left and see farms and then towns on the hill and to the right, farmland spread out away down into the valley. Just above the south side of the Sea of Galilee, we stopped and got off the bus. We could see across the valley to the Golan Heights, to Jordan, and where the border of Syria traversed those areas in the middle.

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Looking down at the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan exits

We re-boarded the bus to travel down to the restaurant at the Jordan River. We order our lunch in a large open room. Today, I chose the chicken and rice.

After lunch, those who want to be baptized, got their baptismal gowns and towels, and made their way to the area reserved for our group. There are steps going down into the water for those being baptized. There are concrete steps for us who are not being baptized to sit upon and watch.

There must be at least 100 people who line up to be baptized. All 4 pastors help with the baptisms (Chris Page, Steve Chupp, Mark Lantz, Paul Begley). Son-in-law chose to be baptized though none of the rest of us did. It was a warm, sunny, beautiful summer day for November. It was 4pm before all the baptisms were done and we wandered around for a short time before getting back on the bus and heading for the hotel. Hubby and I bought ice cream cones as we are getting goodie deprived.

There are 5 buses unloading when we get back to the hotel. I take one look at that and decide to walk up the 11 flights of stairs to our room. Hubby is puffing behind me and convinced I am trying to kill him but it was so much faster than waiting hours for an elevator. Supper is at 6 pm and then we can relax in our room. People just love to blow the shofar on the street below. I think it is potential customers trying out the instrument before buying it.

We were told to have our suitcases out between 9:30 – 10 pm. Hubby and I put ours out early (maybe 9pm) so we can go to sleep. I guess Son-in-law and Daughter put theirs out earlier (around 8pm) because they want to go to sleep too. It isn’t long before there is banging on their hotel room door. Son-in-law is already asleep and ignored the banging and Daughter was in the bathroom. She finally was able to answer the door.

“These your bags?” demands security.

“Yes.”

“You can’t leave them here.”

We had just been educated by Eli, our guide, today about the importance of not leaving any baggage lying around unattended and that such things were cause for the police to be called and the bomb squad to blow them up. So much for trying to put bags out before the allotted time so that one can go to sleep early.

Today is Sunday. We eat breakfast at 7am and are on the bus by 8am. Our first destination is a stop to help plant trees on public land.

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Planting trees

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Planting trees

Each one of us receives a tree and then we walk across a dry, thistle infested, rocky field to place our tree in a pre-dug hole. The soil is red in color, dry, and hard. It looks like all living plants need irrigation in this land. Everywhere one looks, there are hoses strung with small holes in them to water each plant. From there we board the bus and drive along the Jordan River valley to the excavated ruins of the Roman city of Beit She’an.

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Beit She’an

We explore the ruins of a Roman bath house, the amphitheater, and the remains of a Roman brothel. The temperature is warm, probably in the 80s and I am soon hot and sticky. By noon, it is time to get back on the bus and head to our dinner spot. It is at a hostel in the modern city of Beit She’an. There are not nearly as many people as other days making for a more relaxed time. The meal is served café style.

After we get back on the bus, we head south through the West Bank. The land is mostly barren and hilly. Where there are crops and trees, the farmers are irrigating with the small hoses that run everywhere. The closer we get to Jerusalem; we start to see herds of goats on the hillside with run down homesteads. These are the Bedouin people that no longer are nomads.

It is going towards 3:30 pm when we roll into Jerusalem. We are taken to the top of the hill above the Garden of Gethsemane.

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Garden of Gethsemane

The road is narrow, steep, and winding that we walk down to the garden. We spend a few minutes in the church of All Nations before re-boarding the bus for our trip to the hotel. The sun has pretty much set and the lights are coming on around the old city of Jerusalem. It is beautiful and old and distinguished. Our arrival at the hotel goes rather smoothly compared to the last hotel. We have our luggage within 5 minutes and then are off to the elevator that is fast, efficient, and sports no waiting lines. Supper is way more than I should eat and our group is the only one competing for spots tonight. This is the Dan Panorama Jerusalem hotel and it is a step up from our last hotel.

 

 

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.

 

Traveling to Israel

325 I lay awake in bed waiting for the alarm to go off as I am slightly anxious about our upcoming trip. The phone rings at 6 am. I stumble out of bed to answer it as I can’t figure out how to answer the bedroom phone anymore. It is my brother. “We are leaving,” he tells me. I am not even out of bed yet. It’s like the tortoise and the hare. He has 6-7 hours to drive to Newark, NJ and we have 3 hours to fly.001

Son-in-law and Daughter arrive at 7:45am and we are soon on the road to my husband’s sister’s house in Richfield. She will drive us to the airport and then store our car until our return. I googled her address for directions last evening. Somehow, though, we miss the exit indicated and find ourselves having gone too far. We swing around and go back the way we came. I have a set of directions from 2007 that mentions one of the exits we have passed. We exit following the older directions and soon find our way. We are all somewhat tense and on edge. It doesn’t seem like we can travel without this anxiety.

We make our way through security without incident. The TSA lady tells us we can leave our shoes on. I feel like an idiot after I realize all of us have pre-checked TSA status. The flight leaves a little after 1 pm after a slight delay because the flight attendants arrived late on another flight. Our 3-hour flight arrives in Newark, NJ at around 4:45 pm. It is getting dark. We have no problem retrieving our luggage. In fact, ours is first and within 15 minutes, we are ready to look for the hotel van. I realize my TSA approved lock on the big suitcase along with the zipper tags are gone again. This is the same thing that happened in January when we traveled to Florida.

We ask a lady at the information desk where to catch the Best Western bus. She says, “Go out that door and wait for the bus in lane 2.” As we stand along the curb, we have a group discussion about what “lane 2” means. We are standing at “pickup 2”. After little agreement, Hubby instructs me to return to the information desk to re-inquire. The man this time tells me that I need to go up 2 flights on the escalator and catch the Air train which will take us to “pickup 4.” This is a totally different affair than previous. Back inside we go and back up the escalator to the train. His instructions are correct and we soon find ourselves where the hotel buses actually pick up people. 5:30 we pull up outside the hotel and there is my brother waiting for us in the lobby. The tortoise has beaten the hare. After acquiring our rooms, we all gather in the restaurant for a well-deserved meal. We soon discover that all the other patrons there are also going on this trip. Then it is time to relax.

11-9-2016  Wednesday Continuing Journey

After a somewhat restless night during which I keep falling toward the middle of the bed, the alarm bids us to awaken at 6:15. Our agreed upon breakfast time is 7 am. Brother and his wife, Son-in-law and Daughter are already there when Hubby and I arrive. For me, it is a breakfast of yogurt, coffee cake, a bun, and milk. Son-in-law and Brother and Hubby pile on the potatoes, eggs, sausage etc. Brother and Son-in-law have seconds. A short relaxation period follows during which we watch all the hype and reporting about the election in which Donald Trump is the winner. “Such an unexpected upset,” the commentators say. By 8:30am, it is time to meet the hotel van for a ride back to the airport. The van driver drops us directly off at the El Al airlines. This is an unexpected nice touch. Potential passengers are starting to mingle around but nothing seems open and/or ready for business. I spy some self-service machines and we are all able to get boarding passes printed with no problem. That is the last of our check-in that goes smoothly. One of the security people tells waiting travelers to line up in the strapped off lanes and to make two lines. The line, we choose, does not seem to move. The security agents set up temporary podiums and start to call couples from the other line over and over. The guy behind us sneaks over to the other line and soon so do Son-in-law and Daughter. Hubby thinks it is rude to jump lines and insists that we stay where we are. I am just getting frustrated by this lack of progress. Soon it is Son-in-law and Daughter’s turn and I can see within the first five minutes that they are having trouble. They nod towards us and the agent goes to talk to another agent over and over. Soon we are asked to join them at their podium. They have told the agent that they are married and that they are living with their parents because the addresses on the passports are still their pre-married addresses. Because they got married in September and I knew this trip was coming up in November, I had advised Daughter not to try to change her name on her passport lest they not get them back in time. I never realized that the addresses might be a problem too. Of course, I do not know that they have said they are living with parents so now I tell the agent that they live together in their house at a different address. What a tangled web we have weaved. Oh dear! The next question is, “Do you have a marriage certificate with you?” All of us shake our head, “no.”

“Do you have some way of proving you are married?” is the next question. Ah, social media does sometimes come in handy. Son-in-law is able to pull up on Facebook a picture of them just after they have been proclaimed husband and wife standing in the front of the church. This the agent accepts. My stomach by now has turned into a knot and I am starting to feel hot and suffocated. I have visions of Son-in-law and Daughter being sent back home. Finally, I think the Israeli security people are satisfied and Hubby and I move on to checking our luggage. But Daughter and Son-in-law still are not being allowed to go. They have confiscated their carry-on backpacks so they can search them. They are instructed to wait. We decide to wait with them. “Why did I think this trip was a good idea?” I ask Daughter. The cell phone dings and the message from Sister-in-law says, “We are through security. What is happening?” As time ticks on for over an hour, I am becoming increasingly restless by the minute. Son-in-law starts to pace. Finally, the bags are returned and we are on our way to the real security check. That goes well except for forgetting to take the laptop out of my bag.

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On the plane to Tel Aviv

Around 12:30pm, we begin boarding. Poor Daughter has ended up in a seat between 2 random guys far from the rest of us due to Hubby and I switching to the exit row seats. I did not realize that she was the one between us and that Son-in-law had gotten seated with Brother and his wife.

Take off is smooth and supper is served at 2:30 pm Eastern Time. I have figured out that we will get to Tel Aviv at 11pm eastern time but it will actually be 6 am Tel Aviv time. We will have missed the night.

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Tel Aviv airport

Destination – Whistle Stop

win_20160925_07_46_51_proWe leave the house on this sunny but cool September morning around 8 a.m. The trees are just starting to display the bright reds and yellows of autumn as we begin our 250-mile drive. We are headed for New York Mills, MN, a small town located in northwestern Minnesota. So what is the attraction about New York Mills and why do we wish to travel there, you might ask? Situated there is the Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast. win_20160925_07_44_00_proIt is a unique bed and breakfast in that the owners have purchased and refurbished four old rail cars into sleeping quarters for guests. My hubby has always been in love with trains and as a special weekend to celebrate our 25th anniversary month, this seems like a cool adventure.

We decide to deviate from the printed Google directions which direct us towards all four-lane, high-speed freeways. Who wants to see the same old stuff while distracted by the mass of humanity that crowds the expressways? We begin our journey, instead, by winding our way north on Hwy 63 and then somewhat westward on the twisting Hwy 60 to Mazeppa. As we continue our journey westward on MN 19, we soon come to a detour. It seems that we drive ever further south instead of north and west. After going a fair number of miles out of the way, we are headed, at least, back in the right direction but on a different road than was our original plan. We can get where we want to go using this road too, we reason so we might as well go this way. We haven’t gone more than 10 miles or so and we come to another detour sign. You have got to be kidding. We repeat the going out of our way process all over again. By noon and after the appearance of the fourth detour in a little under 100 miles, I am starting to become paranoid every time I see an orange sign. Frustration is mounting and our progress towards our destination has been slow.win_20160925_07_44_27_pro

This whole driving experience reminds me of our 25 years of married life. As a young (relatively at 34 and 36 years old) couple, we set out on our life adventure with an image of our years together. And then there are detours – side trips that take us places we would rather not go. I think our first major detour was 3 years into our marriage when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our dream of having more than one child was delegated to the file of “wishes only.” The “maybe we can adopt” six-year second detour ended up on the road to nurse anesthesia school instead. There is some beautiful country along this road. Our latest bumpy side trip has taken us on a spiritual detour that is confusing, lonely and seems like it has no road that returns to the one that leads to our destination. We can only cling to each other and faithfully attempt to search for the road signs of God’s leading hand. So our life is mirroring this road trip.

A little after noon, we get back on our original planned route and do make our way to the quaint town of New York Mills by 2:30 p.m. Just 100 feet behind the Imperial Car that welcomes us is a modern-day railroad tracks hidden behind the trees. win_20160925_07_39_36_proThis feature presents us with authentic shrill whistles and the clacking of speeding wheels approximately every ½ hour. This is a thrilling treat for hubby but creates a problem for restful sleep. I lay there in bed several hours into the night and wonder, “Why did I think that coming to a bed and breakfast would be relaxing and restful?” I guess it is all in how one looks at the experience just like married life. After all, an adventure is supposed to be exciting, terrifying, and exhilarating; it is not supposed to be a relaxing, restful journey.win_20160925_07_48_35_pro

Our Father Reflects a Picture of God

102June has long disappeared into July but today I was reminiscing about that month– a month that holds bittersweet memories. Both my mother and my father’s birthdays were in June. Father’s Day is in June. It is with sadness that I look back at this month. Am I sad because my parents are gone to their everlasting abode? No, but I am sad over the legacy that they left, the acceptance of responsibility never uttered, the reconciliation never achieved. In my heart I have forgiven them but there is always a certain part of unfinished business left dangling – a wondering if there is a regret in the place where they have gone.

As a result of all this, I have always struggled with the image of God that I obtained from my father – the image of a being with endless power who sternly looks down at me with condemnation and uses me arbitrarily to accomplish his desires. He does not particularly care about me and whatever “love” is shown me is offered me IF I fulfill his demands. Not a very appealing picture of our Father in heaven if that picture of my earthly father is transferred to Him. But over the years, through the genuine love and caring of my husband, I had been able to develop a picture of a God who loves us first of all, has our best interest in mind, and calls gently for us to follow Him as He wants to have a relationship with us.289

My husband and I, when we got married, chose a church that preached the simple message of the gospel – the gospel that I responded to as a child in the Mennonite church. God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for the sins of the whole world on a cross so that mankind might have an everlasting relationship with Him should he so choose to accept God’s gift. As a child, I accepted God’s gift of salvation and became one of His children. I had become quite comfortable in my beliefs. Everything made sense. However, a few years ago, I began to notice more people coming into our church who would talk about their lives as if they were pre-determined by God. I found that rather odd and troubling as one of the other beliefs that had been engrained in me was that we, as image bearers of God, are able to make choices in our lives that affect the course of our life. If fact, this belief is the one that allowed me to step out into the unknown in faith while escaping my father’s oppressive control. I shudder to think where I would still be today if I had believed and accepted that all of life is pre-determined from before the world began.

Several years went by during which I did not understand that the sovereignty of God was being defined as divine determinism. One day while listening to a John Piper video in Sunday School, Mr. Piper was talking about this everything being pre-determined idea when he said, “Yes, I am a Calvinist.” What’s a Calvinist? I had no idea. I went home and began researching on the internet. Whow! 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 was the belief that “God is the all-determining reality: that is 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).”

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 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, 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.

After much reading and research, my mind and my faith were in a turmoil. Everything I have ever believed was called into question. How is it possible that people could interpret the Bible in this manner? All I could see in the Calvinistic god was my father. A god who did not really love me. A stern hard hearted being who used his created beings as puppets only for His “glory.” A god who was incomprehensible and schizophrenic. And a father who, apparently, was pre-destined to destroy his family with his pride and selfishness. I was left with so many questions and few answers. How can people interpret the Bible in so many ways? Who is right? Is there any way to escape from this pit of despair where I do not know what I believe and have no one that I can trust to make sense of all this? It is a very lonely place to be.
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I finally came upon a book called Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism by Austin Fischer that paralleled the emotional and spiritual journey of myself and helped me to return to my former belief system. I can rest in the comfort that God does love me and reaches out for a relationship with me. I only need to accept his gift through faith.073