Saturday, June 4, 2016

Good things (too much of them?)

This has been a good week, but I fear we may have pushed too hard. Last Sabbath was very nice. We enjoyed some good family time together, and then we got ready for our trip to Eilat the next day. Matt Grey was still in town, so we invited him down for ice cream and visited with him about what it is like to have a family in the Jerusalem Center.

The next day came quickly. We got up very early and loaded the buses. I had made scrambled egg sandwiches for the kids, so I gave those to them and they ate on our way. I think everyone slept for at least a good part of the 4 hour drive. They also played games, etc. I got a little bit of work done.

The weather at Eilat was great. Once we got in we immediately all got our snorkel gear on and went out to swim in the Red Sea. Jacob and Sabrina were both more nervous than I thought they would be. It was hard to take care of both of them out there. Jacob was having a problem with his snorkel, so I sent him back to wait on the shore and Kaleb, Alexia, Sabrina and I went (Tashara had stayed home to go to a birthday party of a friend from school). I held Sabrina’s hand the whole time. Kaleb and Alexia pretty much went on their own. It went well. She had to stop a lot, she was pretty nervous quite often. Still, we saw an amazing amount of fish and the coral was beautiful. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Sabrina did well, but was very worn out when we finished our little circuit. So I brought her up on shore and she just lay there for pretty much the rest of the day. I didn’t know at the time, but she was just starting to be hit by a really bad cold.

I immediately took Jacob with me to go again. We got everything working for him, and I held his hand the whole way, and we had a fantastic time. He is such an animal lover, a true fanatic. He loved seeing all the different kinds of fish. He could not have been more excited. It really is incredible beauty.

Then I went once with Kaleb and Alexia. Wow, it just kept getting better and better. Then we ate our peanut butter sandwiches and relaxed. I even fell asleep for a short while. Then I went out again, taking Jacob with me again. Kaleb went with us. He spotted an octopus and helped Jacob and I see it. We went slower this time, exploring more and finding all sorts of things. Several times I have found myself in the middle of a school of fish, sometimes very tiny fish, sometimes fish larger than my hand. We saw eels, clown fish, parrot fish, stick fish, puffer fish, angel fish, the Hawaiian state fish whose name I can’t remember, and hundreds of other fish I don’t know or remember the names of. We went out a ways to see a coral formation just a ways out from the circuit they had set up for us. The surf was getting rough out there, but the coral formation was gorgeous, and the amount and kinds of fish were incredible. Jacob was pretty worn out when we got back, but was so excited he really wanted to go again. 

So we walked around to the beginning of the circuit, and got back in. The surf was getting even rougher, and after a while he felt like he couldn’t do it. I think it was wise for him to quit. I had to grab him in the kind of hold you use when rescuing someone and haul him back to the dock. It took me about ten minutes of really hard swimming to get him back. I was worn out and he was a bit nervous, but okay. I sent him back to the beach. Everyone else in the group was done, but I knew we had enough time since we had our own snorkels so we didn’t have to turn in any rentals. So I went again on my own. It was incredible to just explore and enjoy myself. I saw so many wonderful, beautiful things. I went back out to that coral formation. The surf was getting rough, but I was able to go all around it and see so much beauty. We had seen a number of graceful, beautiful, purple jellyfish during the day, but while I was there the surf brought hundreds and hundreds all around me. It was a bit eerie, I was glad they didn’t sting. I could not move without going through them. I steered a path that made it so I went through as few as possible, and I tried to swish them out of the way so that I didn’t hit them, but I was literally surrounded by translucent lavender jellyfish that were somehow so peacefully graceful and beautiful. I was in a world all my own, with unimaginable coral, hundreds of gorgeous fish, and the floating beauty of the jellyfish. It was transcendent. But eventually I had to go back to shore.

Then we packed up and started for home.We had fun with some rides at the dinner stop.
Kaleb and Jacob on a ride
 The drive was again long, but my kids slept for quite a bit of it. It got some more work done, and then I just chilled as Sabrina slept on my lap. We got home just before 10 pm. The youngest kids were already asleep, so I just got them in bed. I started laundry and showered while I also got an LDS webcast running. Bishop Mann, from home, had set it up so that they were webcasting BJ’s farewell to us. It was wonderful to be able to see his talk. He really did a great job. He talked about the atonement, and how Jerusalem had prepared him for a mission. He was so good. I was so proud of him. I will never forget being able to share in that moment. He looked at the camera and talked to us a few times. I felt like I was with him. It was a better experience than the one of snorkeling, and I will remember it for longer. He is going to be a great missionary. I am so happy for him and so proud of him.

It wasn’t many hours before I had to wake up the kids and get them going to school. As soon as they left I also left on a field trip. It is one of my favorites. We first went to Bet Shemesh. Andy Skinner did a masterful job of teaching about Samson there, and I taught them about the Ark of the Covenant being lost and then being returned to that spot. I feel like we both were able to give them good information and to really spiritually uplift them. I tried to emphasize how much God can do his own work, and also about the concept of holiness.
Andrew Skinner teaching our students at Bet Shemesh
From there we went to Azekah. We showed them the place where it appears that the Assyrians had built a siege ramp to get into the city, and we read to them from the Assyrian accounts of taking the city. We also taught about the Babylonians destroying the city, and how the watch fires of Azekah had gone out so that the men of Lachish knew they were the last city to stand against the Babylonians, besides Jerusalem. Then we used our mirrors and started flashing a light towards the other class who were on Lachish. They saw our mirror quickly. After a little while they got their mirror working so that we could see them signaling us from Lachish. It was a very fun moment. It makes the scriptures so real.

Andy sat them down where we could see the Valley of Elah, and he went over the David and Goliath story with them. He did a great job, and I think they could picture how it all happened. Then we showed them Gath, and they were able to picture it even better.

My students learning at Azekah as the look over the Elah Valley
From there we went to Mareshah. We showed them a huge dove cote, and then an ancient oil press, and a cool tomb, and we went to some caves that had been created by quarrying and we all sang songs together there where it echoes so well. It was fun.
My students learning in the dove cotes of Bet Guvrin

Singing in the Bell Caves of Bet Guvrin
Then we went to Lachish. This is my favorite tel. I talked to them about the history of the city in general. We looked at the siege ramp where we know for sure that the Assyrians got into the city. We looked at the reliefs that Sennacherib carved into his palace wall in Assyria that depicted the fierce battle. Then we hiked up in. We stopped at the temple there and I talked about sacredness again, and the idea that the holy of holies is different. I told them stories about how at the open house of the Payson temple both Jacob and a non-member friend of Keith’s could feel how different the celestial room was, and how that highlighted the concept of being sacred, of being less like the world and more like God, and how foreign the carnal things of the world can start to feel as we become more and more like God. I talked to them about how this is the purpose of their time here, and really the purpose of life. We are to leave behind us worldliness and become Godly. We are to be changed, by the power of the atonement of Christ, into beings that are different, that are holy, peculiar, and increasingly Christlike. I think we all understood and felt it there.
The temple at Lachish
From there we went to the top and looked down on some of the Canaanite ruins, and talked about Joshua taking the place, read some pertinent scriptures, and talked about the reality of the scriptures. We pointed out where Azekah is. And we had a great time. Then we went down to the gate. I showed them the threshold, and talked to them about how real it was to be an Israelite in this city while Assyria besieged it. I tried to paint the picture for them. I talked to them about being tasked with holding the door tight against the threshold. If that were your job you would hold it hard, all the while seeing other Israelites outside the gate being flayed, impaled, and tortured in other ways. You knew that if the Assyrians got inside they would rape your wife and daughters and would enslave you all. You would see others taking apart homes, perhaps your own, as they used the material to build a counter-siege ramp, trying to prevent the Assyrians from coming in. You would pray and hold hard against the gate. But all your efforts were for naught, the Assyrians eventually got in. So did the Babylonians. I could tell that a very real and somber mood had come upon everyone. They knew it was real, the scriptures we were reading came alive for them. They felt the gravity of the place and the moment. 

Then I told them that during the Babylonian siege it didn’t matter how hard they held against the door. The time for defeating the Babylonians had passed. The way they could defeat the Babylonians was by repenting when the prophets begged them to repent. Yet there, in that gateway, we had found the remains of a letter about how the prophet was bad for morale, and something should be done. We know they hadn’t listened to the prophet, and thus destruction was inevitable. The time for defense had been in the months past, and the form of defense was in repenting and being righteous. They trusted in the wrong thing when they trusted in those walls and those gates. It was in God they should have trusted, yet they did not, so they failed, and they suffered. I asked them to think about how they could work to avoid this in their own lives, and promised them that if they learned the lesson they would be protected, but if they didn’t, that eventually spiritual Assyrians and Babylonians would breach the walls of their souls and they would suffer. Then I gave them some time to think and read and touch the stones. I think everyone had some real and powerful moments.

My students pondering at the gates of Lachish
On the way home I answered questions about the Book of Abraham. Everyone was so tired I gave the most succinct explanation I think I ever have. I think it went well. We stopped on our way back and went to the Valley of Elah. I think, because of our recent field trip prep that was inspired by what Julianne had done with her brother, that I was able to explain the story better than ever before. I also was able to give a good spiritual thought about what we can learn from David and Goliath. It was a good moment, and a nice culmination to a great day. This was a very good field trip.
Slinging stones in the Valley of Elah
When we got back the kids had been doing pretty well. Jennifer Allred brought down an incredible dinner she had made for us. It was amazing. She is so nice, and we were blessed by her kindness. We had a great dinner, the kids did homework, and then I tried to get them to bed so that they could kind of make up for the late night the night before.

Alexia as Goal Keeper during a shootout
The next day we had a great class. Then I worked on getting things done, picked up Tashara, and Sabrina, who wasn’t feeling well. That evening we went to the school and watched Tashara and Alexia play a soccer game. While they practiced we had a nice little picnic on the leftovers from the meal Jen Allred gave us last night. Then we had a great time watching Tashara and Alexia play an exciting game. 
Then we got back, I had a church meeting, and we got ready and went out for the festival of lights. This happens for less than a week each year. Lots of parts of the Old City set up lights and laser shows and all sorts of cool stuff. We walked all around, and had a good time. It kept the kids up too late again, and they were worn out when it was all done, but we had a nice time. It is a cool thing to have seen and done. Still, I think they paid a price for being out too late.
Damascus Gate during the Light Festival of Jerusalem

The Light Festival of Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate

My kids at the Light Festival of Jerusalem inside Jaffa Gate

The Muristan Fountain during the light festival of Jerusalem
The next day everyone was tired and worn out. I let them sleep in an extra 45 minutes and had another breakfast for them they could eat as they left, and had everything else all ready for them, so they could get to school on time. This seemed to help them a bit. I had a nice day of doing class and getting good things done. In the evening we cleaned like crazy to get ready for our friends, the Trees, to come. The kids did a great job and go the place looking good. Then I got them to bed early. That was good.

The next morning Sabrina was finally starting to feel better, but Jacob had the terrible cold, and it made it so he was having some asthma problems. So I kept him home. I had a nice class and then spent time with Jacob and got a few things done. I kept expecting that the Trees would get here in the afternoon, but after a while they let me know that they were moving a bit slower than we thought they would, and that they would get in late. Jacob, Sabrina and I went to a recital in which Kaleb played Let it Be on the guitar. He did a great job, and we enjoyed it. The kids did a great job of keeping everything clean, but they got to bed just a bit late because of the conert. About that same time the Trees got in, so I went over to their hotel (across the street), and welcomed them in. It was good to see them. We made some nice plans and then they went to bed and I tried to. I fell asleep then talked to Julianne on the phone and it woke me up enough I couldn’t sleep for a long time. Ah well.
Kaleb playing in his recital
The next morning Kaleb was pretty sick, so he stayed home. The Trees went to Bethlehem. I had a nice class, and then worked and took care of Kaleb. The kids got home and worked on homework and had fun, and kept the place clean. About dinner time the Trees got there. We had fun introducing everyone to each other, and then we went out to the Old City to get dinner. What I hadn’t remembered is that Ramadan just started. This is the holy month for Muslims where they fast from sunup to sundown each day. So the restaurants we were thinking we would eat in were all closed. We had a hard time finding a place to get food. But we finally found some places. In the meantime, Kaleb, Sabrina and Jacob were all really struggling. They just weren’t feeling very well. But they pushed through it. We toured the city a bit, and toured the Holy Sepulchre. The whole Old City is pretty dead on a Friday evening during Ramadan. It was as empty as I have ever seen it. The Holy Sepulchre was mostly empty. We had a five minute wait to get inside the tomb. Usually we don’t do it because it is an hour or two hour wait. It was nice to tour the place, though my kids were dying. We got home and they were so exhausted everyone of them went right to bed. I tried to relax by watching a show, and fell asleep during it.

It was a great week, and we are blessed, but we may have pushed just a bit too hard. I will have to make sure we keep on a more even keel this week.

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