31 December 2009

The Mountain-and all sorts of bottled up memories

I know I have MORE than my fair share of things to actually write about... more for myself than anyone else. However, before the fleeting moment passes when I actually feel like writing something, I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

I have been reflecting back a lot this week on one of my many spiritual epiphanies I've had throughout my lifetime. Let me set the scene: Mt. Sinai, after a long, arduous hike in the middle of the night, after an even longer week traveling around Egypt suffering from Pharaoh's Curse. My body was at the breaking point. My emotions were at the breaking point. And I really had gone as far as I could possibly go. When I had convinced myself that Moses probably stopped where I did, I was satisfied that I had gone as far as Moses did and that was all I needed to be happy. Haha... did I mention that my mind was beyond the breaking point and I was slightly delirious? haha

After all of this, I was still grateful that I had made the journey, because as a sucker for beautiful things, the sunrise was truly magnificent. It's divine design was so absolute in my mind, because I just couldn't imagine anything so breathtaking and awe-inspiring to be happenstance.

During the devotional that we had, we talked a lot about "not coming down off the mountain"... basically relating how just because we were all on this wonderful spiritual high, it doesn't have to be-nor should it ever be-the peak of our spiritual progression in mortality. While I was in Jerusalem, my whole journey up Mt. Sinai and back became this huge personal allegory for me.
The climb down was possibly the hardest physical experience my body has ever had. Completely dehydrated and nothing
but a piece of bread to eat in the last 48 hours because I was so sick. Only 2 hours of sleep the night before. I had already hiked for 3 hours in the middle of the night. I was achey everywhere, and lucky me was hit with a dizzy spell on my way down. The climb down itself: we were told they were stairs... though a more accurate description would have been large boulders carefully stacked on top of each other with occasional stairs cut into the bedrock to fill in the gaps. No even stairs. No handrails. Nothing. But once I realized that it was already too late. The security guard with us was too far ahead down the other trail that I wouldn't be able to catch up, and therefore I had to stay on the path I chose. Immediately I began to learn a very personal analogy to repentance, and just exactly what it means to me, namely how grateful I am that in life I can ALWAYS turn back to follow the Ultimate Security Guard if you will. After about the first hour and a half of climbing down, my body just couldn't go anymore. And I still had at least 45 mins of climbing ahead of me at the pace I was going. My legs were shaking so badly, and I was so dizzy that my depth perception was way off, so I kept slipping. So I started telling myself if I could just make it down the next set of boulders to get out of people's way then I could rest. This worked for about 20 mins. By this time, I had let every person behind me pass, and they were out of sight. My mind and body were both officially at the end of their limit. They couldn't go any further. So I just leaned up against the wall and cried. I was too sick. Too tired. And too out-of-shape for that matter. haha I just cried. And prayed. I prayed to make it one more step, and somehow have it all be over. I prayed to will the pain away. I prayed for my dad to be by my side so I didn't have to feel so alone. And after a few moments, I was somehow moving again. I was grateful for sunglasses to hide my tears as someone else had come up behind me by this time. I let them pass and then I just started talking to my dad, perhaps somewhat audibly seeing as how I was delirious. And as I kept telling him about everything I had seen and learned in my 3 weeks of Israel and Egypt so far, I imagined how excited he would be for me, and how jealous he would be for himself. I gave myself a pep talk as if it were him speaking to me. And by the time I was done reviewing all of these things in my mind, I could see the end of the climbing. And it was close. I was so happy. And even though I was in more pain than ever, it almost didn't matter. Because now all I could think about was how good it would feel to sit down on the bus (which is something I NEVER thought I would look forward to! haha). And when I did finally climb on that bus, dripping in sweat, as white as a ghost, disheveled hair, dirt all over, I was greeted with a "You did it!! How was it?!" To which I replied, "I did it. I'm here. And in the end, that's all that matters."

So often I have looked back on what at the time felt like a hellish experience, and I have gained A LOT of personal insight. And seeing as how I'm not going to give all of my insights I probably went into too much detail, but this is like my journal so it's fine, right?
1. Repentance is always a possibility in mortality. I am so grateful that I never have to feel trapped into taking the long, miserable path through life!
2. Just as physically climbing down Mt. Sinai was the most difficult part, coming home from Jerusalem has been the most difficult part of my spiritual journey. This is where the true test lies, and even if I am the last one on the bus to my final eternal destination of the Celestial Kingdom, as long as I'm on that bus and make it to where I've been trying to go that is all that matters. And the only way to do that is by putting one foot in front of the other. One day at a time. I really need to be diligent about setting goals and striving to reach them. If I am not progressing, then I am digressing. There is no such thing as a spiritual stand-still. And if on that bus to the Celestial Kingdom someone asks we "How was it?" in reference to my life, I want to be able to say with a smile on my face, "I did it. I'm here. And in the end, that's all that matters."
3. Some days the only way we make it through is by talking with our Heavenly Father, and by really believing that He answers prayers. And just as I started out my journey with a prayer of gratitude for the opportunity ahead of me, it ended that day with a prayer of gratitude for the experience behind me. Expressing my gratitude was one of the only ways I was able to find joy in the journey that difficult morning, but it worked. It always does.
4. God really does answer prayers-from the most trivial to the seemingly impossible. Now I don't know if my dad really was there walking by my side, though I would sure like to think so. But by just assuming that he would be and acting as if he was, I not only felt my bond with him grow as I shared these experiences with him, but it occupied my mind enough so that I could make it to the bottom. And those are both things that I so desperately needed that day. I REALLY needed to make it to the bottom. But as it was my 22nd birthday, and I was 7000 miles from home and unable to talk to any family members while in Egypt, my dad was really the only one that I could share my birthday with. And seeing as how my dad can be very persuasive, I wouldn't doubt that he really was there with me.
5. I thought the climb up was where my body was going to draw the line, and then I somehow managed to get back down on an even more difficult path. And after that I managed to stand in line at the border crossing to get back into Israel for 4 hours without injuring anyone. How could it be that I thought I had reached my limit at 5am, and then I made it to 2am the next day when I finally crawled into my bed in Jerusalem? Reflecting back on this entire 24 hours that I'll remember as the... most ridiculous birthday ever... has taught me a lot about potential. I'm talking about catching a glimpse of just how much greater God's plan for me is than any plan I could ever come up with for myself. This, compounded by chronic indecisiveness, is one of the major reasons why I'm having such a hard time coming up with a life plan. I don't want to decide on something unattainable, like my previous plan of "World Peace" haha. And yet, I know that if it were God's will, I really could be used by Him to achieve world peace. I wish the glimpse of my potential had been a little less fuzzy, in slow motion and subtitles turned on. But alas, I suppose that's what personal revelation and my patriarchal blessing are for.

Even though I lived through all of the details, I'm still perplexed as to how I magically ended up in Egypt on the top of Mt. Sinai to watch the sunrise on my 22nd Birthday. It certainly was not any small feat for all of those details to be worked out. But God is good. I survived Sinai. Not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. And not only survived but thrived. And now I can also say that I've survived and thrived on the many other mountains that have been placed in my path since: Mt. Nebo, Mt. Moriah, Mt. Carmel, Mt. of Olives, Mt. of Beatitudes, and the Mt. of Transfiguration to name a few. Next stop: Y Mountain-Utah Valley and the Provo Temple-the Mountain of the House of the Lord. Hopefully I'll find that I never come down off these mountains and all of the wonderful things I've learned.

03 December 2009


Dang. I looked at the date from when I last posted... it's been 3 weeks! How did I let this happen? Well in my defense, I had zero access to the internet for 11 of those 21 days... but other than that I don't have much to say for myself. I definitely have lots that I need to catch up on, but with finals coming up again next week, and us continuing to have field trips in between now and then... it probably won't happen for awhile.

So just some recaps:
Galilee--absolutely amazing. Took my breath away in every moment. Jerusalem is a beautiful place, and it is where the Savior died and resurrected. But in life, Galilee is where Christ lived, taught, healed, blessed, and loved. I have come to such a better understanding of so many things, as if the gift of remembrance has slowly been thinning the veil around my spiritual, eternal memory. I have SO much to say about my stay in Galilee, but the most important thing that I can stay, is that the Savior really did live, and though I've been privileged enough to see where that was, the key thing is that I know He lived, and that He still lives today.

Christian Jerusalem Field Trip--went to several churches, talked with a variety of people, and learned a lot actually... more to follow on that.

Logan came home!!!! My wittle bruder finally is home again!!!! Thank goodness that those two years went by fast, because it was starting to feel very long. I am so proud of him and his faithful dedication to serving our Heavenly Father and His children in RIverside, California. I know that both he and our family have been immensely blessed because of his service, and we probably don't even know how many blessings were directly caused by his faithfulness. I love him so much and I am SO excited to see him when I go home in 2 weeks!! It's going to be hard enough to say goodbye to this beautiful place that I've grown so attached to, but knowing that my family is there waiting for me is going to make it so much easier!

Generosity and Gift-Giving--this is all I really have time to say, but just know that people tend to really like me when we are out in the city, so I have gotten a lot of free little things as tokens of their appreciation or generosity. I love these people, and I hope that I can become as selfless, generous, and hospitable as the loving people of the Holy Land.

Bethlehem and our "Christmas Eve"--this was today. It is days like today when I realize just how much I really have learned here in Jerusalem... about the people, the conflict, the language, the history, the religion, the geography, the scriptures, and even things like getting a good olive wood deal! We ended our day with a Christmas program in the Shepherd's Field, and I was privileged enough to sing 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" with a few other girls as a part of that program. It was absolutely wonderful to feel so strongly of the spirit of Christ's birth. Even this story that I thought was so simple, in its telling and reality, I have come to recognize how much deeper and richer the story truly is, and I am grateful for the wonderful insights that I am gaining here!

Ok, well this definitely does not get me off the hook. But I did want to be able to give a nugget of information for the few of you that might have noticed how long it has been since I've written (but I doubt anyone falls into that category). I hope everyone is doing well! Loves!

10 November 2009

Out with the Old, in with the New

Testament that is... Over the last week we have taken finals for Old Testament, our OT Field Trip Class, Judaism/Israel class, Islam/Palestinian class, and Arabic. I am now down to only three classes--New Testament, New Testament Field Trip, and our Ancient Near East history classes. Time is absolutely flying. Logan comes home in 21 days... exactly 3 weeks from today. That means that I go home in 37 days. Completely bittersweet. Good thing I love my family and I haven't seen my brother in 2 years. Cuz otherwise, it might be more than a little difficult to leave this wonderful place. But enough with that kind of talk!

I am so excited to intensely study the New Testament. I've taken both of the classes at BYU, but this experience will be 1000 times more enlightening! On Sunday we went on our Herodian Jerualem field trip, where we went to several places around Jerusalem that still remain from the time of Jesus. We sat on the steps where Jesus walked and read some of the things he taught there. What an incredible experience. in 6 days, we leave for two weeks in the Galilee. We will live at a Kibbutz on the beach of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) and then we will have class and go on field trips during the whole time. I'm SO excited! I'm trying to take as many notes as possible, but regardless of the notes I write down, I am learning leaps and bounds about the scriptures and how I want to be able to read them.

06 November 2009

Chillin with GAs and Special Sabbaths

So one of the coolest parts about living in Jerusalem is that everyone else thinks it's a pretty big deal, too... including the general authorities of our church. We were lucky enough to host both Elder and Sister Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy AND Elder and Sister Jeffrey R. Holland of the Twelve Apostles. These couples are just like any other couple, and yet, they bring a unique and added portion of the Spirit with them... not to mention that the cooks make especially good food when they are here!

Now before I get into everything that we got to to with them, I have to give some background first. My father attended BYU when Elder Holland was President of BYU, and he absolutely fell in love with the way Elder Holland spoke and taught. I don't remember many family home evenings, but what I do remember is that a lot of times my dad would teach us things from his favorite talks, which were often by Elder Holland. Not that we love any apostle more than another, but Elder Holland was definitely my dad's favorite. When I heard he was coming for a couple days, I knew my dad would be so jealous and I prayed that he might be able to share in the experience with me.

Every Sabbath here is just incredible, I always fill full to the brim with the Spirit. I'm like a wet sponge that has been soaking in water and is suddenly hit with a hose every Sabbath. The last two Sabbaths have been even more sacred. Two weeks ago was the Primary Program in Sacrament meeting. I don't know if it was my frame of mind, the setting we're in, the individual children, or the message... I suppose it was the perfect combination of all of these things that led to the most piercing and truly sacred Primary program I've ever experienced. I can't even describe how special it was, by I have honestly never cried during a Primary program before... Sunday School and Relief Society that followed were also just as amazing, as always. After church I went back to my room and continued my study of the Gospel of John. When it came time for dinner, God blessed me with impeccable timing, because I just happened to be standing at the very back of the line, by the stairs, when Elder and Sister Holland came walking up for dinner. It might sound corny, but they literally glowed... with love, with the Spirit, with joy. They were absolutely radiant, and instantly I knew once again that he is an apostle of God, a special witness of Jesus Christ to all the world. That night we had a District Fireside (we're in the Israel District), where both the Porters and the Hollands spoke to us. Elder Holland spoke about mercy. Sometime when I have my notes up here, I will type up some of the things he said. But it was the most wonderful experience I've had in a really long time.

Then last Saturday we had our District Conference, with the Porters and Elder Kacher of the Seventy. It is a rare experience for the whole district to get together, especially two weeks in a row. Some of these people have to fight to even get into Jerusalem. The conference was powerful. I know I keep saying that, but it's the only word remotely close to how I feel. I walk out of the meetings filled to the brim of the Spirit and I just think "Wow. It can't get any better than this." And then I go to the next meeting and it is even more incredible. After Conference I felt like I was going to burst because I just felt so FULL of the love of God and His Spirit. And the day was just getting started!

After church, we went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where the gatekeeper let us into the "Private" part across the street... most importantly completely secluded from all of the tourists that normally videotape us as we read our scriptures or sing hymns there. It was so wonderful just to have some alone time in such a special place! What a tender mercy! And then after dinner we were filled once again during President Brown's "Lectures on Luke" that continued. And then, the most wonderful experience of all: some students organized a musical Firemony--aka a fireside/testimony meeting--off the cuff, and it turned out to be the most powerful experience we've had during the last two months. Hands down. It probably helped that we were already SO overflowing from how full we felt, and then this experience created a highly pressurized system of waterworks. The Spirit was so intense, and it just lingered in the room because we were each so full that there was no where else for it to go. I think I've done the best I can at explaining that we were just TOO FULL of the Spirit to receive anymore. haha I feel like I'm grasping at straws trying to describe these wonderful experiences that I'm having, and I know that the confines of our language are just inadequate at describing such things, but I hope what I can convey is that I still don't know more today than I did 2 months ago that Christ lives. God loves His children, and He has a plan for each of us meant to bring us the epitome of joy. One of my favorite lines in all of scripture that I have learned even more about this semester is that no matter what we do or who we are, the Lord's hand is outstretched still... ever willing and waiting to guide us back home to Him. Through the tender mercies of the Lord, I know that my dad is also there waiting for me to return, and I can't wait! There is a lot I have to do here before that day comes. But it will come. And this is knowledge that has given me the greatest amount of peace ever imaginable!

04 November 2009

Beyond the Jordan

So I went to Jordan last week... and I had so much fun! Some of you may recall that I lived in a Bedouin village, Um Sayhoun, just above Petra last summer for about 6 weeks during my archaeology field school. So going back to Petra felt like going to a little piece of home for me. Of course I was absolutely bombarded with questions from 100 people in my group about Petra, things they should do and see, where I lived, what I did, etc. But I was just so happy to be back that I didn't mind the questions. While everyone hiked the 860 stairs up to Al-Deir, aka the Monastery, I had permission to stay behind on my own. It was my favorite part of the entire trip to Jordan. I got to explore a lot of the places in the main city of Petra that I didn't have a chance to last summer. I finally found the Roman Bathhouse, which was so cool for me! **Last year, in preparation for my dig in Italy (that I didn't end up doing), I intensively studied and researched Roman bathhouses. But because I didn't end up going, I have never actually gotten to see a bathhouse in person.** Like a nerd, I recorded all of the rooms and the order they were supposed to be in and then I walked through the whole complex trying to figure out which room was which. I actually did pretty well, with only a couple minor rooms left unsure about. I was so excited, even though I was completely alone. My excitement perplexed me though, because a couple weeks prior, I had decided not to continue in archaeology for Grad School. Well shoooooot. If I am this excited about walking through a Roman Bathhouse that someone else found, how much more excited would I have been to actually take part in finding it!! So much for thinking my life plan was coming along... haha.

Also while I was in Petra, I ran into several Bedouins who knew Dr. Johnson and Holly Raymond, or had relatives that had worked with us last summer. One man, Attalah, made the connection with me that it was his sister who cooked lunch and dinner for us. She would always bring her beautiful baby girl with her. Big brown eyes and dark curly hair. She melted my heart in an instant. It was so fun to reconnect... even though it was with people I didn't know originally. But once I mentioned that I had lived in their village, they stopped treating me like a tourist and started just conversing with me. Attalah told me I was half-Bedouin and he offered me a chair to sit in while I waited for some friends. Bedouins, and even Arabs in general, are the most generous and sincere people I have ever met. I'm trying hard not to be bias living in Israel, but the Israelis are definitely not the warm, inviting, generous people you would hope to find... especially since $3 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars are going to them. I'm just saying...

But moving on, the rest of our Jordan trip included a stay in Amman. We visited Jerash, the Roman city which was part of the Decapolis where Christ came and preached. We got to watch a reenactment of a Roman chariot horse, and a demonstration of a Legion and their war tactics... Tanner would have been SO jealous if he'd known. :) ALSO, there was a dig going on in Jerash, right by the second gate to the city... don't worry. I told them I was an archaeologist while I took pictures of them, and they stopped working and handed me the pick axe. I was again the happiest little almost-archaeologist you have ever seen. So I put down all of my things and jumped in and started picking the ground where they were working. So, even though it's a little exaggerated, I totally got to dig in Jerash!!! :) hmmm... you think God is trying to tell me something? haha

We also stopped at Mt. Nebo, Madaba, "Dana Restaurant" for lunch, an overlook for the Jabbok River, visited the Amman Branch where we had a meeting with the Branch President, went to the Abdullah I Mosque, the Amman Citadel (where we saw a man fall off a cliff... definitely too much excitement in one day), and finally the Jordan River at one of the traditional sites where Jesus was baptized. There we had a sweet, powerful meeting about baptism, John, Jesus, etc. We sang a couple primary songs, and as we did all of the other tourists started gathering around us. It was a very tender experience, and definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Jordan is still one of my all time favorite places I've been in all of my travels. The people, the places, the food... all the best that the Middle East has to offer. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who is looking for a new place to travel. This will definitely not be my last time. :)

Picture Recap from the week:

01 November 2009

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem is the Israel Holocaust Museum, and there is no other museum like it in the entire world. The emotions it stirs come from the depth of the human heart, yearning for all human suffering to cease. It was a powerful, emotional, and even tragic experience at times. It certainly was not the first Holocaust museum I've ever been to, and it probably won't be the last. But it is the only museum on the Holocaust built by Jews for Jews. you can only go through on a guided tour, and all of the tour guides are related in some way to survivors of the pure evil of the Holocaust. It's hard to say that you enjoyed something like this. How can you have a good time looking at pictures of starving children and reading about the lengths that mothers would go through to protect their children? I don't know if I had a good time. There was certainly no joy involved in the day. But I learned and felt things that every human being should feel. our teacher told us a story about two Jewish children's reactions to the museum: As they walked out of the museum, one of the youth turned to the other and said, "We can never let this happen to us again." While the other responded, "We can never let this happen to anyone ever again."
The experience was juxtaposed with my homework assignment that night for my Palestinian class. We were assigned to read and write about the massacres of Palestinians by Israelis during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. It was unfathomable to me that any Jewish or Israeli person, whether intimately connected to the Holocaust or not, could ever allow such things to happen, let alone just 3 years after the Holocaust. The despair I felt that night was crippling on behalf of the sorrow that people experience from acts of hate. I was frustrated with how dramatic my feelings seemed, but there seemed to only be darkness for the future if such hate persists, and I caught a glimpse of how Enoch may have felt when he wept for the sorrow of the world. Thank goodness for our Savior and His Gospel that show us the way to peace. Thank goodness for His love and the chance we have to share it with everyone around us. This is a point that has been driven home to my heart continuously since I've been here. Love is the point. Love is why we are here on earth, why God sent His Son, why we are in families, why we experience joys and sorrows, why we share the gospel, etc. Love is EVERYTHING. Sorry for my soapbox, but a fire for love has been lit underneath me. :)

23 October 2009

To My Pals of the Pen(cil)

Hey Little Friends!
I am so sorry that it has been a while since I responded to your questions. I absolutely love hearing from you! And I hope you still write me... :) School has been VERY busy here, with 4 tests this week... Do you ever feel anxious or stressed when you have lots to do? But now it is over and I get to play!! On Monday I am traveling back to Jordan, the country just neighboring Israel. I am VERY excited to go back where I lived last summer and visit my friends that I made there. Do any of you have friends that live far away from home? I also wanted to thank you all for your birthday wishes! I had a wonderful birthday! And I LOVED all of those beautiful pictures you drew for me!! Some of you even made me a princess wearing a crown! How nice of you!!! But now to answer your most recent questions:

Daniel--Was the Zombie House scary? I don't like getting scared, so I'll only go with you if you hold my hand. :)
Juan--How did you know my favorite color was pink? You must read minds! And I love to play, too!
Adriana--I LOVE school over here. It is lots and lots of work, but I love to learn!
Manuel--We sometimes play games here, too. I also like to play the piano, do puzzles, and walk around the Old City meeting new people.
Arturo--I also read A LOT here at school. We have many books that we are supposed to read for all of our classes. So, I spend a lot of my time reading and writing.
Melanie--You got to play with Tuffy? I am SO jealous! There are lots of stray cats here, and they come begging for food at every meal.
Ana--You got to play with Tuffy, too? I love Tuffy and I miss him! Do you like to have long hair, too? Or do you like it short?
Mark--I am SO glad that you are respectful and pay attention to Mrs. Mills! I hope you are just as respectful to Mrs. Reyes! They are both wonderful teachers who can help you learn SO much! My favorite animals are horses and penguins.
Cecilia--I love parks! My favorite part is the swings. I feel like I'm flying whenever I swing! But... I also like to shop. A lot. :)
Monica--How did you know that ice cream is my BIGGEST weakness?! It is my favorite food that I can ever eat. I will eat it at any time of day-even for breakfast. That is how much I love it! Mrs. Reyes likes ice cream, too. :)
Yesenia--Are you learning a lot about math? Mrs. Reyes is really good at teaching how to do hard math problems, huh? And I am having SO much fun! I hope you are having fun in your school, too.
Cesar--Do Mrs. Reyes and I look a like? Do you and your siblings look a like? I hope I can come back to see you all soon!
Lizbeth--I see a really BIG city, that is also very old. There are some buildings here that are over 2000 years old! I also get to see lots of wonderful people every day! What kind of parade? Did you like it? Did you get any candy from it?
Marisol--Well, you are nice to me, too! I hope everyone can be nice to everyone wherever we go! There are some dogs here, but none as cute as Tuffy!
Alondra M--I love it here! I mostly see a lot of cats and birds. But there are also dogs, donkeys, sheep, goats, horses, and even camels. I hope you had fun playing with Tuffy. He is so cute!
Martin--My favorite food is ice cream! MMMMM!!!! I am so glad that you and your classmates were all such wonderful students that Mrs. Reyes could bring Tuffy in to see you! She only does that when her class is VERY good. Keep it up!

Thanks again for writing me! And I hope you have a wonderful week!
Miss Dana

14 October 2009

Recent Field Trips

Tell Jericho-the oldest city ever found in the entire world, with a tower structure dating back to 8000 BC... yeah, I was there! No biggie. Just pretty much made my life complete. Almost anyway :) But seriously, this place was incredible. I remember studying the city and its archaeology in my Biblical Archaeology class I took two years ago. My group was assigned to write a paper and present on Jericho, and I absolutely fell in love. I knew I just had to go, and well, now I have. Check. :) I won't launch into the nerdy archaeology stuff that got me so excited to go see this place in person, but let's just say there was a lot of it, and it made me REALLY happy. :)

And I always knew that Jericho was an oasis city, but after seeing what it looks like in person, it is truly an OASIS CITY. Modern day Jericho stretches from the hills down to the Dead Sea. None of this small village business. I don't know what I was expecting, but whatever it was was quickly surpassed.

City of David and Hezekiah's Tunnel
Last week we went to the City of David--the Original "Jerusalem" captured and built up by King David, still considered by Israelis today as the greatest king in their history. From this original city, Jerusalem grew north and west up on to Mount Zion and Mount Moriah and through the Tyropean valley in between. After seeing some excavated areas from the ancient city (including a 3000 year old toilet! haha), we had the highlight of the trip by walking through the 1/3 mile long tunnel built by Hezekiah in 701 BC to channel water from the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pool. On the eve of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, it was crucial that Hezekiah devise a way to protect the water source of Jerusalem. After the prophet Isaiah prayed and consulted with Hezekiah, the plan was to dig a tunnel underneath the city so as to channel the run-off of the spring to be within the city walls. Incredible! Seriously... And I'm not necessarily one to LOVE wading through a wet, dark, moldy tunnel built 2700 years ago. But this was absolutely amazing! SO FUN!!

At the end of the tunnel, you arrive at the Siloam pool, where there are some remnants of columns, where we got some really fun pictures. Luckily, we have national parks cards that will get us back in there for free, so I'm definitely planning on going again!

Neot Kedumim
On Monday, we had a field trip to a Biblical Landscape Preserve called Neot Kedumim. Here they have plants and animals from the Bible, and it is very hands-on, which I love! We herded sheep and goats, ground hyssop into the stuff we eat on our pita bread (Za'atar in Arabic), drew water from a cistern, made pita bread, threshed some wheat, etc. It was such a neat experience and definitely one I will treasure forever. And I tried to gather as many types of the plants/fruit that I could while I was there for my Jerusalem Box. :) So those of you who have always wondered what hyssop is... well I can show you. ;)

School, Security, and Random Sidenotes

So School has pretty much overtaken my life here since we've been on restriction for the last 10 days or so. But good news: The security restriction was lifted yesterday and we can now go back out into the Old City and East Jerusalem!!! YAY!!!! I have been sending my mom the news articles about what was going on here, but maybe she was actually the last person I should've been sending them to. Whoops. haha But basically, there have been tensions during this High Holiday season in Judaism here in Jeruslam because the Israel took control of and shut down the Muslim controlled Temple Mount to prevent any violence during the 8-day long Sukkot. Palestinians were not allowed into the Old City for most of the week, and then it was changed to only men 50+ years and women were allowed in. Of course this meant that the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosques, which are two of the top holy Muslim sites in the world, to pray daily and particularly on Friday. Among MANY other things going on, this outraged the Palestinian Authority and the whole Arab world... which led to a lot of other really scary things happening. Anyway, there is no need for me to really go into detail when most of you aren't really interested. And things are calming down here in Jerusalem, and we all pray that they continue to do so. Psalms 122 tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and in a visit to the Garden Tomb President Hinckley said that he did so every day. I hope that we all can include this in our prayers along with the Prophet of the World and the residents of the Holy Land.

BUT I did get the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the Western Wall in the morning on the final day of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles in the OT). This last day is known as the Day of Many Hosannas-and as it sounds, it is a joyous day of celebration, as well as continual prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple. It is customary that after the Jews are finished saying their morning prayers on this day that they "whack" their willow branches on the ground. Why do they whack? Well it is a symbolic "final plea" or a pleading "temper tantrum" if you will... noting to God that they have done everything else they know how to do in order to have the Temple rebuilt, and it is the only thing left they can think of to get His attention. From the smallest child to the oldest patriarch there, everyone would whack. It was SO interesting! Not to mention all of their chants and prayers and dancing and singing that we got to observe as well... And another plus was that I got some really fabulous pictures of people that day.

In our Old Testament class, we have now finished as much material as OT 301 covers at BYU in an entire semester. We are in the middle of 1 Kings now and we're just zipping right along! We will be completely done with the OT by the beginning of November- and that includes a 4 day trip to Jordan before then! Then we will have 6 VERY intensive weeks of the New Testament. Gratefully, I've already taken both NT classes at BYU, so that should hopefully ease the intensity for me a bit. But I am so grateful to enhance my knowledge and understanding of the scriptures while I am here!

A complete side note to everything: Elder Holland is coming in less than two weeks. I am SO excited about this opportunity to not only meet an Apostle of Jesus Christ, but also to literally sit at his feet and learn from him. Not to mention, he was always my dad's favorite, and I know he's really jealous. haha But let's just say I'm hoping he gets to come join me in spirit for this incredible experience. :)

And another side note: Logan comes home form his mission in just 48 DAYS. This means that December 1 is only in 48 days. How in the world did THAT happen?!?! Wow time flies, and I'm feeling more than ever that I need to make every minute count here!

I love you all!

01 October 2009

Dear Penpals

Dear Mrs. Reyes' class,
How are you all doing? Thank you so much for your letters!! All of your questions about food made me VERY hungry! Lots of you LOVE pizza... Mrs. Reyes LOVES pizza, too! I really like pizza as well, but sadly I have not had any pizza at all since I've been here in Jerusalem. I am starting to miss it a lot though! My favorite food is most definitely ice cream!!! Mrs Reyes can tell you all kinds of stories about how much I LOVE ice cream! :) My trip to Egypt was so fun! I got to go inside the Pyramids. Have you ever seen what the Pyramids look like? They are SO BIG!! Also, I got to ride a camel along the bank of the Nile River. It is the biggest river in the entire world! We took a bus and rode all day long to get to Egypt. But while we were in Egypt, we took a plane, a train, a camel, a horse-drawn carriage, and several different boats and buses in order to get around. We also walked and hiked A LOT. What kinds of transportation do you guys use every day? I have been seeing so many really old things. One of my favorite things has been to see records that people kept thousands of years ago about what was going on in their lives. Do any of you keep journals and records, too? I hope that you guys will practice your writing a lot so that your records can last a long time, too! Thanks for writing me! I love to hear from you all!

Miss Dana

27 September 2009

Mt Sinai and My First Birthday Abroad

So the morning of my birthday began day three of being quite ill. And I just prayed so hard I would be able to make it up and back safely so that I could participate in our devotional and testimony meeting we would have at the top. The one and only birthday I will ever spend awake for all 24 hours of it was overall a very good day if I focus on everything I learned, the beautiful view I had of God’s magnificent creations, and getting to talk with my mom and sleeping in my own bed. ☺ But hiking up that mountain at 2am was so hard for my sick little body to do. I did it though, and that is the most important part! Exodus 19:4 reads, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” I know that God truly did bare me up on eagles’ wings, because there was no way I could have made it up there without His help. And He did bring me up unto Himself, for His Spirit was poured out upon us during out meetings at the top. I had read a few verses the night before that ran through my mind as I made the ascent up the mountain. “Fear thou not: for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10). This verse of course reminded me of our hymn “How Firm a Foundation” that was written off of this verse. And when I think of that song, I am reminded of my father. We sang this song at his funeral because it was one of his favorites. He was a living testimony of God fulfilling His promise to always be with us to strengthen and uphold us. Thinking of how brave my dad was to just keep on keeping on, despite how sick he was, gave me great courage in putting one foot in front of the other to get up that REALLY big mountain.

Despite being ill, the sunrise I experienced at the top made it all worth it. It was the most incredible and awe-inspiring view I have seen in a very long time. It was quiet and peaceful, which I greatly appreciated after 2½ hours of being hassled by Bedouins to ride a camel up the mountain (which in retrospect may have been more than a good idea… haha). Oh did I mention how I was almost trampled by camels? Yeah… that was a scary experience as I was pinned between three camels going up and three camels going down because their leaders were too thoughtless to notice there was a girl on a very narrow pass. But luckily I’m short enough that only my head was really pinned between the camels’ bodies. Haha
Our meeting at the top was also incredible. So many wonderful people who have such good insights and very pure, simple testimonies surround me here. I learned a lot from this meeting, and I hope I am able to really take these lessons to heart and apply them in my life.

On the way down the mountain, we had two options… the path that we came up with all of the camels, or what we were told was a staircase that just went all the way down. Unfortunately, I learned that choosing the path less traveled isn’t always the best decision… The “staircase” was actually just a bunch of big boulders stacked on top of each other that you had to climb down. It took me just as long to get down as it did to get up. Haha But it’s over with, and I made it safe and mostly sound, so that’s really all that matters! But for my roommates, I did indeed wear my pedometer during the entire day. My grand total for the entire day was 17,793 steps, with about 14,700 of those from going up and down Sinai. Whooo Ahhh! ☺

I spent the rest of my birthday on the bus or in line at the border crossing, but everyone was so nice that it was still a good day. But the only thing better than watching the sunrise on Mt. Sinai for my birthday was getting to talk to my mom when we got back to Jerusalem that night. It was the best part of my day to talk with her. Why do I have the best mom ever?! Seriously, she’s amazing and I’m so grateful for her and everything she has done for me. Love you mom!!

26 September 2009

The Pharaoh's Curse

So we went to a lot of extremes to avoid getting sick. We lived off of hot simple carbs and warm bottled water for more than a week. We slathered on the hand sanitizer before, during, and after any activity where we touched ANYTHING that might have been touched by anyone else. Haha Even so, a good chunk of people got sick in varying degrees of severity. Well, I was doing REALLY well and I felt great. Until the morning after our overnight train ride. But I got very little sleep, and I figured it was just mild dehydration. So I drank lots of water. And then on the bus that morning, it hit me. Like a brick wall. Oh boy was I in for a long day. That turned into a long several days. And I’m still sick, even though we’ve been back for two days. Ugh. In all of my other entries I just tried to focus on all of things I loved about where we went. But in all honesty, I couldn’t enjoy some of them like I had wanted to… particularly the Egyptian Museum. I could barely stand up let alone walk around and be amazed at all of the cool things I was seeing. Oh man. Did I mention that there was no air conditioning in this museum? And the bathrooms were on the second floor… hahahaha It is funny now. But I was SO terribly sick that first day. So as beautiful as everything from King Tut’s tomb really was, my favorite thing about the museum was that there was one room that was air-conditioned and it had one bench inside it. So there I sat for several minutes. And it was just one of the many tender mercies that day.

Another tender mercy that also demonstrates Middle Eastern hospitality… before I go any further, this is a terribly embarrassing story and more than a little disgusting, but I hope you all get a chuckle out of it and at least learn from my experiences. My group was visiting a synagogue in Old Cairo (this was in the morning just before we went to the museum). I was already feeling quite ill, but there wasn’t really anything I could do about it. I took some pepto bismal, drank some water and hoped it would go away soon. But as I was sitting in the synagogue, the overwhelming “I’m gonna be sick” feeling came over me. I knew it was either going to come up or down, and either way I was in trouble. So finally I got up and went over to the lady from our travel agency that was accompanying us and I asked her if she knew of any bathroom nearby because I was not feeling well. I followed her out where she asked the man at the front desk if he knew of one. He answered her (it was all in Arabic so I have no idea what was actually being said haha) and pointed down the road. So she grabbed our security guard and we scurried a little ways down the road to this humble little house where I see an old Egyptian woman poke her head outside. She showed me inside to this small open room with a toilet (open to the kitchen by the way haha). I got there just in time. Phew. Crisis averted. Or was it? I recomposed myself, and reached to flush the toilet as I just prayed Egyptian plumbing would work just this once for me. The toilet started to flush and then it stopped. The woman’s water had been shut off (which she said later happens all the time when the city needs it for something else). So what in the world was I supposed to do now?!?!?! It is not an exaggeration when I say that SHEER PANIC set in as I kept trying to flush the toilet. This was almost a bigger crisis. Getting sick all over myself is one thing, but getting sick in a stranger’s tiny bathroom in her tiny home and then leaving it as a mess for her to clean up when her water turned back on… NIGHTMARE. But alas, it was out of my control. The lady with our group and yelled back to see if I was ok, and when I told her what was going on she explained it to the woman, who told me not to worry about it. So I did something I never would have done if I weren’t with a group… I agreed to just walk away. We of course gave her a little money for her kindness and her hospitality to this poor sick American tourist, and then we went back to the synagogue to meet up with our group. I guess I at least have a really good embarrassing story to tell during all those silly get-to-know-you games we play in Provo…


Our first night in Cairo, we went to the Sound and Light show at the Pyramids of Giza. It was our first wake-up call that we are NOT in the USA anymore. Though I’m glad we went, I’ll be perfectly honest for any of you considering adding it to your itinerary. It was definitely a low-quality production to say the least. Haha It was so terribly cheesy, but whatev. I love cheese. I will just say that the best line of the whole production was “Man fears time. But time fears the pyramids.” **Cue the overdramatic music** hahaha so great!

We went back to the pyramids the next morning and we hung out there for several hours. We climbed inside the Great Pyramid and then we took lots of fun pictures on it. Holy Cow. I couldn’t believe I was actually AT the PYRAMIDS. IN EGYPT. IN AFRICA!!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHH. My bucket list has gotten very small already after checking so many things off of it! And of course I got a picture kissing the Sphinx. It’s a tourist must. ☺

We went to Memphis next where we saw the colossal Ramses II statue. Moses probably spent a lot of time here in Memphis, just fyi. After our trip to Luxor, we visited some Coptic churches and a synagogue in Old Cairo, followed by the biggest market place in Cairo. That was really fun, but I will say that once you’ve seen one or two shops, you’ve seen them all. They all sell the same things. And they are the same things sold in Petra, Amman, and in Jerusalem… And I think my favorite cat-call I got there was “You have beautiful eyes. Are you looking for me? **wink**” haha

We also visited the Egyptian Museum, where we got to see all sorts of things that I’ve been learning about for the last 3 years. I got to see the Merneptah Stele, which is the first mention of the Children of Israel in the land of Canaan found to date. This is what scholars use to date the Exodus and the lives of the Patriarchs. Also here at the museum were all of the cool things found in Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings! Oh my goodness! These things were truly exquisite! The jewelry, the furniture, the decorations, the weapons, etc… So beautiful!

On our last day, we went to the Citadel in Cairo, which is a fortress built in the 12th century AD by the Arab rulers in Cairo. It was also where theroyals who ruled Egypt for centuries lived until just a couple hundred years ago. Inside, we visited two of the three mosques. Both were absolutely beautiful. Through my classes and just talking with people I meet, I am learning so much about Islam and I can see so much truth and goodness that they have. These people are so good. They love and fear God, and they want to serve Him and live with Him, just like we do.