Thursday, June 22, 2017

I Am My Beloved’s and He Is Mine

Please indulge me as I’m still living in the precious moments of my recent Holy Lands' trip. I spent most of yesterday going through my journal and taking note of God's special blessings. Needless to say, I felt so wrapped up in God’s love because of so many incidents that brought heaven to earth to me. I read the words just before I left on the trip: "I know You are with me -- guiding, directing, keeping my feet on the pathways you are leading me on -- safe and protected! I AM YOURS AND YOU ARE MINE!" Just look at how those words played out!

First of all – just being able to go on this trip with my dear friends, Charles Michie and Sheila Michie, who were my loving guardian angels – yes, I need double-duty from angels (those in the spirit realm and in the natural). LOL! Because they had flown out a couple of days earlier to Rome, I went it alone until I flew into Houston to meet the other travelers. Of course, God, in His loving kindness, provided me with angels there – dear Tony & Ruby Urbina. There was a divine connection the moment we met. It sincerely seemed like a “match made in heaven” for us. They were my Houston to Rome angels. They wouldn’t leave me for a minute. Tony would lead the way and say "Come on, Babies!" What a blessing they were to me, and then we met up with Mick and Sheila in Rome. They looked out for me in so many ways! We had so many laughs -- especially when we decided to go it alone in Rome, apart from our tour group. When Mick told Sheila and I to hide our name tags because we didn't want others to think we were tourists, Sheila and I fell apart laughing so hard. We had our cameras, our handbags and we were looking at a map -- so do you think we DIDN"T look like tourists without those name tags? LOL!

On the way home on Saturday, in the Frankfurt airport, our time was short, considering the long security checks at several different areas. When our last check came up, my carry-ons were held up. One, because I left a water bottle in one bag, and my computer in the other. Oh me. That delay certainly created some anxiety because our flight departure was soon. Mick and Sheila wouldn’t leave me. I told them to go ahead but they refused. They said “If you’re missing your flight – so will we!” Now that’s love. My bags were checked, and of all things, both were detected for explosives! Here came the police with their firearms. This cute policewoman (pictured below) sure eased my concern with her smiles and good English. Eventually I was released with time to spare and my buddies were there to hustle through with me.

Early on in our journeys, I told about the sweet couple that gave me a necklace "from my husband". That was special enough, but "the love" just kept coming. When I walked into a store just outside our hotel in Jerusalem, one of my fellow travelers called me over to look at a necklace he'd found for his wife who had to stay at home. They both are doctors. I was giving him my “two thumbs up” agreement with his decision, when the shopkeeper asked me for my ring size. He came back with this ring, pictured here. It is inscribed, in Hebrew, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine” – the scripture from Song of Solomon 6:3, and the words I wrote in my journal BEFORE leaving home. Of course, the tears flowed like a fountain because my Lord came through for me as I reminded Him in the beginning "I AM YOURS and YOU ARE MINE" and I knew, both He AND my sweetheart were with me on this journey. There were just too many set-ups. Indeed my Father does love the widows so much, that He continues to pour out blessings I can hardly contain. While I thought of the sweet love I had with my husband, I know that this ring represents the many ways that I belong to Jesus. I am my beloved’s by the gift of His purchase of me, paid by His own life; I am His by surrender, because I gave myself to Him. I am His and He is mine now and for all eternity.

You, too, are His beloved and He is yours. Just believe it, give Him your life and receive His love. I promise you, THAT love doesn't disappoint!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Got Hunger? Get Filled!

Yesterday, I posted about the thirst for water AND God’s living water that will quench our thirst as we draw closer to Him. Today, it's hunger for natural food and the food of God’s Word and presence.

Our 13-day faith pilgrimage most certainly DIDN’T include a spiritual fast from food. We were literally filled with the finest food. We were well fed in each restaurant and hotel that we were in – as Psalm 81:16 says “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” And we were, including the honeycomb we were served while in Jerusalem (shown here).

At the Mount of Temptation (hot and dry desert), we not only saw where Jesus was tempted by the enemy and we related only somewhat to His thirst, but most certainly not his hunger because we had been fed so well. We heard Jesus' response to the enemy: "It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' Matt 4:4

Indeed, “Man shall not live by bread alone because our Father has prepared a banquet for us -- a feast of His presence, but we won’t have the appetite for it if we’re satisfied with something or someone else. The desire Jesus was referring to is for Him, and it's not reserved for only a few over-the-top passionate believers, but for all of us.

Psalm 107:9 tells us that God "satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things", but there’s a requirement before satisfaction comes -- we must be thirsty and hungry.

When we are spiritually hungry, we naturally desire the richness of spending time with God -- praying, attending Bible and prayer meetings, listening to teaching tapes, reading books on spiritual topics, attending conferences and retreats because days are filled with pursuing God and feeding on Him.

Don’t we wish it stayed that way? But life happens. Marriage, careers and children happen. Distractions happen. Lots of distractions like anxiety, fear, discontentment, and over-commitment keep us from that sweet intimacy that we may only find in hungering for God.

Jesus always has a table set before us of His presence, yet because we’ve been snacking on lots of other things, we aren’t hungry for Him. We try to satisfy ourselves, instead of having an insatiable hunger that can only be satisfied by fellowship with our Lord.

Matthew 34:8 says “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Honestly, "tasting" has become the motivating force in my life. I long to know Him more, and the more I crave Him like I did for certain foods when I was expecting my babies, the more I receive assurances from heaven that remind me I am feasting on Him.

While on the Mount of the Beatitudes, we heard Christ’s words from Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:for they shall be filled.” Lord, please make us as hungry and thirsty for You and Your presence, as we are for the best meal and drink at a 5-star restaurant! Only you can satisfy the hunger and thirst that satisfies our souls!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Got Thirst? Get Quenched!

God wired us for thirst b
y giving us a “low-fluid indicator”. If our fluid level is low, the signals will flare -- dry mouth, achy head, weak knees, unclear thinking, even fainting. Just before my Holy Lands trip, I was having some really bad neck and back issues, so I went to the chiropractor to give me a tune-up before departure. His first question was: "How much water are you drinking?" He caught me. I hadn't been focusing on my water intake, and my body was reacting to the low fluid intake.

If we deprive our bodies of fluid, our bodies will tell us. I certainly felt that low-fluid indicator a few days ago when we were in the deserts of Israel – incredibly dry and scorching hot. In fact, I heard that some of our pilgrims got blisters on the bottom of their feet just from walking on the hot mud between taking off their shoes and walking to the Dead Sea waters. And the Dead Sea certainly doesn’t provide the opportunity to have your thirst quenched – it is the saltiest water you’ve ever tasted. That speaks volumes for my Mom’s antidote to a sore throat “Take some warm salted water and gargle!” A sore throat wouldn’t stand a chance of survival in that Dead Sea water!!

I knew this would happen to me after having been where Jesus walked and traveled and ministered. I had to look at a map for today's post! Remember the Samaritan woman that Jesus met at the well? Remember His words to her in John 4:14 "Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."

Here's what I discovered about the location of Sychar (where the well was located) compared to our travels. The road from Jerusalem to Galilee lays through Samaria, but Jews often went around to avoid the Samaritans. (Cool map HERE of the route around. It’s a long way just to avoid people you don’t like!!). BUT, our loving Lord went this way because the Samaritans needed to hear him. He could have gone around but didn’t. Sychar was ancient Shechem and was the capital of Samaria. This is where Abram first came when he arrived into Canaan from Babylonia. (Genesis 12:6)

Jesus was tired after a long day of walking. Jesus was fully human and fully God and as fully human, experienced the same things we do. The sixth hour would have been around noon–the hottest part of the day. (My fellow pilgrims -- remember how hot it was at the Jordan River and the Dead Sea? Can you imagine how thirsty Jesus was there in Sychar?)

The woman at the well was unusual. Mostly women came together during the early part of the day for water for the day. Maybe she ran out of water or had a sudden need or maybe she was an outcast. Like a bar today, the well was a gathering place, a place to exchange news and gossip. It was also a place where prostitutes hung out. A Rabbi never spoke to women in public, not even their own wives or daughters. Some even closed their eyes when passing a woman on the street. Furthermore, Jews never asked favors from Samaritans. Jesus was breaking all the rules -- and showing us ALL how to live.

Also, Jews believed they would become ceremonially unclean if they used a drinking vessel handled by a Samaritan since they held the belief all Samaritans were unclean.

Jesus made a simple request to the woman....water. He makes a simple request of Jesus often speaks to us similarly: “If you knew….” on a quest to draw us closer to him, to investigate more, to pray more. If we deprive our souls of spiritual water, our souls will give us low spiritual fluid indication. We’ll know we're low if we're not taking in the "living water" that Jesus offers us. The indicators of "spiritual thirst" might be, if we’re heavy hearted, sad, weary, depressed, edgy, poor decisions being made, frazzled nerves, quick to speak words of anger or unbelief. When those warning signs are indicated on our spiritual fluid indicator" -- it's time to "replenish and re-fluid" from God's "living waters" fountain of hope, love, joy, peace, and wisdom -- always the place to go to for refreshment -- it's a fountain that NEVER runs dry!

Psalm 42:1 "As the deer pants for the waters, so my soul longs after You, oh God!"

I’m really thirsty right now. It's time to fill up on those springs of living water that will never run dry! Come on in -- join me -- the water is fine!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Been There, Bought the Olive Tree Wood Treasures

I’ve Been There, Bought the Olive Tree Wood Treasures, Seen the Places Where My Lord and Other Bible Heroes Walked, And I’ll Never Be the Same
It was great to be back home to celebrate Father's Day with my family here yesterday, talk about my trip, and to give them the little "treasures" I brought back for them from Israel.

Though I’ve journalized my Rome and Israel trip highlights on my Facebook wall since we left on June 5th, apparently, based on this post, I can’t stop thinking about where I’ve been and those who were with me on this journey. In fact, I will forever be influenced by my experiences.

My dear friends, Charles Michie and Sheila Michie, were the ones responsible for my decision to go on this pilgrimage. We had been discussing this trip for some time, looking for “the one” that would fit us best. Because Mick (Charles’ nickname) and Sheila are a Knight and Lady in the The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (they are vested in this group that are committed to supporting Christian presence in the Holy Land because their hearts are passionate about the protection of Christianity there). They were certainly vested in me because they watched over and cared for me like mother hens on this trip.

Without exception, everyone that I spoke to on the trip really were (in their hearts) pilgrims that were on this journey for their first time or were returning to the Holy Lands for their 2nd, 3rd and even 7th time. Each of us agreed that this journey added new dimensions to our personal lives of faith, to our theological education and understanding – and to our own fields of work and ministry. We had children from the ages of 10 years to 16 years of age (who, by the way, were as touched by the experience as the rest of us were), college students, a young man entering a monastery in September, business men and women, a U.S. District Judge, nine doctors, a few retirees, and two priests. We were from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, California and Missouri. It was a wonderfully diverse group who were all “called” to this pilgrimage.

My sweetheart literally left this trip to me at his passing as we were soon going on this Holy Land journey. I wish we had made this trip many years ago because it would have certainly provided us with more insight and basis for our Bible teaching and ministry. Rome was beautiful and the ancient sites we visited took on a new meaning for me as the last time I was there it wasn’t about gaining as much spiritual insight as it was a romantic celebration of 40 years of marriage that my husband and I had long dreamed about. This time it was about gaining understanding of Paul’s journey there and the incredible influence he and other saints and martyrs had on our Christian lives today. But what struck me most, as I reflect on my week in Israel, is the array of experiences that would have been impossible, or at least improbable, if I had simply travelled to the country on a regular vacation. There is nothing like walking where David and Solomon walked and imagining the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Elijah. Walking where the Holy Family lived, struggled, walked and rejoiced. And walking the way Jesus walked in life, and to His cross. Standing at the basilicas and churches, and hearing His teaching with new ears. Being on mountaintops, at the sea, in the villages and towns where He was born, grew up, taught, healed, and cared for God’s people. There’s nothing like it.

Emotions were high for all of our pilgrims as we arrived at the Tel Aviv airport. Our tour guide,Rimon, right from the start, was more than a guide, he was from and lived in this country all his life and we became family with him. He was passionate about his Christian heritage and he desired that our biggest take-away from our time in Israel, was the take-away of love for his country.

The absolute perfect location to spend time at on the first couple of days was in Tiberias, at the Sea of Galilee. For me, it was one of my favorites because we weren’t amidst the hustle and bustle of the throngs of group tours there like there was in Jerusalem. The drives through the country in our tour bus impressed all of us with the stunning changes we would see in the topography of the land through our bus windows. We’d see lush green lands and waters and then we’d see desert wilderness. We’d see foreboding walls, and a number of security checkpoints with armed guards. We'd see traffic jams and we witnessed a bus driver that could easily drive in the Indy 500!!

This journey enlightened me to the need for our allegiance, our prayers and our support for Israel. I hope that you will get to journey there one day, but in the meantime, I pray that we all will pray for the peace of Israel. Rimon, our tour guide, asked us to pray that, like in America where all religions can abide together in peace and harmony, that Israel can dwell in peace also. If you plan on traveling there some day, be sure to check out our tour guide's info and video on his website at:

Psalm 122:6-9 "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers! For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good."

Happy Father’s Day to Our Father in Heaven and Fathers on Earth!

While in the Holy Lands, we recited "The Lord's Prayer" many times -- the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray. It was heaven on earth as we prayed "Our Father, Who art in heaven...." from the holiest of places on earth.

Being back home in our beautiful USA, brings me such precious memories, and so much gratitude -- for my own sweet dad and my precious husband who are celebrating this Father’s Day with "Our Father Who Art in Heaven"! They get the award for greatest of all places to celebrate this Father's Day! And two incredible dads that I honor and celebrate today are my two sons -- Ryan Wuerch and Larry Wallace who lead their families by God's example to them.

Dads, in my opinion, you are the most powerful force in the lives of your children. Thank you for not being passive. Thank you for understanding and taking responsibility for your power. Thank you for being living examples of our Heavenly Father's love.

One of my all-time favorite songs for today’s celebration is by Phillips, Craig, and Dean, “I Want to Be Just Like You” – a prayer from a dad who wants to do his best to be like Father God, exuding our great God's patience, kindness, and love because his little boy wants to be like his dad.". These words touch my heart so much. Following these lyrics is the link for this beautiful song. I pray you are so impressed by God's love, that you, too, want to be just like Him.

"He climbs in my lap for a goodnight hug; He calls me Dad and I call him Bub, With his faded old pillow, a bear named Pooh, He snuggles up close and says, "I want to be like you."
I tuck him in bed and I kiss him goodnight; trippin' over the toys as I turn out the light; I whisper a prayer that someday he'll see. He's got a Father in God 'cause he's seen Jesus in me.

Lord, I want to be just like You; 'Cause he wants to be just like me,
I want to be a holy example, for his innocent eyes to see.
Help me be a living Bible, Lord, that my little boy can read.
I want to be just like You; 'Cause he wants to be like me.

Not Saying Good-Bye -- Just, "See You Later", Jerusalem!

Our wonderful faith pilgrimage of the Holy Lands comes to an end tonight as we board our plane for our home sweet homes in the U.S. The 8-hour difference in time should have us back on central time zone around 1:45 pm tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, we are all reflecting on this most amazing journey that took us, not only where Jesus walked, but today's adventures took us to 1251 BC when Joshua led the Israelites in their conquest against Jericho....and WON! Thanks be to God for our forefathers who didn't have the many proofs of faith like we have today, yet they were obeying God in the midst of conflict and peril, and they prevailed.

Our travels, up to now, have taken us to the lush gardens at the Mount of Beatitudes, the Garden of Gethsamane and its beauty, the Mount of Olives (of course there are plenty of Olive Trees there), and the splendor of the Sea of Galilee. But, this day, we experienced the heart of the wilderness. We witnessed the change of topography as our motorcoach drove out of Jerusalem to the desert. You can see in these photos how dry the land is....but out of what seems nowhere, is the Jordan River. What a thrill to start our last day with such a place of monumental importance to our Christian faith. Fr Paul read from scriptures in Matthew, Luke and John about this "desert man", John the Baptist, who seemed to be one of those "Hail, Fire and Brimstone" kind of preachers. Matthew 3 says "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

Lord, have mercy! He certainly "told it like it was", didn't he? I reread those scriptures as I typed this post, and I thought how alive those words are to me now that I've seen and been to those places -- the wilderness of Judea, Jerusalem, Galilee AND the Jordan River, and here's the next part of that scripture that we encountered today, as we were able to join with Christ in His baptism. WE WERE THERE!

Matthew 3:13 "But then in the midst of John's preaching and teaching, when Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

As we left the motorcoach and approached the Jordan River, of course, there were doves that made me think of the one that descended on Jesus at his baptism. Since all of us, in our group, have been baptized, Fr Paul led us in a renewal of our baptism vows, then, with an olive branch, doused it in the river and sprinkled us all with it. What a holy moment it was, but that wasn't enough for some of us -- we just had to get into that river -- at least to get our feet wet! It was a sacred, beautiful, and scorching hot in that desert!

From there, we travelled pass Mount Nebo where in Number 13, we learn that Moses looked at the Promised Land and sent over spies to check it out. Though they came back with the best of the fruit of the land, they also came back with a negative report "There are giants in the land and we look like grasshoppers compared to them." Thankfully, Joshua didn't see the negative situation, he saw the possibilities with God's help.....and we see the conquest and destruction of the walls of Jericho by Joshua and the Israelite army as they marched around the city 7 times and those walls came tumbling down (roughly around 1251 BC).

Jericho was a wonderful place for our morning Mass and communion at the Church of the Good Shepherd. Our tour guide, Ramone, had just spoken to us about how Jesus was referred to as the Good Shepherd who so lovingly leads his sheep to green pastures. Of course, our scripture reading was from Psalm 23 -- "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want....." I can imagine that walking through this desert was a work out for the shepherds and the sheep in Jesus' day. Seeing the beautiful painting over the altar of the church of Jesus as the Good Shepherd certainly gave us a visual of His loving and tender care for us.

In Jericho, we had a look/see at the ancient sycamore tree. The Book of Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he entered the city of Jericho. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and a rich man. He was also fairly short. He tried to get a look at Jesus but couldn't see him over the heads of the crowd, so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore to get a glimpse. Some have claimed that the Jericho tree is the oldest existing sycamore, and possibly even the one that Zacchaeus climbed. This type of sycamore tree is unique to Israel, growing only in the Jordan Valley and along the Mediterranean coast. It has low branches, which can easily be climbed. Ramone pointed it out to us and reminded us that when Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree and told him He was going to dinner at his house, Zacchaeus gave up his "shifty" taxing schemes and salvation came to he and his whole household that day. Also, blind Bartimaeus was healed by Jesus as He was leaving Jericho. Ramone pointed out the Mount of Temptation to us (where Jesus was tempted by Satan) as we stood over the ground where the walls of Jericho fell. That desert region surrounding Jericho and the Jordan can appear so barren and empty and the idea that Jesus spent 40 days in this area living just on water (and we complain living in comfort of fasting for a day or two!!) Such monumental times in our history. We learned that Jericho is the oldest city in the world.

Then it was off to a great lunch at an Aramaic restaurant and we had makloba (makloba means "upside down"). The meal of rice and chicken and spices are prepared in a huge pot and then it's flipped over and served. It was delicious! As we came out of the restaurant, a young boy was outside with his camel. Of course, some of us just had to have our "camel" experience! I found out, with a little urging by the boy -- he can bolt out with a fast gallop. I had to get the boy to slow down Charlie the camel", but we watched that boy get on the camel and he took to the road like lightning. He knew that we were headed to the Mount of Temptation so he got there before we did and more people had their experience with Charlie the camel, too! Quite a little business that boy has!

The finale of our trip was to the Dead Sea where many of our pilgrims just had to have their Dead Sea experience. The Dead Sea (the Sea of Salt) is surrounded by the stunning desert. We learned that the shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest point on the surface of the earth, and the saline water of the lake gives lead to the name ‘Dead Sea’ because no fish can survive in the salty waters. The other result of the salty water of the Dead Sea are their renowned health and healing properties and the unique feature that one can float naturally in them. That's exactly what happened for those who took the plunge...rather, ...buoy experience. You just can't dive in those waters -- or neither would you want to because of its saltiness. A few of us only walked out into the water and lathered up with the mud. It was blistering hot in the desert -- when we took our shoes off to walk to the water, it was like a hot stove. We had to wait to take our shoes off at the water edge! What an experience!

So wrapping up this incredible experience, I pause to find the words that could adequately convey my heart. We have to remember that there is a living context to the sights and sounds of these Holy Lands. The Holy Land isn’t a theme park created for Christian pilgrims. I assure you of that, but these places were just words on the pages of Jesus’ life before to me. The stories I read in scripture, the stories I learned from my Sunday School teachers, and my pastors were beautiful, but like a puzzle, the pieces didn't really connect visually. But then and now, I've been to Israel and it's all changed. While we've been to holy places, touched and seen holy things, and heard many, many scriptures and overviews of where we've been, my final analysis and conclusion is this. Almighty God became human flesh via the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. He was a real man who was tempted in all points as I have been tempted. Without a doubt, I know He lived, He died, He was buried in a tomb and He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Not only do I know He lives because I sense Him in my heart, I know He lives because I've been to the empty tomb. I do hope that you'll be able to make this pilgrimage some day, but if you don't, our NEW Jerusalem is on the horizon, and if you turn your life over to our Risen Lord, confess Him as Lord and Savior, get baptized in YOUR own River Jordan and join our great big family in our home sweet home in the New Jerusalem some day. What a reunion that will be!

Revelations 21 -- Then I (John) saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

I love you, Jerusalem!!! See you later!!

The Via Dolorosa & The Holy Sepulchre

I had a very different kind of excitement about yesterday's pilgrimage. We all dressed in black to express our respect for the holiness of what we were about to experience. If we were representing the resurrection of our Lord, I'm sure we would have been in the brightest of colors. Think about how we dress up for Easter to declare and celebrate our risen Lord. But this day we were in solemnity as we walked where Jesus walked, carried His cross, where He fell from the weight of the cross and the weight of His pain after being scourged and flogged brutally. How could we be bouncy and flambuoyant when we remembered the price He paid for us -- the debt He didn't owe. Yes, we know we serve a risen Lord, but I sincerely often think we forget what He endured for our salvation. He didn't have to go this way. In Matthew 26:53, He said "Don't you think that I could call on my Father and He would send me more than twelve legions of angels now?" But, He didn't. He loved you and me too much to leave us without a Savior.

We began the walk Via Dolorosa Stations of the Cross. The Via Dolorosa, winds along narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City and leads to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the route Jesus followed bearing His cross from Pilate's Judgement Hall to Calvary Hill, the site of the crucifixion. Along this route are the Fourteen Stations of the Cross and each station marks an event of sacred memory.

Fr. Paul led us through each station with prayers and encouragement for our own daily walk with Christ. Through each station we commemorated our Lord's pathway to the cross. For example at Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death. We say with Fr Paul "We adore you, O Christ, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world." Then, a brief encouragement to take this station personally, for example: "Perhaps there are times when we, like Jesus, are condemned unjustly, Help me, O Lord, to be silent in the face of pain and suffering. Make me steadfast in my faith when I'm accused unjustly." Then we say "The Lord's Prayer". It is such a beautiful way of remembering.

For the last three stations, we climbed up many stairs onto the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is one of the holiest sites for Christians, because it represent Calvary. We looked up at the gold cross that is at the top of the dome of this beautiful holy place and thanked our Lord for saying "Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done."

Then, we went up a steep staircase to the Altar of Calvary, which rises above the rock on which Jesus’ cross was raised. The rock is visible through glass plates on either side of the altar. I'll admit this was my greatest place of emotions. We were able to touch the rock through an opening in the silver disk beneath the altar, the point where the Cross stood, according to tradition. How could I not experience such gratitude for my Savior's love for me? It was so much to bear, and then I felt Fr Paul place his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. That hand represented my Savior's hand and oh the tenderness and love I sensed.

Outside that area is a slab of marble that people were kissing and then I realized that this is a replica of the slab that Jesus' body was laid on so that his body could be anointed before moving him to the tomb. I kissed it too. I didn't want to miss any opportunity of savoring every thing I could in honor of my Lord and Savior.

And, if it could get any better, then we descended down many stairs into the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The history of this building goes back hundreds and hundreds of years and even if you weren't a fully devoted follower of Christ, I think you would sense this is a place of deep spirituality because of the number of pilgrims here that are praying, kissing and embracing these holy places and objects. With the thousands and thousands of people that visit this site, our group was fortunate enough to experience our own private Mass and communion in the Holy Sepulcher which is a chapel called the Aedicule which contains the Holy Sepulchre itself. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel's Stone, which is believed to be a fragment of the large stone that sealed the tomb; the second is the tomb itself. We were each able to go in and touch the altar above the tomb. Fr Paul's message was beautiful. He said, "As we are in this holiest place on earth, He is risen. Our hopes and dreams are are all renewed in light of the resurrection. It is the Easter of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

After this heavenly time on earth we were taken to Notre Dame Pontifical Institute for a lovely reception.

Yesterday, we had to put the royal cart before our King and Savior died in our pilgrimage today, as the day before, we went to the Mount of Olives where He ascended into heaven after His resurrection. So the good, great and greatest news after a day of paying homage to our Lord......we know WITHOUT a DOUBT.....He LIVES. He LIVES. Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way. He lives. He lives....salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart!

We were fortunate to attend a beautiful ceremony of several men and women from our pilgrimage who are Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepluchre of Jerusalem and whose mission is to help to sustain and assist the religious, spiritual, charitable and social works of Christians in the Holy Land. They were addressed by the Latin Archbishop and given commemorated shell pins. So happy for Charles Michie and Sheila Michie for their work with the order.

Today is our last day here and we're heading to the wilderness of Bethany, Jericho, the Mount of Temptation and the Dead Sea. Headed home at midnight tonight! Talk about RED EYE!! What an amazing, never-to-be-forgotten, trip-of-a-lifetme, meeting precious brothers and sisters in the Lord who became family. Check out the sweet young man with me. That's Everett, and he'll soon be joining a monastery in Arkansas. What a blessing he has been to me -- being my escort and protector as we walked up so many stairs and rough roads. This faith journey pilgrimage is not for the faint-hearted. It's a work-out, but so worth it. Really.....I'll never read the Bible again without having so many beautiful images and memories of the Holy Lands.

I'm Still Here, So I'm Not Done (This is long today -- so much to tell you about!)

Our first stop yesterday was the Mount of Olives where our Lord ascended into heaven. Before I left home in Texas, I sensed I needed to get all my documents together and in order should something happen to me while I was in Israel -- specifically, if God wanted to ascend me directly to heaven from the Mount of Olives, I was ready to go. LOL! But, I'm still here, so I'm not done. God has work for me to do and this pilgrimage has inspired me so much, I'm chomping at the bit to spread the good news of our Lord's life and all He did for our salvation.

This first photo is Rimon, our amazing tour guide. Yesterday he was sporting a Texas A&M ball cap and today it was Texas Longhorns. He aims to please his Texas pilgrims -- LOL! Those from New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas are still waiting to see what he has for them!

There isn't a specific spot identified as the place of Jesus' ascension, except that it was from the Mount of Olives. Our tour guide, Rimon, gave us this scripture from Acts 1:10-11 "He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him. As they strained to see Him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” There are three religions that dominate this country: Muslim, Jew, Christians. And each of them are looking for the Messiah to come, but we know our Messiah died, was buried, arose and ascended into heaven. Our Lord is risen and He sits at the right hand of the Father. How reasuring it is, that He was one of us, understands us so well, and now, and one day will take us home to be with Him forever.

The Lord's Prayer was in tiles all around this church in 164 languages. We sang "The Lord's Prayer" from our hearts of thanksgiving. Then we walked to the area where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We were shown the Dome of the Rock, the Eastern Gate, the Russian Church, and the mosque that was built after the temple was destoryed. It was in that temple that Jesus, at age 12, amazed the priests with his knowledge of the Word. Ramone led us, then, in a walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. This was my favorite spot today. Gethsemane comes from the Hebrew Word for Olive Press.

Gethsemane is where Jesus took the same witnesses of His transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Peter, James and John, to the garden with Him to pray. Their spirits were willing but their flesh was weak, and couldn't stay awake. The gorgeous Sanctuary of Gethsemane (Church of the Nations) enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest. (Mark 14:32-42). It was so humbling to kneel before that rock, place my hand on it and know this was the beginning of Christ's ultimate price for my salvation.

To say we were touched, puts it mildly -- that our Lord knew what was ahead for Himself and those He loved and served just couldn't stay awake for Him. You can see in the photo below how so emotionally taken these two men were with this experience. We were amazed that there are trees in Gethsemane that are still in the garden from when Jesus was here.

It was lunchtime and we loaded up in the bus, but we had a short and sweet stop before lunch. The owner, Moses, of the Inspiration Tours in Houston's 92-year old father, Gabriel, lives here in Jerusalem and every tour that comes here, he wants to meet and give gifts. He blessed the two priests with us with a Jerusalem stole and wooden Jerusalem cross and he had special medals made, that were unlike anything in any store, and gave one to each person in our group. The medal has 2 fish on it from Jesus' miracle of feeding the 5000+ and 5 crosses like the Jerusalem cross. He said, "Keep it close to your hearts to remember to pray for the Christians in the Holy Land."

He was precious and said: "Thank you for coming to this spot. This is where early pilgrims came and reached the top of this hill -- the city wall of old Jerusalem. Joy filled their hearts as they recited Psalm 122 "I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord. Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up—the tribes of the Lord to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel. There stand the thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you. ”For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity." He went on to say, "Thank you for having the courage to come to this spot of the world in spite of what you've been seeing in the news. Thank you for putting your trust in the Lord. Remember to pray. Prayer means PEACE. Receive a PIECE of the Lord and receive the PEACE of the Lord. Elohim (God) is in Jerusalem in all these holy places. An empty tomb is here to prove He is alive. Now, you say "The empty tomb and I have Him alive in me!" Gabriel certainly blessed us with his love and generosity.

We headed to the restaurant owned by our tour guide's uncle (his father's brother), Askadinya Restaurant. It was delicious -- lots of salads and chicken and rice! We have been fed so well!

After lunch we went to the chapel of the Franciscans for our Mass and communion. It wasn't the Upper Room, but we celebrated as though it were. The Upper Room is where Jesus and His disciples had their Last Supper together and that is when Jesus' instituted communion for us. How sweet was God's presence today. We were encouraged to renew our commitment to our Lord, and without hesitation, I'm quite sure we've been renewing our commitment every time we enter these holy places.

Then we went to the Dormition Abbey, a German Roman Catholic Church and Benedictine Abbey that is dedicated to the place where Mary, Mother of Jesus, passed away.

Then we went to The Upper Room, but in reality, no one really knows exactly where that is, but this is the agreed upon most acceptable location. We celebrated that the Upper Room is where Jesus showed Himself to be the greatest servant of all.

Our pilgrimage then took us to the Saint-Peter-in-Gallicantu Church which is built in the slopes of Mount Zion. According to tradition, this was the place of the palace of high priest Caiaphas, where Jesus was brought to jail after his arrest. Its name (Gallicantu, means the cock's crow) is given after the story of Peter's triple denial of Christ and the cock crowing twice.
Here it was that Jesus was dragged and flogged 39 times from Gethsemane to here. Our tour guide showed us what that looked like in these photos, and lastly they dumped him into this pit and continued to flog and beat him. I scarce can take this all in as I have watched movies of Christ's torture and death, but to be here where it happened, is overwhelming. You'll see the steps here that Jesus had to take. How befitting that we sang, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"

Tomorrow, we will arise at 4:15 am to go to the Via Delorosa -- the path to Calvary. My heart is full of love for my Lord and Savior. Indescribable, uncontainable love -- He put the stars in the sky and was willing to suffer and die for me.

Thank You Lord for my salvation.

Merry Christmas from Bethlehem in June!

We were enroute to Bethlehem yesterday morning when we took the Hebron Road and just to the North of us was where David fought the Philistines in 1004 BC. Does that even compute when I say those words? It seems inconceivable to be in the places I've only read about all my life. God has blessed me way more than I deserve to be in this place of so many victories won by our God Almighty.

Today was the first time we were given time to shop, but it was intentional because this is a spiritual journey of increasing our faith and seeing all these holy places, and it has certainly has done just that. Our guide took us purposely to a Bethlehem shop where Christians run it, and what we purchase there feeds their families. Christians have had a tough time making it here and so many have evacuated from this sacred city. It was a joy to buy presents on our Merry Christmas Day in Jerusalem. After our shopping excursion, we headed to Church of the Nativity for our Christmas Day mass and communion. How memorable it was to sing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Silent Night". So in tune with the spirit of Christmas, were the children's choir (kids accompanying their parents on this trip) that led us in singing. Presents, Christmas Carols, children, and worshipping the King here in the actual cave of Christ's birth -- made for a heavenly Christmas in June!

The Gospel reading was from John 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Just think of it -- the God from the beginning of time that created everything and His light was born here in this cave. Fr. Paul gave us a beautiful Christmas message: "May we allow THE WORD to resonate within us. Plant the seeds of peace. Celebrate Christmas everyday. We've been to many holy places, and those holy places are wonderful to remind us of the past. But there is nothing to compare with Jesus Christ Himself as we receive Him in communion."

At the Church of the Nativity, Christian pilgrims from around the world come to pay tribute and honor to God for the birth of His Son, Jesus. We were among many on this day. also. Truly a STAR was born when Christ was born, and we made our way down to the grotto via narrow stairs to get inside the cave. There above that holy place is a star that marks the location. In our deepest humility and thanksgiving for the Star of all Stars, we touched or bent low to kiss that star. It was a profoundly emotional and spiritual experience, to say the least -- the birthplace of our Savior over 2000 years ago. Our guide said, "Say thank You, Jesus, for my salvation!" He went on to tell us that lambs were swaddled in cloths when they were brought for sacrificial offerings. In our Lord's case, He was the perfect lamb, and as scripture reads, "He was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in the manger." The manger was just a short distance from the star.

After that moving experience, we headed to lunch at an Arabic restaurant, Abu Shanab (The Father of Moustache) and had the most delicious lamb and chicken kabobs, hummus and other lovely veggies with baklava for dessert. Our meals have been so yummy! Here I am in a photo with Father Moustache himself. LOL!

After lunch we headed to the Shrine of the Visitation. -- where Mary, now with child, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth at Gabriel's insistence. We read in Luke 1 that Elizabeth and her husband had dearly longed for a child. They had prayed for one and the culture of the day had demanded they needed one. Yet no child came. Zacharias was a priest. One day as he was serving in the temple the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that his wife would have a child. Although Zacharias was moved by the awesome presence of the angel, he could not accept that his aged wife could still give birth. Could you blame him? In order to stop him confessing his unbelief, the angel struck him dumb. The angel's promise eventually happened and a pregnant and rather embarrassed Elizabeth hid herself for 5 months. She would have hid for longer if the angel had not intervened again.

Angel Gabriel alerted Mary about the pending birth of Elizabeth's child. Mary hastened to her place to see her. By this time Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant. On arriving at Elizabeth's place, the moment Mary spoke, the baby (John the Baptist) in Elizabeth's womb moved. The Holy Spirit came upon Elizabeth and she blessed Mary with these words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Then Mary's magnificat began -- her song from verse 46: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me -- holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him; from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their throne, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and His descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”

Those were the words that Hannah said when she gave birth to Samuel. Mary must have been an "honor student" of God's Word. We made our way up 115 steps to the Church of the Annunciation to see the place of the annunciation. How alive the scriptures came to us in this place.

Then we went back down and up another hill to St. John the Baptist Church that marks the spot over which Elizabeth gave birth to him.

Elizabeth had a vital role to play in the plan of God. If she had 'given up' on God because of her barrenness she would have forfeited her "God given role". We may not always understand God but we should never cease trusting him.

We have continued to be stunned by the reality of our heritage. History speaks for itself and it sure has been speaking loud and clear to us about our beloved saints and their roles in our own journeys of faith.
Stay tuned for the excitement of our day tomorrow....Jerusalem, Mt of Olives, Palm Sunday, Gethsemane -- I almost lose my breath.....just at the thought of being in those sacred places! Shalom, my beloved friends and family!