Sunday, May 23, 2010

Life Lessons I Learned in the Holy Land (so far)

1. Just going to a holy place doesn't make you feel the Spirit.  I have to put effort forth.  My favorite moments here were when I felt the Spirit, and they happened to be when I or others around me were doing actions that invite the Spirit in: reading scriptures, singing songs about God, testifying of truth, pondering, studying a General Conference talk about Jesus' stories.  Just like in other areas of life, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

Sitting on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City.
In the Orson Hyde Garden, somewhere between
BYU Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane.

2. We don't worship the place, but the person. Touching a holy site doesn't make us more holy. Becoming more like the Savior is what makes us more holy. We can do that anywhere - in our homes, serving our neighbors, loving our friends and family, studying the scriptures, connecting to God through prayer and pondering and discussing.

Inside the Garden Tomb, listening to this beautiful Irish couple read
about Christ's resurrection in the Bible. I wept.  Beautiful.

3. Some Mormon teenage girls could take a lesson in modesty from the committed Muslim and Jewish teenage girls.

Okay teenagers, aren't you glad you don't have to wear all that dark, long clothing
all summer long?  Now do our Mormon standards of modesty seem kind of easy?

4. I felt safer trusting myself to the Church than to the government.  When my passport arrived in the mail, the government agency invited me to register my trip through their website, in case of emergency should I need their help.  I started registering for the trip and got interrupted.  Later I realized if I had any emergency I would 100% choose to go straight to the church leadership there for help, and I knew they would take care of me.  That's a nice feeling in a foreign land where you don't speak the language or know all the customs.

Many people asked if I felt safe going.  Yes I did.  I checked my heart and felt no danger or foreboding feeling.  I also felt comforted knowing the BYU Jerusalem Center is open.  As long as that is still open, the church leaders think it's safe to be here.  That's good enough for me.

5. Amy taught me this lesson.  I was trying hard to imagine Christ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, but it was difficult to focus with so many tourists in the Garden and so many honking taxi drivers outside the Garden.  Later when we discussed it Amy had an epiphany.  She said it hit her that what Christ did in that spot, He did for every person on all those big tour buses, for every honking driver outside the walls of the Garden, for everyone.  Wow.

The Garden of Gethsemane

6. Being with people who believe what you do is strengthening.

7. Love feels good. God's Spirit is there when love is freely shared. Love needs no visa, as Neal Maxwell said (see Life Lesson 13).

8.  I know enough.  I felt troubled that I didn't have time to study before I came to learn about the sites we would see, the peoples and cultures.  I was also disappointed once we arrived to realize how unsure people are of where some holy sites really happened. Then our first Sabbath was Fast and Testimony meeting.  The new group of 80 BYU students had gotten there 12 hours after us, and a number of them bore their testimonies.  One of them reminded us of a General Conference talk that said, "You know enough."  I realized I did.  I know God lives, He sent His Son to this earth, and even if we don't know exactly where all these events happened, I KNOW THEY HAPPENED.  I know He suffered for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I know He died on a cross at Golgotha, outside the city gate.  I know He was resurrected on the third day from a tomb in that very city.  I know many people got to see His resurrected body and witness of it.  I know the Savior of the World will come again to be our ruler and leader here on the earth, and we will live with Him and with our families again forever.  I know He is the only way and name where we can be saved and have peace and joy in this life and in the next.  THAT I KNOW.

9. It's never too late to learn more. I am thirsty to know more. I have never been more curious about what other religions believe and what their customs and rituals mean to them, and how they got started.

10. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only Christian church the Israeli government won't allow to tell others about our beliefs. Not even if they ask questions and beg us. Recently Elder Holland visited and gave permission for Mormons to tell someone who asks to look at That's a lot better than nothing. The lesson I learned about this is that even though the BYU Jerusalem Center tour guides can't say a word about our church or beliefs, visitors to the Center must FEEL something different there.
BYU Jerusalem Center

Sister Whipple, our tour guide, said some people put their hand over their heart and say, "What is this feeling?" I could tell the adorable German college-age man felt it - he soaked it in and didn't want to leave. The warm farewell Sister Whipple gave a large tour group, one person at a time, as they left the BYU gate, was the warmest I had ever seen a tour guide in all of our tours of the Holy Land. The Mormons can't say it, but people still FEEL it. In other words, we're preaching without preaching, through our kindness, warmth, respect, openness, the light in our eyes, the happiness in our countenances, the modest clothing, no swearing, and so on.

The  man in the cap is the German tourist.                   Sister Whipple giving a loving, warm farewell to a tour group.
11.  All three groups of us were doing the same thing: Christians, Jews, and Muslims were all there worshipping God the way we see Him. Each of these three groups has a holy day: Friday for Muslims, Saturday for the Jews' Sabbath, and Sunday for the Christian's Sabbath. They each have different ways they dress modestly - Muslim women cover their hair and neck with a scarf and wear a dress/coat over their clothes in public, Jewish men wear some type of hat to cover the crown of their head. They each have different holy places, like the Dome of the Rock for Muslims, the Western Wall for Jews, the Garden Tomb for the Christians (and of course temples for Mormons too). We're all doing the same things - worshipping God the way we understand Him.

The Dome of the Rock, behind the trees, is a Muslim mosque.
It's built on the Temple Mount where the temple stood during Solomon's
and then Christ's time.  It's also where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. 
A very holy place for all three religions.

12. There are so many good people in the world. It's better to focus on the many good people and on the similarities than on the bad people and on the differences. President Hinckley said to cultivate a spirit of affirmative gratitude for those of differing religious persuasions, saying, "Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don't look for their faults. Look for their strengths and virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life." Joseph Smith said we need to remain open to all available sources of divine light and knowledge. He said, "One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism' is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may." He exhorted Church members to "gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them." Elder Bruce R. McKonkie said, "Every truth found in every church in all the world we believe. But we also say this to all men - Come and take the added light and truth that God has restored in our day. The more truth we have, the greater is our joy..." President Howard W. Hunter said, "We seek to bring all truth together."

13. Other great leaders besides those in our faith were also called of God. Elder George A. Smith said that Muhammad (the founder of Islam, the Muslim religion) was "descended from Abraham and was no doubt raised by God on purpose... Elder Parley P. Pratt then expressed his admiration from Muhammad's teachings and said, "upon the whole...[Muslims] have better morals and better institutions that many Christian nations." Elder Orson F. Whitney said that God "is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves."

Elder B.H. Robers said, "God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend...All the great teachers are servants of God, among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God's children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them." In 1978, the First Presidency statement was released regarding God's love for all mankind. It specifically mentioned Muhammad as one of the "great religious leaders of the world" who received "a portion of God's light: and affirms that "moral truths were given to [these leaders] by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals."

Muhammad and Joseph Smith had similar beginnings. Both were very poor growing up, both had divine messengers tell them of their divine call as a prophet, both received scripture through revelation, both established a community of believers that developed into major world religions. Mohammad's main teachings are exactly what we teach - faith, prayer, fasting, repentance, alms giving, modesty, compassion, and strong families.

While meeting with Muslim dignitaries, Elder Neal A. Maxwell focused on the common heritage of Mormons and Muslims. After quoting a verse from the Curran, he said, "God is the source of light in heaven and on earth. We share the belief with you. We resist the secular world. We believe with you that life has meaning and purpose...We revere the institution of the family...Mutual respect, friendship, and love are precious things in today's world. We feel these emotions for our Islamic brothers and sisters. Love never needs a visa. It crosses all borders and links generations and cultures."

A cabinet minister in Egypt, aware of the common ground shared by Muslims and Mormons, once remarked to Howard W. Hunter, "If a bridge is ever built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church."

14. When visiting a foreign land, it's fun to try everything new that you can.  Walk the local streets, ride the local buses and taxis, chat with local people, eat the local foods, shop the local shops, visit sites that are meaningful to various religions and cultures.  Ride a camel just for fun.  Buy some clothes and jewelry you can wear at home to dress yourself in the memories you made there.  Journal or blog it to process and remember it better.  Suck all the juice out of the experience that you possibly can.

15. A smile is a universal language.  With the political tension in Jerusalem between the Muslims and Jews many people treated us as invisible.   Being the friendly person I am, it took me off guard.  Amy's used to it.  But by the end of the trip, I started offering a smile to some people, especially those who seemed to need it the most.  The ones who responded the most were children and old ladies.  It reminded me of a recent General Conference talk about no matter what the economy, we can all afford to give the gift of more smiles.  Smiles are a gift.  They melt barriers.  It made me want to smile at people more often.  Again as Neal Maxwell said, "Love never needs a visa."

16. The United States is a wonderful country.  Not perfect.  But wonderful.

17. God loves ALL his children.  All colors, all races, all cultures, all sizes and shapes, good and bad and in between.  The parable of the good Samaritan taught us that to be like God we must treat others with compassion and kindness regardless of religious, political, or racial differences.  

18.  Anything special is more special when you're with someone you love.  I can't imagine trying to tour a place like this all by myself.  I heard it's common for Europeans to do that.  Not only would I feel much more anxiety about it, but I wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much.  Beautiful is more beautiful, fun is more fun, special is more special, yummy is more yummy with someone you love.

19. Snuggle up my kids.  I missed my kids being gone for two weeks!  When I saw Amy snuggling up her kids, my heart longed to snuggle up my own kiddos at home. I want to do more of that, and less of busily rushing around like we American families tend to do.  I want to de-junk our schedules for more snuggling and chatting time, and less hurried time.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Day 14 - Welcome Home!

Saying goodbye to Amy, Tom, Joni, and Jackson.  Good thing we'll be seeing them again in six weeks for a month before they head to Texas for a 5-year PhD program.

It meant a lot to Mom to get a good photo of an Orthodox Jew with the long side hair ringlets and the religious outfit and hat.  On our bus ride (sheroot) to the airport the driver took us through quite an Orthodox neighborhood, but I only felt okay about getting a photo if the man didn't know I was taking it.  This is the best I could do.  Mom RELISHED this long drive through these Jewish neighborhoods, seeing so many dressed like this.

At the Tel Aviv, Israel airport waiting for the beginning of lots of security checks on the way home.  Because we flew standby, our luggage was required to stay in a certain blocked in area, although if one of us wanted to go get a drink we could if we show passport upon return. The silly thing was there was no bench or chair in the whole area for all the stan-by people.  What surprised us was how much more security we went through once we were in the US before we could catch the connecting flight to Utah.

All our wishes came true about our flight home. 
1) None of our suitcases were overweight ($90 for one extra pound and we didn't have a scale to know ahead!)
2) Nobody noticed how heavy our carryon luggage was (we figured it was probably overweight as we stored our clay oil lamps inside).
3) We finally got on the flight!  After a New York flight got postponed indefinitely, we heard some of those passengers were being put onto our flight, so we got pretty nervous about getting on, and it only flies once daily around midnight.
4) We didn't get in trouble, or get confiscated the crown of thorns I bought as a souvenir and stored in the small black carry on in Mom's cart. I worried they may get me in trouble for bringing something sharp that could be a weapon.  At one point I even had a man check it by hand after the x-ray, but he let it go.  Whew.
5) We made it just in time from Israel to go through all the security and catch the flight from Atlanta to Utah.  We were a sweaty mess by then. 
6) Okay, one wish didn't come true.  We were hoping to fly first class on at least one of the four flights.  That's OKAY.  We flew for FREE other than taxes and fees.  You can't beat the price!!  How blessed we were.

[Trying to locate this photo again]

My sweet friend Lisa Bezzant gave me some money to treat myself to a treat on my trip.  The first day at the airport Mom and I were eyeing the Cinnabons.  On the way home we each bought ourself one.  This is us loaded down with our luggage at the SLC airport.  I bought a new carry-on suitcase in the Old City to carry my souvenirs!

Oh my goodness!  Mike surprised me by being home at lunchtime when I got home!!  I was THRILLED!  This is one tired, sticky-sweaty, dirty girl grateful to be in the arms of the love of her life! 

On the flight home from Atlanta, I sat next to an adorable missionary on his way home from Argentina, ready to go back to BYU Idaho.  We happily chatted almost the entire flight.  Young men like him give me hope for my daughters that there are Stripling Warriors out there for them to marry.

Mike showed so much love in his face as he showed me several nice things he had done for me -- cleaned the house, hired the neighbors for an overdue carpet cleaning, bought me beautiful flowers...

...And two tax return purchases, curbing for the front yard and a new computer for me!  I also was thrilled to see the three burgundy trees our friend Casey Stanger gave us and helped plant by the sidewalk around the time I left.  And surprised by the two new houses going up lickety-split. I felt drenched in Mike's love. He also showed me little piles of Mothers Day cards and gifts the kids had made for me.

Souvenirs!  I got each person a small stone from the Sea of Galilee, a Jerusalem church bag, an olive wood spinning top, and a t-shirt.  The girls also got some fun jewelry.  Grace got the most presents because today is her BIRTHDAY! 

The three littles are off track from school as of today, and Malia came home for lunch to welcome me home, which was touching to me.

The goofy twinners showing off their t-shirts.  (My computer is in the background.  Now my computer will work the way its supposed to, AND the kids get the old [fixed] one so I can use mine whenever I want!)

Grace thinks my skirt is her dress.  She likes my scarf too. She loves photos taken of her!  Can you tell?

The Old City of Jerusalem - Mom's Favorite

Imagine living and working in a city where the streets and walls are all made of stone. No grass, no trees. Just lots of stone. That's the Old City of Jerusalem.

I'm not sure how I got so many photos of the streets being empty, as much of the time they're crowded.

Laundry hanging from windows inside the Old City of Jerusalem.

Notice how not one street here is flat. They're all hills, steps...

...or a combination of steps with ramps so people with cargo carts can traverse these hills.

Damascas Gate, the one closest to Amy's bus stop, and the fanciest gate of them all.   

Mom loves the long, narrow, stone streets of the Old City.  Some are covered and some are open to the hot sun.

Cute little Arab men playing a game.

Look at all that candy.  My favorite is the one on the right (top) - sesame seeds with honey.

This man won the "most pushy salesman award."  He coaxed us in to look at his nativities, which we told him we already bought those, then showed us only jewelry. He put a shimmery blue necklace on mom's neck and said, "You can't take it off, only I can take it off."  He said since business is slow today, for Americans, $120, then when Mom gasped, he said, "But for Mormons only $80."  Not sure how he knew we were Mormons, maybe we told him we were from Utah. He said, "Mormons don't drink coffee, tea.  But orange.  Do they drink water?"  We laughed.  Every time we tried to say "No, we are cheap, we don't buy real stones," he would throw out a lower price.  He ended around $40 with us hurrying out the store.  So funny.

This man may have won second place.  We got to "wheel and deal" with him twice because Mom accidentally lost the bag with the shirt I bought from him, so we went back the next day for a replacement.  He said about us asking for a deal again, "Oh you are breaking my heart again."  As we left he said, "Don't lose it again!" Then he turned around and saw that Mom had left her water bottle in his store.  We all got a good laugh out of that.

Shaban, our favorite Arab shop owner.  He loves the Mormons and has great deals on his souvenirs.  Mom is buying a widow's mite coin for Dad. He has an amazing memory for recognizing lots of types of coins.  He used the book to show us how they matched.

Mom's a thrifty Scottish gal, but at only $5 for a fun skirt at Shaban's shop, I finally talked her into buying one.

Mom got a kick out of this shop owner.  He invited us inside saying he wouldn't be pushy.  I said, "If this is his version of not pushy..."  After a while he said, "Sorry I talk so much, but I have to try."

The carts people push down the narrow stone streets, using a flat tire as a break they step on.

Garbage truck (I think) with a man sitting on top.

Day 14 - Last Day - Tunnel Tour by the Western Wall

A tiny portion of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount from Christ's time is all we can see remaining. That is where Jews come from all over the world to pray. This tour is of underground excavations of a much larger part of the Western Wall.

The tunnel tour showed us arches holding up the Herodian raod which ran alongside the Temple Mount.  Here is a video clip showing the tunnel.

A cool model of the Temple Mount Herod built around the temple around Christ's time.  The wall on the left is the Western Wall.  The white building on top is the Holy of Holies of the temple.

The white lights show the tiny part of the Western Wall left above ground today.  We got to see much of what's left underground.

The smooth stone on the lower part of the wall is one LARGE stone in the Western Wall from Christ's time.  It is an astounding 45 feet wide and 15 feet deep.  We have no idea how they moved it.  Mike wonders if they carved it where they found it.  I wish I could remember what this huge arch meant.

A close up of the same. 

Joni enjoying the tour.  This little five year-old niece of mine was a TROOPER.  She loved going places with us. She has no idea how amazing it is that her daily life is seeing sites from Christ's time.  Just another day in the life of Joni.

Herod carved the stones with a smooth surface and an inner carved border.

This is the part of the wall closest to the Holy of Holies, where it means the most to the Jews to pray, believing their closest to God's presence.

My sister Amy is six feet tall, so she appreciated the soft padding attached to low spots of the tunnel.

This floor is the same floor next to the Temple Mount when Christ lived here. Mine and Amy's feet.