Saturday, July 30, 2016

There goes my heart

Time goes by too quickly. This last week started out very well with an unexpected opportunity. We have been wanting to hike to St. George’s monastery for years now. We were almost able to go last time and then something came up that prevented us. We tried to schedule it several times this year, but again have been prevented. I have been especially frustrated because a few of the times we thought we would go David wasn’t able to, and even though he has been before, he just couldn’t get himself to say okay to our going without him. The fact that we can’t leave our car parked at Wadi Qelt while we hike up has made it so we can’t just go on our own, and I have sadly given up on thinking we will make it. But our friend Jeremy Branson, whose family is gone right now, told Phil that he would like to go. He has his own car, so he can take us, no problem. So, off Phil, Julianne, Jeremy and I went.

The hike down Wadi Qelt towards St. George's Monastery
It was a beautiful hike! The place is gorgeous! It wasn’t too hot either. We got to the monastery, which we really enjoyed. The monks were very friendly, and it helped that Jeremy served his mission in Greece and can speak Greek to them. They let us look around and told us how to hike to the old bridge for the ancient aqueduct. We did that, and found it to be as scenic as could be asked for. We had a wonderful time with wonderful friends. I am so glad we went!

St. George's Monastery

St. George's Monastery in Wadi Qelt

St. George's Monastery and the Roman aqueduct 

Jeremy, Julianne and Phil going into the monastery

Jeremy and Julianne in the Monastery. Julianne had to wear a skirt to enter, fortunately the monks had a spare for her to wear.

Wadi Qelt

The broken Roman aqueduct bridge (and Julianne) 

We got back and did some packing and cleaning, then headed off for a fun evening. We took Tashara to have her last outing with her friend Eliana. They will miss each other. Eliana is not much older than Tashara, and is probably smaller, but she is going into the army tomorrow.

The rest of the family went together to Bet Shemesh where we went to a really cool place called the Museum of Biblical Natural History. The guy who runs the place specialized in animals of the bible. He showed us all kinds of things about animals that are in the Bible, teaching us things I never knew. He had stuffed animals so that I could see that the kind of hyena that they have here is the striped hyena, which his different and of a different temperament than the spotted one that is more famous. He told me some things that helped me understand some of what happened when we were on a scout camp here five years ago and ran into hyenas. We held lots of the animals, including a huge python. That thing was so strong, incredibly strong. It was crazy! Julianne even held it for a while, though it freaked her out a bit. The kids had the best time ever! They loved it! All of this fulfilled some of Jacob’s Cub Scout requirements.

Learning about animals in the Bible

The striped hyena
holding lots of animals
Jacob and Kaleb with the big snake

Alexia went for the smaller boa

Me with the big python

Julianne got herself to smile for a minute

So many animals

Kaleb felt like things were ducky
Then we went to see Shocho, the Biblical site that is somewhat associated with the David and Goliath story that my family has never seen. We looked for signs of animal life as we went, since that was also part of Jacob’s Cub Scout requirements. We followed it up by hiking around in the Valley of Elah, where we found lots of animals and animal signs, and where Julianne showed me yet a few more things that helped the David and Goliath story make sense. It was a lot of fun! I think everyone had a great afternoon/evening!

The Elah Valley
The next day I taught class, and felt really good about how it went. Then we took off as a family. We went to the pita factory one last time. The kids loved it, and the pita was super yummy. From there we went to Ein Kerem, where we saw the famous Chagall stained glass windows. I love stained glass so much, and have seen such incredible stained glass here, I was sadly disappointed. It is, in some ways, the worst stained glass here. The light does not light it very brilliantly, and Chagall used a style that I don’t enjoy much. I couldn’t help but think that most children would do it like he did. Yet the symbolism was incredible. He was masterful at picking out things from each of the tribes and symbolically portraying it. That part was very worth it, even though the whole thing cost me about 90 shekels. It was a nice family outing, and then we stopped at the Torch and had shwarma for a last time. Phil joined us, and we had a great time!

Then we did more organizing and packing. Bummer.

The next morning was class again. It was wonderful, I love our classes together! We had some fun together as a family, and then everyone went to their last Cub Scouts/ Young Men’s/Young Women’s/Activity Days. It went well. It ended poorly. On the way downstairs Kaleb and Alexia got in a tussle over a whip cream can, and Alexia got hit in the head by the can and got cut quite badly. There was quite a bit of blood. Fortunately, the day before someone had randomly (not really) told Julianne that the best way to heal head wounds was to use the hair on the head to tie the wound shut. So, with Doctor Heiner’s help we shaved right around the wound and then Julianne braided her hair so tightly you couldn’t even see there was a big gash. She cleaned it carefully, and disinfected it (poor Alexia was so tough throughout the whole thing). It all came out okay. That night I woke up thinking about her poor head, and had to deal with some calls from the U.S., and didn’t end up sleeping very well at all.

The next day was class again. It was a great class. We went through the powerful teachings of John 14-17. I feel like we had some real direction from the Spirit and that we learned a lot. Then we went through the atonement, and I know I learned and was edified. I think we all came to better understand the personal nature of the atonement, and just how much Christ suffered for us.

Then my family and I spent the whole rest of the day packing. We got most of the packing done. We are getting there. That night we went on a field trip to the Kotel Tunnel, the tunnel where they have done excavations all along the western platform wall of Herod’s Temple. It goes on for hundreds and hundreds of yards further than the exposed Western Wall. My kids have never done this field trip before, so it was great for their last field trip to be one that is completely new. They seemed to enjoy it. A great moment for me was when I showed Sabrina the largest stone block ever. Her pure amazement was a perfect ending to family on field trips for me. Life is good.

In the Kotel Tunnel

A huge Herodian ashlar (stone) that was part of the temple platform
Kaleb and Sabrina having fun in the tunnel
Kaleb and Sabrina almost paying attention in the tunnel
afterwards we had our last time at the Western Wall. Kaleb and Jacob prayed there.
The next day was the Christian Quarter Field Trip. My family stayed home and got ready to go. I was with David Whitchurch. It went fairly well. I think the students got a lot out of it, and I feel very happy about it.

Me and Justina at the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mark
 When I got home Julianne took Tashara out to do some last things she wanted to do, and I finished all the rest of the packing. I weighed all 12 bags again and again, getting them to exactly 50 pounds, taking out some from one and adding to another, fitting in just a bit more here and there when there was a little bit of weight left. It took forever, but we got most of the stuff in that we wanted to get in. Everything that we for sure wanted to have packed was, and the majority of the “maybe” pile got in. Between 12 suitcases at 50 pounds each, and 6 carry-ons at about 40 pounds each, and 6 carry-ons, I think we have 900 pounds of luggage.

We got done by about 5 pm. Then we recruited some help getting them all upstairs. I loaded them all into the van. We were able to barely fit it all in. Then we had dinner, and the goodbyes started. It is sad to see it end for my family. They have had such a great experience. They listened to the students do some student Ted Talks for a while, and finally, very late, we got everyone to go to bed.
The next morning we got up early and had cereal. Then we did a final run-through of the house, and packed the last few things, including a whole laundry bag that had gotten overlooked. I didn’t think we could fit it in, but we did. Then we walked upstairs to take my family to the airport. A few people came to say goodbye along the way. It was hard to leave, very hard. But leave we did.
We got to the airport a bit early. That was good. It took us a while to gather enough little trolleys to put all our luggage on. Then we worked out way slowly to the line. It is so much easier than last time when Jacob and Sabrina were in a stroller and BJ and I did most of the work. With neither me nor BJ leaving right now we had fewer suitcases, and this time every person pushed luggage in a trolley. Still, it was complicated. It took forever for us to work our way through a very long line. Then the doing of luggage was complicated. They were accidentally charging us too much for the luggage. It took 45 minutes to get it all worked out, but we finally did. Several of the bags were .02 kilograms from being too heavy, but none were. A few could take a little extra weight, so Julianne even emptied her personal item a bit. Even though we got to the airport more than 3 hours before their flight, by the time we got to the metal detector where I had to say goodbye to them, they only had 25 minutes before they were supposed to board the plane. I hated saying goodbye, but I did. I prayed for them, I am sure they will be okay.
Then I drove home. I stopped to buy eggs part way home, and got a text. They had been able to check a few of the carry-ons in (very helpful for them), and they had been able to board the plane early, and had gotten all settled. It was going to be a good flight.

I got home and ate lunch quickly, and went and taught class (I am very grateful that they rearranged class from the morning until the afternoon so that I could go with my family to the airport). We went through the trials and crucifixion. It was a draining, emotional, and powerful time for me. These students help the stories of the scriptures come more to life for me, and they help me understand Christ better. I am so grateful for that.

After class I started packing up the house. I am supposed to move to an apartment upstairs so they can get this place ready for the new families. So I spent a lot of time sorting and packing my stuff and all the stuff my family left behind. I also did a little cleaning, and worked hard to get caught up on things. I have spent so much time with my family the last few weeks I have gotten behind on everything else. It was good to get caught up a bit. Then I joined Phil, Dave Heiner, and Andy in watching a movie. It was a fun guy’s night out.

I stayed up late, tracking when Julianne and crew would get in to JFK. I started calling as soon as the plane touched down. But Julianne hadn’t turned on the phone. I called on and off for an hour until I fell asleep (about 1 am). At 3 am I finally got a text from her. She had finally turned the phone on. I called them and learned that the flight had gone really well and that they had gotten their luggage through customs and were having a treat and that everything was great for them. I was very happy. I slept well after that.

In the morning I slept in quite a bit. Then I listened to conference talks as I got ready for church. Finally, as I headed up for my meetings, their plane touched down in Salt Lake City. I walked upstairs and waited just a bit and called. After calling a few times I got through. They were collecting their luggage. Only 26 hours after leaving the JC they were in SLC. I was so glad to hear from them. All went well and they were all happy. Yea!

Church was really good. As sacrament meeting ended I had the feeling that Julianne was trying to text me. I went down 8 flights to get my phone. As I walked into my bedroom and stretched out my hand to get my phone, the alert for a text sounded. She was texting me right then. So I called. All was well, everyone was asleep and there was no problem. But it was nice to just touch base. It made me feel like God was aware of us and knew that I could use the comfort of knowing that they were okay and well taken care of. Thanks to God. I went to the rest of my meetings and they were really fantastic meetings. I feel so edified. Then I ate a lunch and had a nap and worked on my journal and did some organizing as I listened to conference talks. I also visited with some students and had a very pleasant afternoon and evening. I feel blessed and at peace.

As we were driving to the airport Julianne teared up a bit. It made me think about how blessed our family is that they have been able to be here so much and get so much out of this place. We talked about it a bit. I am overwhelmed with how blessed we are. The Lord loves us!

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