She’s Got Issues – Chapter 1

Here we are, sisters in study, ready to begin our discussion of Nicole Unice’s book, She’s Got Issues. Chapter One — “Cheap Plastic Souls.”

From her opening Barbie quote to her question, “Am I changed because of Jesus?” Nicole captured my attention on that first page…but I also became acutely aware that this book won’t be one to beat-around-the-bush or just tell me things I want to hear.

This book is going to challenge me.

Am I changed because of Jesus? I’m thinking that one question could occupy a lot of my mind and time if I were honest with myself.  How about you?

We’ll make no assumptions about our responses to that question. Instead, we’ll move onward, as Nicole did. She was honest with herself. She admitted she handles life okay when it’s easy…not so much when it’s hard. She admitted to being tired, tired of pretending that all is fine.

Quite possibly my favorite phrase of the chapter is, “scandal of the ordinary.” What a fun combination of such an unlikely pairing of words. And how often do we give into that scandal, thinking God is too big, too busy to bother with our ordinary, everyday issues.

Yes, He’s big. In fact, He is SO big that He can, in His infinite, mysterious, perfect way, meet us right where we are, all day, everyday. Ordinary or extraordinary.

When we believe that life is as good as it’s gonna get, we make an expensive trade in our souls. We stuff away the raw and messy and put forth a nicer but cheaper, plastic version of ourselves. Our story is clean and easy–but also fake. We aren’t seeing a true image anymore–the image God made and is making of us–we have built our own “acceptable” image. This is what living with ordinary issues does to us. It slowly kills what is beautiful and unique and turns us into half-dead versions of what we were meant to be.

Let’s agree…no more scandal of the ordinary.

Let’s agree…we need honesty with ourselves, ready to put forth what is REAL about us.

And let’s agree…NO woman (no person) on this planet is without issues.

There. We’re on equal playing ground; we’re ready to be honest with ourselves, ready to deal with our issues, ready to change because of Jesus!

And Jesus is the key to all of this. It’s in Him that we have eternal life; it’s in Him that we find hope and help in THIS life.  His merry band of disciples were full of their own issues…just like us…so what did Jesus tell them was the key to a full and abundant life while we’re living this life?  Love.

Love one another. (John 12:34-35)

Huh. So, the Son of God who walked the earth as a man, who led people who were full of issues, tells us the key to life abundant is about loving others.  In other words, the call to be a true disciple of Christ means “following a radical call–not of rebellion but of crazy love that defies earthly expectation.”

Love is the power that transforms. When we love others, we tap into that power and everything about us begins to change…to transform.

But when we live our plastic lives, we’re unable to love others as we desire.

So to be able to love others as Christ would love them, we have to break through this plastic existence. We have to see ourselves clearly. Nicole states it as clearly as she can:

You cannot live more abundantly and love better without addressing the underlying issues.

How do we address those issues? By assessing our heart conditions. Nicole outlines three signs that will reveal if we have an “issue-laden life:” blindness, lack of compassion, and convoluted conflict.

If we are blind to the truth of our own heart conditions, if our half-dead hearts can hold no compassion for others, and if we struggle to express ourselves with honesty or we have unhealthy conflict (or avoid conflict at all costs), then we know we have issues. We know our hearts are hiding what is true about us.

After having worked with numerous women over the years, Nicole recognizes that heart issues come in all shades and variations, but she offers the top five issues she believes are the most consistent problems. Ready?

  • control
  • insecurity
  • comparisons
  • fear
  • anger (and its cousin, unforgiveness)

Do any of those resonate with you? Don’t laugh, but I can relate to all five!

Where do we go from here? Well, Nicole will take us on a journey through each of these five issues.  Two chapters per issue.  The first chapter will work toward defining the issue; the second chapter helps us explore how to deal with it effectively.

Scripture will be our foundation and guide.  In the second chapter of each issue, Nicole includes a “Word Up” section that points us to God’s Word because it “has the supernatural ability to satisfy your longings in a way that no other word can.”

Another section of her chapters is called Taking a Space Bar. Just as a space bar puts space between words, we need to pause and make space in our lives to be able to ponder, pay attention, and listen–to our spirits and to God. Nicole encourages us to take a space bar on a regular basis through this process! She offers more suggestions on how taking a space bar can happen effectively in the book.

This book, this process is for YOU. It’s not for us to assess one another’s issues, so let’s not be distracted from our purpose by applying what we learn to other people’s lives.  This is about us learning to trust God, change through Christ, and love others more freely because we can identify and overcome our own issues!

Meet you back here next week as we begin with looking at our CONTROL issues. Oh my.

Striving toward plastic-free living,

Shelley Johnson

Full Circle – An Intro to She’s Got Issues

June packed in a lot of traveling for this once-wannabe-traveler. Now it’s July! Already! My travels are over.  I’m glad to be home. I’m glad it’s still summer.

Shall we dig into another book together?

Since we’re sisters in study, it’s only appropriate that we should do at least one book about our issues. I couldn’t be more thrilled to do Nicole Unice’s She’s God Issues…but I can’t just dive in without giving you the back story.

Choosing to do this particular book came after a couple of hours of sifting through numerous books and studies at a local Christian bookstore with a good friend of mine. A few of us want to meet weekly before school starts to do a study together, so our task this week was to choose ONE book for us to do. Turns out that is a tall order. (Do you know how many good books there are for Christian women!?)

I find it rather ironic that out of ALL the books and studies out there, we landed on She’s Got Issues.  You see…a few years ago I gave in and finally decided I’d follow someone’s blog. I’d avoided it for a while, thinking I just didn’t have time. How I happened to land on Nicole Unice…I have no specific recollection. But in hindsight it’s all God.

I’m sure I read something by her in an email and was intrigued.  I thought I might learn something from her, so I signed up to follow her blog. What I didn’t expect was to love her blogs. They spoke to me. I looked forward to them. She made me laugh and think…and I SOOOO related to her because she is in the same dance I am – wife, mom, friend, church staffer.

A while into her blog she revealed she was working on her first book…so we’d get bits and pieces from her about it. Then it came out. I was excited for Nicole! Then they did a DVD study for it with a giveaway. I thought, what the heck, maybe I’ll win. I did! And it has sat upon my shelf ever since. (for shame…I know…)

Then last summer she did a post about her friend, Jenni Catron, who was having this Coaching Group for women in ministry. And immediately I knew I was supposed to go. Weird. I know. One of those rare times you JUST KNOW. And it happened. And I have FALLEN IN LOVE WITH JENNI. The Coaching Group I was blessed to be part of with her continues to mold me and challenge me.  I think I can count her as friend even though we’ve only been in each other’s presence four days total. LOL.  It was quality time.

So, of course, now I follow Jenni’s blog too. And love it.

Feels like coming full circle, knowing that I’m finally going to read Nicole’s book. This incredible season I’ve been in because of Jenni’s teachings at our coaching group and beyond…that all started because of Nicole’s blog. I stand in awe of God. Again.

And just as Nicole was encouraging women to take part in Jenni’s Coaching Group, Jenni encouraged her readers to check out Nicole’s book when it came out.  I went back and re-read Jenni’s article to see what she said about this book we’re about to study, totally expecting to giggle a bit and say, “Can’t wait.”

But what happened is I GULPED and thought… “Oh my. I might have to acknowledge and deal with a few of my issues.”  Then I did giggle. Because knowing Jenni the way I do, she doesn’t do anything halfway or lightly. So why would it surprise me she’d endorse a book that would do anything less?!

So…to complete the circle, I thought I’d include the link to the post Jenni did about She’s Got Issues. Maybe it’ll give you a preview about what we’re getting ourselves into. We do all have issues… We do.

http://www.jennicatron.com/book-giveaway-day/

Meet me back here next week if you dare! I have a sneaking suspicion that God is about to reveal a whole new circle in this adventure with Nicole!

No more pretending I don’t have issues,

Shelley Johnson

Going West – Our Final Day

Israel Day 12 – Going West

Our final day in Israel and we’re headed west, hitting a couple of sights before our final destination, Tel Aviv.

I’d say today was about hills and valleys.

We hovered mostly in the valley, most famously known as, Armageddon. And all around this strategic valley are mountain ranges and peaks that hold lots of historical and possible future events.

Present day this valley is known as the Jezreel Valley. This valley separates Galilee and Samaria, and from the here you can see much – a virtual panorama:

  • To the south – Samarian Mountains and Mount Gilboa
  • To the north – Mount Tabor
  • To the west – Mount Carmel
  • To the east – the Jordan River Valley

On our bus ride we passed Mount Tabor, truly a hill alone. So many of the “mounts” of Israel are mountain ranges, but not Tabor. It stands alone. It stands out. Some traditions hold that Mount Tabor is the site of Jesus’ Transfiguration, so as expected, we could see a church atop this mount.

A little further west we could see the city of Nazareth, a typical limestone-white city of Israel, sitting atop a small ridge. Nazareth is a good-sized town today, filled mostly with Arabs. Nazareth’s main claim-to-fame is the home of Jesus…Jesus of Nazareth.

Still we didn’t stop. Ariel chatted with us about all the rich biblical history of the valley till we reached our destination, Megiddo – a city well-known for warfare in its past. Ariel explained that Megiddo stood at the heart of important trade routes of the “Fertile Crescent.”

As we pulled up alongside this tel, Megiddo, I found myself oddly disappointed. I’m familiar with the Revelation prophecy that Megiddo and its valley, Armageddon, will be the site of the final battle of good and evil. At first glance I saw this hill with a u-shaped cut in it and assumed the “u” was the valley. It seemed too small to be the sight of the Battle of Armageddon.

Turns out that “u” was NOT the valley but an amateur archaeologist’s attempt at uncovering the mystery of how many civilizations had stood on the spot of Megiddo.

My disappointment left as fascination took over. The tel Megiddo has 20, yes 20, civilizations to its credit. That amateur archaeologist basically did a cross-section cut into the tel and, as a result, the layers revealed themselves like the rings of a tree.

Since that time other archaeological teams have uncovered some of the ruins from the first few layers of the tel. We spent quite a bit of time poking around and learning more history. Megiddo was a large city by ancient standards with city walls and gates, places of worship and elaborate water systems. They even dug silos into the bedrock to store their grains.

Through archaeology and historical documents, the two uncovered layers reveal that the most recent city was active during King Ahab’s reign (see 1 Kings 18). The one before that, during King Solomon’s reign. There were amazing “mangers,” what we’d call troughs, for Solomon’s horses who pulled his famous chariots (see 1 Kings 10:26, 1 Kings 9:15, and 1 Kings 4: 26).

Because of its location on trade routes, Megiddo was fought for and inhabited by many civilizations. Standing on top of it today, its valley is an obvious stage for a final stand-off. Each mountain and mountain range that encircles the Armageddon Valley is home to a different people: Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, and Syrians. For me, the Revelation 16:16 prophecy seems plausible after being there, hearing its history, and seeing its breadth and placement. Time will tell.

From the Megiddo we could see Mount Carmel – our next stop. It’s a high ridge in the northern parts of Israel, and historically it’s known for the “battle of the gods.” Well, that’s my name for it. It’s the scene of the prophet Elijah versus the prophets of Baal, a pagan god of the day. This is where Elijah calls on God to start a fire on an altar under impossible circumstances and challenges the Baal “priests” to ask the same of Baal.

Of course God came through and Baal did not. Lots of drama in this show-down, and even a little sarcasm from Elijah! Ariel pointed out that Elijah was very intentional in choosing this high place for the contest of gods. From this mountain side, people in all directions could see, could witness the power of the One True God!

As we pulled out of the Jezreel (Armageddon) Valley and left behind all the mountains, hills, and history, we set our sights for the Mediterranean Sea.

Love at first sight!

After all the desert and HOT places we’d walked, hiked and ascended through for two weeks, the blue waters of the Mediterranean were a refreshing welcome to the eyes!

At Caesarea by the Sea we were able to witness more of the wonder of Roman architecture. If you ever have time, Google the original Caesarea built by (guess who?) Herod the Great. The models we saw of this fortress at the sea were breath-taking. It’s still so hard to imagine how an ancient civilization built what they did with the bedrock (limestone and basalt)…

One of the most amazing remnants of the ancient city is its theater. Today it has been refurbished to restore its former glory with the addition of a new wooden stage and present-day technology. Today concerts are held in this relic just south of Tel Aviv.

There are remnants of a hippodrome and Herod’s palace. The rest is bits and pieces because of war and the sea’s effects (in actuality the whole thing has been sinking since its inception, but Herod couldn’t have known that).

It was very hard for me to leave this beautiful place…maybe because of the lure of the Sea or maybe because it was our last stop on the tour. I’m not sure which was the stronger.

But Tel Aviv didn’t disappoint. It is a baby city compared to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 – so just over 100 years old; whereas, Jerusalem is thousands of years old. And I could tell.

Tel Aviv still uses the white limestone for its buildings as every other city and village in Israel, but its skyscrapers, hotels, and embassies give it a modern feel, as well as, look.

We enjoyed our final hours in Israel combing the beach outside our hotel and eating a last dinner with all our crew. It was such a bittersweet evening. We’re exhausted and ready to reunite with family and friends, yet we’re not quite ready to let go of Israel. And we’re sad to say farewell to Ariel.

Something Ariel told us has really stuck with me. He told us our pilgrimage doesn’t end here. He says it goes with us and will continue as long as we’ll allow it. As we read our Bible, we’ll come across a name, a place, and we’ll rejoice as memories flood our minds – we remember! We’ve been there! And now it means so much more!

The Bible has truly come to life for our crew of 42. We have bonded with one another. We have become part of this country and its history – the idea of being “grafted in” has a reality to it that I didn’t think possible.

Ariel told us in our Farewell time together that Israel is unique. It calls to people, beckoning them, “Come!”  It’s as if a weight bears down on our hearts and won’t let up.

So for those who follow the call and are able to “come,” that weight is lifted. We know we are where we’re meant to have been.

But then something more happens. Those “rocks” that had burdened our hearts break apart, so as we head home, they fall back to the land to which they belong.

We leave a piece of ourselves behind in the Promised Land.

I know I have.

But I’ve also brought a piece of it back with me.

Our pastor has challenged us throughout this trip to ask God what He’d have us do with all He’s shown us. Won’t it be fun to see how that pans out!? For 41 Okies and one Coloradoan – the trip may be over, but the journey continues.

Thanks for following along with us. I truly pray that someday God will open a door for you to step through so that you can experience Israel for yourself!

Blessings upon blessings,

Shelley

 

 

Around the Sea of Galilee

Israel, Day 11

Ariel is an artist as well as one of the all-time best tour guides. He crafts silver jewelry, designing each himself. One of the pendants he showed us (iPhone pictures) had an outline in the shape of the Sea of Galilee with two scenes – Jesus walking on water and Jesus calming the storm. It was really cool.

We learned more to the story about why this lake, the Sea of Galilee, is called a sea. Turns out it’s because the people of the day did not have a word for “lake!” At the time, every body of water was called a sea. The Sea of Galilee never progressed with language.

Today we made a complete circuit of this lake, I mean sea. I could picture the shape as we traversed its path because of the pendant.

But this morning instead of getting on the bus, we walked down to the pier in front of our hotel and got on a boat! And not just any boat, but a replica of a fisherman’s boat from the days of Jesus. It was bigger than I would have expected, but simple, plain, and very functional.

In our 45-minute ride to the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee we heard stories, danced, fished, and shopped. Not to mention cruise the waters Jesus walked on!

We docked at the Boat Museum where we saw the remains of an actual boat from the first century – the kind that Peter and Andrew, James and John would have fished from. The boat itself was interesting, but I really enjoyed its story. Archaeologists had to be creative to find ways to uncover and move it without it drying out and disintegrating to dust!

When we headed to the parking lot out to our bus, we were surprised to find many Israeli soldiers taking pictures and hugging loved ones. Now, we’ve gotten used to seeing soldiers, but I can’t recall a time we’d seen such a concentration of them in one place.

Our bus driver, Motti, inquired for us. They were paratroopers who’d just been on a training exercise – walking/running through the night from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. That’s over 90 KM (about 54 miles) and includes a mountain range! The only map they had was the one they’d memorized.

I’d get lost.

Ariel explained that every Israeli, male and female, is required to join the military for a set number of years after high school. He regaled us with some of his own experiences while in the Army.

He’s really smart.

Leaving behind the paratroopers, we made several quick stops in the northern region of the Sea of Galilee.

One was Capernaum, a city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus used as a base camp of sorts. In fact, Capernaum is referenced many times in the New Testament, second only to Jerusalem!

Five of the twelve disciples were from Capernaum: Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Matthew. The first four were fishermen. The waters at Capernaum were warmer, which attracted fish—a sure draw for fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector.

Capernaum was full of tax collectors because it was a city on a main road that connected nations such as Egypt and what is now Iraq, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. As a result, much trade occurred at Capernaum, which meant Rome had their men there to collect the taxes.

The two ruins we spent time in at Capernaum were a synagogue and Peter’s mother-in-law’s home.

Recall from the Bible that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick and Jesus healed her…in her home. A diary discovered by archaeologists revealed that years later her home became a shrine where early Christians would go to worship Him. Eventually someone expanded the home and created a church, and years later the orthodox Christians added more walls to make it a large church. I didn’t mention…it was a round building. So interesting.

Right next door a Jewish synagogue was built at some point. Ariel speculated that there was a bit of a rivalry between them.  Maybe a bit like Home Depot and Lowes or 7-11 and Circle K??

Jesus stayed busy when in Capernaum with the ministry of miracles – the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the healing of the paralytic whose friends let him down to Jesus through a roof, and the casting out of demons were a few. But in the end, He cursed Capernaum for their lack of faith. To this day it’s never been anything more than a city of ruins.

Near Capernaum was the Mount of Beatitudes and the Church that venerated the site. The ride up to the Church of the Beatitudes was beautiful and its gardens and buildings were spectacular. I think all of us enjoyed strolling and taking pictures there…a few of us even decided it’d be a great place to retire.

The Church commemorates the place where Jesus gave His first teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, which is listed in the book of Matthew. It begins in Chapter 5 with the Beatitudes, a description of nine blessings.

The Church’s architecture reflects those blessings with its octagonal structure, each of the eight sides dedicated to one of the Beatitudes. The ninth Beatitude is symbolized by the ceiling, a dome, reaching toward heaven.

Another spot we visited was Tabgha, at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes. “Tabgha,” meaning seven springs, is a church that celebrates the “feeding of the 5,000” miracle. Loaves and fish were the theme in the church and on the grounds!!

The rest of our afternoon was spent down at the river…the Jordan River. We had some great spiritual connections at the river where John baptized Jesus. The Jordan is not a large river – not wide, not long, but it is significant in so many ways.

For us that day, it meant renewal – spiritually and emotionally. It was one of those important markers for us as followers of God – the place His people claimed their inheritance (crossing into the Promised Land).

What’s our inheritance as followers of Jesus? One is the Holy Spirit, dwelling and moving in us. Another is eternal life, heaven…forever with God! Part of our inheritance is our calling, that “field” God has given us to work.

It was a moving afternoon. We ended our time together with song and Scripture. Our pastor read to us some of Matthew 5, where the Beatitudes are written. Having been at the Dead Sea, salt had new meaning. Having been below ground so many times on this journey, light took on greater significance. So when our pastor spoke his benediction over us, “Be the light of the world and the salt of the earth,” we heard it with new ears.

Salt without its flavor is of no use. What does that say to us as believers who never pour out to others what’s been given to us?

Light always overcomes darkness. Have you noticed how dark our world is becoming? Guess what? WE have a light that will shine in the darkest of places. What are we doing with that light?

Walking through the Holy Land with Ariel and 41 other pilgrims has changed me. I think most of us would say that we’ll never read the Bible the same way again, never doubt who Jesus is, never take for granted the country we live in, and never hear the word JEEP again without thinking of Ariel!

I turn the page in my little red journal and realize there’s only one day left.

How did that happen?

Then I look back over the pages of this blog and realize…it’s happened one very full day at a time.

Blessings from Israel,

Shelley

 

Northern Galilee

Israel Day 10, Northern Galilee

We certainly are waking up to the most beautiful view of the trip while staying in Tiberias. Some of us who came without our husbands feel guilty to be experiencing all this without them – the palm trees and blue waters of the Sea of Galilee just add to that guilt!

But, don’t worry, we make the most of it!

Our first stop today was to Caesarea Philippi at the northern edge of Israel. I’ve looked forward to seeing this since I found out I was coming to Israel.

I told you of my love for all things medieval, but my love for all things Greek goes a little deeper. English major that I was…

Well… Caesarea Philippi was first established by the Greeks, way back in Alexander the Great’s day. Fourth century. If you can think back to your middle/high school days, what do you recall about Greek mythology? Do you remember the “main god,” Zeus? Or his wife, Hera? Maybe Aphrodite or Ares?

Caesarea Philippi is one place where the Greeks set up shrines and altars to these gods of theirs.

The area is pretty with lots of plants and rocks, including one really big one, almost cliff-like. In this cliff were indentions they’d carved for idols. They reminded me of the alcoves some of the newer houses have for artwork.

Those alcoves are still there. The signs helped us understand what we were seeing, identifying what each area was about. There was even an alcove for Zeus. All the sudden my years of research and teaching all this became a lot more real. Real in the sense that people actually worshipped these idols – not that their gods were real.

It was as Jesus and his disciples were walking through this area, surrounded by these idols, that He asked them a very important question, “Who do you say I am?”

Today we, like the people in Jesus’ day, are surrounded by a world filled with distractions…idols that can keep us from following Christ with all our hearts, mind, and strength.

It was a good moment for me, standing there amid the rubble, thinking about what idols I put before God. It was good for me to stop and ponder, “Who do I say Jesus is?”

As history went on, the Romans took over the Greeks, which was when this area was actually named for one of the Roman Caesars, Philip. After the Romans, the Muslims took over the area and went back to the original Greek name, Panyas. Ariel said that “P” in Arabic sounds like “B,” so today the name of the area Banias.

Our next stop was a hike through the Dan Nature Reserve. It was nearly a jungle it was so lush with trees, plants, flowers, vines, and undergrowth. The spring/stream, called Dan, running through it provided the most refreshing sound. Dan Spring is one of the main tributaries feeding the Jor-Dan River.

Bet you never put that together. Jor-Dan. “Jor” comes from the Hebrew “Yar,” which means “of.” So this spring is “Of Dan.” I thought that was pretty cool.

Dan, the city, is another tel, but the vegetation is so thick that there is very little excavation done there. We enjoyed our hike. As we hopped from rock to dirt back to rock, looking at all the plants and trees that were foreign to us, smelling the eucalyptus trees…we wondered if JUST MAYBE this is where the Garden of Eden could have been? There we even fig trees growing there…

The icing on the cake for our adventurous day was a “kayak” trip down another tributary of the Jordan. There were three of us to a boat…more of a raft than a true kayak.

And did we ever have fun! We’d get spun around by rapids, bumped into by other boats, slapped by tree limbs and leaves, and dumped over a short falls.

Beyond that, it was a calm float. Our boat took the role of “sweeper,” and brought up the rear. We enjoyed watching the other boats in front of us get caught in the shallow waters, and we loved meeting people in other boats (from other groups and countries).

All our boats and their crews made it ashore without any fatalities. But we were worn out – a hike AND a float trip all in one day. FUN!

So three big stops today. All really amazing and yet so different from the other.

And though we traveled between them for bits at a time, no moment was wasted. Ariel pointed out famous sites and landmarks along the way. Going north from Tiberias took us up over sea level finally. In fact, up in the Golan Heights Mountains, we got up to 3700 feet ABOVE sea level.

We got really close to the Syrian border a few times…close enough to see the barbed wire fences and check points. We saw two Israeli military groups out on maneuvers…just training, the same way our forces do.

Oh, and the plantations. The Jordan River offers the water the area needs to grow amazing crops. Things you might expect like dates and olives, but also bananas, mangoes, and avocadoes! Fascinating to see the way they’ve adapted their land to the needs of these mostly tropical crops.

We saw Mount Hermon, the tallest mountain in Syria at 9,100 feet tall. On a clear day, it can be seen from the Dead Sea…120 miles away!

Overall I’d say the northern part of Israel is the most inviting. Its beauty and land and history make for interesting travels…just as we had today.

Tomorrow we’ll tour some more in the area around the Sea of Galilee. Most of the sites are biblical and recognizable to most Christians. Can’t wait!

But for now…I am ready for some sleep!

Shelley

Jordan Valley

Israel Day 9 – Jordan Valley

We loaded the bus again, headed to a new destination, leaving the Dead Sea.

If you look at a map, the Dead Sea is the southern-most body of water in Israel. Up north is the Sea of Galilee. And it’s the Jordan River that connects the two.

This day, as we drive from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee, we travel through and along the Jordan Valley. On our journey, Ariel pulls out a map (in the bus) and starts a geo-political lecture.

I won’t try to explain it all here – suffice it to say, Israel has a complicated history that came to a head during the Six Day War in 1967 when they were able to push non-Israelites out of Israel’s borders. Somehow, someway, three parts of Israel were given back to those three non-Israel countries: Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. So – as a result, there are three chunks of land within Israel that are controlled by each of those countries respectively.

It’s confusing to say the least. And Ariel did a GREAT job of explaining it. I know I’m not.

But for our group it meant taking out-of-the-way routes and going through a check-point. It was all very fascinating. A bit confusing, but never scary or threatening.

Along the way we made a few stops.

Because we were in the Jordan Valley most of the time, we had mountains on either side of us. Mountains of Samaria on the west and Mountains of Gilead to the east.

Near the intersection of the Jordan and Jezreel valleys is an ancient site called Beth Shean. This was a Roman city, one of the “Decapolis” cities that was prominent in Jesus’ days.

I read that this city has 6000 years of history in all its layers of documented civilizations. That takes us back to the Stone Age!

Ariel had us sit near the entrance for a lot of the history, but I was not prepared for what I saw.

Up to now we had walked into ruins that had walls up to my waist or head, but rarely higher.

I guess I expected more of the same.

But this Roman city had much more to offer. Our first stop on the tour of Beth Shean was the theater, a semi-circular shaped building with a stage up front.

What we walked into is something I’d expect to see in Greece or Italy. It was a complete auditorium, minus a roof. It would rival many high school football stadiums…it was that big! My heart beat a little faster, my breathing a little shallower. I felt as if I’d stepped back in time.

In addition to the theater, this city had an Agora (a main street or plaza with shops and was usually lined with columns. It also had an amphitheater, which was circular arena, a hippodrome, a public latrine (bathroom), and an elaborate bath house.

I’m telling you, we walked through a city! Beth Shean was amazing! Something else that amazes me about Beth Shean was that so much of it survived an earthquake in 749 AD!

From there we took a road up high into the mountains to Bel Voir, which is French for “beautiful view.” Bel Voir was a fortress built by the Crusaders back in the 12th century. I’ve been a sucker for all things Medieval or even remotely seeming Medieval since I studied King Arthur years ago. Castles, knights, fair maidens…the works.

This castle did not disappoint. It even had a moat!! What I didn’t realize is that not all moats had water, like Bel Voir. The gap to the walled fortress was a preventive measure keeping the enemy from using a battery ram on their gates–water or not.

And, wow, did this place live up to its name. It was a breath-taking, beautiful view. I think I stared at it the whole time Ariel gave its history. Several in our group took panoramic pictures. From there we could look north and see the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. We could also see Mount Tabor.

In Catholic tradition Bel Voir is on the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration. Biblically, this is where the whole conflict between Deborah and Barack took place (in Judges).

We continued toward Tiberias, a city on the banks of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and we saw the Hill of Moreh where, in Judges 7, God called Gideon to lead the Israelites to rise up against their enemy. I’ve always liked Gideon’s story, so that stood out to me!

As we made our way northward, we could see the Sea of Galilee, a fresh-water lake. The waters upon which Jesus walked, the waters He calmed in a storm.

Tiberias is a much more modern city than Jerusalem. It was a fun contrast to see and experience. After dinner several of us walked through the “promenade” to see the sights and experience life in a city full of foreigners mixed with locals. It was fun!

We’ve discovered that McDonald’s offers FREE WiFi to its customers recently, so we’ve made it our new habit to find one each day. Tiberias did not disappoint. There’s one right at the pier!

We were able to use ATM machines to get the shekels we’d need for lunch the next day, and we explored some of the interesting artwork and architecture around us. I haven’t gotten used to how new high-rise hotels get built, literally, next door to an excavated site with awesome ruins. It feels like such an oxymoron – a juxtaposition of the old and new.

I kinda like it.

Here’s a nice random bit of Israel trivia for you as we wrap up today’s post. What is the only movie recorded IN Israel that is about Jesus?

Give up?

No, not Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

It’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

With that, we’ll say so long till tomorrow.

Shelley

Dead Sea Sites

Day 8 – Dead Sea Sites

Balance. Today, this trip, our lives are about balance. The Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River, but it has no outlet. It receives but doesn’t give. It gets filled up but never pours out.

The Dead Sea represents physically what can happen to us spiritually if we aren’t intentional. We can study, learn, gain all the knowledge and info about God and the Bible that we’re able, but if we do nothing with it, we become self-focused, self-righteous. Dead unto ourselves.

If we give, give, give and never let God pour into us through His Word, prayer, study…then we burn out, dry up.

But if we, like the Sea of Galilee, will let God pour into us AND we give of ourselves, we discover balance, fullness, purpose, and calling.

Sound good?!

And let me just say, having now been IN the Dead Sea. That is NOT the life we want. Though from afar it looks kinda pretty, it’s really just gross. Gross, I say!

The strong concentration of salt and minerals burns, smells, and makes you feel all oily. Ariel describes the Dead Sea as sour. It has no life, literally – no vegetation, no animal/sea life.

It’s a fascinating phenomena. But I only lasted about 3 minutes in it. Then made a beeline to the pool.

Enough about that.

Around the salty mountains and salty lake are a few interesting sites. We tackled two.

The first was one of my favorites, Ein Gedi. The oasis in the desert!

Ein Gedi is now a natural reserve that preserves the wildlife, springs, waterfalls, pools, and tropical vegetation. In a desert that gets a mere 2 inches of rainfall a year (yup, I typed that right…2 inches a year), there stands this true-to-life oasis. And it is beautiful. We all enjoyed the break from the heat as there was shade and cool water.

Our hike worked us hard, but it was my kind of hike. Lots to see and enjoy!

From our oasis, we went to Masada, a fortified palace. I think, quite possibly, the hottest place on earth. Quite the contrast from our oasis!

However, Masada was impressive and interesting.

First of all, it’s WAY up at the summit of one of the flatter peaks in the mountain range there by the Dead Sea. Blessedly, we were able to ride up the mountain in a cable car, but we could see the “Snake Path” that used to be the only way up.

Herod the Great – great because he built so many buildings and structures during his reign as King of the Jews under Roman rule… in those years before Jesus’ birth. Ariel told us that Herod the Great was a megalomaniac and very paranoid.

As a result, the fortress he built atop this mountain was huge. Enormous food storage spaces. Impressive water catching and cistern systems. Living quarters for soldiers. A palace for Herod and his family. Even an elaborate bath house. And not just one wall, but two.

There were a lot of ruins to look at, so it was impressive. But there was no shade, so the heat really zapped us. We were glad when it was lunch time. Ahhhh—air conditioning!

The famous story of Masada (you may have seen the Peter O’Toole movie) happened during the Jewish revolt of 70 AD. 967 men, women, and children used Masada as a refuge. After a few years, the Romans decided to attack them (a pure power move). It would appear impossible for anyone to get to Masada, but these were the Romans. They had thought ahead to bring wood and dirt with them to create a manmade hill/ramp to reach the west side of the fortress.

Impressive. But who did they use as manpower to accomplish all that? Their Jewish slaves. As a result the Jewish refugees in Masada refused to defend themselves for fear of injuring their fellow men. When they could see that the Romans were going to reach them, a mass suicide plan was executed successfully.

We toured the ruins with all this in mind. The heat was enough of a distraction to keep us from being too somber. In the end, all we could think about was getting off the mountain and find something cool to drink. As we think back on it…Masada is nothing short of amazing.

We wrapped up our quick tour of the Dead Sea area with a quick dip into the famous salty lake. Despite the fact that I didn’t care for the water it was really fascinating that we could float so easily. I always, always sink in water. But not the Dead Sea water. I floated with the best of ‘em.

As we headed north out of the Dead Sea region the next morning, our pastor had us turn to Luke 17:32-33 for our devotion, where we’re reminded to “remember Lot’s wife….” Lot’s wife turned back toward the cities God had judged and condemned to destruction. Her look back was a disobedience to God, yes, but it was also revealing her heart – she hadn’t fully surrendered to God. She still sought to gain life her way.

She was like the Dead Sea. Salty and lifeless.

Let’s be more like the Sea of Galilee – we seek God and find our filling-up in Him; we pour into others, following God’s plan for our lives. We stay fresh and full of life.

And…that’s where we’re headed tomorrow!

Till then,

Shelley

 

Philistine Country

Day 7 – Philistine Country

David and Goliath. The shepherd and the giant. An Israelite and a Philistine.

Today we loaded our big orange bus, which by the way, is a first class bus. It even has Wi-Fi! So far, the only free Wi-Fi of the trip.

But I digress. We loaded up our bus and headed southwest out of Jerusalem through the Judean Mountains. After a time, the bus pulled to the side of the road. Nothing of import jumped out at us, but like good sheep, we followed our shepherd.

I studied our surroundings to see that we were in a nice little valley. The Elah Valley to be specific.

Turns out we were standing IN that famous battle scene where the young shepherd boy, David, picked up five rocks from the creek and killed the giant, Goliath the Philistine, in one shot.

It’s a real place! Not that I ever doubted that it was. But to be there, in person. Amazing!

Ariel led us to the little creek, dry as it was and told us we could take rocks as souvenirs. I found a few I liked. One of the pastors in our group told those of us around him that the size of rocks David would have selected to kill a big person like Goliath would probably have been the size of his fist. That’s not exactly what I pictured either, but that seems to happen a lot on this trip. J

Back on the bus, we continued southwest till we got to some excavation sites. Tel Maresha is one of many “tels” in Israel. A quick archaeology lesson, as it will come up again: a tel is a hill that literally contains layers of civilizations.

Ariel explained it this way: a nomadic tribe before Jesus’ day comes along and sees that this site has water, vegetation, and enough wildlife to sustain them, so they set up camp…for about 50-100 years…until something happens to cause them to leave. Maybe a fire, invasion, or some bad natural occurrence. Years and years and years go by, and the wind and water and weather cover up that site.

At some point another group of nomads comes by and notices that this site would be a good place to live, so they set up camp, having no idea what lies beneath them. When this happens a few times, land that was once flat becomes a hill, or a tel.

Tel Maresha.

Wouldn’t be much to see if they hadn’t already done some excavating because it only looks a hill. At Tel Maresha they’ve uncovered things like a big olive press “factory” and a HUGE pigeon columbarium, where they raised pigeons for food and sacrifices. We had to go below ground to see both, and it was all very impressive.

I’ve not been able to load pictures because of the spotty Wi-Fi, but when I am able to I’ll be sure to include pictures of some of this. It’s not anything we have seen before, living in America. Fascinating!

Just down the road were these old quarries called Bell Caves. It was a hot hike down to them, but oh-my was it worth it! I promise to try to upload some pics.

In simple terms, Bell Caves are ancient quarries from the days of the Roman Empire – 2000+ years ago! They would create a hole atop these soft limestone hills to quarry chunks of rock to use as bricks for their roads.

We entered a series of these caves from the side of one where a wall had collapsed. They all inter-connected and had the same shape, that of a bell. Narrow at the top, rounded out wide at the sides, coming in a bit at ground level. The sunlight came in through those top holes like spotlights. We took turns standing in the light, arms raised.

I imagined the Transfiguration of Christ as I watched my friends looking bright as angels in the small circle of light.

Birds made their home in these caves. And it was fun to echo our voices, so we sang a few songs. It was nice and cool in these bell-shaped quarries, too…we loved that break from the heat!

From there we went east toward the Dead Sea. Ariel pointed out on the map where Gaza is, but we didn’t go there. It was west of us along the Mediterranean Sea. In our travels this day we’d entered the Negev Desert, south Israel.

When compared to the Judean Desert, the Negev looked even MORE bleak and dry…if that’s possible.

In the middle of this desolate area arose a city – a city as we would see in America with skyscrapers and such. It didn’t fit. But there it was. Beer-sheba.

I recognized the name from Bible studies, but I couldn’t place what story or person it was associated with. Ariel didn’t disappoint! Genesis 21 and 22 reference Beer-sheba.

The back story – God (in Genesis 12) told a man named Abram to pack up all he owned and move. God didn’t give him a destination, just asked him to go. Directions forthcoming.

Abram did. And in time, he’d earned such favor with God for his faith that his name was changed to Abraham. Father Abraham. The first of the Israelite nation.

On his journey, he came into the land of Gerar (south Israel today) where he and a king, Abimelech, had some disagreements. In time they made a covenant together over a well. (which, now that I’ve spent some time in these deserts, I can see how important a well—the water source—is so important.)

At this well, the place where they swore an oath, Abraham named it Beer-sheba, “well of the covenant.” And from then on Abraham no longer wandered; he made his home there. See Genesis 22:19.

Up to that point, Abraham had been a nomad, and along the way his flock had grown and he’d obtained wealth. To this day nomads live in the area, called Bedouins. They believe they live as their father, Abraham, did.

The excavation site we visited was an old site of the city of Beer-sheba. The current city, with the skyscrapers and such, is a few miles up the road.

At the site we saw a well, 200 feet deep, the remains of the outer wall, city gate, and their cistern water system. It was a lot of rocks on a dry hill (I imagine another tel). But it was fascinating to see the remains of a people who made their home in this arid place.

We ended our day at the Dead Sea.

When in Jerusalem we were at heights of 2000-2400 feet above sea level.

At the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world, we were at 1300 feet BELOW sea level. An ear-popping good time!

The little highway we entered by had us at the very southern tip of the Dead Sea where it is shallow and somewhat cut off from the much bigger, deeper northern parts of the sea.

It’s really a lake, but it is HEAVY with salt. Salty like nothing I’ve ever experienced. (more on that tomorrow).

We did see factories/refineries that “mine” magnesium and potassium from the Dead Sea along those western shores. Across the Dead Sea to the east is Jordan and the Moab Mountains.

We continued to follow the highway along the shoreline when we hit some mountains – Dead Sea to our right. Mountains to our left.  Ariel tried to convince us that these 1000+ feet tall mountains were made of salt…mostly salt. To prove it, he had our driver pull off the road.

There was a large boulder at the base of the mountains. He told us to go TASTE it. Huh.

I was not one who actually put her tongue on the rock, but many did. Salty it was! A few got creative and dug around the crevices and found tiny salt pillars. It was quite the day of discovery!

Up way high to our left was a single, giant pillar…separate from the rest of the peaks in the mountain range. Ariel told us that tradition has it this pillar is Lot’s wife, the woman who looked back at the destruction God had imparted on the cities Sodom and Gomorrah after He’d told them not to look back.

Were we convinced? Not completely. Was it feasible? It was fun to think so! And the fact that EVERYTHING around us was salty added to the possibility.

Just a bit down the road we found our next hotel. We’ve decided the heat really zaps us because we were DONE, toast, had hit our walls. So we showered, ate dinner, and crashed!

Let’s explore the Dead Sea area tomorrow!

Shelley

Final Day in Jerusalem

Day 6 – Jerusalem’s Christian Sites

The night before I took a look at our list of places we were going to visit today, and my first thought was, “This will be a day about death.”

Entering through St. Stephen’s Gate (he was the first Christian martyr), following the Way of the Cross, the Garden Tomb, Calvary (where Jesus was crucified), and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where Jesus was buried).

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Our day was about renewal. The hope that Christ’s resurrection brings to us is all about the renewal of life, spiritually and relationally. Not death.

We came in St. Stephen’s Gate, also known as the Lion Gate or the Sheep Gate. The church built almost immediately inside the gate “venerates” the place tradition says that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born.

It was one of my favorite churches. High arches. All bedrock. Simple. And amazing acoustics. It’s called St. Anne’s Church, named for Mary’s mother, Anne.

Our first stop was just outside this church at the site of the Pool of Bethesda, and as Ariel was giving the history lesson, the echoing sound of voices singing lured me around the corner. I leaned against a building that was just across from the open door of the church, closed my eyes, and let myself be swept away by the sound, the words.

A holy moment.

After touring the church, we walked a bit further into the Muslim Quarter to the Antonia Fortress, which was a military barrack back in the day…like 19 BC. Herod the Great, “great” because of all his great building projects, like this one, the Temple Mount, the 2nd wall, and so many more.

This fortress is the first “station of the cross,” the place where Jesus was taken to trial to stand before Pilate.

Today the fortress is a convent that is built above the original remnants of the fortress. We were able to go below ground to see the parts and layers that were “Herodian” and see how other “civilizations” came along and built, literally, right on top of it.

Ariel explained that over the centuries soldiers of all kinds are trained for battle, then they WAIT for battle.  The Roman soldiers in Jesus’ day were no different. They were highly trained, but with no war happening they had to be good at waiting.

Like us, Roman soldiers kept themselves entertained with games during those waiting times. “The Game of the Kings” was one such game. They carved their “game board” into the bedrock roads. Today we saw a couple.

It was an eerie feeling to realize we really were standing where those Roman soldiers who threw dice for Jesus’ clothes had stood, walked, waited…and taunted our Savior.

Afterwards, we walked through the Arab Market to hit a few of the other Stations of the Cross sites, hardly stopping because of the crowds in the market. It was the most fascinating atmosphere, that market. I just don’t know how well I can describe it. Very narrow alley-type streets packed with people from all over the world, so I heard languages all around me.

Lots of smells. Tons of colors. An overwhelming amount of products packed, no crammed, into every conceivable space…and some not so conceivable.

Oh, and then there are the shop keepers. Some followed us around trying to get us to buy something. One hilarious guy, Abraham, was selling recorders/flutes. He played the song Happy Birthday then told us it was his 46th birthday. We happily played along and wished him happy birthday. He was very good natured, and though he really wanted us to buy a flute, didn’t grimace when we said no, thank you.

Not all the salesmen were so kind. But none were mean or rude. Just less willing to let a possible sale get by.

If we hadn’t had Ariel leading the way, we’d have been LOST. Every narrow road had other narrow roads branching off of it. A labyrinth.

The next stop on our Way of the Cross, also known as the Via Dolorosa, was in the Christian Quarter. We had to get back on the bus to get there, getting dropped off at this funny little bus station just outside the Damascus Gate.

We wove around to a place called the Garden Tomb. It’s a relatively new site and one that’s a bit controversial. This site claims to have the tomb where Jesus had been buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s garden. But, of course, there’s already a church that has venerated the site of Christ’s Tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Our sweet tour guide through the garden acknowledged the discrepancy and admitted that really no one ACTUALLY knows where Jesus was born. I loved the garden. It was a more peaceful, pastoral setting. I think my mind and body were ready for that.

It had beautiful gardens and a tomb that would be very much like the one Jesus was buried in, so I enjoyed getting a picture in my mind of what that would look like on the inside. But it looked nothing like I’d imagined on the outside.

Our guide had taken us to look at the possible site of Golgotha, also known as Gordon’s Calvary…the place where Jesus was crucified.

So. You won’t believe it, but “skull rock” (Golgotha means skull) was the rocky ridge at the entrance of THE BUS STATION. Strange. Odd. Out of place.

But in the 2000+ years since Jesus’ death, life has moved on. And somehow that piece of land was overlooked. So now pilgrims as us gaze upon it at a distance, trying to imagine it as Jesus saw it.

Is it really Golgotha? Can’t say for sure, but we could make out the 2 eyes and nose pretty clearly. The mouth would be under the street (of course).

It was hard to picture crosses for crucifixion among the honks and fumes. Not a very holy moment.

But when we had communion in that garden. That was holy.

Several couples in our group renewed their vows in that garden. That was holy too.

After lunch we made the journey, at last, through Jaffa Gate. We ASCENDED to the gate. So. Many. Steps.

We squeezed through more alleys and shops and people to suddenly find ourselves in the middle of an open area surrounded by walls and a HUGE church. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

I’d say the church, by far, had the most demonstrative Christians than any other place we’d visited. The Jews were demonstrative at the Wailing Wall. The Muslims on Temple Mount. But here, here we were with our fellow-believers.

And yet, it was so different. The first thing we saw after our eyes adjusted to the dimness of the great room were people on their hands and knees kissing a block of granite/marble.

Once Ariel was able to explain a few things, I began to understand a little more clearly. Tradition has it that the block of granite/marble was where Jesus’ body had been prepared for burial. It was a blessed, holy slab.

And Jesus’ believers wanted to touch it, pray over it, lay their belongings on it for blessing, kiss it.

It might have been foreign to me, but I understood why they were doing it. And it moved me.

Like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, this church has MANY owners. Something like eight or nine denominations (as Catholic, Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian) have rights and space in the church. So décor varied greatly from space to space.

We did go in this tomb as well. Oh-so different on the outside, but some similarities on the inside.

Everything was so ornate all around us that I had a hard time seeing the thing as a tomb, but one of our leaders was able to explain that the original church builders in the fourth century actually cut off the top of the hill to level it at the tomb and built the church around it.

I know it’s hard to picture. It’s hard to describe. But it’s there, and millions of believers visit it because it represents so much of our faith.

So don’t forget. Our faith is not about death. It’s about life. Jesus conquered death! And through Him we are made new. Re-newed. As our pastor said today, “His tomb becomes our womb for new life!”

I was so sad for the day to come to an end. I hated to leave this city I’ve fallen in love with, so I was thrilled when four of my friends wanted to stay longer.

Wanna know what we did?

We walked ON the wall of Jerusalem!

Yup. You heard me right. Near the Jaffa Gate, we went up a spiral staircase to the top of the wall and walked all the way around to the Zion Gate. We felt like we’d walked halfway around the walled city. In actuality, we didn’t even walk an eighth of it.

But that just didn’t matter. The views were breath-taking, and we had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that we’ll take with us forever.

We ended where we began. At Temple Mount, at the Wailing Wall.

Tonight was the Jewish Sabbath, so we stuck out among all the formally dressed Jewish faithfuls, but we got to pray one last time at this overwhelmingly holy site. More than anything I felt thankful…on so many levels.

I’m thankful to get to share our experiences with you!

Tune in tomorrow. We journey to the lowest place on earth – the Dead Sea.

In Him,

Shelley

Judean Wilderness

Israel Day 5 – Continued – The Judean Desert

We traveled east out of Jerusalem out into the Judean Desert, or Wilderness.

At one point Ariel pointed out an Arab settlement (city) on our drive east. He said the name in Arabic a few times, and I started to hear the name Lazarus. Turns out this Arab city has named itself for Lazarus, the man Jesus rose from the dead, because it was near the city of Bethany, the town Lazarus and his sisters had lived. I thought that was kinda cool.

Further down the highway, we came out of a tunnel to completely different terrain. No more trees. No more flowers. Just dirt, lots of rocks, and a few tufts of dusty weeds. Oh – and hills. Big, rolling hills.

On and on and on. Dirt, rocks, hills.

To think that Jesus spent 40 days in this arid region during His temptation made me appreciate how hungry, hot, and thirsty He must have been.

To realize that John the Baptist had lived in this wilderness until he began baptizing in the Jordan River was astounding.

It didn’t take that long till we’d arrived at our destination. Today there were only 38 of us, and we managed to squeeze into 6 jeeps, including our drivers!

We bumped our way through this desert, thinking along the way… “If we’d been in that pack of Israelites traveling through a desert like this with Moses, we’d have grumbled and complained too.”

There’s absolutely nothing out there. Dirt. Rocks. Hills.

Oh, and camels. We got some good pictures!

I was satisfied seeing this great desert through the window of our Jeep… when we stopped!

Our guide led us up a small hill and into a CAVE. Though it was much cooler in there, it seemed like such a strange place for a cave.

Turns out there’s bedrock under all that dirt, and the ancients who LIVED in this desert chiseled away at a small cave to make a cistern to capture rainfall. Brilliant people!

From there we bumped along till we seemed to reach the highest point of the trip and stopped again. From that vantage we could see for miles. Ten miles to the west we could see the towers of Jerusalem. Ten miles to the east we could see the Dead Sea and the city of Jericho. By the way, Jericho is the oldest city in the world!

As high as we were in Jerusalem and even on this desert “mountain,” the Dead Sea was really low. The lowest point on earth, in fact.

We stood there, and our pastor started recounting all the things that happened in that very space…the town of Jericho, the Jericho plains, the Dead Sea.

Another holy moment. I was completely overwhelmed.

I was looking at the VERY place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and came into the Promised Land. Oh my. History coming to life before my eyes!

Beyond the Dead Sea are the Moab Mountains, and beyond them is the country Jordan…beyond that, Iraq. All the maps of today I’d been studying were coming to life.

We took some more great pictures overlooking this amazing view, then we turned to the west. The view was the same as it had been…dirt, rocks, hills, but our guide pointed out some deep trenches in the area we were standing.

Turns out the “roads” we’d been bumping along had been created by the US Army in 1991 during Desert Storm. The trenches by us were actually artillery bunkers where they’d put the Patriot missiles (and launchers) to defend Israel against SCUD missile attacks from Iraq.

Ariel told us that Saddam Hussein never did launch an air attack on Jerusalem because he was not confident enough in the accuracy of his missiles. He didn’t want to risk damaging the Temple Mount…the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque that are there are Muslim.

Of course, he had no issue with aiming OVER Jerusalem and bombing Tel Aviv.

Nevertheless, it was fascinating history to see with my own eyes. Things that happened in my lifetime, halfway across the world. I was there to see where it was happening.

We zoomed up hills, dodged large rocks in the road, and bumped our way back to where we’d started. En route we did see some existing Bedouin settlements. That means there are people STILL living out in this desert.

Shortly after we passed their settlement, we came across the Bedouin shepherds, herding their goats and sheep.  Did I mention there’s nothing out there? I guess the animals eat those dusty tufts of weeds…

What do the people eat?

And why do they live there?

Suddenly I have new appreciation for our bumpy Jeep and our awaiting air conditioned bus.

Talk to you tomorrow…our final day in Jerusalem.

Shelley