Friday, February 25, 2011

Words Fail Me

Pure Happiness. My Cup Runneth Over. Four Cups of Grape Juice. Dayenu.
These were all possible titles I considered naming this post. You see, yesterday I woke up thinking I would have a typical day. It started off great. I woke up around 6 and wrote a paper for Old Testament while sitting on my balcony looking at the city as it became light. The weather is heavenly right now. Then after a morning of (really insightful) classes a small group of us walked to the Russian Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives near us.  The wildflowers and almond blossoms were in bloom, there was a beautiful male peacock walking around, a field of olive trees, and the bell tower in the middle of it all. We took some beautiful photos and ate sack lunches in the grass. It was another of those moments where I had to ask myself, “Does life get better than this?”
Then, after an afternoon of Old Testament reading and Arabic class, we had our Seder meal! It is what you do on Passover (the day is called Passover, not the meal). Our Judaism teacher Ophir Yarden led us through it. We did it all very authentically-- with the nicest white tablecloths, absolutely delicious food, all four cups of grape juice (instead of wine. The four cups represent the four different verbs used in Exodus referring the God’s deliverance of the Israelites. And yes, we poured a cup for Elijah, too). I was a narrator and was part of a group that sang a song in Hebrew. We did all the readings and rituals. One of my favorite songs of Passover is called Dayenu. It means, “that would have been enough.” It names all the times God delivered Israel and after each time, it says how that would have been enough, and yet they were blessed again and again. Isn’t it the same in our lives? Anyway, all three hours were very interesting and fun. I plan on doing Passover with my future kids and family. They will love it (at least, I will love it…). Everything said meant so much to me now, after studying the Old Testament and Judaism so intensely. I could write three blog posts on the Sedar alone but time is of the essence.

Neal, Martin and I at the Seder meal.
Ophir breaking the matza.

Then, to top off my night I got an email from my sister Hope who just got accepted to BYU and is planning on going this summer term! I live vicariously through her, but I was probably more excited than she is...ha.  It made me think of the day I got accepted to BYU two whole years ago, and the tremendous blessing it has been in my life every single day since. I am so proud of and excited for her!! I called and talked to my parents and that made my day (for about the 5th time).
I’ve been thinking lately about the peace the gospel brings. Yes, it brings peace in hard times. While I’ve had hard days here, I’ve also felt so much peace during the happy days, like today. I am so thankful for the large doses of the spirit that I’m spoon-fed on a regular basis. Someone in Church this week quoted President Hinckley who said, “You will have peace and happiness as you live the gospel.” How simple it is. We don’t have to be perfect, just righteous. I know that as we live the gospel we will find peace, no matter what comes our way!
To summarize, I’m so happy and blessed I can’t even begin to express it. Heavenly Father has given me more than I could ever ask for. If He had given me only a fraction of what I have, that would have been enough. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Almost Buried Alive

Today we went on another of our little study breaks where we discovered some tombs right under one of the streets we go down all the time. We paid 10 shekels (around $3) for a guy to let us in (I'm pretty sure it was just a random guy who took advantage of tons of naive students who didn't know how to get in....he made bank) and at first just saw some pretty arches. I thought we had got really ripped off.

But then, Nathanael had the guts to go into an excavation site and found a hole with bars and construction blocking it. He climbed down inside, and even though I felt as rebellious as I've ever been, I followed. That's where the real tomb was. It was more fun because felt we discovered it on our own. It was huge and we got to lay where dead kings used to lay. I really don't know which kings were buried there, or if anyone knows. But it was a great afternoon and I got to feel pretty Indiana Jones-ish.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Was Blind, but Now I See

The field trips just keep getting better and better. Today, even though it was cloudy and cold, we went to the City of David, which is just a part of Jerusalem next to the temple mount.

                                                        Ashling and I with David's Harp!

We saw the site and the large stones of David's Palace. There are few places that are more historically rich. Here David saw Bathsheba, composed psalms, repented, prayed, fasted. Here is where Bathsheba and Nathan consulted with him about Adonijah being the next king. Isaiah also walked those very stone floors.
We saw the quarry where the stone was cut out to build David's palace and the surrounding buildings.

Then we walked through all  1770 feet of Hezekiah's tunnel! I had never fully understood the significance of that tunnel, but now I really do. It brings the waters of the Gihon spring (the water of which enabled the settling of Jersualem in the first place) inside the walls of Jerusalem to the pool of Siloam. It was built in 701 B.C. by the righteous King Hezekiah as preparation for possible Assyrian attack.
The water was actually not very cold, and it only came up to our thighs in a couple places. It was so much fun to walk through it, I could do it again right now. And mom, we did sing a couple songs for fun, but not out of clostrophobia. This is us just outside the tunnel.

The pool of Siloam is at the other end of the tunnel, and is where Christ sent the blind man to wash after putting clay on his eyes. Can you imagine seeing for the first time? I know that each of us, no matter how much we think we see, can let Christ open our eyes even more. With faith in Christ, we all can have our eyes opened to better see the goodness in people, our vision enlarged to see what is truly important in life. Even though I had a strong testimony before coming here, I can feel my eyes being opened more with every spiritual experience.

"One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Study Breaks

You know how, during a regular semester in Provo, if you have a 2-hour break between classes you submerge yourself in the Harold B. Lee Library and just do homework? Or, if you have a free afternoon you do laundry, or disappear in the library again? Well, this is what I do here when we manage to carve out a couple free hours (or manage to procrastinate):

Yesterday we went to a nearby church of Mary Magdalene, a Russian church. We affectionatly call it the "gold onion" church.
We also went into the city and climbed to the top of the tower of the Church of the Redeemer. It was an excellent view of the city! This pigeon describes my contemplation perfectly.

Sometimes we don't have study breaks, but our studies often take us out of the center. The other day we had an assignment to write about Hezekiah while looking over the city. These are some of my besties and I near the 7-arches outlook. It's so much more fun to compose a paper while not sitting at a desk.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lovely Day

This Valentines Day was perhaps the best I’ve had. The night before, Susie and I watched “While you were Sleeping” and made Valentines for a lot of our friends here. That put us in the mood.
         We went on a great field trip. We herded sheep and goats! You all know how much I love goats. It made my day to be with such curious, sweet little animals. Herding them is a lot more difficult than I would have expected. Those shepherds knew their stuff.

       We also ground up hyssop, a plant mentioned in the Bible that is also symbolic of cleansing from sin. Then we made pita bread and built a fire and cooked it, and ate it with olive oil and the ground hyssop. We also made parched corn, which is a food Boaz prepared for Ruth. This field trip made me realize how helpful it is to learn about the geography and flora and fauna of the Bible to truly understand it. We saw some wheat fields, almond trees, a water cistern, lots of olive trees, and date palms. We also found a chameleon! It was pretty cute! It was a fun and beautiful day. By far the warmest Valentines day of my life.

        Throughout the whole day we would randomly burst into songs like Natalie Cole’s “L is for the way you look at me,” or “Love Shack, baby.” Then we had a dance that night at the center which blew stake dances out of the water. Laurel, who served a mission in Greece, taught us a Greek zorba dance, which was a lot of fun. Although, yelling "opah!" at the end of anything would probably make it fun.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fifty Camels

Roomate bonding!

These are my wonderful roommates and I Saturday afternoon at the Garden of Gethsemene.
Sunday we went to the YMCA bell tower where our branch president plays the bells each week. We were able to play them, too. Jessica and I played "God Speed the Right" for all of Jerusalem to hear. Maybe we can't proselyte here, but our hymns can ring out every Sunday!

We also went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, (believed by many to be the site of Christ's burial place and resurrection), saw some art galleries and did some shopping. 
Every shop keeper tries to flatter us. As we walked away, one called out, "Hey, mormon! You dropped something." We turned around, and he pointed to the ground and said, "You dropped my heart." Or, they say, "Hey, mormon! Special price for you." Or, they offer 50 camels to be their wife. Ha. I've always wanted 50 camels...

I live for our wonderful weekends.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Come Thou Fount

This was my view today. We had a wonderful lesson in class and read the dedication prayer of Solomon's temple. Solomon prayed "that the Lord may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments...that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else."

It's the not the Jerusalem air I breathe or the streets of the Old City I walk that have inclined my heart to Him, but the Holy Ghost. I know that each of us, no matter where we are, can incline our hearts to him, so that we will only want to walk in His ways, to keep His commandments. "Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it."

Just like God has been with the people of Israel throughout history, I know He continues to be with us. He guides the future as He has the past. There are things that will change in our lives beyond our control, but our faith in God and His guidance, help  and comfort can always be a constant.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Never a Dull Moment

I'm sorry it has been a whole week since my last post. School has been absolutely brutal....and it still is, but my dear blog readers are also important to me, and I need a study break.
On Monday we went to the shephelah (pronounced sh-fay-lah), which are the low hills between Jerusalem and the coast.

This is the (muddy) Elah Valley. Behind me is the brook where David gathered 5 smooth stones for his sling. This is me trying out my slaying skills.  I really love the story of David and Goliath. So many lessons in it.

We also visted Gath, Goliath's hometown. Our professor excavates there. We visited some other tels and the sites of Samson and battles of the Philistines and Israelites. It's interesting because we are in the sites where our ancestors performed such incredible acts of faith. We saw some beautiful bell caves (quarries), some Sidonian tombs, and a few red poppies peering from grass fields all around.  

And, earlier last week we had an Arab night with authentic cuisine, a call to prayer, and learning an Arab dance that was a lot of fun.

I could post a lot more pictures with commentary and also write about some amazing lessons I've been learning in Old Testament, but my Judaism midterm study guide is calling my name. Just know, the Old Testament is chock full of very applicable lessons! Don't forget about the many blessings God has given you. Also, He will help you fight your battles!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai deserves its own post. It was a highlight of the Egypt trip. We woke up at 2:30 and began the hike to get to the top for sunrise. It wasn't as hard as I was expecting. Being in the middle of nowhere, the stars were the best I'd seen. We got to the top in a couple hours. It was one of the best yet one of the coldest experiences of my life. I was wearing as many layers as physically possible. Once everyone got to the summit we sang hymns and watched the horizon get lighter. We practically sang every hymn in the book, it was wonderful. The sunrise was stunning (even though these pictures can't nearly do it justice).

We had a short testimony meeting and read the ten commandments. I'm so thankful for the commandments! Obedience to them is the greatest thing one can do for oneself. Just like we could see forever from the top of Mount Sinai, faith in Jesus Christ clarifies our perspective. Equally, I know the commandments which were given on that very mountain liberate us and broaden our perspective like nothing else.

In DeNile. Egypt part 2.

After Cairo we flew to Luxor and stayed in an even fancier 5-star hotel right on the Nile which had all the comforts of home except drinkable water. We went to the Valley of the Kings, which include the tombs of Rameses III, IX, and King Tut. The hieroglyphs again were astonishing, and I met King Tut's mummified, shriveled little body. Yep, right before my very eyes. We also went to Hatshepsut's temple and the Rameseum in the morning. Beautiful!

In the aftenoon we rode a felukah (boat) across the Nile to ride camels. The weather couldn't have been better. We rode camels into the country side for over an hour, with the sun setting behind the palm trees, the guides teaching us Arabic, and my little 10-year old guide gave me some sugar cane to chew on. The scenery was so beautiful. Our ride back across the Nile took a long time because there was no wind for our sail boat, but that just means we saw the last of the sunset and then the city at night along the river. We all sang songs and were practically giddy with happiness. 

The next day we went to Karnak and the Luxor temple. We got there from our hotel by both motor boat and horse-drawn carriage! It is one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world, and very understandably so! Here's us in one of the largest rooms in the world among 134 huge columns.

Again, I was able to jump among them before getting in trouble by the tourism police. Whahaha!

The BEST part of the day though, as awesome as our morning was, was when those of us who didn't want to shop went walking around Luxor. We were strolling down a picturesque alleyway and came across several boys sitting on the side. We asked them if they had a ball, and even though we don't speak Arabic and they don't know much English, we began a game of soccer right there and played for probably an hour. They were creaming us, so I decided to put my pitiful soccer skills away and let the boys take over while I made friends with the younger kids who had turned the tournament over to their teenage brothers. I'll never forget little Muhammad's face as he excitedly told me the score (that was in his favor) in english that he was ecstatic to use. The whole street came alive, mothers peeking out the windows and relatives of every sort watching from the behind the laundry that hung above us. Even a father couldn't resist playing with us for a few minutes. Each little boy was so happy and it made my heart sing. As wonderful as the sights were in Egypt, making those children happy pretty much topped all for me that day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Grateful to Twenty

I will finish my Egypt posts as soon as I figure out how to charge my laptop which has my pictures on it. My charger blew and smoked and doesn't work in the meantime:
Today I turned 20 years old! And today, like every day here, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. Here are just 20 things I'm grateful for:

1.  I'm grateful for whatever it is about this trip that helps me realize specific attributes about myself I need to improve on. It's overwhelming, but I try to remember Richard G Scott's quote that we must be each day that which we hope to become.
2. I'm grateful to my dad for the awesome camera he got me for Christmas! It makes this trip even more fun and it's a highlight taking pictures with it.
3. I'm grateful to Hope for letting me borrow so many of her clothes on this trip! Also, for her witty and entertaining emails and her friendship.
4. I'm grateful to my mom for educating me about Jerusalem and sharing her love of Israel with me. I don't think I would be here if it were not for her.
5. I'm grateful to be in a place where my scriptures are my constant companion, my most important text book, and my most useful field trip manual.
6. I'm grateful my friend Jessica Moose is here with me! She's always looking out for me and is a listening ear to my shallow worries and provider for great conversations and inspiration.
7. I'm grateful for perfect health.
8. I'm grateful for funny professors. A famous quote from Egypt: "What's the point of the word of wisdom if people act like they've had 6 beers even when they haven't?"
9. I'm grateful for inspiring professors. Brother Muhlestein is a fountain of spiritual realizations. He alone makes this trip worth every penny.
10. I'm grateful for the internet.
11. I'm grateful for America. I could go on for pages about why.
12. I'm grateful to be a BYU student. Honestly, I wouldn't rather attend anywhere else in the world. Literally every day in Provo or Jerusalem I almost pop with gratitude that I get to attend BYU. The honeymoon phase will never end.
13. I'm so grateful for the support and friendship I have from friends back home. I'm thankful for the loving emails, blog comments, and g-chats.
14. Pita bread with nutella. 'Nuff said.
15. I'm grateful I'm literate. When I'm in places where everything is in Hebrew or Arabic and can't understand a thing, I'm even more motivated to do something about countries like Egypt where only 45% of people are literate.
16. I'm grateful for all the new friends I've made among the students here. What other group of people would sing happy birthday to me 5 times before noon? I've been told happy birthday at least 100 times by now. They are all an inspiration to me and I look up to and admire each person here for one quality or another.
17. I'm grateful I haven't had to live one second of my 20 years of life without the endless love of my parents. Most of the blessings I have are result of the wise choices they have made. I'm so thankful for their support and guidance. It was so wonderful to hear their voices on the phone this morning!
18. I'm grateful for beautiful views of Jerusalem from any window in the center.
19. I'm grateful for beautiful weather in January.
20. I'm grateful for our Savior Jesus Christ. For the understanding love, comfort, hope, and peace He offers each of us. Even though it doesn't matter where you are, I'm grateful to celebrate my birthday in a setting where I can learn more of Him and feel His love so strongly.

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