God


Five years ago today I lost my only sibling and someone I loved and admired very much. During those first weeks and months the tears flowed endlessly and still today, the pain is just as intense, but it comes less frequently (although still too frequently). I once read someone’s account of losing a loved one and it was very relatable. Grief is like a tsunami that pours over you with enormous pain. In the beginning, the waves come regularly and frequently. Over time, the waves come less often but the intensity of pain when they hit is still as strong as those first hours and days. 

Much has happened since that awful day. I wonder what Greg’s life would be like if he had lived and as much as I would wish him back in my life, I wrestle with knowing he is healed and where he ultimately intended to be—with our Lord in Heaven.
Recently a friend from my small group in church passed away. She was a mighty athlete competing in iron man challenges, but unfortunately was diagnosed with a somewhat rare and terminal disease that took away her abilities to live in the manner she was used to. We prayed for several years for a cure so she could be healed but in the end she went to the Lord too soon. Later, my wise small group leader said our prayers were answered because when she went to Heaven she was healed. She now has a glorious new body and feels no pain.

I remember many prayers I asked God for concerning my brother. I wanted his relationships to heal, his body to heal, and for him to find peace and happiness. And while he left us too soon (from our perspective), God healed him. He now feels no pain, he is with our Savior, and is awaiting us all in the Kingdom.

My parents, his children, and I miss him every single day. He was a glue and stable force in our lives. He was an amazing role model and I really wish he was still around to be an example of God’s love in his children’s lives. The way he lived his life and accepted me for who I was and his love led me to seek Jesus as an adult. God was in my heart but I was wandering lost for many years until my adult relationship with Greg took off and I saw how God could bring peace, a feeling of content, fun, and love in my life.

He affected many people in a positive way through his mission trips, work with Campus Crusade for Christ, volunteering at church, and being a solid base of support for friends, family, and others who just happened to cross his path.

Greg’s kids and our family and his close friends meant the world to him. He struggled those last years of his life, but was giving his all for his family regardless of how life was hitting him. I will never forget God giving us that last day. Greg called to ask me to come up to visit for no reason—just hey let’s get together. That was a week before he died. I really felt like God gave me that last day to see him and have fun before we would be separated for the decades I would have to live without him before God called me home.

So, I still spend some nights crying because he is gone and because of the fall out of being separated from some of my family members, and for the kids and my parents missing their father and son. But, I will always be grateful to God for giving me the best big brother a girl could ask for.

In Greg’s memory, our family created a charity called the Masterpiece Fund. We are honoring the character and principles my brother stood for by giving funds to people throughout the world who need love and support. Greg’s last bible study included a scripture reading from Ephesians 2:10 which inspired the charity.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for long ago.”

The pain of loss we feel when loved ones die is why we must remember to respect all life. Whether friends or strangers. If death of loved ones didn’t hurt so much we would not respect life at all. I think we need to remember that the death of strangers is as much of a pain to someone else as our loved one’s passing means to us. In honor of Greg, let’s remember what Jesus asked us to do.

“I give you a new command. Love one another. You must love one another, just as I have loved you.”
John 13:34

1 Joffa

Tel Aviv.

Our last nights in Israel were spent at a hotel in Tel Aviv very close to the beach—just our style. The hotel staff were very polite and helpful and directed us to a nice little restaurant with an outside deck where we could people watch and enjoy the cool evening.

We tuned into the news that evening and learned that there had been some shooting in the streets of east Jerusalem that day. We had originally planned on being in Jerusalem at the end of our trip, so we were fortunate our schedule was changed and we were out of the area at that time. This event was a repercussion from a terrible tragedy that occurred earlier during our stay in Israel. These two events would be the match that sparked a recurrence of violence between Hamas and the Israeli government and armed forces. Having met so many citizens of various religions and backgrounds, I have been saddened by the news that so many innocent people are being hurt, both physically and economically. Tourism pays the bills for a lot of people there and I’m sure they aren’t hosting many visitors.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be'er Sheva.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be’er Sheva.

Tel Be’er Sheva

For our last bit of sight-seeing, we drove a couple of hours to the Tel Be’er Sheva which is believed to be the biblical town of Beersheba. That bit of information didn’t tell me anything, but when we discovered this was the place where Abraham lived for a while and the well outside the gates is called Abraham’s well, I became more interested. When we arrived, we checked out a replica of a horned altar, which in biblical times was a square structure with four “horns” on the top of each corner that acted as a sanctuary for anyone running from the law or vengeful parties. If you grasped one of the horns, you were “safe.” You couldn’t be taken or killed or tried as long as you held a horn. In other times, the Jewish Kings set up a system similar to this but they designated entire towns where people could run to and be free from persecution–whether they were guilty or not. An interesting system–sorta, kinda of reminds me of that old movie “Escape from New York.”

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The steps down to the cistern at Be’er Sheva.

We also stopped by the well just outside the gates. An interesting factoid: in ancient times, the wells were located outside the city walls because their traditions hold that anyone who journeys through that land will be given access to water. In that environment, water is life and if the gates were closed at night and travelers came by, they could get water from the well. Not a great system for a defense of a city when under siege, but very hospitable.

We walked among the ruins that have been excavated on this hill overlooking grassy fields. The Tell had multiple layers of civilizations—some were from the Chalcolithic period, which was about 4,000-5,000 years B.C. Some of the walls were from the Roman period. We walked down uneven steep stone steps that ran along a square area (for lack of a better description) holding tight to the railing that led down to the huge cisterns. Again, a sophisticated system of water storage kept these people alive through the hot sun and long droughts.

It made sense that a community sprung up here as it was located at the intersection of two rivers. Through my camera lens I could see camels wandering around some of the fields—like the cows do at home. There are even camel crossing signs along the road.

All in all, a nice last stop to ponder the history of this ancient land.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

Shopping and the Soothing Sea

At this point we were done hiking around archeological sites and were in the mood for a relaxing final afternoon. So, our guide dropped us off at the beginning of the Carmel market and we enjoyed a final Shawarma before hitting the market for our last chance to pick up gifts for some of my favorite little people back home. There were all sorts of products and food sold up and down this street. Just like in Jerusalem, the shops were small little cubby like holes with tables out front. I saw so many products—cell phone covers, backpacks, t-shirts, spices, sweets, jewelry, shoes, tourist gifts, and more. I had to get some shirts for my buddies Cayden and Carter. Wasn’t sure what their sizes were so I just told the man their ages and he did a pretty good job of picking the right shirts.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

Back at the Embassy Hotel (which coincidentally was right next to the American Embassy), my parents took a nap and I headed across the street to a lovely beach. I paid some guy in an official looking t-shirt a few shekels to sit on a lounge chair and just enjoyed the sun and cool breezes. I went into the Mediterranean a few times—the water was so nice—not too cold and the waves were mild enough not to be scary. The crowds were sparse as it was a work day but one woman did come by and wanted me to get some kind of massage. After saying no thanks and her continuing to touch my legs, I had to get a little more firm in my tone, but she left and I thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing and wonderful day on the Tel Aviv beach before heading back to the hotel.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

For our final dinner, my parents and I found a pizza place on the beach and had wonderful service from very friendly American transplants. We didn’t go looking for an American restaurant, it was coincidence and a nice one at that. On the way back to the hotel, I was surprised to learn how the smut industry in Tel Aviv conducts their marketing. They scatter business cards over the street where people will see them as they walk home. So basically the filth creates even more filth that someone else has to clean up.

Security

The next morning was an early one—which is never fun for me. As our guide was driving us to the airport at five in the morning she gave one more plea to us to tell our friends how safe it is in Israel and how there are no issues between the religious groups. The drive was a bit silent, not just due to the hour but we were all wondering if she had her head in the sand the last two days and didn’t notice TV reports of gunfire happening in the streets of Jerusalem and the tragic deaths of several boys on both sides.

I found it interesting that as fast and easy as it was to enter the country, it was a long, multi-layered process to leave the country. You would think it would be the other way around. Israel is known for its expertise in security (go figure). First was the very long line to get through the first part of the airport. This was just to check passports and have a quick (in our case) or long (for the single men and a few young couples) conversation with some guards. Next a quick stop at the airline counter, then on to what we would consider security in the U.S. They manage to do all this without making us take off our shoes. Hmmmm.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

Final Thoughts

It was wonderful to see ancient biblical sights and rediscover the stories of the bible in the context of where they happened. There were beautiful places with grass and flowers and hills, and other places in the sandy wilderness where the ancient people learned how to survive without electricity and cell phones.

Going with a private tour guide had its pros and cons. We could map out our own itinerary (except we weren’t able to go to a couple of places because our Jewish guide was not allowed in the Palestinian towns). We were able to go at our own pace and change our mind as we went according to our moods and didn’t have to wait on others. But, if you’re going this route, make sure to have multiple conversations with multiple guides to make sure you are a good fit for each other as you will be spending a lot of time with this person. Our guide had some good points and some not so good points and at times we were annoyed with her, but all in all we tend to be grateful for our blessings, and when we travel we want to keep it positive and look to make it a great experience.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

We learned quite a bit about history, archeology, the culture, and even some modern day politics from a number of guides, movies, books, and more. If you’re a Christian and want to have a spiritual experience along with a vacation, I would recommend going with a church group led by someone you’ll have a lot of fun with who knows what they are talking about.

We had a great time and as usual are grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the wonders of our world.

Genesis 26: 3-4

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.

Revelation 21:1-3 

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 saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

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The land is barren and yet sometimes filled with Date Trees and other life sustaining elements.

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McDrive.

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The roofs are covered by water tanks. One of the ways people of the desert use resources to survive and thrive.

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Not just ancient stones and churches inhabit Israel. They also have interesting modern structures.

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A random scene of life in Tel Aviv. Old friends chat, others eat lunch and shop.

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A view of Tel Aviv from Jaffa.

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Goodbye Israel. A view of the coast from the plane.

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The land of Jesus. Carvings on the ship altar in the church of Magdala.

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So many gorgeous stain-glassed windows. This one in the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth.

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Another beautiful scene adorning the Church of Transfiguration.

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Roman pillars at Caesarea.

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A Roman aqueduct near Caesarea and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

A section of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa.

A section of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.

Our journey through the Holy Land was coming close to the end. We reluctantly left the Sea of Galilee and made our way west back toward the Mediterranean coast. It was fun to see random ruins along the side of the road. Our guide explained that in ancient times, inns dotted the roadway and were spread apart within a day of walking so travelers always had places to stay.

We drove through the Jezreel Valley, the area where Elijah worked and lived. It was in this region he met a widow and her son who were about to starve to death but fed him anyway and in return God took care of them. The drive through the country didn’t take long—it’s a pretty small country, so in no time we were on the coast at the port town of Haifa.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha'i Gardens.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens.

Baha’i Gardens

A friend of mine whose family lives in east Jerusalem and who visits her family each year, gave me some invaluable advice on what to do and see while in the Holy Land. I was very grateful for her suggestions, especially the recommendation to visit the Baha’i Gardens. We parked on the street and walked up to the entrance, all along getting a spectacular view of the steep hill filled with gorgeous trees, greenery, flowers, and a waterfall.

Our guide once again tried to dissuade us of going there but I ignored her and walked up to the entrance and into the gardens. I climbed up the first level easy enough and although the top portion was locked, I was able to see the garden up close. I grew up only two miles from one of the best botanical gardens in the country, Longwood Gardens, and have had the joy of seeing some beautiful artistry. But even with that comparison, I was very impressed by the clean lines of trees and flowers and the symmetry that went on and on up the hill to the temple at the top. The Baha’i religion is fairly new and I don’t know much about it, but they sure do have a wonderful garden in Haifa overlooking the port and the sea beyond.IMG_1594

From the gardens we drove to our lunch destination at a wine and chocolate shop. This was a happy place for me. We had a yummy pizza for lunch and I got to sample all four of my favorite food groups; chocolate, wine, bread, and cheese. They also had a very cool system for people who bought some sort of membership or subscription—a vat of wine stood in one of the dining areas where you could bring in your own bottles and fill them up with the current selection of wine. Yes, I want one for Christmas. Filled and smiling, we made our way to Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

Akko

This ancient city’s name is spelled a number of different ways; Akko and Acre among them. It has excavated castles and ruins, some built back in the Roman times and most of the current structure that has been unearthed stems from the Crusader period. It had been buried for a long time because the Bedouin leader who took control after the Crusaders, filled most of it with sand, knocked off the top part, and the built upon that. In more recent times it was used as a prison by the British during their occupation. In addition to parts of the castle including a Knight’s hall, a dining hall, tunnels, a sort of morgue, and a courtyard, we also toured a Turkish bath house (complete with a cheesy movie narrated by a fictional Ottoman). We learned a lot about the history and the centuries of invaders, but to be honest, I pretty much walked away more impressed by the Crusader latrines that had two levels, rows of toilet seats, and a sophisticated system of plumbing (at least for those days).

Caesarea

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Down the coast we made a stop at a national park that was known in ancient times as Caesarea, a city built by Herod and named in honor of the Roman Emperor. I liked touring these ancient ruins and the location was lovely. My blood pressure always goes down when I’m walking along the sea coast, so a stroll down the path along the hippodrome was calming, even with the sea spray covering us and cooling us off.

We watched a great movie about the city and its history before walking up to the theatre. The seats seemed steep and we could see some of the original stone. As we descended the steps, a modern company of thespians were setting up for a concert of sorts to perform later. From there we stood among a few leftover pillars of Herod’s palace.

Caesarea was also the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who was the first gentile convert to Christianity. He was a God-fearing man who was given a vision. He sent for Peter, who came to visit with him. This was a monumental event, because the Jews—the first apostles were all Jewish—did not mix with gentiles. It was considered an unclean act. But Jesus wanted His lessons and His grace extended to everyone and now it was time to spread the Word to all parts of the world.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

Nearby we made one last stop at a section of an ancient Roman aqueduct. It was massive and stretched on for what looked like a quarter of a mile. It had large openings where some lovebirds were getting their wedding photos taken.

Our final destination was Tel Aviv, which I’ll cover next time.

Psalm 139: 9-10

If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.

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A view from the first level of the Baha’i Gardens out to the port at Haifa.

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Looking up the steps to the temple building of the Baha’i Gardens.

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The main courtyard area of the Crusader castle at Akko.

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The Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

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The stands of the hippodrome at Caesarea. The colored blocks are depictions of how the walls were decorated back in its heyday.

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The remainder of the palace at Caesarea.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

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The Baha’i Gardens.

 

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