Category Archives: Jerusalem

Jerusalem University College – the 4 most significant months of my life.

Family, Unexpected

So in this last day of my mini-sabbatical I find myself sacked out on my little love seat (it’s times like this that my long legs wish I opted for a cramped apartment in exchange for a couch I can stretch out on) trying to recover enough from my nasty cold to make it through my first day back at work tomorrow.  Culture shock finally hits in the form of the appallingly shallow conversation happening on tv between Ellen DeGeneres and Jesse Tyler Ferguson about his one-testicled dog.  Coming up after the break: new teen musical group sensation Mindless Behavior, and Justin Bieber visits an elementary school somewhere and makes teachers cry.  Yay.  So here I am, still in awkward cultural limbo, feeling a little sick, empty, and lonely.  I find myself whiling away the hours on my phone . . . not playing games, but trolling Facebook, Skype, and WordPress looking for specific people, comments, likes, any sort of connection that requires minimal work on my part.

Which leads me back to my inner contemplation of one of the many subtle and misunderstood MK/TCK (Missionary Kid / Third Culture Kid – here’s a good summary if you’re not sure what I’m talking about) dynamics that set us apart from the general population.  Relationships.  I’ve known and befriended and mentored enough of us to know that we are all extremely different and very much alike.  None of us have the same culture, but we are our own group who have an awful lot in common.  One thing we have in common is this odd mixture of “Goodbye Avoidance” and “Goodbye Expertise.”  You heard me right.  We HATE goodbyes, but that’s because we’ve become experts at it.  Some TCKs say most of their goodbyes because their families are global nomads; others (like me) have said most of their goodbyes to people who flit in and out of their lives.  Regardless, you ultimately meet, love, and release more people than you can possibly maintain relationships with.  Life goes on for everyone, with or without you, and you just can’t keep up.  Facebook helps a lot, if only in stalker mode, but it’s not the same.  How are we experts?  There is a certain skill to the “Out of sight Out of mind” technique.  We never stop caring, but we allow life to go on.  People who don’t understand this often think that we’re shallow and don’t care; that’s furthest from the truth, and the next time we see you you will truly be the only person in the room for us.  But the emotional and mental toll of keeping everyone we know forefront in our mind is simply more than anyone can tolerate.

But, as we all know, there are some relationships you just can’t escape whether you want to or not.  The genetic bond of family permanently ties you to certain other humans for the length of your lives . . . or does it?  Well, sure it does.  Family’s an incredible thing, and I just got to spend 3 weeks basking in it.  Then I got in an airplane and my nearest family is again a little over 2,000 miles away.  As I wrote the other day . . . I love them, I miss their presence, but I don’t miss them.  This separation is part of the rhythm of my life.  I know that after I spend a day at work tomorrow I’ll be ready to come home to this quiet apartment and I’ll be grateful for the solitude.  Still . . . I’m dwelling a lot on the idea of family.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).  This basically means that if you want to be an effective Christian, you have to be willing to leave everyone and everything behind you as you follow the call of God.   This is especially evident in the missionary life I’m describing.  But God made us to be social beings, to help one another, to depend on each other.  He didn’t forget that.  “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).  (I note the promise of problems, but that’s for a different day.)  I’ve been pondering these verses a lot this week and considering all the Family that God has put in my life to fill the holes left by those who were distant because of my parents’ ministry.  I wanted to share them with you today.

The Official Genetic Links

Always start with the “real” family.  They’ve earned it by their mere existence, even if I’m not fortunate to know them as well as I’d like.  I have a small “blood” family: one aunt, 2 uncles, and 9 cousins . . . both sides of the family combined. My uncles come with aunts and 3 cousins are married now, so we’re slowly growing.  I’ve realized that grandmothers hold families together.  I was 11 when my Grandma Wiedling passed; my mom’s brother’s kids were born after that, and I’ve never really been able to know them for a number of reasons.  I’m thankful to be able to connect with them, if only a little, though Facebook.  My Grandma Rupe died when I was 6.  My grandfather made a genius decision a few years later and married Dorinda (who brought us another uncle as well).  The Rupes are simply not gifted in family connections, but Dorinda’s family is exceptionally focused on recording history and maintaining relationships.  She has always honored my grandmother’s memory, and a few years ago even hosted a Veach reunion (my grandmother’s family).  It was at this reunion that I first felt glimpsed what I’d missed out on.  I’ve always loved my eyes, which are just like my dad’s; I knew that his eyes were like his mother’s.  I vividly remember looking around the living room full of Veaches and realizing in shock that we ALL had the same eyes.  Prominent brow bone, hooded lid, almond shaped.  They were all the same.  It was the first time that I felt the power of a genetic connection.  An entire room full of people, 98% of whom had the same eyes.  I had to leave that room to cry them out, because it was such a powerful realization.  It was a sense of belonging that I’d never known.

Around that time, and a little before my Grandpa Rupe’s death, my cousin Jachin and I realized that if we didn’t start building relationships our kids would never know each other.  My Uncle Brian is a YMCA camp director, so Jachin and his 5 siblings grew up in remote places, and didn’t get to know the rest of us very well, either.  Three years ago Eliot got married, and I was fortunate to spend about 4 days in Albuquerque with my Uncle Brian’s family

for the wedding.  Turns out, they’re REALLY cool!  Cousins are an amazing invention!!  I don’t have many, but I love them all so dearly and I’m proud of all of them.  And the additions to our family are equally as special.  Dorinda IS my grandmother.  Jim IS my uncle.  Grace, Kristine, and Elijah ARE my cousins.  I love them, and I’m so excited to see who’s added next!  (Yes, we all know who it will be, but I don’t think I should start any cyber-rumors just yet . . .)

And, of course, there are my parents and brother, who are who they are and have made me who I am. To discuss them and their value to me would take a lot more space and words than is prudent to use in a blog.

The Hundredfold

For a long time it was really difficult for me to distinguish the difference between friends and acquaintances.  I wrote last week about growing up “special” in Mexico . . . it was rare that I ran into anyone who didn’t want to be my friend.  When I moved to America it was the complete opposite.  There were a lot of people who were nice to me and let me stand by them so I didn’t look alone, but I was rarely admitted to an “inner circle.”  I became so desperate for connections that I leeched on to anyone who made any move toward friendship, which freaked everyone out, and I ended up feeling betrayed, foolish, and confused.  Eventually I worked out that relationships progress, and that relationships have varying purposes.  I’ve also come to appreciate that most of my relationships are dynamic in their intensity, meaning that their activity in my life may vacillate, wane, and even stop altogether for no reason other than that God’s purpose for the relationship has been achieved.

I’m not sure if it’s “normal” for people to have mostly short-term relationships.  I live in a small town, and it seems like everyone here has known everyone for most of their lives.  I don’t think it’s normal that the longest “continually active” relationship in my life (besides my parents and brother) has lasted 8 years and is with a coworker.  But over the years I’ve come to really appreciate the people that God has brought into my life.

Some of these relationships are peripheral and short-lived, but they leave a lasting impression:

  • Erica was my penpal from Mexico City when I was about 12.  I don’t remember how we connected, or even if we ever met face-to-face.  She once wrote me a letter citing Joshua 1:9 (“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”).  I think of this verse surprisingly often, always connected in my mind to her picture, and her words continue to encourage me.
  • Julia came to Apizaco on a short-term mission trip.  We sang a song together at a campaign.  I was so nervous.  I was about 13, but I’ll never forget blowing our noses on notebook paper when we said goodbye.  She wrote to me several times
  • Kostya was a Bosnian foreign exchange student during my junior year in high school.  He was the first Muslim I ever met, and told me how grateful he was to have gotten the visa and escape the turmoil that was going on there.  He was so worried about his family.  He was my first window into the Middle East.

Some are intense, deep, and temporary.  These people have radically affected my life, and letting them go was excruciatingly painful.  Sometimes I can still brush ways on Facebook or through Christmas cards.  I am ever grateful for how they touched my life.

  • Slava was an exchange student my sophomore year in college.  He understood the power of God.  He challenged me.  He made me focus on eternity.  He laughed in the face of pain, and prayed without ceasing.  He knew death and loss and suffering . . . and he chose joy.
  • I met Amy at the National Young Leader’s Conference in Washington DC during our senior year in high school.  We were best friends for a week, good long-distance friends for a year, and now I secretly stalk her missionary work on Facebook.  We made ripples in each others’ lives.
  • I met Ben at Urbana 96.  He was someone that I leeched onto, but he was an amazing friend through my freshman year in college.  He challenged my faith deeply and was a close confidant.  He visited me at Christmas, took me to Olive Garden, and I beat him at Scrabble; the score sheet is still in my box of special things.
  • Hank started my emotional education and helped me to be honest and fearless in self-examination.  His energy and enthusiasm helped me to begin defining some direction for my life.  I still dream of developing the vision we started painting in the cafeteria at JUC.

Some people are a one-time life-changing moment.  Maybe I know them for a week, or a day, or a year, but it is one moment that matters.  These are non-reciprocated interactions . . . I am just intensely blessed or challenged.  These moments are burned into my mind and stay with me always.

  • Shinji asked me what was the prayer that God still hadn’t answered.
  • Ioan told me to relax around love.
  • When I had to beg for a position in the sociology department because nursing didn’t want me, Dr. Young said, “I know exactly how you feel, I think you’d be great for our program, and I’d love to have you.”

There are the people that God sticks you with.  I tried picking roommates one year, and it didn’t work out well.  We didn’t hate each other, but I think we were glad when the year was over.  But God tends to stick you with the people you’d never choose for yourself, the people that stretch and grow you like you never thought possible.  Sometimes it’s the people you wish you could get away from but can’t. . . until suddenly you don’t want to.  These are the people that might come in and out of your life, but when you come together it’s like there was never any distance and you still trust each other completely.  These turn out to be the Familiar Friends who know your heart the best, the ones you don’t need to explain things to.  They are Home.

  • I met Kelly in 6th grade.  She was the smartest girl in high school, and told me she threw Valedictorian on purpose so she didn’t have to give the speech.  We weren’t all that close in high school.  She’s pretty much the only person from high school I can still call a friend.
  • Theresa was one of my freshman roommates in college.  There were days I was pretty sure one of us would be dead by the end of the year, and we were both so happy to be free of each other at the end of the year.  The next year we got together and, through tears, laughed about it and became close friends.  She’s a Super Mom in Michigan.
  • Lori, Kristi, and Emanuel loved me during the times that I was probably most unlovable.  I probably would have found them on my own, but it was God that stuck them with me.  They carried me through a period when I couldn’t carry myself, and I’m probably alive today because of them.
  • Michelle and I were destined to meet: we missed each other at Urbana 99 and she decided to go to England instead of Israel during the fall of 2001, but we finally connected at Advent.  We don’t talk often, but she is my BFF . . . my beloved forever friend.
  • Shelly is someone I definitely would never have sought out, but God brought us together.  She is currently my closest friend, San Jose crash site, faithful ride to the airport, ever patient with my unpredictable bursts of cultural ineptitude.
  • Then there is Ricky.  If there was ever a story of God sticking two people together.  Our story is one of divine intervention in nearly every aspect imaginable.  What God has done in my life through him is beyond what I can say.  I am honored to call him my friend.
  • Patrick hired me at Chamberlain’s 8 years ago.  We’ve had our moments, but he is a combination of coworker, brother, and friend.  He knows my secrets, holds my passwords, gives wise advice, and often keeps me centered.
  • Cheryl has been a supervisor, mentor, teacher, and friend.  She knew how to tease a professional out of me, saw potential where I sure didn’t, and made my success her personal project.  She gives me a home away from home, makes sure I don’t spend holidays alone . . . and introduced me to Harry Potter.

And then there is . . . family.  Because God does not neglect the needs of his children.  He calls us to leave siblings, parents, and grandparents; but He promises to replenish hundredfold.  Yes, these people are friends . . . but they’re not.  These are the people who know all your secrets and love you anyway.  They make you eat when you’re sick and don’t worry about the germs.  They get really irritated with you but still don’t turn you away.  They assume responsibility for you without question and have no problem telling you to grow up and take care of yourself.  You know that if you’re hungry they’ll feed you and if you really need something they’ll give you whatever they have.  They treat you like you’re genetic.  Because you practically are, and you’d do the same for them.

  • Chavela has known my family since I was about 3.  We gave her an ironing job when I was really young, and she became our housekeeper when I was 6.  She doesn’t work for my parents anymore because she’s not as strong as she once was, but she still lives next door.  She was my grandmother, aunt, babysitter . . . you name it.  She taught me to cook, knit, and wash clothes by hand.  It was she who first made me realize how my behavior affected others . . . the day she first called me “hija.”  During this last trip she set aside a plate of sopes for me because she knew I was craving them, made me chiles rellenos because I talked about them, and sent me a pitcher of ponche.  When I went to thank her, her response was, “What else could I do?”  She has something like 17 grandkids and several great grand-kids . . . but there were about 10 pictures of me plastered all over her tiny two-room house (no kidding – all my awkward year photos are staring at her all day, and she still cooked for me!).  She expects nothing from me in return, which is good because I could never repay her love.
  • Chavela’s sons, Angel and Jorge, and another guy named Efren, became my brothers.  They took such good care of me, and we were inseparable when we had the choice.  We’ve all moved on, but we still call each other brothers and sister.
  • The Gorhams were the greatest family gift of all.  I met them shortly after they moved to South Bend from Arizona.  Heather was a baby, Desiree was about 4 and liked me, and they needed a babysitter.  I became their regular sitter while I was in high school.  I well remember the night I sat on the couch eating ice cream with Diane after they got home and Shawn had gone to bed.  She asked me where I’d be staying during the summer after my freshman year at Bethel, since my mom went back to Mexico.  When I told her I didn’t know yet she said, “Well, then you’re staying here.”  I was so flabbergasted I asked her if maybe she should ask Shawn first.  She told me he’d be fine with it.  That started a beautiful relationship that I never expected.  The girls were my special friends, and I loved playing with them and watching them grow up.  I was able to observe Shawn and Diane’s marriage, and realized that families could operate in different ways than my own.  I spent 3 summers living with them, and several times came home during a weekend or just to cry my eyes out.  They loved me as a daughter, prayed over me, spoke truth into my life, and mentored me in a very special way.  Diane taught me to ask questions.  Once Shawn took the day off work so we could go to the beach for my birthday.  We rarely communicate now, but I’m sure we all stalk each other properly on Facebook.  I miss them often, and need to drive down to Phoenix to visit them so I can bring back my Yanomamo spears (I hope they still have them . . . )
  • Misa is my newest acquired brother.  I wrote about him yesterday.  I’m so grateful for him.

And that’s my unlikely family.  Just a few of the people God has blessed me with.  I’m not sure what the “purpose” of this post is.  Perhaps to remind myself that God has never left me people-less and never will.  Perhaps to encourage you to look at your relationships in a new light.  Perhaps to simply honor in black-and-white the people that have touched my life.  There are so many more; I have been so blessed to know so many hundreds of God’s awesome people.  Tomorrow I get to go to work and see my kiddos.  To this point God has not given me my own genetic children, but He blesses my life with children who need my love.  I am so grateful for each of them, and honored to be part of their unlikely family.


(P.S. Skip the Mindless Behavior group; the story about Justin at the school was actually pretty heartwarming.)


I didn’t want to go. . .

I didn’t want to go to Israel.  Israel is where old church people go to “experience the land of the Bible.”  They come back gushing about how the Bible “comes alive” because now you know what the places look like.  They feel closer to God because they had communion in the Upper Room.  They better understand Jesus’ sacrifice because they’ve walked the Via Dolorosa.  Really, even now, that whole mentality makes me slightly nauseous.  I know as well as the next person that the top industry in Israel is tourism.  I hate tourism, and I’ve been enough places to know that the tourist places are NOT the real place.  I’ve also studied enough history to know that most of the places Jesus was at aren’t there anymore.

I did NOT want to go to Israel.

I wanted to go to Russia.

Slava was an exchange student at Bethel for whom I carried a particular soft spot.  It’s very difficult to explain Slava.  He was joyful, loyal, friendly . . . he had a love of life unlike anyone else I’ve ever met, before or since.  And yet he had lived a very difficult life.  He had fought in a war.  He had lost his father.  He had followed Jesus in a Communist country.  He loved God immensely, and every day he was to be found in the prayer chapel immersed in the Word.  Slava was from Russia, and through him I realized more than ever before how biased history can be.  In America we really aren’t taught the beauty of the Russian people, the richness of the Russian culture, the depth of the Russian story.  And I wanted to go to Russia.  Not Israel.  Russia.  I was pretty adamant on that point.

Then I took my New Testament class.

It was a Christian school; everyone had to take either Old or New Testament.  I would have preferred OT, but it didn’t fit properly into my schedule and I needed to get the Bible requirement out of the way . . . so I could go to Russia.  In NT my professor showed us many sections from the “That the World May Know” video series.  Essentially, the videos consist of teachings that are recorded in the place where they occurred, expanding understanding of specific Scriptures within the geographical and culture context that encompassed them.  The one that I remember was Jesus’ teachings about the Gates of Hell, and his statement that He would build His church on that Rock.  (You can read a written version of it here – be sure to click the “next” links at the bottom of the page so you see the whole thing.)  I was blown away by the new understanding that Jesus probably didn’t mean that Peter was the actual rock that the church would be built on, by the awareness that Jesus was totally stomping all over the power of Satan, that the idea of the Gates of Hell was much more literal than I had ever imagined, and that this was one of the first (or maybe THE first) calls to Spiritual Warfare.  I remember sitting in my seat that night . . . the kind with the desk attached at the side, slightly too small to be comfortable, second row from the front, next-to-last from the right wall, right in front of the television that was on a stand a little too high for my neck.  As I sat there staring at the television I felt a tug at my heart, an excitement in my belly, and a great surge of thought.  And suddenly (you guessed it) . . .

I wanted to go to Israel.

It sounds a little bit like a conversion story, doesn’t it?  In a way, I suppose it is.  It’s probably the clearest calling from the Lord that I’ve ever felt.  I had no idea what I was in for.  At that time, in the Spring of 2001, Israel wasn’t in the news all that much.  Everyone was very excited for me.  Russia . . . well, that was great, but everyone was still tainted by the Cold War version of American history.  Israel, on the other hand . . . well, I’d be walking where Jesus walked, wouldn’t I?  Such a Godly way to spend a semester (bleh).

Then, that August, a suicide bomber blew up a Szbarro pizzaria.  15 people died and about 130 were injured.  One of the people killed was from New Jersey, so the incident got a ton of press in the US.  Suddenly people started asking me if I was sure I wanted to go to Jerusalem.  They spoke to me about the richness of Russian culture.  My mother asked me tearfully to reconsider.  I didn’t, not once.  I never felt any fear, not once.

So, shortly after the Szbarro bombing, I started shopping.  On Saturday I took stuff I’d be leaving behind to my cheap storage unit, where I found a newborn rat; I will always feel guilty about leaving that tiny pink hairless rodent to die in the dumpster . . . although I have no mercy for it’s mother who thought she’d nest in my stuff.  On Sunday I was annointed and prayed over in church.  Christine came by my grandparents’ house (where I was living), Sunday night to give me bus money and pray for me.  It was such a blessing.  I took a nap, then pulled an all-nighter while I packed and packed and packed.  I never thought it would be so much work to try to pack three months of supplies into a suitcase (spacebags are magic!) and a rubbermaid container (which, incidentally, are fantastic for this kind of packing – although I recommend the kind that has wheels).  Then Rachel came to get me on Monday to run me to the airport.  I was running so late and had to leave.  I had no time to finish picking up after myself.  I hastily scribbled a note to my Grandma apologizing for the mess as best as I could (sorry again!).  And out the door we went.

It was August 27, 2001.

Thanks to my all-nighter and having all 3 seats to myself on the flight to Paris, I fell asleep before we took off and the flight attendant had to wake me up when everyone else had left the plane.  I only woke up for about 30 minutes to eat.  Shrek was on; I’d never seen it before and, in my groggy fog, thought it a little creepy and a lot stupid.  Therefore, I arrived in Paris at 6am for my planned 36-hour layover fully rested.  I do recommend, however, that if you’re on that long of a flight you get up periodically and walk around.  Otherwise, your feet swell up and it’s VERY painful to walk around a city for a whole day.  After a day and a night in Paris I got on another airplane for a short 3-hour flight over the Alps to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.  I joined up with all the other lost-looking white people about my age, we piled most uncomfortably into a sherut (basically a van that’s a cross between a bus and a taxi), and off we went to our adventure at Jerusalem University College.

Little did we know that we had no clue.

We knew we would be changed, but I don’t know if we knew we would be transformed.  We (at least the girls) harbored hopes that we would meet our true loves; three marriages actually did come out of that group.  We knew we would make friends, but I don’t know if we expected to make family.  We knew we would be studying and traveling and visiting; I don’t think we expected to grow a permanent Jerusalem-sized hole in our lives that would be with us for always.  We knew we’d be learning a lot about the Bible; I don’t know that we planned to have our understanding of life in the Middle East turned upside down.

It wasn’t this way for all of us, but it was for me and I know it was for any who allowed it to be.  And it’s difficult to explain.  It’s not that it’s “where Jesus lived;” that was actually far from the most impacting factor for me.  It’s that there were so few of us in so strange a place at such a pivotal point in our lives and in the world . . . and we shared it only with each other.  We were stretched and molded and challenged and grown in ways we never imagined . . . if we let God do His thing.  Because of the growing unrest we were the smallest group JUC had had in years, and I have no doubt that God hand-picked each and every one of us.

It’s been 10 years and 8 days since that first sherut ride.   I always find myself feeling homesick for Israel this time of year, but this year more than most.  I wish we were all rich so we could fly back with our families for a reunion, but alas!  Most of us are involved in low-paying people-focused careers for which our greatest compensations are largely non-material.  So to make my tribute I’d like to spend some time re-treading those months here, sharing portions of my journals and papers and emails with you.

And just think . . . I didn’t want to go.

Lesson of Truth from the Shephelah

During my semester in Israel, I learned a LOT. . . everyday.  But some of those lessons stick out a lot more than others.  On one particular day I received a great lesson in attitude.  Fortunately, I chose to write about it in my Impression Report.  I have to admit, it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written.  It is also convicting every time I read it.  I’ve been thinking a lot about attitude lately, and decided to pull it out and share it.  First, you have to know two things: 1) much of Israel in the fall is a dry, brown, barren, dusty place; and 2) our wonderful professor, Dr. Paul Wright, considered a 10-mile hike through rocky steep hills to be a relaxing Saturday afternoon. Oh, and this particular hike took place at about 7:30am, and Dr. Wright dragged us from the bus for “just a quick little walk” to see the Sorek Valley. In the second paragraph I turn into a Biblical sort of English and it gets stuck there. What can I say? It’s a journal entry.

Here ya go. . .

I stole this shot from the internet, but I have one of what I think is the exact same spot

Sorek Valley, in the Shephelah

My truth came early, as we walked along the Sorek. Most of us anticipated a quick 5-minute walk,maybe 10, down the trail. We knew what would be said at the end, a Psalm or two, something that could easily be done from the parking lot. Not yet awake, most us didn’t really feel like walking very far. As we walked and walked and walked even farther, many of us (including me) began to feel somewhat deceived. This was no short walk. This was a long hike down only to stop, read a verse, and walk all the way back up. Fortunately, it was more flat than most of our other hikes, but slopey nonetheless. On the way back I was thinking some rather complaining thoughts to myself about not having water and not feeling well and just wishing I had stayed on the bus. Two of the guys walked past me, speaking my thoughts. My first instinct was to say “Don’t complain,” when I realized that I had been doing exactly that in my mind.

Which reminds me of a story I once read in the Book, a story of a people in Egypt who were told they were to go to the Promised Land of Canaan. And lo, they knew an approximate distance to this land to be a journey of about two weeks along the roads, for they had heard their masters speak of it. And following great signs and wonders they followed their leader, Moshe, out of the land of Egypt. For though it was a lush and beautiful and bountiful land, it was a land of bondage and slavery, and all the splendor of the land was wrought by their own labors and yet they enjoyed none of it. And so they set out to their Promised Land.

But they did not go the way they expected, through the established roads of the land, but by way of a sea. And when they arrived at the sea they despaired and said, “It is over with us!” But God divided the sea and they walked across it, and those who had kept them in bondage and exploited their labor were killed in His wrath. So the people thought to themselves, “Now we are free and will arrive soon at the Promised Land.” But it was not so.

And the people spent much time in the land which they expected to pass through quickly; yea, even onto forty years, doing little more than traveling in circles and living among the sands of the desert. And they grumbled and complained for water, for food, for lack of something better to do. And the pain of their past bondage was forgotten and what prevailed was the memory of the beauty they had once lived in, though they enjoyed it not.

As I pondered this story it occurred to me that myself and the two that passed me on the trail were liken unto the Israelites. For we had prior expectations of what our short hike would entail, and they were not met; indeed, they were surpassed. For we did not walk five minutes, or even ten, but nigh unto twenty five – and that only in one direction. And when we finally arrived at our destination it seemed the purpose simple and unnecessary, only to have to return again from whence we came. For these reasons it seemed appropriate to grumble against our instructor.

But as I thought of the grumbling hearts of the Israelites, I marveled not at a God who would give to His children the blessing of a Promised Land filled with pain and wilderness. For the Israelites noticed only that which they did not like, and appreciated not the manna nor the water nor any of the other good things which God had given them; and if God was to have Himself remembered among them He must give them something difficult, that it might be said “this is the gift of God,” and not “this is the good we have wrought by our own hands.” And I determined at that moment in my heart to no longer grumble against my instructor, lest the same sort of blessing be bestowed upon me.”

Freedom to Forgive

On September 11, 2001, I was shopping in Old Jerusalem with my friend Lyla.  I think that might have been the day I bought my little embroidered Middle-Eastern looking purse from Shabaan on Christian Quarter Road.  We probably enjoyed some shekel pastries and took a meandering stroll through the Jewish Quarter to take some pictures; we did that often.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had had a very lovely afternoon.  We were giggling about something as we entered campus after the hike back up Mount Zion.  I remember our laughter dying suddenly as we entered the yard, slammed with a solemn atmosphere of mourning and fear.  Not wanting to interrupt the small group of our crying and praying classmates, we tip-toed past them and pushed into the already crammed tiny computer lab.  Every computer was on a different news site as the disaster in New York unfolded.  9am in New York was 4pm in Jerusalem.  We were stunned as all 36 of us took our dinner plates up to the Koh’s apartment and gathered around the small television showing English CNN.  The Pentagon had been hit; Ed’s dad worked there, and Ed couldn’t get a call through to find out if he was okay (he was).

It was a very different experience for us in Jerusalem than it was for everyone else back home.  Even in the few short weeks we’d been there we’d grown accustomed to the shellings echoing off the hills at night, the strict security measures taken even when you enter the grocery store, the semi-automatic rifles slung over shoulders of young off-duty soldiers all over town, the need to strategize where you went and when.  It had become just enough a way of life for me that, since I didn’t know anyone in New York, 9/11 brought me not so much fear as pause.  I was stunned and grieved, but not surprised.  I had studied enough history to know that the United States has been extremely blessed and fortunate to have escaped the global spread of terrorism for so long.  While I certainly do not wish it on anyone, it has always seemed to me to be not a matter of “if,” but of “when.”  I remember returning to the States the following December and laughing outright in the airport.  We had been reading in the news about violation of privacy and complaints that security was too invasive . . . but all I had to do was take my shoes off!  There were no semi-automatic weapons anywhere, no bag searchings, very few metal detectors . . . all standard procedure for getting in to pray at the Western Wall, but apparently much too invasive for American airports.  Yes, my perspective on 9/11 was quite different . . . probably because I was able to see it in a much more global context.

My perspective does not, and never will, minimize the tragedy.

On December 1, 2001, there was only a handful of us at JUC because almost everyone had gone on a 2-week class to Egypt.  We spent the day shopping in Jerusalem, and planned to go to a Ben Yehuda Street coffee shop after dinner.  At the last minute our Armenian friend, Reuben, invited us to his house on the opposite side of town.  I remember all of us sitting around his living room passing around glasses to taste all these interesting forms of alcohol that were generally pretty nasty to me; I fully confirmed that I find beer disgusting, and there was some kind of liquor that tasted alarmingly like black licorice.  We moved up to his half-finished upstairs area where about half of us sat around his houka sipping fancy wine and the rest of us (my half) looked out over the city and chatted.  Around 11:15pm, the city SHOOK and sirens started blaring.  The odd thing is, I realize as I look over my journals, none of us freaked out about it.  It was a 15-minute ride back to school, we didn’t get back until about 12:30, and we didn’t find out what happened until we were on the drive back.  That’s how accustomed we had become.

What had happened was one of the worst suicide bombings in Jerusalem to that date by the Intifada.  Two bombers had synchronized their detonation to go off at opposite ends of Ben Yehuda Street, and later a car bomb detonated in the middle of all the rescue efforts.  At least 13 people were killed at the last count I know of, and more than 180 were injured.  One of the bombs went off right outside the coffee shop we were planning to visit.  God spared my life that night.

The next day was Sunday, and we were allowed to go to church as long as we were back by dark.  I vividly remember climbing up a high hill toward the beautiful Jerusalem YMCA building where the church met.  As I huffed and puffed along I listened to my companions discussing the bombing.  When repeating the death count one of them said, “I think 12 were killed.  Well, and the bombers, but they don’t count.”  I understood what he meant.  Whenever casualties were described in the newspaper, the bombers were listed separately from the death count (“4 killed, and 2 bombers”).  The bombers were not casualties.  Somehow, though, it didn’t seem right to think that they don’t count.  As we continued walking, my classmates began to debate who to blame for this event.  It had hit us so much closer to home than the Twin Tower bombings had.  There was much verbal abuse of both the Intifada and the Israeli government for their constant tit-for-tat violence.  There was much praise of President George W. Bush for his war on terrorism.  And as I pondered this need to find someone to blame I so clearly heard the voice of God in my mind saying, “The blame is Mine.”

God is not, and never will be, responsible for the evil in the world.  But Jesus took the blame for all of the evil when He died on the cross for us.  The blame was not God’s, but He took it anyway.  I understood in a new way that night the full weight that comes with paying the debt for all the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).

All the sins of the world.

Not the sins of the really bad people who need extra credit in the forgiveness department.  Not the sins of the generally good people who just need a little loan to get them through a rough patch.  Not the sins of the people who are going to actually appreciate it.  Not the sins of the people who had lived and died up until that time and probably didn’t know any better.

All the sins of all the people in all the world for all time.

Wikipedia says there’s a general consensus that Adam was created around 5000BC, give or take a few hundred years.  That means that for about 3 hours Jesus bore upon himself the weight of, at the very least, SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS of sin.  Not 7,000 years of one person’s sin, either.  Seven thousand years of every sin of every person who was ever born.  And that’s not counting all the years to come.  No wonder the sky turned black!  No wonder God had to look away!

And yet, Jesus took the blame.  He took the blame for me the day that I wrote all my spelling words on my desk in 3rd grade so I could cheat on my test.  He took the blame for those two men who blew up a street in an honest attempt to sacrifice their lives for a faith that had claimed all their passionate devotion.  Jesus took the blame.

God showed me something beautiful that night.  I have always thought of salvation and Jesus’ sacrifice as something personal and individual, just between Him and me.  It is.  However, there is another kind of freedom in the cross: the freedom to forgive.  By taking the blame on Himself, Jesus eliminated my need to find someone to blame for the things that anger me.  It will never be Jesus’ fault, but if He can forgive . . . who am I to remain angry?  Because He took the blame, I don’t have to spend the time and energy necessary to stay angry and resentful, to be vengeful, to store up the darkness of unforgiveness in my own spirit and mind.  God calls us to love others as He does.  Fortunately, He already did the hard part.  I only need to pray that God would give me the grace and compassion necessary to see others through the lens of His forgiveness.  In this way salvation is, I suppose, communal.

Osama Bin Ladin was killed yesterday.  I’m not sorry.  I have no problem with capital punishment, so long as we’re really sure that the person on the receiving end is guilty; no question with Mr. Bin Ladin.  God is a God of justice, and justice was served.  And yet . . .

As I scanned Facebook last night I ran across this status update: “SO HAPPY that Bin Ladin is with Hitler now burning in Hades, but who did Trump fire?”

I have been praying lately that God would break my heart for what breaks His, and this sentence brought tears to my eyes.  Not only does it reflect an attitude of vengeance, but also our skewed priorities.  There is joy in the accomplishment of a seemingly impossible goal, in the completion of this phase in our national history, in a renewed sense of hope among the American people . . . but joy that another human being is condemned to Hell?  God is not partial to sin; Jesus died for all sins alike (1 Peter 1:1-19).  If Osama Bin Ladin, in all of his violent tendencies, was the only human to ever live . . . Jesus would have died for him, too.  Jesus would have died only for Osama even if it wasn’t for sure that he would accept the gift of salvation . . . Jesus would have died just so that Osama Bin Ladin would have had the chance.  And yet, there are those of us who rejoice in our attitude of vengeance and care more about who got fired on The Apprentice, since the news cut into the show’s time slot.

On December 2, 2001, I wrote in my journal:

“We seek someone to blame, but God says, ‘Why?  I have taken their blame upon myself.  I already carried out those boys’ punishments because I love them.’  God grieves for the hurting, but I think he grieves more for the deceived.  These boys have given their lives for a lie.”

Our government places a hierarchy on the “badness” of behavior.  Sin is not a behavior.  Sin is sin, blackest black, and there are no shades of gray.  We are all equally forgiven; yes, I am in the same category as the terrorists.  To think otherwise is simply more sin (I Peter 1:17-19).  God wants Osama in Heaven just as much as He wants me there, and if Osama had repented and accepted Christ 30 seconds before he was killed he still would have gotten a mansion in Heaven (Romans 10:9-13).  I know this because Jesus made an example out of His own cross-mate (Luke 23:39-43), probably just to reassure all the really “bad” sinners out there that He loves and wants them no matter what any dumb old humans say.  That is God’s love and God’s logic, not ours.  Sometimes God’s love and logic are so much higher, and ours really just doesn’t matter.  May we always strive to not only accept the gift of forgiveness for ourselves, but to love others through the forgiveness God has also extended to them . . . regardless of what we think about His decision and desire to include them in The Kingdom.

%d bloggers like this: