Friday, October 22, 2010

Olives and Pirates

What an incredible week. It is hard to believe that we can continue to have such intense and wonderful experiences week after week, but we do. It is a wonderful opportunity to serve in the Church here. The spirit fills me with such love for those whom we serve here. I cannot get over how much I have come to love all these students, those in my class and the others, I think largely because I work with them in the Church and the spirit brings a mighty charity. It also fills me with a greater and greater love for my family all the time. The opportunity to work so closely with my wife in our home life (I am able to work from home most the time, which lets me be around her so much more, and because I don’t have to commute and because my kids can be involved in my work stuff so much I am around them so much more), in my academic life, in my Church life, in my social life (I have no friends here that she doesn’t know and also do things with), it has helped me be closer to her than ever before, and I am amazed at how much I go around being filled with a love of her and everyone here. It is a great gift from God.

This last Sunday we went with the family of the other counselor in the Branch Presidency, the Glenn Lewis family, to Nebi Samwill. The kids had a ton of fun together. Plus, I was able to teach my children about Samuel, Joshua and the battle where the sun and moon stood still, Solomon and his vision of God, and Saul. It is so wonderful to see these stories come alive for them, and to be able to teach them that way. We were able to have the Lewises over for lunch, and then we spent a lot of time with a couple of students who were the only two who had not been able to go on a big activity. It was great to get to know them better. All the students here are so incredible.

The next day was a kind of terrible day. We took the students on a tour of the Holocaust museum. It is a good thing to do, but it really made me sick. I only realized later that I had been clenching my jaw the whole time, which gave me a horrific headache, and that combined with not being able to eat when I wanted and with the emotional exhaustion really had me sick by the end. I won’t talk about how much that place disturbs me, how horrible it all is, because I don’t want to go through it again. I think people need to go there, but I don’t want to keep going there. This time I thought I would do something different to maybe make it better for myself. I paid a little less attention to the stuff in the museum and instead watched the faces of the students as we went through. I watched as these happy, shiny, innocent looking students went from bright faces and eyes to sadder, to pale, to horrified. The light went out of their eyes, the shine from their faces, and in the end that was even more depressing. It is a bad, but necessary day.

Tuesday we had a court of honor, and BJ really started to advance in scouting. He has done so much in scouts, but somehow we have never been able to get in the loop of jumping through the hoops to have the official advancements come. Here we are finally making it happen. It was great to see.

But we had an even great experience on Tuesday. For a week now we have been picking olives. I have been out a ton, both picking with the students and trying to pick enough for my family as well. I have picked buckets and bags full of olives, and it has been a very instructive process for me. On Tuesday we went out with the students, and then later with just our family, the Judd family, and our Jewish friends (who teaches a class here), the Yarden family, to process the olives. It was so great to see the kids push the olive crusher around. We had to do it for nearly an hour, just pushing the great stone around a circle to crush the olives. Then the kids got to get their hands in the mash of olives we had made, and fill up a bunch of baskets. Then we took the baskets over to a press (with the students we did two kinds of presses, with our kids just one). We pressed the olive mash that was in the baskets. The juice comes out a brownish-red, very blood colored. The crushing and pressing often makes it look as if the stone is bleeding. Then the juice ran into some pots in the ground, where the juice sank to the bottom, leaving a golden oil on top. After letting it settle for many hours I was able to get some beautiful olive oil out for our family. We will consecrate this oil later.

I took a moment (after our Jewish friend went to the playground to play, where we would meet him) to talk to our kids and the Judd kids about the symbolism of the Olive Press (Gethsemene) and how the process works and what the Savior did for us on Gethsemene. I would have liked to have talked about during the entire process, but waited out of respect for our friend. Still talking about it when it was all over I think made for a good teaching moment, and I think the older kids understood something more about the atonement when it was over. That by itself makes all the hours of work more than worthwhile.

Wednesday I was able to go visit the Church of the Nativity, which always overwhelms me. Though I have been there a few times before, and though right now it is covered with scaffolding so that one can hardly see a thing, and though I have many times thought of this topic, I was still powerfully moved by the love, grace and mercy represented by God sending his son, and Christ being willing to come to earth. It was an incredible thing to sit and contemplate the overwhelming gift. I am sure I do not fully understand it, I am sure I do not appreciate it enough, I am sure that it is more important for me than I can comprehend, but what I do understand and the appreciation I do feel moves the very depths of my soul, and makes it even deeper.

We also went to Rachel’s tomb. I was grateful to have a few moments to pay respect to my great ancestress. The difficulty of her life and her family’s is easy to overlook. Here was a great woman (she had her problems to be sure), who has given life to a great people, including me and my family. I literally thanked the Lord for the great people who have sacrificed so much to get us where we are today.

Thursday was a big night for us. It was the untalent show. We have been practicing to perform a funny version of “A Pirate’s Life for Me.” We were first, and I think it was a huge hit. We had a great time, and the kids felt good about what they did, and everyone seemed to love it. The rest of the talent show was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. These students are so funny. I could not believe how much I laughed. It was a great night.

On Friday we went from one local birthday party to another. It is good to get to know the area and people around here a little bit better. We also got to learn Israeli folk dancing (except for Kaleb, who didn’t want to, and snuck out). More wonderful and fun culture. There is so much to take in.

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