The Journey Begins

Lord, hear my prayer; let my cry come to you.

Do not hide your face from me now that I am

in distress.  Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer

me quickly.

Psalm 102:2-3

They say your pilgrimage begins the minute you set foot out of your door.  For us, however, our pilgrimage truly begins the day before we set out to travel.

Saturday, June 2, 2012, we spent the day packing and tying up loose ends.  I made one last trip to Walmart and Ron made several last phone calls.  We checked into our flights and printed out boarding passes.  Passports were checked and rechecked.  The dogs were taken to their new homes with their new families.

For me, the pilgrimage officially began with mass at St. Mary’s at 4:30 followed by supper with our whole family.  We sat and ate and talked about our trip.  Everyone was so excited about going on the plane and then walking where Jesus had walked.  We laughed and ate together as a family, a rare event for us having two busy teenagers.  We also talked about some rules.  We told the younger girls that we would be in places with a lot of strangers.  They would need to hold our hands and stay with us.  They may have to go into the bathrooms with us (something they don’t like to do).  If they get lost, I had given them each a purse that had a sheet of paper inside with all of our contact info: cell phone numbers, hostel addresses and numbers,our itinerary.  They were to go someone with a uniform or a police officer and show them this paper.  They all nodded and we moved on.

We left our home at 3:00 am on Sunday, June 3rd, arriving at the Minneapolis airport on time at 5.  Perfect!  We had enough time to catch our 7:00 am flight without hurrying.  After doing research, we decided to leave our car in the airport’s long term parking in the Humphrey Terminal and catch the light rail that would take us to the Lindbergh Terminal where our flight departed from.  We found a great parking space, took our bags and walked to the light rail.  It was sitting there, we hopped on and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The security guard said, “I think that train over there might actually leave quicker, let’s go over to that one!”  And so we prepared to get off this train to move to the other one.  Aliza stepped off first.  And the door closed.  Our train started to leave the station.  I couldn’t see Aliza, but Ron could.  He and another airport employee on the train went into immediate panic mode.  Ron looking frantically for a button to stop the train.  The employee asking multiple questions: “How old is she?”  “Five”, Ron answered in haste.  ” Umm, Dad?  She’s actually seven…”  one of the other kids said.  For myself, I was in total shock.  I could not think.  I could not talk.  I could not breathe.  “What was she wearing?” the employee asked.  I looked down at my shirt and remembered!  I had dressed us all the same that morning!  “She’s wearing a green shirt and jeans,” I stammered. “And a purple jacket.  She has brown hair and brown eyes.”  Having found my voice, I began praying, “Hail Mary, full of grace….  Mary, please watch over my child!  Mary, please protect my child!”  I then started repeating, “She has her purse, she knows what to do.  She has her purse, she knows what to do.  Everyone!  Take out your phones!  Aliza will be calling one of us soon!”

Our train stopped and we got off, phones in hand.  Within a few seconds, mine rang, “Is this Wendy?  My name is Peggy (or Pat or Judy, I don’t remember, it doesn’t really matter.  All I heard is “This is your guardian angel…”)  I have your daughter Aliza and I will put her on the next train.  It leaves here in 10 minutes.”  Ten minutes?  It took 10 years for that train to reach us.    I prayed constantly.  I prayed silently.  the only noise in that train station was Alexander humoring the homeless man who had started a conversation with him based on his sweatshirt bearing our hometown’s name.  Everyone else sat in complete silence.  It was early and there were few other people there.  Finally, finally, FINALLY, the train came in and I searched for her frantically.  When she ran out, I grabbed her and we both sobbed.  She was shaking.  “You were so brave!”  I told her.  “You did the right thing!”  And then I said nothing and just held her.  Peggy or Pat or Judy or whoever she was didn’t even stop for me to thank her.  I am sure she had a plane to catch.  But, I wish she had stopped for me to hug her as I wanted to. I hope she knows what a hero she is!

I thought to myself, “What on earth was I thinking?  Why are we doing this?”  This was the first time this thought entered my head, but by far it would not be the last.  We gathered our things and walked on.  We would talk about this often throughout our trip and on the first plane, Aliza would ask me how to spell the word ‘separated’ as she recorded it in her journal.  i read it later “Today, I got separated from my family at the airport.”

I told Ron that this very thing had actually been one of my worst nightmares.  God told me, “See, even if your worst nightmare comes true, I am there with you.  I will always take care of you.”  My faith grew that day more than it ever had.

We Are Home!

Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless

his holy name!

Psalm 103:1

We are home after spending 15 days in the most Holy Land of Israel! I cannot wait to share the things that we saw and the many, many lessons we learned.

I will start by saying that it was nothing that I expected.  While I was planning this pilgrimage, I thought I knew what I was going to find as I walked where the people I know so well from the Bible had walked thousands of years ago.  I was wrong.  What I did experience was beyond anything I could have ever imagined.  It was simply amazing.

I hope you visit often to read our story.  It is a story of intense fear and regret (almost every day I questioned our decision to travel here).  It is a story of incredible hope and joy, emotion that brought tears of happiness to my eyes on so many occasions.  It is a story of pain and it is a story of healing.  It is a story of one lost child, another child throwing up in front of a Catholic Monastery, a lost and found wallet, wonderful food and food that was less than wonderful, meeting people from all over the globe, learning the history of where the world began and seeing the exact spot that many people believe the world will end.

Most importantly, this is a story of FAITH.  Mine, yours and the world’s.  Because in the end, this is all we have.

Expecting The Unexpected

And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town

of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called

Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of

David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

While they were there,the time came for her to have her child,

and she gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling

clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them

in the inn.

Luke 2:4-7

I am doubting that Mary was expecting to have her baby while she was traveling with Joseph to Bethlehem.  And I’m really pretty sure she was not expecting to have this baby in a manger.  I’m sure she was just expecting a nice little excursion with her husband.  Maybe eat some good food and definitely have a nice soft bed to sleep in!

But, things didn’t work out that way, now did they?

Things don’t always work out for our family when we are traveling either.  I have come to expect (and even enjoy, usually) the unexpected things that come our way when we are away from our home.

Just a few weeks ago, we were at the University of Minnesota for our teenage daughter.  She had presented a history project in a competition and advanced on to the state level.  We had quite a bit of free time in between rounds and found ourselves strolling around the very beautiful campus.  We came across a field with college kids running around in bright shirts and broomsticks.  There were black circles sticking out of the ground.  “I think they are playing Quidditch!”  my 10 year shouted.   And sure enough, they were playing Quidditch!  We sat and watched for quite a while and even got a chance to talk to some of the kids playing.  It was really one of the coolest things I have ever seen, especially since many of the Harry Potter characters were there as well.

Then there was the time we were in Omaha and decided to go for a walk near our downtown hotel.  We came across roads closed off and people sitting on the curbs.  After talking to a local police officer, we figured out that we had walked into a parade that was just about to begin!  And not just any parade, a rodeo parade!  Real cowboys!  Real cowgirls!  Candy!  The kids were ecstatic!

Both of these things were totally unexpected but really brought great joy to our travels.  Of course, the unexpected doesn’t always bring joy.  Strep throat when we were traveling for a wedding.  A flat tire or a car breaking down on the road.  A baby being born unexpectedly.  No room at the inn.  These things bring challenges.  I try to remember how Mary responded even when her trip turned out differently than she expected.  She didn’t complain.  She gave thanks to God in all things.  What a role model!

I know that our pilgrimage will bring many, many unexpected things.  Some of these will bring great joy.  Some, I know will bring challenges.  I am trying hard not to focus on those and keep my eyes towards heaven.  I know that God will be with us as we travel, just as He was with Mary and Joseph as they were on their way to Bethlehem.

What unexpected things have you encountered during your travels?

God Bless!

God’s Glory in the Heavens

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.

Psalm 19:2

I spent some time this week going through all of our flights.  It was rather nerve wracking.  We will be on 6 airplanes total during this pilgrimage.  On the way there, we will be spending approximately 15 hours on these planes and 16 hours on them on the  way back.

This pilgrimage will involve traveling through 4 different airports in 3 different countries.  My research tells me that we will be spending some time in one of the world’s nicer airports.  My research also tells me that we will be spending some time in one of the world’s not-so-nicer airports.  The other two airports are really just very average.

The air travel portion of this pilgrimage is leaving me rather exhausted and we haven’t even left the ground yet.  Our children are accustomed to long trips by car, but they have only flown once and it was only for a few hours.  Every travel forum that I have read on air travel speaks of people who do not like to fly with children.  In fact, many people are very adamantly against wanting to fly anywhere near children.

I think our kids should be ok, but I cannot guarantee that they won’t whine or cry at some point.  In fact, I can almost guarantee that they WILL whine or cry at several points during all of this flying.  Airplanes are small and uncomfortable.  I think many adults would whine and cry if they had the option while they are flying.

I am curious, do you have any tips for me to help make the flying portion of our pilgrimage more tolerable and less painful for everyone involved, especially our fellow passengers?

God Bless!

Dependence On God Or What Are We All Going To Wear On This Pilgrimage?

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,

what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you

will wear.  Is not life more than food and the body

more than clothing?  Look at the birds in the sky: they do not sow

or reap, they gather nothing into barns,yet your

heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to

your life-span?  Why are you anxious about clothes?  Learn from the

way the wild flowers grow.  They do not work or spin.  But I tell

you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and

is thrown in the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you,

O you of little faith?

Matthew 6:25-31

I cannot begin to tell how many times this passage has come into my mind over the past couple of months.  I am not a shopper.  I am especially not a clothes shopper.  Buying clothes for me has always been a burden. I don’t like the way they look on me and I certainly don’t like spending money on them when I could buy other things like books or groceries.

An even bigger burden is buying clothes for my husband and five children.  We live in such a small town that clothes shopping comes at the price of traveling to one of the larger towns.  This price involves gas, time and often crabby children who have inherited my non-shopping gene.

To say I was worried about what we were going to wear on this pilgrimage would be an understatement!

Thank God for the internet!  I admit that I rely on on-line shopping for many of our clothing purchases.

In doing my research on Israel, I learned that what we will need for our pilgrimage is a little different than what we would need for a typical summer day here.  When entering any religious sites, men and women are required to have their knees and shoulders covered.  This means capris and longer skirts or dresses for the girls as well as little sweaters or scarves to cover tank tops.  The boys will need long pants for many of our days.  Seeing that the temperatures will be 80 degrees on up, these will have to be lighter weight.

For the younger girls, this was not a problem.  They love, love wearing skirts and dresses and don’t really care where they fall on their legs.  The teenage daughter however is feeling a little bit challenged by the clothes she will be allowed to wear.

And I haven’t even mentioned the need for a sunhat…

Anyways, my husband is planning on using the points he has collected from his Cabela’s card to purchase the clothes he and our teenage son will need.  By the way, the teenage boy isn’t too terribly happy with the clothing restrictions either…

The girls (including me) are all done.  Our suitcases are packed.  The boys haven’t even started.  I am not going to worry (too much…).

I am glad that my part in this is done.  God definitely provided, I really had no need to be worried about what we were going to wear, O me of little faith!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Happy are those who find refuge in you, whose hearts are set

on pilgrim roads.

Psalm 84:6

There is no question of how we are getting TO the Holy Land Land.  Flying is the only feasible way to get our family to Israel.

The big question was how on earth are we going to get around once we are there.  My initial plan was to rely on public transportation.  I had a really, really bad experience with renting a car when I was traveling in England with my husband’s family.  My husband’s brother drove the car and it was awful.  Simply awful.  I dreaded each time we had to get back into the car and then as soon as we got out, I kissed the ground.  I decided right then and there that I would never, ever ride in a rental car in a foreign country again.

And so I set about my plan for exploring this new-to-us land:

From the airport, I discovered that the best option is to take a sherut.  This is a shared taxi which holds 10 people.  There are other options.  A private taxi is much more expensive.  The train is a scenic, but slow way to get to Jerusalem.  The bus is an option as well.  But, after my research, it seemed that the sherut is going to be the way to go.

In Jerusalem we will be able to rely on public transportation, walking or even the possibility of renting bikes.  There is a brand new light rail system in Jerusalem.  I have been reading there have been some issues with this, but I am kind of hoping they are ironed out by the time we get there.  If they are, we will probably rely on this form of transportation.  There is also a very reliable bus system which would be acceptable as well.  I have told the kids to be prepared for lots of walking.  The location of our hostel puts us in walking distance of many things.  The bikes?  We’ll have to see about that.  All seven of us ride without training wheels now, so maybe this would be fun too.

Our pilgrimage is going to take us to Galilee for four days right in the middle of the trip.  I looked into taking a bus to Nazareth, which is where we will be stationed.  There is one that went there.  Late in the afternoon.  We would lose a whole day in the Galilee.  There are few direct busses to the smaller cities surrounding Nazareth and there are times the bus drops you off miles away from the places we want to visit (the Sea of Galilee, Cana, Mount of Beatitudes, etc.).  If was just myself, my husband and the teenagers, this might be ok.  But, I can’t ask a 5 year old to do that.

I did some reading and it seemed like renting a car to drive to and around the Galilee was going to be the best option.  The people on Tripadvisor promise that driving in this part of Israel is not difficult and essential to see everything you want to.  I was looking on the website of our hostel and saw that we could rent a car through them.  One simple e-mail and it was taken care of.  Our 7 passenger minivan will be dropped off at the hostel and then we drop it off back there when we come back to Jerusalem.

This is requiring a HUGE amount of faith on my part.  I have to remember that my husband is not his brother.  He will drive carefully and will do everything he can to keep us safe.  From what I have read, the people at both of the hostels we are staying at are very helpful with travel advice.  We will be in God’s hands!

Holy Week in Jerusalem

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Our original plan for this pilgrimage was to go during Holy Week.  I could not imagine a more special time to be in the very spot that Jesus walked.

A few obstacles arose:

There were no rooms available anywhere (again, showing how naive I am about planning a pilgrimage)

Our oldest balked at missing school (I really don’t blame him)

Friends (and our priest) warned of the crowds, it would be just too much for the kids

And so, we changed our plans.  But, this is something I still want to do.  Someday…

For this year, though, Holy Week will be spent at our own parish.  It has become my favorite time of the year.  I love the Holy Thursday and Good Friday masses: the incense! the cross!.  Last year was the first year we had gone to the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening: the candlelight! the baptisms! .  It was absolutely beautiful!  And of course Easter Sunday: the flowers! The music!

We are going to do two very special, new things this year.  On Holy Thursday, the children at the elementary school will be doing the Living Stations of the Cross.  I have two girls there.  Right after that, we will head over to the middle school because parents of 8th graders are invited to celebrate their annual Passover Meal with them.  Our 8th grader has promised there will be cake! (Along with the unleavened bread and grape juice, of course)

Do you have anything special planned for Holy Week this year?  I am wishing you a very Blessed and Holy Week!