“Be a thermostat and not a thermometer.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what the ‘temperature’ is of the person you’re dealing with—they may well be furious—but you need to remain at 70 degrees and sunny.”
After reading a few articles like this, I went back to my notes from that Sunday to ensure I had it right.
Sure enough, I’d wrote down and underlined: “Be a thermometer, not a thermostat.”
This lesson was not about our relationships with others but rather our tendency to seek control.
According to Merriam Webster, a thermometer is: an instrument for determining temperature.
And a thermostat is: an automatic device for regulating temperature.
In simpler terms, a thermometer tells you the temperature, while a thermostat controls it.
When you want to know if you have a fever, you take your temperature with a thermometer.
When you want the house to be warmer, you turn up your thermostat.
Said like this, of course we’d all rather be a thermostat.
A thermostat gives you autonomy. It lets you choose your “perfect temperature” and gives you the freedom to bump it up or down a few degrees throughout the day as your preferences may change. Thermostats say, “are you the slightest bit uncomfortable? You can change that.”
Meanwhile, thermometers say, “this is where you’re at, what are you going to do about it?”
Thermometers force you to act, to adapt, to wade right through the discomfort because there’s nothing else you can do about it.
It will always be easier to be a thermostat. To walk into a situation and try to mold it around you and your preferences. To avoid any kind of discomfort or unknown. Thermostats keep you safe, keep you hidden, they mute the outside world and its effects on you as you remain in a bubble of partiality.
But thermometers make you work for it.
Thermometers will tell you to put on an extra layer before you go outside or to bring sunscreen and a hat. Thermometers don’t offer you an easy way out, but instead offer you the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and figure things out. Thermometers give you the chance to grow, to learn, and to problem solve.
If we strive to be thermometers, we are striving to be stronger, more resilient, and more open to the wonderous unpredictability of the world. As thermometers, we release control, and we allow newness. As thermometers, we accept the truth of a situation, rather than numb it.
The world is full of thermostats, but the world needs more thermometers.
So let go, be brave, and take a step outside your comfort zone. Search for things the figurative (and literal) temperature of a room can teach you about yourself and what you’re capable of, rather than always trying to change that temperature to what you’re comfortable with.
At about 3:00pm yesterday, I woke up from an accidental two-hour nap.
Needless to say, I felt like I was going to die.
My arms and legs were heavy, my eyes were protesting staying open, my body as a whole was trying to reason with me—let’s just go back to sleep, we’ll wake you up at 2:30am so you’re terrified and confused, but still, this is the right choice.
It took me a while, but I got myself up, and I moved all the way from the couch to the recliner. Then I took a break and scrolled on Instagram for a while.
Over the next couple hours, I had spurts of trying to be productive. Of looking at my to-do list, of opening up a Word document and trying to write today’s blog, of trying to get myself motivated to clean or craft. But then I would just sink back into the chair. I would scroll through Instagram Reels and look at the clock, saying, in 10 more minutes, I’ll close the app and do something else. In 15 more minutes. Well, now I might as well wait until the half hour mark.
I was barely paying attention to anything I was watching, but I just…kept…watching.
Until suddenly, my phone flashed low battery.
As if it was a life raft passing me by, I stood up, plugged in my phone, and went into my room and changed into some workout clothes. Then I put on my hiking shoes and I walked out the door.
On one of the trails close to my house, I put in my headphones and turned on a podcast. I walked underneath shady trees and huffed up steep hills. I saw people walking with strollers, partners, and in large groups and small groups. Water bottles swung in stride and dogs’ tongues hung out in satisfaction.
A girl rode shakily by on a bicycle. She lifted her hand nervously to thank me for letting her pass, then gripped tight on the handlebar as she continued to pedal. Close behind her, a younger girl rode an even smaller bike, her helmet almost too big for her head, and behind her was a dad, whose eyes shifted between each girl, watching with pride and worry.
An older couple sat in folding chairs looking out at the creek, with makeshift trays in front of them as they ate dinner at golden hour.
A man walked at a leisurely pace in front of me, picking up sticks and branches that blocked or jutted out into the trail.
As the sun went down and it got cooler, more people showed up. Families piled out of cars, with kids taking off down the trail. People tied long sleeve shirts around their waist in case a breeze picked up on their walk back.
Everyone smiled, everyone waved.
On my drive home, I saw people out on walks and runs and bicycle rides. People carrying smoothies and ice cream cones and who, like me, were probably on their way home for dinner.
We had all gone out to bask in the perfection of a May evening. When the weather is nice, the flowers are in full bloom, and golden hour is so peaceful you wish you could catch it in a bottle.
We’d all said, either to ourselves or to our partners, our friends, or our families, let’s get outside for a bit, and we’d all been rewarded.
My favorite cake in the world is celebration cake from Susie Cakes.
Whenever I find myself in front of one, ready to take my first bite, I am so excited, but I am also sad. Why? Because I know that in about five minutes (or less), that piece of cake will be gone. And in a few days, the WHOLE cake will be gone.
You may have heard the phrase, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Well, sometimes I feel like I am doing both at the exact same time. And sometimes it is while I’m eating cake.
I was reminded of this feeling recently when I was reading a book about tennis. A question was posed to the main character, asking if they liked to win because they enjoyed winning, or because they were afraid not to win.
Thinking bigger, outside the context of cake, I started to wonder what approach I live my life by.
Am I enjoying the things I have because I have them, or because I’m afraid that one day I won’t? Am I being present with all I have right now, or am I already living too far in the future, worried about a time I might not have them?
I often get emotional thinking about the future. We all strive for things in the day to day, and sometimes I get desperate for those goals and dreams to come true, for the waiting period to fast forward so I can be there, in that place I believe is better than here. A place where things are checked off a list and everything is as it should be. But the more I think about being there the more I worry about what won’t be there with me. What things, what people, what comforts and familiarity. I also worry about what will be with me that I don’t have now. New grief, new anxiety, new pain, new struggle.
So I am torn in the present, wondering if I should be striving toward the future or be afraid of it.
But the fact of the matter is, the future is inevitable. Loss is inevitable. The last bite of the last slice of cake is inevitable.
There, that place in the future, it exists, and it looks different than right now. We’ll have gained things and lost things, and while we might be happy there, we might also miss here. So we need to be here while we can. To notice. To enjoy what we have because we are lucky enough to have it right now, not because we’re afraid we might not have it one day.
We need to eat the cake while it’s in front of us, and remember every bite.
“This next week is going to go so fast,” Pastor Dudley said as we sat on the steps in Caesarea that first day.
My mom and I were still in disbelief that we were actually, physically in Israel, and I was reeling from the long travel day and the complete upending of my normal routine. I was excited to be on vacation, I was excited to be with my mom, but I was scared to be away from the things I knew to be safe and familiar.
I had a hard time believing the week would go fast. But it did.
Though each day was busy, and at times exhausting, they blended together with ease, and waking up to go on an adventure became our new routine. As did chocolate croissants at breakfast, and a sampling of multiple desserts at dinner. We’d found a home in this trip, and suddenly, it was almost time for us to leave.
Monday April 25th
We started our day at the Garden Tomb, which is one of two places believed to be the burial site of Jesus. We got to walk inside and imagine what it must have been like to be Mary Magdalene, who came to find the tomb empty on the third day. We also got to take communion in the garden area, repeating what the disciples did shortly before Jesus died.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:19-20
I’d taken communion since I was little, but to do so a couple hundred feet from where Jesus may have resurrected was something I never expected to experience. The garden area was so peaceful, so quiet. It was a place that truly felt holy.
From there we went into the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Stay close my babies,” Ruby said as we began to usher our way through the throngs of tourists. “Yalla,” she said. Let’s go.
The day was a marathon of information and architecture. Everywhere I looked I saw a view like I’d never seen before. The ceilings of every church were breathtaking, and the shops that lined the streets, both in the open air and within the tunnel like paths, were unique and colorful. Shop owners stood at the door, always quick to offer you a two-for-one deal, and locals weaved in and out of the tourists on scooters and in cars, unflinching and in a hurry to go about their daily lives.
“I went to school there,” Ruby said, pointing up at a second story window, and I looked up, amazed. Though I suppose she felt the same way I did when people asked what it was like to grow up in *Los Angeles.* There were good parts and bad parts, but it was the home I knew.
We walked through the City of David and down the 360 steps to Hezekiah’s tunnel; we visited the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed to God in agony the night he was betrayed and arrested; and we ended the day on the Mount of Olives, where we looked out at the city of Jerusalem in panoramic views and took a group picture that included Ruby riding on a camel.
I pictured the model we’d seen at the Israel Museum, trying to remember the route Jesus took on the day of his death. My FitBit was impressed with the work we put in, but I don’t think it was half of his walk.
Tuesday April 25th
We were given two options for Tuesday: get up at 5:00am and go for a hike, or get up at 6:00am and get on a gondola. The Masada Snake Path is just under two miles with about 1200 feet of elevation gain. While strenuous in its own right, there is also no shade, so as the sun rises, it begins to beat down on the dirt path, adding an extra degree of difficulty.
My mom and I decided to pass on the hike, and instead joined the majority of our group that took the gondola to the top, where we met up with the brave souls who made the climb. From there we got to walk around the ruins of Masada, the story of which was made into a mini-series in the 1980’s. Like much of Israel, it offered a landscape like nothing I’d seen before, with views of the Dead Sea and a vast desert.
From Masada we visited Ein Gedi and Qumran National Park, the latter of which is where the Dead Sea Scroll caves are located. But the highlight of the day was floating in the Dead Sea.
It had been a long, hot day—even longer for those who had decided to hike—and so the walk down to the water was exciting. It looked refreshing, even if it was upwards of 30% salt. We treaded carefully into the water, which was murky and opaque. The sea floor was uneven and slippery, but the water was cool. My mom and I floated out into an open area and laughed as we bobbed up and down, like bobbers on the end of a fishing line. It took little effort to simply sit there and float.
We spread the mud from the banks onto our arms and legs and were amazed at how soft it made our skin, then we floated out a little farther to the clearer water near the buoys, and let the water hold us up once again.
It was a moment that I began to miss even as it was happening, as I knew that in a few days’ time I’d be home, back to the stresses and chores that still existed in my real life. I knew as soon as we got on our plane, I’d wish I was back here, floating in the Dead Sea, without a care in a world, next to my mom.
And I did.
Wednesday April 26th
On our last day in Jerusalem, we went back to the Old City to see two of my most anticipated sites: The Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.
Israel had already marveled me with its unique and stunning architecture. But I’d had my sights on the Dome of the Rock ever since we came through the tunnel to Jerusalem. And it did not disappoint.
Going up to the Temple Mount however, I was reminded how much religious culture is rooted in Israel. And how many sacred places exist in Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. Respect is required. Respect creates both the ease and the tension that exists there. It walks hand in hand with both.
At the Western Wall, people of all faiths come to pray. There are chairs set up and shelves full of prayer books that people can read from. There is also a divide down the center, separating men and women.
When you get closer to the wall, you can see slips of paper tucked into the crevices of the stones. Prayers that people bring to one of the holiest sites in the country. Perhaps even the world.
“Some people like to believe it is like putting a letter in God’s mailbox,” Ruby said.
My mom and I delivered our letters, and we each put hands on the wall and said additional prayers for friends and family back home.
We ended the day on the Southern Steps, where Pastor Dudley preached, and Nikko sang for the final time on our trip. The sun was high and hot, but the city sat in front of us mesmerizing as ever. I was proud of the pictures I’d taken during our trip, but I still felt like nothing could truly capture what I was seeing—what we’d seen over the last 10 days.
I was going to miss the bus, where I’d spent hours looking out the window, my mind at ease.
I was going to miss Ruby. I’d grown fond of following her around, knowing she would always take me in the right direction and had the answer to any question.
I was going to miss the differences I’d found in this country, as much as I’d been missing the familiarity of my own.
It was remarkable to be thrust into an entirely different world, where “normal”, “typical”, and “average” mean different things than they do back home. I’d learned so much about a culture of people that wake up each morning, as I do, with an idea of what they want their life to be. And I’d found many ways to appreciate the differences and similarities.
On our journey home, I would think often of a poem I saw in the Holocaust History Museum:
When I grow up and get to be twenty
I will travel and see this world of plenty
In a bird with an engine I will sit myself down
Take off and fly into space, far above the ground
I’ll fly, I’ll cruise and soar up high
Above a world so lovely, into the sky
-Abramek Koplowicz, killed at age 14 in Auschwitz
Every time I travel, I’m reminded of just how plenty this world is. This trip filled my cup. It gave me memories that I know I will have my whole life. I will forever recall this special trip to this special place with my mom.
And though I might not remember everything—every detail, every building, every significance in the Bible—I will remember the feeling I had at the end of each day. The way the facts and figures buzzed in my head as I tried to make sense of them all. And the way the answers to questions I didn’t even know I had about the Bible began to click into place. I’ll remember the sound of the electronic voice in the elevator that always made my mom and I laugh, and the way Ruby said, “yes my babies” whenever we had a question. I will remember all the times my mom and I glanced at each other, to say “wow” or “no way” or “can you believe that?” And I will remember floating in the Dead Sea, feeling light and carefree, thinking for the hundredth time, I can’t believe we actually made it to Israel.
On Saturday morning, I pulled the curtains back in our room so we could see our last sunrise on the Sea of Galilee. Our bags were packed, and we were due in the lobby by 7:00am so the bus could be loaded, and we could get on the road. We were heading south!
Our first stop of the day was Beit She’an. (1 Samuel 31:8-13)
Excavations of Beit She’an began in the 1920’s, and archeologists have since identified eighteen different levels of occupation. During Roman rule, it became the capital city of the Decapolis.
Walking through the national park, columns stand far taller than the average person. Some have fallen over, but many remain in the same place they were raised over one thousand years earlier.
There are remains of a theater thought to have held 5,000 people, streets made of intricate mosaics, and bathhouses that boasted sauna technology.
In this picture, you can see the columns that the floor used to sit on top of. Hot water was ushered in through the walls and steam would push up, creating a “dry sauna.” To create a “wet sauna” or steam room, they would pour water onto the hot floor. Let me tell you, the Romans walked so the Four Seasons could run.
Near the back of the national park is a set of about 150 stairs you can take to see a view of the whole city. And it is worth the climb.
From Beit She’an we made our way to Jericho.
The first thing you see when pulling into the remains of ancient Jericho is Elisha’s spring. This freshwater spring has made Jericho an oasis for thousands of years, as it has given people access to water in an otherwise very dry, desert area.
When we arrived, we saw many people cleaning their hands and feet, and even dunking their heads in the running water. This is because in 2 Kings 2:19-22, it is said that the prophet Elisha healed the water, making it safe to drink and able to provide fruitful land.
We then walked around the remains of Jericho, trying to imagine the famous story in the Bible where the Israelites marched around the city for seven days. It is a story I’ve heard since elementary school, way back when it was one of the Veggie Tales videos we watched on Fridays. As we walked, the familiar song echoed in the back of my head, Keep walking, but you won’t knock down our wall. Keep walking, but she isn’t gonna fall!
Spoiler alert: she fell.
Our final stop of the day was the Valley of the Shadow of Death, which up until this trip, I did not know was a real place. I’d heard it the Lord’s Prayer—“yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”—but I’d always thought it was a metaphor.
Back in the bus, our group collapsed into our seats. The promised heat of the southern cities in Israel (and the already five full days of our “pilgrimage”) had started to creep up on us.
The drive to our new hotel was relatively quiet until we approached the tunnel. Just then Ruby started playing a song through the speakers that sounded like the equivalent of the Jerusalem national anthem. She told us to look to our left when we came through the tunnel to get our first glimpse of the city.
I was so grateful to have a window seat on the left side of the bus. Because when the end of the tunnel appeared up ahead and the bus thrust us back into the gold light of the late afternoon, I had a front row seat and wow.
I’d been in Israel for almost a week, but I suddenly felt like I was seeing it for the first time.
The white stone, the accordion layered architecture, the glittering Dome of the Rock, and the gorgeous pops of green. There was nothing like it.
“Wow,” I kept saying over and over again, sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head. “Wow.”
Sunday April 23rd,
Sunday started at the Israel Museum.
We arrived right at opening and immediately headed inside to see “the model.”
On the patio, just through the two sets of double doors, there is a model of what Jerusalem would have looked like in 66 BC, the night before the Jews revolted against the Romans, during which much of the city was destroyed.
With a laser pointer, Ruby pointed out areas on the model that we would be visiting over the next few days. She also demonstrated just how far Jesus would have had to walk during his arrest, trial and ultimate crucifixion. It gave new meaning to the phrase “walk out your faith.”
“Now,” Ruby said as we walked away from the model. “Let me tell you a story.”
She told us the story of a young shepherd in the 1940’s. He was out tending to his flock and passing the time when he threw a rock into a nearby cave and heard something shatter. Expecting it to be treasure, he climbed into the cave and found a series of clay pots, one of which he’d hit. Inside the pots were a series of scrolls. Over the next seven years, ten more caves were explored and upwards of 800 manuscripts were found, some that dated back 2,000 years. Among the scrolls, were excerpts from every book in the Old Testament of the Bible except for the book of Esther.
Walking into a dimly lit room in the museum, we saw the scrolls. So fragile yet so resilient. There was something so powerful about seeing handwritten text survive the test of time, of words out living the people who wrote them, carrying their message to generations. (You can see digital versions of the scrolls here.)
From the Israel Museum we headed to the Holocaust History Museum.
It goes without saying that this was a very heavy place. I have attended multiple museums and exhibits here in the States that cover the Holocaust, but to be in a country so rich in the Jewish culture, where the Star of David, once worn on the sleeves of Jews who were to be sent to concentration camps, now flies freely on the flags that line every street, it added an extra punch. And not only that, but the museum itself is designed with so much extra intention and artistry.
Here you can see the museum from the outside, it is triangular in shape, representing an inescapable prison, if you tried to climb the inside of a triangle, you would simply slide back down.
Inside, the museum path moves in a zig zag pattern. From the entrance, you can see the exit—a straight shot up the middle. You can see the sunlight coming through the double doors at the other end of the building, but you can’t walk right to it. You have to zig zag, walking through the rooms showcasing the hatred, brutality, violence, and tragedy.
In a separate exhibit, there are a series of candles, reflected in a room full of mirrors. You look up and down, side to side and all you can see are those candles. As you walk through the room, a voice reads the name, age, and country of origin of one of the almost two million children killed in the Holocaust.
In another exhibit, there are floor to ceiling shelves flush with binders containing the names of every single person killed. It was a chilling reminder that, while we know the history, these were people that could have been walking around this country, on these very streets, where we now got to tour leisurely.
From the museums, we drove to Bethlehem.
“We are having Maklouba for lunch,” Ruby said as we pulled up to a banquet hall in the West Bank.
Maklouba means “upside down” in Arabic.
We sat down at long banquet tables and immediately dove into the hummus and pita bread, then watched as the chef carried a deep pot to a table at the front of the room.
He leaned the pot forward, showing piping hot rice and vegetables, then the servers started a countdown.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” the room chanted as the chef lifted the pot in the air and flipped it over with a bang. When he lifted it back up, chicken sat on top of the rice and vegetables and it looked delicious.
After lunch, we got to shop a little at the neighboring store. My mom and I bought some souvenirs to bring back to family and friends, and we each picked out an authentic olive wood carving as a trinket to commemorate our trip.
From there, we went to the Church of the Nativity, the place Jesus was born, followed by the Shepherd’s Field, the place where the angel appeared to the shepherds to tell them of Jesus’ birth.
These were perhaps some of the most jarring sites we saw because they challenged the images of Jesus’ birth I’d had my whole life. For one thing, the “barn” I always envisioned as I heard the story on Christmas Eve, was like the barn I’d seen while visiting my family in the Midwest: Tall and wooden and bright red.
“In the middle east,” Ruby said as we peaked into the structure she was pointing at, “this would be what a ‘barn’ would have looked like.”
She was pointing at a cave. Stone. Cold. A single spotlight of sun shining in.
I’d pictured the Shepherd’s field to be vast, flat plains, with thick, soft grass—a sheep’s version of Hometown Buffet—when in reality it was hilly, rocky and sparse.
Standing looking out at the view, I thought of the hospitals with skilled doctors we have now, and the cellphones that can alert the world of good (or bad) news in an instant. Then I thought of Mary on that stone floor, and the shepherds that had to walk miles to tell people of what they heard.
Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the ruins of Beit She’an, this story is one that has stood the test of time, being passed from generation to generation. Good news shared over and over and over, ever since that night in the Shepherd’s Field.
I had some anxiety leading up to Day 4 as there were two words on the itinerary that, to me personally, can often sound like a threat: boat ride.
Leading up to the trip, my mom bought two large packs of Dramamine, and we took them every morning like multivitamins. For Day 4, we considered taking two to account for the aforementioned boat ride, but decided it might be overkill at seven o’clock in the morning.
Luckily, when we pulled the curtains open in our Tiberias hotel room, we saw the Sea of Galilee, smooth as glass.
Our whole group of 200 got out on the water in two large wooden replica “Jesus boats.” The captains tied the boats together and then Nikko opened the morning with the song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”.
If you don’t know the song, the lyrics go:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
On our drive over to the dock, our tour guide Ruby recounted the story of Jesus calling Peter out onto the water (Matthew 14:22-33). After taking a few steps on the Sea of Galilee, Peter notices how big the waves are, and he loses faith and begins to sink.
“Peter did start to doubt Jesus,” Ruby said, “but think of the other disciples in the boat as they watched him take those first steps. Imagine the faith he was inspiring in them. That’s why, when I’m feeling low in my faith, I like to think of the eleven other disciples. I like to remind myself of the faith I could inspire in those around me if I choose to turn from my doubts and trust God.”
I thought of this as we sat out on the water, the sun slowing rising above the horizon. I thought of all the doubts, big and small, that weighed on my heart, and I imagined what it would be like to turn away from them. What that would do for me, and for those around me. I took a deep breath of the crisp, clean air, and I felt a little lighter.
From the Sea of Galilee, we drove to the Mount of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7).
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount opens with the Beatitudes. You may know them as the series of blessings. Blessed are those who are poor, Blessed are those who mourn, etc.
We got to tour the beautiful grounds, including the Roman church built by Antonio Barluzzi in the 1930’s. Inside, we found a German tour group who were seated on the pews, singing a hymn. The acoustics made it sound beautiful, but the unity and shared faith driving the group to sing together made it more than that. You could feel the song, even if you couldn’t understand the words.
After lunch, where a good portion of our group ordered “St. Peter’s Fish” (which is served on a plate with the head and tail!), we headed to Capernaum.
Dubbed “the town of Jesus” since it was where Jesus did so much of his teaching and healing, Capernaum still has standing ruins that date back to the time of that teaching.
There is a synagogue from the 4th century built right on top of what was known as “Jesus’ synagogue”, and ruins from what is believed to have been Peter’s home, as well as the home where the man was lowered through the roof in order to be healed by Jesus (Mark 2:1-12).
For our last stop of the day, we visited Magdala, a site that has both modern and ancient roots.
My favorite part was Duc en Altum, a beautiful church. Inside there are four rooms alongside the main chapel. Each room contains an exquisite work of mosaic art, depicting famous stories from the Bible.
In the main chapel, a boat sits in front of a glass window, with the Sea of Galilee in the background. It is designed so that, when sitting in one of the pews, the boat looks as if it is sitting on the Sea of Galilee.
Friday April 21st
When I was seven years old, I was baptized at my church.
My main memory of the experience isn’t of being in the water, but of walking along the half-wall outside the church afterward. My hair was wet around my face and my friend was walking along the wall in front of me. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of goodness, as if it was glowing out of me. It is a feeling I still think about, namely when I feel distant in my faith, or generally downhearted in my life.
I thought of this feeling on Friday morning as I put on my robe and wandered down to the Jordan River alongside many of my fellow group members.
It had been almost 25 years since I’d been baptized, and the first time I’d ever public affirmed my faith as an adult. While I’d never necessarily lost faith in those years, I’d definitely lost that glowing feeling. I’d lost the innocence that came with being a kid, and allowed the darkness in the world to weigh on me and influence me. I’d spent many years only mentioning my faith at church, afraid to burden anyone or make them uncomfortable. And in many ways, I’d only practiced my faith at church, afraid to stand out or make myself vulnerable to criticism or confrontation.
I was not used to the comradery and community that I was experiencing on the trip. The huge numbers of like-minded, supportive people who not only encouraged my faith, but challenged it to deepen and grow.
To add to that, when I waded out into the water, I was stood next to Mr. Kendrick, my elementary school principal. Though I was almost sure he didn’t recognize me (and I didn’t remind him since it’d been 20 years and he’d had thousands of students since) I was brought back to my seven-year-old self, and to have him there, by my side, made me feel safe, at home. It felt like I’d made my way back to the beginning somehow, like I was still that little girl, ready to glow.
After I came out of the water, I smiled. I couldn’t help it. And I was met with applause from our group. My mom and I stepped out of the water and people clapped and high fived us, offering congratulations in bunches. My smile spread wide across my face and my cheeks ached as I waddled back to the dressing room and changed out of my robe.
Our next stop of the day was Tel Dan, an ancient city previously belonging to the tribe of Dan.
Ruins sat among a beautiful, scenic trail.
At one point we stopped at an overlook where we could see the country of Lebanon in the distance, and near the end we saw “Abraham’s Gate”, a bronze gate made of mud bricks estimated to have been built in 1750BC.
From Tel Dan, we made our way to Caesarea Philippi, where we had lunch on the shaded picnic tables before being given time to explore the park.
Like so many of the places we visited, it was shocking to see the craftsmanship that existed in ancient times. We often discussed in our group what would be left standing of our modern society should someone be around to discover it 2000 years from now. Would it communicate the same purposefulness? Would it accurately describe the people we are today and the lives we are living?
I wondered what I hope they’d find 2000 years from now and what I hope they wouldn’t.
I looked down at my feet, aware of where I was standing, what I saw around me, and the hopes I had for my life, and the future, and I wondered about the person and people who stood in this same spot, thousands of years before me—did they wonder the same things?
It would be wrong to call it “a blink” since in reality it was a grueling 20 hours of travel, but in the grand scheme of things, after leaving my front door on Monday, suddenly, in a blink, my mom and I were sitting across the table from one another, having breakfast in Netanya, Israel.
I sent a picture to our family back home, counting the time difference on my fingers to make sure I wasn’t waking them up. It was the first (of many) early days, packed to the brim with things to do and see.
My mom and I were wearing the provided red lanyards with name tags clipped to the bottom, which at first seemed cumbersome, but quickly became calming. They acted as identifiers, both in our hotel and out among the sites. We could immediately recognize those in our group, and it was comforting amongst the hundreds of other tourists.
Our first stop of the day was Caesarea National Park.
After meeting our tour guide, Ruby, and our bus driver, Samir, our Red Bus left the hotel and started out on our adventure.
“Boker tov,” Ruby said, which is “good morning” in Hebrew. Then she told us a little bit about herself. She’d been a tour guide for 14 years, she had three sons, one of whom was a tour guide on one of the other buses, and she had three grandchildren. She had also grown up in Jerusalem, next door to Samir.
You could instantly sense that not only did she love her job, but she was good at it. She had us laughing as she pointed out sites to the left and right through the long bus windows, giving us our first glimpses of Israel in the daylight.
She passed out our “whispers” which are listening devices about the size of a tape recorder, that we could plug headphones into and wear around our neck. These allowed Ruby to speak quietly into a microphone (rather than shout over the crowds) as we made our way through each site, giving us podcast-like access to both the historical information she had to share, and an ever-present guide to where we were supposed to be so none of us got lost.
Note: for those who are interested, I am going to include the chapters and/or verses of the Bible that correspond to the locations we visited. As for the history of each place, I can’t even BEGIN to remember everything, which honestly makes Ruby even more amazing in my eyes, but I hope I can do them *some* justice, at the very least with pictures.
As we shuffled out of the bus at Caesarea (Acts 10), we filed into the Roman Theatre, the first theater ever built in Israel, commissioned by Herod the Great after he established the city in 25 BC.
My mom and I climbed up the stairs and took in our first panoramic view as we waited for the remaining five buses to arrive, bringing our full group of 200 together for the first time.
A few other tour groups were scattered around the theatre, all armed with whispers, looking intently at their tour guide in front of them. Soon however, all attention turned to the front of the theatre, as Nikko, an incredibly talented singer and member of our group, stood in front of the stage and sang “Great is Thy Thankfulness.”
Small harmonies spread around the theatre as those who knew the song sang along, and applause erupted once she was finished. It was the perfect opening to the trip, and a good reminder that we weren’t on just any vacation in any place. We were in the Holy Land, where the stories we’d read about in the Bible actually took place.
Goosebumps crept up my arms. I got the feeling I was on a trip that was going to change my life, even if I didn’t know how yet.
From the Roman Theatre we made our way through the ruins of the Hippodrome and Herod’s Palace, and then we drove to Herod’s Aqueduct, where we got to walk down and put our hands and feet in the Mediterranean Sea. The water was cool and refreshing, and the beach was covered in beautiful rocks and shells.
We then drove to Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18) and took in this incredible view.
For lunch, we drove to a Druze Village.
The Druze religion draws from Islam, Judaism and Christianity, but interestingly, unlike all three, they do not permit outsiders to convert.
Fun fact: it was at this Druze restaurant, which was not only delicious, but homey and welcoming, where I realized that I had never actually had good pita bread before. Understandingly, I treated pita bread like vitamins the rest of the trip and RARELY had a meal that didn’t include as least two pieces.
After lunch, we visited The Meggido.
In Hebrew, “Har Meggido” means Hill of Meggido. When put together and translated into English, we get the word “Armageddon.”
One of my favorite things about this site, is that when I sent a picture of it to my family back home, my dirt biking brother-in-law asked if it was a racetrack.
When I told him it was actually the site identified as where the final battle between good and evil will take place (Revelation 16:16) he replied, “oh, that’s way scarier than a racetrack.”
I agree, Will. I agree.
Our last stop of the day was Mt. Precipe, where we took a very windy walk up to the top, from which, we could see Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up.
Pastor Dudley, as well as the rest of the groups, met us at the top for a short time of teaching. As we looked out at Nazareth, we pondered the possibility of Jesus wandering around the city as a kid, and about him stepping away to find solace and talk to God.
“I think it is highly likely,” Pastor Dudley said, pointing down at the ground we were standing on, “that Jesus would have found himself up here, looking out at this view.”
The wind howled, making our headphones fill with static, and hats were snatched off heads, but I looked out at the vast hills, and found peace as I prayed perhaps the same prayer Jesus had up here, where would you have me go now?
“As you eat, why don’t you find out a little bit more about how each of you ended up on this trip,” said Pastor Dudley.
The patio, previously quiet, began to bustle in conversation. Spoons scooped into the appetizers in the center of each table, and dishes were passed counterclockwise.
At my table, the question was answered one by one. Couples and singles shared how long they’d been attending the church that had put on the nearly two-week Israel trip we were now coming to the end of. My mom and I were in the minority of other travelers, in that Shepherd was not our home church, but it still had history in our lives. Which is perhaps why, a few days into the trip, when our tour guide said, “you being here is not an accident,” it might have struck me in a different way than the others.
“I started attending the midnight Christmas Eve service with my mom when I was little,” I said when my turn came. This was true. For over a decade we’d watched the clock strike 12, ushering in Christmas Day with this church, knowing my little brother would wake us up in a matter of hours to open presents. “And then about a year ago, I joined a life group.”
Each Christmas Eve service, they passed out fliers for dozens of different small groups you were able to join, in order to find community and study the Bible. For years I’d been curious, but never brave enough to go alone. But last year, amidst so much other life change, I joined a group. I “plugged in” as the church community likes to say, and it was healing and encouraging, and it helped me through some tough transitions. In doing so, I’d heard about this trip, and now here we were.
So while my mom and I didn’t have the illustrious history with Shepherd that some of the others did, it had still been a part of our lives for a long time. It had been a companion, watching our lives from the sidelines and always inviting us in for a visit. That first Christmas Eve service all those years ago had somehow led us here, and it was for a reason.
Monday April 17th
It is always a funny feeling to wheel a suitcase out of your front door, knowing that as you shut the door behind you, you are going on an adventure. I always look around, wondering if my neighbors could possibly know what I’m about to do, where I’m about to go. And a small part of me usually longs to walk right back inside the door and hide.
I have always had a desire to travel, to see more and more of the world, but I am also a person who thrives on routine and familiarity. Sometimes, just planning a trip is enough to fulfill that desire. To look at pictures and map out adventures and immerse myself in as much of the culture as the internet can provide—it almost feels like taking the trip from the safety of my own home.
But in reality, traveling takes you completely out of your comfort zone. It takes you away from everything familiar, and it demands that you embrace the new and unexpected.
So as my mom and I sat in the airport on Monday, waiting to board the first of our two flights, I could already feel the familiar buzz of nerves. There was no going back once we buckled our seatbelts and they shut the doors.
There was no going back once we landed in Frankfurt, Germany.
There was no going back once we landed in Tel Aviv, Israel and boarded our tour bus for the very first time.
I slipped into one of the window seats on the bus and my mom slid in next to me. A few others shuffled in behind us, ensuring they were boarding the correct bus, The Red Bus, that forty of us had been assigned at the start of the trip.
In total, there were about 200 of us going on the trip. One of six buses, each marked with a colored sign, was assigned to each traveler, and it would be their bus for the entirety of the trip.
We sat on our Red Bus, waiting for the second flight coming in from Turkey to deliver the rest of our group. It was now Tuesday April 18th at 8:00pm Israel time, which meant it was 10:00am California time. We’d been traveling since 3:00pm California time the previous day. We were all exhausted, and hungry, and desperate for a shower and a good night’s sleep.
My mom and I, still slightly nervous that we somehow didn’t belong on the trip, smiled at each person as they boarded. I wondered if everyone else knew each other. If we were the obvious black sheep and that everyone was secretly pointing at us saying, who the heck are they?
But it appeared that most everyone was unfamiliar with one another. We all had that first day of school feeling, knowing that somehow, over the next 10 days, we’d become each other’s family.
Around 10:00pm, we pulled up to our hotel in Netanya, where we quickly scattered to either the dining room for a late dinner, or, like my mom and I, directly to our rooms so we could shower and sleep.
Before exiting the bus, we were given our schedule for the following day. This would become part of our daily routine. Alongside a brief overview of what adventures the next day held, we were also told our wake-up call for the following morning, and what time we needed to be on the bus.
For Wednesday, our first real day in Israel, the wake-up call was 6:00am, and the bus was leaving at 7:30am.
I love how many stories you are able to dive into at the click of a button (or tweak of an antenna).
When I was little, before we had a DVR, a TiVo, or access to the Guide, we had Channel 3.
Channel 3 was essentially what the Guide is now, except you couldn’t move through it, clicking your way up and down the channels, or forward a few hours. It was like the end credits of a movie, slowly rolling its way up the screen, showing you everything that was currently on, and coming up in the next hour and half hour. If you happened to look away or zone out when your desired channel came up, you had to wait for it to come back around.
I think we had around 99 channels on the living room television, and I was usually on the lookout for Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, which fell somewhere in the 40’s or 50’s. I would lay on my stomach, eyeing channel 3, sometimes with anxious anticipation, sometimes with sheer curiosity. Sometimes I just liked watching the slow roll, it was relaxing, and it was exciting to watch it jump forward on the half hour.
When I was in high school, I got a set of bunny ears for the television in my room, and I would methodically shift them, hoping to find the best quality possible for the shows I wanted to watch. And I had a full docket.
I took notes leading up to the fall television season, writing down which shows were on which days and at what times. Those that fell at the same time were like forks in the road—I had to choose which path to take and I hoped it was the same one all my friends were taking.
Shows I loved at the time were Everwood, One Tree Hill, The OC, 8 Simple Rules, Jack and Bobby, The Amazing Race, and a handful of others. Come eight or nine o’clock on weekdays, I had plans. Each show felt like catching up with old friends, hearing about their adventures from the week, and seeing what fresh trouble they could find themselves in.
As we all know, much of that kind of television watching is gone. Rather than cable, I am subscribed to multiple streaming services and have grown accustomed to waiting for the arrival of a show in its entirety. Binge watching has taken the world by storm, and I often trying to get through shows as quickly as possible, for fear they might get spoiled.
There is a lot more anxiety surrounding television than there used to be. And with so many options at our disposal, it’s sometimes difficult to find people who are watching the same thing at the same time.
Which is why I love that more and more platforms are offering shows that only release one episode a week. I’d forgotten how exciting it is to feel like you’re turning on the television at the same time as everyone else, and you’re all experiencing something together. I love texting friends after each episode so we can recap and throw out theories, and I love dissecting the previews for the next week’s episode, letting my mind run wild with possibility.
While I don’t necessarily miss the sloooooow slog of Channel 3, I never realized how much I missed the novelty of television. When you only had a handful of things to watch and everyone was talking about them.
It comes in small doses these days, but there is nothing quite like that wonderous rush, be it when you’re watching Channel 3 and you see that your favorite show is coming up next, or when you open up a streaming platform and realize that a new episode drops in a matter of hours. It’s the feeling of stepping into a story you want to know the end of but don’t want it to end; of making your weekly entrance into a strange world (be it an outlandish tropical hotel, an apocalypse, or the locker room of a Premier League Football Club) that has somehow become familiar; of sitting on the edge of your seat, knowing that people all over the world are gasping, laughing and crying with you.
My sister’s eyes widen, telling me more than she’s telling the rest of the table: an onslaught of cramps, the debilitating back pain that comes once a month. I nod and reach into my purse, pulling out the shiny, circular pill container. I pop it open and she takes two of the small pink pills.
The Friday night crowd at our local steakhouse is fairly minimal. Couples and families lean into each other in the dimly lit restaurant, offering each other sips of drinks and bites of meat and potatoes. The eight of us are at a long rectangular table in the center of the room, probably talking a little louder than most would prefer, but it’s not often we’re all in town or free on the same night.
It is “cousin weekend”, a new tradition we started that brings a handful of our family together. In some ways, it still feels strange to be out and about, all together, without our parents. Not that long ago, we were scooting ourselves into booths for birthdays, squishing our small bodies between our parents, and then passing them the bill. Now we are all adults, with friendships built not only on blood relation but on concerted efforts to get to know and spend time with one another. We have plans all weekend, and are already chatting about what we can do next time—preferably when the weather is a little warmer and there’s not so much wind.
The waiter comes around collecting plates and asks if we want a dessert menu.
“I mean, it can’t help to look,” my sister’s husband says, and I nod in agreement.
My sister Natalee leans into him, her eyes tired and her face a little pale. I ask if the Advil helped and she tilts her hand back and forth, as if to say, kind of.
“You get cramps this bad every month?” my cousin Amanda asks, holding her daughter on her lap as she colors on the kid’s activity sheet provided by the restaurant.
Natalee nods. “Every month.”
The women at the table nod empathetically, while the men perhaps listen, perhaps glaze over for a minute or two. We talk a little bit about our individual experiences, each of us nodding in understanding. When there is an opening, I contribute my own.
“For me it’s not so much cramps as it is the feeling that the world is ending and everyone hates me.”
I deliver it like the punchline of a biting joke, hoping the humor masks some of the pain and fear. It garners a few laughs, and makes me feel good. But then Amanda puts her hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she says genuinely, “that’s hard.”
It hits me somewhere deep inside and I’m almost afraid to look at her.
“Next time,” my cousin Taryn says from the other side of me, “just remember that everyone at this table loves you.”
Both of them speak with a light and casual tone, allowing me to hide the deep emotional impact that makes me want to cry.
We order a chocolate brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and take turns bringing heaping spoonful’s to our respective plates. When the waiter comes by with our check, he also lets us know they are a few minutes out from closing.
We gather our things and pat our stomachs, then wander out into the cold February air. We all hug, some of us saying, “see you tomorrow” and others saying, “see you soon!” I get in my car to drive home and hear the words echoing in my head.