Saying Goodbye to Home

It’s been one week. One whole week since I left my beloved Jerusalem and returned back to the states. Words have failed me.

My last week in the Holy Land was certainly one to remember. I’ve put off writing this blog because every time I sit down to my computer, I just can’t seem to find the words. But I know, above all else, that my experiences are not just for me. They are for you, dear reader. Thus, I can’t let this opportunity go by without chronicling it.

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So, our last week. My sweet friends and I started our free day (Sunday) by doing a “religious pilgrimage” of all the sites we love most. We waited in a crazy long line to see the Edicule (Tomb of Jesus) in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We saw the Dome of the Rock and stood on the Temple Mount one last time. We tried (and failed) to get into an Armenian Church. We visited the incredible artwork in the Church of Alexander Nevsky. We read the account of Pilate and Jesus at one of the supposed sites outside Jaffa Gate where Jesus would have been presented to the multitudes. We walked forever into West Jerusalem to get dinner at this delicious Mediterranean place called Menza (highly recommend). We joked and laughed and enjoyed the sunshine and just tried to absorb it all.

Monday and Tuesday were some of the most meaningful field trips I’ve ever been on. Appropriately entitled “The Last Week of Jesus’ Life,” we followed the steps the Savior took during His last days. We started at Bethany, home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We visited the Tomb of Lazarus and go the opportunity to stand at the wall erected by the Israelis to separate the West Bank from the rest of Israel. I’m not here to pass judgement on the politics surrounding it, but that foreboding, 30-foot wall certainly brought tears to my eyes for all the people it has hurt.

Next, we visited the sites of Bethpage, Dominus Flevit, and Dormition Abbey (commemorating the death place of the Virgin Mary). We got spontaneously invited to join a Bar Mitzvah and we sang and dance our hearts out. We also stopped at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (meaning “cockcrow” in Latin), a site I had already been to on the eve of the Day of Atonement. It is symbolic of the 3 denials Peter made of Christ “before the cock crew,” and it is absolutely stunning inside. One of my dear friends Holly began to sing into the stifling silence of the church, and hearing her sweet voice echoing around the high ceilings of that chapel brought tears to my eyes and peace to my heart.

Our last stop of the first day was at the Cenacle, or the Upper Room. This spot commemorates the Last Supper experience. While there, I had the opportunity to share simple devotional. After much pondering, I decided to talk about remembrance. I find it so significant that, though 2000 years have past, some traditions have endured—the Sacrament being one of them. Why? So much of the world history has been lost over the years, but the story of Jesus Christ, of what He taught–it is still around today. I think that is God’s way of telling us that it is infinitely and eternally important. It is our sacred duty to keep remembering, to keep telling the story and to keep the traditions alive.

Our second day field trip was one that was so incredibly tender to me. We first went to the Orson Hyde Garden, a spot on the Mount of Olives that commemorates Orson Hyde’s dedication of the Holy Land. The gardens are beautiful, and have a wonderful view of the Old City.

But then we went to Gethsemane. Over these past four months, this site, above all, has been most meaningful to me. We didn’t go into the traditional garden. We walked a little northward along the Mount of Olives and sat amongst the olive trees there. We talked about what was accomplished in this spot, about how the world was changed and it happened right there. We were encouraged to just sit and think. I had millions of thoughts racing around my head, but one came through loud and clear: what happened here, happened for me. Plain and simple. A sacred moment indeed.

Similarly, we went into the Gethsemane Grotto, a lesser-known spot associated with the Atonement of Christ. It’s near the Tomb of Mary (not Dormition Abbey–Jerusalem is funny) and right across the street from the traditional garden. It’s a little cave, where they’ve found the remains of a 1st century oil press–a real live “Gethsemane.” There are theories that when the poor apostles and Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover, rooms would have been expensive and hard to find. Many caves were rented during this time, as the oil presses would have been dormant (olives are harvested in October) and it would have been sheltered. Some scholars think that either the Savior went into a cave to suffer and the apostles waited outside, or vice versa (this theory would explain why the apostles fell asleep–they thought they had come home for the night, why shouldn’t they sleep before the busy Passover days?). Regardless of the true origins, this little cave holds a very special place in my heart. It is another place for me to go to feel closer to my Savior. For me, that is enough.

On this day, we also visited the remains of the Pools of Bethesda, where the lame man was healed, and went into St. Anne’s, a church for Jesus’ grandmother. We got to sing and hear other sing their hymns, as the acoustics are incredible.

Our day ended at the Garden Tomb. It was surreal knowing this was the last time (at least for a good long while) I would visit this place. Even though I don’t personally believe that it is the location of the tomb of Jesus, there is still a special spirit about it. At the JC, we often talk about how we don’t know for sure if any of the sites we go to are the actual places, but the fact that millennia’s worth of pilgrims have visited it makes it sanctified just by their faith and devotion. This concept has certainly helped me reconcile how I feel about the Holy Land and it’s traditional sites.

The next day was supposed to be our last. My original flight plan had me leaving Wednesday evening for a red eye to Paris, then a direct flight to Salt Lake. Unfortunately (or fortunately), due to strikes at Air France, our flight got cancelled, which affected about 55 of us. This caused an enormous amount of stress all at once, but I ended up getting a flight the next evening going from Tel Aviv to New York to Salt Lake.

So I had an unexpected extra day in Jerusalem! We spent a lazy day hanging out, hitting the city for a few last sites, watching movies late into the night, jumping into giant piles of pillows and comforters, and essentially living our best lives.

The next day there was massive flash flooding (10 people were killed) but we still managed to sneak out to the Garden of Gethsemane one last time to consecrate some oil. While there, we met the man who has been tending the garden for 21 years, essentially keeping those 2000-year-old trees alive. Though I was hours from leaving, I couldn’t help but be struck by just how incredible every last second of this trip has been. It is moments like these I will treasure most.

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And then came the dreaded final hours. We made a mega-table in the Oasis and had our “last supper,” which even included ice cream. We gave our last hugs and said our last goodbyes to our professors and their families. I stood out on the terrace for a long while, just soaking it all in one last time. 107 days. That’s all I got in Jerusalem. 107 sunsets, 107 sunrises. I listened to the call to prayer one last time. I breathed in and out, smelling the roses. Was this place a dream, or reality?

And then we got on the bus. I started bawling the second we pulled away from the Center. It was a moment of coming full circle, recalling how I felt pulling up in our bus the first night and then seeing that same exact image (and even at the same time of day) just made it all feel so final. Someone suggested we sing “I’m trying to be like Jesus” as our parting song, and I made it through exactly 3 words before I was uncontrollable. We had a beautiful devotional about taking our skills and using them in our lives going forward. Through it all, I couldn’t help but feel an odd mixture of sadness and peace.

And before I knew it, we were at the airport, getting our last exit visas. 12.5 hours later, we were back on American soil, and 7 hours after that I hugged my mom and dad for the first time in nearly four months.

I have no other word to encapsulate my time in Jerusalem. All I can say for now is my simple testimony: I know that Jesus Christ lives. He walked the land of Israel, preaching truths that endure to today. He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, was crucified, and rose on the third day. Living like Him gives us a path back to God, and gives us immeasurable happiness along the way. I know it more now, but a little part of me has always known it. It is the truth, and because of it I am a better person.

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To my Jerusalem family: There are not words. I know that each and every one of us was put into this program at this time for a specific reason. Even though we sometimes disagreed (rather like siblings often do), I learned valuable something from each and every one of you. You made me laugh and cry and every day I loved you more and more. You are not my friends, you are my family—all 83 of you. I wish I could continue to live with each of you forever, but I know that our paths will cross again and again throughout our lives. I also believe that each and every one of you will continue to grow into the incredible people you were meant to be, and I for one cannot wait to witness it. I love and miss you all terribly.

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And to you, my beautiful city: this isn’t goodbye. I have absolutely no doubt that I will be back someday. Until then, thank you for making me who I am. Thank you for stretching my heart and enlarging my soul. Thank you for giving me an appreciation and love for all religions, cultures, and people. Thank you for making me uncomfortable and for forcing me to grow in ways I never imagined. Thank you for the deeply difficult days and the unbelievably exceptional ones. Thank you for making me the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m eternally grateful for you. May the memory of these 4 months never fade. See you soon.

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A Special Witness: The Prophet in the Holy Land

Sooooooo. This past weekend was fun.

For those who haven’t heard, Russell M. Nelson, prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on a global ministry tour. He’s accompanied by the fabulous Sister Wendy W. Nelson, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and Sister Pat Holland. He’s visiting 8 countries in 11 days, and guess where his second stop was?

That’s right. Jerusalem.

The whole Jerusalem Center has been abuzz for weeks, ever since they oh-so-casually mentioned who would be presiding over our district conference.

It has been 19 years since a prophet came to the JC. Every so often, visiting general authorities stop by, but it is rare to see a prophet testifying against the skyline of Jerusalem.

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Credit to mormonnewsroom.org

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to diligently prepare for his arrival. It’s a little like general conference, where you try to go into it with questions so you can come out more spiritually enlightened. It has meant a lot of time spent on my knees, reading old talks of President Nelson’s, and generally trying to become spiritually prepared. Not that I’ve been perfect at this by any means, but I like to think that it was my willingness to prepare that affected how my weekend went.

We started our Sabbath services with a special women’s session. We heard the sweet testimony of Sister Sheri Dew–who is a spiritual powerhouse and my idol. We heard a talk from Sister Pat Holland, who is so tender-hearted and Christlike (and after the meeting gave me a kiss on the cheek). They both gave such incredible testimonies of the influence of women in the church.

We also heard from Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of the prophet and inspiration to women everywhere. During her talk and others, I was just so struck by the power of women in our church. Practically nothing could get done without us. We have priesthood power that we can utilize to enact change around us. We are not subservient to our husbands/boyfriends/men in our lives, but are equal partners that hold equal (though different) responsibility and influence in the world and in the church.

And then came the general session. I sat directly up front, meaning that I sat about 5 feet away from President Nelson, Sister Nelson, Elder Holland, and Sister  Holland. There is just a special spirit that settles about that group–they are human, but very much connected to the Lord. President Nelson even gave me a wink and a smile a few times!

Their messages were amazing. Our district president and the secretary of the prophet both gave concise, powerful testimonies that had takeaways I’ve already began to implement into my life. I cried my way through Elder Holland’s talk about the Savior calming the seas, which was somehow exactly what I needed to hear. I couldn’t help but grin at how sweet Sister Holland’s testimony of the prophet was. Sister Nelson’s talk gave me shivers when she talked about her husband receiving revelation.

And then the prophet stood up to address us. The man I had just sustained as prophet, seer, and revelator. The man I consider to be the most connected to God here on Earth. This was the moment I had been preparing for for months. And it was incredible.

He talked about Christ as a man who walked the streets of this Holy Land. He talked about leading the church in these days. He talked about the Book of Mormon. He spoke of the symbolism the physical Holy Land has and why the Savior chose to complete His earthly ministry here–which I’ve been in awe of for the past four months, but hearing him state it as facts just added another layer of meaning. He spoke with power and conviction, the double timbre of someone saying words that come from God. At the very end, he pronounced a blessing upon us in this meeting, and upon this beautiful land I have grown to love so dearly. It isn’t every day that you get a direct blessing from a prophet of the Lord.

I am eternally grateful for this incredible opportunity I had–it truly is a unique one . There is so much I gained from this experience, both expected and unexpected. I know that there is a reason I was given this specific experience at this particular time in my life. I’ve been going over the lessons I learned over and over, always trying to glean something new. And every single time, I’ve found something that has touched my heart and my soul.

So anyways. I love this land. I love who I’ve become here, because I’m totally different and more than okay with it. The gospel is true. The prophet is good. God is good. And life is oh so good.

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The Nelsons–I’m about 5 feet behind them // credit to mormonnewsroom.org

Jordan: Land of Wonders

Surprise! The blog post is coming out a little early because 1) we just got back from Jordan and I’m bursting to write about it, and 2) there are some exciting things coming up this weekend that will deserve a separate blog post. Stay tuned.

So we went to Jordan this week! The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is incredibly beautiful. I’m especially grateful that I had the opportunity to visit, because I don’t think I would have ever considered going on my own, which is a shame because it truly was a magical experience.

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These camels actually smiled for my pic.

We saw some amazing things, including a supremely well-preserved Roman city called Jerash, where I was able to dig out little fragments of Roman glass from a pottery dump and climb on all the columns and monuments. We once again went to the border of Syria and briefly talked about the Syrian refugees living in Jordan (about 1.2 million of them). We visited a traditional baptism site of Jesus at the Jordan River (where I saw Johnny’s baptism a few weeks ago!) on the Jordan side. We went to another site called Umm Qais, and I set a new record of 28 selfies in about 15 minutes (I met a group of schoolgirls who had never met an American before, and they all wanted pictures with me and to touch my hair–they were so cute I just had to oblige).

We went to the King Abdullah Mosque in Amman, where the girls were given what felt like Jedi robes to cover ourselves, and our traditional scarves. We removed our shoes, entered the huge central room of the mosque, and heard a sung call to prayer and verse from a 10-year-old who has memorized about 80% of the Quran. I will never cease to be amazed by the faith and pure devotion of the Muslims.

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We also got to visit an LDS chapel and hear the story of the first Arab Mormon couple to be sealed in the temple (Hong Kong temple–shoutout to my sweet missionary friend Kayla serving there now!). Their son is the first Arab-Mormon born into the covenant in Jordan. He’s a toddler, and very cute. Their story was incredible, and I couldn’t help but feel God’s tangible love for this little family. Being a Mormon in the Middle East (and especially in Jordan) is very difficult and opens you up to much discrimination and persecution, but they have persevered and stayed true to their faith. It’s truly moving.

But the absolute highlight of our time in Jordan was PETRA.

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Just look at it. It was absolutely unreal.

We first went to Petra by night. The walk to the Treasury, which is the famous site you probably recognize, is a little more than a mile. The whole path was lined with these beautiful paper lanterns, giving off just enough light to keep you on the trail. You travel through the wadi (which is a sort of slot canyon), which winds into the hills. And then, very suddenly, you stumble upon this amazing ancient monument.

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The night service included a sermon/dialogue from one of the local Bedouins about connecting your soul with the place and nature, and then a spectacular light-up of the monument. This setting felt a little like a surreal dream, with people lounging on mats and sand, listening to the echoes of the sermon in the dim lighting of the lanterns, and just feeling the magic of this place. It was pure enchantment, and a great introduction to the wonders of Petra.

The very next day, we spent about 8 hours in the park. I’ve never been on so many exhausting hikes in one go, but it was amazing. We climbed up to an altar on the top of a mountain (called a “high place”) for the Nabateans to sacrifice on. The view from that cliff was incredible, and I just had to dangle my feet over the edge (sorry dad!).

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We also trekked to the second-most famous site at Petra–the Monastery. By the time we were done with this site, we had climbed more than 200 floors and walked 10-12 miles in about 6 hours. I’ve never had such jelly legs, but it was so worth it. How can you complain when you get to sit among ruins like these?

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I took about 300 pictures of the scenery because every single shot was so picturesque and photogenic. Nearly every photo I took turned out amazing, and I’m already going through and reminiscing on all the memories. I can’t imagine a more perfect album of a perfect day. Of course, to top it all off, we also got to ride camels…what else are you supposed to do in Petra?

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If you are ever considering a visit to Jordan, I would thoroughly recommend it. It wasn’t on my radar until I moved to the Middle East, but it really should have been. At the very least, put Petra on your bucket list. It was one of the highlights of my life.

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3 weeks

There is something so sad about hitting 3 weeks until returning to the states. Jerusalem has been a lifelong dream for me, and this experience is so quickly coming to a close that I can’t help but panic a little, thinking about how much I haven’t done and desperately wish I had.

But then I remembered: life goes on. I can’t live in Jerusalem forever (maybe in the future, but I have responsibilities for now). I can still have deeply spiritual experiences at home. I can still find amazing friends-turned-family who not only support my crazy ideas, but run along with them. I can still find connections with my Savior, because His gospel is not tied to a geographical connection, but to each and every heart that follows Him.

In spite of the bittersweet tang, this week was still so incredible. It was orthodox Holy Week and the end of Passover, so there were still so many pilgrims/general people in the city. I met so many people of all nationalities and ethnicities who had amazing stories of faith and devotion, enough that they traveled thousands of miles to be here to celebrate it. I find it humbling and simply amazing. You think I’d be less in-awe of this after these many months here, but I still feel like I did on the first day I stepped onto the time-worn steps of Jerusalem.

A couple other quick highlights, since I’m packing for the newest adventure this week:

The Kotel Tunnel tour: On Monday, we walked to the Western Wall to do an underground tour of the excavations along the temple mount. We got to walk along the previously covered foundation stones of the Western Wall and see the edges of the ancient street that used to run right along the temple mount. The most impressive thing to me were the women worshipping at a certain section of the wall that is closest to where the Ark of the Covenant used to be. There is a certain Jewish belief that the Ark was hidden under the temple mount during various takeovers, and that it is still buried there. They were there to pray at the closest point to the Ark—not only to be at the Western Wall, but to go underneath and find the exact closest spot. That is the ultimate devotion.

The Christian Quarter Field Trip: Most of the sites on this field trip weren’t new to me, but I did notice many new things. For example, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we met with Father Fergus, who led us to a secret Crusader chapel in the back of the Church to talk to us about his life and ministry. We stood in a section called the Women’s chapel, dedicated to the women who stood at the foot of the cross as the Savior was crucified (from this spot, you can easily see Golgatha/Calvary). We heard a prayer sung in Aramaic (the language the Savior would have spoken) from a Syrian coptic lady at St. Mark’s Church (one of the traditional sites of the Upper Room where Christ instituted the sacrament) and heard her own testimony of the miracles brought about by faith in Christ and the Church. I’ve witnessed so many of the Ethiopian coptics, who are flooding the city this week, dressed in white and shouting their praises to the heavens. They are not only physically beautiful, but spiritually bright as well.

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Saw Jesus & co. at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

And general goodness: I’ve started to just savor every single moment, even if it means letting go of my insane type-A personality for a second. I’ve been darting out to the Old City to just explore every corner of it at every opportunity. I went to an abandoned Palestinian village, where I climbed on ruins and got hopelessly and wonderfully lost. I’ve stayed up far too late watching rom-coms and hanging out in the beautiful library, following dead-end clues to a frustrating scavenger hunt (it’s a long story). We went out to dinner one night at a cute little place called Zuni’s where I had the most amazing french toast and the best company. Today I ate homemade falafel and hummus at the wood-carving/nativity shop we all frequent, then went shopping in West Jerusalem for a new church outfit for the exciting events we have coming up–and I was even made to feel beautiful by my sweet friends who are definitely family to me. We’ve explored this beautiful center we live in, finding all the little hidey-holes and secret nooks. We’ve acted like the ridiculous 20-somethings we are. Even as I’m writing this, I am eating a crepe smothered in dulce de leche, ice cream, and nutella that we ordered in from a little shop in East Jerusalem. Life is good.

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Hummus, pita, falafel, and juice (fav food tbh) with Jimmy.

 

I hope everyone has a wonderful week. There is no reason you shouldn’t be enjoying your life, even if circumstances seem beyond happiness. There are always simple moments that make life beautiful, if bittersweet. Find those, and never let go.

Holy Week in the Holy Land

I have been looking forward to writing this post since I signed up for this program almost 10 months ago. It is one of the big reasons I decided to come to Jerusalem during the Winter semester over any other. To date, it has been the best few days of my life: Holy Week in the Holy Land.

There is something just so insanely wonderful about experiencing the commemorations of Christ’s last few days in the place they happened. I just had to do a special blog post for it, because I desperately want to remember every second of it for the rest of my life. To date, I would cite these days as the best, most emotional, most joyous, and most spiritually uplifting of my whole life.

We started this week in Galilee, but returned to Jerusalem just in time for the start of the Passion of Christ–the Day of Atonement. We celebrated by walking down to the Church of All Nations, which is the church next to the Garden of Gethsemane.

The mass was in 10 different languages, and the church was absolutely PACKED. We were shoved in like little sardines, standing room only. I was absolutely dead on my feet after a full day of touring the Galilee, but the simple words the Savior asked His disciples on this very night 2000 years ago– “could ye not watch with me one hour?”–kept running through my mind. So I stood with the masses and pondered on the events that happened among these trees two millennia ago. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many Christians of different denominations and nationalities and knowing that we were all united in one purpose.

After the service, my group literally ran outside so we could get ahead of the processional. It was pouring rain as we walked, a very fitting setting for us–we could suffer a little on the day that the Savior suffered for us. We walked to the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. The church is on the traditional site of the high priest Caiaphus’s home, where Peter denied Christ thrice before the cock crew (Gallicantu translates to “cock’s crow”). Next to the church, there are steps that date to Christ’s time. They went from the summit of Mount Zion to the Kidron Valley (where Gethsemane is). Legend says that on the evening of Christ’s arrest, He likely would have taken this route with His disciples on the way from the Last Supper to Gethsemane.

The extra cool thing about these ancient steps is that they are only open to walk on one day a year–the Day of the Atonement. We got to stumble down in the dark, as the candles lining the path had gone out from the rain. Once again, it was a fitting metaphor–that though the physical light had gone out, the light of our faith still carried us on. At the bottom, we stood together on the darkened hillside overlooking the City of David and reflected on the events of a night like this almost 2000 years ago. We sang “He is Risen!” and one of my favorite primary hymns, “He Sent His Son.” The spirit of this moment was undeniable and something I think I’ll think about for years to come.

And that was only the beginning. We were locked down in the center on Good Friday because it was Passover for the Jews, Good Friday for the Christians, and there were a million people in the Old City. It was kind of good for me to have a day in the JC to just think about what my Savior suffered on this day. He was condemned, beaten, taken to Golgatha, nailed to a cross, and crucified. We often list these events like their just facts in a narrative, but the emotional upheaval He must have felt, as well as the despair His followers would have experienced, would have been absolutely crippling. How difficult it would have been for the people in Jesus’ time…dark times indeed. I thought about this even throughout my own Sabbath meetings on Saturday–a day of traditional uncertainty–and how you would have felt that the end was near.

But all of this has a hopeful note, because the dark days do always end. I started my Easter celebration by attending the baptism of the 8-year-old son of one of our professors in the Jordan River–traditional site of Jesus’ baptism.

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The Jordan River!

The place was full of palpable joy (we were conducting our baptism next to a large group of African protestants who were the happiest group of people I’ve ever seen, despite the nasty water) and I couldn’t help but share the grin on Johnny’s  face as he came up out of the water. What a way to remember this season by watching a bright young soul joining Christ’s church.

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Notice the white dove above them!

And then 4:45 a.m. on Resurrection Day came. I rolled out of bed and rushed to the Garden Tomb to participate in a sunrise Baptist service. There were literally thousands of people in the garden, all praising Christ so openly. I couldn’t help but choke up a little watching men and women with their hands in the air and tears streaming down their cheeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love my church services, but there was something so pure about the joy I felt in the early morning light of the best day humankind has ever had.

I could go on and on about what I felt in the Garden Tomb, but my day certainly didn’t end there. I went to more church–yes, more church–at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. I’d never been to mass, so for my first one I thought I’d go big and go to one half in English and half in Arabic, led by a man and woman. Definitely a little different than my usual worship, but beautiful nonetheless.

After the service, we wandered the city a little. There were processionals EVERYWHERE, many with marching bands, bagpipes, tambourines, and hundreds of trailing Christians just reveling in being here on this day. The city was practically unnavigable, but I’ve never seen it so alive. We decided to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where I was able to talk to a few really special people, all of whom bore simple and sweet testimonies of Christ despite language barriers. I wish I could have chatted with every one of the thousands in that church, but each of them bore their testimony to me just by being where they were–a gentle reminder to me to exude my beliefs in actions and deeds, not just in words.

 

I ended the day with–you guessed it–MORE CHURCH!!! Woohoo!!! We watched the Sunday morning session of General Conference. It’s funny, because Salt Lake feels a world away, but the whole process was so endearingly familiar. All I was missing was my dad’s famous french toast and my comfiest pj’s. Also, I love President Nelson. Beyond being the cutest old man alive, he really does heal hearts (as he has done all his life). Plus, I get to meet him in a few weeks! And I couldn’t be more ecstatic to hear what he has to say to us.

Though Holy Week is over, it’s never really over in our hearts. As I sat in that Garden Tomb and various chapels throughout the week, I’ve just been struck by the devotion of the people I’ve surrounded myself with. So many people have found Christ and have never let go for a single second, and I couldn’t help but ask myself if I was really doing the same. I don’t really have an answer to that, because I think conversion is an everyday process, one we decide on every morning and in every second of our days. All I know is that I’m getting there, and for now, that’s enough.

Finals Thoughts from Galilee

Our final days in Galilee were ones of deep introspect for me. I couldn’t help wishing I had just a few minutes more sitting on that beach and reading my scriptures or just sitting quietly, pondering the events of this land. But as one of my family members here on the trip (for indeed, we have become like family to one another) said: “cool places are only cool if they leave imprints on our hearts.” So my goal this week was to let Galilee imprint on my heart so that I can remember it forever.

There are so few people who get the opportunity to spend as much time as I did in the Galilee. 11 days of quiet, spiritually-enlightening moments is more than I get in normal life, and it was a nice hiatus from the hustle and bustle and normalcy (if there is such a thing) I have in Jerusalem. I got so much time to just sit and enjoy the homelands of my Savior. In doing so, I grew to know Him as a person rather than a divine being.

While I love both aspects, I am in total awe of Him as a man. He was one who lived in squalor among the poor. He was often starving, had calloused hands, and an unkempt appearance. He would have had dirty feet and grime under His fingernails. He was a homebuilder (the more accurate Greek translation) who likely worked long, back-breaking hours. He would have worn a simple tunic and sandals in dull colors–not exactly the robes of a king. He had grandparents, a mother and father, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. While in the divine sense He knows all of our individual experiences like a carbon copy, He also had His own earthly experiences that we all share in–and hard ones at that. What a beautiful concept this is: that He really went through His own earthly life in addition to ours. This idea has truly captivated my heart and soul.

Instead of going over the nitty gritty of this week’s events, I thought I’d share my testimony, humble as it is. I wrote this on the shores of Galilee, in a moment of solitude where I was able to just reflect on my relationship with my Savior. It isn’t much–an infant testimony if you will–but it’s mine.

“I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. He came here to Earth as we all did, and He was a man–human, though a perfect one. He ministered to all the people, poor and afflicted, sinners and Saints alike. He walked on the waters of Galilee. He calmed those same waters by the power of God. He healed, saved, and loved everyone He came into contact with. He loved us all so much, He walked that lonely walk down into the Garden of Gethsemane, where He suffered for my sins. He endured betrayal, condemnation, flagellation, and crucifixion.

Yet on the third day He rose, proving that the grave has no final victory. Because of Him, I can live and love deeply by His example. I can achieve greatness both here on Earth and in the life to come. I can achieve eternal glory and exaltation because of Him.

But most prominently, I can find a friend in Him. He cares deeply and knows me intimately. My hurts and sorrows, as well as my triumph, are shared with one who knows perfectly. I am ever grateful that I am a proud member of His church today. Though it is full of flawed people, Christ’s gospel is flawless. He is there for me, through thick and thin, holding me every step of the way. I am honored to bear His name each and every day. I seal this witness in His name, Jesus Christ, Amen.”

 

Walking on Water

Hello from the Sea of Galilee!

This week I have been staying on Jewish kibbutz at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is just about everything you could imagine and more being here in northern Israel, where the fields are lush, the sun shines bright, and the people are impossibly friendly. There is oh so much I adore about this place–it would be impossible to relate it all to you. But I can say that there is something truly special about spending time in the place where Christ spent most of His mortal ministry.

On our first day up in Galilee, we went to Mount Arbel, the most prominent cliff overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We talked about how this was one of the more likely sites where Jesus may have met the apostles before ascending into heaven after His crucifixion. We were given just a few minutes to ponder and pray, and up on that lonely cliff I could really imagine the Savior standing before His disciples and telling them to continue His work after He left. We were asked to think about our own ministries here on Earth, and what kind of legacy we want to leave behind. That has been my focus for this week: creating a ministry and a legacy that I am proud of. I am only human, but I’m trying to be a better human. I don’t really know of much more that I could do.

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View from Mount Arbel, Western Galilee.

We began the rest of our fantastic week by visiting Capernaum, the home-base of Christ’s earthly ministry. At this spot, we discussed the cultures of 1st century life and what it would have meant to be a member of the society of Capernaum. So many people were poor–Christ included–and in need of healing. They had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by becoming a follower of Christ. It really brought a perspective of humility to my eyes. If I want to truly change my life and others around me, I have to humble myself. I have to decide that the things I could “lose” by truly following the Savior are just temporary whims and what matters most is worth losing those things for. It sounds so easy in theory, but application is always much harder. But I’m trying, and often times that is enough.

Another surprisingly influential spot was Magdala, a place I had never even heard of before coming here. It is the home of Mary Magdalene (literally “Mary of Magdala) and a place that Jesus spent a lot of time during His life. There is a beautiful church there dedicated to the women in Christ’s life. We saw beautiful murals and artwork depicting women, including a stunning one of the woman with the issue of blood touching the hem of Christ’s tallit. In the central hall, there were columns bearing the names of Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, and the women standing at the base of the cross–there was also a blank column, representing all the women who still find a connection with Christ. I love that women were highlighted–in many ways, they were crucial facilitators of Christ’s message, and I fully believe that women still take that role today.

Instead of going home by bus after Capernaum and Magdala, we took a boat across the sea! We stopped in the middle to sing “Master the Tempest is Raging,” and I could imagine what the disciples felt like out on those choppy waters. It would have absolutely terrifying, knowing you were at the total mercy of those waves and having no hope of rowing back in to safety. On a few mornings here at Ein Gev, we’ve woken up to terrible wind and huge waves–storms come fast and loud on the Sea of Galilee. Luckily, we had clear skies and sunshine out on the water on our ride, but it has really brought a perspective to those stories of Christ calming the sea that I could not have had before. When I closed my eyes, I could practically see the Savior, walking on water towards our boat. I felt just a tiny portion of the relief those terrified disciples must have felt seeing the one person who could calm the waters and save them. The same is true today, though in a more figurative sense, with Christ saving our souls. I often think of a silly, yet applicable quote I first heard in young women’s years ago:

“If you feel like you’re drowning, just remember your lifeguard walks on water.”

What an excellent comfort this statement is. We talked a lot about the story of Peter jumping out of the boat to come to the Savior, and the split second He was able to stay afloat. That is how great his faith was. We can bash on Peter’s later actions all we want, but the fact of the matter was he got out of the boat. There will often come a time in all our lives that Heavenly Father will ask us to theoretically jump out of the boat, knowing full well we might have to drown a little bit in the process. Maybe it’s so we can walk, maybe it’s so we can be saved by the Savior, but whatever the reason, we must ask ourselves: are we ready to jump out of the boat when asked?

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Cute friends on the Sea of Galilee.

There are seemingly thousands more things I could say. We visited the site of Armageddon, Nazareth (hometown of the Savior), the Mount of Beatitudes (site of the Sermon on the Mount). We sang hymns of praise for the Savior at the influential spots in His life. We splashed around in the sea and studied His life on the beach.

Through it all, I’ve had one big spiritual takeaway from this week: unusual characteristics of Christ, specifically boldness. We often have this image of Christ as this passive, kind, gentle, loving man who only spoke softly. While that is true, He was also incredibly bold. There is a reason the scribes wanted to inflict a terrible crucifixion on Him–His teachings were revolutionary, going against the grain of what we know as social laws while sticking true to the doctrines of God.

In my own life, I have been specifically told to act boldly, to ask Heavenly Father with boldness, and to proclaim what I know with boldness. I’ve loved getting to know my Savior as the courageous, confident, gutsy, fearless, and, yes, bold man that He truly was. He becomes more relatable, more of a brother figure to me. Getting to know this side of the Savior has been so important and tender to me, as I often feel I am so bold that I lack meekness and humility. But I can use this independent, feisty spirit I have been endowed with to teach and preach the gospel in the most convincing, influential way I can. This knowledge has helped me really feel that I know my place in the gospel a little better and has allowed me to come to terms with my special role in this world. And I hope I can continue to get to know this side of my Savior and myself from now on.

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