To My Granddaughter on Her First Birthday

Dearest Libby,

Twelve months ago today the world – our world – tilted a little. Spun crazy with joy. Panted, breathless, with the news.

She’s here!”

And your grandpa and I dropped like stones into chairs on the patio as I squeezed the phone tight, jabbing at the speaker button. Not allowing the smallest of words to escape into the humid summer morning. Not letting the thousands of miles keep us from such joy.

I’ve told you before how it was when you slid into the world with a whoop and a holler and amazed us all.You can’t hold those memories yet like we held you later, lying on your grandpa’s strong arms like an offering, swaddled with your daddy’s warmth and fragrant with your mama’s milk.

You didn’t do anything to make us adore you. You were only blueberry-big when the loving began. Maybe before that even.

And when the summer slept and you woke, smiling, your eyes fixed on my face, I started you on the stories. About your mama, how she was like that too when she was wee. And your daddy, how he sidled into our family some years back with his shy smile so that everybody loved him from the start, not just your mama.

Snow was coming down around the time you first sat up, reaching for anything you could pilot to your mouth. It wasn’t but a minute before you started to wave when our faces came on that computer screen, your fingers closing and opening, grabbing a little more of my heart each time.

Spring’s green ovation brought the clapping, your chubby hands meeting each other in the air as we looked on, goofy with gratitude. When was the last time your mama’s parents received such applause, and when did it ever matter before now?

You knew that your grandparents will do all manner of Silly to earn that smile. You still do.

And now the gladness is here that’s summer again and a year’s come round full circle. Your  very first birthday, babygirl!

So how could it be that this very morning it was your grandparents who got the gift?  Your mormor and your grandpa’s eyes blessed with the sight of you crawling towards us from a thousand miles away.

Reaching up to stroke our faces on the screen.

Pulled back into your mama’s arms as she smoothed your curls.

Grinning your daddy’s shy grin as you brought your fist for the first time just below those wide blue eyes, kissed it, and blew.

We felt that love all the way to Chicago.

Then, gift bestowed, you crawled away, off camera and out of sight.

It was the best birthday gift we ever did receive.

We love you Infinity, Libby.

Your mama will tell you just what that means.

 

Libby at one

Libby at one

 

T4 ~ Top Ten Travel Tips

Months before Mike and I left on our study tour of Israel, we polled friends who have traveled there recently.

“What are you really thankful you had along?” we asked. “Anything you wish you had taken?”

Their advice and our subsequent experience applies to international travel in general, so here in no particular order are M&M’s Top Ten Travel Tips:

10. Passport holder.

Years ago, my friend Marge gave me a slim black leather case (pictured below) that is the perfect size for the essentials you absolutely do not want to lose. Mine has four pockets for my cellphone, credit cards/medical ID, currency and, of course, passport. While traveling I sling it around my neck; at the hotel it easily slips into the safe.

9. Water bottle/carabiner

Other than in the winter or rainy season, Israel has a hot, dry climate. We were comfortable there even in late May, but it’s vital to stay hydrated. Bottled water is easily procurable but we’d rather save our shekels for other things. Carry a Nalgene bottle in your backpack or on a strap (as our guide did), or clipped to your belt loop with a carabiner.

8. Backpack/messenger bag

And speaking of backpack, you already knew you need one, right? When you’re away from your lodgings and on and off a bus all day, you need a hands-free place to stash a light sweater, sunbrella (wish I’d had one of these), notebook and pen, hat, camera and snacks.

Mike borrowed this striped one and I carried the small black citypack, but be aware that backpacks can be problematic in a crowded place. Due to security concerns you are better off in some venues without a bulky pack. Backpacks

I wish instead I’d taken a small messenger bag like our guide used. Slung over his neck and one shoulder, Yoni could easily reach into his bag for essentials and never had to be concerned about pickpockets coming up from behind.

7. Trail Mix

Breakfasts and dinners were included in our tour, but most lunches were on our own. We enjoyed midday meals of shawarma (shaved chicken roasted on a spit) and falafel (the ubiquitous fried ground chickpeas in pita bread that are the Middle Eastern equivalent of our hamburgers).

With the huge Israeli buffets that began and ended each day, though, we didn’t need much at lunch most days. A roll with some dried fruit and trail mix purchased and zipped into individual sandwich bags before we left was just right.

6. Practical Shoes

You already know this, but just a reminder: forget fashion. Go for comfort. And don’t purchase your shoes just before your trip. Break them in for a month or two first.

A coworker suggested closed-toe Keen sandals that I ordered from REI. They were perfect! And since they were waterproof as well, I could wade through Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem without changing shoes.

sandals

5. Pantyliners

Guys, this tip is for you too. Have you ever tried to change into fresh clothes in an airplane lavatory? Exactly.

Pick up a bag of these before you leave (30 for a buck at the dollar store), and make use of them for overnight travel when you hit the ground running upon arrival.

4. Clothes

Set out what you think you’ll need a week before your trip. Eliminate half. No one cares if you wear the same stuff multiple times. Take a clothesline and use the shampoo the hotel provides to refresh your wear.

(Another tip: many holy sites require “holy wear,” which means arms covered to the elbow and legs to the knees. I kept a shawl in my citypack along with a long lightweight reversible skirt, which was also much cooler than slacks.)

3. Hanging Toiletry Kit

I got mine from LL Bean before we left and loved having everything in one place. Travel sizes are easy to get from the dollar store or Target. Leave the full-size stuff at home (except for sunscreen – you’ll need it!)

2. Sound Machine

Mike and I have always liked to take a small sound machine (ours is from Brookstone) when we travel to maximize our opp for a good night’s sleep despite city noises. With the advent of smartphones and iPads, though, leave it at home and download a white noise app instead.

1. Currency Converters – plural!

Everyone knows you need one for international travel, but if you’re taking a laptop and cellphone along, you’ll need at least two.

So what I have forgotten or failed to mention? Please share your best travel tips too!

Mike & Maggie’s Messianic Mezuzah

So a mezuzah sounds a little like a Hebrew folk dance, right? Maybe the Jewish equivalent of a German polka or Polish mazurka?

But you can’t hang a dance on your doorpost, and that’s where our new mezuzah resides.

Back door

By definition and practical usage, a mezuzah (Hebrew: מְזוּזָה‎ “doorpost”; plural: מְזוּזוֹת mezuzot) is a piece of parchment, usually contained in a small wooden or metal case, that is inscribed with the words of the Shema from the Jewish Torah (known to Christians as the Pentateuch):

Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” is the clarion call of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the fundamental statement of Israel’s monotheistic faith. The passage continues with specific instructions.

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children.

“Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (New Living Translation)

Observant Jews take these words very seriously.

On our study tour of Israel the latter half of May, Mike and I noticed mezuzot of various types affixed to the doorframes leading into our hotel rooms – always shoulder-height and slanted towards the room.

We learned that mezuzot are so affixed to fulfill the mitzvah (biblical commandment) to inscribe the words of the Shema “on your doorposts” as Deuteronomy instructs. The inward-angle signifies that God and the Torah, symbolized by the mezuzah, are entering the room.

I love this imagery.

But Mike and I are not observant Jews but rather devoted Christ-followers. Is it kosher for us to hang a mezuzah on the most-used entrance to our home?

Most rabbis might say no, but then again Christians do not keep kosher Jewish dietary laws either.

Our mezuzah, purchased in a shop in Bethlehem from a Christian Arab proprietor, displays an ancient Christian ichthys symbol supporting a Star of David crowned by a menorah and the dove of the Spirit. We think of it as a messianic mezuzah symbolizing the fact that as believers in the Messiah, we have been grafted into the family of faith.

Mezuzah

But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.” (Romans 11:17)

And when we return home each evening, pausing briefly to touch the mezuzah as we enter our home?

As Mike commented this morning, “No one but God can see the tiny scroll of paper with Hebrew letters that mezuzah contains. We didn’t place it there because of some magical belief that its presence protects our home.

“For me, it’s a sign of confidence and dependence. Confidence in the One the Shema acknowledges as our God and Father. Dependence on the One He sent to purchase our redemption.”

A messianic mezuzah.

It’s a little like a divine dance on a doorpost, don’t you think?

And What Will You Do when They Come for You?

So it was only people like me the Nazis were after, right?

If my Jewish great-grandparent had remained in Europe, the maternal line of our family might well have been wiped out.

6 million people – mostly Jews but also Gypsies (Roma), the mentally or physically disabled, and those identified as homosexuals – were targeted for “extermination” by the Third Reich in the 1930’s and 40’s as part of Hitler’s demonic Final Solution.

Despite the fact that survivors of Auschwitz and other concentration camps are still alive and numerous museums have been built to house memorabilia and extensive documentation, people like me – and you – are still at risk.

Why? Because only a third of the world believes the Holocaust ever happened.

Find that hard to believe? Me, too.

But in his cultural commentary published this past Monday, Dr. Jim Denison of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture shared the raw data:

“Forty-six percent of the planet’s population has never heard of the Holocaust. A third of those who have believe it is a myth or exaggeration. As a result, only 33 percent of the world is aware of the Holocaust and believes it has been accurately described by history.

The Anti-Defamation League discovered this data when it recently polled 53,000 adults in 102 countries, representing 88.4 percent of the world’s adult population. According to their surveys, 1.09 billion adults worldwide are deeply infected with anti-Semitic attitudes. That’s one in four. Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism is worst in the Middle East and North Africa, where 74 percent of the population harbors antagonism toward the Jews.”

Last week, Mike and I visited Yad Vashem, the impressive museum complex in Jerusalem dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Shoah, or Holocaust.

Yad Vashem Gardenstone

We had been there nearly 20 years before, and Mike aided me in search of one of the spots that means most to me: the small tree planted in a grove designed to honor the “Righteous Gentiles.”

No, not the one dedicated to the ten Boom family, whose story is recounted in the classic book and film The Hiding Place. That tree, which our guide told us died the year that Corrie ten Boom did and has since been replaced, always has a small pile of stones at its base placed there by appreciative visitors.

Instead, we were searching for the tree planted in honor of members of my father’s extended family: our Wallem cousins who fought for the Norwegian Resistance during the war.

[Norwegian Resistance Fighters courtesy Google Images]

Courageous men and women who would not capitulate to the Nazis or collaborate with their evil.

Nordic people who physically resembled the infamous Aryan race that Hitler wanted to perpetuate yet who despised everything he stood for, and who gave their lives to oppose his Final Solution for the Jewish race.

My father’s people giving their lives for my mother’s.

Our tour group moved on down the long avenue of trees. Mike and I lingered behind, still searching.

Then a shout and my husband’s arm, pointing.

His camera, clicking, capturing a moment of reflection as his wife knelt by a slender tree and gave thanks.

And placed her stone at its base.

Norwegian Tree

[The English translation of the Hebrew reads: "Members of Norwegian Underground who helped Jews"]

In the Midst of Joy, Heartache

I learned long ago that joy and heartache run on two parallel tracks. Even at times of great joy like our study tour of Israel, which ends tomorrow, heartache pushes its way in like the bully that it is.

We lost our beloved collie, Kelli, early this morning Jerusalem time. Seemingly minor health concerns two weeks ago before we left morphed at warp-speed into a condition that took her life. A midnight phone call from Amber and multiple attempts to connect with Jordan, who was house- and pet-sitting, via poor Skype connections left us all crying together as Jordan sat with Kelli’s head in his lap on the floor of the vet’s office.

Kelli was Mike’s partner on his daily prayer walks around the neighborhood. Who will walk with him now as he prays for the residents of the homes on our block?

She was First Dog at our church’s annual Fabulous Fourth at the First celebration. Who will lift their paw and greet the children who flood onto our church campus?

Kelli was a friend who loved us unconditionally. Friends like that are rare.

We will bury her on Monday.

On a scale of 1-10, this trip has been a 15. We have so much to share with those who are interested in what we’ve been learning – insights that will fuel our speaking and teaching for years to come.

I’ll pick up that thread again next week, with photos and links added, but for now we need time to mourn.

Kelli Rowe, we loved you so.

Kelli on 4th

 

From the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem

Day 8 – Sunday, May 25

Though we were here nearly 20 years ago, I had forgotten how compact a country Israel truly is. Usually compared to the state of New Jersey, one can easily drive “from Dan to Beersheba” (the northern/southern boundaries in biblical times) in less than a day.

We spent the first part of last week exploring the Northern Negev and the Judean wilderness, pondering biblical rock and water imagery and studying the scriptural texts related to each site we visited.

The teaching on this trip has been absolutely phenomenal. Designed as a “Biblical Study Tour” rather than a guided vacation or tourism venture, we have had the benefit of two superb hosts: Daniel Block and Yoni Gerrish. Dr. Block is an Old Testament professor at Wheaton Graduate School and also was a Senior Translator of the Pentateuch for the New Living Translation – the translation our group is using as we travel.

Yoni Gerrish did his doctoral work in Second Temple Judaism and has several decades of expertise in guiding groups as a licensed tour guide in Israel. His vast knowledge of the geography, archaeology and history of the land along with his fluency in Hebrew as well as some Arabic are giving us an incredible educational edge as we listen to his lectures as well as Dr. Block’s commentaries and messages.

We spent the weekend (the Jewish Shabbat as well as the Christian Sabbath) in the Galilee region. The “holiday village” resort where we stayed for three nights was on the Kinneret (the biblical Sea of Galilee), and our bungalow was literally only a few feet from the water. How we loved sitting next to the water watching lights outlining the villages on the hills surrounding the lake!

With that as our home base, our group ventured to the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights as we considered the extent of Jesus’ ministry in this northern part of the country. We looked over the border into Lebanon to the north and Syria to the northeast (so close that we could hear the gunfire as the country is embroiled in a tragic civil war.) When we heed the biblical command to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that includes Israel’s neighbors as well.

To spend our personal Sabbath worshipping on the Sea of Galilee was a dream come true. As we took a boat across the lake (where, yes, winds DO often whip up quickly due to the geographic features of the landscape to the west), Dr. Block delivered an impassioned message on John 21. We viewed an ancient boat dating back to the first century AD that provides a very good conception of the vessels the disciples would have used (in fact, even the locals call it the “Jesus Boat.”)

And we had a fantastic lunch of “St. Peter’s fish” (tilapia!)

Yesterday (Monday) we drove along the Jordan River on our way from ancient Jericho to Jerusalem, where we are spending our last five nights. What a thrill it was to pass from the wilderness into the city itself with the golden Dome of the Rock gleaming in the twilight. The Pope had departed the city just before we arrived, and we were amazed at the numbers of policemen and women still lining the streets.

My head, heart and notebook are full of future lessons to share. It’s late here, though, and as I write fireworks are exploding across the old city of Jerusalem in celebration of “Jerusalem Day” tomorrow, when we plan to hike knee-deep in water through Hezekiah’s Tunnel and visit Yad Vashem, the museum dedicated to the memory of the six million victims of the Shoah (Holocaust).

A final word: if you are a serious student of the Bible or a teacher or preacher, you MUST GO to Israel. It is often described as the “fifth gospel” and for good reason. There is no substitute for studying the Word in the context in which it was written.

It is expensive  to come? Most certainly, yes. We saved our shekels for years to self-fund this trip. But it’s more costly not to gain the incalculable benefits of an on-the-ground education.

And wait until I tell you about our time in Bethlehem!!

 

Day Seven – Saturday, May 24 – SHABBAT

So that idea I had about creating a blogpost each evening to describe where we’ve been and what we’ve seen? Meshegas – craziness!

There isn’t enough time or words to begin to capture it all here. Thursday’s hike to the incredible waterfall in Ein Gedi, where David sought refuge from Saul in the caves hidden in the craggy rocks?

Or standing later that day in Qumran directly across from Cave #4 where many of the “Dead Sea” scrolls – the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century – were found?

How can I describe to you what it was like to cross into the West Bank and visit a Samaritan village (when, to be honest, I didn’t even realize there were modern-day Samaritans any longer?)

And then there were today’s explorations of Tel Hazor, the largest ancient ruin in modern Israel, and Tel Dan, where we stared in awe at a gate that existed long before Abraham (and that he and Sarah likely walked through). Mike’s photos are worth thousands of my words (and we’ll have thousands to share.)

But it was the experience yesterday at dusk that was worth every shekel spent to take this journey.

After morning visits to Caesarea Maritima and Mount Carmel, where Elijah brought down fire on the mountain, and an afternoon descending into an ancient cistern and viewing the excavations at Megiddo (the New Testament’s Armageddon), our guide commented that time and traffic wouldn’t permit an excursion into Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood home. The tiny village of perhaps a couple dozen families where Mary and Joseph raised their family is now the largest town in the North District of Israel and is made up of predominantly Palestinian Arabs.

I was so disappointed I almost cried.

As some friends and family know, I had an unusual experience in 1993 when I asked the Lord to tell me in December of that year what Mary’s memories could have been beyond what we know from the gospel accounts. When the words began to come, I began to type. I spent three days listening and writing down exactly what I heard. When the stream of words ceased, I printed them out, read the “script”, and realized I had absolutely nothing to do with the writing.

It’s been over 20 years since and I’ve traveled thousands of miles for hundreds of tellings across the country.

But now, as then, I know it has never been my story – always hers alone.

So when our tour bus bypassed the turnoff for the town I have inhabited in my mind all these years, I was crushed.

But then our guide instructed the driver in Arabic to instead turn the bus up a hill called Mount Precipice just outside Nazareth– the place from which it is said the religious leaders threatened to throw Jesus after his teaching in the local synagogue so angered them. The place where his mother would have followed, trembling, terrified.

Our group tumbled from the bus and followed our guide, Yoni, to the very top. He pointed out where the original village would have been located below and the church built over the traditional site of Mary’s childhood home.

But I remember little else Yoni said, because I saw it.

The view from the other side of the hill – the one with the sheer dropoff to the south.

The terrain that Mary would have seen every time she climbed that hill.

I like to walk at dusk to the edge of the village and look at the valley spread out before me with mountains all around. As it grows dark, pinpricks of light appear below, as if the shepherds’ fires are tiny stars fallen from heaven.

To the west I can see the sun setting behind Mt. Carmel, and I picture the prophet Elijah doing battle with the prophets of Ba’al. To the east are the heights of Tabor and Gilboa. And spread out before me is the plain of Esdralon, where Deborah ruled as a mother in Israel. I learned her song as a very young girl.

And way beyond in the distance are the blue mountains of Samaria, where we are not allowed to go…

But from my hillside I sometimes think that I can see into eternity! I feel a little sorry for those who cannot see.

And late yesterday afternoon, Friday, at the start of Shabbat?

As the sun set behind Mt. Carmel to the west, and I overheard our guide point out Tabor and Gilboa to the east?

It was there, had been there all along.

I had seen it through her eyes through hundreds of tellings, and now at last I was seeing it with my own.

I feel a little sorry for those who cannot see.

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,861 other followers