Sunrise

This morning was beautiful. Standing on the rooftop balcony of our guesthouse, I watched the early sunrise. A gentle mist rested in the sky. The hills- the Mt. Olives- were just a simple silhouette with a blue backdrop. The Dome of the Rock began to glisten in the light. Jerusalem was coming to life for another day.

Seeing this beautiful site, I cannot help but stand in awe of the Glory of God. He created this beauty. He has so much for my life- it is like the sun rising for another day above the horizon. Its assurance that He is God deserving all the honor.

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Darkness Meant For Me.

Caiaphas’ House. Now resting on site is yet another church marking the site of that which was deemed holy. Until now, the churches built on these sites distract from the purpose of the visit. They decorate the site to ultimately bring attention to their purpose rather than the actual event that occurred. But this, this was different. This was a beautiful church, however in its simplicity. We entered in to what was a normal church with the remnants of a bedrock and caves in the main chapel. As we walked around the site, we went below…to the dungeon. I could not have imagined what I was about to see. To feel. To touch.

We made our way to the caves below. It was a place where prisoners of the Pharisees were held. The Pharisees [the religious leaders for the Jews that held a lot of power] would take their prisoners and chain them to the cave walls. Caiaphas had been the Chief Priest- the main Pharisee during the time of Jesus. On the eve of Christ’s death, he had been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and taken to Caiaphas’ House. Outside of Caiaphas’ house, Jesus had to face an obstacle. The hillside in front of the house was decorated with steps. Those very steps Christ had to walk up. I imagine him having already been beaten and bruised. He was already weak and weary. Those steps were long. After having made it to the house of Caiaphas, Jesus was then taken below…to the darkness.

As I wrote above, the dungeon was beneath Caiaphas’ house. But Jesus was not held in the dungeon exactly. Instead he was treated worse. He was taken to the empty cistern. While we stood in the cistern, I couldn’t help but begin to cry. We sang “Father I adore you” and the voices echoed off the stone. Standing in silence, I felt cold. I was cold because of where we were, not the cave, but the darkness. Light was limited. Jesus was alone. Left broken in the cistern, Jesus was alone. All I could do was picture Jesus, broken, cold, bruised and bleeding weeping and crying out to the Father. For hours he was in this darkness. I gently touched the stones and the floor trying to understand.

I walked outside in contemplative silence. Finding myself on a column, I wept. So many distractions were around, therefore I moved to a wall away from the group. I wept still…broken. I moved, for the final time to the bottom of the steps. Nearby were the ruins of other caves of the dungeons- I sat inside one. Alone. Weeping. Somehow I was trying to make sense of everything. I was trying to grasp everything. Tears mixed with joy and sorrow ran down my face. The steps, the caves, that cistern, the darkness…was for me. Christ endured those steps broken to the caves beneath. He was alone in a dark cistern, weeping to the Father…for me. The Lord- Jesus- endured everything, and this was only the beginning, for the purpose of saving me. I wept more. The darkness, pain, scorn and shame that was afflicted upon him was all meant for me.

Trees and the Knesset.

Today we got to visit a few incredible things. We started our day off by planting trees. Okay so that sounds weird or out of place, but the point was to add to Israel. We each planted trees, therefore 43 new trees are growing. We have left something behind in Israel. We made a difference. It was honestly so fulfilling! I loved it! Afterward we left to go to the Parliament of Israel which is called the Knesset. The main purpose for visiting the Knesset was to become aware of the politics and way of government in Israel- understanding that helps the process of understanding the people. It was interesting, though not my favorite part of the day. If anything it showed me that the prophetic words about Israel are coming to pass. After the Knesset we went to the Old City for lunch. Shortly thereafter, we headed to something that would change my life forever. For that, I am writing it in the next post.

Exhausted.

It has been so exhausting the past two days. Because I am so tired, I will briefly write what we have done the past two days. Yesterday morning we went to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was breathtaking. Walking into the Temple Mount security was high and modesty a necessity. We stepped through the large doorways and arches into the Temple courts. However, one important thing was different. The Temple that was once a site where sacrifice was prominent for the Jewish people has become a shrine for Islam. A golden dome rises high above all else representing and name the Temple Mount as a place for the Muslims. Five times a day a call to prayer resonates throughout Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount. Devote Muslims will kneel and gently touch their head to the floor multiple times. This is a sign a of true devotion to Allah and Muhammad, his prophet. During our visit to the Temple Mount we had to make sure we had completed our tour by 10 am for the purpose of not disturbing the second call to prayer for the Muslims.

So we continued around the courts of the Temple Mount. In the view we could see the Dome of the Rock as well as the Aqsa Mosque in front of it. The Dome stands high and extravagant. The Aqsa Mosque is deep black in color lacking much decoration. Trees had been planted all over the courts, whereas during the 1st and 2nd Temple periods, no vegetation had been on the Temple Mount. Visitors from all around the world walk around the courts in awe of the history. But many also walk around and think of what is to come. The 3rd Temple. Jews all around the world believe the their Messiah will come and Israel will be restored. Part of that restoration includes the rebuilding of the final temple…the 3rd Temple. Peace will reign. Many Christians believe that the idea of the 3rd Temple is more spiritual then physical and literal. Honestly, I have no idea what to think. All I know is that prophetically God will restore this land and these people. His name will be known among the nations. He has more than enough power to physically rebuild a new temple. I leave it to God. In my mere human comprehension I cannot say what will happen. I can give, like others, a guess and an opinion. That is it.

After the Temple Mount, we left and ate lunch at the Mount of Olives. It was a gorgeous site to look at. We had a beautiful view of the Old City and the Temple. While we were on the Mount of Olives we did hear a call to prayer of the Muslims. That was definitely interesting to hear while looking at the Temple Mount. I contemplated the future and history of Israel- the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims- and all I could do was to think of the fact that the glory of God will be revealed when He desires.

We then left the Mount of Olives and went a few miles away where we participated in an archaeology dig. I was somewhat angry at the reason behind our dig. The Muslims years ago dug underneath the Temple Mount so they could create room for a new Mosque. In that process they destroyed thousands of years of history with bulldozers and shovels. Everything they dug up was broken and beaten. Some of it was even destroyed. To make it worse they used dump trucks to remove the piles of rubble into the Kidron Valley. That is why I was angry. The Muslims had no care at all to what they were destroying. Archaeologists finally were allowed to remove the piles of reuined history about one mile away into a field. Pile after pile, these archaeologists sift through to try to find substaintial pieces of history- pottery, coins, jewelry, etc. Our group assisted in the sifting through these piles. A few coins were found along with some buttons and arrow heads. Mosiac tiles and glass were also found. The point and purpose of this project is to reveal more about what lies beneath the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount. The dig was however exciting and intriguing. It was an incredible feeling to know that I was helping to uncover history of Israel.

Strange and New.

I hate this, this feeling when everything is going well, yet for some reason you cannot grasp it. I finally am happy. I am finally over my last relationship. I am free from myself. I see myself the way God does. I am so ready for where God is taking me, even though I am surrounded by uncertainty. I have amazing friends. Even though I am in Israel now, I still feel strange. I am not sure if I even have words to explain this feeling. I watch people on this trip and God is doing wonders in our lives. I am so blessed, I really am. Don’t get me wrong, I love being here and I am happy with my life right now.

But I have deep feeling inside of me that is strange and foreign. Maybe it is a combination of weariness and brokenness. Maybe I am overwhelmed by this beautiful land. But I think it is different still. I want more. I want more than what I have settled for back home. This land is mysterious yet beautiful. Wonders beyond my comprehension have happened here. Yet back home I have settle for the mediocrity of America. I am done. I am sick of it. I honestly love America, I do, but the attitude of my people is far from what I want. Even looking at people on this trip, I am aggravated. I see the students on this trip settling for the complacency of their faith rather than learning from the people here. They complain. The couples on this trip seem to only argue. This attitude is beyond draining.

And I remember myself. I have seen a transformation in my life since I have been here. But if I refuse to change my ways back home, than I am a hypocrite. I never want to forget what I have seen or done here…what I have tasted and learned. My attitude must be different. My mouth and tongue must speak love and life rather than condemnation. My eyes must see through His eyes. This feeling is so bizarre to me because I have never before felt this burdened in this way. I am burdened by what I have become. I am burdened by the people around me. I am burdened by everything back home. But these burdens do not rest on my heart but at his feet. It is not a feeling that I lack faith or trust in who God is. But rather, since I have been here, I have learned so much from these burdens and what God is doing. I am finally open. I am finally beautifully broken. I wish I could place within in words all that is running through my mind. It is impossible. All I know is that, because of my pilgrimage to Israel, I am in love with God in a brand new way. I am changing all that I am so that I might glorify Him. That I might honor Him. I trust that he will provide all that I need, however in His time. I know God will bring the right man He has for me when He sees that it is the time. I am no longer troubled by the next year of uncertainty in my life. This feeling is strange and new, but I embrace the beauty of change.

I smile.

Two weeks ago I boarded a plane on my way to Israel. So much had been on my heart and on my mind. I was broken from my last relationship. I was stressing about my soon graduation. I had no idea what I was going to do for my summer internship. My parents’ health is not great…both have been in and out of the hospital for the past year. I had so many fears. But something incredible has happened. A feel renewed. I feel a liberty and freedom I have never known. For too long I have listened to the voices of people and ignored the resounding voice of God. These past two weeks have been such a challenge on all that I am. It was the rescue I needed.

I was baptized in the Jordan River. When I came out of the water, I wept, not because of my previous fears or doubts, but rather because a renewed sense of joy. This past week I was able to gaze at the stars in the middle of the desert. It was the most beautiful site I have ever seen. I went to bed that night remembering the promise of God upon my life. Again I wept because of the glory of God. The next morning we watched the sunrise on the top of Mt. Masada. The sunrise is the symbol of this time in my life. It is a new dawning, a new beginning. The sun was beautiful rising above the mountains and reflecting on the Dead Sea. The rays gently hit my face. In that moment, I smiled.

What an incredible week. God renewed my strength in a way greater than I could have known. I no longer am going to stress out about all of the uncertainties of life. I have an internship for this summer and I am going to believe that God will provide. God will touch my parents. He will guide me. In his timing, I will meet that man that I will spend my life with. Even though I have no idea what I am doing after graduation, I know God will direct my every step. I finally feel free from worry and doubt. I feel liberated from my insecurities. My past is behind me. I look toward God and the horizon ahead. I smile because I know my God is with me.

Promise in the Sky

I had to write this separately. My mind cannot not cease to think about this. Last night we stayed at the Bedouin camp and was something I needed for some time. I loved everything, yes, but this one thing touched me greater than anything else on this trip thus far. The stars. Why would the stars matter so much when I can see the stars back at home?

I love the stars. I love to star gaze. It is quite simply my favorite thing to do. I think clearly. I pray. I sing songs to God- songs I just make up and sing from my heart. I have seen the night sky in the mountains, in Florida, at home in Jersey, in Colorado, Alaska, and honestly the list goes on. But this time was very different. I walked away, alone, from the Bedouin camp, leaving all behind- my friends, the warmth, the noise. I walked away alone. I walked to the other side of a hill in the desert. It was dark. All around me remained the rocks and sand on the ground, the hills, the chilly air, and the starry night. I could hear off in the distance a soft sound resounding- the camp.

All I could do was gaze. I could do nothing else. I lost track of time, and frankly I didn’t care. I needed escape. I needed solitude. I didn’t need it because of something bad or anything like that. But what I found was greater. As I stood there, in the middle of the desert, I gazed at the perfect sky. When I say “perfect sky”, I mean it. There were no clouds, no pollution, no planes, and no other lights. I could barely see the light from the camp. Over the hills, I could see some light from Jerusalem. I gazed up into the vast unknown. And that is when it all hit me. I was gazing at the stars, in the same place where Abraham had been. At one point in his life, God told Abraham to look up and count the stars. Those stars would be the number of his descendants. I was blown away. All of my years of star gazing, I finally understood something so profound through my experience. God made a promise- a covenant- to Abraham that he would have descendants. Those stars are the constant reminder. Even further, as I stood there in the desert, the world never felt bigger. I, too, have been wanting a promise of something, however it is something unknown. Those stars remind me also of God’s promise in my life and what he is going to do. There is such a big world out there full of the promises God has for me. I wept. I cried out to God for all that I know he has for me. Those stars were beautiful, absolutely stunning. Perfect. God has something so beautiful for me too. I need not worry about my future- my husband, job, finances, or anything else. God is promising me something beautiful. I embrace it.

Desert Adventures.

The past two days have been days full of adventure and exhaustion. Wednesday we awoke early in order to get to Qumran by a decent hour. At Qumran we saw the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were located. It was incredible! There were rifts and canyons everywhere. Somehow the Essenes had been able to get from cave to cave. I can’t even imagine it. Shortly after, we went down to the Dead Sea, where we had some time of relaxation. The Dead Sea, being known for its salt content and mud, was definitely an adventure in itself. On the shore of the water, a thick black mud can be found. The mud was a smooth mud rich in minerals, therefore very good for skin and hair. Most students smoothed the mud to their skin. I actually covered my body and face with mud. After washing it all off, my skin was smoother than ever. The Dead Sea water is over 30% salt- we definitely avoided anything that could cause the water to get into our mouths or eyes. Whether someone could swim or not, anyone can literally float in the Dead Sea. We slowly walked into the water and sat allowing for the water to carry you. It was a fun adventure.

After we all were washed from the Dead Sea mud and salt, we got back onto the bus and headed toward the Bedouin desert. As soon as we got off the bus at the Bedouin camp, we went on a camel ride in the desert. It was such a fun experience! I have never ridden a horse, let alone a camel. I enjoyed it so much! That night we stayed in the Bedouin camp. We experienced their tea [sweet tea!], the coffee [like a rich shot of espresso], their food, and of course staying in a Bedouin tent. Every part of the Bedouin experience was amazing and I would not have changed anything.

The next morning, we awoke up at 4am. I was wide awake, while most of the group was still trying to wake up. I was excited for what was to come. We left the camp by 5am and headed to Mount Masada. Along the way we passed Israeli soldiers- new recruits- on their journey to Masada. Why would they be on their way to a mountain at 5am? New recruits in the Israeli army are required to walk all night from Jerusalem to Mt. Masada [a 3 hour drive] to watch the sunrise and learn the history of that mountain. Masada is known because of various attacks that occurred. It is a constant reminder to Israeli soldiers to fight to the end. As we journeyed on we reached the bottom of Mt. Masada. It was a steep incline- an old ramp used by the Romans. But within an hour we made it to the top. It was such a breathtaking scene. The sun was rising over the mountains in Jordan and glistened on the Dead Sea. The rays shown on the ruins of the fortress on Masada. Weary soldiers were making their way to the top. Birds were beginning to sing. The morning fog was fading. It was a new day; a beautiful day. The hike down was intense- a steep incline called the “snake path”. In all, we hiked up 1300 ft and down 1300 ft. We reached the bottom and ate breakfast. Afterwards we went on our desert jeep safari. It was very long! I enjoyed the trek across the desert, but it was chilly and too long.

All in all, the previous two days were amazing. I went to Qumran, the Dead Sea, rode a camel, stayed in a Bedouin camp, climbed Mt. Masada to watch the sunrise, and went on a desert jeep safari. It was a great time.

Disappointed Hopes

Today was a rather disappointing day. Before I go further, I want to you to read everything before making an opinion on what I have to say. If you were to question all of the students on this trip to Israel you would find out some disappointed rests in our minds. As we all signed up for this incredible chance to study abroad in Israel, we were given the sure hopes of staying in a building specifically for Southeastern students. At the end of last semester we even reviewed the blueprints and floor plans of the building. Everything was set. However, plans changed. The week before we left for Israel, we were notified that were unable to stay in our building due to some flooding or something. Honestly, the students have been left in the dark for the most part. For the past 2 weeks students have been some what embittered by the fact that there is a beautiful Southeastern building that we are unable to live in. Meanwhile, we stay in a bed & breakfast with mediocre internet and close living quarters. It is less than comfortable.

Today we celebrated the Grand [not] Opening of the Southeastern University Studies Center. We all walked to the building from our guesthouse with a bit of anger. Honestly, I was one of those students. Entering the building and seeing Dr. Rutland’s smiling face didn’t help. I was disappointed that we were told that we were staying in the building then that was taken away from us. A huge part of this disappointment is tied with the fact that Dr. Rutland is resigning. Most of the students were filled with aggravation to the situation. To me, it even felt like Southeastern didn’t care anymore. It felt like a show. None of the special guests- the Board of Regents or alumni- came up to meet and greet the students actually on the study abroad.

Then God worked in my heart. I realize that, yes, I do not like how Southeastern has dealt with everything. Not at all. However, my attitude hasn’t helped anything. I was talking disrespectfully and even ungodly. My attitude was not exemplifying that of Christ. Even further, I realized that while I am here in Israel, I need to make sure I leave a great representation of who Christ is. Regardless if anyone from Israel heard our conversations [whicht they do], I need to make sure that I am not disrespecting or speaking out of line. I want to reflect Christ in spite of things not going my way. That is what I have learned.

A Newfound Freedom

The last two days have been rather exhausting yet incredible. Yesterday morning we woke up bright and early to drive to northern Israel. We first went to the church on Mt. Beatitudes followed by other churches. The next part of our journey took us to Galiliee, where we went to a museum and a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was so fun. But even still I was awaiting something more incredible. We ended our touring of Galilee at the Jordan River.

I was blown away. We got to the site for the Jordan River baptisms where we also received a white robe, towel, and a baptism certificate. I am sure to some that this simple idea of baptism means nothing. However, it changed my world forever.

All I could do was think about how I was at the river where Jesus was baptized and where John did his ministry. The very idea of following in the footsteps of Christ is unfathomable. Back in that day, John baptized people for salvation, but Christ got baptized for another reason. He chose to be immersed in waters to reveal the symbolism of his own near death. Going into the water shows the world something significant. As one closes their eyes and takes a deep breath, transformation begins.

I chose to be baptized, however for many reasons. Of course there is the given answer that I wanted to be baptized because Jesus was baptized and it was the Jordan River. Why would I miss that opportunity? But I had another major reason. I have been relying on myself for so long, trying to improve my situations. I think I am capable of doing it myself. A huge part of Christ’s ministry was to show everyone how to lose the self. For the first time, I truly understand that now. Because of my pain, my selfishness, my arrogance, or whatever else, I haven’t relied on God the way I know I have needed to.

Walking into the water yesterday I began to weep. As my feet entered into the chilly waters of the Jordan, I began to cry. Why would I cry if I am just being baptized? What’s the big deal? Honestly, it goes back to my lack of honor and trust in God. Being baptized yesterday was a symbolic event of me dying to this girl I have become and allowing for a brand new awakening to come forth. Coming out of the water, I feel a freedom that is completely foreign to me. I cried still. These tears, for once, were not tears of my own pain or regret but rather tears of an overwhelming peace. This peace gives me a new found freedom and I smile.