shalom from jerusalem! april + may 2014.

Seattle to Chicago. Chicago to Zurich. Zurich to Tel Aviv. Just getting here was a big adventure but went surprisingly well... 

Little Buddy is the only one who got any real sleep on the planes. He is such an amazing traveller! The only time he lost it was going through immigration after arriving in Israel. The woman making the decision as to whether to let us through, lock us up, or send us home was really giving us the shake down and clearly not letting us through when, as she telephoned her superiors, Little Buddy threw his first ever all out hissy fit. He'd done a bit of back arching and such before but this was the real deal. We were both beyond shocked and didn't really know what to do, so we just sort of stood and stared and held our breath. He didn't let up until the woman hung up and handed back our passports and begrudgingly said, "okay," at which point Little Buddy was suddenly back to his sweet self, though slightly bewildered, and repeatedly asking, "why did I do that?" This left us both asking, "what WAS that?!" and wondering whether or not we just experienced a Holy Ghost inspired melt down? And if so, can I can claim such inspiration the next time I lose it myself? Just kidding, sort of.

Our friend Robert picked us up at the airport and delivered us safely to our new home. We share a little house with Art and Julee, who have been absolutely wonderful to live with. The idea of living in community made me super nervous, but these guys are so great and living together has been surprisingly easy and super fun. They were kind enough to give us the big bedroom (bless you guys!) which is amazing and is basically a bedroom AND a living room, all in one. It has two full walls of windows, complete with Sound of Music type drapes, which pull back to look out onto a small orchard. When we first arrived, the lemon trees were blossoming, as was the wisteria throughout the city. So beautiful! The orchard here consists of many lemon trees, a few orange trees, a pomegranate tree, possibly a pear tree, and a bunch of olive trees. It is quite lovely.

We quickly set about making ourselves at home here and trying to recover from our journey. It's almost unbelievable to me that we've been in Jerusalem for 9 weeks. Part of me feels like we have only just arrived and are still getting our bearings, while part of me feels like we've been here for absolutely ages (but are still hopelessly sleep deprived). Last night I was wide awake from before midnight until after six, which is undoubtedly the only reason I'm actually posting an update! Despite my deepest wishes and our best efforts, blogging in particular and communication in general have both continued to be a challenge for us.

Everything is extremely loud here (including us). And after being up all night, I can say with certainty that it is not just my half-awake imagination playing tricks on me. Sleeping here is like watching (in horror) one of those obnoxious comedy of errors flicks that you have to peel me off the ceiling after seeing... even the lemons dropping off the trees outside our window often wake us up at night. Our front door closing at night sounds precisely like a ferry docking. The many, many feral cats make all kinds of ungodly noises at all kinds of ungodly hours. The rooster next door crows loud and long every 5-7 seconds for up to a minute, at least a few minutes of every hour, especially all night long, with no end in sight (we've just discovered they keep him in an area that is well lit around the clock -- no wonder he's so psychotic -- the poor guy is probably getting even less sleep than we are). The three windows in the main part of the house allow us to hear every detail of our neighbors' lives, including every bouncing ball and screech and cry and really loud move which every child in their small army of children makes. The fireworks, which left me frequently ducking for cover when we first arrived, no longer alarm me but continue to explode day and night. And most recently a bleating goat has appeared. But most of all there's the call to prayer...

The call to prayer sounds like fun, but really it's like being completely surrounded by nine drunken middle-eastern monks karaoking at the top of their lungs like there's no tomorrow, each with their own professional sound system turned up to eleven, each with a different tempo, each in a different key, and all at the same time -- starting at approximately 3:38 in the morning and lasting for up to an hour, as was the case this morning (with periodic prolonged moments of silence, just to tease you). Okay, okay, it's not quite that bad but it's pretty bad -- so bad that it's almost funny (but only funny when it's light out). The call to worship is really the beginning of the end of sleep for us, because even if Little Buddy makes it through the gauntlet with the help of almost deafening white noise and copious quantities of breastmilk, the sun soon rises through our big, beautiful windows in a blinding blaze of glory and that's that.

But while sleep is scarce for most everyone here, there are also a lot of really wonderful things about being in this place and in this city... like the scent of the lemon blossoms and wisteria when we first arrived, and the view of the Mount of Olives from our roof, and our lovely room which is so light and open and airy, and the sounds of church bells tolling and doves cooing, and the fresh squeezed lemonade, and all the amazing sights and sounds of this beautiful city, and the sweetness of worshiping together in community, and our amazing roommates and other friends here who have all given us so much grace... so it all evens out in the end, right? And not to rub it in for our friends back home, but we've already had more sun than we'd normally see all summer in Seattle, and only one night of rain, which was an epic downpour and a refreshing taste of home.

The city itself has been a rich, surprising experience. It's also been a workout wandering around the steep hills and many staircases here, especially when packing 30 extra pounds of Little Buddy on our backs (okay, mostly The Music Man's back). We didn't realize until we arrived that Jerusalem is in the mountains, on top of a mountain, and surrounded by other tightly packed mountains (which make up other parts of the city) with deep valleys and ravines running between. The landscape is quite dramatic.

Life is really different here and it has been a huge adjustment for all of us -- much bigger than we expected. Not only are we a world away in a different timezone and culture and language and climate, but also the area in which we are living is extremely intense. About a month in we finally transitioned from surviving to living, so we've gotten out a lot more the last few weeks. Even so, we've spent most of our time living and parenting (it's loads more complicated than it sounds, believe me), a lot of our time praying and worshiping (between 3 and 6 hours, most days a week), a little of our time seeing the sights of Jerusalem, and pretty much none of our time stopping and relaxing (which you may know is next to impossible to be lazy when you have a highly capable and precocious two year old). 

It doesn't really feel like we've done that much, but when I list it out I can see that's not the case. Here's a quick run-down of what we've experienced thus far:

We've wandered around the City of David and seen the Tombs of the Kings. We've waded through Hezekiah's Tunnel from the Gihon Springs to the Pool of Siloam. We've seen a bit of Harod's Tunnel, and also the ruins of David's palace and the Jebusite wall. We've been to the Wailing Wall and toured the tunnel underneath. 

And we've visited the Temple Mount numerous times, which is pretty much our favorite place in the city...

We've visited the Garden of Gasthemane, the Garden Tomb, Mary's tomb, Absolom's tomb (which isn't a tomb), Jehosephat's cave, and a few other things I can't remember the names of...

We've wandered around the Mount of Olives and the Old City a great deal, especially the Jewish, Arab, and Christian Quarters. We haven't spent as much time in the New City, but have managed to make it to the famed Ben Yahuda street several times, and have wandered around the German Colony a fair amount.

A few weeks back we took a trip to Jericho to visit another prayer room there with some friends. We stopped and got baptized in the River Jordan and then drank (upstream) and dipped our feet in (downstream) Elisha's Spring. On our way home we took a seldom traveled mountain road (and I held my breath the whole way) with the promise of seeing Saint George's Monastery... it was unbelievable. From there we climbed to the mountaintop and worshiped with our friends.

Earlier this week we took a day trip to En Gedi and the Dead Sea, which is the lowest place on earth. En Gedi is in the wilderness of Judah and is a natural spring and lush garden in the desert very near the Dead Sea, where David took refuge when Saul was trying to kill him. On the way, I got tricked into going for a short camel ride, which was crazy scary, but I survived! We ate a picnic lunch with a large group of friends before hiking up to several pools and waterfalls, where we went for a swim and The Music Man enjoyed standing under a few different waterfalls. After that we headed to a beach at the Dead Sea, where we lathered ourselves in sea mud, let it dry in the sun, then soaked in the sea to our heart's content. Little Buddy even floated on the sea with us, and for a long time too. He has such an adventurous spirit. The water itself was so rich and luxurious and almost thick, and we were mesmerized by the delicate and beautiful patterns it made as it surrounded us.

Yesterday we visited Shechem, which is in the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin, currently in the West Bank. We picnicked and worshiped with friends on the mountaintop where Abraham built his first alter to the Lord after God called him to take his family and leave his home and "go to the land I will show you". We then ventured down into the city and drank from Jacob's well -- the same well where Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman and offered her living water. We stood among ancient ruins and worshiped... and by we I mean The Music Man played our backpacker guitar while 17 of us sang. But as he was drawing the song to a close, Little Buddy would have none of it and sang out "We exalt you" strong and true, over and over, with a clear voice and surprising conviction... and we all followed where he led and it was powerful and poignant, and the second time we've seen him lead others in worship. God must love hearing him sing! I know we do. It was everything I could do to refrain from grabbing the nearest Apple device in the hopes of capturing the moment... but the trouble with capturing the moment is that the effort often squelches the moment and/or prevents you from being fully present and in the moment, and all its beauty which you are endeavoring to capture.

Spring is when many feasts and celebrations are held here so we've been able to celebrate Pesach (Passover), Palm Sunday (we joined in the parade on the Mount of Olives), Easter, Independence Day, and a couple new moon celebrations here. The Music Man has been to a few harp symphonies on the Mount of Olives at a House of Prayer there, where he encountered several harps made by Dusty Strings, the shop where he worked! And we've spent a good amount of time at a House of Prayer called Saccat Hallel, where we've been able to connect with some really special people.

Little Buddy is growing up so fast. He's two-and-a-half now. He had an accident and his legs were badly hurt in early April, but after a few weeks, a horribly traumatic x-ray, and many many prayers, he was fully functional within a few weeks (and bless you Carmon for your comfort and guidance). He's such a delight! He's a excellent little helper. He's fearless and will try almost anything, including sketchy rock climbing maneuvers that he's seen his Baba make. He has pretty much mastered Legos (Duplos were way too big to travel with). Since we arrived, we night weaned him once and for all a month ago and he now sleeps through the night (HALLELUJAH!) in his big boy bed (adjoining ours, but still!), and he's fully potty trained (although he'd rather hold it for 8 hours than urinate in a public restroom -- I think he gets that from me). He has the sweetest voice and sings on key into the microphone in front of an audience! He's a fabulous little keyboard player and drummer with a really great meter. He is obsessed with books, has a surprisingly extensive vocabulary, and talks A LOT. Most recently he's started reading books to US which he somehow memorizes in just a few days then recites -- perhaps this is normal but it's such a surprise that he can nail a book with 10 verses! There have been some big parenting challenges since we arrived, but he is learning joyful obedience, as are we. He is such a special little guy and we are so in love with him! The Music Man and I are so incredibly thankful for this season to be together as a family in this way.

It has not been easy but we are so glad we are here. A lot has changed in each of us as individuals and as a family while we've been here, not the least of which is The Music Man really stepping up and leading our family. A silly yet significant example of this is him having usurped my roles as "The Driver" and "The Car Guy" and "The Mr. Fix It" in our family. I guess it's been coming on gradually since the purchase of The Sozo Van, but he's definitely the one fixing things and sitting in the driver's seat now, both literally and metaphorically. He's got nerves of steel and is driving around Jerusalem like he owns the place, and I assure you that driving here is not for the faint of heart.

This has been a pretty big time of transition for me too, it seems. It took me a good five to six weeks to realize I needed to get over myself, and while getting over myself wasn't much fun, having (mostly) gotten over myself is lovely. We are learning so much about loving God, loving each other, worshiping, and rest. Not that we have been actually resting (in the lounging-around-doing-nothing-in-particular sense), but we have been being thankful and delighting ourselves, and these things come from a heart of rest. Rest is a weapon against so much of what we all come up against, especially in The States where rest -- even mental rest -- is a practically perceived as being a sin. The whole city here all but shuts down for Shabbat (Sabbath), which begins at sunset on Friday and ends at Sunset on Saturday. On Shabbat families and friends gather and feast together and remember... remember our Creator, remember what all the work and toil is about, remember where we come from and where we're going. At least, that's what we're getting out of it. It's taken us a while to get into it but now we are loving it. For several years we've tried to make Sabbath a day of delight, but a month ago The Music Man happened upon a verse about laboring to enter into rest (Hebrews 4:9-12), so the last few weeks we've relished this opportunity to put rest into practice.

There is so much more I cannot tell.

So soon we'll be off to Switzerland and who-knows-what for six weeks. Just today we rented a VW camper van (this one is yellow but will no doubt feel like home). That's our whole plan thus far: live in a van and go wherever God tells us to go and do whatever He tells us to do. We'll start in Germany because that's where we pick up the van and the only thing we're certain of is we'll be spending some time in Italy. We're also both feeling drawn toward Switzerland and France, but we're open to anything!

Sending you all love and shalom from Jerusalem...