"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis

Monday, December 31, 2012

The life where messy is beautiful and love hates deeply

Stories without endings are the most beautiful of all. My sister knows (click here), and I want to know as well. I want to know the life where messy is beautiful.

I feel a bit like John writing Revelation, searching desperately for analogies to try to explain what you feel, because the reality you see and feel is so much larger than your vocabulary.

So you keep thinking, talking, writing, hoping, that someday you’ll know what your heart meant—someday you’ll remember, and someday you’ll come home. There are so many things you want to say, to live, to be, and yet they all keep slipping; you see the snowflakes falling down by the trillions—trillions of blessings, passions, adventures, elements of the deeply lived life, joys waiting for you, each individual and yet all so similar, all part of the same wild glory and kingdom of God—and yet when you reach out your hands to catch them, they melt away and you are left with just faith: faith that they were there.

What do I mean? It means I am tired of living with a mask, of inauthenticity, of not being so honest and real that I feel a ripple of embarrassment and a thread of fear that people will reject me if I am as honest as my heart wishes to be. It means I try to say what I mean, even if I make no sense at all to anyone at all, because the act of trying is what changes me.

So it means that I am tired of being ashamed of beauty, letting life get sucked away by giving in to activities that offer no life. I am frustrated by seeing maia in so many places and not quite knowing what I am supposed to do with it all. I am sick of seeing people in bondage and them thinking Jesus is boring or unromantic or doesn’t bring the life you always dreamed you could live but thought was too wonderful to ever exist, and I am furious at the church and at myself and at anyone for ever teaching anything different. I am ashamed with pursuing the deepest maia—adventure and beauty, romance and joy—in acting, horses, relationships, and anything else but the heart of Yahweh and then being so hurt by the wounds doing so has given me. I am tired of reaching for goals instead of seeking the journey, of wanting resolution instead of story, risk, living in the moment, and stories without endings. I am tired of beauty not seen as holy and romance as something for the weak of heart. I am ashamed of not fighting for the weak and giving to the poor and for being so unreasonably concerned with what others think and so sinfully obsessed with pleasing others. I am ashamed I do not hurt people more while always protecting them from harm. I am exhausted by not living the life I always dreamed of and allowing peace, rest, glory, adventure to consume my life in the way I always deep-down knew it should. I hate the way I’ve let the world talk me out of that, show me its driven, spitting, wheeling, dark, confusing ways, but because everyone else—even other Christians I loved—were on that demonic Ferris wheel spinning in a tortured nightmare they can’t wake up from, I chose darkness over light. I am tired of morality and perfection and laws that kill instead of transformation in the King of Creation, and I’m tired of trying to change myself instead of simply staying in the place where my heart is at home—where I always wanted to live—in adventure and peace and faith—no matter how sacrilegious it seemed—and in that place becoming a new person without even realizing it. I’m tired of the perfectionism that shreds my soul and the soul of my friends and is the enemy of all beauty and brilliance. I am devastated for not radiating Christ to a world living in torture while I live in the most free-wheeling glory I never even knew existed. I am tired of keeping everything in the status quo, in the place where the majority of people will accept me, instead of scandalizing the world and the church. I am ashamed for thinking and worrying about so many other things, living always in the future or the past instead of the now, and thereby missing Yahweh’s voice, who speaks to us in the now, not in the tomorrow. I am tired of holding so tight to sin, simply because it is all I have ever known, and the fear of a different way, the fear I will no longer be in control, no longer have my mask, holds me back in chains. I am tired of thinking too much, analyzing too much, obsessing too much, instead of just living and acting in the faith that the Holy Spirit is guiding me and such fear does not have to be my fate. I’m sick of being overly logical and not realizing emotion and spirit have so much to offer. I am tired of hiding my passion for the world and desire to people set free. I am tired of being safe.

And there are things I hate; so much I need to help:

I’m furious with bloggers and pastors and fitness coaches and resolution-writers who tell us to just make ten more goals, and just try a little harder, and be a little more, and then you’ll be happy—when life is not like that, when they do not realize this world is upside down from what they think, and more effort does not equal more life. I hate when men do not protect the girls in my life and hearts are broken and torn apart. I am upset with those who demonize government and opposing political parties and religions and do not see that some of those people are doing what is “right in their own eyes,” which still may be unspeakably evil and wrong but means they are still desperately trying to pursue what is right in a blind and lost and heart-wrenching way, and I love them. I cannot stand when Christians spout that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, and then proceed to tell everyone else and every other denomination exactly how “their” personal relationship with Yahweh should look—inevitably just like their own. It tears my heart to shreds when my friends feel unable or unworthy or too stupid, weak, or unloved to pursue their deepest callings and joys and instead of living in a world of brilliant color, they crawl on to their graves in a land of only shades of gray. I hate people who call us to tie up our lives in neat little packages of New Years resolutions that only drown me in guilt for failing in yet one more way, and I hate preachers who tell me that some callings are more holy than others. I could scream when Christianity tells men to just be “nice” and women to just be “meek” and the depth of strength and the power of beauty are ignored, too risky, too strange, too counter-cultural, and evil men take control of this world. I hate when productivity is worshiped and perfectionism and accomplishment are idols accepted in the church while wonder and beauty and mystery are forgotten. I am so frustrated by those who see life as only black and white and by those as who see it as only gray. I am furious that there are sex trafficking rings and women who feel prostitution or abortion or stripping is their only choice, and that we do not protect them from it. I hate that there are churches full of Christians and villages full of people who have never heard of Christ and sickened by marriage seen as shackles and pain instead of sacred holiness. When all the gospel is seen as Jesus dying for your sins so you could get to heaven, I want to cry, because all of life and glory and joy is then missed.

And yet there is so, so much I love. There is all that darkness, but for every snowflake of darkness there is an entire mountain range of light. Satan keeps us focusing on the pain in this world, the fight against the darkness, because where we focus is where our spirits try to rest. Soon, our hearts are drowning in darkness and we wonder why we cannot see the face of Christ.

But there is light.

I love the unreasonable beauty of the world—the way the violets in the hidden meadow are never seen but by deer and rabbits and three chirping robins, but they are still there—and that beauty matters. I love how art can inspire more than a hundred lectures and how a single word can change your life. I love that rest and peace can do so much and risk and faith can give the most security imaginable. I love how Tolkien wrote a whole language and history for a fictional world and never once let anyone tell him that was a waste of time. I love that some people love rabbits and others love horses and some others love lightning bugs and some love none of them at all. I love that the gospel is written in horses and in stars and in marriage and in family and in words. I love the longing in this life that drives us to fight wars and bear children and never, ever be content with the kingdom of man because we know God’s Land is out there and we were meant for it. I love how time flies by so fast, how we are so surprised by its passage, that it reminds us how we were never created for time but for eternity. I love how the golden light of sunrise and sunset is there every single day to bless those who stay up to see light come into and then leave the world. I love the change of seasons and the cycle of life that keeps us always changing and seeing the world through clear-washed eyes. I love weddings and pure white dresses and first kisses and flower girls spreading petals down a pink-silk aisle. I love when men go to war and leave all comfort for the deeper glory of protecting the life lived free from threat and evil—the life we had in Eden and will have again someday—they bring us closer to the kingdom of God. I love being a woman and wearing dresses with lace and carrying a gun and weaving flowers in my hair and living in my place as an armor-bearer. I love avalanches and the way the world’s weather wheels and shifts and the mystery of outer space, the Ring of Fire, and caterpillars in cocoons. I love dancing badly and dancing well and dancing in the rain and dancing inside and dancing outside and dancing with partners and by myself and to music that is real and to music in my head. I love seeing people transformed and set free and drop the weight on their lives they were never meant to carry and pursue the joy and glory they always were meant to have. I love horses and galloping bridleless and bareback with fistfuls of mane and realizing this—this is what we had in Eden and will have again someday. I love giving up burdens I never needed to carry and realizing the irrational, unreasonable, sacred freedom that was mine all along. I love reading novels and hearing God’s voice in stories as much as in sermons. I love trying new things and being good at them. I love trying new things and being bad at them. I love not taking life too seriously and laughing so hard I can't breathe and making a thousand embarrassing mistakes and understanding that life might not make sense and not minding. I love loving people. I love acting and living a million stories and modeling and realizing a dozen kinds of beauty and playing music and hearing words in non-human voices. I love growing older and realizing I never have to grow up.

I love living the life I always longed to live, and knowing doing so will never end for all eternity.

© Frank Lukasseck/Corbis
It’s New Years Eve. There is much I hate and much that is wrong, and much I love and much that is good, and this is how it should be: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; [Christ has] come that [we] may have life, and have it to the full. I make no resolutions, no lists of ways I will improve my life, no shackles and weights and death my heart was never meant to bear. I only continue looking at the one resolution, the one that will stay with me for the rest of my life and throughout eternity—the only one that gives no guilt, no shame:

Further up, and further in.

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling... "I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"
~The Last Battle

This is the only resolution that frees me to live the life I always wanted to live, the life that courses under the surface of this world and that we are always pursuing and dreaming of but never were quite strong enough to actually believe existed.

That is, until Jesus told us it did.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely…

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more….

And I heard a great voice, coming from the throne:

See, the home of God is with His people.
He will live among them;
They will be His people,
And God Himself will be with them.
The prophecies are fulfilled:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
For the first things have gone away…
See, I am making all things new.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Only humans have birthdays

7:43 a.m. 0 degrees. Christmas Eve. The dogs are eating breakfast. I wait for Riley to finish his kibble; I could stand and watch him chew, or pull The Horse Owner's Veterinary Manual off the shelf and read a half page, or fold three sweaters from the laundry.

Or step outside (where it is beauty incarnate).

Later my father would ask why I went outside—me? Who is always cold? Out in my pajamas and stocking feet?—and I didn’t have a good answer, other than I needed to feel alive. A 60-degree temperature drop in three feet and two seconds is enough to drive your thoughts to God, as happens to me, now, when I feel most alive. Cold. Pain. Tears. Joy. Sitting next to a Christmas fire so long your face burns hot or breaking a paper-thin Christmas tree bulb you didn't mean to destroy, or pinching out the flame of a candle with your bare fingers or trying to tear open a present that refuses to give up its prize—this is life, pure life that rushes your heart like zero-degree air.

So I stand outside and frozen concrete pounds through my socks.

4:54 p.m. 12 degrees. Christmas Eve. I swing my black-suede boots out of my dad’s blue Corolla and cold air freezes my skirt, black beads on white satin—outlines of flowers and leaves in swirl and sparkle. My father and I are silent, thinking of what I’d just read out loud by moonlight:

The Voice was and is God…
His breath filled all things with a living, breathing light—
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness…
It cannot and will not be quenched…

The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos… The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us… Through this man we all receive gifts of grace beyond our imagination… God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice, God’s only Son.

We had been silent a moment, and drove past snowed-in pine trees.

“What should I read next?”

This is the revelation of Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King: an account of visions and a heavenly journey. God granted this to Him so He would show His followers the realities that are already breaking into the world and soon will be fulfilled…

“This is not the time for fear; I am the First and the Last, and I am the living One. I entered the realm of the dead; but see, I am alive for now and for all the ages—even ages to come.”

It is a candlelight service tonight—heat of flame and cold of snow and voice of God.

7:32 a.m. –14 degrees. Christmas Day. The dogs are eating again. I wrest open the sliding door smudged by dog nose prints, step over Anya’s soggy blue ball, and walk into the backyard onto the one patch of concrete patio not covered with snow. Wrapping my arms around my waist does nothing against the glass wall of ice I just entered—wake up! good morning! merry Christmas!

Earlier, sitting by the fire and the lighted Christmas tree before my parents were awake, I had seen on Facebook a friend post a picture of a cake with “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” written in green icing across its face—a family tradition, as proclaimed in the comments.

Beyond the mesh yard fence lies unbroken snow to the treeline. Happy birthday. I rarely think of Christmas as Jesus’ birthday—perhaps this is sacrilegious?—but today the air-torn cold won’t let me forget one thing: I am alive. I am human. And only humans have birthdays.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wildflowers don't cry

I once knew a girl who walked in the woods.

She would remind the sun to wake up; without her, it might not make it above the horizon. So winter Minnesota mornings she stepped through oak trees; frozen pond, frozen branches, frozen sun.


But also agonizingly alive, with sunlight glancing daggers off bitter snow, making eyes sting and cheeks burn hot by unmixed energy and light. (You know what this is; the purer life is, the more it can hurt; this is the great irony.) When she breathed in air breathed out by pine trees, she could feel the scent, like you feel music or light or a bleeding heart.

Her favorite wildflower was the bleeding heart; it always had been since it grew wild around the trees she walked among as a child. Her grandmother told her its name that afternoon gardening by the barn, and she never forgot bleeding hearts. Not others’. Not her own.

She gave her own spirit away, once, twice, more; to people, to dreams, but it was dropped and stepped on and now bled—was still bleeding—like the wildflowers. She asked Jesus about the pain, and He told her about her heart that was no longer hers. Take a breath, take it back, and don’t make the same mistake again.

Her eyes are dry, because wildflowers don’t cry.

Today unbroken snow rests, waiting for mice and leaves to draw on it, and she walks on the covered path and crushes ten trillion snowflakes, ten trillion marks of the holiness of the world. Once she made a snow angel, but it didn’t look much like an angel; untouched snow seemed more divine in the end, so she didn’t do it again. Destroying beauty hurts too much, especially if your heart already bleeds.

I knew a girl once who remembered a poem she heard a long time ago.

Blessed is the road that keeps us homeless.
Blessed is the mountain that blocks our way…

Blessed are the night and the darkness that blinds us.
Blessed is the cold that teaches us to feel…

Blessed is this shortest day that makes us long for light.
Blessed is the love that in losing we discover.

The sun is above the horizon now, has burned off dawn’s golden light, and underneath the snow are bleeding hearts waiting for spring.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A world where you could run

For now we see in obscurely in a mirror, but then it will be face to face. Now I know partly; then I will know fully, just as God has fully known me. 
~1 Corinthians 13:12

Mourning doves speak, and I don’t catch their words; I get so frustrated when I cannot understand, and sometimes I stop trying. The doves bounce on their birch branches, crying with frustration over my stupidity: “Why can’t she hear us?”

I feel like I live in one of those dreams I used to have when I was eight, when some awful man was trying to kidnap me—or a witch with wild hair to grab me—or a train rushing down on me—and I couldn’t run away.

I knew I could run—I remembered faintly that in some other world there was running, as there was sunlight and wild mountains and prairie grass at noon—and I knew, somehow, that in that impossible, forgotten otherworld that everyone around me did not believe existed—I could run. Though my mind was locked away from it, my heart was still raw to the touch of a half-remembered hope: It remembered the world where I could run.

I knew I was born to run. It’s the knowing that was the worst, because in your dream, there is no question that in that other world, you were able to run. You haven’t forgotten, and you never will; you just want to go home.

Or perhaps it is like when you cannot remember a word you know exists. You’re not stupid. You could use a different word, get by, move on, rush forward, not take the time to say what you really mean. But you can’t. There is that feeling behind your soul and your words aren’t saying what you mean. There is a deeper reality and it just crashed into your own, unable to stay out any longer; “the Lord knows what He is after.” It’s the reality behind your words, the place of true meaning.

And you try to reach for that word—that deeper place—the one that will let you finally be at rest—the word you were meant to say, or, perhaps, the world in which you were meant to live. You don’t know what that word—that world—is or how to find it or if you ever will. In fact, there is only one thing you do know: there is another world.

So I listen to the doves when they try to tell me of the hawk who disturbed their breakfast, and I watch a December sunrise and try desperately to think of in which other world I’ve seen it before, and I fly in a plane and wonder why the sunlight reflecting off the tops of the clouds seems so familiar—and why primroses pushing through matted oak leaves are supposed to make me cry—and why the princess in the stories was supposed to be me—and why music makes me homesick for a place I’ve never been.

It makes me think of what I did to forget, to forget home. What adventure I had—what mistake I made—to suffer such amnesia.? How did I get here, so far from my true world? And I can only conclude that this must be a sort of dream, a mirror land, in which my greatest calling is to go home.

“The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. That was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here… And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” 

It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling... "I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"
~The Last Battle 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How do you feel the sunrise?

And I wonderwhen lights go down, and I hug my knees to my chest and fear who I am and my deepest desiresand I am a star who has left her constellation and cannot find her way home.

Homewhere mocha sunrises are greeted by silence and prayer, where stress is seen as sin like we always wished it were, and you see your reflection in the pondthe reflection as in a mirror, your truer selfand you finally know who she is.

And in this life you walk down the street looking strangers in the eye, for you know who you are, while taking the greatest risk you ever haveto Live. For it is easier to live in painful rules that bind, for away from them is fearful freedom, the sort of life not dictated by another and so not safe.

Good, perhaps, but never safe.

And pain is easier than fearbecause it is easier to seek for strength to merely endure than it is to risk being wrong about what it means to live alive, to risk losing everything you stayed up late nights for and prayed tears for. And fear for others because you may be wrong is harder to bear than the pain of living out your rules regarding how you are to see them, help them, be with them.

And you wonder at a world that seems the antithesis of who you areor know you are, somewhere, if Jesus can find her and set her freeand question how it is you live so you feel the sunrise.

So you stay behind rules in the half-lived life, ordering yourself around everything but yourself, and you wonder why the Bible is dead and Jesus is silent.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When you pray in your car and someone says hello

“It’s like Pinterest.”

Blue light fell upward through tree branches to touch emerging stars, colored floodlights converting trees into outdoor chandeliers. In Florida, you can have late-night bonfires in October and not wear a jacket.

The trees are still green (dead now, in Minnesota), sun so strong that this afternoon it actually could be seen above the treetops at noon. On our Sibley County hobby farm not far from Canada, sometimes the sun wouldn’t make it above the oaks.

But the sun is gone now, regardless, unless you count the bonfire. Over on the table there are a hundred handmade s’more packets—two graham crackers, one marshmallow, three squares of Hershey’s milk chocolate—and of course the boys are trying to roast marshmallows on their two-foot roasting sticks and seem surprised the fire is hot. Four-foot flames usually are.

Two hours ago, I sat in my Corolla in the Meadowbrook Church parking lot and prayed. I didn’t know anyone at this college-twenty-something-singles group. It would be awkward, maybe. I'd never been to this church and missed the turn because the sun was in my eyes. I checked my hair. A girl pulled in next to me in a blue van. She looked normal. I thought of Jesus, and my status as His daughter, and I got out of the car.

What is it that makes me insecure, afraid? I knew waiting for me were beautiful people, friendly, open, and waiting for me. Yet I sit in my car and pray, do not claim the promises of my King, and act not like His daughter but like an outcast. You enter the sanctuary, stand back by the chairs, pretend to look in your purse, and get some coffee because it will occupy your time, always wondering when to step forward and introduce or when to not bother them and stay back. You become tangled so tight in your own thoughts, and life becomes hard.

Until someone says hello.

And so does another.

And another.

And now I stand under Christmas lights strung through the trees, by the crockpot with the boiled peanuts and the bag of half-frozen hot dogs, and there is Amber, Tiffany, Jordan, Carissa, Michael, Quentin, Jeremy, Jessica, and so many more.

And they all said hello.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

In which I cut off my toe and sew it back on with a Band-Aid

I know many of you were concerned for my safety as I traveled around Israel and Europe this summer. If you weren’t anxious I was going to get kidnapped by some wild Israeli shopkeeper, then perhaps I’d be murdered in my bed in the hostel in Barcelona, or drowned in the ferry from Calais to Dover. At least, you fretted, I might get a cold.

Thankfully, none of that happened, and I thought I was going to get away with the worst injury being water in my ear from swimming in the Sea of Galilee. (And, besides, I figured maybe since it was water Jesus had touched, it wouldn’t be so harmful…)

But then I found the Toe Amputators.

It was my last Sunday in Jerusalem before we took the vans to Nazareth, and I, along with a few from my group, was walking to a Scottish Presbyterian Church, St. Andrews, for Sunday service. I, of course, relished the opportunity to chuck my appallingly un-feminine hiking sandals and wear my cute strappy ones instead on this pleasure trip a few blocks to the church, as obviously there was nothing dangerous between here and there.


I’m walking to church, chatting with the guy next to me, not bothering the sidewalk any, when without warning the thing attacks me, shatters my foot, and I lurch forward with one of those airless gasps of horror and pain. I’ve just impaled my poor unprotected bare foot into a ragged chunk of metal sticking up out of the middle of the sidewalk. (Who decided having those was a good idea, anyway? “Here we go, let’s see what stupid tourists aren’t paying attention and then PUNISH THEM FOR THEIR NEGLIGENCE!!”)

This is the church we went to, St. Andrews. There were all sorts of beautiful flowers outside that I put in my hair. They kind of matched the blood on my foot, come to think of it. I planned that, obviously.

So I stumble along for a few strides, trying to pretend my foot was overreacting and the almighty pain is totally in no way indicative of any permanent damage beyond a pretty purple bruise. I also refrain from looking down, as it’s one of those moments when maybe you’d rather not know how bad it is. But I looked.

No blood.

But actually that didn’t comfort me at all, because it sure seemed from my previous experiences with smashing body parts into sharp objects that in the worst gashes, it takes a few seconds for the uncontrollable bleeding to start. Maybe the arteries you severed just need a little time to get organized.

So I continue to limp along down the sidewalk, knowing full well that my next glance down is not going to be pretty.

No kidding.

You would’ve thought I’d cut my toe clean off. I’ve got blood all over my toes, all over my foot, all over my shoe, and pretty soon it’s going to be all over the sidewalk. I never knew you had arteries in your toes, but I sure don’t doubt it now, because I apparently found one and cut it clean through.

But the sidewalk is narrow, with a fence on my left, crazy Israeli drivers whizzing by on the right, and a whole group of people stampeding down behind me, so stopping to sew my toe back on right at this particular moment isn’t exactly feasible. So I keep staggering along and try to remember what sort of emergency medical equipment—you know, tourniquets, casts, wheelchairs, etc.—I have in my purse.

I remember. One single Band-Aid. (Oh, I think, that’s really great, that’s really going to go far.)

But it’s better than nothing, so when I finally get out of the herd of people, I move to the side, sit down, hike my skirt to my knees, and look down at my toe. There’s so much blood now it’s pooling in my sandal, and my poor lonely Band-Aid is looking a little outgunned. But I pull it out, slap it on, and think triumphantly that at least I won’t have to wash the cut, because losing half my body’s blood through it has probably cleaned it out pretty impressively.

This, my friends, is a Toe Amputator.

I stand and keep hobbling up the hill toward the church, trying desperate to keep pressure off the front of my foot, because now I have a new problem. This Band-Aid made a heroic effort, but it wasn’t meant to be a tourniquet, so my toe happily bled straight through it. Great, I think, I’m going to get blood all over the church. I’m going to walk in, they’re going to look down, and they’re going to freak that this crazy girl came in and is tracking her bloody footprints all over their nice clean pretty stone floor like she’s part of some sort of zombie apocalypse.

Ironically, I was way more concerned about the church floor than about my foot. Because that makes sense.

Or not.

But I wasn’t hired for my logical thinking, so I keep worrying about it as I stagger up the hill. Some Arab boys whiz by in a white pickup and whistle and yell out at me. Sorry, guys, but unless you happen to have a roll of bandages and some surgical tape and maybe a stretcher, you’re of no interest to me right now. Actually, ever, but especially right now.

I glance down again. If this thing doesn’t clot soon I’m going to need a blood transfusion.

The church looms overhead, and I push open the massive double doors: This is it. This is where the tourist walks in and horrifies everyone with her copious amounts of blood, and I consider ways to lessen the drama of the situation. (Smile? Nod? Pretend I don't speak English?) Thankfully as I step through the door, I see “W.C.” written off to the right of the aisle and rejoice at my new opportunity to rectify this situation: just wash off my shoe in the sink, clean off my foot with paper towels, and sit down in church like nothing happened and I didn’t just lose half my appendages.

I hurry into the ladies’ side, set my foot on the counter, and start to pull at my sandal when I realize I have a new problem.

I can’t get my sandal off.

The way it fits, there is no way to extract my foot from it without damaging the valiant Band-Aid now only holding on by a hair and re-opening the whole area, which had finally managed to slow it’s bleeding from its imitation of Niagara Falls.

I study the site. My white sandal. My white sandal with the great pool of blood in it. Red blood.

Certainly I can’t leave myself looking like I just got mauled by a rock. So I pull off a wad of paper towels and start mopping and wiping at the worst of it in an attempt to rapidly make myself presentable (after all, service is starting in two minutes) while salvaging Monsieur Band-Aid, who is having a mournful time of it.

No longer afraid I’m going to faint from blood loss, I toss the stained paper towels into the garbage and reexamine my foot. Unless you looked closely, now, you wouldn’t know I had just reattached my foot with a single Band-Aid and a few paper towels.

And nobody ever did.

Friday, September 7, 2012

I arise today through the strength of heaven

When I first read through this poem-hymn, I knew I liked it. But then, I realized I was going too fast. I needed to read every word. Slowly. Every word.

And I reached the end and realized the sweeping freedom and unflinching confidence I so desire is available to me provided I do one thing: Embody the truth of Christ.

I don't understand those words. I know there was a life I was meant to live, a person I was meant to be, and I look desperately for it in every place -- in adventure, travel, relationships, self-improvement. I look until I come to realize that the glory I keep brushing around each turn like fog breathing along the ground -- of the life well lived, the victor's rising life, the life where I finally can live not I'm drowning half-awake -- this is God.

If I were to unreservedly believe every truth, every declaration in this hymn, if I could see the angels fighting and watch Jesus' blood drip down the cross and hear the prayers of ten million saints and watch a thousand suns be born and hear demons scream at their captives and understand the lies of men and feel what it means to have heaven waiting and understand what it is to be shepherded by the Creator, I would know what it means to live alive.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
 Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels, In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Letters to London tourists during the 2012 Olympics

Daniela and I paused at the crosswalk. Left. Right? If you drive on the left and you stand on the right while the car is coming around a roundabout from the left but turning to the right, yet you want to walk down the sidewalk to the right and are coming from the left, which way do you look at the crosswalk?

Yeah, I didn't know, either.

Actually, neither did any of the other 250 thousand tourists crowding around London while we visited there during the Olympic games in August. Unfortunately, there were a lot of other things the tourists didn't know either, leaving me with a few speeches I wanted to give to them. In in case any of them read my blog, here are a few of my helpful life lessons for next time...

First, the Olympics has clearly inspired many of you to take up running, and I commend you for your dedication to the sport. However, when the Olympians run through London, their streets are actually blocked off for them, not sure if you knew that. Meaning, next time you set off on your morning jog, maybe find a different place to do it other than the wrong direction down a one-way single-file aisle to Buckingham Palace.

This is a one-way London street, as in one way and one direction only. Walking.

Girls, I know you love your boyfriends, and you are very cute together, good for you. But the trouble is, when you wear that deer-in-the-headlights expression, clutch to his arm like you're walking through a crowd of serial killers, and refuse to move an inch from his side on the London Bridge sidewalk, you take up twice as much room as a normal human being and are really quite troublesome to manuever around. (Besides, he looks nearly as clueless as you do, so I wouldn't trust him quite so blindly to guide you flawlessly around around the city.)

Brits, I appreciate your valiant attempt to adapt to us tourists stumbling around from left to right on the sidewalks like drunken ping pong balls. We can't remember where we're supposed to be walking, so it's terribly disconcerting to us when you appear not to remember either. Don't try to walk on the right to adapt. It's your sidewalk. Own it.

So... are we on the right or left or what?

For all you tourists, please remember I'm one of you and refrain from your attempts to give me a concussion. Next time we walk beside Big Ben together and you're three inches in front of my face, please do not suddenly slam to a stop in astonishment and whirl open-mouthed to take a picture of the marvel, causing me to whack into you, stumble to the side, and nearly obliterate the rest of my tourist friends across the entirety of the road. Good grief, people, Big Ben is like 300 feet tall. You've been seeing it for blocks. It wasn't a surprise. 

Not a surprise.

Yep, London was great, right up until the point where I realized I either had to leave or sit down and cry. I'd love to go there again, but next time, I'll avoid the Olympics.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saying goodbye to the stars

The quilt binds around my bare shoulders as I twist to face the window and see the stars. Midnight, and in five hours and twenty minutes my watch will beep, and I will get up and put on my backpack and leave Austria for home.

But that doesn’t matter when you’ve seen the stars.

The door to the balcony swings wordlessly—respecting those who dream while asleep, not while awake. No makeup, bare feet, hair loose, I greet the cow bells on the hills, and the mountains look up, brushing my gaze toward the crescent moon. In Paris, I watched it rise alongside the Eiffel Tower, full—now it steps back, making room for the stars.

Ten million stars, each a window God slit in the curtain of this world to allow the outside light of heaven through; now, He whispers, you can see home. If I spent ten minutes looking at God’s stars, heaven's stars, each night, I would love life more. In the city, we drown and build our own stars, flickering halogen that makes moths commit suicide, and humans too. A breeze blows off the mountain, and my face is cold to the touch.

Above me, an ivory rainbow. I haven’t seen the Milky Way for three years, since the farm, when my sister didn’t live on an island and there were four at the dinner table each night. On those evenings, Dad would bring us to the end of our driveway, a quarter-mile walk between fields of crickets, and teach us about Cassiopeia. I don’t see her now and don’t remember where to look.

Yet perhaps I’ve never seen the Milky Way, for even now when I look at her, she fades. But, then, of course she does; beauty doesn’t make sense and you can’t explain why it matters and it’s only on faith you see it at all. Beauty is the greatest builder of faith I know.

Above me, a shooting star, God’s prayer. And I wished on it, that I would always return to nights that are cold and skies full of stars, if not in this world, then in the next.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In praise of solid people

In Praise of Solid People
 ~C.S. Lewis, Spirits in Bondage

Thank God that there are solid folk
Who water flowers and roll the lawn,
And sit and sew and talk and smoke,
And snore all through the summer dawn.

Who pass untroubled nights and days
Full-fed and sleepily content,
Rejoicing in each other’s praise,
Respectable and innocent.

Who feel the things that all men feel,
And think in well-worn grooves of thought,
Whose honest spirits never reel
Before man’s mystery, overwrought.

Yet not unfaithful nor unkind,
With work-day virtues surely staid,
Theirs is the sane and humble mind,
And dull affections undismayed.

O happy people! I have seen
No verse yet written in your praise,
And, truth to tell, the time has been
I would have scorned your easy ways.

But now thro’ weariness and strife
I learn your worthiness indeed,
The world is better for such life
As stout suburban people lead.

Too often have I sat alone
When the wet night falls heavily,
And fretting winds around me moan,
And homeless longing vexes me

For lore that I shall never know,
And visions none can hope to see,
Till brooding works upon me so
A childish fear steals over me.

I look around the empty room,
The clock still ticking in its place,
And all else silent as the tomb,
Till suddenly, I think, a face

Grows from the darkness just beside.
I turn, and lo! it fades away,
And soon another phantom tide
Of shifting dreams begins to play,

And dusky galleys past me sail,
Full freighted on a faerie sea;
I hear the silken merchants hail
Across the ringing waves to me

—Then suddenly, again, the room,
Familiar books about me piled,
And I alone amid the gloom,
By one more mocking dream beguiled.

And still no nearer to the Light,
And still no further from myself,
Alone and lost in clinging night
—(The clock’s still ticking on the shelf).

Then do I envy solid folk
Who sit of evenings by the fire,
After their work and doze and smoke,
And are not fretted by desire.

Monday, August 20, 2012

6-week trip in 6 Facebook albums: Quotes and pictures from my summer adventure

I'd read books, solved riddles, attempted Suduku, stopped Suduku (after I realized I didn't know the rules), watched four movies in a row, dozed, drank tea, burned my tongue on the tea, prayed, played mind-benders, practiced raising my right eyebrow, tried to determine if my fellow passengers were right or left handed, doodled something that looked like a phoenix flying out of a supernova into a giant moldy sunflower, talked to random people, worked on developing a photographic memory, practiced reading lips, journaled in my notebook, looked through airplane shopping magazines (and puzzled over advertisements promising I could "millionize my lashes," which sounded dangerous), watched a lady paint her fingernails burgundy, and picked split ends off my hair. I had been traveling for 24 hours and was almost home.

And finally, I was. I returned to Minnesota four days ago and have finally adjusted back to central standard time (after four days of waking up at 3 a.m.). My room has been deemed a disaster area, I've spread gifts across the entire kitchen table, and I've downloaded all my photographs onto my external hard drives. It's good to be back.

The plethora of people to talk to on the train to the Munich Airport was overwhelming.

As each blog post only gets a few pictures on it, I imagine you'll want to see more. Therefore, I've put up some pictures from each country in a public Facebook album, so even if we're not friends on Facebook, you should be able to see them. These are only a few of the best pictures -- I took about 8,000, but there are only two people in the world I currently know of who want to see every single one, and those are my parents. Therefore, what's on Facebook is incredibly stripped down -- if there is any particular place you want to see more pictures of, just ask. Believe me, there are more.

Have fun!

Castles, kissing, and unicorns: Quotes from our summer adventure
Israel. The land of rocks. 
Austria (best mountains, best food, best everything ;) )
Going to Spain and falling in love (with horses) 
Paris, Calais, and je ne parle pas francais... 
England: "This must be what heaven looks like." 
Scotland and flowers and fields and future home

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tales from Dover, the city of creepy old men

"Well, we know what to call Dover," Daniela whispered, eyebrow lifted. "The city of creepy old men!"

I laughed, but my focus was on the man with no hair who was stomping toward us on the sidewalk. He hadn't stopped staring at us for half a block, and as we were approaching him, his gaze never shifted. Dark eyes narrowed, he glared into our very souls as we fell silent and passed him just as we went by the fish and chips shop.

Fish and chips in the town square!
As soon as he passed, Daniela and I doubled over in a fit of hysterical giggles. "See! See!?" I shouted in a whisper as I smothered my laugh with my hand, "Point proven!"

Actually, by the end of our three days in Dover, we had started to keep track of how many creepy men we had discovered. We got up to at least six. I'm sure you'd like to meet them.

First was the man opposite the street from our hostel above the pub, and he had a cough. Generally I don't begrudge people for coughing (I am the one who introduced the joys of whooping cough into our family a few years back), but this man needed a doctor, and I don't know what kind. He'd see us and give a little cough. As we got closer, he'd cough harder. By the time we were passing him he'd be gagging and choking and hacking so hard I felt the urge to mentally rehearse my CPR training just in case he keeled over right then and there. If he was trying to extract some pity from us, it failed. We were creeped out instead.

Next was the Grecian Brit. Or the British Greek. Or the lying Brit? We didn't never did figure it out. As we wandered around the outskirts of Dover one morning, suddenly this man appeared by our side, smiling at us.

"Do you know where First Street is?"

Sorry, I admitted, we were only here for a few days and didn't know where that was. Oh, that was okay, he grinned, he'd find it eventually. So, where were we from? How long were we here? What were we studying? You're awfully weird, I thought, and resisted the urge to give him a fake name and fabricated story and answered with vague replies that got shorter and shorter as the conversation continued and his intentions became clear. I was going to be ending this conversation pretty quick if he didn't find something better to do.

He was from Greece, he told us. Oh, what part? I asked. Oh, just around, he answered. (Sure.) How long have you been away from your Parthenon homeland, Mr. Perfect British English and Perfect Caucasian Looks? Oh, a long time, for sure. Yeah, I bet.

Well, enough of the chit chat, we'd known each other for at least two minutes, time to get serious.

"So, do you want to go out for coffee?"

I nearly choked on my reply, I answered so fast. "Nope, no, actually, we're just leaving. Good bye!"

Oh, well, he fumbled, rather taken aback, good bye! And he marched off down a side street with all the confidence of... a native Brit.

Greece. Sure.

But surely in the morning all these strange men would be asleep, right, and I'd be safe? Wrong.

The town square with the large  screen that showed Olympics all day long.

I'm reading in the town square one morning and only there for five minutes before a skinny black man comes right up to me on the bench. I eye him warily. Don't talk to strangers, my mother said. Yeah, well, buddy, you count as a stranger.

"Miss? Miss? Can I talk to you?"

How about not, actually. However, conveying that was no problem, for, thankfully, after Israel, Austria, Germany, Spain, and France, if there was one thing I know how to do, it's to look utterly confused and pathetic when someone speaks to me in a foreign language.

And suddenly, English became a foreign language.

I looked at him, mouth a little agape, eyebrows together, mumbled incoherently, shook my head, shrugged, went back to my book, and tried to look as Norwegian as possible. He stared down at me for a bit longer, obviously totally confused at my response, weighing whether he should try again or if whether doing so would cause this foreigner to blurt out a whole string of words in an incoherent language.

Apparently I wasn't worth the risk, and he wandered off. Score.

Yet our list of men gets even better. Driven inside by the rain one evening, we found ourselves in the company of two rather old, rather stout men watching the Olympics in the pub. Surely they would be safe, we hoped. Just sit down, say hello, be quiet, and watch the gymnasts.


The one fellow was sitting just in that chair there, facing the screen.
Somehow, inexplicably, within seconds of our initial hello, we found ourselves being lectured to with great enthusiasm on everything from university pranks at King's College to the terrible state of the Dover ferry (who impounded the one fellow's car, and he had his "knickers in a twist" about it, very sad) to President Obama, nuclear war, the Republic of Congo, and, obviously, Josef Stalin's daughter (whom the one man knew personally, of course).

Olympics long forgotten, the one man plopped down on the couch next to Daniela (I had safely retreated across the room to a single chair), the other swiveled in his seat to better impress us with his knowledge, and the two hammered back and forth at each other for at least 20 minutes, each trying to out-do the other with his intelligence and wit.

After they had utterly run out of topics to speak on, they deemed it time for their exit, heaved themselves out of their chairs, impressed on us how terribly wonderful it was to meet us (scintillating conversation, yes?), let us know they were also staying in this hostel (what luck!), and, with a grin and a wink, said they'd see us later.

Sure you will. You'll see our backs as we run away.

But it still didn't end. The next night, a huge black man was in the pub, once again watching the Olympics. Forced to endure his presence while we cancelled Scotland's hostel reservations on the only computer in the facility (an ancient behemoth, with the words, "back to the future 1980s Internet experience" scrawled over the moniter), he evidently saw us as his new best friends. And what better way to treat best friends than to confide in them a secret?

"Hey!" he whispered. We looked at him. Hey what.

"That Frenchman over there? He's... weird, huh?"

Now, you'll meet the Frenchman later, and actually, this black man's assessment was rather correct, but he seemed so proud of his astute observation that we could do little but shrug and nod. Wrong move, for, now spurred on by our obvious deep interest in everything he had to say, he took great pleasure in trying to find out about us and our lives.

Fortunately, it wasn't too hard to keep it vague. I actually still don't know if he ever figured out what country we were from, for not 10 minutes after Daniela had explained she was from Austria and not Australia and they didn't have kangaroos and it wasn't an island (and I was conveniently ignoring him at the computer), he grinned at her.

"So! You're from Australia!"

Despite my attempts to be entirely distanced from this conversation, at that comment, I burst out laughing, tried to smother it in a cough, and ended up sounding like a hyena with the flu. At my breach of propriety, he realized his mistake and backpedaled, but it was enough to make us ready to exit the premises.

So I cleared my Internet history (who knew if one of these creepy men was a stalker as well), and, in the silent communication of one girl to another, I got up, smiled at Daniela, told our nice man good bye, and started to march out of the pub.

At which point Australia Man leaped off the couch, bid a hasty good bye to everyone in the room, and came following right after us toward the back door.

"Hey, so you're going out with the girls?" Stalin's daughter's friend called.

No, he most certainly is not, I spit out in my head. Daniela had the same sentiment and turned sweetly to me. "Actually, should we go upstairs instead?"

Why, yes, Daniela, marvelous idea. Let's go.

And up we went, leaving Australia Man at the bottom of the stairs to go out on the town alone. I'm sure he managed somehow.

Finally, our last creepy man was the perpetually drunk Frenchman who lived down the hall from us. He was more interested in Daniela than myself, as, fortunately for me, on our first encounter he had deemed me a complete idiot. He had spent the balance of the evening trying to convince Australia Man to show him around Dover, the pub owner to go into business with him, the two Republic-of-Congo experts to discuss religion, and Daniela that she was from Australia. Apparently rather exhausted by this herculean endeavor, he had little patience for me when we bumped into each other on the stairs.
The stairs to our attic room (almost like the ones I met Frenchman on)

"Sooo," he slurred, "You're from Aussstria?" He thought he was talking to Daniela.

I wasn't interested in discussing anything at all with him, actually, so I kept on climbing the stairs and ignored him.

"Are yooou from Austria?" he called again. Obviously I was just a little hard of hearing.

Sighing, I turned. Fake smile. "No, actually, I'm from America."

Though probably saddened I was not his new friend Daniela, he nevertheless seemed overjoyed at the prospect of a thrilling discussion of American politics.

"Ooh! Wehll! I hhhave a few commplllahints for yoou," he nodded.

He had what? I was having a difficult time following.


Stupid girl. Well, Americans, you know. He repeated himself.

"Iii have a feew complaints fooor you!"

Oh. Got it. Complaints. Right.

"Okay..." I raised an eyebrow.

He puffed up. "Why Vieeeetnaaam andnooot Syyria?"

What? He couldn't possibly be asking me about Vietnam. Did I look like I knew anything about the foundational politics behind the Vietnam War and the relative merits of Vietnam versus Syria as it related to France and international politics? No, that couldn't be it.


Gosh, I was a stupid girl. He rolled his eyes and raised his voice, maybe that would help me understand.

"Why Vieetnam and not Syria!?"

You've got to be kidding, he was asking me about Vietnam.

I raised my hands helplessly. "I don't know, that was before my time."

He rolled his eyes. Typical clueless American. "Ooohhhyeahh, before yourr time!"

Yes. That's what I said, good job. This conversation was really rollin' now.

Unfortunately, disappointed by my inexcusable lack of knowledge regarding American politics, he didn't think so and started to drag himself through the door back to the pub when he stopped. He squinted up at me.

"Amm I just tooo smart for yoou?"

I gaped open-mouthed down at him from the top of the steps before I choked on my own laughter.

"Yes, that's it. Yes, yes, you are."

Right. He smiled, victorious over the stupid American, and wandered back into the pub while I crumpled in a fit of giggles in the hallway off the stairs.

You sure do meet some interesting people in Dover.

Monday, August 13, 2012

15 things you didn't need to know about Israel and Europe

I've learned many wonderful lessons on my trip to Israel in Europe, but sometimes, there's just a limit to the useful information a person can handle. Therefore, here are 15 things you totally didn't need to know about Israel and Europe...
  1. Fish eyes cooked in Israel don't really taste like anything. And they're kind of crunchy.
  2. But rabbit cooked in Spain tastes like chicken crossed with pork.
  3. And Italian mochas made in Scotland taste like motor oil.
  4. You can just barely hold your breath driving through the tunnel under the Mount of Olives.
  5. The flashing light display on the Eiffel Tower after dark repeats itself every two seconds.
  6. Sticking your hand into nettles is just as stupid an idea in Austria as it is in America.
  7. When you don't know French and the boys in Paris try to flirt, they fail rather miserably.
  8. You're hotter and more sweaty after you swim in the Dead Sea than before.
  9. The smaller the wastebasket in an Israeli bathroom, the more upscale the facility is.
  10. Apple pie in Barcelona isn't pie and barely has any apples.
  11. You find single shoes by the side of the highway in Europe as well as in America (what is with that?).
  12. If you can say hello, good bye, and thank you in a language, look confident, and smile and nod knowingly, in most situations you can pass as a native speaker.
  13. The best way to bargain in Jerusalem is to walk into a store with all your textbooks and wearing your backpack, and then try to back out out of the store repeatedly while protesting, "I'm a student! I'm a student! I have no money!"
  14. If an Arab man asks you if you're single, the answer is NO.
  15. If you look completely pathetic and say, "What? What? What?" to the French rail conductor when he tries to talk to you in unintelligable English, he'll give you a great price on your ticket.
Don't you feel smarter now?

It took me quite some time watching the Eiffel Tower to estimate the flashing pattern repeated itself every two seconds, but obviously it was such a critical piece of information, I couldn't give up... To see for yourself, click here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In which I prepare to run away from an Austrian shopkeeper

They don't yell at you here.

Yesterday I was walking in the Old City in Innsbruck, Austria, shopping by myself, browsing through the dozens of tourist shops with their mini cow-bell keychains and Edelweiss jewelry. In Israel, that would have been a problem waiting to happen: the Old City. Narrow street. A young woman. By myself. Obviously a tourist. Going into a shop, of all the scandalous things.

The first store I walked into in Innsbruck, there was a man about my age at the counter, and all my Israel instincts went off -- as soon as he opened his mouth, I cringed and unconsciously prepared to fend him off and flee back out into the street while he shouted after me waving some scarf or souvenir asking whether I was single, if I wanted anything, how much could I afford, wasn't this scarf lovely, where was I from, how beautiful I was (and did I want some coffee?), how he had the best prices in town, and would I please come back.

As I mentally prepared for this, the Austrian shopkeeper looked at me calmly and said something that nearly made my jaw drop.

"Can I help you?"

I gaped. He wanted to help me?

I smiled and declined, then waited for more -- protests, exclamations about his skirts or scarves or silver jewelry -- but instead, he nodded and went back to his work behind the desk.


As I stepped back out into the sunny street, I realized I hadn't heard those words -- "Can I help you?" -- for weeks. I enjoyed the Israeli shops and culture -- I truly did -- but despite being only a few hours' flight from Austria, the mentality of each is worlds apart.

I am glad to experience both. And tomorrow it starts again -- Spain, France, England, and Scotland await!

The view from outside my bedroom window...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

First class, last class: Ending my time in Jerusalem

Three lined pages. Single spaced. Both sides. Small handwriting. Top to bottom.

I took a last look at my final exam, stapled the papers together, handed it to the instructor, and ended my first grad school class as well as probably the last official class of my education.

I can't say I'm going to miss studying, but this was nevertheless a perfect way to end college -- a capstone class, in a way. Just last night I read through the gospel of Mark and was astounded that it felt like I was reading an entirely different book than I'd read before: I could identify nearly every city mentioned there -- and not only identify it, but see, feel, and hear it. It's been a good two weeks. 

While an exact itinerary would surely bore you to tears, you may be interested in reading one of my homework assignments: personal reflections on each day about something significant to me. Don't expect masterful writing, but perhaps you can expect a glimpse into some of my thoughts on The Land. Click here to read my impressions.

And now, off to Nazareth!

Here I am, the first woman Roman charioteer at the hippodrome at Caesarea. All my other opponents are way back behind me eating my dust. ;)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On dry heat and other such imaginary tales

"Oh, you won't feel it," they say. "It can be almost pleasant," they say. "It's a dry heat," they say.

Sure it is.

Imagine someone snatching a sizzling branding iron from the furnace and waving it gleefully in your face. As you leap back with a shriek of terror, the person shouts, "Don't worry! You won't feel it! It's a flameless heat!"

Yeah. Right.

I'm standing up the beach from the Dead Sea, eyes and mouth still vaguely stinging from getting liquid salt on my face ten minutes ago. The minerals have made my skin greasy-gritty, like sand in olive oil, and I'm waiting for the rest of my team to come up from the water.  I feel no more refreshed than I did before I entered the water: hot air, hot sand, hot sea, and I just drank the last of my water. My t-shirt, damp a minute ago, dries almost instantly in the "dry heat.".

Yeah, it's dry. It's also 112 degrees in the shade.

Of course, dry heat does have it's advantages: you cool off quickly in the shade, and you rarely feel gross. Why? Because your sweat evaporates instantly. No sweat, no gross.

I floated so easily it was actually really hard to swim. You couldn't get anywhere, as the water would keep you so high in it it was hard to kick or swim. But I felt very smugly satisfied that I could finally do the front crawl without putting my face in the water (as doing so would make you blind with the salt), just as I always tried to convince my swimming teacher to let me do when I was seven years old.

On the beach where I was drying off thinking about "dry heat."

But it's not all hot. The weather is incredibly varied here, from the 112-degree afternoons in the Dead Sea to the 65-degree nights in Jerusalem. The land is just as varied, with only miles -- or even feet -- separating unbelievable changes in topography. What types of land would take you hours or even days of driving to see in the United States you can see in just minutes here.

What land have I been seeing? Why am I here? I'm part of a two-week course entitled "Jesus and His Times" at Jerusalem University College. We're traveling all over Jerusalem, Galilee, Bethlehem, and Israel in general seeing many of the sights of the Bible. After my two weeks here, I will spend a week in Nazareth at Nazareth Village. And after that, I'm off to Europe. :)

We have the best room on campus -- on the roof! This is my view. It's unbelievable, especially at night, and the wall is perfect for sitting on and having long conversations, reading, and eating ice cream (though not all at once).  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Bible is a picture book

It’s not that you step off the bus into Jerusalem and suddenly the entire Bible is made clear to you in a staggering flash of inspirational genius that knocks you to the dusty stone street (though you may fear that fall is going to happen, given the drivers around here...)

It's not like that at all. You don’t need to come here to learn about God, to understand Jewish culture and foundations of Scripture, or to somehow force yourself into the glorious presence of Christ. Christians are no more and no less Christ-like here than they are in the United States; God did not make traveling to Israel a prerequisite to radiating His image.

I knew that before I came here, so as I watched money trickle (pour…) out of my bank account into this trip, I wondered—why am I going? What is this to me? My purpose wasn't to find anything that would “justify” the time or money; not everything in life needs to be so stiflingly “productive,” like if somehow I don’t feel more “spiritual” at the end of this trip, I have failed.

That’s ridiculous.

So I let hands stay open, pushed away the fear of failure and of not "getting enough" out of this trip, and believed it was worth it to come, knew I need to see the place my Lord lived, and let Him do the rest. He does not tell us how to walk along the path, how fast to walk along the path, or how we should feel at the end of the path; He simply says, walk down it.

So I walked. And waited.

And what I am realizing is this. These next two and a half weeks here in Israel may not be the most transformative two and a half weeks of my life. They almost certainly won’t be. But what they may be is one of the best two and a half week investments in my life.

Meaning, after being here for merely four days, I can already open to nearly any book of the Bible and have pictures, feelings, sounds, smells, and tastes immediately play action movies and paint masterful pictures in my mind. This is the hill country—I see Jordan in the distance. Those are the steps where Jesus taught—they’re quite long, and the view from them is phenomonal. This is where He was crucified—I didn’t know it was only a 20-second walk to where He was buried. This is the type of road the Good Samaritan was on in the story—I never imagined it was so desolate.

What the Bible is becoming for me is something no movie, picture, text, or lecture could ever give: It is becoming a picture book.

Here are the steps where Jesus gave His sermon in Matthew 23. The rough bottom stones are original (the smooth top ones reconstructions). That is the wall around the Temple Mount in the background.

And here is the amazing view from the steps.

And I was there. :)