Monday, July 18, 2016

Galilee = most amazing week ever!!!

I sit this morning writing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. No one else is here, it is just the sounds of gentle waves, a gentle breeze, birds, and me. I love it here in Galilee.

Last week we spent a day of getting ready for Galilee and enjoying each other. 

In the afternoon we went to Shepherd’s Field and did some filming for some things we are trying to put together. A shepherd came by with his flock. H was helped by his young children.. My youngest went and helped him move the flock along. Sabrina has been wanting a ride on a donkey, so we paid him to give her a short ride (this was her birthday present, 10 months late). It was somehow perfect and magical to do some shepherding on our last time at Shepherd’s Field.

Sabrina riding a donkey at Shepherd's Field
Our kids and locals shepherding at Shepherd's Field
Then we went to First Station, the old train station that has been turned into a pedestrian mecca. We rented various kinds of tandem bikes there and had a lot of fun going around together. Then we got ice cream and sat together and just laughed and had fun with each other. Both activities were a bit pricey, but they were wonderful.

The next morning we left very early for Galilee. Julianne came a bit later in the van, but all the kids were with us on the bus. I was able to do a little teaching on the way up, and then a few students had questions so I taught just a small group the rest of the 1.5 hour drive. Finally we arrived at Bet Sha’an. After Andrew Skinner taught us at the model of the city, I took my group up onto the big tel. There we looked at how the place controlled access to various trade routes. We looked out at the Jezreel Valley and the places where biblical events such as Gideon’s battle took place. Then we saw the Egyptian remains from the ages and ages that this was an Egyptian stronghold as they controlled the routes. Then we read the story of how Saul was killed on the next door hill, and how his body was brought to this one, and how it was rescued. We also read David’s lament for Saul and Johnathan. And finally we looked over the huge Roman ruins and talked about how this was a Decapolis city. We read about the Savior preaching in Decapolis areas and how people from Decapolis followed him. 

Students at Beith Sha'an

Then I gave everyone free time to explore the city. I took my children and those who wanted to follow me through some particular places, but mostly people just explored and had fun. Julianne met us during that portion, and it was good to be with her.

Next we went to Nazareth. I think we had some nice moments talking about how Mary was so dedicated to doing the Lord’s will, and how the sentiments she expressed when she said “be it unto me according to thy word” prefigure her son’s statement “not my will by thine be done.” Jesus inherited his qualities from both his divine father and his mortal mother, and Mary was a worthy mother.
When we went in the church they were doing a mass, and the singing was beautiful. I was grateful to be part of that. I taught just a bit about the church, and gave them free time to see Saint Joseph’s church. 

Then we went up to the church built over the traditional site of the synagogue and Andy did a magnificent job of teaching them about Christ in that synagogue. I added just a few words that tied the whole thing into the experience our little student Rebecca was having as she was, at that very moment, flying across the Atlantic to bury her sister. We prayed that Christ would heal the brokenhearted as he said he would in that synagogue.

As we left Nazareth I was able to talk to them, as I always do at that time, about motherhood. I taught them about how important that role is, and how the world demeans it and takes away from it. We spoke of how those who believe the world rob themselves of being part of the greatest role in the world besides that of Savior. We talked about how those who believe both God and the world also rob themselves of a measure of the divine content and joy that can come from motherhood because as they are living according to God’s values, following whatever path God has for them, they are simultaneously berating themselves for not living up to the world’s values. We spoke of how this can happen in any kind of role, not just motherhood, but also of the tragedy that it is happening so much in regards to motherhood. I hope I was able to issue a clarion call for the support of mothers. I felt like the conversation went really well.

Finally we got to Mount Arbel. We looked down on the vista of the Sea of Galilee, and I helped them get a feel for the geography and political lines of the place. It is stunningly beautiful there. The timing of the day was working very well, and we were able to get them more free time than I have ever been able to do before. I even got to explore with Tashara a little, and it was wonderful. What a great time!

Students at Mount Arbel

View of the Magdala Church from Mount Arbel

View of Galilee from Mount Arbel

Tashara and I at Mount Arbel with Galilee behind us

Of course as we checked in everyone was thrilled to be here. There is a magical feeling about the Sea of Galilee, and especially about the area around Ein Gev. We love it here. After dinner the students went on a tour of the Kibbutz, so we let our children swim in the lake. They loved it!

Kids playing at Galilee
The next morning we started out on one of my favorite field trips. We went first to Capernaum. We stopped at the Bay of Parables, and I read from a few of the Matthew 13 parables, and we talked about it for just a while. We also showed them where Jacob had been baptized. Then we walked into the city. No one was in the synagogue, so we went right there. I taught them about the Bread of Life Sermon that happened there. We spoke about how important it is to make Christ part of us, how we must partake of him. We talked about how Christ wants to bring us to the Father and how he is inviting us into his relationship with the Father. We talked about how much they both want to exalt us, and how partaking of Christ is the way for that to happen. I feel like it went pretty well.

Students and family on the benches of the synagogue at Capernaum

the Synagogue at Capernaum

Synagogue at Capernaum

ruins at Capernaum
From there I tried to show them the little streets of Capernaum, and explain to them how the houses worked there. Then we looked at Peter’s house, and I taught them about the early tradition that this is Peter’s house. I am fairly convinced that it is the right place. We talked about how Capernaum was the city Christ made his home, as much as he had one, during his ministry. It was headquarters, and Peter’s home was headquarters of Capernaum. This is the closest thing he had to a place to lay his head. This is where many miracles were performed, at least one in the house, probably more, and some seemingly at the doorstep. I expressed my gratitude to Peter for giving Christ some place he could find rest. Christ was a real person who got tired, got lonely, got blisters, and who needed rest. Peter’s house was important for all of this.

Peter's House at Capernaum

my family at Capernaum
Then we read Matthew 9, walking through the events in that chapter. Miracle after miracle, important event after important event, all lined up one after the other. What an incredible day. O, what it would have been like to be with Christ in Capernaum. O, how I would have loved to hear him teach and see him bless! O! What a city of miracles. To have seen the paralytic walk, or the blind begin to see, or the devils cast out! O how I love that miracles can still happen today in our lives. O! How real the scriptures are! How real Christ is. How real his involvement in our lives is! How blessed are we! I thank God for sending his son to bless us!
From there we went to the sea shore and saw where Jacob was confirmed. On the very seat where Jacob sat when we confirmed him they had set the Eucharist for a mass. How interesting that the ordinance we believe renews our covenants was happening where Jacob made covenants.

Communion where Jacob was confirmed at Capernaum
There we talked about the calling of the Apostles that happened at Capernaum. We read the story of catching great nets of fish. We read of catching a fish with the coin so that the temple tax could be paid. And then I gave everyone 50 minutes of free time to think, pray, write, sing, explore, and worship. I spent some time with my family, took some pictures, went into the church and prayed for a long time, prayed with my family, took more pictures, did some teaching for those who had questions, thought and prayed some more, and then left. It was a really wonderful time. I think it was for the students also.

The shores of Capernaum
From there we went to the Mount of Beatitudes. As I was going to meet with Sister Mary Rose, the Italian nun who runs the place, I got behind a man who was also going to meet her. He asked her for a blessing. She said “I cannot bless you. Blessings come from God. I can intercede on your behalf, I can ask him to bless you. But any blessings you receive come from him. He wants to bless you, so I will ask him, but he is the giver of blessings.” I could not help but think how much this is what Christ would have said and done. It was a beautiful sentiment.
After we went into the church and enjoyed it, we went to a spot reserved for us where we could look out on the area where the Sermon on the Mount had likely taken place. 

The Mount of Beatitudes
Sister Mary Rose came to meet us and spoke with us for a while. What a sweet spirit she carries with her. She talked about how Christ encouraged us to do better. Then I spoke for a while about how Christ took what had always been in the Law of Moses and showed us how it was supposed to lift us higher. I talked about how the Sermon on the Mount teaches us how to love God and love each other more. Then I asked for students to share their thoughts. Several did, and it was a very nice time. For me the Spirit was present. We sang Lord I Would Follow Thee, and people were given enough time to think and write and read, and then we left. It was a sweet time together.

My students at the Mount of Beatitudes
From there we went to Tabgha, and we talked about the miracle of the loaves and fishes. We enjoyed that church. 

Alexia in front of her favorite motif (the fish and loaves mosaic) at Tabgha

Alexia at Tabgha

The famous fish and loaves mosaic at Tabgah on the shores of Galilee
My students in the church at Tabha
Then we walked to Saint Peter’s Primacy. There we read from the story of Christ appearing on the shores there after his resurrection and asking Peter if he loved the fish more than he loved him. I talked about Peter’s strong desire to be with the Savior. Julianne talked about how she had seen them so strongly desire to be with Christ. Then I talked about how Peter had been so ready to go back to what he knew, but how, when Christ called him to do something else, he so willingly did that. We talked about committing to change, to not go back wo what we are used to be to stay changed and to serve the Lord. We sang “I’ll go Where You Want me to Go Dear Lord,” and everyone had some time to think and ponder. It was very nice.

Everyone at the church of St.Peter's Primacy on the shores of Galilee

The shores of Galilee at St. Peter's Primacy
Then we went to Magdala. That is such an incredible site. We went to the synagogue. I taught them about how that was a synagogue that was used during the Savior’s life. We read scriptures that demonstrated that he went to Magdala, and we read other scriptures that demonstrated that he always taught in synagogues. Then we talked about the kinds of things he would have taught or done there, and talked about how fortunate we are to know his doctrine and teachings and to follow him. I let them have time to touch the stones he touched. I think everyone had a powerful time.

The synagogue at Capernaum
Students touching the threshold of the Magdala Synagogue

My children touching the benches of the Magdala synagogue
Then we went and saw the mikvah’s (mikva’ot) that they found there. I think there is a very good chance that the Savior used those, so we talked about him and cleansing. Then we walked to the area that had fish production structures, such as places where they made fish nets, hooks, weights, etc. This is a place Peter and co. probably came.

Jacob at Magdala
Then we went to the church. They have done the most spectacular job there. The chapel has the sound of the sea in it, the altar is a boat sitting on green marble with glass behind it that has greenish water outside it. The whole thing makes you feel like you are on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and the apostles, who are all pictured around the room.

From there we went downstairs. They have set it up to look like a synagogue from the time. The floor is actually the ancient road, no reconstruction, just the basalt paved road. At the end of the room, where the road meets the wall, is the most remarkable painting of the feel of Jesus and his apostles as the woman with the issue of blood reaches out to touch the hem of his garment. It is a remarkable place to talk about that miracle. Julianne taught there, and spoke of the time she was incapacitated because she bled for five weeks. She talked in such moving ways about the woman and her needs and what the Lord did for her. Everyone was touched, and it was a wonderful time.

Then we went up to the dome. On the ceiling is pictured a woman’s hands and the starry heaven. It feels like a mother reaching down from heaven. The columns have the names of women from the New Testament inscribed on them, such as Mary of Magdala. Joanna, Salome, etc. The last column has written on it “and many others” which is a phrase at the end of the list of women who ministered to the Savior. It somehow simply yet powerfully makes it so that this place, which is a monument to the women of the scriptures, includes all the women who come. We sang “Oh my Father” there. 

While singing I had the most startling and striking realization come to me. I believe I am so passionate about motherhood because of a strong relationship I have with another mother. It was a wonderful moment for me. I think many had a wonderful moment there. Then we took a picture of many of the women from the class in front of the “many others” column. I loved it!
in front of the "Many Others" column at Magdala

My family at Magdala

From there we went to Nof Ginosaur, where we got to see the ancient boat they found. Then we went on a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. We had a great time, of course. It was a bit wavy, the most I have had it while on a boat, though I doubt the waves were even quite two feet tall. It moved us and made us sway when we stopped the boat. Julianne taught us about the Savior calming the water. She taught a powerful message. I also talked about it just a little, trying to help those who feel high anxiety realize how much they can rely on the Savior. He is their life jacket, he is the thing they know they can count on when everything else fails. There is no need for anxiety or despair, we know he will rescue us and save us.

Jacob sleeping on a "pillow" in the boat on Galilee
Tashara and Students on the boat at Galilee
Then I talked about Peter walking on the water. We focused on how, when he began to sink, he still had enough faith to call out to Christ to save him. And Christ did! It didn’t matter that he faltered, we all will. We do need to focus on coming to Christ, not the obstacles, but when the obstacles start to make us sink, it doesn’t mean we should give up, nor that Christ will give up on us. Instead, if we just call on him, he will reach out and save us, and walk us safely to the boat. How blessed we are to know that! We had time to think and write after that.

Sea of Galilee
Students on the boat at Galilee
Me thinking on the boat on Galilee
What an incredible day. It is hard to believe that we did all those things in one day. Any one of them would have been enough to make it an amazing day. All of them together is just more than a person can take in. We are so blessed!
The next morning we had class. I felt like the class went very well. We were able to talk about a lot of things that were planned in the lesson, but also about a lot of things that people just had questions about. It was very, very enjoyable.

Then I did some reading for my next class, and joined my family on the beach and in the water. We played and had fun. Then my class met on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I often have a portion of a class there, and that was my intent today. But, though it has been brutally, brutally hot and humid, somehow there in the shade of the trees with the wind blowing it wasn’t bad, and everyone wanted to just keep going. We talked about the miracle of feeding the five thousand. We spoke of what that miracle may have looked like. We talked about Christ’s mercy and how he wants to feed us in every way possible. Then we talked about how he asks us to do things we are not capable of, such as feed a multitude with five loaves and two fishes. It doesn’t matter how much we bring to a task, it matters that we bring what we have. If we give him what we have, he will make it enough.
Then we read the story of the devils being cast into swine. From there we could see where it happened, and the city Hippos, which is surely the city the people came from to talk to the Savior. We compared the symbolism of the story to what Jacob teaches in 2 Nephi 9. We saw how the Savior takes all of us and delivers us from death and hell and instead wraps us in robes of righteousness and gives us peace and freedom in his presence. It is a wonderful thing! We spent the whole class there on the shores of Galilee. It was wonderful!

Then we did more playing in the water. Then we went to dinner at the Fish restaurant, where we ate St. Peter’s fish. It is a great time to visit with people and hear more about them. Then we went to Tiberias, where everyone walked around and bought ice cream and had fun and Julianne and I just spent enjoyable time together. So nice!

at the Ein Gev Fish Restaurant
The next morning we went to Gamla. What a beautiful place! I taught them about how that place was the last holdout against the Romans when they conquered the Galilee area. I  showed them where the Romans got in. Then we gave them time to explore the place, and then we met in the synagogue. I had three students who weren’t there. One of my best students, Dave Beesley, suddenly stood up and volunteered to go get them, telling me “I was born for this, I trained for this moment, coach, send me in.” I normally wouldn’t have, but felt like it was a good idea this time. So I sent him out. It turns out that they had gotten lost, a girl had rolled her ankle, and they couldn’t figure out how to find us. They prayed for help, and he came around the corner to help them find their way back to us. It was a fun little moment.

There in the synagogue I taught them about how the Savior healed and taught in synagogues. This is another (the only other excavated) first century synagogue. I think there is a very good chance he taught in this synagogue. We read accounts of his healing people, and I  had my student with a broken hand stand up and we all tried to imagine what it is like to have someone with a withered hand healed. We talked again about how Christ wants to heal us in every way, and can. We talked about how he taught in the synagogues, and how we get to participate in that by studying the scriptures. We had a very nice time.
Tashara and I at Gamla
students at the synagogue at Gamla
Then we went to the breach in the wall, the place the Romans got in. We talked about how the leaders of the  Jewish revolt took people with good ideas and used them. We asked how sometimes we start out with good intents but it goes wrong. Then we asked how we sometimes let people breach our walls of spiritual defense. Then we left. It was a nice time at Gamla.

We went to Bethsaida. There we talked about Peter and Andrew and Phillip. We talked about the good fishermen who followed Christ. We read the account of the man who was healed in stages, and talked about how Christ gives us all sight. We went to the Old Testament gate, the one that fell to Tiglath Pilesar III during the beginning of the scattering of Israel. There are two stones of worship at the gate. So I asked them how we worship more than one god at the same time. As they came up with ideas I would walk between the two stones, and I think it helped them visualize how we really do worship both the ideas of the world and God at the same time. I feel like it really helped it sink in for people.

Then we went to Kursi. There we quickly went over the story of the casting of the devils into swine. We did it quickly, but I think we had some good moments there, and then we came quickly back to eat lunch. From there we went as a family with everyone else canoeing along the Jordan. Julianne and I were together in a canoe. We splashed people, Julianne tipped me in, we jumped off a platform together, and had a great time. Our whole family had so much fun, with everyone swimming, swinging into the river, jumping into the river, and catching turtles. The Jordan is beautiful, and we had fun. Life is wonderful here!

The next day we had class again. I feel like class went super well. We talked about loving like Christ did, and the importance of holding to a high standard but still being the kind of people that sinners and those who struggle or feel different feel accepted by and loved by. We need for the Church to be a place where everyone knows the standards but feels wanted and welcomed. Somehow Christ did that, we all need to figure out how to do it as well. We also talked about Christ as the water of life and the light of the world, and how he used the Feast of Tabernacles as an opportunity to teach that. It was a lot of fun.

Some of my students who stayed after class to ask questions
After all three hours of class were over I went with Phil, Julianne and the Skinners to explore some ancient synagogues. It was a lot of fun. I sure love these people and I love being with them and learning from them and the strength that comes from doing great things together. I miss Jennifer, Phil’s wife. A few days ago they got a call from a daughter who needed them. So Jennifer has already packed up and gone home. Suddenly Phil, and all of us, are without her. We miss her.
After our fun exploring, Julianne and I went swimming with the kids. We had a lot of fun, and then we just hung out together in the water and on the beach. I sure love being with her and love her. She makes life better. She makes it worthwhile. That night we watched a little movie together.

That night they brought in a petting zoo for the kids staying here. Jacob and Sabrina and Alexia had the time of their life. Pythons, leopard geckos, bunnies, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, roosters, and a tarantula all made them so happy!

Jacob with a python
Jacob and Sabrina and the bunnies and guinea pigs
The next morning we were able to sleep in a little. We had a wonderful breakfast here at Ein Gev resort. Then we pulled our children aside, one at a time, and reviewed with them the things they have learned during this last year in the Holy Land. We talked about how they have grown. We helped them see their abilities and strengths. I am blessed to have truly amazing children. They are capable of anything. I am so happy to be with them.

Alexia making huge bubbles
Church was wonderful. We also spent more time with the Skinners, and family time. It has been a delightful, amazing day!

My class after sacrament meeting at Tiberias
Andrew Skinner teaching at the Yardenit baptismal site on the way to church

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