Saturday, July 29, 2017

What a week!

Our family had the privilege of serving last week at a Young Life camp in Arizona specifically tailored for teenagers with special needs.

There were a little over 400 people in camp with us split into four fairly even groups--25% were teenagers with special needs from Arizona, California, and Alaska. These needs ranged from physical issues such as amputations, wheelchair restriction, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment and blindness to emotional and intellectual differences. Another 25% of the attendees were volunteer leaders and staff from the campers' local areas. These adults were remarkable in their knowledge of each camper's needs and special qualities. They took incredible care of their friends--physically, emotionally and spiritually around the clock all week. An additional 100 high school students actually paid to travel and attend camp from Lafayette, Louisiana and Jackson, Mississippi as buddies--able bodied campers full of energy and friendship.

It thrilled me to watch these three distinct groups merge into one camp community. I can only imagine how exhausted the buddies and leaders were as they stayed fully present with the often unpredictable demands of their Capernaum friends, but you would never know it from their faces. I was particularly moved watching the 14-17 year old buddies as they left their 'cool' at the camp gate and fully engaged in whatever activities were happening--from Disney sing-alongs to dance parties and messy field games. They were "all in" to create a joy-filled experience for their new friends.

Behind the scenes were another 100 people--some Young Life employees, but mostly volunteers--cooking, cleaning, running sound, lights, laundry, crafts and grounds keeping--all so these Capernaum friends could have an excellent camp experience full of joy and fun that pointed to the extravagant love of our Father in Heaven.

It was a true blessing to see 'behind the curtain' the outrageous lengths people were willing to go to for these kids. Chariots (complete with shock absorbers) were constructed for use in yard games so wheelchair bound campers weren't left out. A forklift was customized to safely transport campers with physical limitations to the top of the zip line and the water slide. Earplugs were available everywhere for attendees whose sensory processing issues made sound a challenge. Multiple sign language interpreters were on site so hearing impaired campers didn't miss a joke! Even the kitchen staff, who had to provide sustenance for over 400, modified their menus for the week to deliver quality meals that respected the gluten/dairy/nut/vegan tolerance levels of campers.

I wept more times than I can count as camp became a microcosm of the life God intended for us to have--so many people with various gifts serving together with one goal in mind. No job felt more or less important. We all had the same objective but knew it required many different types of service. Patience and kindness abounded and we all worked together to say YES to removing barriers between kids and the abundant life of the Gospel.

Each of my children were able to find their unique niche as well. One became a game room staple using the gift of play to connect and forge friendships. Another worked closely with my husband in the medical office, using encouragement and resourcefulness to support hurting kids. Yet another used his own loves of swimming and dancing to find ways to engage campers and leaders. I found myself watching, praying and actively asking "what do you have for me to do or see or say right now, Lord?" (It was such a refreshing, purposeful and expectant way to live!)

Empathy is a characteristic we've been actively seeking to encourage in our children...not sympathy or condescension, but true practice in relating to people in different circumstances. This week delivered constant opportunities to do so in a fun and meaningful way.

All in all this was a remarkable week--restorative, challenging and tremendously encouraging on many levels. I was shown that there are actually many pieces of this week that can translate into my 'real life' at home. I hope to live with a more simplified sense of purpose, a renewed appreciation for community and a glorious picture of  the beauty of the body of Christ working together.

I was reminded that working with people with special needs gives a unique opportunity to know a person's challenges and address them directly. Dealing with 'typically developing' people can sometimes be more difficult because we don't all wear our real challenges on our sleeves. The ministry of daily life is to remember everyone has limps, scars and limitations in this life and we would do well to recognize them with a compassion and a commitment to removing barriers that keep people from the abundant life of the cross.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Hardest Part

When we were preparing to open our home to foster children, I prayed daily over the bedroom where these children would sleep. Each time a car pulled in my driveway to introduce a new friend to our family I knew deep in my soul this was a child for whom I had prayed long before I knew their name. As I bathed, tucked in, and tended each child, I wondered how long they would be part of our life. Even though we are not pursuing adoption, I allowed myself to wonder with each individual child if they might become a permanent part of our family. Much like a school girl with a crush, I'd whisper their names with Scott on the end. It wasn't a wish or a prayer as much as an acknowledgment that God--not us--held the future--and anything could happen.

In the last two years of fostering, we have had five school aged children in our home for periods ranging from 10 days to 17 months. Twice, we have had the difficult task of requesting a child be removed and placed elsewhere. It is not a part of the fostering process that anyone likes to discuss, but it is a reality I felt led to write about--if for no other reason than to quiet some of the self talk running through my brain at 2am.

It is a difficult reality to admit. My family enjoys challenges. We believe in grace and second chances.  Neither of us considers human beings items that can or should be "traded in" when the going gets tough. We are not shocked easily. We don't want to raise bubble wrapped children and we certainly never entered into foster care thinking we would "give up" on a child--especially ones who had already been let down by the adults in their early lives.

Early neurological development is impacted by life experience, disruptions to bonding by being moved around, witnessing and experiencing violence and even highly stressful pregnancies. All of these things are outside of the control of a child--and yet, their behavior is impacted in ways they can't just "straighten up." You cannot discipline and correct a child of trauma with the same methods that worked for your non-traumatized children.

Sometimes the behavior is such that even with knowledge of the reasons behind it, a family cannot tolerate it. For safety's sake, every heart and developing life in a home has to be considered.

I deeply believe in the need for loving, stable foster families and gulp hard when I write about the challenges. I do not ever want my words to be used to justify someone's decision to turn the other way and ignore the plight of the orphans among us. I do, however, think it is vital that people understand the deep and real challenges of this system. I trust that God will continue to call people to this work not because they've been shown only a rosy view.

It is frequently generational cycles of sin that result in children coming into care. Those of us on the frontlines of this ministry are also plagued with sins of fear, pride, self-reliance, and greed. Sinners helping sinners in a sinful world. Of course, it is broken!

Both times we have requested removal it has been with an overwhelming sense that we could not serve the therapeutic needs of the child and the others in our home as well. Both decisions have held a moment of eyeball to eyeball unity with my husband. Each time as the child was driven away, I have cried tears of loss, resignation, regret, shame, and relief.

Even knowing the intimate details of our situations and trusting the wise counsel of those who agreed with our moves, I cannot help but feel ashamed that we couldn't 'cut it,' fear that maybe it wasn't really that we 'couldn't' but instead that we simply wouldn't. I've had to lay down a Messiah complex I can be reluctant to admit. I'm realizing this work is sometimes a marathon and other times more like a relay. We aren't always called to cross the finish line, but instead to merely run the baton for our leg.

As I've processed some of my disappointment, I've recognized my preference to 'lick my wounds' privately--reserving the exposure of my vulnerabilities to only a few. I tend to shout from the rooftops when life is good and go quiet when I'm wrestling. May we never forget there is a deep blessing in the wrestling as well.

This is the part of the journey that has stretched and grown us most--especially in our reliance on the Lord instead of the opinions of others or our own wisdom and life experience. Each time has been a great humbling, but also a reminder that following God where He leads means letting go of the cleaner/neater/more flattering-to-our-own-image story we would write. I am reminded that God uses it all--every broken and confusing piece.

This is real life. This is where growth happens.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Checking In & Catch Up

I never intended to let so much time pass before checking in...and now it seems there is so much going on that I do not know how to catch up. Because the intent of this blog is chronicling for posterity as much as anything else, I fear I must resort to hastily recorded bullet points!

It is the second week of May and somehow my children are two weeks away from becoming teenagers and the completion of their first year of middle school. I haven't been able to really process this passage of time in a meaningful way, but I am definitely "in the thick of" watching their strengths and struggles reveal themselves and leaning hard into the Lord for wisdom on what coaching is necessary when--and how to continue to make home a safe place where they are free to truly relax and feel loved and built up to return to the arena of life.

I am pleased with where they are, who they are now and the tiny glimpses I get into the possibilities of where they are heading. But I am also grateful we have 6 more years together! As the clock's ticking gets louder I am increasingly aware we cannot teach them everything or launch them as perfect adults--we must narrow down our objectives to include lifelong skills like seeking truth, building strong community, and faith in their loving, Sovereign God. (Much easier to write in a sentence than to implement line upon line into human lives.)

Our family has changed a lot recently. I accidentally ran over our beloved pet cat in the driveway a couple of weeks ago. It was truly horrific. The accident, the dealing with the aftermath as I was home alone, the telling of my husband and children, and the grief. Through it all there were powerful lessons about telling the truth--even when it is hard, and the beautiful grace and comfort my children and husband offered to me despite their own sadness.

About a week and a half after the accident, my children gifted me with a kitten for Mother's Day. A couple of days after that we welcomed a new foster child into our family-- a delightful, fun and high energy 6 year old boy.

As I type this we are on our 5th day together. Much like a 2nd or 3rd time mother, it seems this transition has been smoother than the previous ones--largely because we have been here before and can recognize many parts of the situation as simply being phases--we know they can/will pass with time and investment. I have also learned to love hard and laugh often. It feels smoother to not be dramatically rising and falling with every extreme high and low.

This week we had our first court hearing. It was scheduled to begin at 9am, but we sat in the hallway waiting for almost 3 hours due to a delay. Directly across from me was a darker skinned woman with a familiar face. After about an hour we recognized each other as the biological Mom and the right-now Mom of the same precious little boy. Our affinity for one another was immediate and we spent the next hour and a half getting to know each other and discussing our shared young man. I don't know where this is all heading, but what a blessing to begin with a face to face, heart-to-heart. I was able to assure her that we are not trying to "take" her boy and we want nothing more than for them to become a healthy family again. This relationship is beginning as a partnership--not us versus her, but both of us for HIM. I pray it continues.

I also pray he learns to sleep. We are on a newborn schedule with multiple wake ups each night and days that begin before 5am.

Little man is calling so this is all for now...

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Our Holy Land Experience: Bethlehem, Shepherds' Fields, Palestine

Our first destination Wednesday was Bethlehem, located in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank.) Influenced by our previous visit to a small village in Palestine and Christmas carols describing Bethlehem a "little town," I was surprised to find multi-story buildings and strong Western influences in this city of Jesus' birth.

Our large tour bus was parked on a city street and we walked up to the Church of the Nativity, a basilica built over the cave where it is believed Jesus was born. Yes, cave! One of the interesting things we learned is that Mary & Joseph most likely found lodging in a cave, not a wooden stable structure like we see so prevalently represented in modern Christmas. The prevalence of caves in this region makes this assertion much easier to imagine. These caves were the places many families (and shepherds) used for shelter of their animals at night. 

In order to enter the Church of the Nativity, patrons must bow down and walk through the Door of Humility. It is the only entrance and despite more practical historical explanations of the reason the door is so small, the act of going low in order to enter was not lost on me. 

Despite the simplicity outside, there is much activity (adornments, people, lines) inside. After waiting our turn, we were able to crouch down and touch the 14 point silver star that is placed over the Grotto of the Nativity--the place it is widely held that Jesus was born.

As we exited the place, I struggled with the fact that the very tourism that allowed us to visit this spot, has also made this once simple place so overdone. Next to elaborate ancient candelabra were modern heat lamps, and inside massive chandeliers were spiral shaped, energy efficient bulbs. The contrast really spoke to me about how humans can take the simple, holiest truths and overdress them with our excessive interventions.

After the church, our tour guide took us to the much more serene Shepherds Fields. Here he sought to explain the likely conditions of Jesus' birth in a much more contextual way. 

As we entered a real ancient cave (one of many) we were treated to a powerful lesson about shepherds. We also saw a stone manger that animals would have used to eat from while in the shelter of a cave. It was surreal to imagine a baby safely placed here to sleep.

After so much talk of 'ancient stones,' it was time to go and meet living stones. We drove a very short distance to a nearby resort to see Young Life ministry in action. This hotel is used to bring over 800 students and families to camp each year. We were greeted with camp-style welcome complete with drums, men in costume and smiling faces.

There is a large swimming pool with colorful water slides and even an astroturf field. As a striking reminder that life here is quite different than our own, high fences stood along the property edge separating this place from a Jewish settlement on the other side.

In addition to our group, there were 20-30 people from a state run orphanage for children who had been abandoned by their families due to special needs. As we played games, danced, sang and enjoyed lunch together I was moved to tears repeatedly. THIS is exactly the kind of place where Jesus would be with the most marginalized of the a Middle Eastern village surrounded by orphans with special needs and their caretakers. There were even physical fences surrounding us as a reminder. By many accounts these people were not good for much in the world--and yet these are exactly who He tells us to love. What a humbling privilege!

I will never forget this day!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our Holy Land Experience: Old Jerusalem, Gethsemane, Holocaust Museum, Western Wall

Tuesday morning we explored the Old City of Jerusalem, a relatively small area that houses much history, culture and significance within its ancient walls. First, we visited the Christian Quarter (home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

When we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the prominently displayed presence of a bomb disposal container was a reminder that we were indeed in a land that has seen countless violent threats for generations. 

While in the Christian Quarter we were also able to go inside the area where many families live. Our tour guide was raised in this environment and was able to deftly navigate the alleys and corridors to take us 'behind the scenes' where children's toys were scattered and clothing was on the line--life amidst the historical stones.

As we entered the Muslim Quarter there was an energy shift. It was full of people and markets overflowing with rich colors and smells. We sampled delicious olives--and candy!
From Old Jerusalem, we traveled a short distance to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here we learned that the name Gethsemane is derived from the words for "olive press." as out tour guide Andre pointed out "when we are pressed, we pray." 

I had been warned the small size of this garden would surprise me. What I did not expect was the overt tourism on display as crowds encircled this small fenced in plot. As dozens and their tour guides bustled around the lot as if it were an exhibit on display, it was difficult to find prayerful stillness. It was a stark contrast to the peaceful, lush, quiet, personal place of reflection I had envisioned. However, we were delighted to find that just across the street was a private section surrounded by stone walls, available for entrance and reflection. Our group gained admittance and was able to have a short service of praise and worship before scattering around the garden to pray in this serene place. 
While the olive trees we sat under and against are not 2000 years old, they have been carbon dated as some of the oldest ever discovered--over 1000 years old! They are likely descendants of the shoots of the original trees that grew in this area. 

My personal faith doesn't lead me to conclude anything magical happened simply by praying in this place. Nevertheless, it was powerful to envelop myself in the sights, sounds, and context of Jesus' prayer vigil here before he was handed over to the authorities for crucifixion. I was challenged anew to consider the depth of His surrender and the eternal implications (and daily call) in my own life and I was truly filled with purposeful peace.

Our afternoon consisted of a solemn visit to the Holocaust Museum. We discovered after we exited that the age restriction for the museum was 16 years and up--but the kids handled it with remarkable maturity. My husband wisely paced our one hour visit so that the first 50 minutes were spent understanding the build up/causes of the Holocaust. We rushed through the graphic portions of the exhibits, but lingered in sections that focused on the survivor stories. We solemnly attempted to absorb this horrible period in World History. Although we came to the Holy Land to see the places, God continued to remind me of all we could learn from its people.

We returned the Jewish Quarter at night to explore the underground tunnels and pray at the Western Wall. Perhaps it was because of the lights on the wall against the darkness and the prominent Israeli flag--but standing in the prayer plaza was a surreal experience. 

Women did not have to cover their heads, but men did. Apparently, any head covering will do, so while Parker and big Ryland had to don yarmulkes RyGuy's Northface baseball camp was deemed perfectly acceptable.
There was a divider in the prayer plaza that sorted women to the right and men to the left--as the two genders were not permitted to pray together at the wall. Kate and I entered the women's area clutching small slips of paper with our prayer requests to leave there between the stones. 

As we took our turn praying here, the spot believed to be the closest one can get to the Temple Mount, we were surrounded by devoutly religious people experiencing the Wall in different, demonstrative ways. As many around us rocked, cried, prayed and covered their faces with holy texts, I felt a bit uncertain. I looked over at Kate who seemed to be having the same uneasiness. As we walked away I realized it was because I didn't feel I had to travel across the world to a stone wall to feel like the Lord heard more prayers. I rejoiced that Jesus tore down the wall between us and God so we can speak to Him with the same intimacy in our bathroom shower in Georgia as at this historical place. 

After a 13 hour day of touring, we returned to our hotel this night with MUCH to process!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Our Holy Land Experience: West Bank, Palestine and Jacob's Well

Monday we left our hotel in Tiberius and journeyed to the West Bank of Palestine. I confess prior to this trip, my preconceived notions about Palestinians was almost entirely based on the media images of angry young men with headscarfs shouting and tossing objects in protest to the boundary lines with Israel.

As we journeyed through the checkpoint (which was a non-event in our tour bus) the reality of the landscape was quite different than I expected.

We were scheduled to visit a group of Palestinian Christians in a small village, so our drive took us through a very agrarian area. Rolling green hills were dotted with crops of strawberries and shepherds tending their flocks.

Palestine did seem much simpler, like a step back in time, cut off from many of the modern advances in infrastructure.
The people who greeted us (both planned and those we encountered as we walked through the village) were kind and welcoming. We had to quickly switch gears from the Hebrew words and phrases we were using in Israel to Arabic words and phrases in this area, especially when one of my children had an urgent need for a bathroom.

A local family hosted our entire group of 26 on the porch of their modest home for coffee and conversation about their lives. The women and college students spoke to us about the challenges of being a Christian in Palestine-- they are minorities--making up only 1-2% of the population. Their joy and courage were palpable and left quite an impression upon me.

Our time together concluded with a delicious lunch and a fresh perspective on the subsets of real people behind sweeping headlines and assumptions. One of the challenges our tour guide, Andre, had issued at the beginning of our journey was to experience not just the ancient stones of the Middle East, but the 'living stones' as well. I felt as if this day had been a powerful experience in that regard.

Our next stop was Jacob's Well (within the walls of an Eastern Orthodox monastery).  It is believed to be the place where Jesus encountered the Samaritan Woman at the well. (See John 4.)

Photos were not allowed inside, but I borrowed this one from google images for context. The well is still functioning after all these years! We were able to lower the pail and retrieve water--135 feet down. Outside we met these boys selling olive oil soaps to the Westerners in the big tour bus for "one dolla, one dolla."

From here we traveled to Mount Zion, where we would spend the next three nights with a glorious view of Jerusalem. 
Shalom indeed. 

Our Holy Land Experience: Sea of Galilee, Mt of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Jordan River

Sunday we awoke to another gorgeous clear day--perfect for taking to the water! To our delight, our group embarked on a morning boat ride across the peaceful Sea of Galilee.
Our hosts demonstrated the casting of nets and explained the fishing culture in Jesus' day. We also learned a few traditional Jewish dances and fed seagulls before returning to land for a tour of the ancient boat museum.

This is the preserved remnant of a 2,000 year old boat found buried on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Astounding to imagine Jesus asleep on a similar boat as a sudden and frightening storm blew in. The Bible was steadily moving from black and white words on a page to living color.

From the Sea of Galilee, we journeyed up to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.
So much of the Holy Land experience lies in getting context and perspective on the terrain/parts of the landscape and culture that influenced the teachings of Jesus. There were distinct bright yellow flowering plants covering many fields. What a delight to discover they were mustard!

The ground on the Mount of Beatitudes? A mixture of rocky and fertile. It was easy to imagine people gathered around in these very places as Jesus taught, surrounded by the object lessons He was using the instruct them. He spoke directly into their daily life in a way they could understand.

Our next stop was the city of Capernaum, where much of Jesus' public ministry took place. The rubble of many of the old buildings remains--including the synagogue. It was fascinating to think of Jesus in this environment. This day also impressed upon us how close in proximity many of the events of Jesus' life took place (walking distance!)

Our final stop of the day was the Jordan River. I was a bit leery of this place because the mix of tourism and sacred sacrament was a bit odd. Upon arrival, you rent towels and robes for $10 each and there are dozens of people there to be baptized.

Once we made it through the more commercial dressing room/rental portion, however, I was pleasantly surprised at how serene and special the environment became. We gathered as a group on large stone stairs on the riverbank that formed a sort of amphitheater. Those planning to be baptized gathered right along the river. One of our trip leaders said a few words and we sang a song. In God's impeccable attention to detail, the chorus we sang was the one song I knew as a child--a song I would sing when I was fearful and longing to feel close to God.

"I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You. Oh my soul, rejoice. Take joy, my King, in what you hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear."

It was a very person God-wink from a loving Father. A peace settled over me and I knew this moment--all five of us being baptized together as a family was something I would never forget.

Ryland was baptized first, then he stayed in the river to assist in the baptism of the rest of us. The child each answered three questions, publicly professing their faith and then were immersed in the FREEZING cold water. I went last and it wasn't until I walked back up those stairs, dripping and shivering that the redemptiveness of the afternoon started to settle in.
My first baptism was in August of 1987. I was a child a couple of months shy of 13--the exact current age of my children! I was from a family that did not attend church and so the decision felt like a declaration of independence in many ways. I made my profession of faith with no family members present and only one of my parents was present the night of the baptism.

The fact that God gave me a second opportunity to be baptized, not only in the presence of my whole family unit but beside them healed something I didn't even fully realize was broken. And the fact that my husband was leading our family in such a symbolic way? I am still overwhelmed. 

This day was full of examples of what a personal God we serve. Jesus sought regular, unremarkable people in their ordinary lives. From casting nets to calming storms--to teaching in parables that explained the Gospel in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner. He knew needs they didn't even recognize and He spoke to them specifically in ways that would resonate in the pain, fear, and reality of their lives. My afternoon experience in the icy waters of the Jordan reminded me that He still operates this way today.

What an unforgettable day of personal redemption and restoration! (And hard to comprehend that we still had 6 days left in the journey.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Our Holy Land Experience: Nazareth

Saturday morning as sunlight peeked around the edges of our heavy hotel room curtains, I couldn't wait to get my first day time view of Israel. I gasped as I looked out--the Sea of Galilee. I dressed quickly and as the rest of our crew slept, I dashed down to take in the early morning calm.

Peaceful and spotted by fishing boats, this large lake offered the first of many moments during the week when stories from the Bible came alive. Seagulls provided background music as I looked around and considered how much of Jesus' recorded life and ministry took place on these shores.

After breakfast our crew traveled by bus the short distance (18 miles) from Tiberius to Nazareth.

Our first stop was the Nazareth Baptist School. In Israel high school students go to class 6 days a week! We spent several minutes in the courtyard while the students were enjoying the sunshine and fresh air of a break. Watching them interact and play volleyball in their hi-top sneakers was a reminder of how alike we all are despite our language and geographical barriers.

We enjoyed an introduction to some of the Young Life staff and an informative overview of the religious climate in Israel. Did you know that only 2% of the population in Israel & Palestine is Christian?

As we started to learn about the divisive and territorial history of the region, we were challenged by Ephesians 2:14

The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance.  (MSG translation)

Our next stop required us to don our trusty headsets and embrace our inner tourist.
Nazareth Village is an interactive opportunity to experience life in Jesus' times. We walked through a working replica village, asking questions of the shepherds, the seamstress and the carpenter. There were live sheep, donkeys, and a working ancient olive press. Ceramic oil lamps were used and over a delicious, authentic 1st century Middle Eastern lunch we got a taste of life as Jesus would have lived.

After such a charming view of 1st century life, our next stop was Mount Precipice. This is the traditional site where an angry mob from Nazareth attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff. (See Luke 4: 16-30) It was a remarkably clear day, which allowed us to look out over the Jezreel Valley and appreciate the terrain. The rich, green plains truly reflected the term "Promised Land."

The Jezreel Valley has been the site of many epic battles throughout history and is believed to be the place where the last world war (Revelation 16) will occur.

From this spot we prayed for the surrounding nations--that they would find peace--and then we journeyed back to Nazareth for a Young Life Club with Israeli students. Much like the states, club was held in a family home's downstairs basement. Laughter, music and kindness cross all cultures!

It seemed fitting that our day started and ended with young people from the region--with context for Jesus' early life in between. A good, slow paced day that set the stage for a very busy week.

Our Holy Land Experience: Getting There

My family had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to the Holy Land earlier this month for Spring Break. As we traveled I posted highlight photos and captions on Instagram, but as I have returned home and attempted to process all we experienced, I felt led to write a few posts elaborating a bit more on the sites, people and lessons as we recall them.

I explained a bit about this in my previous post, but even how this trip came to be felt ordained. My husband & I share a love for foreign travel and our children are in a sweet spot age at almost-13. All three are interested in geography, history, adventure and culture. The food can be a bit of a challenge for 2/3 of the trio, but it just adds to the growth opportunities! ;-)

The first week of March is a strange time for worldwide travel weather-wise, so as we walked through our travel bucket list (Galapagos, Machu Picchu, Africa and Australia are the current dream top 4) the timing/budget didn't quite seem to fit. We researched several other destinations before starting to seriously consider the UAE. It was totally different than anywhere else we've traveled, relatively safe and would take us to continent we had yet to explore. We had just gotten comfortable with the idea of traveling to the Middle East when our monthly Young Life magazine arrived. As I was flipping through it I noticed an advertisement for a trip to the Holy Land for alumni and supporters of the ministry. The dates were the same as our break. There were no age restrictions listed on the trip, so I reached out to the organizer to see if she felt the trip would be appropriate for K, P & R. She consulted with the lead tour guide and with their blessing we placed our deposit and got excited.

On the day of departure, we picked the children up at school at 2pm and journeyed to Atlanta for our 6pm flight. Upon check-in we were informed there were problems with our tickets causing a nerve-wracking 50 minute delay as we were completely rebooked. I am not a superstitious person, but this obstacle did make me momentarily question if we were meant to go. Then, as we arrived at the boarding gate there was yet another problem which delayed our boarding--and induced a bit of anxiety. Once all was cleared up and we were on board, peace prevailed. There was honestly not one other fearful moment in the next 9 days of Middle Eastern travel.

Our itinerary included a two hour flight to NYC where we changed planes and had to completely clear security all over again. By 11pm we were on board our 11 hour flight to Tel Aviv. Sleeping on a plane is ridiculously uncomfortable, but with sleeping masks and a little Melatonin we did our best.

Our flight arrived in Tel Aviv at 4pm local time on Friday. After collecting all our bags we gathered at a coffee shop in the airport with the 20 other people--then complete strangers--with whom we would be journeying for the next week.

It was a lively Young Life crowd. Our triplets were the youngest by far. We were joined by three people in their 20s (all traveling with their parents), 4 Young Life staff people from around the country, 3 single women and a handful of couples ranging in age from 40s-70s. Our tour guide, Andre, was there to greet us with the plush tour bus that would become our classroom. Once the luggage was loaded and introductions had been handled, we traveled two hours to Tiberius for our first hotel stay. 24 hours from door to door, but we had made it!

It was dark upon arrival and overcoming jetleg was goal #1. We were urged to stay awake until at least 9pm local time to reset our body clocks. We were given 30 minutes to settle into our rooms, freshen up and return to the hotel dining room for a huge Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner. In Israel, the Sabbath runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday--and the observance permeates society. There are Sabbath settings on the elevators that make them stop on every floor so no one will need to do the 'work' of pushing buttons. I noticed in the hotel room our AC thermostat even had a Sabbath setting. The roads are almost abandoned and the stores are closed.

The hotel dining room was bustling as we found our reserved tables--clearly the travel weary Americans among the devout Israeli Jews. As if our appearance didn't make our differences clear, the signs on our tables certainly did!

 After a filling dinner and a quick group meeting we went to bed--a bumpy first night of sleeping in fits and starts as our bodies adjusted to the 7 hour time difference...but, oh what a view welcomed us when we awoke Saturday morning.