Saturday, March 19, 2016

Christmas in March

On Sunday we slept in a little, played some games, etc. and then met a few others to go to Tel Gezer for a seminary field trip. Gezer is in the Aijalon Valley, and is the only one of the guardian cities of the Shphehlah valleys we don’t go to on a field trip. 

Tel Gezer

Flowers at Tel Gezer, a beautiful time of year
A butterfly at Tel Gezer
So I was glad to take my family, the Fellows, and Phil Allred there. We had a good time seeing the substantial Canaanite remains, including some large stones set up like a mini Stonehenge without the cross beams. We also saw the huge Canaanite gates, and the substantial remains of an Israelite gate. This is the best preserved gate system of the three cities that the Bible says Solomon fortified. All three of those cities, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, have these large six-chambered gates. It was fun to crawl around in them and get a feel for the city and the valley. It is such a beautiful time of year to go and enjoy that.

Large stones set up at Tel Gezer

The six chambered gate at Gezer, probably built by Solomon

Our seminary students at Gezer
The next day was class. It is strange to think that this is only my second day of meeting with this class, since we have already spent all of Egypt together. I really enjoyed class, it felt like we were connecting with each other and with the scriptures and I think it went very well.

Later that day we had a very long meeting about how Egypt went. Then another meeting about planning for Galilee. By the time that was over it was almost time for dinner. Since it was Pi day we went to the Fellows and brought two pies. They have a fun tradition of having people come over with pies and have a tasting contest. It was good, though having to try a slice of each pie actually made me a little sick. I enjoyed visiting with people there, it is always fun.

On both counters are some of the pies for the Pi day contest
Tuesday was a crazy, busy day. Class was very enjoyable, I feel like it went very, very well. Then we had announcements, orientation for Galilee, a meeting about the various field trips coming up and the trips we want to go on as a faculty. Then I had just a few extra minutes which I used to help put together a slide show for Andy to use when he teaches the students about Galilee. The students here have put together some basketball teams and mine practiced for just a while. When that was over I went to greet our guest. Earlier this month I met Amihai Mazar, one of the best archaeologists here whom I have always respected. When I met him I asked him if he would be interested in coming to teach us about his work. He graciously accepted, and so tonight he came. I went out to greet him, we got the room all set up, and then he gave us the most fascinating reports. What I hadn’t heard much about was his work at Tel Rehov, which was really fascinating. But the whole thing was incredible, he has done such great work. I really enjoyed it.
After his lecture we went and had dinner. When that was over I took him around the Center a little for a tour. He had been here years before, when the Center was just being built and when it was newly going. He was friends with Kelly Ogden and came a few times with him. We showed him around and Kathy Holyoak gave a little presentation of the organ which was nice. I eventually left, leaving David to show him out, and I went to our Branch Presidency meeting. I serve with such good people, I enjoy working with them. It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve the Lord and these good people here in the Branch.

Besides class, I spent most of Wednesday getting ready for Galilee. I made handouts for the sites, printed all my notes, updating some of them, I copied songs for them that we will want to sing that they may not know, copied my test, etc. etc. It took up most of the day. When the kids got home, which was a bit late because of Kaleb’s guitar practice, we had them get ready for the field trip the next day and so on. They are done with school for about two weeks now, it is Easter break.
Thursday was a great day. We had a field trip, but we didn’t leave very early. It made for a nice morning, until everyone go too lax and we still had to work really hard to get ready on time. Then we left for the Herodian. The Skinners were with us, and it is so much fun to be with them and to have my family along. This was my first field trip with this class that wasn’t Egypt. I think we got off to a fun start and had a great time. We went to Upper Herodion, the big fortress that Herod built for his protection in case he had to leave Jerusalem during a revolt. Andy did a great job teaching there, and I chipped in a little. I think it went very well, though we took up too much time up there and again didn’t have really any time down below. Too bad, the Lower Herodian, where Herod’s largest and sumptuous palace was, is pretty cool to see. They got about two minutes there, and in the end I think that was pretty fun. I feel like we taught them good stuff and that we had a good time. This will really help the class come together.

Students learning from Andrew Skinner at Herodion

Some of my kids and students in the dining hall turned synagogue at Herodion

The Herodion (Herodium in Latin)
After the Herodion we went to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. We have to use a guide there, and we had the same guide as last time. He was very nice, and did a nice job. There was little line, so we moved through in very little time. The sad thing is how hard it is to really think about the birth of the Savior there. We really are more of tourists there, it is hard to have real devotion there, because you get rushed through everything. I understand it, the lines are long and they can’t let people take a long time, but it makes it hard for me to think about the birth of Christ as much as I would like. Still, it is nice to commemorate it and I can think about it just a bit while there.

Our guide at the Church of the Nativity

Julianne and Tashara at the traditional spot of the manger at the Church of the Nativity
my kids lighting candles at the Church of the Nativity
When we finished there we went to the Milk Grotto. There Julianne and Janet Skinner spoke of motherhood. I thought they both had profound things to say, and I really enjoyed learning from them. I think the students were able to learn a lot and feel the power of the motherhood that they spoke of. This is such an important topic, and it was wonderful to hear such great mothers speak of it with so much power in front of so many young women. It was a wonderful moment.
Then we gave everyone time for shopping. They all like to buy baby blankets, and are often able to do so from a member of the Bethlehem Branch who truly needs the money, so I am glad we buy so much from him. I spent quite a bit of my time helping a student track down a phone she had lost. I was glad we found it.
From there we went to eat at the Tent restaurant. It is set up to be kind of a Bedouin experience. The food is great and the atmosphere is wonderful. Every single time we eat with the students the other teachers and service couples all sit together and eat together. This bothers me a bit. We are there to teach the students, and often the most effective teaching happens as you sit together to eat and can chat informally. Additionally, sitting all together sends a subtle message that we really don’t like eating with them. I have often had students come and thank me for being willing to sit and eat with them and thus for being accessible to them. It means a lot to them that we want to be with them, and the opposite message is sent when we don’t. At the same time, it has definitely been noticed by the other faculty that I never sit with them. But today it worked out that we just needed to. And I did really enjoy visiting with them, but I still felt quite badly about not sitting with the students. It was an opportunity lost.

singing in Jerome's Grotto under the Church of the Nativity

singing at St. Catherine's chapel at the Church of the Nativity
Sabrina and Winston in the Tent restaurant

When we were done there we went to Shepherd’s Field. This is not where most people go and call shepherd’s field, that is in Bethlehem and is a spot that the Orthodox Church has chosen as the very place the shepherds were. It is a series of caves, and could be it, but I doubt it. We go to some real fields looking across a valley to Bethlehem, a place that shepherds still use today. It is beautiful and peaceful and I love it. We started out at a sheepfold I found years ago. We had some nice moments there about the good shepherd. Then we had some musical numbers, and broke up into our classes. Andy bore a wonderful testimony to them about the birth of the Savior. We had some more musical numbers that the students had planned. It was then time for me to teach them a little, after which we wanted to have time to sing Christmas songs, bear testimony, and allow time for pondering and journal writing. We were behind schedule. I asked myself what I wanted to teach them, and felt like they had already gotten all of it except one thing. While I think that one thing, contrasting the life of Herod and Christ, would have been nice, every other reason I had to speak to them had to do with myself, not them. So I skipped my part, and they bore some nice testimonies, and then had some nice time to think and write. Then we drove home, singing Christmas hymns the whole way. We started with the first Christmas hymn in the book and got through all but one. It was a great feeling, and I think we all enjoyed it.
I have to say that my kids behaved spectacularly well the whole time. We had one instance where one made another feel badly and we had to work our way through that, but mostly they were angels. I also think they got a lot out of it. I hope these memories always stick with them. I feel like they are drawing closer to Christ and understanding the Bible more and more. I was so proud when Kaleb recognized an ancient olive press and Jacob recognized an olive crushing millstone reused in part of a wall elsewhere. It was a wonderful day to spend together.

The sheep cote

More of the sheep cote

our students

more of our students learning at shepherd's field

The next morning I gave a midterm. It went okay. Afterwards I spent time grading it and then we went to an orientation where Andy Skinner taught about the Galilee. He did a great job, and I loved what he did. Afterwards I did a bit more getting ready for Galilee, then we worked together on making humanitarian aid kits for Palestinians in great need. When that was over I watched Alexia play a soccer game with the students, then Kaleb play a basketball game. Then we had dinner, and I played a basketball game. After this we went to a little get together at the Skinners. We had a lot of fun there visiting with each other. It was truly enjoyable. We stopped for a while so that we could watch Tashara play a volleyball game. On the whole it was a busy, and fantastic evening.

The next day church was great. We had an excellent set of meetings. Afterwards we did some home teaching, and then I spent time with the kids. We are trying to concentrate on what we can do to make the Sabbath more holy. I asked the kids to tell me about each of the activities they were doing and how it tied in to the Sabbath. I feel like this helped a bit.

We spent the evening talking about gospel stuff and the world. We made and had dinner together and visited and played games. It is so wonderful to have a day set aside to spend with your family. I thank the Lord every day for the wonderful family I have. I know I am not a good enough parent to meet all their needs, so I pray like mad every single day to be magnified by the Lord in such a way that my children’s needs are met despite my own shortcomings and abilities to know how to best help them. I am grateful to be able to count on the Lord and to have him as a partner in all of this. We are blessed beyond measure.

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