Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wonderful hard weeks

We had an amazing experience when we did the Upper Room program for the students. Jeff Chadwick did a spectacular job of explaining the Passover and how the Sacrament came from that. I think the students were really touched, and understood how it all worked much better as a result. We had some nice music, some powerful reading from John’s account of the Last Supper, and some other reasonable speeches. It was a great time.

Part of the decorations Julianne did for the Upper Room experience
The triclinium we set up for our Upper Room experience

On Sunday we worked around the house, we went out with most of the other couples here in the Center to celebrate Phil’s birthday, and we had a great time as a family. We also finished our Hanukkah Celebrations.

Everyone blowing out all 8 Hanukkah candles

Monday was an incredible day. We started by taking the students to Bethany. Of course there we saw Lazarus’ tomb, and we went through the story of Lazarus. We also spoke of Christ being anointed for his death by Mary. 

Me teaching at a crusader press in the church of St. Lazarus

Additionally we went up to the separation wall and spoke of the complex political situation that gave rise to the wall, and how it interacts with the complex politics of today.

Julianne and I at the separation wall

From there we went to Bethphage. This is the traditional site of where Christ began his triumphal entry. And I think we are in the right area, if not the exact right spot. As we spoke of the triumphal entry, I was quite taken by the idea of accepting Christ as our king. I have been listening over and over to a powerful BYU devotional about Christ as the returning king. I spoke about that devotional, and our need to be ready for the return of the king. We sang Hosanna, and Jesus Once of Humble birth. I felt a longing for my king.

a tomb near Bethphage

From there we went to Pater Noster. The church has become a place where people focus on the Our Father prayer, but really it was built to commemorate the ascension of Christ, which traditionally happened at the site where he often met his disciples to teach them. It also has within it a cave where Christ was supposed to have taught the disciples, including the sermon on the signs of the times. So there we met and spoke of being ready for the return of the king, and what we must do to be ready for his coming again. It was a wonderful time.

The cave where tradition holds that Christ taught his apostles
The Pater Noster Church
From there we walked down to Dominus Flevit. David, the keeper of the place, allowed us to come in as the time had come to have closed. He let us stay in and we sang in the church, and had a beautiful, powerful time in there. Then we came out and ate our lunch and talked about how much Christ love Jerusalem and the temple and then we looked out on the place where the temple was and had some wonderful moments there. A nasty kind of man came and kicked us out so he could let his dogs run around the place. It was good that we had spent as much time there as we wanted, because we had to leave.

My class at Dominus Flevit, looking down at the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock
We walked down to the Kidron Valley, next to Gethsemane, and caught the bus. We drove up to Zions gate. We got there as a group was doing a bar mitzvah. They invited us to take part, and we sang and danced with them. We had a great time! 

The Bar Mitzvah we were part of
Then we went to the Dormition Abbey, and gave them some time to have hot chocolate. 

My students having hot chocolate
We went into the chapel and spoke of the symbolism there. Then we went downstairs and looked at all the art that teaches of the wonderful women of scriptures. We honored Mary and other mothers there. We sang and enjoyed ourselves. As we came up, we found Nataly singing in the upper chapel. Apparently someone had asked her to sing, and she had gone up and tried to sing it before we arrived. But we heard her as she was part way through singing “Mary Did You Know?” It was beautiful, so when she had finished we asked her to do it again. She sang so very beautifully. You could tell she was quite caught up in it. So was I. Just as she finished the bells rang. Somehow the whole moment, unscripted, unplanned and unexpected, was so very magical. It was perfect, and memorable, and wonderful.

The cenotaph for Mary in the bottom of the Dormition Abbey
From there we went to the Upper Room. There we also had a very nice time. It was wonderful to talk together again about how Christ wants us to be with Him and the Father, and how much he has done to make it possible.

From there we went to Saint Peter in Gallicantu. We sang, we talked about Christ’s trial before the Sanhedrin. I get feeling so indignant about how he was treated, but so grateful he let it happen. We looked at the stairs that Christ must have walked down and up as he went to and from Gethsemane. That was a moving moment. Then we spoke of Peter denying knowing Christ, and I think we had some marvelous time there. Finally we went home.

It was an exhausting day. So many powerful moments, so many times that we came to understand Christ better and commit ourselves to him. And always the dark cloud of knowing that the students are leaving in just a few days. All in all we were worn out when the day was over.

It just continued the next day. We started out by going to the Orson Hyde garden. There was a company filming there, and we had to work around them a bit. We read from the dedication of the Holy Land by Orson Hyde. The we read of the dedication of the park by President Kimball, where he said that we would dedicate our lies to him. We pondered, sang, and moved on.

We went to Gethsemane. We were able to get into the extra little garden off to the side. We were there by ourselves. We sang, and it was great. Then I taught about the atonement. I felt very guided, and felt that I had never understood it better or been able to teach and explain it better. I felt like my explanation went very well. Then we sang, had a musical number and gave everyone time to write and ponder. I think people really enjoyed it, and it went very well. I was very happy with how it all went.

Here is what I wrote in my journal while there: “Today as I taught about the atonement I felt guided. I felt like I was able to say what needed to be said in the way in the way it needed to be said. I also had moments where I felt like “this is good stuff.” I had to remind myself that it wasn’t me who was doing well. It was God, who was using me. And I am so grateful to be his tool, his servant. I swear my fealty to this great king. I am amazed at all that Christ went through for us. I am so, so grateful. I wish I could appreciate it as much as I should. But I know with all my heart that I have been forgiven by the power of what he did here. I know he can, and has cleansed me, and from time to time sanctified me. I am also so grateful that he can and has cleansed those around me. I know that as I was speaking there were those who were feeling guilty about things and seeking forgiveness. I am so grateful that Christ can cleanse them. We must never forget how there are those who are in need and we don’t’ even know it. We must minister all the time, as Christ did. I love my Father, my Savior, and I am so grateful for them.”

Pondering at Gethsemane

More of my students pondering at Gethsemane
Julianne caught me writing in my journal while in Gethsemane
From there we went down to the Gethsemane Grotto. I have not ever had as good a time with students there as I did today. We went in and saw the place, and there was a very nice priest there. He let us sing. Then he we asked him if we could lift the curtain that covered the niche and see where the beam for the beam and lever oil press was. We spoke of how this was the place where the oil press was that gave its name to the area. Who knows where Christ suffered, but here is an important component to the whole place. We had a great time there.

My students in the Gethsemane Grotto
The niche for the beam press
Then we walked to St. Anne’s. There we found Father Peter, and he let us in as the church was closing. We went into the chapel and he taught us about the place and the White Fathers. He was delightful. We took about twenty minutes to eat lunch, and it was delightful and restful. Then we went into the church and all of the best musical numbers from the semester were performed for us. It was beautiful. Then we sang a bunch of hymns. In the end we sang for 45 minutes, and we loved it. 

Singing in the church of Saint Anne's, where the Pool of Bethesda is

Then we spent just a little time at the Pool of Bethesda, and had just a few wonderful minutes to talk about the miracle that happened there and that Christ will help those who cannot help themselves.

My students at the Pool of Bethesda
From there we went to the Garden Tomb. Again I feel like there was some good guidance as I spoke of the totality of the atonement and the reality of the resurrection. Then some of my students bore their testimony, and we gave everyone time to read, ponder and pray. All in all it was a very nice time. It was another exhausting day, one that was wonderful and powerful and grand and tiring. And it got more that way from there.

My students at the Garden Tomb
We came home and went to an amazing dinner with all of the students. Then we went to a memory night, where Phil, Jeff and I spoke. I think I spoke for too long, and it wasn’t as powerful as I thought it would be. But I hope I made the point I wanted to. I think it was helpful for the students. I will miss them, I love them. I am also sure that they love me and will miss me. In particular I could tell my Old Testament students miss being with me. I miss them too. After our talks we watched a wonderful video that helped us remember the whole semester. It was a delightful stroll down memory lane. Afterwards I helped our kids get to sleep, then I stayed up with my students and we talked and visited for forever. It is hard to see something like this end.

The next day Julianne and I worked on getting the house ready for the Chappells to come and stay. We did all sorts of things. Finally we had dinner, and then went up to see the students as they had dinner. We just visited and had a wonderful time. Then they started to line up to tell us goodbye and thank us and have pictures with us and give us hugs, etc. It was so hard. They cried, I cried. We love each other and we have to say goodbye. I can’t stand to think about how I won’t see them around here anymore. I won’t see them in my classes anymore. I won’t go to cool places anymore. And I won’t be able to see them develop like I have here. It is hard. We cried and goodbye’ed all the way to the bus and put them on and saw them off. It was sad.

We put the kids to bed. They cried themselves to sleep reading the wonderful little cards the students made for them. I was pretty close to crying myself to sleep as well. But there is nothing else we can do, they are gone. We miss them.
The next day we cleaned and went to the kids’ Christmas play. It is so, so, so, absolutely wonderful to go to a school Christmas play where they aren’t afraid of Christmas. They sing about Christ, they testified of him, and they were brilliant. It was a great, wonderful time. Then we got a bit more ready. We went to dinner with the Bransons. They were so wonderful to us, and we had a great time with them. We returned from there just in time for me to take Chadwicks to the airport. It was a nice time visiting with them. Then I dropped them off. I don’t even like to try to imagine at all doing field trips and the program without him. I so enjoy being with him and I hate to see them go. But they are gone.

Friday we spent the day getting ready too. Finally, the Chappells came. It was great to be with them. We showed them around a little, and enjoyed visiting with them, and we had dinner, and got everything set up. Our kids had a great time visiting with them. It was wonderful.

The next day we got up early. I took the Chappell family to Gibeah and we went through the story of Saul, David, and Jonathan. We looked at the geography of the place. I think we had a very nice time.

Then we got back and got all ready for church. As I was just about ready to head up for meetings, I got a note from security that someone upstairs was having a problem and had said that Brother Muhlestein would help them. I went up and found that Jessica was there with her family and a tour group. They just wanted to see some things and learn about it. So I took them around and showed them the place, the garden, the presses, etc. Then I went to my meetings. I was deeply touched by knowing that my students know that when they need something they can call on me for help. I am all the more happy to have been able to come through for them.

Church was very nice. Kaleb gave a good, very Kaleb-sense-of-humor talk. Nancy Chappell read an amazing collection of scriptures about Christ and Christmas. We sang great songs, had another wonderful talk, and I felt so excited about Christ and understanding him. It was great! Afterwards the Chappells had to leave to visit with some friends, and Julianne and I taught primary. It was fun to teach them about Christmas. We also acted out the Nativity Story, and made some little Christmas ornaments. Then we had a little branch potluck, where I was able to visit with so many delightful branch members. Then we watched Miracle on 34th Street as a family. It was a great day!

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