On Monday morning we began our last field trips. Julianne came with me on this day, and I loved that. It was cold and rainy, but it was great anyway. We went to Lazarus’ tomb. There I think we had a good devotional, and talked about some great things. But when it came time to go into the tomb we got behind some large, very slow groups. It got us way behind schedule.
As we tried to recreate the steps of the Savior during the last week of his life we next went to Bethphage, and commemorated his triumphal entry. From there we went to Pater Noster, and talked about the Lord’s prayer and also his teachings about the 2nd coming. We were not able to spend much time there because we knew it was almost time for the next church, Pater Noster, to close. We ran down there, only to find out they had closed early. Oh well, we just had to roll with the punches.
We went to the upper room, and there we worshipped together for about 40 minutes, talking about the sacrament and last supper. I felt the spirit strongly, but I don’t know if the students did or if they were just ready to get on with it. Sometimes I get a real feel for what they are feeling, and sometimes I can’t. In this case I was not able to get a pulse on what was going on for them. It was complicated somewhat by the fact that the other class had jumped through everything so quickly that they were already done and going either home or out to the city, and many people in my class wanted to do things with them. So some of my students were very antsy. Still, when we were done there we went to the Dormition Abbey and had a great experience there. Then for those who were interested, we went back to Dominus Flevet, the church that had been closed, and talked about things there. It was a great day, even though it was raining, and I think we were able to give them a good idea of the geography and timing of much of what was happening during the Passion Week.
The next day we picked up where we left off, except that Julianne wasn’t with us, and it was incredibly beautiful weather. We started out at Gethsemene (since from the Last Supper, which was supposed to be our last stop, he went there). We had a great experience there. I had asked Janelle Knight to be in charge of the devotional there, and she did an incredible job. It was very good. From there we went to St. Peter Gallicantu, and talked about the Savior’s trials. Then we went to St. Anne’s, and then to the Church of the Flagellation. Ashley had gotten to know a father there who let us up on the roof and let us go around a bit. It was great. Then we had a few hours of free time because all the Christian things close at noon. Finally we met at the Garden Tomb and had a great testimony meeting. Again the other class had skipped through things so quickly that they had not spent much time there, but many of them came to meet with our class so that they could have a longer, more meaningful experience at the tomb. It was a wonderful ending to the field trips, though I felt like I did not do it as well as I would have liked. I always feel unable to talk about the atonement and the resurrection as well as it deserves. But overall it was great.
I will miss going on field trips with these students. I will miss it more than I can express. It has been one of the coolest parts of my life.
That night was the final program for the classes. We met together and sang and had speakers. Lisa Weiler and Nataly Bullock spoke. They were incredible. They helped me feel the spirit, and showed that these students have profoundly grasped those elements that are most important about the whole experience. Julianne, Jill, Frank and I also spoke. I hope we helped them feel the spirit and get a good perspective on the whole experience. I really tried to help them see that they should live their lives differently from here on out. I hope I did as the Lord wanted me to do.
The next day we went to see the kids sing at their Christmas concert at school (just a bit different from the Christmas pageant). We spent much of the day visiting with students. A few times this week students have come by to visit with us, and we have so enjoyed their just hanging out with us. They are a bright light in our home and make us so happy. I have loved seeing how Julianne is so loved by them and how she loves them. They make her happy, and she is so good for them. She is the best role model I can imagine. She is incredible. And we are blessed to have chances to visit with the students.
Students gathered at our house
Tonight the students had their last dinner. Then we went in for a memories slide show. They had all of us teachers speak for just a few minutes. I gave my top 12 list of fun memories, and my top six list of serious memories. They showed us an incredible slide show of the different things we have done together, and it was so fun and so touching. Then the let BJ show the movie he has been making. The students loved it, and BJ and Kaleb and Tashara felt so loved and important. BJ really did a great job. Kaleb ran away and hid because he was afraid too many people would be asking for his autograph. It was great! We stayed up late with the students, went to bed for a few hours, then got up and saw most of them off as they put their bags on the bus and loaded up and left. We slept for a few more hours. Then it was time to get the kids off to their last day of school. During that next day some of the students were still around, so they came and spent time with us, and it was like one last glimpse of heaven, enjoying the last morsels of a pie before fasting for a month. It was great.
Students dancing with our children in our apartment
My friend Rich got here just before they left. He entertained them for a while telling stories. Then we had to see these students off to their bus also. The pain was alleviated a bit by having Rich here for all of us to go visit with, but still this hurt. Jacob was so sad to see his Megan go. She was a girl who taught him in nursery and adopted him and worked so hard to establish a good relationship with him. He has struggled with there being too many people around, but she has helped him so much. He loves her so much. I have never seen him light up the way he does with her. She comes and gets him all the time to play with. He loves her so much. It was hard for him to see her leave, but then he tried to make her feel better. As the students left Sabrina kept telling me that her heart was broke, her heart was broke. For each of my children there were moments that were just too much for them. We love these guys so much, and have been loved by them so much.
Megan playing with Jacob
I really just can’t find the words to express how much I love them. I cannot express how much this is tearing my heart out to see them go. I would be so happy to have them stay with us forever. They took a large part of my heart with them. I cannot imagine ever meeting better people, or loving people more, or feeling closer to them. I just can’t figure out how to say how deeply I feel about them, and how sad it is to see them go. They will go on with their lives, and we will never have this again with them. I really, truly have felt like their father. If you have not experienced this you will never understand what this feels like. It is wonderful and terrible at the same time. But it is inescapable.
Fortunately the next day we had good stuff planned. We went with Rich up to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. It was good for us to have something planned. It was great to spend time with Rich. It was good for our family to be together. It was good to think about the real reason for Christmas. We loved that day together, and I loved being able to catch up with Rich. 25 years ago who would have guessed that we would trapse around the countryside of Israel together?
Family at the Church of the Annunciation
We went to the Church of the Annunciation together and talked about the angel coming to Mary. We also went to Nazareth Village. There they had reconstructed houses, synagogues, threshing floors, etc. They dressed in period costumes, showed us how to weave and spin yarn, how to light lamps, we saw donkey and other authentic stuff from the time of the Savior. It was so cool, and the kids really got into it. I think it was a wonderful way to get them to picture the life of the Savior when he was their age. It was so cool.
Family in replica synagogue at Nazareth Village
Sabbath was good. But it was empty, so empty without the students. And Rich had gone home by then too. Julianne spoke, and she was incredible. Everyone loved what she said. A former Regional Representative asked her if he could have a copy of her remarks so he could use part of it. She was great. That afternoon/evening we went as a branch out to Shepherds’ Fields. It is really incredible to sit there, looking at Bethlehem, as sheep really went by, and talk about the events that really happened there. This just makes Christmas seem all the more real. We are so blessed to have had God sent his son to us. This heals all wounds, and promises eternal relationships that will be more rewarding than we would have ever guessed. Thank goodness for Bethlehem!