Sunday, August 28, 2016

Back Again

It is hard to believe that I write this entry from the Western Hemisphere. Where did the time go? How did we get this far along in our journey? It feels like one world has ended and another has begun.

Last week at the end of Sabbath the students had a little get together where they watched a video they had made for Rivkeh Kjar, who had missed the first part of Galilee to be at her sister’s funeral. It was such a thoughtful thing for them to do and was very touching. Afterwards I visited for just a bit. Then I was ready to leave, but different people wanted to talk to me. One asked for a blessing, and I had a sweet experience giving her a blessing. She is such a wonderful girl. Then another wanted to talk about getting answers to prayers, and another about where they are going in life from here, and another about some difficulties in their time at the Center, and another about how to move forward with faith. There were more than this. Each was a wonderful, sweet opportunity. Each time I was so filled with love, and with amazement at how much the Lord loves these good people I am with, and how incredible they are. It was a great night. It kept me up until 1 am, but I am glad to have spent some meaningful time with these, my delightful and powerful friends.

Some of my students getting cozy together at the JC
The next morning I was able to sleep in just a bit, and then I met with Jeremy Branson. We had decided to go to Lachish, but as we went, we got talking about things he would like to do with his family, and so we went to lots of places that would be fun for his family to go to. We basically did the Shfeylah field trip. We stopped at Bet Shemesh and went through the Samson story and the story of the return of the Ark of the Covenant. We went up Azekah, and I showed him all around there and we went through the stories of the sieges of the Assyrians and Babylonians, and saw Gath and went through the story of David and Goliath. Then we went down and drove to show him Shocoh very quickly, and over to the place where you can walk through the brook of Elah a bit, and helped him get a better feel for the David and Goliath story.

The excavations at Azekah
Then we drove to Lachish. We had a little picnic there, and it was quite nice. Then we started going through the story of Lachish. It is such a cool place. We hiked all around, and I was able to spend a little more time thinking and exploring on my own than I usually do because I am usually so busy with students. It was nice. They have started excavating the Hellenistic temple there, which is probably on the remains of an Israelite temple. It allowed me to explore that more fully than I have usually been able to do. They are building up the newly excavated side of one of the gates, making it into a wooden tower. It is a bit weird, but hopefully it turns out better than it looks like it will right now. I went down to the threshold that has so often been a place I have been able to picture the people of the Bible, and I thought about it one last time, and I touched it one last time. I just spent a little time at that site saying goodbye to my favorite tell. It was nice.

the threshold at Lachish

The new buildings on the gate of Lachish
the temple at Lachish
Jeremy in front of the temple at Lachish
On the way home Jeremy pulled over by the Sorek River and I jumped out and explored just a bit. Somewhere around where I was is probably the place where the lion surprised Samson. I have always wanted to explore along it just a bit, and it was so fun that it worked out. 

The Sorek River

The Sorek River
We drove home through Ein Kerem, which is such a beautiful place, and I loved doing that one last time. It was a great day.
I spent just a little time getting ready for tomorrow’s field trip and packing just a bit. Then Phil and I went down to East Jerusalem and met Jeremy. We went to Omar’s, and I got some gifts I have been needing to get. Then we went over to a place Jeremy knew about and we ate a last little dinner of authentic Palestinian food. It was fantastic. And it was so much fun to visit with these guys and enjoy them.

The next morning the big field trip began. I was with David. We went to Bethany, where I took them up to the separation wall and tried to talk through some of the complications of that wall. Then David took them to the remains of the crusader church built to commemorate Simon the Leper’s house, where Mary anointed Jesus during the last week of his life. We also went to the tomb, where David took them down and explained to them about what happened there. Then we went into the church and had a nice moment there.

Phil at Bethany

The Skinners at Bethany

David teaching my students at Bethany near Simon the Leper's house
The remains of a crusader church at Simon the Leper's house in Bethany
at the separation wall
After all of this we went to Bethphage. I tried to help them see how close it is to Bethany. Then we talked about the Triumphal entry. I tried to explain to them not only how important it was at the time, but how important it is that we look forward to the return of the Savior as our king. I talked about how wonderful it will be to have him as our ruler, and to swear fealty to him. Then I reminded them that these things are really already true. We have him as our leader, and we have sworn allegiance to him. I gave them some time to think. On the whole it went well.
My students at Bethphage
From there we went to Pater Noster. David taught them a little bit there, and it wasn’t too bad. The other class was in the cave that I like to go to, so we never made it in there. But we still had a nice time. 

We hurried from there to Dominus Flevit. I had worked hard to arrange for the Father Superior to come speak to us, and thought I had it all lined up. But when we got there he told us that I had said 4 pm. I am sure I said, three times “noon, 12 o’clock.” But the language barrier got us. He had been planning on preparing coffee and tea for us at 4, so it was probably a blessing that he had not gone to all that effort only to find out that we couldn’t drink it. He spoke to us for a while, and it was nice. He talked about his family having been Christian since 72 AD. It seems believable to me, the Christians in Iraq have been Christians for a long, long time. He is from Nineveh. Because the Christians there really haven’t intermarried much with the Arabs and other groups that have come through, he is probably pretty close to a full blooded Assyrian. So interesting.

Father Sevastion teaching us at Dominus Flevit
After he spoke to us we talked about the Savior loving the temple, and about the things he taught there on the Mount of Olives. We sang in the little church, and had time for lunch, and gave them time to think about things. It was wonderful.

One of my students pondering at Dominus Flevit

My students pondering at Dominus Flevit

From there we went to the Dormition Abbey. We had a moment or two to talk about Mary, and women in general, and I feel like it went very well. We sang Silent Night, and it was beautiful. So many great memories, such beauty to be had. For whatever reason the other class didn’t end up doing that, and when my class found out (even though it made it so we were on the trip half an hour longer than them), many came and thanked me for taking the time to take them there.

My students in Dormition Abbey
Then we went to the Upper Room. There David taught them and it was okay. From there we went to Saint Peter in Gallicantu. We looked at the amazing view of Jerusalem that we have there, and I let the students teach me about what they were seeing. It was a good thing for them to see how well they knew this stuff. It was cool. Then we went to the model of the city in the Byzantine era, and again it was great how much they knew. Then we went into the church and we looked at some of the art and sang. Then we went to the pit where the Savior is said to have been imprisoned and tried by the Sanhedrin. I spoke about how needful it was, but also how difficult it is to picture the Great Jehovah being mocked and unfairly tried by the high priest, the very person who was supposed to represent him. We read Isaiah 50 together, and spoke of how it was fulfilled. We talked about the irony and adversity that Jesus went through there, and of how I believe that is part of the atonement. He went through everything so that he could succor us and relieve us of our burdens. And he truly can. He can make our burdens light, and reach us when we need it most, because of all he did for us, including the ridiculous trial he went through there.

Then we went outside and in the courtyard where the statue of Peter denying Christ is, we talked about Peter’s denial. I talked to them about how it seems to me that Peter so wanted to be with Christ that he was willing to do anything to be there, even lie about knowing Christ. Then we talked about the pictures we had seen earlier. In the church you can twice see a series of pictures where first Peter is denying Christ, then Christ looks at him and he weeps, then Christ is calling him to feed his sheep at the Sea of Galilee. You see Peter at his lowest moment, and then at his highest. The denial did not make it so that Christ was not willing to call Peter to lead his church.

With that in mind we went over and looked at the stairs that lead down to the Kidron Valley. These are almost surely the stairs that the Savior walked down as he went to the Garden of Gethsemane, and then walked back up, bloody, exhausted, and bound. We talked about how his bloody feet would have touched those stones, and the hem of his blood soaked robe would have drug across them. It was because of what he did in between that Christ was able to take Peter from his low point to his high point. Peter could overcome his inadequacies and be changed into the man he needed to be because of what Christ did in between the times he walked on those stairs. And so he can do with us. Whatever depths we descend to, Christ knows the heights we can reach, and can take us there, because of what he did in Gethsemane.

The steps that lead to the Kidron Valley at the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu

One of my wonderful students pondering near the steps leading to the Kidron Valley
Another of my amazing students pondering at the steps that lead to Kidron Valley at St. Peter in Gallicantu
And on that note we ended the field trip. It was a wonderful ending. Then we had a meeting about getting ready to go, and then Phil and I had dinner with the Holyoaks. They were so nice to have us to dinner, and it was so enjoyable to visit with them. What great people we have had the opportunity to interact with here. We have been so blessed in that way.

That evening I watched a movie and went to bed. The next morning it was time for the last field trip.

I took my students to the Orson Hyde Garden. We went through what exactly that garden was, how it got there, etc. We read from Orson Hyde’s dedicatory prayer, and talked about the other dedicatory prayers that have been made there. We talked about the gathering of Israel, and the fulfillment of prophecy, and the sacredness of that place. Then we read from President Kimball’s dedicatory address, especially the part about how we dedicate ourselves to God as much as we do the land. I gave them time to think about how they were going to do that. We had a nice time.

Then we walked down to Gethsemane. We went in and looked at some of the old olive trees. I taught them about Isaiah 11, and what it means literally, for olive trees, to have stems and rods coming from the tree. Then I talked about how much Christ was literally a fulfillment of that scripture, the rising of the line of David from the dust. I talked about how just as these rods give new life to the tree, so does Christ give new life to the house of Israel, and to all of us. 

A rod coming out of an olive tree at Gethsemane

Trees coming out of the root of an olive tree at Gethsemane
Then Andy taught them more about the symbolism of Olive Trees. He did a superb job of showing them how the pressing of olives is such a fitting symbol for the atonement.

Then we went across the way and we sat in the private olive orchard. Andy taught them some more about the atonement. I also spoke to them, trying to help them understand how much Christ suffered there, and how his love for his Father and his willingness to do his Father’s will got him through it. I taught about the power of the atonement, stressing how it not only provided the ability to be forgiven, but also to change us. I tried to tie it back in to many things we have discussed this semester. I talked about our quest for holiness, and how that happens because of the atonement. We are changed, hopefully almost daily, because of what happens there. We sang some songs, and everyone was given about half an hour to think and write. 

Many of my amazing students pondering at Gethsemane

One of my wonderful students pondering at Gethsemane

One of my dear students praying at Gethsemane

My students pondering at Gethsemane

This is what I wrote:
“I am so grateful for the atonement. I wish I could write down everything I just taught my students. I felt at least some direction from the Spirit. I knew that Christ himself was surprised and amazed at what he went through here. I know that it was so terrible that he plead with his Father that if there was any other way he would please like to not go through what he was going through. Yet he did, because he loved his Father so much he was willing to do whatever his Father asked.
“And so he suffered for every sin I will ever commit. For every bit of pain, hunger, thirst or fatigue I will ever feel. Every sorrow, every regret, every feeling of being abandoned, betrayed, let down, unjustly accused, or any other difficult experience. All he went through, from Judas leaving the Last Supper, through his friends falling asleep when he needed them, through being mocked by a high priest who should have been representing him, to being condemned by false witnesses, through being condemned of blasphemy, something he was not actually capable of since he was who he said he was, to being mocked because he did not prophesy who was hitting him, though he could have, to being condemned to death by someone who knew he was innocent, to suffering the horrors and pain of the cross after all he had gone through, through, in his worst moment, finding himself unexpectedly and fully alone, and through much more than I can ever imagine, all of this brought about his ability to help us.
I can be forgiven
I can be healed
I can be more holy
I can love more
I can do more
I can be more
“I pray that I will let God work with me, refine me, change my nature. I pray he will take away my worldly, fallen desires, and help me be the Godly man I and he would want me to be. I pray that he will change me so that I may help rather than hurt those around me. I know he can. I know he can bring me to God as a Godlike being. I know he can bring me home and make me glorious. My ability to mess up is smaller than his ability to change me. And so I believe I will one day stand with my wife and children as an exalted being, truly belonging to an exalted sphere. I look forward to both soon sanctification and eventual exaltation, when my nature will have nothing to do with this world. God and His son have made it possible.”
I can only hope that my students had as wonderful a time there as I did.

The stone of suffering in the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane

My students on the stone of suffering inside the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane
From there we walked to the Gethsemane Grotto, the cave where the ancient olive press was. We were not able to get them to open the curtain to let us see where the nice for the press beam was, but we were able to sing there and have a nice moment. We were able to do that with both classes. It was very nice.

The niche where the beam for the oil press is in the Gethsemane Grotto

My students in the Gethsemane Grotto
From there we went to the Church of the Flagellation. There Andy taught them about Pilate and the trials. It was good. Then we went in to St. Anne’s. We had arranged to stay there through lunch. We had a few difficulties getting that re-worked out, but it turned out okay. We had a little time for eating a lunch. Then we went out to the Pool of Bethesda. I was able to help them picture what that pool looked like. We walked around the see the whole thing better, and then we went through the story of John 5. I think I was able to help them see how much they will be able to rely on the Savior to help them, to heal them, when it seems like they have no man to help them and no way to be healed. It touched me, and I hope it touched them. I gave them some time to walk around and think and read.
Then we all met in the church. We taught them a little bit about the church. We then sang. This time they did more solos than I have ever seen done. It highlights the acoustics of the place better (and they are truly amazing), but it also takes away some of the power that comes when everyone sings a lot together. I actually fell asleep for a little while. It was very nice, though I would have liked to do some more singing all of us together. Still, the power is real, and the songs help invite the spirit.

From there we walked to the Garden Tomb. Andy taught about the resurrection, and was powerful and profound. I wish I could encapsulate better what he said. Then I tried to teach about the resurrection. I brought up how Hailey had just had a dear friend die, and how Rivkeh had lost her sister less than a month ago. Then I tried to talk about how I have seen my father, who was once so strong and able, become someone who can’t do anything for himself. I was too emotional, and it was not easy to talk about it. But I did try to say how much I look forward to the day when his strength will be returned, when he will be made whole. I talked about how what Christ did for us will make it possible for all of us to be made whole in every way. For me, at least, it was a powerful moment. I bore my testimony one last time of how I know the resurrection is real. Then others bore their testimonies for quite a while. It was a blessed and wonderful time. I loved it, and I hope they did as well.

My class at the Garden Tomb
When that was over I went with a small group over to the Davidson Archaeological park. Some of them had been too sick to go there when we went there on a field trip, so I took this small group and we went through it all together. It was a very nice time. I am so glad to be able to go where Jesus went.
We ran as fast as we could to catch the bus home, and got there just in time for the big farewell dinner. It was very good, and very nice. 

My group on the steps to the temple at the Davidson Archaeological Park
Then we went to the memories night. Phil was able to say just a bit to them before he left for the airport. I am so sad to see him go. He has been my brother, and I could not ask for a better companion to be with or a better friend. He will always be my brother, and the times we shared together will always be sacred.

The students gave us all gifts. They gave us each a beautiful photo taken from the earliest days of cameras. They chose which picture to give us based on their knowledge of us. They gave me and my family one of fishers casting their nets at the Sea of Galilee. This is the picture we had looked at many times and wished we could get. It was a beautiful picture, and a more beautiful thought and gesture. I was so pleased.

We did some movies and slide shows. Then I gave my last speech. It was hard, I knew this was my last time in a long time, and maybe ever. What a wonderful group to end with. I paused before ending with my last “all pau” (Hawaiian for all done, something I always say when I am teaching on the bus and am finished talking). I really was all done. Weird.

Then we watched the last slide show, and it was incredible. Then I visited for a while, and was so tired I just went down and went to bed.

The next morning, our last morning in Israel, was a big day. We ate breakfast quickly, and then several of us went down to the City of David. We had a lot of fun walking together and visiting together there as we waited for them to open Hezekiah’s tunnel. During that time a student, Emily Mangelson, tricked me into thinking that she spoke Hebrew fluently. She had me convinced for about half an hour. Tricky girl!

When they opened it we ran the tunnel as fast as we could. It took us about 9.5 minutes. It was a pretty good workout, going through the water so fast. We had tons of light this time, so that recording it on GoPro worked out better. Afterwards we just sat and laughed and visited for a while. Then a few people said they just wanted to go explore, so I went with them. Dane, Bekkah Dalebout, Ashlyn Parker, and I went. We went first to the Holy Sepulchre, stopping at a bakery and enjoying some views of the Jewish Quarter and Western Wall along the way. The Holy Sepulchre was empty for the most part. There was absolutely no one in line at the Aedicule, so we went in and spent some time inside, which we usually can’t. It was nice to contemplate what it would have really been like when the Savior’s body drew breath again and rose. Amazing!!! It was nice to be in there and be reverent. Then we went exploring. We found some doors that were open that usually were not. Some went to housing areas. Some went to chapels I have never seen. There were some beautiful chapels. We even got up to the holy part of the Armenian chapel to look into the area with the cave and the boat graffiti. We ran into some other students, and followed them for a while, trying to scare them. But the joke was on us, they lost us. We found another few open chapels that were beautiful. It was fantastic.

My group coming out of Hezekiah's Tunnel

My group in the Church of the Redeemer Bell Tower

We went to Shabban’s, and he helped me with the lost/broken widow’s mite of Julianne’s. We ran into tons of students there. It was nice to be there one last time. Then I set out for home. I tried to buy some falafel mix on the way home, but couldn’t find anyone selling it. I ran into a few more students on the way home, and we had a nice visit and walk.

Then I packed, took a little nap in the middle, and finished packing. After dinner we went out on the balcony and enjoyed one last sunset. I sat quietly for a minute, enjoying the last view of the city I love that is so unique and amazing. The most important and amazing city in the world. But I couldn’t enjoy quiet for long. Lots of people came and asked for pictures with me. That was nice too. I sure love all these people and I will miss them.

As the goodbyes started I knew it was going to be easier for me. As people came to me I reminded them I was going with them. They went to others and hugged and cried. Yet I knew that after a long flight it would seem less dramatic, and that people would be in such a hurry to get on the plane there wouldn’t be much of a goodbye. So I loaded on the bus and watched. It was different, and fun, to experience this part of the student experience. I have never known what it was like to be on the bus going to the airport, and I loved seeing it. I tried to sit in the middle, out of the way, and just take it all in rather than be part of running anything. I was also tired, emotionally exhausted, and a bit detached, not able to really take in that it was ending. I watched the goodbyes, saw the bittersweet sorry and excitement, and watched. 

As we left, they put on the song “I swear I lived,” which I had tried to make my class’ theme song. It was so fun to see them do it on their own, and feel that it was true, and to be so into how much they had done. It was great.

I listened and enjoyed them all the way to the airport. It went more quickly than I thought it would. I just kept looking out thinking of how hard it is to believe that it is over. Then we got there, loaded our tons of luggage, and got in line. It was a long line and took a long time, and it was so fun to be with these guys. They are such loved friends, it was no problem to be in line, it was great to just be with them.

Finally we got all the way through and waited for just a short time, and then boarded the plane. The ride was long, but okay. I slept a bit, and watched a few movies I have missed. I also walked around a little, and saw that every couple we thought might happen had arranged to sit by each other and were holding hands. So fun! I visited with people a bit. I sure love these guys.

Finally we got there. The lines for passport were long, getting luggage was an adventure, the lines for checking luggage back in and for going back through security were long. And yet as we went through these snaking lines it was just a joy, just another chance to see loved ones and say hi and visit and laugh together. What a group to be with! When we finally got all the way through I carried my hugely heavy bags with no wheels all the way to the gate most of the students were taking. My shoulders were so sore, but it was a good workout. It was past time to load as we got there, and many had already gotten on. Those few of us who were staying tried to get them to hold the plane for the others. Most got there soon enough, and were able to say goodbye quickly and get them on. Soon all but three were on, and we said our final goodbyes. They wouldn’t hold it for those last three. So those of us who were staying hung out for a while, found the lost three, sent them where they needed to go, and then went and hung out for a long time. We visited and joked and had a great time. After more than an hour they had to go, so I bid them a very fond farewell, and worked my way down to where I knew some others were waiting for flights. I said goodbye to a few of them, and was sad that I had missed a few others.

Cam and Jessica waiting with me in the airport
Then I ran into two of the students who had missed their flight. They were scheduled for a flight that was even later than mine, but they were hoping to get on my flight. So we hung out and visited for a long time. It was good, very good. One of them was someone who I have been trying to visit with and help a bit for a while, so it worked out quite well.

Finally it was time to go. The flight went fairly quickly, and I slept a bit and watched a movie or two. We ended up getting in a bit early. As we flew over the western mountains I couldn’t help but notice how much they looked like the mountains of Judea. Then we wheeled around and I saw the eastern mountains. Those are nothing like the mountains of Judea, they are giant, huge, imposing, and strikingly beautiful.

I waited for my two dear friends, and together we went to luggage claim. There we met Savannah, another student who had come earlier but whose luggage had been delayed. We all got our luggage and I was able to go out and meet Savannah’s dad. She let me use her phone, and I called Tammy, and found she was right there ready to get me.

It was great to see Tammy. She was so kind to come get me and take me back. We talked about all sorts of things on the way home. We especially got caught up on the situation with Phillip and with care of my Dad.

On the drive I couldn’t help but notice that the roads were wide, people drove calmly, the signs were in English, and things were incredibly beautiful. As we got off the freeway and drove around town it seemed weird to not see any guys with big black hats and long beards. Weird.

It was great to see my parents. I was able to immediately help my dad get up and around and sat down. He is doing fairly well, not a lot different from when I saw him last year. I had some really nice visits with him and mom and Tammy. He was fairly with it. It was so, so good to be with them. And in some ways it seemed like I had seen them only a few weeks ago.

Finally I loaded my luggage into the car that Jul and Tashara had dropped off for me, and I drove home. It was so weird to be home. In some ways it seemed like I had never been gone. It was a bit weird that no one was here. I worked fairly furiously on unpacking, and took a shower. When they were about half an hour away from home I started making them dinner, and had it mostly made when they walked in. It was so great to see them again. We immediately tried to unload the car, though some helped a bit and some not so much. Then we ate, and had a nice time being together. We all visited and unpacked and had a nice time. I forced myself to stay awake for as long as possible, and then blissfully fell asleep.

I was able to sleep in until 5:30. Then I got up and went for a walk. What a beautiful place we live in! We are so blessed to live in such an amazing place. The air was crisp and cool, and I headed up towards the mountain, looking for deer, etc. I found myself habitually screening the sidewalks for broken glass, human feces, and cars parked on them knowing that would force me onto the road. It took me about ten minutes to realize that I would actually be able to stay on the sidewalk the whole time, it was clear, clean, and safe. Weird.

What a great walk I had. Everyone kept sleeping, so I went out on the porch and enjoyed the beautiful air and worked on my computer, trying to catch up with some things. Then I made breakfast, and got the family up. We worked on unpacking for a long time. Then we got everyone ready and went to the doctors. It was a productive time of just making sure everyone was healthy and working through small physical problems. Then we took some kids to parties, and some to young women’s activities. Dave Beesley and Carly came by and we visited for a while. It was nice to be with our students already. We worked and worked, and I fell asleep a bit. That evening Julianne wanted to go watch Olympics, but I knew I would fall asleep, so I unpacked a bit more while she did that. Before we went to bed we had found plates, cups, pans, keys, clothes, and other necessities. We are going to get by just fine.

I was not able to sleep in as well the next morning. I got up very early, but lay there for a long time trying to sleep some more. Finally I got up, and Julianne got up with me. We went for a walk and again I was reminded of what an incredible place we live in. And our house and place are so incredible. We are blessed!
We opened the doors and windows to let in the cool air and worked on unpacking. After a while I went to shut the doors, and found I was too late. A hummingbird had gotten in, but couldn’t figure out how to get out. We worked for about half an hour, trying to shoo him towards the door, or to an open window. But he was panicked and just kept trying to go through the ceiling. As we neared 45 minutes, and after Jacob and Sabrina had joined us in our chase, he was clearly getting exhausted. I was using a broom to try to force him towards a window when I accidentally, yet gently, caught him between the broom and the ceiling. Julianne got a bag, we pushed him in, took him to the window, and he flew out and up and off, seeming just fine. What an adventure.

The hummingbird in our house
We got going on soccer, unpacking, etc. We had waffles with homemade mix from wheat we had ground. We had fun together, and got a lot done. I went to my parents’ house and watched my dad while my mom did some stuff. It was fun to visit with him, though sometimes he is so with it and sometimes so confused. He wanted me to help him go home, but we were home. He wanted me to help him get up and get going so he could have a somewhat normal life, but I can’t help him with that. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. But I am glad to help.

That evening I barbecued, my first time in forever. It was sooo tasty. Yea! We also went and watched Olympics, but I kept falling asleep.

On Sabbath/Sunday (weird that those coincide here), I got up early again, but not quite as early. I went to our back porch and enjoyed the wonderful morning air and wrote in here and emailed thank yous to people. We had a family breakfast and discussed what we should do to make our Sabbaths here more holy. We worked on family history work. To begin with there was too much goofing around, and it didn’t work well. So we postponed until after church. When we tried it later it went very well, largely due to how good Julianne is at this kind of thing. I feel like some inspired things came of it.

Church was great. In some ways it was weird to be back. There are lots of new people there and it was fun to meet them and also to catch up a bit with all the people we have known. In some ways it seems like we never left. Jerusalem seems increasingly like a dream. A very good dream. A life changing dream. I hope the dream continues to inspire us, uplift us, edify us, transform us, and haunt us for a very long time. We have been blessed to live this dream!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

I Swear I Lived!!!

What a week! It started with an incredible bang! I got up and worked on getting moved out of the apartment. Then I went with the Smiths, Skinners, and Phil on a really cool trip with a guy named Nir. He runs four-wheel-drive tours around the country. We went to Azazel, the mountain where it is thought that on the Day of Atonement they drove the scapegoat off a cliff. We had to go on some pretty crazy roads to get there, if you can call them roads. We stopped and looked at Bedouin cisterns as we went, and I came to understand them in a way I never had before. 

A Bedouin water gathering field and cistern

Bedouin sheep and goats
Azazel was really cool also. From there you could see the Dead Sea and Moab, Hyrcania, and yet the entire Way of the Patriarchs like I never had before. I could see Herodian, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nob and Gibeah all at once. From that perspective they were further apart than they have looked from any other perspective I have seen. It was cool. We took some time to stop and talk about the meaning of the scapegoat and how the practices of the ritual changed a bit over time, and some of the symbolism. It was beautiful, invigorating, enlightening, stimulating, and bonding. We loved it.

Mount Azazel

Dead Sea Area from Azazel

Way of the Patriarchs as seen from Mount  Azazel

On the left is tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, then the tower of Augusta Victoria on Mount Scopus then the Hebrew U tower on Mount Scoups, then the two sky rise buildings on biblical Nob, then a hill that is Gibeah of Saul

Nir showing the Smiths, Phil and Andy some things
Nir has a degree in Geomorphology, and he helped me understand the geology, topography, climate and ecology in a way I never have before. It was fantastic. He drove us on some even rougher roads until we got a fantastic view of the largest monastery of the Judean desert, the Mar Saba monastery. It is gorgeous. We had a tiny bit of a picnic there. Then we asked him to take us in. He doesn’t do it often, but he took us in. It was a bit of an arduous drive, but not for Nir, who seems to revel in going in crazy places.
Mar Saba Monastery
Mar Saba Monastery in Wadi Kidron (or the Kidron Valley)
So, off to the monastery we went. Poor Joyce couldn’t go in because they don’t allow women inside. But we went in, and I am so sad they wouldn’t allow pictures. The narthex of their church had the coolest Greek Orthodox paintings ever. It was all Old Testament stuff, as a narthex typically is. They had scenes of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel (which I never see), the flood, Abraham and Isaac, etc., that were just so cool. Then we went further into the chapel and saw the body of Saint Saba, and some other holy icons, and a depiction of the Savior with the all Seeing Eye over him, which is their way of depicting God the Father. We had with us a monk whose English was good and who did a fantastic job of explaining the church to us. They gave us some nice treats, and we had a great time.

The Kidron as it flows through the Judean Wilderness 

Nir and I with Mar Saba in the background

Inside the Mar Saba Monastery
Then we tried to hurry to make it to Ein Perat on time. Sometimes we were on the road, sometimes off. We were close to not making it before they closed, and we hit a traffic jam caused by a huge, slow truck at the front of a very, very long line of cars. So Nir went off the road and we went at about 40 miles per hour on some pretty rough terrain going up and down and over rocks and hills. We were booking it, and it was so fun. We got to one place where we could turn onto the road, and we were just a few second too late to get in front of the truck. So we kept going, and at the next place we could get on the road we barely got in front of it, and then scooted to our turn off for the spring. We had just gone past Anathoth, where Jeremiah was from. Ein Perat was the nearest spring, and I am sure Jeremiah went them from time to time. We got there four minutes too late, and they wouldn’t let us in. But now we knew where it was, and it is close enough we decided we would go on our own.

Seeing the rain shadow near Ein Pratt
It was a wonderful, absolutely wonderful day. That evening I cleaned out the apartment and got it all ready to move out early the next morning, and I got ready for my field trip as well.

Here is what I wrote to my children in an email that night, on 7-31-16:
My dear, sweet children,           As I get ready to go to bed during my last night in our apartment, I am filled with memories. I walk in each room and remember something. I remember Jacob and Kaleb playing with legos or making forts in their room. I remember Tashara and Sabrina having such fun in the double room, or Tashara and Alexia playing games when they shared that room, or Tashara and Sabrina being twins. I remember Alexia reading in the single room, and singing to Sabrina in that room, and Tashara working on history in that room. I remember watching Merlin and White Collar and Pac Man and Yellowstone in the front room. I remember playing cards and Dominion on the kitchen table. I remember talking with BJ at that table about college, and BJ giving us the best Christmas gifts ever when he wrote such nice notes and we opened them in our front room with its little Christmas tree. I remember so many wonderful meals at the kitchen table, and talking about school, the gospel, and reading scriptures at the table. I remember each of you cooking and all of us cooking together in the kitchen. I remember about 50 or more nights of making pita pizza there together. I remember every child sleeping in our bed with Mom and I. Sadly, I remember Tashara taking two hour showers in both bathrooms ;). I remember getting field trip stuff out of the drawer of the bed in the single room so that we could go have so much fun together. Today I sat and stared for a while at the last “remember harmony” sign left in the house.

I don’t know if you remember, but Mom and I once told you that the biggest reason we came to Jerusalem was to grow closer together as a family. I feel like we did that. I want to thank you for being such wonderful children, and for providing me with such wonderful memories of our time together here. I believe I will leave a piece of my heart here in the apartment tonight because everywhere I look I see you. You made this the best time ever! Thank you! Thank you for being a wonderful family. No Dad ever had better kids, and no dad ever had more fun with his kids.

I love you all, and I am so proud of you! I miss you, but in a way you are here with me.  Love you! ----Dad

The kitchen of our apartment

The dining room of our apartment

The front room of our apartment
It was hard to move out. It has been a wonderful place for us and wonderful things have happened and I will miss it.

The next morning I got my stuff together and ate a breakfast that I enjoyed eating, and I moved out. Then I went on the field trip. I was able to immediately start using some of the things I had learned from Nir the day before. We had a lot of fun on that field trip. Andy taught them at Qumran all about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then we went to Ein Gedi, and he taught them about David and Saul, and I taught them about Book of Mormon imagery. It was fun, and I think they enjoyed it. Ein Gedi is so beautiful, I think everyone loved hiking and having fun there. It was supposed to be crazy hot, but it didn’t end up being too bad.

Andy teaching at Qumran
From there we went to Masada. It was over 100 degrees on top, but it really wasn’t terrible. Because of problems with his knees Andy didn’t come on top, so I did that part by myself. I moved along quickly because of the heat, but gave them all of the pertinent information. The place is impressive, and the story is crazy. I tried to wrap it all up with a spiritual thought, teaching them about the destructive nature of secret combinations. I also read to them from the Savior’s prophecies about the destruction of the Jews and the need to flee from it, and told them about how the Christians who listened to the early church leaders did flee Judea to a town in the Decapolis and thus escaped destruction. A great lesson in listening to church leaders. I also read from Amos where he says that people cannot climb high enough or dig low enough to escape God’s judgment. I tried to teach them that rather than trying to escape God’s judgment we should remember how much he wants to help us, and turn to him so we can look forward to God’s judgment. I think it went fairly well, but it was hot enough that no one could completely focus.

My students in the hanging palace of Masada

The Dead Sea from Masada

My student Chloe Bray contemplating at Masada
From there we went to the Dead Sea, where the students floated and had a great time, despite the water being so hot they were not very comfortable in it. I think everyone had fun.

floating in the Dead Sea

Students in mud at the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea
My student Kayenta Ryan floating/relaxing in the dead Sea
My student Michaela Proctor studying in the Dead Sea
Students floating in the Dead Sea
I taught them on the bus ride home just a little bit, and then I handed back papers and asked them about things they had been learning that made a big difference to them. It was a nice time.

I came home to my new apartment, which is a bit of a weird thing to say. It is nice enough, and I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed eating with friends in the Oasis. That night we had a guys’ night out, since Phil, Dave Heiner and I are all apart from our wives. We watched one of the Jason Bourne movies. It was a lot of fun.
I also emailed BJ a bit. It is always a bright spot of the week for me when we can communicate with him. He seems to be doing so very, very, very well. I am very happy about that!

My new apartment at the Center
The next day I taught my last class. It was bitter-sweet. Here is what I wrote on that day: 8-2-16
Today I taught my last class here. Since I don’t imagine I will be back within the next decade, it was a somber moment for me after it was all over. My students left and I sat in the classroom and looked at the chairs. Images came to me of many, many students who had sat in this wonderful classroom and with whom I had incredible experiences. 
My students on the last day of my last class
Face after face, conversation after conversation, feeling after feeling, moment after moment came flooding to my mind. I pulled out my computer and called up the picture roll for every class I ever taught in there. 6 semester, 12 classes, about 225 students. I looked at every face, and recalled something from each one of them that happened in that room. I didn’t want to leave, and in fact I stayed there for a long time. I stayed there with my students who were with me, whether they knew it or not. I was awash in my love for them. I am so grateful for the Spirit I have felt so often in that room. I am so grateful for the questions and conversations I had in that room and how much I learned and grew and came to understand in that classroom. It has been a great ride! Thanks to all my students, it has been one of the great privileges and pleasures of my life to have been in that room with you! Honestly, a privilege and a pleasure, a blessing that is beyond what I will ever deserve. Thanks to God and my students!
My class as I sat in it empty
It was a crazy day, but it was a nice feeling to know that so much good has happened in my classroom. I will miss teaching there.

That afternoon and evening I did some organizing, packing, and working on papers, etc. I am trying to get all my loose ends tied up. That night the Branch Presidency went out to First Station for ice cream. It was our last meeting, but mostly we just enjoyed being with each other rather than doing much of a meeting. It has been good to serve with these brethren. We also watched another Bourne movie together.

The next morning Phil and I went for a walk at 6:30 am. We walked down to the Old City and along the eastern wall, through the cemetery that is really only open in the morning. It is the most I have ever been able to study the wall and its construction. It was really cool and fun. More than that, Phil and I had a lot of fun just visiting with each other. I so, so enjoy him. He is such a good guy, and we had a great time visiting. We got back in time for breakfast, and I got a few things done. Then Phil, Andy, Janet and I went to Ein Perat, the place that we had almost gotten to on Sunday with Nir, but it had just closed. It was a cool place. The whole time I kept thinking how much my family would  have enjoyed going there, and I so wish I had taken them there at some point.

First we went on a really nice little hike up to a monastery. We were not able to get into the monastery, but we enjoyed exploring around it and hiking up the wadi. We found the spring, which is really three or four springs coming together. Then we changed into our swimming suits and hiked up the wadi stopping in the pools and cooling ourselves off. It was so refreshing, and so fun. What a wonderful time we have all had together.
The monastery at Ein Perat

The spring (or ein) Perat

One of the places the water flows out of the rock at Ein Perat

A frog enjoying the source of the water

fish at the source of Ein Perat

The beginning of Ein Perat

Ein Perat

a pool at Ein Perat

Me exploring the spring

Andy, myself and Phil enjoying Ein Perat
That night after dinner all the guys in the Center got together and went to the theater to watch the new Jason Bourne movie. It was pretty good, though the plot was not as original as some of the others. But it was a fun thing for all of us to go do. I enjoyed it.
At the theater after the watching the new Bourne movie

The next morning Phil and I went for another walk at 6 am. We went to the Holy Sepulcher, which is so quiet and beautiful that time of day. It is reverent, and I enjoy the feeling there. We explored a few places we aren’t usually able to explore, and then we went around the city just a bit. It is so quiet that time of day. It is nice.

Holy Sepulcher in the  morning

empty streets of Jerusalem in the morning
more empty streets of the Old City in the morning
entering the Holy Sepulcher in the morning
looking out from the unction stone of the Holy Sepulcher
entering the Holy Sepulcher in the morning
ritual at the Edicule, or tomb, in the Holy Sepulcher

We came back and had breakfast, and then immediately went out again. We traced through a lot of the field trip we are planning on doing next week. We went to Bethphage, and walked around to hills and views around there that we usually aren’t able to get into. It helped me have an even better feel for it. 
celebration of the Triumphal Entry at Bethphage

The towers of the Russian Church of the Ascension and Augusta Victoria, highlighting the Mount of Olives and Scopus peaks of the Mount of Olives

Augusta Victoria
Then we walked towards Dominus Flevit, but we found the tomb of the prophets open, and so we dropped by. A little service was going on there, so we listened, and then explored, going all around, more than I have in the past. It was great! 

a shrine inside the tomb of the prophets
Inside the tomb of the prophets
Me inside the tomb of the prophets (which are not the tombs of the prophets, by the way)
leaving the tomb of the prophets
Then we visited with the caretakers and a father at Dominus Flevit and got that all set up. Then we drove to St. Peter in Gallicantu and went through that together. It was fun doing this with Phil because we could ask each other what we usually teach in a certain place. We never get to do field trips together, so it was nice to get from Phil some ideas of how to make some of these places better. It was fantastic, and he gave me some great ideas. We had a lot of fun together.

Dominus Flevit
Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene as seen from Dominus Flevit
Tombs and Ossiuaries at Dominus Flevit
The Dome of the Rock as seen from Dominus Flevit
Then we drove to the other side of town and walked in to St. Anne’s. We got things set up for our visit there, and stopped by a bookstore, and in all had a wonderful time. We had lunch together, and I got a little bit of work done. That evening I was planning on working more, but I could see so many students were stressed out about finals that I just spent my entire evening going around and visiting with students and helping them feel better about life and putting things in perspective. It turned out to be a very pleasant evening.

The next morning I gave my final. After it was over I tried to help my students see how much I know they have learned and how satisfied I am with each one of them and what they have learned and become. I think it ended on a good note. For me, at least, it was a time I felt knit with them.

Then Phil, Andy, Janet and I took off. We drove down to the Negeve, to Maktesh Ramon. This is a huge natural crater. It is beautiful and strange and different. We saw several ibex, and explored the crater a bit. We also stopped and had a picnic along the way. Again, the things we saw were cool, the company was amazing. I had a great time, and am so glad to be with this group.

Maktesh Ramon

Maktesh Ramon

Mother and child ibex at Maktesh Ramon

naturally formed prisms inside Maktesh Ramon
Phil with a prism
More naturally formed prisms at Maktesh Ramon
Phil and Andy inside Maktesh Ramon
an ibex at Maktesh Ramon
Church was great. I was released. During the sacrament I turned and looked out to the places where the events we were commemorating took place. I am not usually able to do that, but today I just really wanted to since it was my last opportunity, so I turned way around and looked for a while. All of our church meetings were very nice. I have enjoyed fasting today, and taking some time to just really focus on the important things. Sabbaths are a delight! So has my time here been!